Understanding Climate Change with Baobab Trees

Understanding the environment is an essential aspect of an archaeologist’s job to understand the context in which societies formed and lived and artifacts are found.  More specifically, trees can serve as valuable records that describe the climate of an area over the period of hundreds or thousands of years.  Researchers in Southern Africa are using the analysis of radiocarbon dating and tree rings in Baobab trees to interpret how the climate has changed in Southern Africa over the past thousand years, and to use these interpretations to try to form ideas about the societies that developed in these areas.

A Baobab tree in northeastern South Africa

Since tree growth is dependant upon the environment, it can be a good indicator of the climate at a specific time.  Tree growth is a complex process, but temperature and soil moisture are the leading factors contributing to tree growth, thus tree growth can tell us a lot about the temperature and soil moisture of an area at a specific time period, among other things.  


Radiocarbon dating is a common process of evaluating the age of a tree, and radiocarbon samples can also be taken from a tree and can be used to determine such things as the moisture and temperature of tree cellulose at a given time period.  Radiocarbon dating works by measuring the amount of carbon-14 in an object relative to other carbon isotopes in the object and measuring the amount it has decayed over time.  


Tree rings can also usually be used to determine the age of tree, and act as a record of the quality of the tree’s health throughout its lifespan.  Tree ring growth varies with the climate, and thus it can be strong in the spring or weak in the winter and used to determine differences in tree health and of the wider climate’s condition at specific time spans.


Researchers analysed the Baobab trees from Northeastern South Africa for the amount of waterfall in the region and included the timeframe of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the period of time they studied.  The group of researchers from Britain, Romania, and South Africa determined that, “The wettest period was AD1075 or [1075CE] in the Medieval Warm Period, and the driest periods were AD1635, AD1695 and AD1805 during the Little Ice Age.”1

A map of Limpop-Shashe Basin

The data collected can also be used to try to better understand the region at the time the first Bantu-speaking farmers settled the land.  Better understanding the environment in which these farmers developed their land can be valuable knowledge in determining the political and economic systems of the area, of which were based upon the success of agriculture to allow for specialization at the time.2


Recognizing the importance of evaluating the environment in interpreting the context in which people lived and artifacts are found can help better fathom our perceptions of an area at a specific time.  The analysis of radiocarbon dating and the use of tree rings are important tools that researchers can use in their experiments, and this reality is manifested in the importance researchers placed on their analysis of Baobab trees to understand how the climate changed – and how people might have adapted to its change – in the South Africa.  



1,2: http://mg.co.za/article/2015-05-28-silent-giants-unlock-story-of-climate-change

Picture 1: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/77/88/b6/african-baobab-tree.jpg

Picture 2: http://www.sanparks.org/images/conservation/transfrontier/lstfca_combined.png


Further Reading:



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How the Incas Defied their Environment


The environment can reveal a lot about a culture. If the environment is favorable for agriculture, people take up a sedentary lifestyle. If it is the opposite, or people have access to additional resources, agriculture is less likely to be a focus. Yet this general rule is challenged by the Inca Empire, and their persistence to pursue agriculture in a region unfavorable to crops.

The basic process of creating terraces.

Mountain climates do not inherently support agriculture. Little precipitation falls in the Andes. Steep slopes also prevent growth of plants as what little precipitation that does fall erodes soil and thus washes plants away. Mountain temperatures fluctuate, often becoming much colder at night and shortening the growing season.
However, the Incas found a way around these problems, with terrace agriculture. By cutting flat planes into the mountain, the Incas were able to create areas of suitable farmland. Bounded by stone walls, these areas are able to withstand the problems associated with Mountain climates. Along with domesticated species of plants suited to harsh conditions, the Incas were able to farm.
Yet why would the Incas put in the tremendous amount of work to make an area unsuitable for sedentary life, suitable? The answer lies within the environment. Cultures that struggle with agriculture often have earlier examples of rock art (signs of praying to the Gods). As religion is spurred by a harsh environment, it becomes even more central to the culture.
In the case of the Incas, religion played a huge role in their culture, likely due to the environment. As to why they would have stayed, or even continued higher; (major areas like Machu Picchu and Cuzco are over 7,000 ft. above sea level) this is likely due to being closer to heaven (the Inca highly revered their sun God, Inti). As religion led to the Incas moving up in altitude, the environment only became tougher for a sedentary lifestyle. Yet the practice of terrace farming shows the Incas dedication to their lifestyle, and persistence as a people.


A ruin of an Inca temple in Pisac, Peru.

Though harsh in terms of climate, the Andes region is bountiful concerning precious medals. The existence of the precious metals gold and silver would have confirmed that they were in a holy area of the world, and that their connection to their Gods would only be improved as they increased in altitude. The use of these metals in Inca throne rooms and temples shows the influence the environment had upon their lives.
Through just the knowledge of the environment, a lot can be seen about a culture. What environmental challenges are presented determine what kind of lifestyle inhabitants will lead. In the case of the Incas, their harsh conditions resulted in creativity and adaptation against the natural environment, so as to pursue their religious lifestyle. Understanding how environmental conditions pressure and shape a human life is imperative to understanding a culture.


Further Reading:



“Starving Time”: Cannibalism in Jamestown Colony

In the winter of 1609, life was bleak for residents of Jamestown colony. Of the 400 settlers, only 61 survived to see the end of 1610. The first group of settlers, consisting of about 200 individuals, predominantly male, were unaccustomed to work and untrained in agriculture. The goal of their colony was mainly to find gold, having been informed that their financial support would end should they not produce valuables. Due in large part to their fixation on finding these valuables, they had little luck growing their own food. Harsh winter and exposure to malaria soon decimated their ranks, and by the end of their first year, only 38 of their original group remained. Having failed to plant or store crops, the settlers resorted to stealing food from the nearby Powhatans, souring the relationship between the two groups and effectively ending their only hope of trading for food.

Rendering of Jamestown, as it may have appeared upon colonization.

Rendering of Jamestown, as it may have appeared upon colonization.

Two supply shipments came during 1608, but neither had sufficient provisions and both carried about 70 people, exacerbating the ongoing famine. The winter of 1609-1610 came to be known as the “Starving Time”, with food so scarce that colonists ate everything that did not eat them first: horses, cats, rats, even shoe leather became fair game as the winter raged on.

Eventually, as the famine showed no sign of abating, thoughts turned to cannibalism. One man was executed for slaughtering his pregnant wife, storing her and salting her flesh. However, although there are many accounts of that crime, prior to the recent discovery of the skeletal remains of a 14-year-old girl, there was no physical evidence that cannibalism had taken place at Jamestown. According to the forensic anthropologist who examined her remains, the girl (whom they named “Jane”) was clearly consumed as a last resort, by someone who had no experience butchering. It is believed that Jane was newly deceased and had been removed from her grave shortly after burial in order to be consumed. Jane’s skull has many tentative cuts in the jaw and forehead, and a large part of the rear of her skull was crushed, likely to remove her brain. These marks are consistent with an inexperienced butcher.

Reconstruction of "Jane", 14-year-old eaten during the "Starving Time", 1609-1610.

Reconstruction of “Jane”, 14-year-old eaten during the “Starving Time”, 1609-1610.

In a case in which the body is removed from the context in which it is buried, much interpretation is required of the archaeologists who examine the site. Jane was found as a disassembled set of bones, her skull and femurs mixed in with the bones of other animals showing signs of consumption. It required the knowledge of archaeological context to connect that cannibalism occurred during the time and place that Jane died, as well as the interpretation of the marks on Jane’s skull. It is thanks to archaeology that scattered remains such as Jane’s are able to be identified and associated with a timeline.

Jane's mandible, with notches indicating the removal of her flesh.

Jane’s mandible, with notches indicating the removal of her flesh.







Sources and Additional Information:

National Geographic

The Smithsonian

Historic Jamestowne


Solving Murder Mysteries with Archaeology

One of history’s greatest murder mysteries—the sudden, inexplicable death of a powerful warlord—remained unsolved for centuries. What was it that finally cracked the case? Archaeology, feces, and centuries of waiting.

Can Francesco della Scala (1291-1329), more commonly known as “Cangrande,” was born into the immensely powerful della Scala family, a majorly influential political force in 13th and 14th century Verona, Italy. He was a feared warlord, friend and host to Dante Alighieri (author of the world-renowned Divine Comedy), and soon rose to become the most influential man in all of Verona.

Della Scala then won control over Treviso, Italy: this was a massive military accomplishment, and the “last act in Cangrande’s long struggle to control the entire region of Veneto in northern Italy,” (Discovery). Immediately after this momentous success, he fell terribly sick and died at the young age of 38. Why?

The official cause of death was due to a polluted spring that Cangrande seemingly drank from, but rumors of his being poisoned began to spread. The entire ordeal was a mystery, and remained that way for centuries; in fact, it wasn’t until very recently, when his body was found by a team of archaeologists in 2004, that the pieces began to fall into place.

Tomb of Cangrande

The role of archaeology in uncovering mysteries such as the murder of Cangrande is absolutely integral—by looking at stomach contents, fecal material, and tooth decay, archaeologists are capable of turning centuries-old rumors into a historical narrative that we can learn from today.

Upon closer examination of the great Cangrande’s body, signs of arthritis, recently regurgitated food, tuberculosis, and potential cirrhosis were discovered, but nothing pointing to his mysterious death was found—until the team began to look at what he most recently consumed before his sudden demise.

Timeline of Autopsy: a.) Stone cover of the sarcophagus b.) Body upon immediately opening stone cover c.) Body wrapped in burial clothing d.) Body at beginning of autopsy

Samples of feces were taken, and analyses showed the presence of chamomile, mulberry, and foxglove, also referred to as Digitalis. Foxglove can cause “gastrointestinal distress, drooling, and…seizures,” and is highly lethal in larger doses (Smithsonian).

Archaeologists were then able to deduce that Cangrande must have been given a deadly amount of foxglove, most likely disguised in a chamomile tea. It is highly likely that this was done to suppress the warlord’s rising and seemingly unstoppable power in Verona and northern Italy. Whether it was done by a political or personal enemy, it isn’t clear—this may be the next age-old mystery for archaeologists to crack.

Sources and Further Reading:


Cangrande Biography by Brown University

700-Year-Old Murder Mystery by Discovery

Mummy Poop Solves Mystery by Smithsonian Magazine

Scholarly Article and Autopsy by Paleopatologia

Animal Domestication: How Our Ancestors Became Sedentary

Transportation, agriculture, and companionship—Humans are significantly affected by interactions with animals. Our modern lifestyles would not be possible without the domestication of animals. When did humans start to have pets? Why did pets and other domestic animals begin to matter? How were they used? These are questions that archaeologists ask themselves and have done their best to answer.

Pets of our ancestors are significantly different than ones we keep today. Using a dog jaw found in Switzerland as evidence, archaeologists have estimated that dogs were first domesticated around 14000 to 14600 years ago, but humans have selectively breaded for

Dog jaw found in Swiss cave (c. 14000 years ago)

Dog jaw found in Swiss cave (c. 14000 years ago)

desired traits, causing dramatic changes in the physical structure of animals. Different societies selected for different characteristics, including  fur color, ability, and shape. The same qualities are found in cat remains, though cats are estimated to be domesticated around 7500 B.C. While most would like to hear more about the exciting shift of our furry friends from wild hunter to companion, the most striking information regarding the domestication of animals is looking at farm domestication and how groups of people shifted from nomadic bands to pastoral, sedentary groups.

The first animals thought to be domesticated for agricultural endeavors were sheep between 11000 and 9000 B.C., and goats were domesticated shortly after. These animals were used for meat, milk, and fur. Bands of people at this time were still primarily nomadic. Remains for sheep were first found in the Middle East, where there are high proportions of bones of one year old sheep. Dating for the domestication of these animals is possible by looking at the remains of those who lived in the area and finding when human beings were able to process lactose. There was an incredible advantage for those who could digest lactose because of high amounts of calories available from milk. Evidence is also available about milk use through 7000 year old perforated pottery that was used for cheese production. Use of this type of potter was proven by experimental archaeology and chemical analysis of the clay, which found milk fats inside the pottery.

Pottery that was used for cheese straining, found in  Poland

Pottery that was used for cheese straining, found in Poland

Pigs and cattle were domesticated slightly later, around 7000 B.C., but these remains are usually found with societies that were more sedentary.

One of the main reasons to domesticate animals is because there is always a constant, readily available, and reliable source of food. If one goes hunting, there are no chances that he or she will return with meat for his or her community. If one hunts too many animals, the food will spoil, and the food will be wasted. Domesticating animals also provided for suitable manure for farming, hides and wool for coats, and bones for tools. Through the domestication of animals, the concept of staying in one place was a viable option for people. The need to constantly move for a steady supply of food was outdated, and we see the rise of civilizations and larger social organizations as animals domestication begins.








Further Readings:




Think Like an Archaeologist

Archaeologists often find graves with little to no accompanying documentation of the people buried or their communities and cultures. It is the job of the archaeologist to figure out as much about the deceased as possible by looking at the inscription, composition, and location of their gravestones.

Grave of Casimir Perier in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Grave of Casimir Perier in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Pictured above is the grave of a Casimir Perier, born on October 21, 1777, died on May 16, 1832. With the Internet, I can easily learn who he was, how he died, when he died, and what he did when he was alive. But what if I didn’t have access to such a large database? If the only clue I had was the gravestone itself, how would I figure out what kind of person was buried there?

I would have to think like an archaeologist.

Perier’s grave is one of the few tombs with it’s own lawn and garden area. In fact, it is completely surrounded by a fence. This discourages the public from walking up to the grave, and suggests that distance between the two was desired at the time of its erection.

Perrier's grave is the centerpiece of this section of the cemetery.

Perrier’s grave is the centerpiece of this section of the cemetery.

Without reading the tomb inscriptions, it’s easy to see that the person buried here was not only important but was prosperous in either money or friends. The monument is made of marble and topped with a bronze statue of Casimir Perier. Marble is more expensive than the stone used for the majority graves seen in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Furthermore, the grave is almost four meters high, making it one of the tallest and therefore most expensive monuments in the cemetery. The people that buried him made sure his grave was far more impressive than those nearby; a great amount of money went into his grave. Only a wealthy man, or one with wealthy friends could afford to be buried here.

On top of the grave, Perier is garbed in a toga over regular European style clothing, a combination only seen on statues of diplomats. He holds a plaque that reads “ Charte De 1830.” On the bottom of the statue lies an excerpt above lady eloquence that roughly translates to “Seven times elected Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet under Louis Philippe I. Defended eloquence and courage and freedom and national dignity in the interior peace.” I now know exactly who Perier worked for, how long he held his position, when he was most influential, and what direct effect it had on the nation.

Without any information from the internet I’ve discovered that Casimir Perier was known for his eloquence and served as Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet under King Philippe I seven times. He was most influential as Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet in 1830, and was quintessential to upholding France’s dignity. He was greatly valued in life, and his monument in death far outshines those around it. The fencing, however, is used to aesthetically create a barrier from anyone walking through the cemetery. His time as president created disparity between the government and the public.

After confirming that the information gathered from Perier’s tomb is indeed accurate, it’s easy to see why archaeologists use graves to understand the lives of the deceased. The inscription, composition, and location of gravestones are all key in learning more about past communities, and in Caismir Perier’s case, whole nations.


Pictures found at:



Reference websites:



For more information:


http://www.histoire-image.org/site/oeuvre/analyse.php?i=163 (French)

Rituals and Remains

To an archaeologist, human remains can be considered a treasure chest of information. Human remains do not just simply tell archaeologists about the death of the individual, they can also reveal much of the life story, such as age, sex, height, genetic ancestry, if they had any illness/disease, types of food they ate, past injuries and how they were treated, any deliberate body modifications, and so much more. An individual’s remains can explain a little bit about their life, but a burial ground(or lack thereof) can explain much about the surrounding culture of the people as a whole.

In 1908, two archaeologists, known as the Bouyssonie brothers, discovered a site in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France and immediately hypothesized the possibility of these remains being intentionally  buried; however, at that time, they did not have enough information, nor the appropriate technology to reach this conclusion.

Reconstruction of Neanderthal Burial in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France

Reconstruction of Neanderthal Burial in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France

After a 13 year reexamination of the site, archaeologists were able to conclude that there was at least partial modifications the area to create a grave. This conclusion forces a reevaluation of the idea of the neanderthal and its culture. The findings from the site showed that Neanderthals were not the ignorant, barbarian-like characters that modern humans perceive them to be. Archaeologists found that the Neanderthals were more  similar to modern humans than they had previously thought. Neanderthals had actually decorated themselves with pigments and wore jewelry made from feathered and colored shells. They also cared for their sick and elderly. The skeleton discovered in the La Chapelle site showed that the deceased suffered from hip and back problems that would have made movement without assistance extremely difficult. These findings serve as evidence that the Neanderthals had developed complex thought and culture.

Decorative shell ornament worn by Neanderthals on jewelry

Decorative shell ornament worn by Neanderthals on jewelry

Death may be one of the most important topics in archaeology, as  how the living treat the dead reveal a lot about the culture and thought process of the living.The findings of the La Chapelle site helped to clarify much about the culture of Neanderthals; however, this also raises many questions that will likely be left unanswered due to the lack of written records in Neanderthal history. Archaeologists are left to wonder if the burial was ceremonial or if it was simply for practical purposes. Also, there was also the possibility that the Neanderthals were not the first to bury the dead and that they simply adopted the practice from some other species. In the future, there may be more discoveries that can answer these lingering questions behind the Neanderthal burial ground; however, the discovery is still remarkable.

Further Reading








Social Archeology and The Minoan Civilization

The past is a place full of wonder, mystery, and most importantly, the answers to the lives of our ancestors. Social Archeology is the study of past societies that instead of focusing on the individual focuses on the society as a whole. By doing so, archeologists are able to explore the culture and the systems of living within past societies and ultimately shed light on societies who have been lost in history.

The Minoan Civilization, who rose during the Bronze Age, was discovered on the Mediterranean Island of Crete and dates from 2600 B.C to 1150 B.C. It was first discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 during an excavation of Knossos, an ancient Minoan palace. His findings within the palace led him to believe that there was a possible ancient civilization on Crete which was the home to the legendary King Minos, hence why he named the Civilization Minoan.

Knossos Palace as would've appeared during the Neopalatial Period (1700 B.C-1400 B.C)

Knossos Palace as would’ve appeared during the Neopalatial Period (1700 B.C-1400 B.C)

Most of the artifacts found upon excavation originated during the Propatial Period (1900 -1700 B.C) and Neopalitial Period (1700-1400 B.C).  It was also during these periods that the Minoans built their four principal palaces: Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. The grandeur of these palaces reflected how sophisticated and advanced the Minoan Civilization was. Through archeological finds, it was concluded that these palaces served as central structures of trade, politics, and religion. Within these palaces archeologist found remains to suggest that materials such as wines, oil, grain, and ceramics were stored there. Archeologists also found swords, arrow heads, armors and helmets as well as fortified towns and settlements. These all suggest that the Minoan Civilization was so massive they needed central structures for food storages as well as means to defend themselves against neighboring attacks. Another major find was the discovery of one of the first examples of writing in the Aeagan world, Linear A.

Clay tablet inscribed on both sides with the undeciphered script Linear A

Clay tablet inscribed on both sides with the undeciphered script Linear A

Artifacts have been found with the writing which suggests that the Minoans used the writing system for religious and authoritative functions. The Minoans were intelligent enough to produce their own form of written history though it is still in the process of being deciphered. Also, artifacts found in the city of Gournia such as clay pots, copper, bronze, stone vases suggest to archeologist that Minoan citizens were gifted in the skills of pottery making and metal working since they found similar items on settlements throughout the civilization.

By simple excavating several sites Archeologists have been able to slowly piece together the lives of those who inhabited the Minoan Civilization as well as the main means of commerce and sustainability. Unfortunately, Minoan Crete is a civilization wrapped in speculation. Archeologists are unclear of how and why the civilization disappeared from history and there is still debate on how it met its fateful end. Though we may not know all the answers, the site still continues to tell the story of people who were able to create one of the most complex civilizations in Greek history.

My Sources:



Minoan Art

Further Reading:

Minoan Archeological Sites

Who Were The Minoans?

The Fall of the Minoans


North Chattanooga and the Misplaced Cemetery

Each artifact holds its own story. Our issue is, the artifact cannot directly share it like a living person or document can, it is only shared through clues that were left behind. These clues are hidden within in its structure, fragmented or whole, and hidden in the artifact’s surroundings. Archaeologists are the storytellers of artifacts, piecing together the clues left for them to find. It is their job to interpret these clues correctly, for it can be fatal to interpret a piece of history incorrectly. The story is the key to its society’s culture and how we can understand it. False interpretations lead to false analogies. Many techniques are used to avoid this from happening.

This gravestone has much to tell. This poor woman's name was not even listed on her own grave.

This gravestone has much to tell. This poor woman’s name was not even listed on her own grave.

Throughout history, stories have been told through the graves of others. It is can tell us through gravestone inscriptions- the relation the deceased had with others and the impact they had, depending on how long they lived and where the grave is placed. The deceased leave behind clues of their life and of their society in ways that an average person may not spot. For example, a woman’s grave could give away- if they were considered a possession of their husband by being referenced as “wife of (insert-name-here),” even after death. Besides individual gravestones, the cemetery as a whole can be its own story.
One story brings us to North Chattanooga, TN. About a month ago, August 2015, contractors uncovered (about) century-old graves. In this town, it had been common knowledge that there was an old black cemetery in the area, but Beck Knob Cemetery was thought to be in the woods. Town maps had falsely marked that all graves had been in the woods after finding a few graves there. Thinking it was safe, they gave permission for a nearby construction site on Dartmouth Street to be developed to cut a drainage ditch. Mid- construction, the graves were uncovered.

The construction site where the graves had been disturbed, on Dartmouth Street in North Chattanooga, TN.

The construction site where the graves had been disturbed, on Dartmouth Street in North Chattanooga, TN.

They had reached a lower layer of soil, which had been concealed for about a hundred years. While many of these graves had been unmarked in this uncovered territory, one grave amongst them, held a date of death- July of 1920. This information confirmed the new idea of this territory being the actual cemetery or a possible extension of the one in the woods, whose dates range from the 1890s to the 1940s.

Map of North Chattanooga 2015

Map of North Chattanooga 2015

False interpretations and recordings can be fatal to history, as shown in the error in the town’s map. By the time the contractors realized it was a cemetery, the burial site was already disturbed and dozens upon dozens of unmarked graves could have already been destroyed. As a result, stories that had been left untold will forever remain untold.



Further Reading:

Similar uncovering of cemeteries/gravestones:




http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2015/aug/11/development-halted-after-old-cemetery-uncover/319219/  (Content, Image of Map, and Image of Construction Site)

http://www.historicrockcastle.com/Blog/October_2013/Cemetery_Tip__Dates_upon_a_Tombstone (Content and Image of Gravestone)

Mount Mazama and Archaeological Dating

Some 250 miles south of Portland, Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. However, it did not start this way. It was once the top of Mount Mazama, a supervolcano in the Cascade Range that towered over 12,000 feet above sea level. The transition from enormous mountain to the caldera it is today was explosive: about 7,700 years ago Mount Mazama erupted, emptying twelve cubic miles of lava and enormous amounts of pumice out of its magma chamber in mere days, during an eruption forty times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The magma chamber then collapsed in on itself, forming the caldera, which filled to form Crater Lake.

Extent of Mount Mazama Ash Cloud Sedimentation

Extent of Mount Mazama Ash Cloud Sedimentation

During this explosion, Mount Mazama also erupted an enormous ash plume.This is where archaeology ties in. The ash cloud was so immense that it stretched over nearly the entire northwest, as far north as Alberta, Canada. This ash layer, which soon cooled to a solid, remains an easily visible lighter layer of sediment throughout this whole area, providing archaeologists studying much of the Pacific Northwest with a definitive time stamp for relative dating. This method of dating uses stratifigraphy, which analyzes sedimentary layers and the finds contained within them to determine their dates in relation to each other and learn what the environment was like at the time the layer formed.

The ash layer is visibly lighter in color compared to the surrounding sediment layers

The ash layer is visibly lighter in color compared to the surrounding sediment layers

This and other kinds of archaeological survey and dating, mostly Potassium-Argon dating of igneous rocks, have also provided evidence on how Mount Mazama evolved and its development since its most recent eruption. The oldest lava flows from Mount Mazama are 400,000 to 420,000 years old, and in between then and now there are lava flows of varying ages. Mount Mazama itself is made up of many smaller shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes that, through time, eruptions, and glaciation merged into one supervolcano before its ultimate eruption and collapse. Remnants of the cones of these other volcanoes remain, and geologists and archaeologists can date the lava they erupted to find how Mount Mazama itself evolved.

A diagram of the sediment layers at Mount Bachelor, 100 miles from Crater Lake, shows the extent of sedimentation from Mount Mazama ash

A diagram of the sediment layers at Mount Bachelor, 100 miles from Crater Lake, shows the stratigraphy of Mount Mazama ash

Studying the volcano itself gives archaeologist valuable context for understanding the cultures of this area. For the Klamath people of Northern California and Southern Oregon, Mount Mazama and Crater Lake are central to their cultural identity and history. They had lived in the area for thousands of years before the most recent catastrophic eruption, and believed Mount Mazama and the region’s other volcanoes to be the home of spirits. In their cultural belief, the eruption happened when the spirit of the underworld broke out, and their culture’s spirit chief forced him back, thus trapping him in the collapsed volcano. The rain that then came to put out the fires filled the crater to form Crater Lake, a sacred site which they kept secret from outsiders until a white settler accidentally discovered it in 1852. For archaeologists, understanding Mount Mazama is critical to understanding their cultural history.







Further Reading

The legends behind Crater Lake:


Thundereggs: an incredibly cool geologic phenomenon left behind by Mount Mazama’s eruption: