Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.
If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.
The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing.
Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members’ tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.
Feathers were highly valued in Hawai’i and were an important part of their religion. Feathers were used in representations of the gods. A high-status cloak made of feathers, called an ‘ahu ‘ula, was a marker of prestige and power. ‘Ahu ‘ula were worn with feathered helmets, or mahiole – a chief would have been decked from head to toe in feathers!
When Hawai’i became a kingdom in 1795, they were influenced by the monarchies of Europe, and eventually gave themselves a coat of arms. On it were two figures wearing red and yellow ‘ahu ‘ula and a mahiole.
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.
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.
Nanabozho is a prominant trickster figure, found in most Algonquin tribes’ belief system. Stories about him vary considerably from tribe to tribe. His parents change, is sometimes given siblings, and stories about his deeds would fill a book. Nicknamed “the Great Hare” although he is rarely shown as a rabbit, Nanabozho is a transformer figure, a creator and provider of food and representative of the various life force(s). Although a bit of a trickster figure, Nanabozho is not truly immoral or even seriously inappropriate. He is viewed as a virtuous hero and friend of humankind who happens to have a mischievous side.
There’s so much contradictory information about Nanabozho so that is where I will stop. If you want to read some of the many tales about Nanabozho, here is a list to get you started.
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.
When the Chiricahua Apaches of what is today southern Arizona went on a raiding party, they adopted a special speech. One informant told anthropologists Morris Edward Opler and Harry Hoijer:
I used to know many words, but I have forgotten just about all of them. Only one sticks in my mind, and that is the ceremonial way of asking for a drink of water. Instead of saying, ‘I want to drink some water,’ we had to say, ‘I begin to swim the specular iron ore.’
This formal, alternative way of talking had to be maintained as long as the raiding party was away from home. As soon as they were back in camp, they could switch to everyday language.
Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.
This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.
Found in southern Mexico City, it is a burial unlike any other we know of. Ten interlocking skeletons of various ages and genders were laid to rest, arranged in a spiral shape. Some hold ceramic spheres and stones in their hands and the grave also contains various sizes of ceramic vessels, that presumably once contained grave goods. It is the largest single burial from the Valley of Mexico.
Laid to rest in a pit about 6 feet (2 meters) wide, they were most likely interred at the same time, sometimes between 500 and 400 BCE. Archaeologists think they were buried at the same time because the arms of one person were placed under the spine of another, suggesting they were deliberately arranged. Plus, that spiral.
So far, three of the ten remains have been sexed: two women, one man. There also appears to be a range of ages. While most on first analysis are young adults, there is at least one more mature adult, a child between 3 and 5 years old, and an infant just a few months old. Some of the skeletons, though not all, also show cranial deformations and dental mutilations, which are known to have been practiced in other Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya and Inca.