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.
This little limestone pipe recently had a big impact: traces of nicotine detected inside suggest North Americans were using tobacco products at least 3,500 years ago! The carved limestone pipe was found in the 1930s near the Flint River in Alabama, but had been in storage at the Alabama State Repository until a recent team of chemists and archaeologists, working with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, came looking for it as part of their work examining ancient Native American pipes with modern techniques. And boy did they hit the jackpot with this one.
Tobacco plants were first domesticated in South America, and their introduction to North American native communities was not believed to have happened until around 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. This new finding indicates that tobacco use was established much earlier than previously thought in the what is today the southeastern United States. And that’s pretty far inland, suggesting tobacco reached elsewhere on the continent even earlier.
One of Arizona’s most famous landmarks is a pair of 900-year-old limestone cliff dwellings, whose sudden abandonment centuries ago has proven to be an enduring mystery. Incorrectly called “Montezuma’s Castle” and “Castle A,” they were abandoned about 600 years ago, after 300 years of occupation. It was long thought that the castles were burned as part of some sort of closing ritual, then voluntarily abandoned. Recent research disagrees. Instead, new analyses suggest the castles’ last days were violent ones.
The buildings were charred, and carbon dating of both the char and design analysis of pottery remains, reveal the buildings were occupied right up until they burned between the years 1375 and 1395. Perhaps more persuasively, the remains of four people had been excavated from Castle A in the 1930s. Previously, it was thought they had been dead and buried long before the buildings burned. But a closer examination of previous research done on those remains revealed that the dead had sustained trauma before their deaths, as evidenced by cut marks on their bones, burn marks, and fractures in three of the four skulls. And one of the skulls showed evidence of having been burned at the same time, or shortly after, it was violently attacked.
All in all, the new analyses suggest the castles were attacked and burned, and subsequently abandoned. This new viewpoint is corroborated by Native American oral histories of the site’s collapse, which were incorporated into the new research.