Over Correcting Androcentrism

Burial findings in Stockholm (Hansen)

Recently, the New York Times released an article about the discovery of a Viking warrior in Stockholm. The reason this made headlines: the warrior is believed to be a woman. The article “A Female Viking Warrior? Tomb Study Yields Clues” by Christina Anderson delves into what was found and how this may challenge our view of the Vikings. Anderson reports that some of the researchers believe “‘women, indeed, were able to be full members of male-dominated spheres’” (Anderson).  In the tomb, scholars found a warrior’s grave furnished with knives, axes, swords, spears, shields, and even two horses. On her lap, there was a hnefatafl or King’s Table signifying her high status and her great ability for making strategic decisions. To many scholars, this find means many of the women warriors deemed a mythical may have actually existed.

This find is part of a larger wave of what many are calling feminist archaeology. The objective of feminist archaeologists is “exposing and correcting the male bias” (Renfrew). While this action is needed, the scholars in Stockholm investigating the tomb may need to take a step back. Anderson reports other scholars’ outrage over the premature report. Notably, Judith Jesch, a Viking studies professor at the University of Nottingham in England, shares her outrage. Jesch believes the grandeur of a female warrior may be clouding their judgement.  Jesch also points out many things that were not considered, Anderson reports: “bones of various people might have gotten mixed together given that 130 years have passed since the original excavation; the inference that the board-game pieces suggest a high-status female warrior is too speculative; and alternative explanations for why a female body might have ended up in a warrior’s tomb.” Clearly further research must be done and other options must be regarded.

However, there are plenty of indicators that females in Viking society did have more respect and power than in typical European societies at this time. Jesch writes in her book Women in the Viking Age, “women could have great wealth and standing in the community… women could be merchants or craftspeople, working alone or as partners of their husbands” (205). Other writings concur with Jesch. Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age by Mary Wilhelm Williams also looks at women in Viking times. Williams explains “they enjoyed more independence than any other women of contemporary Europe” (109). Further, Williams says women were given the same schooling and were adequate partners for their husbands. Women in the society were well “honored and respected” (Williams 109-110).  This time period for women was not perfect, but they did have some luxuries.

Painting of the death of a female Viking warrior (Laskow)

Yet there is no indication of female warriors. Some stories had powerful goddesses and impressive female warriors, but these have been dismissed by many as only myths. Some art produced at this time included powerful women, but again these are accepted as depictions of myths. Thus the findings of a woman warrior may be too good to be true.

That said, the work done by the scholars in Stockholm investigating the burial of a warrior they believe to be a women is important. Archaeologists need to question the past and need to correct the possible biases of past researchers. On the other hand, archaeologists must not become overly sensitive to past biases themselves. The scholars may not have went to the Viking burial expecting to find a women buried like a man, but when that was what they found, they stopped questioning. They might be correct in their findings that there were female viking warriors; however, all evidence must be taken into account. Further research is needed.

Sources

Anderson, Christina. “A Female Viking Warrior? Tomb Study Yields Clues.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/world/europe/sweden-viking-women-warriors-dna.html?_r=0.

Jesch, Judith. Women in the Viking Age. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1991.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2015.

Williams, Mary Wilhelmine. “Position of Women .” Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age, The Macmillan Company, 1971, pp. 109–122.

Further Readings

Jesch, Judith. “Norse and Viking Ramblings.” Let’s Debate Female Viking Warriors Yet Again, 1 Jan. 1970, norseandviking.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/lets-debate-female-viking-warriors-yet.html?m=1.

Pruitt, Sarah. “What Was Life Like for Women in the Viking Age?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 18 Nov. 2016, www.history.com/news/what-was-life-like-for-women-in-the-viking-age.

Illustrations

Hansen, Evald. “A 19th-Century Illustration of the Contents of the Tomb, Which Was Quickly Identified after Its Discovery as That of a High-Ranking Warrior.” The New York Times, The Swedish History Museum, 14 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/world/europe/sweden-viking-women-warriors-dna.html?_r=0.

Laskow, Sarah. “Hervors Død.” Atlas Obscura , www.atlasobscura.com/articles/viking-warrior-woman-burial-birka.

 

What Our Food Provides Us: How the Human Diet Progresses Archaeological Analysis

Food, as a necessity for human survival, has always been the basis of any society. Archaeology that focuses on the human diet illuminates interactions between society and nature, and therefore explores their subsequent functionality. Diet is so expansive, that an array of findings can provide archaeologists with the tools for analysis. For example, earthenware found at the Lajia site in northwestern China preserved the earliest record of noodle preparation. The bowl was stuck in a floodplain of clay sediment, and radiocarbon dating suggests that these noodles were from four thousand years ago.

The millet noodles appear to be almost paper thin, with a diameter of 0.3 centimeters. They were around 50 centimeters long, with a yellow tint. They reflect many of today’s modern Chinese noodle dishes.

After analysing and attempting to determine the taxa of the noodles, archaeologists found that grass plants – specifically millet – were the basis of Chinese ingredients, and these noodles in particular. The Lajia site, found in the Loess Plateau region of China, was a semi-arid region, which is an efficient climate for millet to grow, solidifying the idea that millet was used to make noodles and other cuisine around this time period.

 

With the millet noodles we see how a relatively small artifact can be used to specify how the environment was utilized by the people inhabiting it. In contrast, we can also look at how a larger archaeological dig site, containing a multitude of plant matter, can shine a light on past practices. The Bronze Age Farm at Black Patch in southern England provided archaeologists with over fifty pounds of wheat, barley, and other plants. The plants were preserved through the charring of the storage pit, prompting many to dub the site as “England’s Pompeii”. 

Along with pounds of edible plants, rich textiles, bronze, wooden, and ceramic artifacts were excavated at the Black Patch Farm site. The findings were uniquely preserved with a combination of waterlogging and charring.

The findings showed an increase importance of wheat, which provides insight into the progression of farming techniques, specifically the newfound reliance on winter-sown crops. Some archaeologists have also speculated that the charring of these storage pits represent the tradition of burning the deceased, and their home, after death.

It’s important to note, however, that these findings are not representative of a wide ranged understanding. In fact, both of these instances are only reflective of a specific, single period in time. The most efficient form of archaeological diet analysis is the study of food traces in the stomach, and fecal matter. Unfortunately, it’s apparent that popular science outlets tend to portray the more glamorous discoveries (like the world’s oldest noodle!) than the discoveries that provide the most accurate and relevant information on diet. Understanding bias in our sources of information – and understanding that the two examples discussed here are only a small piece in a larger puzzle – will allow us to garner a more accurate picture of our past. 

Additional Reading

Swaminathan, N. (2014, August 11). Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Archaeology. Retrieved from https://www.archaeology.org/issues/150-features/americans/2369-peopling-the-americas-meadowcroft-rockshelter

Schaeffer, C. (1978). THE BISON DRIVE OF THE BLACKFEET INDIANS. Plains Anthropologist, 23(82), 243-248. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25667511

 

Image Sources

[Noodles]. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/noodles_0.jpg

[Black Patch Farm]. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.archaeology.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/mustfarmfeatured.jpg

 

Sources

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn (2015) Archaeology Essentials. 3rd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.

Lu, H., Yang, X., Ye, M., Liu, K., Xia, Z., Ren, X., . . . Tung-Sheng, L. (13 October 2005). Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China. Nature, 437, 967-968. doi: 10.1038/437967a

Cunliffe, B. (2006). Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=v1Zkio7jluAC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=bronze+age+farm+at+black+patch+England+wheat&source=bl&ots=iB5vgxi32M&sig=yjFdWZNAvUXX6lhY–kStS3fnwk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiB76nKlbnWAhVD04MKHUzmDUIQ6AEIZzAN#v=onepage&q=bronze%20age%20farm%20at%20black%20patch%20England%20wheat&f=false

Bruck, J. (2002). Bronze Age Landscapes: Tradition and Transformation. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=_IwgDgAAQBAJ&pg=PT315&lpg=PT315&dq=bronze+age+black+patch+farm&source=bl&ots=2uxexgp-Pw&sig=i_TBht5poZgiR5c3-cbroI1Lchk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwia1d-7nrnWAhVI6YMKHTrtDIYQ6AEINzAF#v=onepage&q=black%20patch&f=false

Keys, D. (2016, July 13). Discovery of vast treasure trove of fine textiles shows importance of fashion to Bronze Age Britons. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/vast-treasure-trove-of-fine-textiles-shows-importance-of-fashion-to-bronze-age-britons-a7135786.html

No Interest in War: The Harappan Civilization

Some ancient civilizations were renowned for their warfare techniques—the Chinese’s scale being evident with the discovery of the Terra Cotta Army, the Persians emerging as a military power under Cyrus the Great, and the Romans being famed for their discipline and innovation on the battle field. One civilization, however, might not have engaged in warfare at all, archaeologists speculate.

Depiction of the Harappan civilization, located in the Indus River Valley

This is the Harappan civilization that inhabited the Indus River valley some 5,000 years ago. Surviving for about two millennia, it is believed that this society survived without any major wars or conflicts, and is known to be one of the only ancient cities to do so. Archaeologists have never uncovered any signs of ash (indicating whether the city had ever been burned), weaponry, or even of an army itself.

What makes this especially profound is the prominence of army monuments in civilizations surrounding the Indus River Valley, such as those found in Mesopotamia. However, the fact that the Harappan society shows no traces of an army might be contingent on the fact that these were fairly migrant people. Through the analyzation of teeth found in burial grounds in Mohenjo-Daro (the largest city of the Harappan people), archaeologists discovered that many drank water from a source other than the immediate region, suggesting many people came and went from the city often.

Then what were the Harappan people so focused on besides warfare? Artifacts show that these people were very involved in the art of writing and even science. Markings on pottery show the transition from crude inscriptions to an extensive alphabet, and Harappan cities showcase a firm understanding of engineering, with urban areas built along strict grids and the standardization of bricks essential in the building of their structures.

Signs of character usage on a Harappan seal

So what was the Harappan’s demise, then, if it didn’t engage itself in warfare? Many speculate that rather than a quintessential “fall” within the society, it simply turned into a more nomadic group. This could have been caused by the arrival of the Aryan people in the area. Others suggest that the Harappan people simply shifted away from an urban, mercantile society, and instead adopted a more agricultural lifestyle, eventually merging with the Vedic culture of South Asia.

Whether or not this society was actually void of warfare is not entirely for certain, but through the use of culture history, more truths are slowly being discovered.

Additional reading:

http://archaeologyonline.net/artifacts/harappa-mohenjodaro

https://www.harappa.com/har/indus-saraswati.html

Sources:

https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-civilization-without-war-1595540812

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Indus-civilization

http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/exploring-the-indus-valleys-secrets/

Pictures:

http://cdn.sci-news.com/images/enlarge/image_1705_1e-Harappa.jpg

http://transmissionsmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/marsn-6.jpg

Why are Feathers So Important in the Aztec Culture: Piecing Together the Puzzle

Different civilizations place higher value on various materials and therefore we cannot make assumptions about past cultures based on today’s value system.  While some civilizations from the past deem precious metals like gold, silver, and copper to be objects of higher worth, others find value in a different variety of items.  Archaeologists have determined for example that the Aztecs held feathers as one of nature’s most valuable gifts, as birds appeared to be very important in their culture.  The Aztecs would use brightly colored feathers in headdresses worn by their leaders, including the great Aztec emperor Moctezuma.  Great time and care went into the making of any object involving feathers, as feather-workers spent weeks creating intricate designs to be used in battle shields and adornments, important buildings, cloaks and costumes of the nobles, and religious ceremonies.

The great feathered headdress, supposedly worn by the Aztec emperor Moctezuma himself.  This headdress was believed to be given to Hernan Cortez by the emperor, which is how it presumably ended up in Europe.

The importance of feathers appears to stem from the many references of birds in Aztec culture.  One of the first references to birds in Aztec culture is in the story of how the Aztecs choose the area in which they would build the capital to their future empire.  Legend states that the grand Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was chosen because the first Aztecs wandered and searched for a long time till they witnessed a bird perched on a cactus eating a snake, which is now pictured on the current day Mexican Flag.  The bird in this story is seen in a position of power, as it sits on top of the cactus, peering over the land.  There are also many references to feathers and birds in the Aztec religion.  The Aztecs held many rituals involving human sacrifices to the gods, but birds were also sacrificed during high religious ceremonies.  One of the most important gods in Aztec culture is named Huitzilopochtli, which translates to “Hummingbird of the Left.”  Huitzilopochtli was the god of the sun and of war and the Aztecs believed that warriors who lost their lives in battle would return as hummingbirds, which are characterized by their vibrant feathers.

The Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, generally pictured in artwork bearing the bright colors of the hummingbird and holding his serpent-like weapon.

Quetzalcoatl was one of the other most important gods in the Aztec religion and his name translates to “plumed” or “feathered serpent.” Quetzalcoatl was one of the Aztecs gods of creation, as well as the god of learning and wind.  Many of the important Aztec gods are associated with birds or feathers, leading us to believe that this is one of the reasons that the Aztecs held feathers as such valuable materials.  Only through the analysis of Aztec culture, especially their religion, can we attempt to see the true reason that the Aztecs valued bright feathers and understand that value of a material differs from culture to culture, but that does not make any specific culture more or less advanced because of what they value.

 

Additional Reading:

Aztec Headdresses. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-civilizations/the-ancient-aztecs/aztec-headdresses/

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016, July 08). Huitzilopochtli. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Huitzilopochtli

Sources:

Berdan, F. F. (2014). Aztec archaeology and ethnohistory. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Aztec Religious Ceremonies and Rituals. (2017, May 11). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.historyonthenet.com/aztec-religious-ceremonies-and-rituals/

Brittenham, C. (n.d.). Did the Maya and Aztecs take feathers for headdresses from birds other than quetzals? Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/home/did-the-maya-and-aztecs-take-feathers-for-headdresses-from-birds-other-than-quetzals-1

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017, February 16). Aztec. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aztec

Aztecs Find a Home: The Eagle Has Landed | EDSITEment. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/aztecs-find-home-eagle-has-landed

Cartwright , M. (2013, August 1). Quetzalcoatl. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.citationmachine.net/apa/cite-a-website

Renfrew, C., & Bahn, P.G. (2015). Archaeology essentials: theories, methods, practice. London: Thames & Hudson.

Image Sources:

[Huitzilopochtli represented in the Borbonic Codex. He is carrying a snake like weapon called a Xiuhcoatl and a shield. On his head is a headdress imitating the head of a hummingbird]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/gods/god-of-the-month-huitzilopochtli

[Mexico Aztec Headdress]. (2012, April 28). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-17878130

Seriation of Astronomical Observatories

It seems that humanity has always been fascinated by the night sky. Across the globe, archaeologists have found records of people analyzing the movements of the heavens and using those movements to measure time and to signify important cultural events. While the specific reasons for the study of the cosmos has changed over time, one thing has remained constant: the use of observatories. While the methods and materials used for building observatories have changed, their overall appearance has changed very little.

A prime example of this is El Caracol, found in the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Iztá. This stone observatory was built on the southern side of the city and was rebuilt several times. Archaeologists believe the final version was erected between 900-1000 A.D. The observatory was used to track the movement of the sun and certain planets. The observers seemed to be especially interested in the movement of Venus, as an entire floor of the two-story observatory is dedicated to tracking its movement. The observatory also allowed the Mayans to tell when the sun reached its zenith. This mattered to the Mayans, as the rainy season starts right after the sun reaches its zenith in May. Knowing when the sun reached this point allowed the Mayans to make sure their fields were ready for the rain. They also viewed the planets as embodiments of the gods, so their movement was of religious significance to the Mayans. While the observatory was built using ancient methods and is comprised entirely of stone, its overall structure is similar to that of modern observatories, with a domed roof that allowed for viewing at all angles, and its positioning at a high point in the landscape.

El Caracol, or “The Snail”, an observatory found in the ancient city of Chichén Iztá.

As time went on, observatories shifted from having religious and agricultural significance to being more heavily based in scientific discovery. This is the case for the Vassar College Observatory. Completed in 1865, the observatory was used as both the home and observatory of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer. The observatory was used to study telescopic moments, along with the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Unlike El Caracol, the Vassar College Observatory is comprised of mostly brick, with the dome being made of metal. The observatory also has a telescope, a commodity not invented until 1608.

Vassar College Observatory, located at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Even in modern day, observatories continue to maintain the same basic appearance. However, they have changed quite dramatically in the scope of both their reach and potential. One example of this is the Mount Graham Observatory. Built to research exoplanets and to analyze the dust around stars. While maintaining a similar shape to both El Caracol and the Vassar College Observatory, it not only has a cube shaped top rather than a dome, but it has two telescopes rather than one.

The Mount Graham Observatory, located on Mount Graham in Arizona.

Sources:

Miller, Julia. The Caracol, or Observatory of Chichén Itzá. Yucatan Today. Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://yucatantoday.com/caracol-or-observatory-chichen-itza/?lang=en.

Maria Mitchell. Vassar Encyclopedia. Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/faculty/original-faculty/maria-mitchell1.html

Vassar College Observatory. National Park Service. Accessed September 17th, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/places/vassar-college-observatory.htm

Beal, Tom. Huge Mount Graham telescope finally paying off. The Arizona Daily Sun.  Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://azdailysun.com/huge-mount-graham-telescope-finally-paying-off/article_116733a4-fdd4-592f-a256-cb9c5f1bcbeb.html

Picture sources:

Wikimedia Commons. Accessed September 17th, 2017. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vassar_College_Observatory.jpg

EL Caracol, The Observatory of Chichén Itzá. Atlas Obscura. Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/el-caracol-chichen-itza-mexico

Beal, Tom. Huge Mount Graham telescope finally paying off. The Arizona Daily Sun.  Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://azdailysun.com/huge-mount-graham-telescope-finally-paying-off/article_116733a4-fdd4-592f-a256-cb9c5f1bcbeb.html

 

 

Radiocarbon Dating Leads to a New Discovery on an Ancient Manuscript

An Indian text commonly referred to as The Bakhshali Manuscript is documented as the oldest record of the concept of zero and it was believed to be originally from the 9th century.  However, the document was recently tested at the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and the results determined that The Bakhshali Manuscript is from 224-383 AD.

Radiocarbon dating is a technique used by archaeologists to determine the approximate age of an artifact and or ecofact. It measures the radioactive decay  of  carbon-14, which is found in all organic material. It is the most common and reliable absolute dating technique. Researchers were able to use radiocarbon dating on The Bakhshali Manuscript because it was made out of birch bark, an organic material. However, it was difficult to determine the true age of The Bakhshali Manuscript because the 70 page document is composed of materials from three different time periods. When the University of Oxford tested the document with their Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit they used three different samples and each sample came from a different century. One sample came from 885-993 AD, another from 680-779, and the most shocking from 224-383 AD.  There may be more information on why The Bakhshali Manuscript  comes from three different time periods but, an official report of the results have not yet been published.

The University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit

There is little information on how The Bakhshali Manuscript was discovered. Researchers do know that the document was found in 1881 by a farmer in Bakhshali, a small village in  Pakistan,  buried in a field. In 1902, The  Bakhshali Manuscript was transferred to The Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  Translations of the Sanskrit text on the document reveal that it was a reference book for traders on the Silk Road. The  Bakhshali Manuscript contains simple arithmetic exercises, most likely for determining profitable exchanges. It are these  exercises where the zeros, which are used as place holders and found as solid dots,  are located . It is a shame that there is no context recorded of the site where the manuscript was discovered and perhaps more artifacts are waiting to be found. However, there is still a lot to learn from the document itself.

The zero is found as a dot on The Bakhshali Manuscript

The  new discovery of The Bakhshali Manuscript’s true age  reveals  how cemented the idea of zero was in India. It is challenging to image a world without zero, but many cultures, especially European found it difficult to adopt this new concept.  India has had a long religious history of contemplating nothingness.  Marcus du Sautoy, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, believes that this is why the concept of zero might have been influenced through cultural practices. Du Sautoy stated,  “This [The Bakhshali Manuscript ] is coming out of a culture that is quite happy to conceive of the void, to conceive of the infinite.That is exciting to recognise, that culture is important in making big mathematical breakthroughs.”  The Bakhshali Manuscript is a remarkable artifact that demonstrates the interwoven relationship between complex math concepts and culture.

Additional Readings

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-15/ancient-indians-used-zero-earlier-than-previously-thought/8949890

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ancient-indian-text-pushes-back-history-of-zero-by-500-years/articleshow/60524162.cms

Sources

“A Big Zero: Research Uncovers the Date of the Bakhshali Manuscript.” YouTube, University of Oxford, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV_gXGTuWxY&feature=youtu.be.

“Carbon Dating at Oxford University Finds Bakhshali Manuscript Contains Oldest Recorded Origins of the Symbol ‘Zero’.” Fine Books, 14 Sept. 2017, www.finebooksmagazine.com/press/2017/09/carbon-dating-at-oxford-university-finds-bakhshali-manuscript-contains-oldest-recorded-origins-of-th.phtml.

Devlin, Hannah. “Much ado about nothing: ancient Indian text contains earliest zero symbol.” The Guardian, 13 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/14/much-ado-about-nothing-ancient-indian-text-contains-earliest-zero-symbol.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. London, Thames & Hudson, 2015.

Picture Sources

The Bakhshali Manuscript. media2.intoday.in/indiatoday/images/stories/zero-xl_091517122744.jpg.

The University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. www.arch.ox.ac.uk/rlaha.html.

 

Suggested Cosmology and Retracted Image: An Analysis of the Newark Earthworks

Across American society today, prevailing trends purvey an understanding of Eastern Woodland Peoples as naturalistic itinerants with a deep and harmonious awareness of forests, waters, and the bounty offered therein. Almost as a default, ‘structure’ suggests images of impermanent longhouses and wigwams. Likewise, ‘culture’ suggests a reverence for the Earth. People seldom consider Native Americans movers and shapers of the landscapes around them, especially in the context of timelines extending back nearly 2000 years. In archaeological practice, the rigid assumptions of the populace at large endanger objective analysis from the outset, especially when it comes to the identification of significant sites and the decision to interpret evidence.

 

In Newark, Ohio, not far from Columbus, lies what basic historical literature refers to as “the largest set of geometric earthen enclosures in the world” (“Newark Earthworks”). Even though the area surrounding the sites is highly urbanized in a way that engulfs each one as a separate island of greenspace, archaeology is concerned with the ancient context that extends throughout the landscape. Here, sites of interest have been revealed by extrapolating Native American cosmology and mathematics from features on the landscape.

Recent studies using ground and aerial survey techniques emphasize the importance of Geller Hill in understanding the creation and significance of the Newark Earthworks. Plotted on a map in the midst of a flat plain, Geller Hill is a landmark. Using the diameter of Newark’s Observatory Circle (OCD) as a baseline, archaeologists recognize the significance placed on spatial distance by Hopewell peoples. Located approximately seven OCDs from the peak of Geller Hill, the centers of the Newark’s octagonal and circular earthworks appear to form the sides of an isosceles triangle. According to a local source, “the measured Geller Hill, Octagon, Great Circle triangle varies from the geometric ideal by an average of less than one percent,” much like other Hopewell sites (Romain).

Image 1: Schematic plan of the Newark Earthworks

Consistent use of the OCD lends credence to an integrated view of landscape and erodes the perception of Native American societies as hapless in their patterns of settlement and naive in their understanding of the universe. Altogether, the Newark Earthworks compose an extensive natural observatory that people used to position themselves within a valid reality. The triangle’s axis of symmetry “[aligns with] the moon’s maximum north rise point” and thereby associates the site with Hopewell ideas of a balance cosmos. Bradley T. Lepper goes so far as to compare the site with a “gigantic machine or factory” drawing together the energies of the Hopewell universe (Lepper).

Image 2: The Hopewell Cosmos

The People of the Eastern Woodlands clearly possessed a rich cosmological framework enhanced by an understanding of astronomy and mathematics. Subsumed in development, the sites are sequestered from the landscape to form an image that today’s society finds agreeable, an image that archaeologists possess the means to retract.

 

Sources:

Hopewell Archaeology. 2005. National Parks Service, www.nps.gov/mwac/hopewell/v6n2/doc/v6n2_all.pdf. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Lepper, Bradley Thomas. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio’s Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.

“Newark Earthworks.” Ohio History Connection, 2017, www.ohiohistory.org/visit/museum-and-site-locator/newark-earthworks. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Romain, William F. “Newark Earthwork Cosmology: This Island Earth.” The Newsletter of Hopewell Archaeology in the Ohio River Valley, Mar. 2005.

 

Image Citations:

Schematic Plan of the Newark Earthworks. National Parks Service, 2005, www.nps.gov/mwac/hopewell/v6n2/doc/v6n2_all.pdf. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Eastern Woodlands Cosmos. National Parks Service, 2005, www.nps.gov/mwac/hopewell/v6n2/doc/v6n2_all.pdf. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

 

Links:

https://www.crt.state.la.us/dataprojects/archaeology/marksville/hopewell-culture.html

https://www.nps.gov/mwac/hopewell/v6n2/doc/v6n2_all.pdf

 

 

What Pottery Can Teach Us About Ancient Pueblo Cultures

One of my fondest memories is of travelling down to Mesa Verde National Park and being given pottery shards to piece back together like a puzzle. For many archaeologists, this seemingly fun task is actually of monumental importance to learn about ancient native Pueblo people.

One of the simplest yet important discoveries regarding pottery was how it was made. Using other artifacts found around old kilns made from dung, archaeologists have been able to deduce that Pueblo peoples made their pottery by making long coils of clay, stacking them, and then smoothing over the gaps with smooth pottery shards, and lastly firing them in a kiln heated by burning dung. They were then painted using a paste derived from boiled plants. This method is still used today making this discovery rather straightforward.

Modern Example of an Ancient Pueblo Kiln

Another extremely evident characteristic of the pottery is the varying color of the clay used. Pottery was made using either grey or red clay. This is immensely important because the base color was determined by the location of the tribes who made the pottery. Certain tribes in Utah made the red clay pottery not for its color but because their environment was naturally more rich in oxygen than that of their southern brethren. This environment would oxidize the iron in the clay during the firing process and turn the pot red. Examples of such pottery have however been found much farther south in Arizona, which is important because it provides evidence that the tribes traded amongst themselves.

Example of Ancient Pueblo Red Clay Pottery

Similarly interesting is that the designs showed clear examples of linearity. That is, almost all pottery from specific time periods shows similar designs like zigzags, animals, etc. These time periods have been proven by dating sites using the rings in timbers of surrounding structures. This is especially interesting because it shows that ancient native cultures, like those of today cared about conforming to societal definitions of beauty. Archaeologists do not know why tastes changed, but presently this is very helpful because the designs of pottery at sites are yet another tool to help date a site.

Another important distinction that can be made about ancient native potters is that they figured out many uses for their pottery. Lots of pottery that has been found actually has no designs and shows clear scorch marks showing that pottery was used to cook, not just for decoration, rituals, or storage like it mostly is used for today.

What is perhaps most amazing is I have not presented anywhere close to all of the insights pottery has given archaeologists into past cultures. Pottery is just as useful today for archaeologists as it was for the people who made it. Because of the importance of these artifacts to present cultures, and all of the information that they offer archaeologists, it is undoubtedly more important than ever that sites are excavated as scientifically as possible so as to best preserve evidence of the ancient cultures that we still have so much to learn about.

Sources:

https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/upload/Pottery-of-the-Ancestral-Pueblo-Lesson-Plan.pdf

http://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/files/Educators/mesa_verde_primary_resource_set.pdf

Picture Sources:

https://www.pinterest.com/oldterritorial/maricopa-and-mojave-indian-pottery/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:24_Acoma_Pueblo_oven.jpg

Further Readings:

Ortman, Scott (2006), “Ancient Pottery of the Mesa Verde Country: How Ancestral Pueblo People Made It, Used It, and Thought About It”, in Nobel, David Grant, The Mesa Verde World: Explorations in Ancestral Puebloan Archaeology, School of American Research Press, pp. 100–109, ISBN978-1-930618-75-6

Glowacki, Donna M.; Neff, Hector; Glascock, Michael D. (1998), “An Initial Assessment of the Production and Movement of Thirteenth Century Ceramic Vessels in the Mesa Verde Region”, Kiva, 63(3), pp. 217–41

Lang, Richard W. (2006), “Craft Arts of the Mesa Verde”, in Nobel, David Grant, The Mesa Verde World: Explorations in Ancestral Puebloan Archaeology, School of American Research Press, pp. 58–65, ISBN978-1-930618-75-6

Decolonizing Archaeology

The study of archaeology was originated in Europe, therefore its colonial roots are very apparent. Because it originated as colonial practice, in general, archaeology has mainly been westerners traveling and trying to understand the history of different Indigenous people (Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice). The fact that the colonizers were the people determining the history of past civilizations reveals that a bias exists in how we understand certain cultures. When artifacts were found and analyzed, they were easily misinterpreted and taken out of context. Then they would be taken and placed in a museum, creating a false history. These inaccuracies are then passed down and are taken for the truth. For example, when British archaeologist Neville Chittick came across ancient stone towns on the Swahili Coast, he automatically assumed that they had to have been made by outsiders (Matters of Context).  His misinterpretation was then documented in textbooks and has misguided many people who read his work. In class we discussed the importance of contextualizing artifacts. In order to fully understand the artifact being studied, it is crucial to be conscious and knowledgable about the culture, traditions, rituals and other defining characteristics surrounding it. Without this understanding, artifacts are taken out of context, misunderstood, and the entire truth is not revealed. Archaeology’s colonial roots and prioritization of Western cultures has proved to be problematic, but there are ways to break away from this system.

Figure 1: Stone towns in the Swahili Coast

When the correct steps are taken, archaeology has the ability to unearth many overlooked aspects of history. While it can be used to learn about the past, archaeology is not just about learning about history, but it is extremely helpful in understanding the complexities of relationships between people today. By revealing other ways of life, and events that had major impacts of entire cultures, we can achieve a greater appreciation for people who we view are different than us. These realizations can help solve issues that present themselves today. For example, the history of Indigenous people in North America has been misrepresented by mainstream archaeology (Decolonization in Archaeological Theory). By studying artifacts and getting the real story of their past, we can begin to make reparations for everything that was taken from Native Americans. This includes returning cultural property, restoration of cultural landmarks and heritage sites, and better representation in museums and the media (Decolonization in Archaeological Theory). Archaeology has the ability to bring justice to marginalized groups of people when it is a community-based project that prioritizes the people they are studying.

Figure 2: Native American artifacts

Citations:

Atalay, S. “Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice.” The American Indian Quarterly, vol. 30 no. 3, 2006, pp. 280-310. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aiq.2006.0015

https://www.archaeology.org/issues/116-1401/sidebars/1719-colonial-archaeology-swahili-coast

http://www.academia.edu/6661058/Decolonization_in_Archaeological_Theory

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/202291

Figure 1: https://www.archaeology.org/issues/116-1401/features/1634-swahili-coast-towns

Figure 2: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/native-american-artifacts/?lp=true

Further Reading:

Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: The New Pragmatism-https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Ccsmpug-xaoC&oi=fnd&pg=PP14&dq=archaeology+and+social+justice&ots=2yFTD2uM2p&sig=4eGMgQdw_Z7lsfvqo4piGimha2U#v=onepage&q=archaeology%20and%20social%20justice&f=false

Archaeology as a Tool of Civic Engagement- https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ZMjjwT8_OT8C&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=archaeology+and+social+justice&ots=gx2HAYuzK4&sig=F5HF7451z1UAgQ5sKy4IyGoaNHs#v=onepage&q=archaeology%20and%20social%20justice&f=false

The Dogs of Lake Baikal

 

In the 1980-90s, sites near Irkutsk were investigated for archaeological evidence of early nomadic groups. The area hosts a plethora of burials from early gatherer steppe societies. One central finding in the region involved evidence of domesticated dogs buried with people, alone, and for sacrifice.

 

The Lokomotiv site housed what archaeologists refer to as the “Lokomotiv wolf.” The wolf’s skull was approximately 10.5 inches long, its shoulder placed at a height of ~30 in. Isotope analysis revealed that the wolf’s diet was largely ungulates — and while there is little evidence to support the animals domestication, it was buried formally.

Other sites, such as in Shamanka II, provide full skeletons and evidence of injuries and diet. At Ust’-Belaia a dog was buried wearing a necklace of four red deer canine teeth pendants. Excavation at the Shamanskii Mys site revealed (see image) human remains surrounded in canine skeletons. Shamanskii Mys is, however, not an isolate and cemeteries in the region have unearthed several instances of dogs buried with human remains.

Field work east of the Baikal has also revealed canine remains buried with consumed and sacrificed animal bones. Whether domesticated dogs were eaten or sacrificed is not clear. However, this expresses the importance of context in these cemeteries. Canine bones, whether alone, with human artifacts or bones, or among other animal remains presents varying interpretations. Additionally, the dog burials have been dated and connected to different known tribes and time periods. Using the surrounding artifacts and ecofacts of a dig, canines can be understood as followers of nomadic humans, participants in culture, or simply food — or all three. In any case, the dogs of Lake Baikal teach us that context is king, and that dogs have been with humans since the beginning.

References —

K. Kris Hurst, “How and Why Dogs Were Domesticated” https://www.thoughtco.com/how-and-why-dogs-were-domesticated-170656

Robert Losey, et al., “Burying Dogs in Ancient Cis-Baikal, Siberia,” http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0063740#pone-0063740-t001

Image Sources (in order) —

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mietje_Germonpre/publication/229412056/figure/fig1/AS:340602022580224@1458217258116/Fig-1-Map-of-the-study-area-with-locations-of-sites-mentioned-in-the-text-indicated.png

“Burying Dogs,” http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0063740#pone-0063740-t001

Further Reading —

Andrzej Weber, et al., “Radiocarbon Dates from Neolithic and Bronze Age Hunter-Gatherer Cemetaries in the Cis-Baikal Region of Siberia,” https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/viewFile/2855/2620

V.I. Bazaliiskiy, “The Wolf of Baikal,” https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+wolf+of+Baikal%3A+the+%22Lokomotiv%22+early+Neolithic+cemetery+in…-a0100484923