The Universality of Alcohol and What it Can Reveal

Alcohol production and consumption is present in almost every major culture in the world, with most societies cultivating their own unique alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can often reveal important information about the spiritual and social structure of an ancient society, as well as show how far the culture’s influence may have spread.

The oldest alcoholic beverage ever found was in Jiahu, a settlement in North-Eastern China dating back to around 7000 B.C. (McGovern 2019)  Archaeologists from The Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology have been excavating the site since the 1980s, and discovered- after performing chemical analysis of the residue on ceramic pots- trace amounts of a fermented beverage made from honey, rice, and fruit.  (McGovern 2019)

Image 1: Neolithic jars used to hold early alcoholic beverages, discovered at Jiahu. ca. 7000-6600 B.C. Photo: Z Juzhong, Z. Zhang, and Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Image 2: Modern day beverage produced to mimic the alcohol found at Jiahu Photo: Dogfish Brewery

The alcohol discovered at Jiahu does not neatly fit into any of our modern day classifications such as beer or cider, however, wine has been in production for around 7,000 years, with the earliest examples being traced back to 5,400 in present day northwestern Iran. (Malin 2014)  Ancient Egypt is known as one of the biggest producers of wine and beer in the ancient world, connecting the highest and lowest on the social pyramid in the shared enjoyment of drinking. Models of breweries, often put alongside bakeries, have given valuable insight into the scale of the brewing operations of the time, as well as indicating the influential role played by women handling alcohol production. (Mark 2017)

Image 3: Model Bakery and Brewery found in the tomb of Ancient Egyption chancellor Meketre. ca. 1981-1975 B.C. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

There was a good deal of disagreement concerning alcohol consumption in Ancient Greece, with philosophers like Aristotle and Zeno critiquing drunkness, and members of the Dionysian cult arguing that “intoxication brought them closer to their deity.” (Hanson 1997) Discovery of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens indicates the importance of drinking in Greek Culture, especially in relation to religion. Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine was the subject of many festivals in which revelers would consume vast amounts of wine in a sort of frenzy to celebrate the god. (Taylor 2019) Alcohol was often seen as a way to connect with the gods and show piety through intoxication. Scenes depicted on greek pottery found in Athens indicate that the vessel was intended to hold beer or wine, showing gods, mythological beings, and humans consuming alcohol together. 

Image 4: Greek vase made to hold wine at events, showing Dionysus with a band of fellow drinkers and a satyr leading the way. ca. 440 B.C.E. Photo: The Walters Art Museum

Alcohol consumption is one of the clearest connections found between early societies and our modern day way of life. The consumption of alcohol has manifested itself differently over the ages and across the globe, but has allowed us to track advancements in science, technology, and communication between groups.   Archaeological discoveries relating to fermentation show the nature of scientific exploration at times was religion was highly influential, and the ways in which mythology was tied to drinking. 


Hanson, David J. 

1997  Alcohol among the Greeks and Romans: They Enjoyed Drinking. Alcohol Problems and Solutions 


Malin, Joshua

2014  10 Famous Ancient Archaeological Wine Discoveries. Vinepair


Mark, Joshua J. 

2017  Beer in Ancient Egypt. Ancient History Encyclopedia 


McGovern, Patrick 

2019  The Earliest Alcoholic Beverage in the World. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


Taylor, Brian D. 

2019  The Festival of Dionysus: The Origins of Ancient Greek Theater. Bright Hub Education 

Additional Reading 

For more on alcohol’s long-lasting impact on human societies:  

For more on the re-creation of ancient alcoholic drinks: 


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Lessons from Pompeii: An Incomplete Record of the Past

In June of this year, Bolshaya Udina, a formerly extinct volcano in Eastern Russia was declared active due to increased seismic activity. Ensuing predictions of a Vesuvius size eruption sparked memories of Pompeii’s infamous demise in 79 A.D., an event that both archeologists and volcanologists are still working to fully dissect(Osborne 2019a). With the looming possibility of another large scale catastrophe, many are turning to those same researchers to uncover what Pompeii’s past can disclose about Bolshaya Udina’s future(Scandone et al. 2019). 

Bolshaya Udina, the now active volcano with potential to cause Pompeii-like conditions(Gramling 2019).

Unfortunately enough, tensions between volcanologists and archeologists studying the site are hindering fruitful collaboration. Since the early eighteenth century, archeologists have been documenting the stratigraphic record of Pompeii, using the law of superimposition, stating that the lowest layers of a site form first, to understand the workings and development of Roman life in the city. Excavations yielding frescoes, mosaic tiles, fountains, and courtyards have revitalized the city, solidifying it as a dynamic archeological wonder that the world has remained fascinated with for centuries(Garcia-Navarro 2019). Still, a crucial element of the city’s history remains overlooked by the field: its demise.

The most recent 1944 eruption of Mount Vesuvius(Osborne 2019b).

In the pursuit of artifacts and features trapped within the ash sealed stratigraphy of the land, archeologists have been accused of destroying the evidence of volcanology. Volcanology uses volcanic deposits to explain how people died, and so, removal of these deposits in the excavation process is, essentially, ignoring elements of the stratigraphic record. Despite pleas from volcanologists to preserve the volcanic evidence, archeologists continue to cut through sites, regularly removing deposit layers(Osbourne 2019b). 

The value of forgoing excavation or allowing volcanologists to oversee stratigraphic record keeping has been proven useful before. In the 1980s, studies of deposits in newly excavated sites, revealed that the people of Pompeii died from pyroclastic flow, a combination of volcanic gas clouds and magma. Before this volcanological study, however, it was assumed that pumice rain was responsible for killing Pompeii’s population. Thus, this breakthrough prompted a change in strategy for preparing for future eruptions(Osbourne 2019b). Today, the hope is to again use the two fields to understand how pyroclastic flows would sweep around existing buildings, so that current and future populations, like those near Bolshaya Udina, living in similar conditions can adapt accordingly(Solly 2019).

Though there is a trend of geologic history being destroyed for the sake of recording cultural history, progress is being made. Many volcanologists remain barred from entering archaeological sites in Pompeii, but agreements were recently made between researchers allowing volcanologists from the University of Naples Federico II to study stratigraphy alongside archeologists. With the goal of collaboration between the disciplines, volcanologists are being given access to study damage to victims of Vesuvius based on different eruptive stages by recording stratigraphy, taking samples, and mapping damage(Osborne 2019b).

With no projection of when Bolshaya Udina will erupt, we are simply left to wonder if an incomplete record of the past will fix itself in time to offer a useful vision for the future. 


Garcia-Navarro, Lulu 

2019  Volcano Experts and Archeologists are Clashing over Access to Study Pompeii. NPR, July 28, 2019., accessed  September 21, 2019.


Gramling, Caroline

2019  Is a long-dormant Russian volcano waking up? It’s complicated. ScienceNews, June 17, 2019., accessed September 21, 2019. 


Osborne, Hannah

2019  Extinct Russian Volcano Has Woken Up and Could Unleash ‘Pompeii-Size’ Eruption, Scientists Warn. Newsweek, June 6, 2019., accessed  September 21, 2019.


Osborne, Hannah

2019  Pompeii Archaeologists Committing Vandalism to Volcanology by Destroying History Of Vesuvius Eruption, Scientists Claim. Newsweek, July 17, 2019., accessed September 21, 2019.


Scandone, Roberto & Lisetta Giacomelli, Mauro Rosi, Christopher Kilburn 

2019  Preserve Mount Vesuvius history in Pompeii’s. Nature, July 9, 2019., accessed September 21, 2019.


Solly, Meilan

2019  Why Archaeologists and Volcanologists Are Clashing Over Excavations at Pompeii. Smithsonian, July 24, 2019., accessed  September 21, 2019.


Additional Reading 

Digging Deeper into Pompeii’s Past 

Extinct volcano has woken up and scientists say it could erupt ‘at any moment’ 


Did Vesuvius Vaporize its Victims?

Discoveries in Delaware

Archaeologic discoveries can instantly change the preconceived ideas of home. In Delaware, local historians were amazed by the product of their excavation at Avery’s Rest in the Rehoboth Bay area (Daley 2017). The team of archaeologists were concerned about Avery’s Rest, a historical landmark in Delaware, being destroyed by development (Peikes 2017). In an attempt to salvage remaining artifacts, the team stumbled upon 11 burial sites dating to the late 1600s (Denison 2017). Further adding to the information gained, three of the burials were identified as African descent by the Smithsonian Institution (Denison 2017). This discovery provides historians the earliest proof of slavery in Delaware (Denison 2017). As for the family as a whole, the family worked hard. The Smithsonian Institution conducted a series of DNA tests on the remains found to not only identify their descent, but the conditions their bodies faced (Peikes 2017). Especially in the southern Delaware region (where Rehoboth can be located), the absurd amount of corn grown in the area is commonly joked about. Interestingly enough, Peikes’ article explains that the those who resided on the Avery plantation had a poor diet that contributed to the rotting of their teeth (2017). The culprit? Corn.

Figure 1: A cellar exvacation at Avery’s Rest in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Such a connection seems small on its own, but the implications are great. When paired with other discoveries throughout the site, it can be observed how Delaware has changed over time and how it has not. Examples like growing corn show a connection between our generation and the Avery’s, but things such as changes within human anatomy seen through today’s DNA testing illustrate some differences. The origin of those discovered at Avery’s Rest is also important because it can help give an idea of Delaware’s demographic in the 17th century. Surely there were many Europeans, but where exactly did they originate from? Questions like this help put Delaware’s current demographic in perspective and offer potential familial ties for natives to the area. Looking at the broader picture, other preconceived ideas or assumptions can be disproved. For example, the assumption of not having slavery in the north can be disproved by a discovery like this.

Figure 2: A map of Avery’s Rest that details the 11 burial sites.

It’s strange to picture Delaware as anything other than what it is today, however this discovery provides brand new insight on historical Delaware and what life was like in the 17th century. By filling in these gaps, Delawareans and historians alike can get a clearer picture of what the former refer to as home.


Daley, Jason. “Remains Tell Stories of Delaware’s Earliest Enslaved.”, Smithsonian Institution, 8 Dec. 2017,

Denison, Doug. “Archaeological Discovery Writes New Chapter in Delaware’s Early Colonial History.” Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs – State of Delaware, 13 Dec. 2017,

Peikes, Katie. “Rehoboth Archeological Discovery Holds Clues to Delaware’s Earliest Settlers, Slaves.” Delaware First Media, 6 Dec. 2017,



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Additional Reading:






The Sangam Era of South India: Dating Methods Reveal New Periods of Existence


New information provided by methods of radiocarbon dating and accelerator mass spectrometry has presented archaeologists with a more accurate timeline regarding the site of Keeladi, a small village which bordered the districts of modern-day Madurai and Sivagangai in Tamil Nadu, India (Figure 1). In an article written by Dennis Jesudasan of The Hindu, Jesudasan details aspects of the recent discovery. “Six carbon samples collected from the fourth season (2018) of excavations at Keeladi were sent to Beta Analytic Lab, Miami, Florida, U.S., for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) Dating” (Jesudasan, 2019). Originally, the Sangam Era was thought to be had taken place between 300 BC. and 300 AD. However, data collected from recent radiocarbon and accelerator mass spectrometry samples indicate that the site had been occupied 300 years prior than originally thought, thus placing its existence between 600 BC. and 100 AD.

Figure 1. Archaeological survey site of Keeladi in Tamil Nadu, India.

The relevance of this newly discovered evidence plays a significant role in constructing the culture of this civilization during the Sangam Era in South India. Initially, it was considered that although the Sangam Era produced numerous literary documents, this aspect of their culture was not developed until third century BCE. However, since the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department of India announced the newly reported dates, it can be inferred that literacy among the population was prevalent as early as sixth century BCE. Furthermore, as radiocarbon dating continues to allow archeologists to develop a better understanding of the culture and human activity during the Sangam Era, it further assists in dating the origin of the Tamil-Brahmi script to sixth century BCE.

Among surveys which included radiocarbon dating and accelerator mass spectrometry, materials recovered from a 2018 excavation of the site continue to portray the human activity within the village of Keeladi (Figure 2). Materials such as spindle whorls, bone tipped tools, and numerous fragments of terracotta spheres indicate that the village of Keeladi was relatively industrial and most likely produced textiles as a means of trading. Continued portrayal of human activity within the village Keeladi was developed as animal bone samples were sent to Pune’s Deccan College of India and determined to be the bones of various farm animals, thus illuding to an agricultural aspect of the small village. As a result of the combined efforts of archeology, such as radiocarbon dating and accelerator mass spectrometry, there now exists a more comprehensive understanding regarding the village of  Keeladi.

Figure 2. Recovered material from the most recent excavations conducted at the village of Keeladi.


Jesudasan, Dennis S.

2019  Keezhadi excavations: Sangam era older than previously thought, finds study. The Hindu.    The Hindu, Accessed September 20, 2019

Saju, M. T.

2019  Sangam age is older than previously thought, carbon dating of Keeladi materials suggests: Chennai News – The Times of India, Accessed September 19, 2019

Saraceni, Jessica E.

2019  New Dates Push Back Creation of India’s Tamil-Brahmi Script. Archaeology Magazine. Archaeology Institute of America, Accessed September 20, 2019


2019  Hoary past: One of the samples collected at the depth of 353 cm goes back to 580 BCE. Keezhadi excavations: Sangam era older than previously thought, finds study. The Hindu, Accessed September 20, 2019 report/article29461583.ece

2017  Artefacts unearthed at Keezhadi archaeological site at Sivaganga district. Keezhadi might have been an industrial town: Archaeologist. Daith Thanthi, Accessed September 20, 2019

Additional Content:

Packing for the Next Life: The Importance of Burial Sites to the Cultural Narrative

There are copious beliefs and practices surrounding the big question: what happens after life? A similarly confounding question arises next—what to bring? Various cultures throughout history have formulated their own answers.

Popular belief would have that the Vikings sent their dead out to sea on a ship before it bursts into flames. However, building such ships was likely a costly affair, and indeed, Lindholm Høje in Denmark (Figure 1) tells a different story. Considered to be Scandinavia’s largest burial sites at 682 graves and 150 stone ships, Lindholm Høje boasts burials from both the Iron Age and the Viking Age (VisitAalborg 2012).

Figure 1. Graves at Lindholm Høje. Notice the many oval graves that resemble the outline of a ship. Photo: Knud Erik Christensen.

The typical grave was shaped like either a triangle or a ship, perhaps to symbolically act as the vessel upon which the deceased may travel to the afterlife. Archaeologists have found numerous possessions, from jewelry and weapons to animals and slaves, buried with their owners–these were probably for the dead to bring with them into the next world. Some were even buried with actual boats, but that was reserved for those of high status, such as the case of the Oseberg ship (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Oseberg Viking ship excavation. Housed a Viking queen of AD 834. (Morgan 2018) Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO/Olaf Væring.

Another reason for the burial of goods might have been to satisfy the dead, so they may not return as draugr–revenants–and cause trouble for the living (Mingren 2018). In addition to the clues about Viking beliefs left within the burial sites, archaeologists have also been able to date many of the graves based on their associated artifacts.

Archaeologists can learn a lot about the life of a culture through the way it treats its dead; sometimes, burial sites become the only worthy sources of investigation.  For example, the horse-riding nomads of the Eurasian Steppes known as Scythians left little trace, with the exception of their grand kurgans–royal mounds of earth often reaching up to 15 meters in height (Parzinger 2017), under which reside catacombs filled with ornate treasures (Figures 3 & 4).

Figure 3. A reconstruction of a kurgan and the underlying catacombs. Photo: Rolle et al. as used by Herman Parzinger.

Figure 4. A golden diadem found inside of a kurgan.The diadem depicts a horned creature, a winged creature, and a creature being ridden by a human. Photo: Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Almaty, as used by Kat McAlpine.

The artifacts from the kurgans, paired with the feat of building the kurgans themselves, show the immense wealth of those buried.

Besides the evidence of social class, there is a lot to be learned of the Scythians’ belief system. In a kurgan unearthed in 2013, two golden vases were discovered with black residue–tests later came back positive for opium and cannabis, suggesting drug-fueled rituals (Curry 2016). In another kurgan, the buried were accompanied by 13 sacrificed horses, which were all “decorated to resemble supernatural creatures, and wearing leather masks with wooden horns painstakingly decorated with gold leaf” (McAlpine 2012, par. 6). Often, horses seem to be deified in the artifacts left by Scythians, which suggests that they were in fact regarded as divine.  There is still mystery surrounding the Scythians’ beliefs however, as other supernatural animals, such as snow leopards with wings, can be seen depicted in Scythian artifacts.

Numerous other cultures have their variations of burial rites, and such rites strongly reflect their belief systems. Clearly, how a culture treats its dead is indicative of its ways of life.


Further reading:

More About Lindholm Høje

Two Viking Boat Graves—With a Warrior Inside—Found in Sweden

More About Scythians

Other Burial Customs Today



Curry, Andrew

August 2016  Spectacular new discoveries from the Caucasus set the stage for a

dramatic hilltop ritual. Archaeological Institute of America. Electronic Document.

McAlpine, Katy J.

August 2012  Burial Mounds Preserve Culture of Ancient Nomads in Kazakhstan.

  Smithsonian. Electronic Document.

Mingren, Wu

December 2018  What Really Happened at Viking Funerals? It’s Not What You Think!

  Ancient Origins. Electronic Document.

Morgan, Thad

November 2018 How Did The Vikings Honor Their Dead? History. Electronic Document.

Parzinger, Herman

November 2017  Burial mounds of Scythian elites in the Eurasian steppe: New

discoveries. Journal of the British Academy, 5: 331–355.



2012  Lindholm Høje. VisitAalborg. Electronic Document.



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Recording the Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 killed over 1,500 people and pulled the ship and everything inside of it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  The remains of the ship and its passengers sit 2.5 miles underneath the surface, and studying the artifacts left behind could lead to understanding what life was like for those on board and answer questions surrounding how the wreck occurred.  Underwater preservation and surveying techniques have allowed archaeologists to go down and investigate the site; that is, as long as they make it to the Titanic before it completely deteriorates.

When the remains of the Titanic were discovered in 1985, ocean archaeology technology was relatively primitive.  Sonar was developed so that deep-sea endeavors would be safer and as technology has improved, underwater archaeology has grown.  In 1985, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) sent an unmanned ship with cameras and a sonar system down to take photographs and videos of the wreck and successfully brought the images back so that the public could see what had happened.

A Titanic passengers’ shoes on the sea floor

The ocean is rough terrain preserve artifacts in. In the 34 years since it was found, rust, salts, microbes, and deep-sea creatures have been slowly destroying the once magnificent ship and have completely consumed any human remains there.  Scientists and archaeologists are afraid that the site of the Titanic will completely vanish within the next few years. An expedition went to the Titanic in August of this year, and the ship is completely broken in half, consumed by ocean life.  The decay was expected and the site was made a priority.  In 2010, ships were sent down to make a complete replica of the site using videos, 3-D imaging, and sonar technology so that there would be a record of the ship before it completely deteriorates.

A rendering of the Titanic after the 2010 expedition

While having a map of the site is great so that there is some kind of record of what happened, it may not be an accurate representation of what the ship was like when it sank.  Because the Titanic sank in international waters, the wreck was under no national jurisdiction until 2012. The company that owned the ship went out of business, so that meant that until the ship became a UNESCO world heritage site, anyone could visit the site and bring back artifacts.  For a shipwreck to be protected under UNESCO, it has to be underwater for 100 years. This meant that between 1985 and 2012, anyone could go down to the Titanic and potentially damage the ship and take its artifacts.  Unwanted visitors have gone down to the ship and left modern trash that has damaged the rapidly deteriorating ship.  We may not know exactly what happened due to looters and vandals, but at least there is a record of what it might have been like before the Titanic returns to its elemental form and vanishes forever.



Figures from:


Additional Reading:

The Archaeology of Tattoos

In modern culture, tattoos are extremely common and popular as both a form of self expression and a permanent reminder of significant life and cultural events. Archaeology can help us understand both how and why tattoos have become such an important part of human identity. 

Tattooing is a practice that has been around for more than 5,000 years. The oldest known human tattoos come from the mummified remains of Otzi the Iceman. Otzi’s tattoos, which appear on his lower back, behind his knee, and around his ankle are believed to be medicinal as they appear to be an early form of acupuncture. Science Magazine reports, “Ötzi was covered with 61 tattoos including dotlike points around joints, which some researchers believe may have been used as pain treatment akin to an early form of acupuncture. ” (Rapp Learn 2018) These tattoos help explain where the practice of tattooing comes from, as they were used medicinally to increase blood flow and relieve tension in a similar manner to modern acupuncture.

A diagram showing the location of Otzi the Iceman’s Tattoos 


In contrast to the very practical uses of Otzi the iceman’s tattoos, 2,000 years later the tattooing practices of the Polynesian cultures were symbolic and ritualistic. Tattoos were reflections of both the individual  and the society’s cultural history as a whole. Tattoo artists were almost exclusively young males who were highly trained in both the art of tattooing and the meanings of different motifs and their placements. It was the job of the tattoo artist to decide what design and placement a person would get, as well as when a person could get a tattoo. Since getting a tattoo was such an important part of Polynesian culture that tattoo artists were regarded in high esteem by all members of society including the nobility. One interesting note about Polynesian tattooing designs is that one of the only surviving designs, the armband, is not actually a traditional Polynesian design. Instead it is actually a “souvenir” that was created in the 1970s for the American Peace Corps workers.


An Example of a Traditional Male Polynesian Tattoo

An Example of a Polynesian Armband “Souvenir” Tattoo

For more than 5,000 years humans have been tattooing their bodies for a variety of reasons. Archaeology has helped us to understand that tattooing developed in several ways around the world, both as a medical practice to stimulate blood flow to areas of pain, as well as a symbolic way of connecting an individual to their community and cultural history.



Further Reading 

Interesting article about a modern woman getting the same tattoos as Otzi the Iceman: 

For more on the religious significance of tattoos: 



Rapp Learn, Joshua.

   September 7, 2018   5000-year-old ‘Iceman’ May Have Benefited from a Sophisticated Health Care System. Science Magazine., accessed September 14, 2019.


   May 4, 2003   Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo. PBS,, accessed September 14, 2019.



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Silver Lining in the Ice

One of the most pressing issues in the world today is climate change. According to NASA (2019), temperatures will rise more than they already have, leading to changes in precipitation patterns, more droughts and heat waves, and eventually, the arctic possibly becoming ice free. But climate change might in fact be helping the development of a new discipline of archaeology that makes the location of sites and features much easier to find: Glacial archaeology.

Glacial archaeology has developed due to the melting of mountain ice that has been brought on by climate change. Many of the finds would have decomposed in other environments but have remained preserved in the ice. Yukon, Canada and Oppland, Norway are currently the only two places in the world that have permanent glacial archaeology programs, and the Oppland Glacial Archaeology Program received permanent funding from the Norwegian State in 2011. In Oppland alone, there have been close to 3,000 archaeological finds from 52 different sites, including skis, tunics, and an arrow (Figure 1) (Mukherjee 2019).

Figure 1. A Viking arrowhead recovered from the Glacier Archaeology Program in Norway. Photograph credit to

It all started in 1991 when a German couple were hiking in the Alps and discovered a human body that had been frozen there for about 5,000 years. The body later was given the name “Ötzi the Iceman” (Figure 2). He was the first instance of glacial archaeology, and certainly not the last if temperatures continue to rise around the world due to climate change. Scientists are confident that the temperatures will continue to rise largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities (NASA 2019).

Figure 2. Ötzi the Iceman. Photograph credit to Discover Magazine/Kalmbach Media.

Fieldwork in glacial archaeology is much different than other disciplines of archaeology. It involves little to no digging, but it’s not just waiting around for the ice to melt. While some objects only melt out of the ice once, other times objects found have been in and out of the ice multiple times. The degree to which an artifact has been thawed or exposed can affect to what degree is can be rescued or preserved (Mukherjee 2019).

This is not a post saying climate change is a good thing. Continuing to treat the planet like we do can only have catastrophic consequences in the future. But we should take advantage of the things we can learn that we didn’t have access to before. Hopefully humanity can work together to preserve our home but until then is it so bad to look for the upsides?

Further Readings:

Dixon, E. J., William F. Manley, and Craig M. Lee

2005 The Emerging Archaeology of Glaciers and Ice Patches: Examples from Alaska’s      Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. American Antiquity 70:129+.

Van, de N.

2011 Conceptualising Climate Change Archaeology. Antiquity 85:1039+.


Draxler, Breanna

2013 Living Relatives of Ötzi the Iceman Mummy Found in          Austria. ed. Vol. 2019, Kalmbach Media,

Lan, Yao

2019 Climate Change-Linked Melting Ice Contributes to finds of Archaeology Team. ed. Vol. 2019,, China.

Mukherjee, Ritoban

2019 Climate Change is Bad for the Planet, but Groundbreaking for Archaeology. ed. Vol. 2019, Quartz,


2019 The Effects of Climate Change. ed. Vol. 2019, NASA, California.

Is There Really No History? Archaeology Sacrificed

Like Olive and Kent, my hometown Shenzhen is said to have no history, despite discoveries of Neolithic artifacts. I ask why.

Figure 1. Shenzhen’s Central Business District at sunset. Photograph from China Daily, available at

Hong Kong’s neighbor and one of China’s fastest-growing cities, Shenzhen (Figure 1) is known by its own residents to have no history. The Reform and Opening-Up Policy of 1980 jump-started the city we know today, which is so densely populated with young elites and world-class IT companies that it seems as fresh as its technology. Allegedly, prior to the Policy, Shenzhen was a nameless, pastless fishing village.

Archaeology proves otherwise. A 2006 excavation at the Xiantouling archaeological site unearthed Neolithic features and artifacts from 7,000 years ago, evincing the existence of a history quite remarkable in scope within city borders (Li & Liu 2007). Located in Longgang District, the sandy hill preserved ancient features such as hearths and stone poles, alongside earthenware like cups (Figure 2), dishes, and vessel-bases and stone tools like stampers. The quantity and quality of features and artifacts indicate that Xiantouling may be the center of contemporary Pearl River Delta settlements. Moreover, shared stylistic features between Xiantouling wares and those discovered in Hunan Province position the site in an even larger cultural background. Subsequently, the site was rated as one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in China in 2006 (China Heritage Project 2007).

Figure 2. White earthen cup discovered at the Xiantouling Neolithic site. Photograph from the article by Hairong Li and Junxiong Liu in Kaogu (2007.7).

However, despite Xiantouling’s monumentality, the tale of no history prevailed. In fact, few of my family and friends know of the site, and none recall the announcement of its discovery. I was never taught of it in school. Famed on paper, Xiantouling is barely recognized by its very own townspeople. 

This lack of local exposure leads me to question Shenzhen’s official propaganda. In a society where the government controls public opinion through information dissemination, people’s perception of history is often molded by the city council and its sanctioned news. If Shenzhen wishes to maintain a youthful city image, such ancient discoveries may be downplayed in mainstream media and city propaganda. Therefore, I infer that Shenzhen has forsaken Xiantouling in exchange for an image of development, youth, and innovation — as a city that chases the future, not the past. To expand its history from a convenient 40 years to a strenuous 7,000 is to murder the spectacle of over-night success. Indeed, even on the city’s official website, its history is only briefly mentioned in a subpage — with the name Xiantouling nowhere to be found — and development projects dominate the rest of the website (Shenzhen Government). Similar to New York City’s Watershed Communities, in my town, archaeology and history are sacrificed for a political agenda. 

Known for information technology, Shenzhen is unaware that 7,000 years ago on the same land lived a people who embodied the same spirit of craftsmanship as they developed the technology of their times. Archaeology is a sacrifice; buried with it is this ancestral bond, a bond between today’s programmers and prehistory’s potters, a bond between the neolithic and modern times.


Li, Hairong and Junxiong Liu

  2007  The Xiantouling Neolithic Site at Shenzhen City, Guangdong. Kaogu (7): 9-16.,%20Guangdong.pdf. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

China Heritage Project

  2007  China’s Archaeological Oscars: The Top Ten Discoveries of 2006. China Heritage Quarterly (11). Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Shenzhen Government

Brief Introduction to Shenzhen. Entering Shenzhen. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Further Readings

  1. Chi, Zhang and Hung Hsiao-Chun, The Neolithic of Southern China–Origin, Development, and Dispersal:–Origin_Development_and_Dispersal
  2. Chi, Zhang and Hsiao-chun Hung, Later hunter-gatherers in southern China, 18000-3000 BC:

Garbage and Hurricane Maria

Two years after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, both the island and its people are still in the midst of recovery. The official death toll was estimated to be around 2,975 people, households went an average of 84 days without electricity, and the damages totaled up to as much as $94.4 billion (Mercy Corps, 2019). Those are the numbers that most mainland Americans heard from the news in the aftermath of the storm, but they are not the only numbers that tell the island’s story. According to Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Authority, the hurricane also created about “6.2 million cubic yards of waste and debris” (Kennedy, 2017).


The pure quantity of garbage created by the storm was so overwhelming that the island’s pre-existing landfills could not begin to contain it all. As a result, the government was forced to temporarily deposit debris in other places, such as soccer fields (Figure 1) and the grounds of closed public schools (Ocasio, 2018). In addition, some of the larger landfills were often left uncovered and are now overflowing, presenting a risk to the health of nearby residents (Kennedy, 2017).

Figure 1. A soccer field that has been converted into a dump. Photograph by José Jiménez.

If archaeology is the study of humans through what they leave behind, then it is also a study of the legacy of our garbage. Although the hurricane was the catalyst for the current crisis in Puerto Rico, the island’s garbage problems “predated the storm but went unnoticed until trash began to stack up outside people’s homes after Maria,” according to Jessica Seiglie of Basuro Cero, “a community organization that seeks alternatives for managing waste.” (Ocasio, 2018). One of the primary problems was that many of the dumps that weren’t regularly maintained found themselves flooded from the downpour, which prevented them from being used for weeks after the hurricane. (Ocasio, 2018). As it turns out, during assessments that began in 2002, the EPA anticipated this problem and ordered 12 of Puerto Rico’s 29 landfills (Figure 2) to close. However, “as of December 2016, the EPA reported that only Aguadilla had closed completely” (U.S. PIRG, 2017).

Figure 2. The landfill in Toa Baja. The active part of this dump was often left uncovered during the cleanup efforts after Hurricane Maria, posing a threat to the health of nearby residents. Photograph by José Jiménez

Unfortunately, closing a landfill costs approximately $200,000 per acre, and Puerto Rico is currently more than $120 billion in debt. With that said, can the island itself really be blamed for this particular problem? After all, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló requested a funding extension from FEMA for “recovery efforts including trash removal,” but the request was still being processed as of a year after the storm. (Ocasio, 2018). Since so many past mistakes and injustices led to the present catastrophe, many people have their sights set on the future. As engineer Ferdinand Quiñones put it when asked about the flooded dumps, “‘This is a legacy that we’re leaving for future generations… in 100 years or 75 years we have to start worrying about rehabilitating those sites’” (Ocasio, 2018).


Additional Reading:

For more on long-term solutions and how you can help:

For more on clean-up efforts in Puerto Rico:




Kennedy, Merrit, and Migaki, Lauren.

   December 24, 2017   After Maria, Puerto Rico Struggles Under The Weight Of Its Own Garbage. National Public Radio., accessed September 14, 2019.

Mercy Corps. 

   August 28, 2019   Quick Facts: Hurricane Maria’s Effect on Puerto Rico. Mercy Corps,, accessed September 14, 2019

Ocasio, Bianca Padró, and Rosa, Alejandra. 

   September 21, 2018   A Year Later, Hurricane Maria Debris a Lingering Concern in Puerto Rico. Orlando Sentinel., accessed September 14, 2019.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and Frontier Group. 

   October 25, 2017   Solid Waste in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria. U.S. PIRG. Waste – Hurricane Maria – USPIRG.pdf, accessed September 14, 2019.