Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101: Update on Glenn Beck's Archaeology Lessons

Wesley Lowery of The Columbus Dispatch brings us the behind the scenes of a DVD touted by Beck back in August, and how six archaeologists interviewed for the production feel "the documentary advances unsubstantiated claims, uses their words out of context and highlights artifacts that have proved to be fraudulent to advance a "fringe" archaeological belief."

Here's a trailer.

I have to say, I'm surprised at some of the names who were interviewed for this, and didn't see it coming. Though I've heard more than enough examples of such projects going south, including some projects purposely hiding the nature of the film being made (though I've heard no such allegations about this project).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101: Why Cthulhu Isn't On that Gravestone

Cross posted from my other blog, Miskatonic Museum, where I conduct a touch of tongue-in-cheek alternative science and archaeology blogging about the cosmic horrors that are the true masters of this planet, as chronicled by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Posted here because of the potential relevance for how to deal with more obviously "authentic" pseudoarchaeology.

Here at Miskatonic Museum, we curate and display objects and cases where the real world parallels or at least calls to mind the works of H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. So we were amused when io9's Jess Nevins recently pointed out a tombstone from Duxbury, Massachusetts that to his eye resembled one of the common icons for Cthulhu. This is very much up our alley, and is comparable with our most famous piece, the Moche Headdress, possibly from La Mina, Peru, which may provide additional insight into the Cthulhu Cult.

But as with our Red Rain of Kerala exhibit, examined through the lens of "The Colour Out of Space," we do try to also educate our visitors regarding more mainstream interpretations of these objects. In the case of the Duxbury Stone, there seemed to be more that might be said in this regard.

One of the comments on the io9 article, by greenivygrey, notes that the border is a gourd and floral design, and points to similar iconography on a 1695 tombstone. Another example, from 1697 was photographed by jlbriggs in Newport, Rhode Island. This design is also known as "fig and pumpkin" and in these examples this is more obvious than on the Duxbury Stone (which includes the figs, but not the pumpkin). Another example from 1705 Ipswich can be seen here. PrimaryResearch has a visual glossary of colonial-era headstone elements which you can view. If you are a student of these designs, please feel free to add further information or corrections in the comments.

You may notice that all of these examples cluster together. This brings us to the Death's Head design on the Duxbury Stone, and the work of archaeologist James Deetz. James Deetz was a pioneering historical archaeologist, author of, amongst other works the book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Deetz's most famous work may be his seriation, conducted with Edwin S. Dethlefsen, of New England headstone iconography. You can read the article here. This seriation did not directly address border designs such as the fig and pumpkin, but is a classic case study on seriation of material culture. The article tracks the waxing and waning in popularity of three basic headstone designs, and then goes into detail into the specifics of the evolution of these designs, and how demographics, settlement pattern, religious beliefs, and economics affected this evolution. This article has led to other projects, including those utilizing the study to educate children in history and how to conduct research, such as Dean Eastman's "Tiptoeing Through the Tombstones" which has another illustration of the fig and pumpkin motif.

Seriation is a technique developed over a century ago that is in many ways the backbone of everyday archaeological chronology (anchored in time with absolute dating techniques such as radiocarbon). The style of material objects generally changes through time, and in most cases, it changes in a relatively predictable and common sense way. Elements of style or whole styles are innovated or introduced, they become popular and widespread, and then they drop off as another new fad or trend emerges. The sequence of these changes can be compiled and used to date when an object was probably made. We do this all the time, recognizing that a car or a pair of pants or a building is from a particular decade or century based on other examples we know from that time. We know that Mad Men takes place in the early 1960s not from seeing a calendar, but from the clothes, and we recognize the show's advance through time as the clothes change. And when we see something we believe to be out of place, even if it is not, we find it jarring, as in the recent meme of finding "time travelers" in old photos or video clips.

Deetz and Dethlefsen seriated these grave markers not just to study them in particular, but as a larger test of seriation. The article was published in 1967, an era when explicit testing of the rigor of archaeological methods had reached a fever pitch in what historians of archaeological theory call "The New Archaeology" or processual archaeology, contrasting it with "culture historical" archaeology that had preceded it. The headstones are dated, and some of the carvers are known from the historical record. It was an ideal case to determine whether seriation, regularly applied to prehistoric artifact populations, actually worked like everyone thought it did. Below is a video of archaeologist Dave Wheelock carving an 18th century style headstone for the late Deetz.

This headstone may feature pumpkins and figs rather than Cthulhu, but I suspect HPL would have appreciated what has been learned about these tombstones in the intervening decades. He wrote extensively about changes of style and elements of architecture, both in his letters and in some travelogues, unpublished during his lifetime with an antiquarian bent (most famously his purposely archaic "Quebeck" study). He wrote about small bits of old Dutch material culture in New England, liked the idea of a museum of folkways, and went on in an amateur fashion about regional English-language dialects in America.

Just as a side note on the io9 article, while Innsmouth does indeed have some elements of Ipswich and Gloucester in it as Mr. Nevins notes, much of it was openly based on Newburyport. Like Arkham, which is a mix of Salem and Providence (especially Brown University), it has several components.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

House A.D. - Could Archaeology Help Cure Cancer?

Exactly how old is lupus?

Not just archaeologists. Biological anthropologists, historians, and others. But it felt good to say.

Researchers from the University of Manchester have identified the first evidence of cancer from an Egyptian mummy. Rather than suggesting that cancer is older than was thought, the lack of other signs of cancer in the many mummies examined over the decades suggests that cancer was quite rare. Likewise, they found that historical records only begin to describe cancer in the 17th century. Though not claiming that the disease is new, they are suggesting that it was rare in antiquity, and has become common in industrial societies because of man-made carcinogenic environments and conditions. Similar findings are reported from analysis of a skeletal collection from Croatia. And some scholars even believe that ancient drinks and concoctions might have worked against cancer.

I am skeptical that cancer is purely recent. The authors of the Egyptian discovery suggest that cancer would survive taphonomic processes in mummies better than regular tissue, but I'll find that more likely if, after this publication there are not many more tumors found. Lower life expectancy probably accounts for some of the discrepancy (a rebuttal notes that virtually all the mummies in this study were under the age when most cancers occur), and despite the authors' faith in medical observation in the past, there is a shift in the importance of observation and especially recording starting right around the time they notice an upswing in recorded cases. And as for the idea that there is nothing in nature that causes cancers, surely this can't be meant to exclude skin cancer from sun-damaged skin?

But for the moment, let's put the accuracy of the findings aside. For the purposes of an intellectual exercise, let's assume that the findings are correct, and cancer was rare in antiquity, becoming more common in the 17th century and on. What changes around 1600 that might account for this? The obvious event to point to, from my biased perspective, is the re-uniting of the New and Old Worlds. Genes and species passed back and forth that had been largely separated for thousands of years. At least one famous carcinogen, tobacco, became popular throughout the world at this time.

What about technology and pollution? Industrialism does increase, but closer to the late 1700s and into the 1800s. And plenty of toxins and heavy metals were used in antiquity including lead and tin in drinking and liquid storage vessels and cosmetics. Lead from Classical Greek and Roman industries in the Mediterranean can be detected in Greenland ice cores (abstract, news article).

Regardless of the specifics of this study, utilizing history and anthropology to examine the history of current diseases in order to understand their origins and nature, is a one more way that scholarship often stereotyped as frivolous is contributing important information of practical use to people today.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101 Pop Quiz: Ancient Shekel in Massachusetts?

Good afternoon class,

We've had a few sessions, so I thought I'd give you a pop quiz.

A builder comes to you and says that during the the reconstruction of a wharf in Manchester, Massachusetts, he found a 2000-year old silver shekel of Tyre (Lebanon) in a hole in the nearby sand. He notes the irony in finding it on Holy Thursday, the day Christians commemorate the Last Supper, which is followed by Judas' betrayal of Jesus, for which he was paid in silver shekels. He takes it to the owner of the property. They take it to a numismatist, who determines it is authentic (dating from 126 BC - 66 AD), that it had been worn, and that there is evidence it had been submerged underwater for some time, though there is no formal paperwork to that effect.

The owner does not claim to know how the coin got there and suggests there are hundreds of possibilities. She has done some research on previous owners of the property, but has not found evidence of coin collectors. She also suggests both that an animal might have dropped it there from somewhere else (including possibly a seagull), or that the Phoenicians might have lost it during trade with Vikings in the area.

If this case was brought to your attention, what would your reaction be? Any suggested methods for the arrival of the coin? Possible courses of action?

Ancient Poetry and Texts in the Original Languages

Martin Worthington at Cambridge is spearheading a project to bring together scholars and record for public listening various Babylonian texts, initially poetry, in the original Akkadian.

On the site, Dr. Worthington points to similar projects including Anglo-Saxon Aloud and the Odyssey in Ancient Greek.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Classification: Lumpers more accurate than Splitters? Some reflections on what dinosaurs can teach us about potsherds

1915 Classification of Ceratopsidae by William Diller Matthew. (Wikicommons)

A recent study by paleontologist Michael Benton (University of Bristol) of the history of dinosaur taxonomy in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, discussed by Scientific American, argues that lumpers (those more willing to overlook minor differences when creating classifications) are more accurate than splitters (those who prefer to spin off more classificatory types based on minor differences).

Those who named more dinosaurs had a higher rate of those species later being absorbed into other species as it became clearer that the differences once used to define a "species" were minor, with typically 50 - 70% of "species" ultimately being rejected by the field. Those who named only a few dinosaurs, however, typically had about 40% of their discoveries rejected. Benton also argues that some of the more prolific dinosaur namers may have had financial or prestige motivations.

This issue has been particularly in the news lately, with the determination that the famous genus Triceratops is simply a juvenile version of the genus that had been called Torosaurus. Dinosaur fans need not worry, as Torosaurus was named later, so its genus will be erased and lumped in with Triceratops. No need to start another Pluto guerrilla war.

Any archaeologist will bristle at the idea that we dig up dinosaurs (go ahead, ask one). And unlike in the case of dinosaurs, where a press release goes out with a new taxonomic addition, no one really cares if you've named a new type, group, or even ware of pottery. But this does bring to mind some of the issues with archaeological classification. Pots or spear points are not species, and any first year grad student (at least of Americanist archaeology) can point to the iconic Ford vs. Spaulding debate over whether types are discovered or created by the archaeologist.

Reading this article, I started to think about how chaotic archaeological typologies really are. One problem I'm quite familiar with is the issue of the word colono or colonoware. In historical archaeology, the term has a wide at and at times nearly contradictory use, incorporating ideas of both continuity and blending. It has been used to refer to pottery from sites in the Caribbean, the United States Southeast, and nearby locations that are simply vessels not created by Europeans, plates and pitchers created by indigenous potters but incorporating European design concepts, bowls and jars created by Africans and African Americans in the style and symbolism of their pre-diaspora homeland, vessels like those of a pre-diaspora homeland but reflecting ethnogenesis involving people from various African cultural traditions, and vessels not associated with potters or consumers of a particular identity but instead reflecting the dynamic changes wrought by colonialism.

Thinking of this case I can't even imagine the idea of an orderly "rejection" of a type in the manner of the paleontologists. Again, a species isn't a type, and a type may well serve a research purpose more than be an actual discoverable "thing." But types aren't often treated in this manner. They get published, or sometimes are just propagated within a regional research community, and then they start to get used by other archaeologists for possibly very different research ends than those of the classifier. A type originally designed simply to clarify a deep stratigraphic sequence might get used for examining ethnic identity, trade routes, or status differences. Neverminding unusual cases like the colonoware one, there is no real way to check the production of new types, nor how useful they are, other than through the informal process of ignoring earlier works, a process that may get entangled with more practical than intellectual matters.

Personally, I have found that I feel like "splitting" feels proper, taking note of minor differences and then pointing your index finger in the air whilst shouting "A-ha!" in your best Sherlock Holmes imitation. But then, when it comes time to actually present taxonomy to the world, "lumping" instincts kick in out of caution. At least within my research materials. Lumping in with someone else's typology, that opens up whole new issues (is this really the same thing? Is there a regional variation?). And the cycle begins anew.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lost Language Discovered on 17th Century Paper in Peruvian Archaeological Excavation

Dr. Jeffrey Quilter of Harvard's Peabody Museum discusses the amazing discovery from Magdalena de Cao Viejo (also known from its also amazing prehispanic component, the Moche site El Brujo). This site is extremely dry, and has preserved actual documents, an astounding find from an archaeological site. Not only are these documents very rare, that they record extraordinary information about the number system of a little known language is almost unbelievable. As the video notes, this material has just been published in American Anthropologist (press release on the research can be read here). Here's the project website. I know several of the folks there, either through attending Tulane University with them, or through work on the upcoming hybrid material culture volume I'm editing.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101 - Dinosaurs and Cosmic Monsters in Prehistoric (and not so Prehistoric) American Art

I touched on this topic in the first Weird Archaeology 101 post, but lets go more in depth today. At the bottom of this post you will find video of a Creationist presentation on evidence for human interaction with dinosaurs in artwork from the late prehistoric Southwestern United States, several periods and cultures in the prehistoric Andes, and post-Roman Israel. But before the videos, some discussion on why dinosaurs are so important to Creationists.

Until recently, I think most mainstream scientists were not aware of the importance of cryptozoology and the idea of surviving dinosaurs to Creationists. Some people might joke that Creationists "believe the Flintstones was a documentary," but the ironic truth is that this is quite accurate. Just as moviemakers have known for 85 years Creationists have realized that dinosaurs, and especially dinosaurs interacting with humans, is an extremely appealing idea. This has been foregrounded in the various Creationist museums, but has been knocking around evangelical Christianity for some time.

What may escape some more secular observers is that the interest in dinosaurs is not just an attempt to support Young Earth Creationism (based on a divine Creation several thousand years ago), but also to incorporate specific bible elements, namely Leviathan and Behemoth. Leviathan is a sea monster and Behemoth a land monster in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish religious literature. Both of them will be killed and served as a feast for the righteous when the Messiah arrives. In fact, sea and other monsters are an overlooked element of the Hebrew Bible, with some controversial suggestions that they existed at the time of Creation. Both of these characters have been equated by Creationists with dinosaurs, and this underlies their interest, as well as the Young Earth timetable.

Furthermore, Leviathan and Behemoth are echoed in the Beasts of the sea and of the land in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Drawing inspiration from these apocalyptic monsters, Poet Laureate of the Victorian British Empire Alfred, Lord Tennyson composed "The Kraken," in 1830. He combines the Scandinavian legend of a tentacled sea beast with the biblical Leviathan to write of a monster that will come to the surface and die at the end of the world.

Which brings us to Cthulhu. As part of a project I'm working on, I recently "interpreted" the iconography of a Moche golden mask as being a representation of horror author H. P. Lovecraft's dead but living alien god Cthulhu, a millions of years ancient monstrosity that rests in a sunken city at the bottom of the Pacific until the stars become right, and on an unknowable and immense cosmic cycle it will arise and bring about the end of human civilization. The thought processes of this entity are obscured by the water above it, but from time to time geological processes raise it close or above the surface, and sensitive humans receive the creature's thoughts and form religions in honor of it (if you have two minutes, you can get the whole story here). In my little exercise, I assembled evidence of a looted Moche mask (probably from the site of La Mina), Moche painted iconography of anthropomorphized fish, the results of an oceanographic survey, and anomalous sounds recorded by underwater microphones all to point to the inescapable conclusion that there really is a dead alien god slumbering off the coast of Chile.

I don't actually believe that Cthulhu dreams in his house in R'lyeh. But look how easy it is to start taking disparate bits of information and shuffling them together to support something utterly absurd. And unlike the videos below, all of my evidence is at least real if misinterpreted, I don't have Ica stones in my argument. And I certainly don't have quite real khipu and pottery (though when you watch the videos, take note of the one pot with the applique "dinosaur," particularly the difference in texture and apperance of its neck with the rest of the vessel) being flung about during an argument that the Moche and Nazca people were fleeing for their lives from abundant living dinosaurs. I winced when these materials were presented.

If you want to know more about Leviathan and Behemoth, I would recommend Religion and Its Monsters by Timothy Beal.

The texts of the Bible, Tennyson's "The Kraken" and Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" are all available online.

Here are the videos (3 parts), part of a series by the director of a Creationist museum.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Archaeologist Tracks Development of Gitmo Prison with Google Earth

Archaeologist Adrian Myers has utilized Google Earth, ground level photos, and descriptions of the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to track the prison's construction, change in architectural nature, and expansion from 2003 - 2009. In a news article in Science, reported on by Neuron Culture, Meyer's research methods and conclusions are summarized. He determines that the makeshift nature of the early camp reflects a lack of a plan to deal with Global War on Terror detainees, but that as the war dragged on, a larger permanent super-max style prison showed the intent to keep an operating prison there indefinitely (and indeed there were reports in 2005 of plans for keeping detainees in the camp indefinitely). The news article compares this work with the use of Google Earth to track antiquities looting and find new archaeological sites.

Myers' work with Gitmo reminds me of similar tracking of the expansion of the Groom Lake facility in Nevada, the secret military base popularly known as Area 51, but with the operating name "Homey Airport." For years UFO enthusiasts, anti-secrecy protesters, and the curious took photos of the base and drew maps from observation. When a commercial satellite imagery company decided to advertise on the internet about a decade ago, they chose to show Area 51, garnering huge amounts of attention. Likewise, it has been a source of interest for Google Earth users, and such imagery has been used to show the growth of the facility despite rumors it had gone out of business.

But beyond the methods, I do wonder about Myer's interpretations. I haven't read his original research, but the idea that Gitmo reflects a lack of planning strikes me as not including all variables. In particular, while not as visible as Gitmo, the US operated secret prisons throughout the world, including converted former Soviet-client prisons. The location, number, and size of these prisons is still not known to the public (one of the prisons has been located in Lithuania), though early in the Obama administration these prisons were supposedly ordered to be closed. Perhaps the Bush administration underestimated how much prison space it would need, especially once the Iraq war began. Alternatively, there may have been a realization at some point that a facility at Gitmo was probably less damaging or legally questionable than the CIA's constellation of black sites. Perhaps Myers considers this hypothesis in his actual research.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101: Solar Flares Affect Radioactive Decay Rates

While fascinating scientific inquiry still underway, expect to see this in Creationist and other alternative archaeology/paleontology/geology arguments very soon.

"It’s a mystery that presented itself unexpectedly: The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away.

Is this possible?

Researchers from Stanford and Purdue universities believe it is. But their explanation of how it happens opens the door to yet another mystery."


The story begins, in a sense, in classrooms around the world, where students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This concept is relied upon, for example, when anthropologists use carbon-14 to date ancient artifacts and when doctors determine the proper dose of radioactivity to treat a cancer patient.
The Strange Case of Solar Flares and Radioactive Elements [symmetrybreaking]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101: Glenn Beck Revives Moundbuilder Pseudoarchaeology for Millions of Viewers

The Clown Prince of Fox News just pwned your entire profession, fellow archaeologists

A Hot Cup of Joe has the details on why this wrong

Courtesy Savage Minds, via Dave Anderson

UPDATE: Anthroslug has done some solid work on taking this whole thing apart

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Friday, August 13, 2010

Revolutionary change in paleoanthropology and rumors of coverups

One of the attacks fringe belief enthusiasts (pick your poison, from creationists to conspiracy theorists to cryptozoologists) is that scientists won't overturn old ideas because it would endanger their egos, their grant money, and their jobs. I've heard the notion that astounding archaeological discoveries have been covered up and destroyed for this exact reason (IIRC, referencing all the 19th century reports of giants found in North American graves).

Paleoanthropology shows how absurd this notion is. Now, I'm something of a lay person in this field (my expertise is in Mesoamerican archaeology, early European colonialism, and ceramics). But it's pretty obvious that in the last decade or so, our picture of our hominid legacy has changed dramatically. We've got another species of hominid co-existing with humans right up to edge of the Holocene, in the form of Homo floresiensis. While the floresiensis case is still being investigated to better understand the nature and culture of these little people, the concept of another species of Homo existing so close to the present is fascinating. It now looks likely that Neanderthals did indeed contribute their genetics to modern humans, a long contentious question answered, though the exact nature of the interaction (besides the genetic mixing) with modern humans is still fiercely debated. In the 1990s, symbolic material culture and behavior was generally believed to be something that exploded with new tool technologies 40,000 years ago or so in a triumphalist conquest of the world by modern humans overtaking all the other versions of Homo due to some revolution. Now we know that such behavior is twice as old, wrecking the neat 40K modern package idea. I'm sure there are other earth-shaking discoveries I'm forgetting.

And now, stone tool use has been flung backwards a million years, before the existence of our genus, dramatically changing the picture of Australopithecus.

The story of humanity and its cousins has changed dramatically in only a few short years. And there is every reason to believe it will change even more as new discoveries are made, and new techniques are brought to bear. And yet, no anthropological men in black swept it under the rug, no cabal of status quoticians hid the fossils in Warehouse 23 (not a typo). Scientists like when their discoveries make comfortable ideas fall apart. Not surprisingly, those who accuse them of the opposite are often promoting a new-fangled version of a comfortable idea already blown apart by earlier discoveries.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101 - A New Series Educating Archaeologists about the Weird World

I'm going to be sporadically posting examples of bunk, pseudo, alternative, fictional, etc. archaeology here for your perusal and reference. While there are other sites and resources (Bad Archaeology, the Hall of Maat come to mind immediately) that cover these topics, as well as skeptical sites in general (Skeptoid for example), the amount of ideologically driven and research/reason-poor claims and ideas out there is staggering. Furthermore, many of these ideas are nearly as old as scientific archaeology itself, and after the heyday of media interest in archaeology in from the late 19th century until the Great Depression, have become more popular than archaeology itself.

Far too many archaeologists I have met know nothing or virtually nothing about such claims, concepts, historical streams, subcultures, and the like. In part, this is because they are often quite busy. But I believe there is also a distaste there, and laughing off these notions because they make no sense. Evolutionary biology used to think the same way, until in the United States the intelligent design/creationism movement started to gain real ground in the 1990s and 2000s, and people realized that they couldn't just ignore the problem anymore. Ever heard of Swift Boating? Ignoring a problem doesn't mean it will go away.

I believe one element of this problem is that too many archaeologists simply don't get how diverse and pervasive, and downright weird, some of the ideas are out there. Confront them with someone who believes extraterrestrials built the pyramids, and most will mutter "von Daniken" and maybe reference the fictional movie/show Stargate. But few will know, as we'll see in future posts, that such ideas go back nearly a century, and are extremely pervasive in both pseudoscience and mysticism, and in fiction, long before and independent of von Daniken. And of all people, an archaeologist should know that context is everything.

It will be the purpose of this series to point to some of the weirder, more obscure, and at times older but influential weird ideas that are passed off as "archaeology," or deal with the human past and material culture. Let us start with a video on "crypto-archaeology," a Creationist investigation of depictions of dragons on archaeological ceramics. Despite the old saw that "fossils were placed by the Devil as a test," Creationists love dinosaurs these days. They realize the marketing potential, especially to children. And they have also read their Old Testament, which has all sorts of monsters in it, and have equated the two to argue for a created young Earth. So showing dinosaurs and humans as contemporaries has been a significant Creationist concern, and it underpins interest in cryptozoological expeditions looking for dinosaurs in the Congo, pteradons in Indonesia, and the Loch Ness Monster. I have previously linked to a video on the Acambaro figurines, which is a relatively well known case.

This little video, with public access TV style and production values, has numerous comments and over 2000 views.

Let me ask you this: Do you think more than 2000 people have read your dissertation? Have they emailed you to let you know what they think about it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Update - Aztec Ritual Depost and possible "tomb"

As noted 2.5 years ago, Mexican archaeologists found a carved slab which they believed covered the tomb of Aztec emperor Ahuizotl. This has not immediately turned out to be the case, as shown in today's presentation of the materials to the press. The researchers still believe they are near such a tomb.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Did Maya Architects Tie Fossils to Creation?

Art Daily posts an announcement of research at the Maya city of Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico, suggesting fossils may be tied to Maya ideas of Creation. This new study notes the use of fossil-bearing stones in ritual and elite funerary contexts at Palenque, and combining historical and epigraphic evidence, suggests that the fossils hearkened back to a watery world at the dawn of Creation.

This would not be the first discovery of fossils in Mesoamerican ritual contexts. At La Venta (I believe, I don't have the original reports here at my fingertips) at least one fossil shark teeth was part of an Olmec ritual cache.

The idea of pre-19th century people conducting different forms of paleontology is a compelling and common sensical notion, one discussed by Adrienne Mayor in her books, as profiled in the New York Times.

I would need to see more about the Palenque research to comment further, but it raises a potentially fascinating possibility.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Colonial Cherokee Archaeology - My Current Project

It's listed over in the "colleagues" links on the right, but another reminder to check out the blog for our work on the 2010 Illinois State University Historical Archaeology Field School. I'm directing lab work and working in the field with project director Kathryn Sampeck and field director Burton Smith and a number of students.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Electronic Atlas of Maya Sites: Now on Google Earth

Database of locations and rough size/scale of over 6000 Maya archaeological sites. And now, they have a kmz version for Google Earth.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

How the Pyramids Weren't Built: Nano-Biorobots

Magnetically controlled bacteria doing the heavy lifting. Work being done at the NanoRobotics Laboratory of the École Polytechnique de Montréal. Other coverage I've seen of this plays on the old slave labor ideas derived from antique folklore and early Hollywood films, and not so much with the known work gangs.

h/t IEEE Spectrum

Monday, March 22, 2010

Historical Archaeology Field School - East Tennessee - June 2010

I am going to be assisting with this course and investigation, so a head's up. Please contact Dr. Sampeck if you are interested in taking the course. The deadline is coming up (April 1), but you still have time.

2010 ISU Field School in Historical Archaeology
Cherokee Towns in the Time of Spanish Contact

May 31– June 25, 2010

Explore the early history of East Tennessee. Learn techniques of survey, excavation, and artifact analysis in this six credit archaeological field school.

Eastern Tennessee may have been visited by Hernando DeSoto in 1540 and Juan Pardo in 1567 as part of the Spanish colonization of the New World. Even though this colonial encounter was brief, it had profound effects for the indigenous inhabitants of this region, the ancestors of some of today's Cherokee. This project will explore the natural and cultural landscape of East Tennessee in the early historic period to better understand what the Spanish referred to as the “Chiscas.” The 2010 season will be devoted to survey, mapping, excavation, and artifact analysis of contact‐period (Qualla phase) sites in the Nolichuckey valley in the vicinity of the modern settlements of Greeneville, Telford, and Jonesboro, Tennessee. Lectures will include discussion and analysis of the Spanish chronicles related to DeSoto's and Pardo's explorations, other sources concerning Cherokee history, and examples of Cherokee archaeology. This project is carried out in close collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and is funded in part by the ECBI Tribal Historic Preservation Office

This course earns six undergraduate or graduate credits from Illinois State University. Students can usually transfer these hours toward a graduate or undergraduate degree program. Students should inquire about credit transferability with their degree‐granting institution. All students are required to keep a journal documenting field and lab work. Students will also contribute to the field school blog. The course will culminate in a public presentation of student research to the community of Cherokee, North Carolina.

COSTS (subject to change)
Room and Board: $1300.00
Includes lodging, local transportation, excursions, and weekday lunches.
Students are responsible for all other meals.
Tuition & Fees (6 Credit hours)
ISU students: see tuition schedule
NON‐ISU students: $2041.00
Incidental Fee (supplies, field trips)

Please send a letter or email to Dr. Sampeck at the address below. In your letter, indicate why you would like to take the course and include the names and phone numbers of two references.

April 1, 2010

Please direct all inquiries to :
DR. KATHRYN SAMPECK (Project Director)
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Campus Box 4660
Schroeder Hall 335
Normal, IL 61790
Phone: 309‐438‐8668
Fax: 309‐438‐5378

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101: Neat Video on the Acambaro Figurines

A classic of weird pseudoarchaeology.

From the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pulp Fiction? Maya Ruins and Treasure Hunting by Parachute in 1931

Popular Science, April 1931: The story of Captain William F. Long, adventurer, who weaves a tale of parachuting in search of hidden gold and gems in a living city of the Maya. It's a tale of racist notions of natives bowing to white gods, jungle battles, and un-named Mexican archaeologists with stone idols.

Go ahead and read, if you can stand the excitement

I have no idea how much if any of it is even remotely true (obviously, much of it is problematic, but I don't even know if there ever was a plane flight or a skydive, never mind any of the details). What I do know is that in the wake of several highly publicized legitimate air surveys of Maya ruins, including one by hero pilot Charles Lindbergh (we're still before the rise of Nazi Germany and Lindbergh's political steps), it looks like the press was all too eager to print tales of such derring-do. The New York Times ran Long's story, as they did several other sensationalistic tales of archaeological adventure. Around the same time they started running stories on Mitchell-Hedges, who would eventually produce the Crystal Skull "of Lubantuun."

Spielberg and Lucas said they based Indiana Jones off of the pulp serials of the 1930s and 1940s. I wonder if they knew how close they were to the respectable headlines of the day.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Skeleton with East Asian Ancestry Found in Ancient Roman Cemetery

First-century AD skeleton in a Roman cemetery had East Asian ancestry on one side.

Neat stuff, and a good reminder that talk about "recent" globalism is somewhat overblown and buzzworded. Cool discovery by a former colleague of mine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

John Smith's Universal Translator: Slate May Have Traces of early English-American Communication and Specially Designed Contact Alphabet

National Geographic has details on a potentially striking artifact, a slate from Jamestown with traces of inscriptions. The extraordinary suggestion is that there may be traces of a 1585 English-created alphabet designed to communicate with Algonquin-speakers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pipil document found at Brown University

My colleague Kathryn Sampeck has recently written a short piece about her rediscovery of a "lost" seventeenth-century Pipil Nahua historical document in Brown University's John Carter Brown library. Includes image of the document.