Pazyryk People of the Past and the Homeless of Today

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

The construction of a Pazyryk kurgan.

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

Princess designs

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

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

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

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



Further Reading:




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


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

An image from the Blätterhöhle cave near Hagen, Germany.

An image from the Blätterhöhle cave near Hagen, Germany.

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

Opening of the Blätterhöhle cave

Opening of the Blätterhöhle cave.

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

A skull found in the Blätterhöhle cave.

A skull found in the Blätterhöhle cave.

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



Science Daily


Image Sources:

Natural Sciences (Image 1 and 3)

Anthroscape (Image 2)


Additional Information:

Human Prehistory

International Business Times


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

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

The city of Caral overlooking the Supe river valley.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo 1

Photo 2

Further Reading

Gigapan of Caral-Supe

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

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

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

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

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

3D Structure created by the  New Palmyra Project

3D Structure created by the New Palmyra Project

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




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

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

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

Excavated Tombstones in Cidade Velha

Excavated tombstones in Cidade Velha (Cambridge)

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

Local children at excavation site (Cambridge)

Local children at excavation site (Cambridge)

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


Further Reading:

500-Year-Old Church Found in Slave Trade Settlement

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

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

Uncovering the first European church in the tropics – YouTube