Pazyryk People of the Past and the Homeless of Today

In modern day society, the homeless are too often looked down upon as the lowest class.  We treat a settled down lifestyle as the ultimate goal — the American dream of a house with a white picket fence.  But as urban nomads, the homeless are not inherently down on their luck.  In fact, the nomadic lifestyle has a long and complex historical significance – like, for instance the Pazyryk people.

The construction of a Pazyryk kurgan.

The Pazyryk people were nomadic horsemen who inhabited the Altai mountain region from the 6th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. (  The Pazyryk people combat the idea the nomadic peoples are, “less developed than many sedentary ones”  (, or that nomadic people of their region were simply “rude barbarians” (  In Pazyryk burial mounds known as kurgans, artifacts like carved pieces of wood, goods formed from precious metals, and mechanically-complex carts have been found.  Foreign goods have also been found, but they have been transformed by the Pazyryk people’s craft — becoming even more fantastic.

Princess designs

An artist’s rendition of the tattoos covering the mummy known as Princess Ukok.

Even more interesting than the artifacts found inside of kurgans are the mummies buried with them.  Upon their bodies were intricate tattoos of animals both real and mythical.  It is believed that these tattoos symbolized place in society, names, or even pre-writing ( “The Stunning Ancient Tattoos of the Pazyryk Nomads”).  This has been supported by the discovery of the mummy Princess Ukok, a young female who was found in an elaborate burial chamber.

The Pazyryk people have even been found to have performed complex surgery.  Two individuals were found to have undergone cranial surgery, and survived — evidenced by bone growth over the incisions ( “Ancient Pazyryk nomads carried out highly advanced cranial surgery in Siberia”).  Interestingly, there is evidence that the surgeries performed are in line with ancient Greek medical texts suggesting the Pazyryk had an extensive range and communication with other cultures of their time period ( “Ancient Pazyryk nomads carried out highly advanced cranial surgery in Siberia”).

The urban nomads of today are not unlike the Pazyryk.  Though some are not homeless  by choice, many do make the choice to be “home-free”.  Those of us with sedentary lives should not look down upon urban nomads.  We should work to coexist and stop trying to fix their way of living through assimilation into our lifestyle.  Nomadic people have an equally rich culture and history — especially if wealth is not measured in terms of material items.



Further Reading:




2000 Years of Cooperation: Indigenous Hunter-Gatherers, Immigrant Farmers and What We Can Learn From Them


In modern society, conflict is expected. One can hardly walk through a supermarket, let alone use the internet, without encountering an onslaught of minimally malaise, and often discrimination and violence. Much in the Archaeological record suggests that the history of humankind has similar violent overtones, but that the advent of warfare occurred simultaneously with the genesis of agriculture; while most societies were hunter-gatherers, there was relatively little to fight over. As a hunter-gatherer, an individual needs only their band, their health, and an area to move through as the seasons change and some resources are spent. However, in order to produce viable crops, a farmer must have land, sufficient rainfall or irrigation, implements, and most likely some form of permanent or semi-permanent structure. It is not surprising, then, that many archaeologists adhere to the theory that most hunter-gatherer societies died out around the time that agriculture was established, due to either adaptation to agriculture, or warfare.

An image from the Blätterhöhle cave near Hagen, Germany.

An image from the Blätterhöhle cave near Hagen, Germany.

A recent study conducted by the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz suggests that the reality may not have been quite so simple. A team of archaeologists led by Professor Joachim Burger recently investigated the Blätterhöhle cave, in which both indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant agriculturalists are buried. They found remains in the cave which, paired with the other research that Burger has conducted, offer significant evidence that farmers and hunter-gatherers not only coexisted, they did so for quite some time (Science Daily).

Opening of the Blätterhöhle cave

Opening of the Blätterhöhle cave.

Most people living in central Europe were hunter-gatherers, until approximately 7,500 years ago. Around this time, immigrant farmers brought agricultural practices to the area. Contrary to common belief, these farmers coexisted with the indigenous hunter-gatherers for at least 2000 years (

A skull found in the Blätterhöhle cave.

A skull found in the Blätterhöhle cave.

This is a compelling story of coexistence over warfare. Archaeology has shown us that even in a situation where people were exposed to a totally different culture from the only society they had ever known, people were able to adapt and compromise. That an outside group was able to exist comfortably enough with the indigenous population that many of both were buried in the same cave speaks volumes about the benefits of accepting cultural difference. In more contemporary history, many societies have been unwilling to adapt to others in any way, as evidenced by the violence and strife that seem to be synonymous with living in a post-industrial society. However, as this example indicates, humans don’t have to interact that way. Coexistence is possible. We just have to be willing to accept differences without anger, and be willing to adapt as our environment and neighbors change.



Science Daily


Image Sources:

Natural Sciences (Image 1 and 3)

Anthroscape (Image 2)


Additional Information:

Human Prehistory

International Business Times


Role Modeling Sustainable Living through the Ancient City of Caral-Supe

As President Obama urges world leaders to tackle climate change in Paris for COP21, members from the 124 nation group of the International Union of Architects plan to present to the Paris summit the Caral Letter, a letter celebrating the ancient city of Caral-Supe in Peru as a model for sustainable living in the twenty-first century.  This initiative is an example of how archaeology can be used to engage the problems our society currently faces by studying the past for ways to plan for a better future.   

The city of Caral overlooking the Supe river valley.

The city of Caral-Supe was home to the Notre Chico people and can be traced back to the Late Archaic period of the Central Andes and is also the oldest center of civilization in the Americas.  Caral is 5000 years old and 626 hectares, situated on a dry desert terrace overlooking the green valley of the Supe river.

Caral is famous for the ways its engineers developed the complex city using basic tools, representing inspiration to current world leaders and engineers trying to tackle climate change.  The city incorporates sunken amphitheaters, pyramids, and underground ducts that once channeled winds to keep fires burning (  Moreover, Caral is situated in a seismically active area, and engineers of Caral innovated the use of flexible foundations called “shicras” to stabilize structures in the city.  

A picture of one of the structures in the city of Caral.

The city also epitomizes a message about how our society should respect the environment.  “This society was very interested in developing in harmony with nature. They never occupied the valley, they didn’t settle on productive land. Fertile fields were deities,” said Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady, who conducted the first excavations at Caral in 1996 and brought the site to world attention (  The city of Caral-Supe is an admirable example for architects to present to the climate summit not only because it serves to inspire current world leaders and engineers with the extraordinary tasks people accomplished with only basic tools, but also because the people of Caral intimately respected their environment – a pertinent message for world leaders looking to solve climate change.

The city of Caral-Supe shows that archaeology can be a means of tackling the problems our society faces today by providing examples about how we faced – and overcame – similar challenges posed in the past.  

“We turn to the past to see how civilization was organized 5,000 years ago, thinking about their commitment to nature, their cosmic vision,” said Jose Arispe, one of Peru’s leading architects and an adviser with the International Union of Architects. (


Photo 1

Photo 2

Further Reading

Gigapan of Caral-Supe

The Fight Against Terrorism: Protecting Cultural Heritage Sites for Syrians and the Future

Archaeology has been thought of a discipline filled with old men who dig bones, observe soil, and freak out when they find the smallest fragment of anything; however, archaeology is becoming a  into a branch that now attempts to extend itself to the public, by giving back information and artifacts to groups and by using archaeology to combat current issues. Today, artifacts are being destroyed by ISIS in Syria, and archaeologists are attempting to protect antiquities for future generations to come.

To achieve their political goals, ISIS is destroying culturally significant objects to, in a sense, change the history of the region. Syria is an extremely archaeological rich area, containing artifacts from the earliest known civilization, Mesopotamia. Syria has some of the oldest Sumerian writing tablets, as well as sex UNESCO World Heritage sites. Entire museums are left in rubble as objects are destroyed. Artifacts are, too, taken and sold on the black market to finance this militant group’s political agendas. The Islamic State has destroyed other culturally significant pieces, such as burning thousands of rare documents and books.

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

Activist archaeologists are attempting to right the wrongs done in Syria, and there are similar but different approaches. One group of activists are secretly documenting the destroyed artifacts, taking photographs to show the true damages as well as writing descriptions of the lost relics. These activists send their information to Al-Azm, a former researcher for the Syrian government, who sends this information to international law enforcement agencies to help stop the black market sales of Syrian cultural items.  Similarly to Al-Azm, European archaeologists have created the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, which attempts to create a record of the losses in Syria. This movement is based on the internet, utilizing social media such as Twitter and YouTube to educate the international community on the significant losses. Some researchers, like Ms. Hanna of the American University in Cairo, has begun to focus on activism instead of academic publication. She has testified to the United States’ Congress, attempting to put more restrictions on imports of artifacts to America. One of the most interesting way of preserving Syrian archaeological treasures is through 3D modeling. Bassel Kartabil, using photographs as a basis, created 3D Models of Palmyra, an ancient Semitic city that has been controlled by ISIS since March of 2015. The project attempts to recreate destroyed buildings and monuments through 3D reconstruction. Bassel Kartabil has since been imprisoned for his work on the project.

3D Structure created by the  New Palmyra Project

3D Structure created by the New Palmyra Project

The efforts and work to preserve the history of region is noteworthy. Through proper cataloging and reconstruction, the archaeological community hopes that these relics will not be lost to humanity forever.




Discovery of 500-Year-Old Slave Burials Allows Locals to Reclaim Island’s History

Cidade Velha, former capital of the Cabo Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa, is home to a 500-year-old secret—a church, buried and left in ruins for hundreds of years, has been recently excavated and recognized as “the oldest formal European colonial building” discovered in sub-Saharan Africa to date (Cambridge). However, the mystery surrounding it is rooted in something much darker.

Colonized by Portuguese settlers, Cidade Velha was once a booming port city that owed its success to the slave trade, functioning for over 300 years as a holding point before slaves were sent to Portugal and the Americas ( The previously mentioned Portuguese church, upon its excavation by a team from Cambridge University, was discovered alongside a massive cemetery of about 1,000 bodies. Interestingly enough, at least half of these bodies buried in Christian tradition were African, and presumed slaves (Discovery). These graves give rise to evidence of religious conversion of locals by the Portuguese settlers, and begin to raise important questions about Cabo Verde’s history that haven’t yet been addressed. The teeth and bodies of the dead have the potential to be examined in order to provide a deeper context of slaves’ diets and living conditions, as well as provide an objective truth about what life was really like in Cabo Verde in the 1500s as a result of colonization.

Excavated Tombstones in Cidade Velha

Excavated tombstones in Cidade Velha (Cambridge)

The excavation of this church in particular was an effort by Cambridge University that successfully began to rewrite the story of the Cabo Verde Islands and clarify a national history long-shrouded by the lingering remains of colonialism, slavery, and religious conversion. It is important to note that archaeologists from Cambridge collaborated with local workers on the excavation, making it a truly community effort. The digs were also made public and generated an immense amount of interest and support from locals.

Local children at excavation site (Cambridge)

Local children at excavation site (Cambridge)

The stories of Cabo Verde are now being claimed by the Cabo Verdeans, and rightfully so. Archaeological excavations such as this slowly but surely strip colonialism of its power over history’s narratives and let us remember history as it was, not as a dominant power structure wanted us to believe. This is a long-overdue reclamation of power, and it gives depth to local heritage, culture, and pride. “It’s a profound social and political story to which these new archaeological investigations are making an invaluable contribution,” says Marie Louis Stig Sørensen of Cambridge, and she’s absolutely correct—through archaeology, a local community can reclaim the ability to tell their own stories, and that is undeniably powerful.


Further Reading:

500-Year-Old Church Found in Slave Trade Settlement

Earliest church in the tropics unearthed in former heart of Atlantic slave trade –

Earliest church in the tropics unearthed in former heart of Atlantic slave trade – Cambridge

Uncovering the first European church in the tropics – YouTube


Mayan Identity Lost to Looters

The Mayan people, who are indigenous to Mexico and Central America, are publicly perceived as being one the most influential cultures of the Archeological world. While their culture may not be as mysterious as the public imagination believes, it’s slowly being altered by a big issue plaguing archeological sites, looting. As early as 1970, the Mayan city of Xultún , located in northern Guatemala, has been plundered by looters referred to locally as “huechoros”. These huechoros craved tunnels into many of the pyramids adorning the Mayan city and used the tunnels to access the artifacts stored inside. From there the artifacts are takened and placed on the black market to be sold illegally to the affluent for personal want or for display in institutions like  museums. The looted materials included stone figurines and statues, hieroglyphic panels, ceramic pottery, and jade jewelry. Though the amount of looting has decreased in the passed years, archeologists are still trying to fully grasp the damage incurred by the huechoros.


Re-excavation of one of the many tunnels created by the huechoros in an Xultun pyramid

Huechoros, who are often just individuals desperate for money, have inflicted grave harm on not only culture of the Mayans but ultimately their extensive history. The city of Xultún was once a major metropolitan center filled with the rich art, culture, and religion that have contributed to the Mayans identity. For example, stone tablets known as Stelae have been frequent favorites of the looters. These tablets describe the deeds of the Mayan Kings and were seen as very valuable to buyers, so looters would divide the tall stones into small pieces. With the destruction of those tablets came the destruction of Mayan history. No longer are archeologists able to visit sites within Xultan pyramids without the telltale signs of looters being present. Not only aren’t artifacts not being found but the tunnels have allowed for rainwater to travel into the structures damaging the remaining artifacts. These looters aren’t just stealing artifacts but also the existence of the people who left them behind.


A  Mayan Stelae of unknown origins

One of many recovered looted artifacts, a limestone panel

One of many recovered looted artifacts, a limestone panel

The government, in conjunction with archeologists, has enacted several measures to halt the looting of the pyramids. Since a majority of the looting is due to financial strife resulting from Guatemala’s Civil War in the 1960’s, the government has enacted new stable avenues of commerce for communities in the jungle. They have also stationed Guatemalan military officials to patrol the city of Xultún on a 24/7 schedule. Archeologists, on the other hand, are now re-excavating the tunnels left behind by the heuchoros in order to find new artifacts for preservation and future reference. There has even been talk of Guatemala arguing for repatriation of stolen artifacts now displayed in American and European museums and galleries. Though many may only view the stolen artifacts as souvenirs to the Mayans once thriving civilization, they also represent the rich history of a prevalent culture. Archeologists are striving to rediscover and preserve the identity of a people whose culture served as a prime example for the modern civilizations we call home today.

Guatemalan soldier patrolling the border surrounding the Mayan city  Xultun

Guatemalan soldier patrolling the border surrounding the Mayan city Xultun


National Geographic

BBC News

Further Reading:

Looted or Legal?

Stolen Mayan Artifacts Returned

Los Arboles structure under excavation in Xultun

Los Arboles structure under excavation in Xultun

World-Wide Action Against Looting

          Looting is supported by the act of fetishizing the past. This worldwide archaeological con oddly proves beneficial to the economy. Although a functioning economy is desired, this trend of owning such unique and historical artifacts robs it’s the knowledge of the culture that lays behind it. Artifacts are the keys left behind for the world to use to unlock the story of its culture. Looting steals this “key” and makes the knowledge that is “locked up” inaccessible. Because this injustice is such a common occurrence, more and more action has been put into play. Pre-existing looting laws are finally being held to a greater importance.
This movement against looting can be exemplified locally in California’s own “Lake County,” enforcing looting laws for what may be the first time in that area. One reason as to why action has finally occurred is that a drought in the area has created an advantage for looters. The dry land and lower water levels has made it easier to find Native artifacts, making the presence of looting even more noticeable.

Obsidian spears and arrowheads are the most common artifacts put on the black market from Lake County.

Obsidian spears and arrowheads are the most common artifacts put on the black market from Lake County.

The Native American Historic Resource Protection Act exists in California to punish the unlawful disruption of Native American sites. Sadly, this county only began to really acknowledge it when the looting became evident to everyone. This finally led to local authorities being trained in how to put this law into action on the field.
Artifacts stolen from modern-day Native Americans, like many other civilizations, had connected their descendants to their ancestors. Even to those who are not connected to specific artifacts, we all learn what occurred in specific areas hundreds to thousands of years ago, from them. In giving respect to these ancient artifacts, we attempt to heal a part of the past by rescuing their physical history.
Crusades against the horrid of looting have not only occurred locally, but world-wide. As early as World War II, the time of the Nazis, the Monuments Men has taken action in trying to protect artifacts against looters. With the most recent warfare, monuments and ancient artifacts have suffered many causalities. It is known that ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), has destroyed many historic sites and receive funds

Historical and archaeological sites, in Syria and Iraq, that have been looted and destroyed by ISIS.

Historical and archaeological sites, in Syria and Iraq, that have been looted and destroyed by ISIS.

from the “not so” secret world of looting. As a part of the modern world, archaeologists have more resources than they did decades ago, in going against looting: technology and the internet. In the summer of 2014, a team for the Institute of Digital Archaeology helped create a database- the Million Image Database- that digitally documents ancient architecture and artifacts. One of its features is the GPS function, which gives investigators “the time and location-stamped images to see if the artifacts had previously been in one of the documented locations.” During August 2014, the FBI alerted art dealers in high looting countries of the search for stolen artifacts and the importance in going against looting.
The movement against looting has become more widespread due to the accessibility of technology and changing times. Although this is not a new issue that the world is facing, it is finally under the spotlight; change is occurring.

Sources: (Including Pictures)

Further Reading:

The Three Gorges Dam and the Preservation of Archaeological Sites

The Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River in China’s Hubei Province is the largest hydroelectric project every constructed. Begun in 1994 and completed in 2009, the dam is a source of hydroelectric power, shipping locks, and flood control for the middle and lower Yangtze River. However, there were quite a few drawbacks of a project flooding an area of more than 600 square kilometers. As water levels rose, nearly 1.3 million people were forced to relocate. The effects of this displacement were devastating to the population and many Chines cultural sites and artifacts, as the places they had to leave behind have some of the oldest history in China.

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric project ever constructed, and flooded 632 square kilometers of land beyond the existing banks of the Yangtze River.

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric project ever constructed, and flooded 632 square kilometers of land beyond the existing banks of the Yangtze River.

Some of the above ground historic sites that were below the final water level have had to be preserved on site or moved. The Baiheliang Stone, the best preserved ancient hydrologic station in the world, has been saved through constructing an underwater museum around it. Shibaozhai, an ancient Buddhist temple built by the Ming emperor Wan Li, is now an island in the center of the new lake, surrounded by a concrete dike. Some structures are being moved altogether, such as Zheng Fei Temple, which was moved one brick at a time and reassembled at a higher elevation. However, much of the above ground archaeology is only left in data collected, as the sites themselves have disappeared beneath the water.

Zheng Fei Temple was moved to higher elevation to prevent it from being submerged

Zheng Fei Temple was moved to higher elevation to prevent it from being submerged

The Three Gorges region is the birthplace of Chinese civilization, but archaeology in the region has traced human habitation of the gorges back to the Paleolithic. In preparation for it to be submerged, over 1000 Chinese archaeologists descended on the region to do what preservation could be done in this culturally rich region before the water covered everything. Budgeting problems hindered efforts both with lack of funds and complications with distribution, but archaeologists have still investigated some 1087 sites throughout the valley, gaining information about habitation of the region as early as 2 million years ago, as well as for nearly every era of habitation since. However, countless more data has been lost to the rising water levels.

Looting, too, has been an enormous problem for the archaeological record as both professional scavengers and local farmers descended on sites throughout the gorge. Many of the sites found in the region were left without surveillance before they were able to be excavated or were submerged. Over the course of dam building, many artifacts from the Three Gorges area went up for sale through dubious channels, most notably a bronze spirit tree dating to the Han dynasty. Though these pieces have been saved from submersion, their context has been destroyed, causing the loss of valuable archaeological data.




Further Reading

More about the Ba people, who flourished in the Three Gorges area until the Warring States Period


More about history and legend in writing about the Three Gorges region

Sustainability of the Aztec Empire

When Europeans arrived in the early 1500s, the Aztecs had one of the largest empires at the time with a population over 200,000. With a massive size and impressive organization and cleanliness, the Aztec empire could be considered one of the more sustainable empires in history. The Aztecs maintained systems of organization of resources that would be admired in today’s society.

The foundation of their sustainability comes down to their use of small, artificial islands that they built to accommodate the growing population, known as chinampas. The Aztec chinampas covered over 12 square kilometers and were highly productive due to the high amount of water and sunlight in the area. The productivity was further increased by the recycling of nutrients. The Aztecs had a method for disposing organic wastes that would fertilize the crops. Human excrement was used often and highly valued in the Aztec society. Urine was usually stored and sold. Reusing excrement prevented it from being released into the environment, preventing the pollution of the lakes surrounding the chinampas.

Chinampa farming

Chinampa farming

Littering and dumping waste was highly frowned upon in Aztec society. Wastefulness was not tolerated at all and in some cases individuals would be sentenced to death for being wasteful. They even had a system for recovering recyclable waste. They also maximized recycling by burning certain materials and then disposing the remainder in chinampas, which helped fertilize the soil.

The Aztec empire had managed to create and maintain, what we would consider today a sustainable materials management system, which is considered the most ideal method for managing waste, conserving resources and protecting the environment.

Although they had an ideal system of sustainability, the empire did not survive the militant conquest of the Spaniards. After conquering the Aztecs, the Spaniards dismantled the waste management system, drained all of the lakes, and built Mexico City over the land.

Overview of the gird-like layout of the chinampas

Overview of the grid-like layout of the chinampas

This begs the question, how long would the Aztecs have survived had they survived the Spanish conquest? With their constant reuse and recycling of organic materials, they minimized their impact on the environment. Because their waste was also considered resources, they showed no signs of exhausting these resources, which is a major issue in the topic in sustainability of today’s society.

With sustainability being a prominent issue today, applying some of the theories and viewpoints that the Aztec empire used as far as waste, adaptability, and resources could help reduce the massive effect that modern society has on the environment.



Further Reading:

The Community Before Central Park


Central Park is one of the most iconic attractions in New York City. It spans over 51 blocks and boasts 843 acres of lawns, ponds, and public walkways. It is easy to believe that Central Park has always been a part of the city, but before 1857, several well-established minority communities existed where the park stands today.

This map shows the former location of Seneca Village

This map shows the former location of Seneca Village

On July 21, 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that designated 750 acres of land to the creation of a public park. The official history of Central Park, provided by the Central Park Conservancy (CPC), states that “socially conscious reformers” created central park with the intent to “improve public health and contribute greatly to the formation of a civil society.” There is no mention of the businesses destroyed, the churches and schools demolished, the families that were evicted. Most public records fail to recognize how Central Park conveniently destroyed many lower income “shanties” inhabited by “land squatters” and the less desirable residents of the city.

A depiction of Seneca Village from an edition of "Harper's Monthly"

A depiction of Seneca Village from an edition of “Harper’s Monthly”

Seneca Village was one, if not the first established African American communities in NewYork City. It was established in 1825 as an all African American community and by 1857, the year of its destruction, it was 30% Irish-American. Despite their portrayal in the newspapers of the time, the residents of Seneca Village owned their property and usually paid taxes. The community had a total of three churches, three cemeteries, and two schools. Records show that over 589 people lived in Seneca Village in its thirty-two years of existence. On a webpage dedicated to the Seneca Village community, the CPC states that despite the fact that “many protests were filed in the New York State Supreme Court, as is often the case with eminent domain,” those living within the boundaries of the proposed park were “compensated for their property.” It tells nothing of how the public petitioned to save their community or the police force used to violently evict families from their homes. By 1857, according to the CPC, approximately 1,600 people, including all 264 Seneca Village residents were displaced from their homes.

Seneca Village is only one community destroyed in the creation of Central Park, and though it is well known now, it took nearly half a century to be found. City records often fail to acknowledge the violent eviction of places like Seneca Village and the difficulty former residents had in reforming the community. Today, many of the neighborhoods and people that existed before the park remain off public records and wait to be rediscovered.


Further reading:


Pictures found at: