What Burial Analysis Reveals About the Chinchorro People

The Chinchorro people lived in an ancient, segmentary society – whose earliest sites date to about 7,000 BCE – in the coastal regions of modern-day Chile and southern Peru. They are famous for their elaborate mummification practices spanning 4,000 years across five distinct styles of mummification (CNN Travel, 2019). From these well-preserved mummies, archaeologists have been able to use burial analysis – overviewed in Chapter 5 of the Renfrew reading from this week – to learn about the Chinchorro culture. 

First found by German archaeologist Max Uhle in 1917, the Chinchorro mummies have come to be known as the oldest mummies in the world – predating Egyptian mummies by over two millennia. The process of mummification was puzzlingly complex, involving the removal of the body’s skin, flesh, organs, and brain, a reassembly of the bones with twigs, the reapplication of the skin to the body, the painting of an ash paste over the body, and the application of a final layer of either black or ocher paint to the entirety of the mummified body (Britannica, n.d).

Figure 1: Two sculptures from local artists Paola Pimentel and Johnny Vásquez depicting Chinchorro Mummies in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Photographed by Mark Johanson, CNN 2019.

These mummies, as well as burial analysis more generally, are able to shine a unique light on the individual, an aspect of the past “seen all too rarely” in archaeology (Renfrew 2018, 157). One of the most important facets of life that burial analysis can reveal about past individuals is social status, or, in the case of the Chinchorro, the relative lack thereof. The Chinchorro mummies reveal signs of a markedly egalitarian culture, with all members of society – men, women, children, the elderly, babies, and even fetuses –  receiving the same, elaborate burial. This differs greatly from other ancient cultures that practiced mummification, such as the Egyptians, who reserved the practice for deceased members of the elite (BBC, 2021).

We can also learn a great deal about the diet and lifestyle of the Chinchorro from their mummies. Stable isotope analysis of the hair and human bones of the mummies indicates that nearly 90 percent of Chinchorro diets came from maritime food sources, and the other 10 percent from terrestrial animals and terrestrial plants (ThoughtCo, 2017). Other archaeological data, such as coastal middens and sophisticated fishing tool assemblages, reveal that the Chinchorro people primarily ate fish, coastal birds, and sea mammals. 

Further analysis of the mummies can also elucidate the Chinchorro’s relationship with the environment. Many archaeologists argue that Chinchorro mortuary practice was a cultural reaction to environmental forces. For example, in his 2005 journal article on the subject, Bernardo T. Arriaza highlights how arsenic levels present in the Camarones River, a body of water central to the Chinchorro, are “a hundred times the modern safety level” (Arriaza 2005). He thus correlates the high percentage of infant burials found in the early stages of Chinchorro mummification with infants’ greater susceptibility to Arsenic poisoning in order to argue that high arsenic levels initiated the Chinchorro’s cultural practice of mummification.

Figure 2: Arsenic levels in northern and Chinchorro sites along the coast. Uploaded by Dr. Sam Byrne to ResearchGate, 2010.


Hirst, K. Kris. “Chinchorro Culture.” ThoughtCo, March 8, 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-chinchorro-culture-170502.

Johanson, Mark. “Surprise! The World’s Oldest Mummies Are Not in Egypt.” CNN, May 1, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-oldest-mummies-chile/index.html. 

Chambers, Jane. “Living with the World’s Oldest Mummies.” BBC News, October 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58639748. 

Lohnes, Kate. “That’s a Wrap: Methods of Mummification.” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d https://www.britannica.com/story/thats-a-wrap-methods-of-mummification.

Arriaza, Bernardo T. “ARSENIASIS AS AN ENVIRONMENTAL HYPOTHETICAL EXPLANATION FOR THE ORIGIN OF THE OLDEST ARTIFICIAL MUMMIFICATION PRACTICE IN THE WORLD.” Chungara: Revista de Antropología Chilena 37, no. 2 (2005): 255–60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27802425.

Further Reading:



The Colosseum Showcases Colossal Discoveries about Roman Social Hierarchy

The Colosseum, in Rome, was an engineering feat and a place for gladiator matches, but it existed as a physical representation of class stratification too. In an attempt to symbolize their triumph in subjugating Jerusalem during the First Jewish Roman War, Vespasian, the Roman emperor, ordered the construction of the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater (Evans 2022). Given the history of Rome’s warfare tactics, including enslavement, it was likely that the construction was done by Jewish slaves, or women (in Greco-Roman culture, believed to be inherently subordinate). 

Giacomo Lauro illustration of the Colosseum, showcasing the inside structure (“Architecture · Colosseum · Piranesi in Rome”, n.d.). 

As a prominent aspect of daily life in Rome, the Colosseum was enjoyed by many, but it was a constant reminder of the inequality among Romans, ordered by the political and social elite. In 2015, archaeologists discovered traces of red paint on the seats and archways at the Colosseum depicting numbers, about 13 inches tall. It was said to specify seating assignments based on class (Clark 2015). This paint, consisting of iron oxide and clay, was likely preserved by a layer of dirt, serving as protection from harsh weather and outside meddling (Clark 2015). We know, from this labeling, that the section nearest to the arena was reserved for the emperor and senatorial elite; above them were former cavalry members, artisans, and bureaucrats. In the two upper most tiers of the Colosseum sat the “women, foreigners…poor and enslaved Romans” (Evans 2022). However, appeals of the Colosseum were its elliptical shape (giving everyone a virtually equal view) (“Colosseum Architecture” n.d.), free entry (Clark 2015), free snacks (Kuo 2004), and large accommodations, such as two vast restrooms (“Colosseum Architecture” n.d.). 

Traces of red paint found on the engravings of numbers on archways in the Colosseum (Russon 2015).

More recently a group of archaeologists, led by Federica Rinaldi, used wire-guided robots to explore the 230 feet of sewage beneath this structure . The findings of this analysis included  “traces of olives, nuts, meats, cherries, grapes, figs, blackberries and peaches from 1,900 years ago” (Enking 2022).  It was not mentioned explicitly what the word  “traces” indicated.  One could hypothesize that the word suggests excretions drained from the two large restrooms, or different parts of the food (pits, seeds, etc.). As these, now free, foods were frequently enjoyed by the rich and desired by the poor, they give us insight into more possible motives for the upper and lower class to be equally drawn to the Colosseum. It is plausible that these traces of food, in its pure form or in excrements, were preserved through the large fire that occurred in 217 CE (Mueller 2011). Burning is often a form of preservation of vegetation and other natural resources. 

We believe, today, that all great discoveries have been made, but those recently discovered at the Colosseum are colossal. We understand better the motivations for attending the arena, outside of its entertainment, and the extent to which the rigid Roman social hierarchy infiltrated all aspects of life. The extent to which these traces of natural products were preserved and pursued in the Colosseum sewage system continues to lend to the engineering prowess of Rome at this time. The earth is laden with history, and with proper research, some of it waits to be discovered.

Further Reading

Cascone, Sarah, and Eileen Kinsella. 2021. “Engineers Will Reconstruct the Colosseum’s Arena Floor, Allowing Visitors to Stand Where Gladiators Once Fought.” Artnet News. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/gladiators-view-colosseum-rome-1963926.

Siwicki, Christopher. 2023. “New Excavations at Rome’s Colosseum.” Art & Object. https://www.artandobject.com/news/new-excavations-romes-colosseum.


“Architecture · Colosseum · Piranesi in Rome.” n.d. Omeka.Wellesley. Accessed September 24, 2023. 


Clark, Laura. 2015. “Evidence of a Seating Plan Discovered at the Colosseum.” Smithsonian Magazine.


“Colosseum Architecture | How Colosseum was built | Colosseum Building.” n.d. Rome Colosseum Tickets Tours.


Enking, Molly. 2022. “Archaeologists Find 1900-Year-Old Snacks in Sewers Beneath the Colosseum.” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ancient-roman-spectator-snacks-dog-bones-discovered-in-colosseum-dig-180981211/.

Evans, Farrell. 2022. “How the Colosseum Was Built—and Why It Was an Architectural Marvel.” History. https://www.history.com/news/how-roman-colosseum-built.

Kuo, James. 2004. “The Colosseum: Power, Brilliance, and Brutality.” University of Washington Honors Program. https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/jimkuo2/IlColosseo/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html.

Mueller, Tom. 2011. “Secrets of the Colosseum | History.” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/secrets-of-the-colosseum-75827047/.

Russon, Mary. 2015. “Rome: Colosseum’s ‘ancient seating plan’ revealed.” IBTimes UK. https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/rome-painted-red-numbers-discovered-colosseums-walls-reveal-ancient-seating-plan-1484900.

Looking Deeper: Kivas

Kivas are underground structures made for ceremonial purposes, including both religious and cultural contexts. “Kiva” stands for “ceremonial room” in Hopi, and it was adopted by archaeologists from the late 1800s and early 1900s (Lekson 1988, p. 215). They evolved from pit houses, semi-subterranean buildings used for warmth during winter, food storage, and occasionally cultural practices such as dancing and storytelling. These underground structures were mainly used by Native American tribes in the Southwest, from the Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma tribes to name a few. 

One main use of the kiva is to hold religious ceremonies. The entrance symbolizes the physical world, while the kiva serves as a glimpse into the spiritual world. The sipapu, a small hole in the wall, creates this spiritual environment, as tribes believed it was where ancestors emerged from the underworld into their realm. The fire inside also holds spiritual connotations, and its smoke is believed to hold the prayers and offerings of those participating in the ceremony. Aligned with the ladder, the fire’s smoke ascends to the spirits, while displaying reverence for the community’s beliefs. As each person arrives and leaves, they interact with the smoke as they use the ladder. In the ceremony itself, kiva participants circle around the fire and all are aware of its sacredness.

  • Kiva, Far View Sites Complex, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. 11th-12th century. 

Besides religious ceremonies, kivas provide a sense of community. Simply building the kiva inspired comradery as it required multiple people to build one. The technique passes down to each generation, and it serves as just one of many enduring traditions of the indigenous tribes. Along with the creation of the kiva, other events in the kiva allowed for culture to pass through generations. Many meetings, storytellings, and feasts were held in kivas, which allowed for culture and knowledge to continuously flow through tribes.

Kivas were not plain, barren pits. They held various murals, altars, textiles, and works of art to display their culture and welcome spirits into the sacred space. Murals were important as the indigenous people painted specific spirits, stories from their ancestors, or the tribe’s creation story, painting the most important moments which conveyed important teaching or were believed to bring good fortune. Kachina dolls were also popularly found in kivas, wooden carvings of spirits primarily used in the Pueblo and Hopi tribes. Pottery, sculptures, and costumes round out some of the most common items in a kiva.

  • Kiva and room block from the Puzzle House site in Montezuma County.

Archaeologists have discovered that kivas evolved more than initially realized. Three more types of kivas have been unearthed apart from the original kiva. Two include a small kiva, found after AD 900 in Puebloan sites within each small room block, and a great kiva, a structure for ceremonies that could accommodate great numbers of people (Larkin 2020). Tower kivas were a third adaptation of kivas, a circular structure with two or more stories.

In sum, kivas were an essential part of the culture and history of native people. It allowed for ceremonies, feasts, and most importantly, for these traditions to be passed down generation through generation.

Graham, Don. “KIVA.” Art History Glossary, https://blog.stephens.edu/arh101glossary/?glossary=kiva. Accessed 22 September 2023. 

Larkin, Karin.  “Kivas,” Colorado Encyclopedia, last modified September 09 2020, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/kivas. Accessed 19 September 2023

Lekson, Stephen H. “The Idea of the Kiva in Anasazi Archaeology.” Kiva 53, no. 3 (1988): 213–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30247177.

Puzzle House Aerial, 1993 | Images | Colorado Encyclopedia, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/image/puzzle-house-aerial-1993. Accessed 20 September 2023. 

Further Research: 



Hunter-Gatherers: The San People of Africa

Hunter-gatherer groups, also referred to as “bands,” are the first classification level of societies. In general, hunter-gatherer societies are mobile communities comprised of approximately 100 members. These communities are defined by their patterns of movement. These patterns of movement are directly tied to the seasons thereby allowing them to better hunt for food. Large areas of land are essential for this nomadic way of life. The large sums of land support and supply them with a diverse array of wildlife which they can then use to feed the members of their community. Additionally, the bands live in temporary, movable shelters as they do not settle in one area for a long period of time (National Geographic, n.d.).

One particular group of hunter-gatherers has been identified as the San people of Africa. The San are the earliest known hunter-gathers and established themselves within the region of the Kalahari desert. Within their bands there was no established hierarchy. Disputes between individuals or families were settled through open discussion. Additionally, no single individual had sole ownership of any track of land. Instead, the land that they settled was held by the community who resided on it for the common good (KrugerPark, n.d.).

The primary tool that the San used in hunting was the bow and arrow, seen in Figure 1. The arrow did not directly kill the animal. Instead, a portion of the tip of the arrow was coated in poison (Marshall, n.d.). This poison was a neurotoxin that took some time to incapacitate the prey. It should be noted that the poison did not spread throughout the animal but remained in the area closely associated with the arrow strike. This area was cut out and excised so that the remainder of the animal could be used to feed the San. The poison did not spread throughout the animal (KrugerPark, n.d.).

Figure 1: bow and arrow kit of the San people, found by Johannes Lombard in 1962 in the Mhlwazni Valley of Drakensberg. Photographed by Marlize Lombard. (Marshall, n.d.)

The San’s diet was very diverse and consisted of anything that provided sustenance. It ranged from vegetable matter to meat from zebras, fish, lions and even insects. No part of the animal went to waste. The meat was eaten, the hides were used for clothing and everyday life. And even the bones were consumed for their marrow (KrugerPark, n.d.).

Figure 2: rock painting of an eland with a human figure. (Vea, 2011)

The San rock art, seen in Figure 2, has been discovered in the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and the Western Cape provinces (KrugerPark, n.d.). Much of the art depicts bodies in motion whether they be animal or human. The art holds deep spiritual and religious meaning and does not symbolize day to day life. Instead, their art is a vehicle that is used to communicate with the spirit world (Vea, 2011). The primary color employed in the rock art was red. This was interspersed with a spattering of yellow, white, brown and black (KrugerPark, n.d.).

While not a complete description of the many facets of San society, the within provides a small window into important aspects of the San’s everyday life.

Further Research Links:




“Hunter-Gatherer Culture.” n.d. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/hunter-gatherer-culture.

Marshall, Micheal. n.d. “First Poison Arrows May Have Been Loosed 70,000 Years Ago in Africa.” New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2250799-first-poison-arrows-may-have-been-loosed-70000-years-ago-in-africa/.

“San – Bushmen – Kalahari, South Africa…” n.d. https://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_bushmen.html.

Vea, Tanner. 2011. “Drakensberg: Barrier of Spears ~ San Rock Art of the Drakensberg | Nature | PBS.” Nature. March 2, 2011. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/drakensberg-barrier-of-spears-san-rock-art-of-the-drakensberg/4634/.

Clovis-First Theory: The Sites That Disprove it

The Clovis-First theory of human migration, a once widely accepted theory of human migration to the Americas, states that human inhabitation of the continent began between 12,900 and 13,100 years ago (Lovgren, 2021). A basic overview of the Clovis-First theory is that the Clovis people—named for Clovis, New Mexico, where lithics were uncovered in 1934—were the first to migrate to the Americas, coming over an ice bridge in Beringia during the later stages of the last glacial maximum. Over time, these mammoth hunters would disperse across the continent with their distinctive lithics being discovered at several archeological sites.

Fig 1: Map of Clovis Sites Across north America

Though there is evidence to support the idea that Clovis people migrated from Asia (Gilbert, 2008), there is little evidence to prove that they were the first. Furthermore, over recent years the discovery of further sites around the country lends credence to the theory that many different groups of humans migrated to the Americas over several periods of time. Though there are many to choose from, I am going to examine only two different archeological sites, both of which predate the Clovis people.

Fig 2: University of Oregon Archeology Field School excavation of Rimrock Draw where 18,000+ year old artifacts were found.

The first site to catch my attention while I was researching dates back 18,000 years, in what is now Oregon. Back in 2012, archeologists uncovered teeth belonging to a—since extinct—species of camel, which had been buried by the eruption of Mount St. Helens over 15,000 years ago (Pettigrew, 2023). As the researchers dug deeper, they also discovered a blade which had bison blood residue on it; due to stratigraphic position, it is thought to be even older than the camel’s teeth. Upon carbon dating the teeth, researchers discovered that the teeth themselves dated back to over 18,200 years ago, confirming that this site pre-dates the Clovis peoples by over 4,500 years at the low end.

Fig 3: Map Showing Coopers Ferry Archaeological Site

The second important site that caught my attention was Coopers Ferry, a site in Idaho dating back over 16,000 years. At Coopers Ferry, over 200 artifacts were found, including stone tools, lithics, and bone fragments (Davis, 2019). Based on the fact that an opening in the ice caps across Canada would not appear for up to another millennium, it is likely that the people of Coopers Ferry arrived from the Pacific (Wade, 2019). Further credence is given to this theory based on the position of the site along a river, where humans likely came upstream from the ocean. Due to those facts, Coopers Ferry and Rimrock Draw fundamentally contradict the Clovis-First theory, and redefine the dynamics of human dispersal across the Americas.


Erlandson, J. M. (2013). After Clovis-first collapsed: Reimagining the peopling of the Americas. Paleoamerican odyssey, 127-131.

Lizzie Wade, Ancient site in Idaho implies first Americans came by sea. Science 365,848-849(2019). DOI:10.1126/science.365.6456.848

Fiedel, S. J. (2014). Did pre-Clovis people inhabit the Paisley Caves (and why does it matter)?. Human Biology, 86(1), 69-74.

Goebel, T., Waters, M. R., & O’Rourke, D. H. (2008). The late Pleistocene dispersal of modern humans in the Americas. science, 319(5869), 1497-1502.

Gilbert, M. T. P., Jenkins, D. L., Gotherstrom, A., Naveran, N., Sanchez, J. J., Hofreiter, M., … & Willerslev, E. (2008). DNA from pre-Clovis human coprolites in Oregon, North America. Science, 320(5877), 786-789.

Hutcherson, E. (2023, July 15). Archaeologists find new evidence in southern Oregon that suggests human habitation 18,000 years ago. OBP.

Stastna, K. (2012, July 13). Clovis people not 1st to arrive in North America | CBC News. CBCnews. CBC.

Pettigrew, J. (2023, July 11). Possible proof of oldest human-occupied site found in Oregon, dating back over 18K Years. KOIN.com.

Lovgren, S. (2021, May 3). Clovis people not First Americans, study shows. Science. Article

Waters, M. R., Stafford Jr, T. W., & Carlson, D. L. (2020). The age of Clovis—13,050 to 12,750 cal yr BP. Science Advances, 6(43), eaaz0455.

Davis, L. G., Madsen, D. B., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Higham, T., Sisson, D. A., Skinner, S. M., … & Buvit, I. (2019). Late upper paleolithic occupation at Cooper’s Ferry, Idaho, USA,~ 16,000 years ago. Science, 365(6456), 891-897.

Fig 1: Waters, 2020

Fig 2: Hutcherson, 2023

Fig 3: Davis, 2019

Further Reading

Use-Wear Analysis: How it Works and What it Can Tell Us

Use-wear analysis is a technique employed by archaeologists, more specifically lithic analysts, to help understand the function of found tools. It is performed through macroscopic and microscopic analysis of these tool’s surfaces and edges in order to determine what the tools might have been originally used for. It is most commonly utilized for stone or rock tools but can be used on other materials as well, such as flint and bone. The term wear is generally defined as “the progressive loss of substance from surfaces as they move against each other”. (Adams, 2017.) and by studying this wear archaeologists are able to understand what purpose the tool served. Through use-wear analysis, questions such as “what material were these stones used on?”, “how were they used?’, and “why were they used?” are all able to be answered. (Texas Beyond History.)

An example of findings determined through use-wear analysis is the difference between pottery polishers and stone polishers. In a blog published by the Desert Archaeology Inc, Dr. Jenny Adams discusses how she was able to determine these slight differences using use wear techniques. “The stones selected for polishing pottery or stone are fine grained, meaning that the stone burnished the surface being polished rather than abrading it.” (Adams, 2017.) In contrast, “The shiny surface on a well-used pottery polisher has numerous abrasions caused by temper and other particles in the clay.” (Adams, 2017.) Archaeologists are even able to tell which parts of the tool were held in the hand of the person using it through microscopic analysis and studying the abrasions as seen below in Figure 1. When you compare Figure 1 and Figure 2, it is easy to see that Figure 1 is clearly much more rounded and smooth than the granular appearance in Figure 2. Hence, Figure 1 displays the area in which the used held the tool, whereas Figure 2 displays an unused area of the tool.

Figure 1: Granular, unused part of the tool (Adams, 2017.)

Figure 2: Rounded and smoothed part of the tool held in hand (Adams, 2017.)

The process used to conduct use-wear analysis varies for each study, but typically the artifacts are examined using “bright field microscopy” (Adams, 2017.) in their unwashed condition so that potential residues left over such as animal hair, blood, plant grains, wood fragments, can be identified and used as possible clues to help further understand the purpose of the artifact. Next, the scientists look at the striations on the rock as well as the bumps and abnormalities or smoothness on the edges of the rocks to understand where the rock bore the most force, and in turn how that translates to its use. By using residues as well as examining the striations imprinted on the tools, archaeologists can usually come to a conclusion and determine the tools’ use-actions which include “scraping, planning, slicing, whittling, boring, and cutting”. (Texas Beyond History.)

Reference List:

Adams, Jenny. November 30, 2017. “The Tell-tale Art: Recognizing Use-wear on Stone Tools.” Desert Archaeology, Inc. https://desert.com/use-wear/ 

Texas Beyond History. https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/varga/images/use.html 

“Use-wear Analysis.” Newcastle University, The Cutting Edge. https://research.ncl.ac.uk/thecuttingedge/aboutourproject/use-wearanalysis/ 

History and Methods of Seriation

Seriation has been an archaeological tool since the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Seriation is known as a technique used to arrange several artifacts, sites, and/or events in a chronological sequence such that each discovery has its own timeline and identity. It is also useful to archaeologists in depicting the order of their discoveries for informational and historical use. The first and most notable person to utilize this tool was Sir Williams Flinders-Petrie. Upon discovery of several cemetery sites along the Nile River, he found that there was no efficient way to chronologically order the sites. Eventually, he discovered a number of pottery artifacts across the cemeteries. By identifying the different styles of each artifact as they were discovered, he found that the change in style was evolutionary, just as a ford automobile has had stylistic changes since the Model A in 1903. Petrie was able to revolutionize archaeology. Instead of characterizing artifacts by their design, such as “Egyptian pots”, he was able to consistently identify what period in history an artifact had come from and what those findings revealed about other artifacts buried with it or around it (Hirst 2020).

Date ranges for ancient pottery as styles develop and evolve

Seriation works because the styles of items will always evolve over time. Thus, the original technique creates an effective, yet tedious way of matching an artifact to its time period. The most conventional method of seriation involves taking samples of a dig site or junkyard and picking apart the different artifacts in the pile until what is being searched for is found in its numerous styles. This information (based on the style of each artifact and at what site it was found in) is then graphed by hand.

Present day seriation techniques are much more technological. Computers run matrices to depict this same data much faster, just as any analytical data technique has evolved to incorporate computers and coding. The computers generate bar graphs that show the different styles of a specific artifact that are found at different sites. A more well-known technique that has almost replaced the original methods of seriation is radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating implements the organic material of an artifact instead of only dating an item based on the way it looks compared to others. Countless other dating techniques implement pieces of the methods used for seriation such as stratigraphy, typology, and even DNA analysis. Seriation is an integral part of archaeologists’ discovery procedures and has assisted archaeologists in learning more and more about human behavior and connecting the past to the present.

“Battleship curve” bar graph to show arrangement of the same type of artifact found at different lettered sites as this particular artifact evolves. (Each color represents a newer model of the item).


Brauer, George. June, 2006. “An Exercise in Seriation Dating.” Office of Social Studies Baltimore County Public Schools, Towson, Maryland. https://documents.saa.org/container/docs/default-source/doc-teachingarchaeology/seriation_lesson.pdf?sfvrsn=bdae50c0_6#:~:text=This%20method%20of%20assigning%20dates,and%20then%20trails%20off%2C%20sometimes

Hirst, Kris. Aug. 27, 2020. “An Introduction to Seriation.” ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/seriation-scientific-dating-before-radiocarbon-170607

Other links for interest:



The Archaeology of the Origins of Gender Biases

When I visited the Tongore Cemetery, I observed a grave for a woman. The writing was legible and extremely clear. The gravestone didn’t list her under her own name – she was listed as “Wife of,” remembered only for her husband instead of herself, her identity erased. 

This experience inspired me to look more closely at the intersection of feminism and archaeology, specifically in understanding gender. Our understanding of gender in the past significantly informs our understanding of gender and gender inequality in the present. Archaeological research and interdisciplinary approaches to this research combine to illuminate the complexities of gender in ancient societies. These insights challenge traditional narratives of gender and offer valuable teachings for addressing gender disparities in the present.

Archaeological investigations and studies have revealed the historical roots of gender roles that feed into modern inequalities. Such research highlights that “gender-equal norms passed down from one generation to the next can persist even if institutions or structures incentivize inequality, and vice versa” (Savat-Wustl, 2023). Bias in archaeological interpretations has also marginalized women’s contributions, obscuring their roles in shaping past societies. For example, if a body was discovered with weapons and armor, the body was presumed to be male; if a body was discovered with jewelry and pottery, the body was presumed to be female (Ghodsee, 2023). If weapons are found buried with a woman, they are interpreted as “symbolic” instead of being for actual use, thus erasing the identity and contributions of the female warrior (Davis-Kimball, n.d.). This method of sexing bodies enforces the gender binary and gendered stereotypes, also ignoring the contributions women made to ancient societies.

Weapons recovered from the discovery of a young female warrior

In acknowledging and rectifying these biases, we gain a more accurate understanding of the roles women played in these cultures, and in learning about our past, we learn about our present and future. These interpretations also reshape and redefine how gender was accepted and expressed in ancient societies. The discovery of a potentially non-binary Viking individual challenges rigid binary notions of gender that persist today (Henley, 2021). This discovery emphasizes the fluidity of gender identity in the past, challenging the notion that ancient societies were also limited by the gender binary.

Another critical archaeological insight is the rise of gender inequality during the Neolithic period. Research on this subject suggests that gender disparities began to appear around 8,000 years ago (University of Seville, 2019; Lewis, 2019). Societies transitioned from nomadic hunter-gathering to settled agriculture, creating set roles within each community. These roles steadily became gendered, as cave paintings also started to associate men with violence. Graves and excavated evidence support this notion, as male remains were often found with projectile wounds. 

Neolithic cave paintings depicting typical methods of violence

Understanding these specific roots of gender inequality can inform current efforts to dismantle patriarchal structures and hegemonic norms. Similarly, genetic evidence has been used to trace the impact of gender inequality on ancient populations (Kousta, 2017). This research demonstrates how genetic patterns can reflect past social structures and gender-based divisions, specifically those concerning labor. Such insights help us recognize the enduring consequences of gender inequality on human populations; again, this research can help in educating our society on how to reject patriarchy.

The intersection of archaeology and feminism has played a pivotal role in reshaping our understanding of gender. Feminist gender archaeology offers a perspective that critically examines how gender dynamics influenced (and continue to influence) archaeological interpretations. This approach underscores the importance of acknowledging and addressing gender biases in research, ultimately enhancing our understanding of the past. Explicitly feminist archaeology pushes further, highlighting the potential of archaeology to challenge and deconstruct patriarchal norms. It encourages the inclusion of marginalized voices and perspectives in archaeological research, fostering a more inclusive and equitable discipline, while also maintaining the hope that archaeological interpretation might become less biased. 

Further Reading:




Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. n.d. “Engendering the Past: Practices and Potentials of an Explicitly Feminist Archaeology | Barnard College.” Barnard.edu. Accessed September 17, 2023. https://barnard.edu/engendering-past-practices-and-potentials-explicitly-feminist-archaeology.

Ghodsee, Kristen. 2023. “Gender Oppression Isn’t Inherent to Human Nature.” Jacobin.com. June 22, 2023. https://jacobin.com/2023/06/sexism-patriarchy-gender-history-archeology-feminism.

Henley, Jon. 2021. “1,000-Year-Old Remains in Finland May Be Non-Binary Iron Age Leader.” The Guardian. August 9, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/09/1000-year-old-remains-in-finland-may-be-non-binary-viking-researchers-say.

Kousta, Stavroula. 2017. “Archaeology: Origin of Gender Inequalities.” Nature Human Behaviour 1 (3). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0059.

Lewis, Dyani. 2019. “Gender Inequality Arose 8000 Years Ago.” Cosmosmagazine.com. June 19, 2019. https://cosmosmagazine.com/history/gender-inequality-arose-8000-years-ago/.

López-Montalvo, Esther. 2015. “Violence in Neolithic Iberia: New Readings of Levantine Rock Art.” Antiquity 89 (344): 309–27. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2014.12.

Savat-Wustl, Sara. 2023. “Teeth Track Gender Bias Back over 1,000 Years.” Futurity. March 16, 2023. https://www.futurity.org/gender-bias-archaeology-2890932-2/.

University of Seville. 2019. “The Neolithic Precedents of Gender Inequality.” Phys.org. June 10, 2019. https://phys.org/news/2019-06-neolithic-gender-inequality.html.

Ancient Roman Military Refrigerator Discovered in Bulgaria

A mythical sense of linear progress illuminates human history, as the general public often views older civilizations as lesser and barbaric. However, the study of archeology provides insight into this falsehood, revealing how historic civilizations lived. Further inspection often reveals forgotten cultures as more cohesive and advanced than surface-level inspection would suggest. A recent example of this came in the form of a “fridge” that was unearthed by archaeologists at a Roman military camp over the course of the last year.

The “fridge” was discovered at the Novae Camp in Northern Bulgaria. This camp is an ancient Roman military camp that the 1st Italian Legion is heavily associated with. Archeologists studying the site believe that it was founded somewhere in the middle of the 1st Century AD. The camp is a little over 44 acres and due to the discovery and preservations of the Romans headquarters, barracks, baths, and hospital, it has become a hotspot for archeological discovery. It has also been discovered that the camp is surrounded by a settlement to its west and a necropolis that surrounds its eastern and southern borders.

Picture from the Novae Camp, part of the main headquarters

However, amid these historic discoveries came something that resembles a popular modern household appliance, a refrigerator. The Roman “refrigerator” was discovered inside of the Roman military barracks. It was a rectangular container made of ceramic plates built into the foundation of the barracks. This location combined with the stone foundation ensured the box was relatively well insulated. Furthermore, the sight had a complex aqueduct system constructed with lead and ceramic pipes. These pipes bordered the Roman “fridge” on one of its long rectangular sides. This construction and cooling system is what draws comparisons to modern refrigerators. Bulgarian temperatures are also below freezing for five months of the year, so archaeologists speculate that it is likely the ceramic box was packed with snow and ice for cooling purposes.

Finally, an interesting part of this discovery is that the ceramic box was not empty. It was full of ceramic pieces and many baked bone fragments, which archeologists speculate are likely remains from cooked food. There was also a bowl containing charcoal which is believed to be a form of insect repellent. This Roman “fridge” was particularly rare because the fridges often did not survive building reconstruction. Luckily, this one survived and will continue to provide modern archeologists a window into the past of ancient Roman military camp life.

Picture of the Roman “fridge” unearthed at the Novae Camp

Work Cited:

Altuntaş, Leman. “Archaeologists Discovered How Wine Was Cooled in Roman Legions on the Danube.” Arkeonews, 15 Sept. 2023, arkeonews.net/archaeologists-discovered-how-wine-was-cooled-in-roman-legions-on-the-danube/.

Falde, Nathan. “Archaeologists Unearth First Century Roman Refrigerator in Bulgaria.” Ancient Origins Reconstructing the Story of Humanity’s Past, Ancient Origins, 1 Oct. 2022, www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/novae-roman-refrigerator-0017341.

Pflughoeft, Aspen. “Ancient ‘Fridge’ — with Meat Still inside – Miami Herald.” Miami Herald, 11 Oct. 2022, www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article267117666.html.

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The Cave of Altamira

The Cave of Altamira is one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in history. The cave was discovered by Modesto Cubillas in 1868. It is located in the Spanish province of Cantabria, near the town of Santillana del Mar. The first excavation works of the site began in 1879. In 1985, the cave was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cave has since been closed to the public for conservation reasons.

The cave was formed due to collapses due to karstic phenomena of Mount Vispieres. It is about 1,000 meters long, consisting of a series of passages and chambers. It can be divided into three sections; the entrance, the polycrome room, and the gallery. Archaeologists have discovered artifacts from Upper Solutrean (c. 18,500 years ago) and Lower Magdalenian (c. 16,590 – 14,000 years ago) periods, implying that humans inhabited the cave in these time periods. In between these two time periods, the cave was inhabited only by animals.

When Juan Vilanova y Piera and Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, the first archaeologists to excavate the site, published their work, it was met with much skepticism. A group of French specialists were adamant in rejecting the work of Sautuola and Piera. They argued that the paintings were too well maintained and contained too much artistic quality to be from the Paleolithic era. Sautuola was even accused of paying a contemporary artist to forge the paintings. In 1902, due to other prehistoric paintings being found, the French specialists recant their statements and apologized for their mistake in opposing the work of the original archaeologists.

Archaeologists studying the paintings on the ceiling of the cave.

Archeologists have found animal bones, ash from fireplaces, and flint objects such as knives and axes. Since these artifacts were discovered in different layers of sediments, it is assumed that humans inhabited the cave for long periods of time. The cave was likely well positioned, allowing the inhabitants to take advantage of the wildlife that lived in the valleys of the surrounding mountains. Evidence of human inhabitants has only been discovered at the mouth of the cave.

The most famous aspect of the cave is the numerous cave paintings that line the walls. The paintings depict animals, abstract shapes, human hands, and a series of dots. There are 25 colored images in the cave, mostly red and black. The humans that made the paintings used a flint object to engrave the wall, charcoal to draw a black lines. Later, color was added to the drawings. Impressively, the painters took advantage of the natural contours of the cave walls, giving a three dimensional look to their art.

This is a painting in the Cave of Altamira depicting a bison.

The Cave of Altamira has significantly shifted our views on human life in the Paleolithic period. This was the first time that Paleolithic cave art was discovered, showing that people from this era were able to make carvings and paintings onto rock formations. The cave also gives an insight into the daily life of people of this era, as well as their culture.


Lidya Pelayo Alonso, “Atlamira”. World History Encyclopedia. December 13, 2015. https://www.worldhistory.org/Altamira/. 

Alvarez, Stephen, “Altamira Cave.” Ancient Art Archive. April 3, 2022. https://www.ancientartarchive.org/altamira-cave-spain/. 

Raphael Minder, “Back to the Cave of Altamira in Spain, Still Controversial”. The New York Times. July 30, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/31/arts/international/back-to-the-cave-of-altamira-in-spain-still-controversial.html

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