Grave Injustice

Over the years, we have seen how the U.S segregates groups based on race, class, and religion. We can see remains (or lack of remains) of this privileged ideology in burial grounds. 

We witness these episodes of mortuary discrimniation several times throughout history. One example we still can see today is right at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. This cemetery is quite famous for being the resting place of men and women of the armed forces. While visiting this grave site, you can come across multiple sections with the headstones marked “U.S.C.T.”. These initials stood for United States Colored Troops. The people buried in these sections were African-American soldiers who fought beside the American troops in the Civil War, but ultimately were not allowed to be buried next to them. This eventually expanded to include Black military veterans and civilians as well.

We can also see this in the individual case of Sgt. John R. Rice, a former member of the Winnebago tribe, who was killed in combat in Korea.

The officials of the Sioux City Memorial Park Cemetery, Iowa, had stopped his burial. Right before the coffin could be lowered, his family was informed that the ceremony could not go on as “a clause in the sales contract for the cemetery lot reserved burial privileges for Caucasians only.” Only after lawsuits and intervention by President Truman was Sgt. Rice buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. This still left the family insulted and distraught as they battled the system that pushed for “racial whiteness beyond embodied, biological life”.

Cited Works:

Sherman, David. “Grave Matters: Segregation and Racism in U.S. Cemeteries.” The Order of the Good Death, 20 Apr. 2020,

Joint Base Langley-Eustis. “Even in Death, Segregation Is Part of Our History.” Joint Base Langley-Eustis, 3 Apr. 2006,

Further Readings:

Flatbush African Burial Ground


Pollen Analysis and the Ancient Egyptians

Pollen analysis, also known as palynology, was developed in 1916 by Swedish geologist Lennart von Post, and is the study of fossilized pollen to reconstruct the conditions of past climates and vegetation. Because the practice encompasses many scientific fields (geology, ecology, climatology, etc…), it has been considered one of the most valuable dating methods in archaeology. Palynology is mostly utilized to determine changes in vegetation over time, which further aids in chronology, the ordering of events in which they occurred in time.

There are certain types of archaeological sites that prove most fit for pollen analysis to be conducted. Larger basins are most ideal because they usually have more accumulated sediment with longer cores, meaning that a sample with a larger time frame would be taken. Acidic peat bogs and lake beds are also beneficial in the preservation of pollen, and it is most poorly preserved in open sites or exposed areas. There are some other limitations. For instance, constructing a completely accurate account of past climates and surroundings is not possible.

Image 1. Sediment is sampled, the pollen is separated from the sediment matrix, and then it is analyzed to reconstruct vegetation history.

Even with newer research methods being developed relatively often, palynology proves invaluable in present-day archaeology. Researchers applying the method in Cairo, Egypt have discovered evidence that there was a branch of the Nile River, now dried up, that aided in the construction of the Pyramids of Giza. The archaeologists sampled sediment cores, and in their matrixes, recovered fossilized pollen. After further analysis, the pollen was determined to be from local grasses and marsh plants that boarded the edges of lakes and rivers. Because of this, it is believed that water levels of the Nile River’s Khufu branch in around 2550 B.C.E. were high enough to transport construction materials such as limestone and granite to the sites of the pyramids. 

This application of pollen analysis has also aided archaeologists in their research about how the ancient Egyptians traveled using the Nile River. Before the use of palynology, researchers did not have a complete understanding of the environment and surroundings of the Nile River and any land involved. It has greatly contributed to the further understanding of the Nile’s floodplain 4,500 years ago, and the further investigation of hypotheses such as the “fluvial-port-complex” hypothesis. This proposes that the ancient Egyptians, in order to transport materials, created a canal from the Khufu branch to the site where the pyramids were being constructed. There is evidence that they dredged basins to the bottom of the Nile River and used seasonal flood waters as a hydraulic lift to transport heavy materials. 

Image 2. Map of the Nile River

Without pollen analysis, archaeologists, much like those working in Cairo, would not have much understanding of former environments and landscapes. Even though it has some limitations, it still proves extremely useful in present-day archaeology in regards to aiding in chronology and research of past landscapes.

Further Readings:,role%20within%20the%20Egyptian%20State.,formed%20basins%20of%20various%20sizes.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

Kneller, Margaret. “Pollen Analysis.” SpringerLink. Springer Netherlands, January 1, 2009.

Saraceni, Jessica Esther. “Pollen Study Tracks Ancient Flow of Egypt’s Nile River.” Archaeology Magazine, September 1, 2022.

Handwerk, Brian. “Pyramids of Giza: National Geographic.” History. National Geographic, May 4, 2021.,%2C%20and%20Menkaure%20(front).

Sottile, Zoe. “A Now-Dry Branch of the Nile Helped Build Egypt’s Pyramids, New Study Says.” CNN. Cable News Network, September 2, 2022.

“Journey to Egypt.” Best Egypt Tours, Vacations & Nile Cruises 2022/2023 – Journey To Egypt. Accessed September 25, 2022.

Megafauna and Humans in Florida: Evidence Shows that Humans Settled and Interacted with Megafauna in Florida Much Earlier Than Originally Thought

Stone tools found near mastodon remains by a Florida State University (FSU) team show that early humans were in North Florida roughly 1,500 years earlier than originally thought. In the 1980s and 1990s, two researchers, David Webb and James Dunbar, found a mastodon tusk (Figure 1) in an underwater sinkhole in the Aucilla River called the Page-Ladson Site. In 2014, stone tools were retrieved from this site (FSU 2016).

Figure 1. FSU researchers hold the mastodon tusk found at the Page-Ladson Site. (

Various organic material from the same layer as the tools and tusk was recovered from sediments in the lake, including seeds, plant fragments, and twigs, allowing for radiocarbon dating to determine that the artifacts found are over 14,500 years old. A stone cutting instrument was discovered, indicating that the early humans in Florida created these stone tools (Bower 2016).

This site is the oldest known site of humans in the southeast (FSU 2016). This finding allowed archaeologists to conclude that people lived in Florida far earlier than previously thought, indicating that the Page-Ladson site was once home to Clovis and pre-Clovis people. (Halligan, et al. 2016). These early humans lived alongside megafauna in Florida, i.e. mastodons, giant ground sloths, giant armadillos, and saber-toothed cats (Kelley, et al. 2015). The tools found indicate that the Clovis and pre-Clovis people living there relied on the megafauna, especially mastodons, as a food source. 

One of the tools found was a biface—a sharp knife used for butchering animals—and upon further investigation of the mastodon tusk found earlier, archaeologists concluded that the markings on the tusk corresponded to those that the biface would have made as early humans cut the tusk to remove it from the skull of the mastodon to consume the tissue found in the tusk (FSU 2016). Another stone tool (Figure 2) found submerged in the lake indicates that early humans hunted mastodons, or at least scavenged from them after another predator took the mastodon down (Bower, 2016).

Figure 2. A stone tool found in sediment at the Page-Ladson site that indicates that humans lived in Florida 14,500 years ago. (

Additionally, Sporormiella, a type of fungus found in the dung of plant-eating animals, was found in high concentrations in the layers of sediment taken from the same layer as the tools, indicating that early humans and megafauna coexisted in North Florida. There was no evidence of the fungus in 12,600 years old sediment, leading researchers to the conclusion that megafauna went extinct around 12,600 years ago (Bower, 2016).

Humans did not abandon the area after these megafauna went extinct, however. The early Clovis and pre-Clovis people ate whatever they could, and they adapted to the area to stay there long after the megafauna went extinct.

Reference list:

“Ancient Tools and Bone Found in North Florida River Could Help Rewrite the Story of the First Americans.” Florida State University: College of Arts and Sciences. Last modified May 16, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2022.

Bower, Bruce. “Hunter-Gatherers Roamed Florida 14,500 Years Ago.” Science News Explores. Last modified May 29, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2022.

Halligan, Jessi J., Michael R. Walters, Angelina Perrotti, Ivy J. Owens, Joshua M. Feinberg, Mark D. Bourne, Brendan Fenerty, Barbara Winsborough, David Carlson, Daniel C. Fischer, Thomas W. Stafford, and James S. Dunbar. “Pre-Clovis Occupation 14,550 Years Ago at the Page-Ladson Site, Florida, and the Peopling of the Americas.” Abstract. Science Advances 2, no. 5 (May 13, 2016). Accessed September 25, 2022. 

Kelley, Cynthia D., Thomas J. Fellers, and Michael W. Davidson. “Darkfield Digital Image Gallery: Pleistocene Mammal Bone From Florida.” Molecular Expressions: Exploring the World of Optics and Microscopy. Last modified November 13, 2015. Accessed September 25, 2022.,%2C%20Ice%20Age%20bison%20.

Additional Content:

Impact on Gender Roles in Archaeology

Archaeology is often corrupted by the cultural norms of men and women of today. The “Princess of Vix” burial exemplifies the idea that assumptions cannot be made when examining history, especially concerning the difference between sex and constructed gender roles

The Princess Vix burial discovered in east-central France in the 1950s is a grave full of traditional ‘male’ grave goods, including a decorated wagon and jewels. However, the skeleton in the grave was a female one. Some of those who found the grave believed that the skeleton was a “transvestite priest because it was considered inconceivable that a woman could be honored in such a way” (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 172). The very idea that the archaeologists tried to discredit the goods as being earned by a woman shows the bias occurring in archaeology when examining historical females. Archaeologists sometimes allow themselves to be blinded by differing definitions of sex and gender. Sex is defined as, “biologically determined and can be established archaeologically from skeletal remains” (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 171), while gender is seen as a social construct that is determined by roles in society that can easily change. The archaeologists carried previous assumptions about gender into their work and could have made serious mistakes that greatly altered the interpretation of the past.

Figure 1. Princess Vix grave, displaying the female skeleton and some of the treasures found. Photograph by Claude PIARD. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.Wikimedia Commons

Alongside traditional male-associated artifacts in the grave, archaeologists also found a long-searched artifact: the giant Greek bronze krater from the tall tale of Herodotus. This giant bronze krater was said by the Greek historian Herodotus to have been made for a great king of Lydia (Lewis 1984). Due to the nontraditional size of this theoretical jar, historians have mocked the existence of this artifact. However, a jar matching the exact descriptions was found in the Princess of Vix’s grave. The possible existence of it alone paired with it being found so far away from Greece in a woman’s grave opens up a whole set of questions about the past. Thus, biases aren’t just causing the past to be misinterpreted, but also preventing future findings from being discovered. If the grave was interpreted differently due to biases, this infamous artifact would’ve never been examined in this capacity.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Giant bronze krater allegedly from the famous tale of Herodotus. It was found in the grave of Princess Vix. Picture credit: Peter Northover. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.Wikimedia Common

One finding in the discovery of the Princess Vix grave not traditionally known is that the grave led to similar discoveries of other female graves, indicating the praised role of women in the historical Celtic society, seen in the quote, “Although it is the earliest, the Vix burial is not the only high-status Celtic female burial in the area. A series of similar graves spread over the Rhine and Moselle area where women were accorded burials sometimes more splendid than many male chieftains” (Sheldon 2022). Thus, archaeologists making assumptions about the roles of women in Celtic society being similar to how our society treated women in the past is seemingly wrong.

In the end, gender and gender roles should not be assumed in any regard, especially when taking interpretation into account. 

Further readings:


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson. 108-140.

Sheldon, Natalie. February 16, 2022. “The Princess of Vix: Trade, Culture, and Women in Celtic Society.” History and Archaeology Online

Lewis, Paul. April 1, 1984. “A Greek Treasure in France”. The New York Times Company

Reconstructing past ways of life through burial analysis

Rituals relating to the dead are a nearly universal cultural practice with remnants appearing across the globe. To take advantage of the information these sites provide, archaeologists employ a technique known as burial analysis—the excavation and interpretation of deceased bodies and artifacts from places of burial. The preliminary steps of burial analysis involve identifying the method of burial (the condition of the deceased or the structures within the site), the number of bodies in the unit, and the presence of material goods. By taking these factors into account and tracing their change over time, archaeologists can come to informed conclusions about a culture such as perceptions of an afterlife, cultural merging or displacement, and basic social constructions  (Alekshin, V.A. et al. 1983, 3-4). Taking a look at examples of burial analysis, specifically sites from Russia and the United States, helps illustrate the immense applications of the technique to piece together features of ancient cultures.

Kalmykia is a region in the Southwestern tip of Russia between the Black and Caspian seas. Grassland makes up much of the region, but it is far from empty: beneath the ground in certain locations lies a vast burial site and, within it, clues to evolving lifestyles from thousands of years ago. 

In this region, researchers were able to identify two distinct groups, the Yamnaya, herders, and the Katacomb, dual herders and agriculturalists (Shishlina 2001). The former developed during the first half of the 3rd millennium BC and constructed burial mounds mostly along the coastal section of the Caspian region, but also along the highland region. Researchers believe this pattern coincides with seasonal movement, providing evidence for a mobile lifestyle. Examining buried materials suggests the Yamnaya were engaged in a system of trade with the southern Caucasus region (Shishlina 2001, 23). 

The latter group emerged in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC and appear to have been more advanced than the Yamnaya in trade, social organization, and methods of burial (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Burial Site in Kalmykia

Like the Yamnaya, this new group lived a highly mobile lifestyle, even more so than their predecessors, and engaged in trade with southern regions (Shishlina 2001, 26). Conclusions made about this region rest on one of the tenets of burial analysis: distinctions in culture are reflected by treatment of the dead.

Another example of burial analysis is the Hopewell Mound Group of southern Ohio which dates back to two thousand years ago. The mounds were first documented in 1848 during a survey by Squier and Davis—American Archaeologists of the time (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Hopewell Mound Group, Etching by Squier and Davis.

In the past, the mounds were enclosed within an enormous perimeter (thousands of feet on each side) and contained the largest known mound of the Hopewell culture. The scale of the mounds and the artifacts in them are among the astounding finds in North America (NPS 2021).

When implemented and interpreted with precision, burial analysis merits its status as a valuable technique to reconstruct the past.


New content:

Legislation around burial sites:

Burial analysis of a site in Egypt:


Reference list:

Alekshin, V. A., Brad Bartel, Alexander B. Dolitsky, Antonio Gilman, Philip L. Kohl, D. Liversage, and Claude Masset. Apr., 1983. “Burial Customs as an Archaeological Source [and Comments].” Current Anthropology , Vol. 24, (No. 2): pp. 137-149.

Shishlina, Natalia. 2001. “Early Herders of the Eurasian Steppe.” Expedition Magazine, Vol. 43, (No. 1): pp, 21-28.

Dec. 12, 2021 “Hopewell Mound Group.” National Park Service.

Figure 1: 2001. Katacomb Burial Excavations.

Figure 2: Squier, Ephraim G, and Edwin H. Davis. 1848. HMG etching.

Social Structures and Activities in Medieval England as Discovered by Burial Analysis

Human remains have been able to give archaeologists key clues as to how humans lived in the past. Studies performed around the conditions of human skeletons as well as where and with what these skeletons were buried have provided information used to discern what social structures, nutritional factors, causes of death, activities, and so many more factors of everyday life were like (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 47, 51-60). A prime example of burial analysis giving context into the health and societal structures of times long past is a recent study performed by the University of Cambridge, England. 

In this study, scientists and archaeologists unearthed the burial grounds of a medieval friary located under the University of Cambridge, analyzing nineteen skeletons (Figure 1) dating mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. From the late 13th century until the middle of the 16th century, the Augustinian friary was a place of academic study and living for clergymen, much more sanitary than the average Cambridge street crowded with peasants (Davis 2022). 

Figure 1. Archaeologists excavate and examine the skeletons of Cambridge monks, Cambridge, England. Photograph by University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Many of the researchers originally believed that due to their drastically improved sanitation, those living within the friary’s walls would be much less likely to contract parasites, which were a frequently cited problem in medieval medical records and diaries due to (what we now know to be) poor living conditions (Figure 2). Out of the nineteen bodies analyzed, at least eleven had the remains of intestinal worms present, which would have been living in the monks’ systems as they were still living. Meanwhile, out of twenty five peasant bodies analyzed from a nearby cemetery, only eight contained parasites (Handwerk 2022). Thirty percent of medieval Cambridge citizens suffered from parasites (Handwerk 2022), a statistic which did not surprise the researchers. However, the evidence provided by the dig revealed that nearly twice as many monks died with parasites in their systems than peasants in the area (Davis 2022), puzzling scientists and archaeologists as to how this could have occurred. 

Figure 2. Reconstructive drawing of a medieval peasant house, highlighting lack of sanitation. Image by Pat Hughes, retrieved from Current Archaeology 2013.

After much study into the habits of these monks compared to the routines and diets outside of the private friary’s walls, researchers theorized that the monks often handled fertilizer they created from human waste to spread in their gardens, which we now know leads to a much higher risk of spreading parasites. Dr. Piers Mitchell, co-author of the study, summarized their findings by saying “What we learn about the past is that just because you’re wealthier doesn’t mean to say you’re healthier” (Davis 2022). 

This study brings into context how archaeology can reveal an amazing amount of information about the social structures and health habits of people living centuries ago. Through analyzing something as minute as whether these corpses contained parasites while they were living, archeologists and scientists were able to make new discoveries about possible practices within everyday life in different societal groups of medieval Cambridge. Archaeological study of burial sites truly is instrumental in discovering what humans’ lives in our planet’s past were really like.

Further Reading: 

Standards of Living in the Middle Ages – Ian Dawson 

The Daily Life of Medieval Monks – Mark Cartwright 


Current Archaeology. 2013. “Peasant Houses in Midland England: How the Black Death Prompted A Building Boom.” Current Archaeology, May 2. (Retrieved from

Davis, Nicola. 2022. “DIY Fertiliser May Be Behind Monks’ Parasite Torment, Say Archaeologists.” The Guardian, August 19. (Retrieved from 

Handwerk, Brian. 2022. “Why Were Medieval Monks So Susceptible to Intestinal Worms?” Smithsonian Magazine, August 18. (Retrieved from

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth ed. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 47, 51-60. 

More Than TerraCotta, the Tomb Necropolis of China’s First Emperor


     Almost everyone in the world knows of the TerraCotta warriors. Legendary soldiers meant to guard the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. These statues were first discovered in march of 1974 by peasants digging a well, and were later explored and excavated by archaeologists. What many people dont know is that the pits housing the warriors are but one small portion of a much larger necropolis, a tomb city built to be the final resting place of the man who first unified the warring states of China. 

     Located in a massive burial mound near the city of Xi’an China, the vast tomb covers over 20 square miles. It contains an inner city, an outer wall, and miles of various structures built around it. The pits from where the terraCotta warriors were recovered are just one of these structures. They were built to the east of the tomb, to defend it from enemies. Despite the vast wealth of knowledge uncovered from these outer relics, the tomb proper has yet to be fully excavated or explored, due to concerns for the safety of the artifacts still lying within. When the terracotta warriors were first uncovered, a lack of proper conservation techniques combined with the dry air of Xi’an led to rapid damage to the colorfully painted coatings the statues once had. The Chinese government has stated that it will not open up the rest of the mausoleum to excavation until it can be guaranteed that similar damage will not occur to the rest of the tomb. Despite this reluctance, a number of novel archaeology techniques have allowed Chinese historians to gain some level of understanding of what lies inside. For example, analysis of the soil around the tomb has managed to back up the claims of ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian in regards to the massive amount of mercury used within the tomb.

     In ancient China, the element mercury was believed to be an elixir of life. It is even theorized that the death of the first emperor was due to consumption of mercury in the hopes of prolonging his life. As such, mercury played a major role within his tomb complex. According to historical records from Sima Qian written approximately 80 years after his death, the tomb contained massive rivers and lakes of mercury in a facsimile of major Chinese bodies of water at the time. This was backed up by Chinese scientists Guangyu Zhao, Weixing Zhang, Zheng Duan, Ming Lian, Ningbin Hou, Yiyun Li, Shiming Zhu & Sune Svanberg in 2020. The scientists used laser radar scanning of mercury emissions in the soil to determine approximately the amount of mercury lost in the form of vapor over the years. “We obtain a total loss of mercury to air of the order of 1 ton of liquid mercury.” (Zhao et. al 2020). This helps back up the ancient historical claims about the massive amount of the element contained within the tomb.

     Another new method being discussed to increase our understanding of the tomb lies in utilizing cosmic rays. When cosmic rays impact earth’s atmosphere, they break down into smaller subatomic particles known as muons. Similarly to x-rays, muons pass through objects, however they pass through heavier objects like stone and metal slower than dirt or air. Yuanyuan Liu, a scientist working at Beijing Tsinghua university was the one to propose the idea of using these cosmic particles to study the emperor’s tomb. By placing muon detectors underneath the tomb complex, a kind of x-ray can be taken of the inner caverns. While this idea is still theoretical, it shows promise as a non harmful way of seeing the inside of this magnificent construction. The tomb necropolis of Qin Shi Huang is a treasure trove of archaeological and historical knowledge waiting to be uncovered. While many traditional methods of excavation are unusable due to concerns over damage, this provides a wonderful opportunity for new and innovative methods of survey to be used.

Further reading



Zhao, G., Zhang, W., Duan, Z., Lian, M., Hou, N., Li, Y., Zhu, S., & Svanberg, S. (2020, June 26). Mercury as a geophysical tracer gas – emissions from the emperor Qin tomb in xi´an studied by Laser Radar. Nature News. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from 

Chen, S. (2021, December 30). Could cosmic rays unlock the secret tomb guarded by China’s Terracotta Army? South China Morning Post. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from 

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Qin Tomb. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from 

The History of Corn’s Domestication

Understanding the history of corn’s domestication is key to the possible usages of the maize crop today. The search to understand the domestication of corn is an ongoing process, and a major challenge to the story of modern corn’s evolution was discovered as recently as 2018.

The accepted history was that maize began as the wild grain teosinte 9,000 years ago in what is now considered southern Mexico and that 6,500 years ago the grain was brought to southwest Amazon and Peru (Smithsonian Institution 2018). From these two facts it was deduced that teosinte came from Mexico, was domesticated over a span of 2,500 years and then was transported southward to stay in a similar form until its adoption by European colonists (Smithsonian Institution 2018). However, the discovery of 5,000 year old proto-corn in Mexico destroyed the linear timeline of corn’s domestication in Central America down into South America.

Figure 1. Image of teosinte plant compared to maize. Image by T. Ryan Gregory

One of the main ways to determine the evolution of maize is by finding fossil evidence of corn pollen which is typically “wind dispersed” and like all pollen grains has a “durable outer wall (exine)” (Bryant, Vaughn M. 2007). The issue with using pollen is that proving that a given grain belongs to human cultivated maize rather than a wild crop is complicated by the fact that the pollen found near a settlement could have traveled from a wild type neighboring the site. Adding in the genetic information found in phytoliths, silica “derived” from plant cells (“plant opal”), can confirm that genetic material belongs to corn evolving under human influence rather than wild teosinte (Renfrew 2018: 183).

Using the knowledge that in Mexico domestication was ongoing from 9,000 to 5,000 years ago lends to the conclusion that maize was domesticated separately at several times in different locations to have full kernels and soft kernel casings (Smithsonian Institution 2018). The distinct domesticated species of maize then “diffused” together over thousands of years to form the maize that Columbus would have encountered (Smithsonian Institution 2018). 

Figure 2. Corncobs found in mounds from Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru

The historical convergence of maize varieties tells a different and less static story than that of corn coming from Mexico domesticated down to the Amazon. In fact, the peoples of the southwest Amazon developed their own variety of domesticated corn earlier than what has been found in Southern Mexico (Smithsonian Institution 2018). One reason for this may be found in the fact that the modern wild teosinte of Mexico is so genetically similar to maize; perhaps there was more breeding (intentional or unintentional) of proto-corn during domestication back with wild teosinte in order to help the grain adapt to the climate. Because maize as a crop will never stop evolving, whether it be to better fit human consumption or to thrive in the changing climate, learning the history of corn through archeology is central to how corn will be in the future.

Bryant, Vaughn M. “Microscopic Evidence for the Domestication and Spread of Maize.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 50 (December 11, 2007): 19659–60.

Grobman, Alexander, Duccio Bonavia, Tom D. Dillehay, Dolores R. Piperno, José Iriarte, and Irene Holst. “Preceramic Maize from Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. No. 5 (January 31, 2012).

Piperno, D. R., and K. V. Flannery. “The Earliest Archaeological Maize (Zea Mays L.)  from Highland Mexico: New Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Dates and  Their Implications.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 98, no. 4 (February 13, 2001): 2101–3.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson.

Smithsonian Institution. “Scientists Overhaul Corn Domestication Story With Multidisciplinary Analysis.” Accessed September 22, 2022.

Gregory, T. Ryan. “Artificial Selection and Domestication: Modern Lessons from Darwin’s Enduring Analogy.” Evolution: Education and Outreach 2, no. 1 (March 2009): 5–27.


Further Readings: 

Chapter “Archeology of Maize” 

Article on the Genetic Differences Between Teosinte and Corn

Archaeology of Amazonian Settlements

Archaeological sites are typically discovered in either extremely cold or dry climates. In cold environments, natural refrigeration allows for the preservation of organic material (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). In dry climates, the lack of water preserves artifacts and ecofacts since micro-organisms aren’t able to survive. Wet environments also preserve organic materials as long as the organic materials are preserved in an airless environment. In tropical climates, however, organic materials are more susceptible to decomposition due to the high precipitation levels, high temperatures, erosion, and biological life. For an archaeological site to survive such a climate, it must withstand forces of both nature and humans. 

The Amazon rainforest is known for being an extremely hot, humid, rainy, and dense environment. Because of this, it has been difficult for archaeologists to uncover civilizations or any sign of life. Recent technological advancements such as LIDAR, a type of aerial survey where landscapes are captured through a series of laser beams from a drone, is especially useful because the dense tree cover can be removed (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). Two months ago, in Bolivia, archaeologists discovered a settlement called Llanos de Moxos (Handwerk 2022). LIDAR revealed that this settlement was heavily populated, with a central urban area and causeways, or raised, that connected to suburban settlements.

Figure 1. Newly discovered settlement near Llanos de Moxos. Shows the complexity of ancient civilization (Krier 2022).

Archaeologists previously believed that the Amazon was sparsely populated, due to the poor quality of the soil and the climate. However, the discovery of this settlement leads them to believe that the Amazon was actually home to many civilizations, including cities and smaller towns. One of the main questions that archaeologists were looking to answer was how cities were able to sustain themselves, since the soil quality was extremely poor. In some areas, Amazonians were able to cultivate the soil themselves into a soil that contained over two to three times as many nutrients as the original soil, known as terra preta (Wade 2014). The discovery of terra preta is vital for understanding how ancient civilizations were able to adapt to their environment, but it is only one of the ways to identify civilizations in the Amazon.

Figure 2. Terra preta (left) and soil in Amazon (right) (Zimmer 2018).

The archaeology of Amazonian settlements is constantly changing as new technologies and discoveries about their way of life are uncovered. The story of the Amazon has yet to be finished.


Links of Interest




Handwerk, Brian. “Lost Cities of the Amazon Discovered from the Air.” Smithsonian Magazine, May 25, 2022.

Kreier, Freda. “‘Mind blowing’ ancient settlements uncovered in the Amazon.”, May 26, 2022. 

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2018.

Wade, Lizzie. “Searching for the Amazon’s Hidden Civilizations.”, January 7, 2014.‌

Zimmer, Katarina. “Soil and Satellites Are Telling a New Story About Ancient Civilizations in the Amazon.” Atlas Obscura, March 20, 2018.

The Importance of Tree-Ring Dating in Archeology

Tree-ring dating, often referred to as dendrochronology is one of two main methods of dating. A dendrochronologist is a scientist that specializes in tree rings in order to form conclusions about the natural world and human behavior. The technique was developed by A.E. Douglass, an American astronomer in the early decades of the last century (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 108-140). Now used in modern archeology along with radiocarbon dating, Douglass pioneering technique cemented a ground foundation for dating artifacts found today.

In order to perform the process of tree-ring dating, dendrochronologists first measure and plot tree rings and produce a diagram that indicates the thickness of successive rings in an individual tree (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 108-140). After this, it’s all about figuring out the age of each tree and organizing them by chronological order. This chronological sequence of timber can present a story of the past till now.

Figure 1. Dendrochronologists analyze sequences of tree timber in order to match its pattern rings to older timbers. This will give a chronological idea of the area/site.

The technique is now a crucial tool for archaeologists, who can use tree ring chronologies for more than 4,000 sites on six continents to trace up to 13,000 years of history. Although trees add a new ring every growing season, trees don’t develop their trunks consistently. Trunk growth is closely linked to climate conditions. Under ideal conditions, trees grow quickly, leaving wide annual rings behind. During droughts, unseasonable cold, and other unusual conditions, growth slows, leaving behind narrow rings (Blakemore 2019). With these findings, dendrochronologists are able to determine the age of the tree and the type of condition the tree lived under. Tree rings can tell us so much!

Figure 2. The conifer wood displays much variation in its rings. There is a contrast in color and width size due to the different variety of environmental conditions the tree was exposed to.

However, like previously mentioned, unfavorable conditions can leave the tree-ring method to be last in the pecking order. The big reason is being that the trees must be under ideal conditions. That being said, dendrochronology can’t be used as a worldwide technique given that climate is different and constantly changing. As a result, tree-ring dating “applies only to trees in regions outside the tropics where pronounced differences between the seasons produce clearly defined annual rings” (Renfrew and Bahn 2018, 108-140). Taking it a step further, the method can’t be used if the tree ring is from wood that’s been used by humans, have allowed a sequence that’s in the present, or if the sample is too complex to match with other samples. Nonetheless, dendrochronology will continue to be a pivotal tool for future generations, especially as warmer climates become more and more prevalent.

Further Readings: 

About Tree Rings

The History of the World is Written in Tree Rings 


Blakemore, Erin. 2019. “How are tree rings used to help date an archeological site?” National Geographic.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. Thames & Hudson. 108-140.