The Archeology of Mars

About 55.6 million kilometers from the moon orbits another trove of space archeology: Mars (Ropelato, 2023). Named after the Roman god of war, Mars carries its own mythology. However, many of the stories which actually surround Mars, the planet, are relatively modern, brought about by space exploration and imaging of the red giant. Some of Mars’s earliest archeology begins with an Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli. After close observation of Mars, or as close as was possible in the 1870s, Schiaparelli claimed to have found canals on the surface of Mars (Figure 1), an observation many others took to be evidence of extraterrestrial life (Tietz, 2019). Despite later evidence which would disprove the presence of any sort of canals on Mars, the possibility of Martians had already crept into literature and media alike. From cartoons to comics to horror movies, Mars had made its way irrevocably into popular culture. 

A drawing by Percival Lowell (1896) depicting "canals" and dark areas on Mars.
Figure 1: A drawing of the “canals” on the surface of Mars. Photograph from Getty (David S., 2019)

However, the progression away from the highly fictionalized version of Mars has not been a linear one. Though Schiaparelli’s theory was quickly disproven, yet another theory took its place. A century later, an orbiter sent by NASA named Viking 1 captured a series of images of what would come to be known as the region Cydonia (David S., 2019). Seemingly resembling a face, a geological feature captured in an image sparked conversations from communities across the globe. Though NASA officials insisted the geographic feature was nothing more than exactly that, a pair of scientists were convinced otherwise, publishing a book titled Unusual Martian Surface Features. Although, once again, more recent imaging has confirmed the feature to be a rock formation, the general public’s love for conspiracy gave a great deal of attention to this theory. Once again, Mars had found its way into the news and media. 

Further reading on Mars in mythology and popular culture can be found at: 

The investigation into such theories has left a great deal of actual archeological artifacts both in space and on the surface of Mars. From the previously mentioned Viking 1 to more recent spacecrafts, such as the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers (Figure 2), man-made artifacts litter the desert planet (“Mars Exploration Rovers,” 2019). The purpose of the research these rovers conducted not only served to discover more about the planet Mars, but to apply said research to our own planet. Found to once have been as inhabitable as earth, complete with oceans, rivers, and a thick atmosphere, The Mars we know now has changed quite a bit (Drake, 2021). Research of Mars has aided scientists in understanding the evolution of planets and the future of our own earth. 

Figure 2: A self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Photograph by NASA (Drake, 2021).

To find a comprehensive list of all spacecrafts sent to investigate Mars by NASA, read: 


Anderson, David S. “Archaeology on Mars – from the Fantastical to the Real.” Forbes, February 18, 2019.

Drake, Nadia. “Why We Explore Mars-and What Decades of Missions Have Revealed.” Science, May 4, 2021.

“Mars Exploration Rovers.” NASA, September 7, 2019.

“‘Mars, Face On.’ Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Encyclopedia.Com. 15 Nov. 2023 .

Ropelato, Jerry. “How Far Is Mars from the Moon?” WhiteClouds, September 10, 2023.,(approximately%2034.6%20million%20miles)

Tietz, Tabea. “Giovanni Schiaparelli and the Martian Canals.” SciHi Blog, March 14, 2019.

Value of Recent History: The Excavation of Treblinka

TW: Holocaust

The public perception of archaeology is often strewed with misconceptions and myths that limit the field and misconstrue its relevance. Archaeology in very basic terms is the study of the human past through material remains (Boudreau et al 2023). While the general public understands these vague facets of archaeology they seem to not comprehend that the past can cover something as ancient as Cahokia to something as contemporary as Woodstock. A study, by Ramos and Dugganne (2000), found that 12% of their participants when asked what word they would use to describe archaeology replied “antiquity” and another 9% answered “ancient societies.” Around 99% of that same group of respondents when asked “Do you think that archaeologists study…” chose the option of “ancient civilizations” (Ramos and Dugganne 2000).

Archaeology is no longer simply fascinated with these great ancient civilizations, but more and more focuses on the events that have occurred within the last century. Just because the previous century has had more accounts and written histories doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for archaeological exploration. Archaeology can reveal details that written records have simply missed such as the gravity of the tragedies at the Treblinka death camp. 

Treblinka was a Nazi death camp in Poland that after only 16 months was destroyed and covered with a farmhouse, trees, and farming land to disguise the atrocities that had occurred (“Archaeologists” 2014). In 1946, investigators of the German war crimes found evidence of the site such as burnt posts and ashes mixed with sand that had “numerous human bones” (Sturdy Colls 2012).  Aside from this, a majority of the information about the site came from Nazi confessions and a few survivors (Pappas 2022). The post-war investigations were the last true studies of the camp and there was no evidence of mass graves and killings until the work of forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls (Sturdy Colls 2012). 

Figure 1: Archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls excavates at Treblinka. (Image: Smithsonian Channel)

Sturdy Colls began with non-invasive methods of surveying the site in order to respect the bodies that remained there (Pappas 2022). She made use of geophysical surveying tools such as GPR, electrical imaging, and resistance survey then eventually a LiDAR survey (Sturdy Colls 2012). The LiDAR revealed various structures such as mass graves, one that was 63 x 58 feet in size (Pappas 2022). Sturdy Colls and her team were permitted to excavate a section of the possible graves; they found shoes, ammunition, and bones, many of which had cut marks indicating some form of assault (Pappas 2022). As excavations of the different sites within Treblinka continued, Sturdy Colls would find evidence of two gas chambers. They reported brick wall foundations and even tiles that were stamped with Stars of David likely to “lull [the] Jewish prisoners into compliance before they were killed” (“Archaeologists” 2014).

Figure 2: Aerial shot, shows empty site, apart from the “farmhouse” (top left) made of bricks from the gas chambers. (Image: Caroline Sturdy Colls)

Before Sturdy Colls’ research “everybody has assumed that because the history books said it was destroyed, it was” (Pappas 2022). Archaeology was able to uncover some of the monstrosities of the Holocaust that many deny ever happened. Archaeology forces people to face the facts with evidence like artifacts that are often undeniable. Today’s population forgets that at some point we will all be history and what has occurred in the last century is a part of the history of humankind. Archaeology is crucial to our recent history as it unveils the truth of what many don’t wish to record or see. 


“Archaeologists Delicately Dig up Nazi Death Camp Secrets at Treblinka.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, 29 Mar. 2014,

Boudreau, Diane, et al. “Archaeology.” National Geographic, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Duggane, David, and Maria Ramos. Exploring Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Archaeology, Society for American Archaeology, 2022,

Pappas, Stephanie. “First-Ever Excavation of Nazi Death Camp Treblinka Reveals Horrors.” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Aug. 2022,

Sturdy Colls, Caroline. “Treblinka: Revealing the Hidden Graves of the Holocaust.” BBC News, BBC, 23 Jan. 2012, 

Additional Sources:

Sturdy Colls, Caroline. “Holocaust Archaeology: Archaeological Approaches to Landscapes of Nazi Genocide and Persecution.” Journal of Conflict Archaeology, vol. 7, no. 2, 2012, pp. 70–104. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Killgrove, Kristina. “21st Century Archaeology Is Something out of Sci-Fi.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 Feb. 2016, 

Why women are better suited for space

We all know Neil Armstrong’s famous words: “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” From the beginning, American space travel has been a male-dominated industry. In recent years, the field of space exploration has witnessed a significant shift towards inclusivity, with more women actively participating in missions and research. While both men and women have proven themselves capable in the challenging environment of space, there are compelling reasons why women may be particularly well-suited for the rigors of space exploration. One of the foremost considerations in planning space missions is the management of resources. From spacecraft design to supply logistics, every pound of payload is carefully calculated. “Females are, on average, smaller and lighter than males” (Jackson 2023). Their smaller size translates into lower mass requirements for space missions, allowing for more efficient resource utilization (Figure 1). “Female astronauts have lower water requirements for hydration, total energy expenditure, oxygen (O2) consumption, carbon dioxide (CO2), and metabolic heat production” (Jackson 2023).

Figure 1. Here, we can see that women, the black bars, take up fewer resources in terms of energy expenditure, total oxygen consumption, total carbon dioxide production, total heat production, and total water required for hydration (Scientific Reports 2023).

In the context of extended space missions, where resources are finite and resupply options are limited, the ability to make the most of available supplies is a critical factor. Women’s smaller physical footprint ensures that spacecraft can carry more provisions for longer missions, contributing to the sustainability of space exploration endeavors. Smaller body masses result in lower fuel requirements for propulsion systems. This is particularly significant in missions where every kilogram of weight carries a substantial cost in terms of fuel consumption. Women’s smaller physiques contribute to overall fuel efficiency, making it easier to reach distant celestial bodies with the available resources. While the advantages of smaller physiques in space are compelling, it is essential to address concerns related to the design of space toilets. Historically, space toilets have been engineered with the male anatomy in mind, posing challenges for female astronauts (Figure 2). They are designed to recycle water from urine, but not when any other matter is detected; ie. fecal matter or period blood. “Problems [occur] when period blood is involved, and as a result, most female astronauts will use contraceptive methods to suppress their periods” (Beall 2019). The intricate design of these toilets, involving suction mechanisms and specially shaped funnels, can be less accommodating for women. In conclusion, the discussion surrounding the potential advantages of women’s smaller physiques in space exploration sheds light on fascinating considerations for future missions. The efficiency gains in resource utilization, spacecraft design, and fuel consumption are compelling factors to explore. However, it is crucial to recognize that astronaut selection should primarily focus on the capabilities, skills, and qualifications of individuals, rather than solely emphasizing physical attributes. 

Here, we can see the old, on the left, standard toilet for spacecraft and the new, on the right, standard toilet. The new one does not have a funnel for urine, making it more accommodating for non-males (Fischer 2023).


Beall, Abigail. “How NASA Failed Female Astronauts and Built Space Travel for Men.” WIRED UK, May 22, 2019.

Fischer, Jack. Nasa 2023

Jackson, Justin. “Study Finds Female Astronauts More Efficient, Suggesting Future Space Missions with All-Female Crews.”, May 5, 2023.,metabolic%20heat%20production%20during%20space.

Jackson, Libby. “Women (Probably) Make for Better Astronauts. So Should the First Crew to Mars Be All-Female?” BBC Science Focus Magazine – Science, Nature, technology, q&as, May 22, 2023.

Scientific Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-31713-6

Further Reading:

The Billionaire Space Race: Masculine Ego and Capitalism

Space, at least post-Cold War, is generally associated with the potential scientific discoveries and opportunities that it provides. NASA consistently launches probes and telescopes which are expanding human understanding of space. So then, why are private companies, helmed by some of Earth’s most famous CEOs, building rockets to take themselves and those who can afford a ticket on short range space trips? What scientific purpose are these spacecraft serving? These billionaires would tell you they are pushing the frontiers of space. But they aren’t telling the full story. These commercial trips have not yet produced any type of scientific discovery or insight, and most reactions to these publicized jaunts up to space are negative (Nguyen 2022). And for good reason. Billionaire space travel serves no purpose, instead illustrating the egos of these CEOs and the inherent inequality of capitalism.

Figure 1. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson on their journey to space (Kaplan 2021)

This race between Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson (Figure 1) is fueled not by genuine scientific curiosity, but by their egos. Each of these three, high powered, public figures has a history of both excessive stunts for public attention and of competition with each other (Kaplan 2021). At the same time, throughout the new “space race,” there have been multiple public, albeit subtle, jabs towards each other. Jeff Bezos tweeted “Welcome to the club,” to Musk after he landed a rocket vertically for the first time, establishing the fact that he had done so first. Musk responded by making it clear that while his rockets had gone into orbit, Bezos’ had only gone to space (Kaplan 2021). Clearly, scientific discovery is not especially top of mind for any of these billionaires. Rather, they are more concerned with publicly winning against each other.

Figure 2. Amazon workers protest for their rights at an Amazon Fulfillment Center (Guendelsberger 2019)

While rich CEOs spend their spare money on space exploration, their employees are struggling with basic workers rights. In the same summer while Bezos, Musk, and Branson were competing over the first to space, the Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging the public and climate catastrophes were happening throughout the world (Silverman 2021). To spend billions of dollars on something as inessential as a short joyride to space while there are so many other deserving causes seems unethical, to say the least. But Bezos took this a step further, taking the time to thank his employees before the launch of his rocket, “because you guys paid for this” (Skinner 2021). Thanking the same people who are struggling to support their families for helping him take a quick trip to space seems dystopian, especially given the allegations of worker mistreatment in Amazon warehouses (Figure 2). Under capitalism, such intense class inequality can not only exist, but be publicly celebrated. Billionaire space travel is largely useless and inaccessible to the majority of the public due to price. It is fueled only by masculine ego, and made possible only through the class inequality created by capitalism.


Guendelsberger, Emily. “Amazon Treats Its Warehouse Workers like Robots: Ex-Employee.” Time, July 18, 2019.

Kaplan, Michael. “Space Race: Inside Ego-Fueled Competition of Bezos, Musk and Branson.” New York Post, June 26, 2021.

Nguyen, Terry. “It’s the Dawn of a New Space Age – at Least for Billionaires.” Vox, February 2, 2022.

Silverman, Jacob. “The Billionaire Space Race Is a Tragically Wasteful Ego Contest.” The New Republic, July 9, 2021.

Skinner, Chloe. “Billionaires, Backlash and the Phallic Symbolism of Space Colonisation.” Countering Backlash, August 2, 2021.

Further Reading:

Cahokia’s Collapse: Climate Hypothesis

By: Hudson Double

Fig 1: Cahokian Mounds Photographed by Ko Hon Chiu Vincent

Nearly 1000 years ago a new city was founded and would eventually grow to a size of between 10-20,000 people over the coming years (Pauketat 2009). This great city, known as Cahokia, was not in Europe, but sat on the banks of the Mississippi, just a few miles away from what has since become St. Louis. Around the year 1050 CE, the city quickly expanded, growing into the largest city ever in North America up to that point in time, but just a few hundred years later, from 1250-1350 CE, the city would quickly unravel (Pauketat 2009: 138). Though there are multiple theories behind the collapse of Cahokia, through this post I intend to examine the idea of climate change acting as the catalyst for the collapse of the city.

Fig 2: Settlements Around Cahokia

To begin, this theory which has been discussed in the media repeatedly over the past few years essentially states that Cahokia both formed and collapsed as a result of environmental factors. Starting with the methodological approach, the primary way by which climate records on the region were gathered was by collecting samples of mud from the bed of lake Martin. By examining the calcium carbonate crystals between the stratigraphic layers, they were able to create an accurate record of rainfall over specific periods of time. These records showed that there was increased rainfall starting about 100 years before the foundation of the city in 900 CE (Chen 2017). Increased temperatures and rainfall as a result of the Medieval Climatic Anomaly—also known as the Medieval Warm Period—resulted in increased fertility, allowing for corn to thrive. As a result, isotopes found in corn began being found in the Skeletons of Mississippian skeletons within decades, and continued through until the foundation of the city (Chen 2017).

Fig 3: The Famous Monks Mound and Central Plaza

Following the foundation of the city, the climate remained fairly active and fertile for the following centuries, before rapidly cooling around the year 1200 CE (Chen 2017). Furthermore, starting around the year 1150 CE there had been a series of droughts which had seriously impacted the farming potential of Cahokia, and continued through the following centuries as the climate cooled (Benson 2009: 467). Evidence coming from analyzing fecal particles in Horseshoe lake, just north of Cahokia, lends further evidence for the idea the city may have been struggling to effectively produce food, leading to an exodus of people before 1350 CE (White 2019). Overall, though there is no way to know for sure what caused the collapse of Cahokian civilization, there is considerable evidence lending credence to the idea of climate factors ushering in the end of the civilization. While there are several other environmental theories, mainly surrounding overharvesting of resources, the evidence provided by the analysis of particles in nearby lakes and more provides profound insight into the events that took place in the great city of Cahokia.


  • University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2019, February 25). Climate change contributed to fall of Cahokia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2023 from link
  • Vincent, Ko Hon Chiu. “Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.” Cahokia Gallery – UNESCO World Heritage Centre, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Gallery. Accessed 24 Nov. 2023. 
  • “Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley”: The Mounds of Native North America – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: Link [accessed 24 Nov, 2023]
  • Benson, L. V., Pauketat, T. R., & Cook, E. R. (2009). Cahokia’s Boom and Bust in the Context of Climate Change. American Antiquity74(3), 467-483.
  • Everding, Gerry. “Women Shaped Cuisine, Culture of Ancient Cahokia – the Source – Washington University in St. Louis.” The Source, Washington University St.Louis, 13 Nov. 2020, Source
  • Shukla, Priya. “Human Poop Reveals That Climate Change Caused the Fall of Cahokia, a Medieval Native American City.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 12 Apr. 2019, Forbes
  • White, A.J., and Lora R Stevens. “Fecal Stanols Show Simultaneous Flooding and Seasonal Precipitation Change Correlate with Cahokia’s Population Decline.” PNAS, Northwestern University, Feb. 2019, link
  • Chen, Angus. “1,000 Years Ago, Corn Made This Society Big. Then, a Changing Climate Destroyed It.” NPR, NPR, 10 Feb. 2017, NPR

Image References

  • Fig 1: Vincent, Ko Hon Chiu. “Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.” Cahokia Gallery – UNESCO World Heritage Centre, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Accessed 24 Nov. 2023.
  • Fig 2: Benson, L. V., Pauketat, T. R., & Cook, E. R. (2009). Cahokia’s Boom and Bust in the Context of Climate Change. American Antiquity, 74(3), 467-483.
  • Fig 3: “Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley”: The Mounds of Native North America – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: [accessed 24 Nov, 2023]

Further Reading

Dietary Archaeology of Durrington Walls

At Durrington Walls, a permanent settlement in Britain dating back to 2500 B.C.E., evidence of feasts offers a new understanding of pilgrimages to nearby monuments(Mowbray 2023). The large site, illustrated in figure 1, is believed to have been the home of those building Stonehenge, which were visited by those from around the British Aisles (Mowbray 2023). The nearby circular gathering site of Marden is also tied to Durrington Walls, displaying the settlement’s significance in early Britain’s culture around pilgrimage, gathering, and celebration (Romey 2019).

Figure 1. Drawn reconstruction of the Durrington Walls site. Illustration by Peter Lorimer.

At the site, many artifacts of the feasts remain, including 8,500 animal bones, mainly those of pigs (Romey 2019). Researchers found through isotope analysis of pig teeth and jaws that those who gathered at these sites brought livestock from their own regions for the feasts (Morris 2019). While the attendees could’ve reasonably raised the pigs near the feast site, it is presumed that these travelers were required to bring their own food for the feast in order to attend (Morris 2019). It is important to understand the implications of pigs being the animal of choice, as they are considered difficult to travel with (Romey 2019). The difficulty of this journey, which was dozens to hundreds of miles long, makes it more significant that these were pan-British gatherings, not just individual community celebrations or gatherings between neighboring villages (Romey 2019). This offers insight into the organization of the event, as people from far reaching areas of the British Isles were aware of and interested in making the pilgrimage to these stone structures around Durrington Walls.

Figure 2. A Capillariid worm egg from Durrington Walls. Photograph by Evilena Anastasiou.

Further research has been done on the diets of those feasting at Durrington Walls involving coprolites, which are fossilized feces (Bonner 2022). In this study, which focused on humans and dogs, researchers found the eggs of several intestinal parasites (pictured in figure 2) which indicate that animal organs were eaten at these feasts, not just the muscular meat (Mitchell 2022). One parasite was found to be a fish worm, which indicates that a dog had eaten a fish (Bonner 2022). This is a surprising finding as not much evidence has been found of fishing during the Late Neolithic period in Britain (Mitchell 2022).

Through multiple means of analysis of the Durrington Walls site’s feast remains, researchers find more than they would through one method. Bone and tooth isotope analysis offers more information on the original locations of those attending pilgrimages, and the coprolite analysis found that people were eating organs and possibly fished, for which there is less traditional evidence (Mitchell 2022). This research of Durrington Walls and its food waste shows how various methodologies can come together to create a better understanding of how and why people made these pilgrimages.


Bonner, Laure. 2022. “Prehistoric Faeces Reveal Parasites from Feasting at Stonehenge.” University of Cambridge Department of Archaeology.

Mitchell, Piers D, Evilena Anastasiou, Helen L. Whelton, Ian D. Bull, Mike Parker Pearson and Lisa-Marie Shillito. 2022. “Intestinal Parasites in the Neolithic Population who Built Stonehenge (Durrington Walls, 2500 BCE).” Cambridge University Press.

Morris, Steven. 2019. “Ancient Britons Travelled Hundreds of Miles to Stone Circle Feasts.” The Gaurdian.

Mowbray, Sean. 2023. “What the Stonehenge Builders Liked to Eat.” Discover Magazine.

Romey, Kristin. 2019. “Stonehenge-Era Pig Roasts United Ancient Britain, Scientists Say.” National Geographic.

Further reading:

Brewing Before the Vassar Brewers

Booze and the ethanol within is something that humanity has embraced for millennia, and is still great choice for starting the weekend today. But when examining what ethanol provides the human body, evolving the ability to digest it seems a misstep – causing arrhythmias, cancers, and a weak immune system to name a few (Alcohol’s Effects, 2021). In short it seems that it was entirely random! One mutation millions of years ago led to the Viking’s mead and today’s Holiday Budweisers (Choi, 2014). This evolution has gained more logic in recent time, other theories built on the idea that small amounts of alcohol consumption had benefits (which is found not to be true), and so the consumption of rotten fruit laced with ethanol could provide utility for early humans (Choi, 2014). Where humans sourced their alcohol in the first place is another debate. One theory is that early man discovered alcohol along with agriculture. About 10,000 years ago, while humanity was domesticating grain some of it was used to ferment and brew beer (and some studies indicate it was brewed before it was made into bread!). This beer was likely long before any spirits waltzed their way onto the scene (those arose just 2,000 years ago) and their low percentage (and likely low resources) would have kept our ancestors drinking limited to a more moderate level, and important decisions were re-checked when sober (Kahn, 2013).

An early grain silo, where some of the first brews might have been born. Photograph by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiques

The other leading theory is that our descent into alcohol degeneracy started with rotting fruit. This theory finds us all the way back 80 million years ago, when humans began walking on the ground and picking up rotten fruit (which our consumption of gives a key to when we began climbing out of the trees). This rotten fruit would not have been our first pick, but when we had to it’s calories brought alcohol along as a side effect. The alcohol content is low enough in rotten fruit that it only could’ve found a more prominent place once people started fermenting amidst agriculture, where higher ethanol content could be produced (Choi, 2014).

Butterflies getting drunk on rotten fruit as our ancestors did. Photograph by Phil Gates

But when examining other species, the hallmarks of alcohol that we might find off putting (the smell and taste of high ethanol content) to others is the smell of calories, and therefor survival. Treeshrews actively seek out high alcohol content fruit and nectar for its caloric content, with palm wine (from the tree’s nectar) enjoyed by our ancestors and still enjoyed today (Evans, 2016).

When examining our history with alcohol its easy to portray it as a plague that has followed us for millennia. But our ancestors habits gave us clues to how we ought to view our modern relationship with it: in good nature, in limited quantities, and a good bit of responsibility.


“Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021, “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021,

Choi, Charles Q. “Origins of Human Alcohol Consumption Revealed.” LiveScience, Purch, 1 Dec. 2014,

Evans, Robert. “Ancient Alcohol in the Animal Kingdom.” A (Brief) History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, A Plume Book, New York, NY, 2016.

Kahn, Jeffrey P. “How Beer Gave Us Civilization.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2013,

Further Links:

Pilgrimage in Abu Mina

Travelers walked with one destination in mind, Abu Mina (Figure 1). Rumors foretold Abu Mina’s mythical healing powers which grew the attention of travelers from all over. The stories mentioned magical flasks that would somehow heal the sick and broken. These long adventures the sick and misfortuned took to reach this site connected their stories. No matter where they came from, wherever in the world, this journey was universal for so many. This may have created a sort of spiritual connection amongst all who took this pilgrimage. 

Figure 1 – Abu Mina’s Great Basilica. Photograph by Iris Fernandez (2009) 

The journey taken was one involving Menas Flasks (Figure 2) which derived power from Saint Menas. Menas was executed due to his faith, and his unchangeable faith may have given him a sort of magic quality (Anderson 2007). His power led to many miracles. 

Figure 2 – Flask of St. Menas. Photo by The Walter Arts Museum (2014) 

One miracle tells a story of a worker who was killed when the roof of a church fell onto him, his body was placed before the Saint’s relics, and the Saint resurrected the worker (Beshir 13). His relics became a sought after wonder that sparked a pilgrimage.

Another miracle is the story of a blind man whose sight could not be restored. This was until he reached the relics of the Saint and sent out prayers, and his sight was restored to him (Beshir 13-14). These stories sparked hope in the pilgrims that followed them, and though some may think that’s foolish, others may argue that’s the essence of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage involves following by faith, and faith is not guided by things that are easily proven.

 The world is a large place, and even with that, there are connections everywhere that unite us. The pilgrimage taken was for a miracle that could not have been proven, but it incited a stark hope in those that took the journey. Pilgrimage was seen as a religious requirement for some to find their salvation, so this in addition to the miracles could have been some of the most important aspects of their life on Earth. It was possible that without this pilgrimage, they may have never felt that they could have been saved, and they may have never built connections through their faith in such a widespread way.

A beauty of pilgrimage is that it can hold many different interpretations of the same event or place, and these different views don’t have to go well together, they can exist in their own places of the same world. Yet, at the same time, they coexist to create a beautiful blend of ideas in possibilities for the past, that all can better help us understand the events of our present. 


Anderson, William. “Menas flasks in the West: pilgrimage and trade at the end of antiquity.” Ancient West & East 6 (2007): 221-243.

Beshir, Victor. “The Discovery of a Christian Pilgrimage Center in the Western Desert of Egypt.”

Image Links:

Additional Links:

Rodziewicz, Mieczyslaw D. “Supplement to the Article Philoxenité‒Pilgrimage Harbour of Abu Mina BSAA 47, 2003, 27-47.” Bulletin de la Société archéologique d’Alexandrie 49, no. 1 (2015): p-195.

Collins-Kreiner, Noga. “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research 37, no. 2 (2010): 440-456.

The Importance of Woodhenge & Skywatchers

Cahokia is a city aligned five degrees off of true north. At first, this confused scientists as the rest of their society was so in tune with the stars, the sun, and every part of nature. After all, the city had four main plazas that indicated the four cardinal directions, so why wasn’t it perfectly aligned? This can be answered with the solar calendar. The city is perfectly aligned with the areas of the summer solstice, the lunar moonrise, and moonset maximums. 

Further evidence of this is the presence of at least five woodhenges in Cahokia, which aided in the religious observances and farming cycles of the Cahokian people. A woodhenge is a ring of cedar posts, all evenly spaced and about 20 feet tall, and could identify the equinox, and the summer and winter solstices. Aside from calendars, there are theories that the woodhenges also served as aligners for the community. Each post was painted red, after “traces of ochre [were] found by archeaologists in the ground at Woodhenge” (White). The woodhenges were not randomly placed, but perfectly aligned so that at equinox the sun would rise in the east, in line with Monks Mound, as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Woodhenge Alignment with Monks Mound (Saint Louis Bank)

According to Iseminger, the central post was offset from the true center of the woodhenge around 5.6 feet, “which makes it align better with the perimeter post marking the winter and summer solstice positions at this latitude” (Iseminger). No detail was too small for the Cahokians, and woodhenges were curated to ensure their community could live and farm effectively. Another intricate observation of the woodhenge is the sunrise from Monks Mound. This was the chief’s mound, and as the sun rose in line with the mound it gave the illusion that the sun emerged from the mound. This is believed to be why Cahokians referred to their chief as a “brother” of the sun or believed that he represented the sun deity as an earthly presence (Iseminger).

The direct correlation with the skies is thought to be an attempt to equate the patterns of heaven with those of earth, the manifestation of the belief systems of Cahokian religious practices. Skywatching, an ancient practice commonly used in Cahokia, established a sacred geography through aligning it to the deities. It also provided a material presence of religion and was essential when passing culture through each generation. Skywatchers were common in a majority of Native American societies. Every mound had a purpose and a specific position. One theory exists that Cahokia as a whole falls into the shape of the constellation Orion, seen in Figure 2. 

Figure 2 – Cahokia Mounds Map (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

Cahokia relied on the sun, moon, and stars to guide their way of life: from what they ate to whom they prayed to, and their vast knowledge of the sky’s interworking with the resources they had continues to fascinate researchers.



“Cahokia Mounds Map.” Cahokia Mounds Museum Society. Accessed 11 November 2023 

Iseminger, William R. “The Skywatchers of Cahokia.” Mexicolore, 2009. Accessed 10 November 2023

“The Real Name of Cahokia Mounds.” Saint Louis Bank, 2021. Accessed 10 November 2023. 

White, AJ. “Cahokia.” ORIAS, University of California, Berkeley. Accessed 9 November 2023,and%20Woodhenge%20marked%20the%20occasions

New Discoveries On The Origins of The Sacrifices in Mound 72

Cahokia was a major Precolombian city in modern-day Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri. It was the first major city in North America north of Mexico and stood for four centuries beginning in 950 CE – at its highest point, it reached a population of twenty to thirty thousand people in the year 1200 (Yates 2016). Despite being abandoned in the late twelfth century, Cahokia’s principal monuments–its mounds–still stand tall. The mounds were important to Cahokian religious and ritual life, and when their contents were unearthed, archaeologists found overwhelming evidence of human sacrifice. 

In Mound 72, archaeologists unearthed a mass grave of two hundred and seventy-two teenage girls and young women. The bodies of the women, for the most part, showed no signs of blunt-force trauma (Pauketat 2010). They were also not buried all at once–Pauketat estimates that based on how they were buried, at least one group of girls was sacrificed every generation, meaning there must have been something in their tradition that required a large number of young women to be sacrificed periodically. The age and state of the women suggest that their sacrifice was a ritual surrounding fertility (Isselhardt 2022).

Figure 1: A layout of the burials in mound 72 (Yates 2016)

Pauketat suggests in his book Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on The Mississippi, that the sheer number of girls sacrificed in this ritual may have caused political unrest and points towards the excavation of the upland Halliday site with more feminine-oriented artifacts as a possible source for the young women used for these grand sacrifices. The hypothesis of this theory makes sense in the context of the book–a study on the teeth of the sacrificed women compared to the teeth of the human remains found in the Halliday site suggests that the Halliday citizens, much like some women who were sacrificed, had a diet high in maize and low in protein, meaning they were less healthy than inner-city Cahokians. (Pauketat 2010)

Figure 2: Location of the Halliday and Cahokia sites (Pauketat 2005)

However, the idea that the sacrificed women were immigrants or non-locals has come into question. Using dental morphology, strontium isotope analyses, and dental metrics, a team of scientists was able to determine that the young women in the mass graves had a high degree of relatedness, for the most part, and came from the centralized Cahokia area. Strontium isotopes on the teeth confirmed that the crops they were eating were grown in the same regions as the crops eaten by the greater population of the city (Thompson 2015). This does not mean that Pauketat was entirely wrong, however. The group of women buried in one mound together called F229-lower had a slightly different morphology than the other women, especially in F229-higher, who showed a higher degree of relatedness with each other (Thompson 2015). 

The investigation has raised more questions than provided answers. These would have been the daughters of the city and they would be at a large loss sacrificing so many young women. Only future research can tell us what we need to know about the sacrifice of the women at Mound 72.

Additional Information:

Strontium-isotope analysis:,the%20decay%20of%2087Rb

Dental Morphology:

Works Cited:

Isselhardt, Tiffany. “Girlhood and the Downfall of Cahokia.” Medium, February 27, 2022. 

Pauketat, Timothy R. Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2010. 

Pauketat, Timothy  R. “Agency in a Postmold? Physicality and the Archaeology of Culture-Making.” Research Gate, September 2005. 

Thompson, Andrew R. “New Dental and Isotope Evidence of Biological Distance and Place of Origin for Mass Burial Groups at Cahokia’s Mound 72.” Wiley Online Library, July 14, 2015. 

Yates, Diana. “Ancient Bones, Teeth, Tell Story of Strife at Cahokia.” ILLINOIS, August 4, 2016.