Shored Up: Dealing With the Realities of Climate Change


A view of Long Beach Island from the East.

Shored Up is a documentary that delves into the impact that climate change is having on sea levels and therefore beachfront property that is close to the shoreline.  Included in the documentary are interviews with scientists, activists, lobbyists, and others with opinions on beach erosion and its effect on homes.  The focus of the documentary is on Long Beach Island, an island off the coast of New Jersey that is 18 miles long and about 400 meters (around a quarter of a mile) wide.

One of the release posters for the Shored Up film.  The image of waves flooding a construction plow and coastal houses perfectly conveys the film's anti coastal development message.

One of the release posters for the Shored Up film. The image of waves flooding a construction plow and coastal houses perfectly conveys the film’s anti coastal development message.

On the island in question, beaches are being eroded by rising sea levels and by general ocean activity (the movement of waves and such).  Owners of expensive waterfront property are having the beaches in front of their property “replenished”, which means essentially that extra sand is being dumped in front of their houses to replace that lost to erosion.  This is all being done at the expense of taxpayers through the federal, state, and local governments (although most of the funds are being raised federally).  This “beach replenishment” has sparked a wide-ranging debate concerning whether it is a good idea or not.  Some feel that it is, some feel that federal funds are being squandered, and some feel that “beach replenishment” is not an effective long-term solution due to the fact that rising sea levels projected by scientists over the next century (over a meter) will flood over the houses that are being temporarily protected anyways.

I agreed with the overall argument of the movie that rising sea levels will eventually destroy any economic or residential development close to the shoreline and that we should therefore think more carefully about where we build.  However, I noticed that mentions of “global warming” were scarce and that talk of greenhouse gases generated by human activity was lacking altogether, although this would be a logical explanation to give for the rising sea levels.  I believe that this was done to avoid alienating those who deny the existence of “global warming” and still appeal to them.  Mention of recent temperature increase was given, but this was not attributed to “global warming”.  I personally believe that deniers of global warming would much more easily object to “global warming” itself than an abject statement of temperature change, meaning that the film would still be able to appeal to those non-believers.  I don’t believe in the use of these tactics and I think that the full scientific argument should have been presented, not parts of it.  After all, making one’s argument more “presentable” is not going to have a real impact on our nation’s anti-scientific political climate, which is at the heart of the problem.

The relation between the climate change described in the documentary to archaeology was implicit yet relatively simple.  As long as this erosion of the beaches due to sea level rise continues, archaeological sites that formerly existed under those beaches will be destroyed.  In addition, the “beach replenishment” itself may be destroying archaeological remains, as heavy plows which could damage those records are being used to spread the new sand.  In other words, the only way to save archaeological sites on the coast is to find a long-term solution to the erosion problem that would most likely involve combating rising sea levels and global warming.

Also, archaeological methods have been used to collect much of the data that proves climate change is occurring, as described in Colin Renfrew’s Archaeology Essentials.  Many ice cores have been extracted from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.  These cores tell us that whenever the greenhouse gas level rises (as measured within the cores themselves), global temperatures increase.  And right now greenhouse gas levels measured in our atmosphere are higher than they have been for the last half a million years.  So, in this way, archaeology can be used to provide evidence that climate change will take place in the near future.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.


Additional information:



Isotopic Analysis in Environmental Archaeology

The use of isotope analysis in environmental archaeology has expanded. By measuring the ratio of different isotopes found in human and animal remains, archaeologists may be able to tell a human or animal’s geological origin, including climate and seasonal movements, as well as their diet.

Most forms of isotopic analysis consist of analysis on bones and teeth and shells. An individual’s tooth is said to be able to provide a “geological snapshot from the early years of life, when teeth were developing.” An archaeologist could gain evidence of a person’s environment when they were younger as the isotopes in that environment during the period of time when the tooth was forming influences the isotopes found in that tooth. Another less used part of the body that can be analyzed is hair. It is thought to be not as susceptible to change due to age as bone and teeth may be and absorbs many isotopes from the surrounding environment.

Examples of various human diets

Examples of various human diets

The ecosystem a person lives in transfers isotopes to the people and animals feeding there. They are transferred when people eat animals and/or plants and by reading the different levels of different isotopes a pretty accurate construction of what their diet consisted of can be formed. For example vegans and vegetarians differ from those who are neither vegan nor vegetarian in the composition and levels of isotopes in their bodies. Isotope analysis sometimes shows cultural differences through dietary habits. Stable carbon and nitrogen values found in the bones from an Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery site provided results on how class distinctions altered dietary habits between the “wealthy,” “intermediate wealthy” and “poor.” It also showed how diets were not different between the sexes at the time. Another study in Europe, through isotopic research, was able to propose the idea that the Late European Mesolithic era diet consisted of mostly marine fish with small contributions from shellfish or marine mammals.

Dr. Thorton using strontium isotope analysis to investigate faunal resource exchange among the ancient Maya

Dr. Thorton using strontium isotope analysis to investigate faunal resource exchange among the ancient Maya

Climate leaves is mark on human beings and animals alike with its own isotopic signature. A carbon ration may be used to show where an individual obtains his or her food, displaying if the food was from an arid environment or not. The isotope strontium can be used to discover an individual’s geologic origins. The prevalence of the isotope found in remains can indicate the area a person lived in according to the area’s own isotopic record. Oxygen isotopes provide a good climactic indicator as well as evidence to animal movements. If an individual lived at higher altitudes the air would have been thinner than someone living at or below sea level and they would have, consequentially, had a different oxygen isotope ratio.

Isotopic Analysis is growing in its significance and use in archaeology. It can be used to do more than just date remains or artifacts. It can create a picture of the object or artifact’s environment.


Additional Resources:

Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton, Second Edition

american archaeology: a quarterly publication of The Archaeological Conservancy


Homo Neanderthalensis: Caveman or Industrialist?

This week in class we talked about how early humans used tools to hunt, butcher meat,and perform other tasks, and how archaeologists have been unearthing these tools as artifacts.  I had previously read about the use of glue in early stone tools and was intrigued by it, so since we did not cover this thoroughly in class, I decided to do more research.


A reconstruction of a Neanderthal holding a spear bound using manufactured glue.

As it turns out, Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) used glue in their tools and were one of the first species to do so.  The glue used by Neanderthals has been discovered in two different types.  The first was made by retrieving and heating asphalt deposits, yielding a sticky substance that could be used to bind a spear tip made out of stone to a wooden shaft.  This glue was used along with animal sinew or some other form of “string” used to tie the wood to the spear tip.  A second type of glue was manufactured using an even more complex process.  This glue was made by extracting pitch from birch bark.  Through experimental methods, researchers have discovered that manufacture of this pitch would entail heating the bark to a temperature of higher than 650 degrees fahrenheit in an oxygen-free environment.  The pitch has been discovered at archaeological sites in Königsaue, Germany; Inden-Altdorf, Germany; and Campitello, Italy.  The substance was found near Neanderthal-style tools, implicating Neanderthals in the manufacture of this complex material.  The sites date back from 40,000 to 200,000 years.


A juxtaposition of the skulls of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (left) and Homo Neanderthalensis (right).

The implications of these finds are astonishing.  Both of the types of “glue” yielded by Neanderthal manufacture qualify as “synthetic” materials, as heat was used to extract a substance that could not be harvested directly from the earth from another that did occur in nature.  Furthermore, the second process implicates that Neanderthals had some knowledge of chemical principles, as they had to not only create an environment with a very high temperature but one containing no oxygen, which would require a conscious effort to devise a method of excluding oxygen from said environment.  This use of critical thinking skills is one that we would typically attribute to our species alone – yet these finds suggest that Neanderthals were doing it before modern humans even existed, over 200,000 years ago.  This evidence is key in the debate on whether Neanderthals should be classified as a subspecies of Homo Sapiens (our species).  Interbreeding is known to have occurred between the two species, and usually it is only possible for members of the same species to mate.  However, there are still several key differences between the two.  Perhaps this discovery that Neanderthals used similar synthetic processes to those present in the modern human archaeological record proves that Homo Sapiens Sapiens are not so different from them after all.


Additional Reading:

Meatheads or Omnivores: World’s Oldest Human Poop Decides

Although technically considered to be “number two,” scientists have made a discovery using 50,000 year old fecal matter considered to be number one in its field. The discovery, made in a cave site at El Salt in Alicante, Spain, proves that the Neanderthals which inhabited that region did not eat only meats but they ate their veggies as well.

The cave site of El Salt during excavation.

The cave site of El Salt during excavation.

The Neanderthals, which are Homo Sapiens (a.k.a. modern humans) close yet extinct relatives, were our ancestors long thought to be dim-witted and solely meat-eaters. Yet, these beliefs were proven wrong when geoarchaeologist Ainara Sistiaga led a study into the caves in southern Spain and subsequently found the fossilized feces, known also as “coprolites.”

Surprisingly enough, when Sistiaga first led the investigation into the caves at El Salt, what researchers were originally looking for was chemical traces regarding what it was that Neanderthals used to cook with. “I thought they were cooking in there, so I was looking for lipids from cooking,” says Sistiaga to USA Today. As the research at the site continued, however, the poop samples were found unexpectedly on the top layer of a hearth which dates back to around 50,000 years ago. “I was quite surprised we found these samples in a place where they would eat,” says Sistiaga. “We think they were deposited after they stopped using the fire pit.”

Before these samples were recovered, many believed that the Neanderthals who lived that long ago only ate the meat of various animals which they had hunted down. Many of the previous studies relating to Neanderthal diet relied upon fossilized stomach content and the remains on food between their teeth. However, out of the samples of fecal matter recovered, two have contained cholesterol-related compounds which are consistent with that of various plants-based foods. What does this mean exactly? It means that our early human ancestors were actually well-balanced when it came to their diets.

A close-up of what scientists say is a miniature sample of Neanderthal poop. Fossilized or petrified excrement are known as “coprolites.”

A close-up of what scientists say is a miniature sample of Neanderthal poop. Fossilized or petrified excrement are known as “coprolites.”

In addition to revealing the presence of plant foods in Neanderthal diet, analysis of the preserved poop showed evidence of parasites, including those such as hookworms and pinworms. The numbers in which these parasites were present correspond with what scientists say would make modern humans very sick.

Overall, this new evidence has begun to shed some light on the diets of many Neanderthals long ago. As Paleontologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis told National Geographic, this study of petrified excrement is the first to provide direct chemical evidence that our Neanderthal ancestors ate their vegetables along with their meat. However, it is important to remember that evidence provided by fecal residues represents only short-term information on the diets of those who left them, but as time goes on, more discoveries will undoubtedly lead to more definitive proof regarding how and what our distant relatives ate.

More Reading On This Topic Can Be Found At:

Works Cited

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. “Fecal Material.” Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2010. 202-03. Print.

Sullivan, Gail. “World’s Oldest Poop Suggests Neanderthals Weren’t Meatheads.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 June 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.

Vergano, Dan. “What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet.” N.p., 25 June 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.

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Got Milk?

Mysterious bowls covered with holes were found in central Poland by archaeologist Peter Bogucki back in the 1970s. Unsure of what their purpose was, Bogucki put them away in storage. In chapter six of  Archaeology Essentials, one of the question we look at is: “What did they eat?”. There are multiple different ways to figure out what types of foods were eaten by a group of people, but Mélanie Roffet-Salque, a geochemist, decided to analyze the food residues hiding inside the bowls. By doing this she found milk fat, and the purpose of the bowls were uncovered. These bowls were used to separate the fatty part from the drinkable part of milk. This new information gives us a look inside the people who owned these peculiar bowls.

Originally, only babies and young children could tolerate lactose. As they got older their bodies would not produce lactose enzymes, causing them to become lactose intolerant. Around 11,000 years ago, Prehistoric people would decrease the levels of lactose by making dairy products like cheese and yogurt. These products are fermented. By going through the necessary processes of fermentation the lactose levels would decrease allowing them to be consumed. However, during the shift from hunter-gathers to farmers, there was another changed that occurred. A genetic mutation spread through Europe, that allowed adults to continue producing lactose enzymes. Instead of milk being a toxin, it was integrated into their diet. This shift changed what people drank and what they depended on.


Ancient Egyptian scene, depicting the use of cattle and the milk produced. Africa was also affected by this genetic mutation.

When this genetic mutation spread through Europe, farming already played a huge role in people’s lives. They relied on their crops for food. However, if crops were ruined by a storm, wild animals, or a drought, the farmers would lose those resources and would struggle to survive until next season. With the introduction of dairy products,  a new balance came about. The products allowed the farmers to have a safety net. If their crops spoiled, or if there was not enough, farmers could turn to cattle for dairy products.



Chart expressing the evolution of dairy.

The gene did more than allow adults to consume diary products. It also affected the fertility rates of those who had the genetic modification. Those that had the genetic mutation “would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it” (Curry).  Diary was not such another safe source of nutrition but an actually aid to insure the continuation of a culture. Being able to utilize chemical analysis to analyze cultural artifacts allowed us to see the introduction of dairy products into the lives of Europeans, and how it changed what they relied on and what they needed to utilize those resources.


Curry, Andrew. “Archaeology: The Milk Revolution.” Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 31 July 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <>.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn (2010) Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.


More Readings:

Coprolites Reveal Earlier Date for First North Americans

Coprolites are fossilized feces that can be analytically examined to understand archaeological events. Fourteen coprolites were found by archaeologists at the lowest levels of the Paisley 5-mile point caves in south-central Oregon. The coprolites found it this site were morphologically human based on the size, shape, consistency, and color. Upon further analysis using multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR), all fourteen coprolites tested positive for human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The next step for the archaeologists was to date the age of these coprolites.

Panorama of the Paisley 5 mile point caves in south-central Oregon where the coprolites were found.

Panorama of the Paisley 5 mile point caves in south-central Oregon where the coprolites were found.

The coprolites were dated using an accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) system. This radiocarbon dating system found that the three oldest produced an age of 12,300 14C years B.P. To ensure the validity of these coprolites dates, the archaeologists sent the five coprolites from the deepest layers to be direct dated by AMS at two independent laboratories; Beta Analytic in Florida, USA and Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford, UK. These two labs used two different methodologies for analyzing the coprolites and could be cross examined for accuracy. From the five coprolites sent to both labs, four produced consistent dates ranging approximately 1300 to 12,300 14C years B.P. and three pre-dated 11,000 14C years B.P. This data confirms that humans were present in North America before the Clovis people.

This is the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry system that was used to detect the long-lived radionuclides in the coprolites.

A breakdown of the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry system that was used to detect and analyze the long-lived radionuclides in the coprolites.

The Clovis people are a group of prehistoric Native Americans commonly thought to be the first human inhabitants of North America. They are named after the town where their artifacts were found in Clovis, New Mexico and they inhabited the area around 11,000 14C years B.P. The latest coprolite studies from Oregon question the age of North American inhabitants. Many other pre-Clovis occupation sites have been recorded around North America but they remain controversial because of the lack of human artifacts to accurately date the sites. The coprolites found at the Paisley 5 mile point caves are so crucial because they undisputedly confirm pre-Clovis humans. The DNA in the coprolites not only dated the age of the humans who produced them, but they also gave us an insight to their diet.

Many of the coprolites contained canid 16S mitochondrial DNA that is similar to the red fox, coyote, domestic dog, or wolf. Among the coprolites the archaeologists also found a diverse amount of canid bones. The two most likely explanations for these findings are that the earliest humans in North America included canids in their diet or that canids inhabited the caves during nonhuman occupation and directly urinated on the human feces. Both theories give us insight to the past and the importance of coprolite analysis in resolving the historical record.

Additional Links

What AMS is and how it is works:

Analysis of Coprolites found in the Hidden Caves of western Nevada:


Picture links

A Social Bias in the Approach to Understanding Paleolithic Art

Until the 1970’s, Paleolithic art was classified into two major groups: parietal art, including cave and rock art, and portable art. The clear difference between the two is that one form is moveable and the other is not. This classification gave rise to a bias in understanding and interpreting Paleolithic art, especially when considering portable and nonfigurative representations.

Many archaeologists derived working concepts of art from art historians when looking at style, perspective and form. However, the bias that arose from this method came as a result of art theory ideals prevalent since the Renaissance. There was an emphasis and focus on the “naturalistic” ideal in which artists were praised for their accuracy in representing the world. These guidelines then put great importance on cave paintings, which had more “realistic” art representations, and often underestimated or ignored portable artifacts and ornaments.

To further this bias, 18th century Europe saw the growth of public art museums, such as The British Museum and the Spanish Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture. With this new appreciation for aesthetics, crafts were pushed aside and judged as mechanical and unrefined. During this period, the parietal/portable classification of Paleolithic art, which already rejected portable work for its lack of naturalism, started to adapt to the fine arts/crafts distinction in which portable art was seen as naïve or infantile. At this time, some archaeologists assumed that painting was an indicator of higher cognitive function as compared to the skills in making portable pieces.

What is clear is that if art theorists were captivated by paintings yet denigrated crafts, archeologists followed suit, ignoring many portable works while celebrating cave paintings, such as those at Altamira and Niaux.


Many culminating factors, such as the globalization of Paleolithic art studies and the development of new approaches to art and symbolism, led to a change in archaeologists’ viewpoints in 1970. These new methods took into account that the making of artifacts was the culmination of the artistic experience. To understand the value of the piece, the creator’s stance toward a work of art must be considered. Furthermore, portable art and personal objects, while previously ignored, were now recognized for their value in assessing the social culture of Paleolithic groups. While parietal images on a wall might serve as landscape markers, portable objects are now regarded as indicators of social and individual identities. Since portable objects have the potential of traveling distances, it is acknowledged that these artifacts and art pieces could have been used to express the social statuses of individuals or groups within a larger Paleolithic culture.


Overall, social stigma derived from art theorists and artistic culture previous to 1970 influenced archaeologists interpretations of Paleolithic art in such a way that cave paintings were generally overemphasized relative to portable art pieces. However, with the rejection of this Eurocentrism and an anthropological turn in the conceptualization of Paleolithic art, movable and fixed forms of art are now considered distinct yet equal in their insight into different aspects of Paleolithic culture.


Works Cited:

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2010. Print.

Moro Abadía, Ór 2013, ‘Paleolithic art cultural history’, Journal Of Archaeological Research, 21, 3, pp. 269-306, Anthropology Plus, EBSCOhost, viewed 27 September 2014.


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Additional Reading:

The ethics of population and society

Biologists often study the population dynamics of other animal species. Population sizes are described as being controlled by factors such as resource availability and prevalence of predators. Populations fluctuate in size based on the combined effects of these various influencing factors.

The world’s human population, in the last several hundred years, has been increasing exponentially and relatively undeterred. This has contributed to many contemporary problems. There is major strain on natural resources which has resulted in extensive ecological destruction. There is much social and political strife, often by way of the aforementioned environmental pressures.

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Image 1: World population growth over the last 12 000 years. Population size is correlated with types of society over the time scale.

However, human populations across the globe and through time have existed in varying types of societies. One major characteristic of a society is its population size. The relationships between population dynamics and society are intricate. Does the size of a population influence the type of society in which it is found? Or conversely, does a type of society influence its population size?

One common question refers to whether human populations can exist in a more “natural” or “balanced” state, more similar to those of other animal species. And if so, what does this mean for the type of society in which such a population would have to exist?

The San peoples of Southern Africa are the last living remnants of a wide group of peoples that pre-existed even the Bantu-speaking nations of Africa, let alone the Europeans. This wide group of peoples were Stone Age hunter-gatherers who inhabited most Africa for thousands of years. The hunter-gatherer way of life which these peoples employed is still in existence today in the remote populations of San peoples.

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Image 2: A group of San men in Namibia. Note the arrows (one being prepared) which are used in hunting.

This hunter-gatherer lifestyle encourages a small population size to exist. The nomadic lifestyle is certainly more easily achieved with a smaller group size and, even more importantly, a small population size allows for the ability to “live off of the land” in the gatherer fashion. Conversely, this heavy reliance upon already limited natural resources also acts as a population check, keeping the size of the population fluctuating but small.

Lifestyles such as that of the hunter-gatherer San peoples are easily romanticised. In comparison to overpopulated, stately societies around the world, they appear to conduct a lifestyle much more near a balance with their surroundings. Or at least they appear to have much less of a negative impact upon their environment.

However, many people view the modern way of life in more state-orientated societies as simply better. There are even opinions, similar to those of social Darwinism, that describe a progression over time from more basic nomadic societies to intricate and large state societies. The reality is that small mobile hunter-gatherer groups still exist today, descended from societies that have existed for thousands of years. Is that simple fact perhaps enough proof of a successful, less destructive, way of life? Ultimately, as contemporary state societies face ever-increasing problems from the socio-political and environmental arenas, time will indeed shed more light upon the situation.

Additional sources of information:

The novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn explores types of societies, their origins, and ultimately compares them in search for a better, more ideal way of life. The book is available from the Vassar College Main Library:

For more information about the San peoples, their history, lifestyle and archaeology, visit South African History Online:


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology essentials: theories, methods, and practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2010.

South African History Online. “The San.”

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Hair Extensions Not so Newly Trendy

Recently, a team of archaeologists in Armana, Egypt have been working full force on an excavation labeled the “Armana Project.” At this site, archaeologists have been working in cooperation with the Egyptian government to explore this ancient city in order to study, record and analyze the history of the traditional life here. Through this work, they are hoping to promote greater knowledge about the region and traditional life here, as well as to preserve the remains of this ancient city.

Archaeologist Joanda Bos, a leading figure in this excavation, has played a large role in the analysis of an Armana cemetery, a work in progress since 2006. She found some interested results. They are investigating all aspects of the city through the remains, including the popularity of different hairstyles. Out of the one-hundred skulls excavated, twenty-eight had traces of hair. This find is an unusual one for skulls that have been traced back over three-thousand years. One woman in particular struck Bos. A not mummified female, wrote Bos, had a “very complex coiffure with approximately seventy extensions fastened in different layers and heights on the head.”


Woman found with approximately 70 extensions fastened to head- probably styled after death

Although this particular complex hairstyle was most likely styled after the female’s death, Bos believes that similar styling, including the use of hair extensions, was a common part of Armanian life.

There were various different hairstyles found on the skulls. There were remains found with hair intact that ranged “from very curly black to middle brown straight; which was often styled in rings or coils around the ears.” This range indicates the large spectrum of popular hairstyles in Armana during this time, as well as might hint to a certain degree of ethnic variation. It was also found that some extensions were made up of more than one color, showing that multiple people may have donated hair in order to make up one extension.


Skull found with hair extensions made up of braids

It was also analyzed that these ancient Armana citizens were found of braids as many of the skulls had hairstyles with intricate braiding styles. These braids were found to be small in size, made up of three separate strands that were approximately .5 cm wide.

Another interesting find was that Armana people preferred shorter hair, averaging 7 inches (a length just ending before the shoulders). This could have suggested something about their work or styles at the time. Important to note, also, is the way this hair was preserved. It was found that fat was used to keep the hair in place after death, comparable to modern hair spray. Whether or not the fat is from animals is uncertain, however.

As archaeologists in this project analyze their results from this site, they are able to look more closely into the daily lives of these ancient people in order to better their knowledge about the way that these Armana citizens lived their lives.


More reading:


Jarus, Owens. Ancient Egyptian Woman with 70 Hair Extensions Discovered. N.p., n.d. Web. <>

2. Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology essentials: theories, methods, and practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 20102010.

Picture links:



3: www.

Ancient “Bread” Egyptian City Revealed

A team of Yale Archaeologists led by Professor of Egyptology John Coleman Darnell discovered a “lost” Egyptian City while on their “Theban Desert Road Survey.”  This survey is a rolling mission in which the goal is to map out and study the Egyptian Western Desert and its ancient caravan routes.  Through this survey, the Yale archaeologists discovered the so-called “lost” ancient Egyptian City, Umm Mawagir.  The discovery of this city answered and sparked up a lot of questions about the Second Intermediate Period in the Theban Western Desert.  The period of time between 1650-1550 BC is known as the Second Intermediate Period consisting of three main groups in the Western Desert; they are the Hyksos, the Nubian kingdom of Kerma, and Thebaid.  This time period represents the second time that Egypt fell into chaos right after the end of the Middle Kingdom and before the start of the New Kingdom.  The recently discovered city spans over a kilometer in the southern part of the Kharaga Oasis, which before this discovery had been thought of as an uninhabited ghost town.  John Darnell, however, believes that this Oasis was actually a center for caravan routes connecting the Nile Valley of Egypt to modern day Western Sudan.

Map of the Umm Magawir area, which was originally proclaimed a wasteland until discovered by Darnell and his team of archaeologists

Map of the area around Umm Magawir, which was originally proclaimed a wasteland until discovered by Darnell and his team of archaeologists


Nile Region

“The Western Desert of the Second Intermediate Period may well have been wild, but it was not disorganized,” stated Darnell as he reflected on his discovery.  Darnell also believes that this ancient city was at one point in association with Thebes, which may be able to explain how the Pharaonic power prevailed as the weakest of the three establishments, possibly leading to the early start up of the Golden age of the Egyptian Empire.  One of the main reasons this city was able to survive was because it produced a sizeable amount of bread at that time.  Having the ability to produce this much bread allowed the city to flourish through trade in the Western desert region.  Darnell was very interested about why the baking of bread was such a big deal in this particular city so he and his team decided to start a dig in a part of the bakery. The team of archaeologists was able to find close to half a ton of pottery in a relatively small area that caught Darnell’s attention right away.

Bread forms that were excavated from the ancient city Umm Magawir.  Umm Magawir means to "Mother of Bread Molds"

Bread forms that were excavated from the ancient city Umm Magawir.  Umm Magawir means “Mother of Bread Molds”

In just that one dig they were also able to find two large baking ovens, stones for grinding flour, and a stone mortar for husking grain.  As the team began to search around for more information, they were able to find broken pots of Nubian Desert troops, which suggested that this city had once served as a major military stronghold for these highly valued soldiers because the only way for these pots to have gotten to Umm Mawagir is if they were carried up from the south.  The excavation is nowhere near done, with only about one percent of the city excavated.  Darnell believes that through further excavation archaeologists will be able to find things out about the Second Intermediate Period that have been left unanswered.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology essentials: theories, methods, and practice. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 20102010.

Additional Reading: