Bronze Age Interactions: The Tin Trade


The Bronze age began 3300 BCE in the eastern Mediterranean and lasted until 1200 BCE when efficient iron smelting brought forth the dawn of the Iron Age. During this period copper and tin were smelted together to create bronze, an alloy stronger than its components and easier to create than refining iron. However, there is an unresolved question. Tin is not native in large quantities to eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, where was the tin mined?

An ancient tin ingot to be used in the creation of bronze.

With the advent of trace-element analysis, in which artifacts are sampled for specific rare elements, archaeologists are able to cross-reference the trace elements found in artifacts with naturally occurring concentrations across the world. For example, at shipwreck near Haifa, present-day Israel,  numerous tin ingots, with Minoan symbols indicating ingots are from the bronze age, had trace elements of cobalt. Archaeologists must now find a source of tin with similar traces of Cobalt to determine the origin. Yet, they have failed to find an exact match, the closest being Cornwall, present-day England, which has concentrations of cobalt and germanium.

In addition to trace-element analysis, written sources can help narrow the tin’s possible origin. The famed Greek historian Herodotus speaks of tin originating in “the tin isles” which is thought to be the English Isles. This tin would be exported to Minoan Crete for processing into bronze. Although his claim does strengthen the possibility of a source of tin in northern Europe, Herodotus wrote his theory of the origin of tin almost a five hundred years since its primary use and admitted that he lacked an eyewitness account. Only until the Roman empire conquered the Isles did both written sources and trace-element analysis provide concrete evidence that northern tin was used in bronze production.

Ultimately, a spatial distribution of assemblages containing tin would provide the most concrete answer. Both tin and amber are commonly found in north-western Europe, but very rare in Mediterranean. Excavations in Minoan Crete and Cyprus

A map showing major tin deposits in Europe.

found jewelry made of tin and amber beads revealing a trade network between the two locations. A fall-off analysis, an analysis which shows how the quantities of traded goods decline as distance to the source increases, indicates that a down-the-line exchange system carried the tin south through present day France before Minoan merchants brought the tin across the Mediterranean to Crete. Therefore, it is probable that a route did from northern Europe did supply at least the Minoans with a source of tin.



Maddin, Robert, Stech Wheeler, Tamara, Muhly, James. “Tin in the Ancient Near East Old Questions and New Finds.” Penn Museum, Vol. 15, no. 2, 1977. 35-47. Web. 29 September, 2017.

Harms, William. “Bronze Age Source of Tin Discovered.” The University of Chicago Chronicle, vol. 13, no. 9, 1994. Web. 29 September, 2017.

Muhly, James. “Tin Trade Routes of the Bronze Age.” Sigma Xi, vol. 61, no. 4, 1973, 404-413. Web. 29 September, 2017.

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

Further Readings:

Monna, Fabrice & Jebrane, Ahmed & Gabillot, M & Laffont, Rémi & Specht, Marie & Bohard, Benjamin & Camizuli, Estelle & Petit, Christophe & Chateau, Carmela & Paul, Alibert. (2013). Morphometry of Middle Bronze Age palstaves. Part II – spatial distribution of shapes in two typological groups, implications for production and exportation. Journal of Archaeological Science. 40. 507-516. 10.1016/j.jas.2012.06.029.

Bernard Knapp. “Thalassocracies in Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean Trade: Making and Breaking a Myth.” World Archaeology, vol. 24, no. 3, 1993, pp. 332–347. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Image Citations

M. Otte (2007) Vers la Préhistoire, de Boeck, Bruxelles. M. Benvenuti et al. (2003), “The “Etruscan tin”: a preliminary contribution from researches at Monte Valerio and Baratti-Populonia (Southern Tuscany, Italy)”, in A. Giumlia-Mair et al, The Problem of Early Tin, Oxford: Archaeopress. R.G. Valera & P.G. Valera, P.G. (2003), “Tin in the Mediterranean area: history and geology”, in A. Giumlia-Mair & F. Lo Schiavo, The Problem of Early Tin, Oxford: Archaeopress.

Gikeson, Mark. “Copper and Mudd.” Summer 2015, Harvey Mudd College Magazine, 9 Nov. 2015,

Cognitive Archaeology and The Importance of Cultural Relativism

As we have evolved, our species has faced a plethora of challenges, some of which have manifested into massive cognitive strides. Our minds have been shaped by the pressure to survive and reproduce. We created language and symbols, which are critical devices for communication and ultimately survival, to represent the phenomenon we experience. The notion of expression along with the pressures of survival have led us to the idea of self-consciousness and our relationship with the ever-shifting world. The way in which archaeologists interpret information provided by the past may pose as a challenge due to ethnocentric bias, but the goal of cultural relativism exists. Archaeological contributions can be made by observing the evolution of consciousness, but with a view that incorporates the notion of cross-cultural differences.

One of cognitive archaeology’s objectives is to observe the occurrence of symbolism in various societies in order to understand the links in cognitive processes between cultures despite observable differences. We all ask similar questions about where we come from or who we are as people, and we strive to describe the human experience in order to establish our identities.

Rattlesnake Disk (1000 CE) Mississippian Culture—believed to symbolize entry into Upperworld (Heaven)

The assumptions and biases that witnesses of archaeological evidence have prevent us from fully contextualizing what is found in relation to certain cultures. Oftentimes, Eurocentric ideas overshadow the validity of other peoples’ values. For instance, the swastika has been a universal symbol of hate ever since Hitler in the modern western world. But in many other cultures, it means something else entirely (it translates to “good fortune” in Sanskrit). The symbol originated from Neolithic Eurasia around 3000 BCE in the Indus Valley, initially representing the movement of the sun through the sky. Persians believed it to symbolize eternity and continuing creation. There was a similar interpretation, especially regarding eternity, in much of East Asia dating as far back as 2400 BCE in Neolithic China. To have a meaningful symbol be corrupted by the heinous motives of a tyrant shows not only the toxic influence of European domination but also the tendency to undermine other cultures for the sake of selfish promotion. This inclination still exists today—one example being cultural appropriation, when an aspect of a marginalized culture is indifferently exploited for another’s personal benefit.

Yaks and Swastikas Drawn Onto Rock (Protohistoric Period) Tibet

By comparing cultures, it can be easy to fall into the rhythm of making judgements based off of ethnocentric biases, but the diversity that can be observed among various cultures should be seen as a broad network of connections that we, as humans, have with one another on top of our common motivations to survive and be understood. Placing bias aside, we all cognitively think alike and have the same incentives to define ourselves and what we know to be the world around us. By employing a sense of cultural relativism in day-to-day life, people could learn to respect cultures apart from their own and curtail any sense of superiority.


Fernando, Mayanthi. “Cultural Relativism.” Oxford Bibliograhies. June 2013. Retrieved from:

Funo, Shuji, Pant, Mohan. “Stupa and Swastika: Historical Urban Planning Principles in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.” NUS Press, 2007, pp xvi. Retrieved from:

Heller, Steven. “The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?” Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2010. Retrieved from:

Lee, Jonathan H. X., Nadeau, Kathleen M. “Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife.” ABC-CLIO, 2010, pp 87-88. Retrieved from:

Mithen, Steven. “Cognitive Archaeology, Evolutionary Psychology and Cultural Transmission, with Particular Reference to Religious Ideas.” Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 1997, pp 67-74.

Thornton, Chris. “Renewing the link between cognitive archaeology and cognitive science.” Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 39, No. 7, July 2012, pp 2036-2041.

Winkelman, Michael. “The Evolution of Consciousness? Transpersonal Theories in Light of Cultural Relativism.” Anthropology of Consciousness, Vol. 4, No. 3, September 1993, pp 3-9.

Image Sources:

Bellezza, John Vincent. “Flight of the Khyung.” Tibetan Archaeology and All Things Tibetan, May 2016. Retrieved from:

Bryant, Chris. “100 years following the first extensive excavations of the famous Mississippian Indian site, questions remain…” University of Alabama, 2005. Retrieved from:

Further Reading:

“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?” Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice, September 2011.

Skidmore, James M. “How Nazis Twisted the Swastika into a symbol of hate” The Conversation, August 2017.

What Bog Bodies Can Tell Us About Our Past

While what usually comes to mind at the term “mummies” are any of the Great Pyramid Pharaohs, there exist lesser known and better preserved ancient humans. Bog bodies, or “peat mummies,” are extremely well-preserved human remains found usually in Northern Europe. These bodies, located in a wetland that accumulates peat, are exposed to an extremely acidic yet stable environment for long periods of time. In addition to this acidity, the bogs possess low oxygen levels, low temperature, and low water levels. The presence of these conditions allows the remains to be well-preserved, the organs, skin, and hair often intact. However, prolonged exposure to such high acidic levels eventually dissolves the calcium in the bones, a feature which distinguishes bog bodies from other type of mummy.

An example of a bog where the bodies are commonly found.

Although bog bodies can be dated from B.C.E to as late at World War II, the bulk of bog bodies found falls within the time period of the Iron Age. The Iron Age, beginning in Europe around 300 B.C.E., is characterized by the widespread use of iron as the dominant tool making material. However, in Northern Europe this period was also characterized by extremely violent practices. Many of the bog bodies recovered from the iron age how signs of strangulation, bludgeoning, stabbing, disembowelment, asphyxiation, and poisoning. The bogs, it seemed, were reserved as dumping grounds for those who had either been brutally murdered or offered as a human sacrifice to the gods. While the demise of those in the bogs is often tragic, they leave behind many clues indicating how their people lived, what they worshiped, and how they died.

The Tollund Man, one of the most well-known bog bodies, was found in a peat bog close to Bjældskovdal, Denmark. Approximately 30-40 years old, he lived during the beginning of the Iron Age in Europe. While most of his entire body was free from decay, the degree of preservation in his face and facial features is remarkable. The expression the Tollund Man had at the time of his death is still visible- an expression that is eerily peaceful due to the violent nature of his death. Among the Tollund Man’s belongings was a cord tied around his neck, which indicateds he was most likely a victim of hanging. While the body itself is telling, much can be learned about how he lived from studying the “larger picture.” From excavating the area in and around where the Tollund man was found, many artifacts were recovered that outlined how people from ancient Europe functioned as a society. For example, an elaborate leather cap was found, boasting both a conical shape and a braided loop fastener. This cap indicates that his people were skilled artisans, capable of producing complex and robust items of clothing. In addition, by excavating the surrounding areas, it can be concluded that the Tollund man  was most likely a human sacrifice, due to similar nature of the deaths of nearby bog bodies and the absence of funeral urns- urns that were usually used for burying the dead during the iron age. This strongly indicates that his civilization possessed an element of religion. Finally, grain was found in his stomach, revealing that his people were semi-sedentary agriculturalists who lived off of a diet of cereal grains.

A view of the Tollund Man’s well preserved facial features.

By studying the Tollund man and other bog bodies, we are able to see how they once lived. However, we must be careful not to make assumptions based on our own experience of what it is to be “human” in order to fully understand ways of life other than our own. While the life of bog bodies like the Tollund man may seem barbaric, upon closer inspection their societies possessed many elements similar to our own ways of life today. The major difference between our civilization and the bog bodies’ civilizations is mainly the time in which they occurred.


Barclay, Shelly. “Bog Bodies Of Europe: The Most Famous Of The Peatland Mummies.” Historic Mysteries. N.p., 2017. Web. 25 Sept. 2017.

“Bog Bodies – Bog People – Crystalinks.” N.p., 2017. Web. 25 Sept. 2017.

“The Tollund Man – Death.” N.p., 2017. Web. 25 Sept. 2017.

Further Reading:

Image Sources:

15 Legendary Mummified Bodies & How They Got There



The Drastic Harm of Undetected Biases

Archaeology techniques are constantly being changed in order to better represent human society. The most complicated process archaeologists struggle with is trying to discover what people were thinking and how that impacted their social norms. The presence of undetected biases can damage the interpretation of any culture. Nowadays, with such ingrained social norms as gender roles, it’s hard to interpret social hierarchy without bringing certain assumptions into play—we even forget cultures without these gender norms exist today.

Pictures that can be found of early hunting societies only include men.

In contrast, women are only depicted in nonviolent imagery.

Surprisingly, gender roles were really only established in Chiefdoms and States because specific roles would organize the community so that there wouldn’t be chaos. Smaller groups wouldn’t need to organize their society because there weren’t enough people to have unique roles.

To disprove these previous biases, archaeologists went to the origin of this assumption: our animal predecessors. Scientists previously used gender distinction as evidence for our biological differences, specifically male sexual aggression in baboons. However, as the author of Ungendering Civilization: Reinterpreting the Archaeological Record Pyburn explained, if one were to look deeper they would find that male dominance in the animal world is actually as complicated as the past gender roles that they were looking to understand. The problem was people would only ask questions that gave them the desired answers rather than looking further. Smuts (1987) said that “[baboon] females create and participate in social hierarchies and political scenarios”, a fact that painted a very different picture of our predecessors. Further, archaeologists looked into another previously assumed fact relating to the fatality rate of men vs women. Since nowadays that statistic is (somewhat) related to political dominance, it was assumed to be the same with baboons. In reality, archaeologists concluded that if it was about political dominance, it wasn’t the isolated variable.

Now regarding archaeological sites, feminist archaeologists looked to disproving assumptions before jumping to new conclusions so that these mistakes weren’t repeated. The three specific categories of archaeology made it easier for archaeologists to point out the issues with previous conclusions. They first attacked issues within ‘Cultural History’ and the chronology they used at the time which only dealt with the order of events and not social constructs. Instead of leaving that out however, archaeologists used to create a completely assumed social hierarchy. After expressing those errors, archaeologists looked at Processual archaeology which had a better approach but in their attempt to be explanatory, they did not fully understand the difference between social norms and biology—the social differences between male and female was still considered biology. Finally, Post-processual focused on the need for new ideas i.e old ideas we didn’t think existed. For example, difference between gender and sex, sexual orientation, and warfare are different depending on the culture. Although these are part of all cultures, it’s the assumption of unanimity that has slipped up archaeologists for hundreds of years.



Pyburn, K.A. Engendering Civilization: Reinterpreting the Archaeological Record.  Routledge: London, 2004.

Ardren, Traci. Studies of Gender in Prehispanic America. Published online: 9 September 2007. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007.

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

Image Sources

Further Reading

Rautman, Alison E. “Reading the Body: Representations and Remains in the Archaeological Record. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. p 283

Fulkerson, Tiffany J. Endangering the Past: The Status of Gender and Feminist Approaches to Archaeology in the Pacific Northwest and Future Directions.” Journal of Northwest Anthropology, 2017.



What Archaeology Can Tell Us About Modern Climate Change

A common misconception about archaeology is that it is relevant only to the past. In reality, archaeological research can have a profound effect on modern life, and even on the future. One example of this is the archaeological study of climate change. Climate change is often referred to as one single apocalyptic event that will end all human life, and it will certainly alter human life, but climate change is natural and cyclical. It is happening at a faster and more alarming rate due to human activity, but climate change in itself is inevitable. In order to survive climate change of the future, it is important to understand how it was dealt with in the past.

An interesting glimpse into the impacts of past climate change is the case study of northern Cuba conducted by Jago Cooper and Matthew Peros. Unfortunately, an exact timeline for past climate change is very difficult to obtain. Michael Calway notes in his article regarding past South American droughts that some methods such as ice or sediment cores, while useful, are unreliable in this case and do not create particularly accurate timelines. Luckily, Peros and Cooper were able to access written records of past climate events. In their research, Cooper and Peros discovered not only a cycle of hurricanes and rising sea levels in Cuban history, but also techniques the ancient Cubans used to deal with these problems. One such technique is evident in their architecture. Most houses in the case study area were away from the coast on low, flat ground. They also incorporated a stilted design to allow water from storm surges to flow under the house rather than batter its walls. Another important aspect of the early Cubans’ adaptations is their methods of gathering food. The diet of these societies consisted primarily of things taken from shallow, intertidal marine environments. During a storm, however, these environments could be drastically altered, so the Cubans diversified their diet to include food collected from deeper marine areas. This allowed them to continue to find food even when sea levels were high.

A modern Cuban stilted house

These methods for survival are directly applicable to the current situation in the world. One recent example is the devastation caused by hurricane Irma of the southern coastal states. Modern societies could learn things from ancient ones, like not building too close to the water in hurricane-prone areas. Another example could be to diversify food sources so that no one is cut off in the event of extreme flooding.

Hurricane Irma’s devestation in Northeast Florida.

Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, hurricanes are not the only problem to be faced. Future humans will also have to deal with higher average temperatures, polluted air/water, and other types of storms. It is unlikely that human intervention will drastically slow climate change, but with any luck, people will be able to look to the past to find ways to survive.


Calaway, Michael J. “Ice-Cores, Sediments and Civilisation Collapse: A Cautionary Tale from Lake Titicaca.” Antiquity, vol. 79, no. 306, 2005, pp. 778-790.

Jago Cooper, Matthew Peros, The archaeology of climate change in the Caribbean, InJournal of Archaeological Science, Volume 37, Issue 6, 2010, Pages 1226-1232, ISSN 0305-4403,

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

Image Sources

McCullough, Gary Lloyd. “Hurricane Irma – Ponta Vedra Beach”. Orlando Sentinel, 11.       Sept. 2017.

Further Reading




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.


Anderson, Christina. “A Female Viking Warrior? Tomb Study Yields Clues.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2017,

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,

Pruitt, Sarah. “What Was Life Like for Women in the Viking Age?”, A&E Television Networks, 18 Nov. 2016,


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,

Laskow, Sarah. “Hervors Død.” Atlas Obscura ,


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

Schaeffer, C. (1978). THE BISON DRIVE OF THE BLACKFEET INDIANS. Plains Anthropologist, 23(82), 243-248. Retrieved from


Image Sources

[Noodles]. (n.d.) Retrieved from

[Black Patch Farm]. (n.d.) Retrieved from



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–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

Keys, D. (2016, July 13). Discovery of vast treasure trove of fine textiles shows importance of fashion to Bronze Age Britons. Independent. Retrieved from

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:



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

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016, July 08). Huitzilopochtli. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from


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

Brittenham, C. (n.d.). Did the Maya and Aztecs take feathers for headdresses from birds other than quetzals? Retrieved September 19, 2017, from

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017, February 16). Aztec. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from

Aztecs Find a Home: The Eagle Has Landed | EDSITEment. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from

Cartwright , M. (2013, August 1). Quetzalcoatl. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from

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

[Mexico Aztec Headdress]. (2012, April 28). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from

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.


Miller, Julia. The Caracol, or Observatory of Chichén Itzá. Yucatan Today. Accessed September 17th, 2017.

Maria Mitchell. Vassar Encyclopedia. Accessed September 17th, 2017.

Vassar College Observatory. National Park Service. Accessed September 17th, 2017.

Beal, Tom. Huge Mount Graham telescope finally paying off. The Arizona Daily Sun.  Accessed September 17th, 2017.

Picture sources:

Wikimedia Commons. Accessed September 17th, 2017.

EL Caracol, The Observatory of Chichén Itzá. Atlas Obscura. Accessed September 17th, 2017.

Beal, Tom. Huge Mount Graham telescope finally paying off. The Arizona Daily Sun.  Accessed September 17th, 2017.