Category: archaeology

Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by its inhabita…

Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by its inhabitants, is famous for its megalithic statues. A recent analysis in PLOS One of the statues’ distribution across the island suggests they were placed away from living areas and near freshwater sources. (The statues are in red on the maps, water in blue.) Water is a very limited resource on Rapa Nui. The analysis only tells of the connection between the statues and freswater sources. The reason why, the deeper meaning behind why the statues were placed near freshwater, can only be hypothetical now because it has been so long since the culture that created them vanished.

Etruscans Found in Sardinia

Italian authorities announced in 2018 that the first-ever Etruscan settlement has been discovered in Sardinia. The site dates to the 800s BCE and was strategically situated on the small island of Tavolara. It was likely intended to facilitate trade between Early Iron Age Sardinian Nuraghic communities, known to have inhabited Sardinia at the time, and Etruscan cities nearby on the Italian mainland. There had been extensive archaeological evidence of Etruscan-Nurghic exchanges, but this is the first evidence of an expatriate Etruscan community in Sardinia.

The Etruscans are famous for adopting many Greek cultural aspects and blending them with their own native culture. The resulting mélange in turn influenced Roman culture, which was initially a small backwater to the mighty Etruscans. One potential reason for the Etruscans’ strength? Extensive trading ties with southern Italy, Greece, and Sardinia.

Where Did European Megaliths Come From?

A recent Bayesian analysis of some 35,000 surviving megaliths from across Europe used radiocarbon dates, cultural material, and information about burial rites to estimate a chronological sequence for the megaliths.

The results suggested that megaliths first emerged in northwestern France, and spread over sea routes. “Megaliths,” for this study, included megalithic tombs, standing stones, and stone circles. They were largely built in or near coastal areas during the Neolithic and Copper Ages, supporting a sea-borne spread. And surviving megaliths, though as far apart as Sweden, Spain, and Malta, often share similar structural features. It made archaeologists suspect they were related, which was also confirmed by the statistics.

Right now, the evidence suggests that the first megaliths were dolmens – giant standing stones covered with a mound of earth or stone – built in northwestern France. Some of these were built as early as 4792 BCE. That region is also home to pre-megalithic graves and transitional structures similar to, but not yet quite, dolmens. Other regions have megaliths but they also have other forms of burials, and they have no transitional structures that appear to be evolving into megaliths. The weight of the evidence, at least the evidence available for this latest Bayesian analysis, supports a French birthplace for megaliths. 

Ancient Mayans Were Beekeepers

Archaeologists in the ancient city of Nakum in northeastern Guatemala recently made a big discovery. Beneath a vast ritual platform dating from around 100 BCE to 300 CE they discovered a foot-long, barrel-shaped ceramic tube with covers at each end.

It is nearly identical to wooden beehives still made from hollow logs by Maya living in the region today. Their discovery is the only known Maya beehive. Since most beehives would probably have been wooden, they probably would not have survived.

An Icky Archaeological Discovery

Brightly colored pottery is a hallmark of the Paracas culture (900 – 100 BCE) of southern Peru. They would mark unfired pieces with animals, supernatural figures, and patterns, then add color after the firing process to fill in the design.

A new study, recently published in Antiquity, analyzed the chemical composition of the Paracas paints and binding agents. The study found that an organic white pigment on pottery from the Cahuachi site was made from an unusual material: reptile urine! It is unknown – and a bit difficult to guess – how the substance was collected and then processed.

Chinese Laborers In Peru: A Story In Three Bur…

Chinese laborers were brought to Peru in the mid-1800s, to harvest cotton and sugar after slavery was ended in 1854. While some laborers traveled back home, many more stayed. Even today Peru has a distinct Chinese cuisine developed by the laborers and their descendants.

Recently, archaeologists in the Peruvian capital of Lima excavated the bodies of three workers, buried with a number of Chinese artifacts. The men were wrapped in blankets and then placed either directly in the earth, or in simple wooden coffins. The bodies were well-preserved. They were either intentionally mummified before burial, or accidentally mummified by the arid climate. Whether on purpose or accidental, their preservation is a boon to archaeologists.

One of the laborers was buried naked, with his clothing folded on his torso, alongside an opium pipe and tarot cards. The two other laborers were buried in typical tunics and sandals. One was sporting a straw hat. The men apparently wished to be buried with the artifacts they had used when alive.

And like in life, they were foreigners in a foreign land: Chinese immigrants were excluded from Catholic cemeteries in Peru hence the three men being discovered buried alone, away from a larger burial ground.

Bear’s Paw Bones Discovered In Neolithic Grave

Approximately 4,500 years ago, the dismembered remains of a Neolithic man and small child were buried together, in southeastern Poland. With them was buried a complete bear’s paw. It is quite unusual, as domesticated animals were the usual Neolithic burial companions in this part of Europe.

Traces of fire and a single cattle bone have also been found at the entrance to the burial niche, where the bear’s paw was uncovered. The artifacts in combination have led archaeologists to suggest that the bear’s paw was used for some sort of ritual at the burial’s entrance.

First Nations Peoples Cultivated Shellfish, Ne…

Several unassuming rock walls along the shore of Quadra Island, in Canada’s British Columbia, are actually the ruins of ancient clam gardens constructed by First Nations peoples thousands of years ago. The walls were erected within intertidal zones to create sandy terraces. These are ideal habitats for shellfish such as littleneck and butter clams. In some cases, the rock walls improved the productivity of natural clam beaches, and in others, the rocks walls created shellfish habitats from scratch.

Radiocarbon dating of organic material sampled from one wall indicates it was built nearly 3,500 years ago, making it the oldest known aquaculture system of its kind.

What Was The Neolithic Revolution?

The Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural Revolution, occurred about 12,000 years ago. For those, like me, who are not the best at math, that is around 10,000 BCE. There was a global trend away from nomadic hunting and gathering and towards sedentary farming. It appears to have arisen independently in multiple places in the Middle East, as well as in China and Papua New Guinea. Egypt and the Indus River Valley may have independently developed agriculture as well, or gotten the idea and the seeds from the Middle East or China.

Cereals, like barley in the Middle East and rice in China, were likely the first to be domesticated, eventually supplemented by protein-rice plants like peas and lentils. As people began to settle down they also domesticated animals. The earliest archaeological evidence of sheep and goat herding comes from around 10,000 BCE in the Iraq and Anatolia. Animals could be used as labor in the fields, or as sources of additional nutrients and calories to supplement the new cereal-heavy diet.

The Neolithic Revolution did not happen everywhere, and not all at once. And there remain a variety of hypotheses as to why humans stopped foraging and started farming. Population pressure may have caused increased competition for food and the need to cultivate new foods; people may have shifted to farming in order to involve elders and children in food production; humans may have learned to depend on plants they modified in early domestication attempts and in turn, those plants may have become dependent on humans. Whatever the reason, the Neolithic Revolution changed humanity – and our world – for good.

Inscriptions written in the Cherokee script ha…

Inscriptions written in the Cherokee script have been discovered at the head of an underground stream in Alabama’s Manitou Cave. It is the first cave inscription found written in that script. The Cherokee script was a syllabary, which means symbols represented syllables not sounds. Invented by Sequoyah it was officially adopted by the Cherokee Nation in 1825. It was quickly in wide usage, in daily life, in printed materials, and apparently in cave inscriptions!

Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee, scholars from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, as well as additional colleagues worked together to understand the cave’s newly-discovered inscriptions. The scholars concluded that the text was written to commemorate a sacred game of stickball played on April 30, 1828. (Stickball is one of the forebearers of modern lacrosse). The rituals conducted before the game are thought to have been presided over by Sequoyah’s son, Richard Guess, whose name appears in an adjoining inscription. A third inscription, reading “I am your grandson,” was found written backwards on the ceiling of the cave.