Category: indigenous

New geological research suggests that the Incan city of Macchu Picchu is located at the spot where two faults in the tectonic plates meet. These faults produced an abundance of stone over millions of years, meaning that the Incans had plenty of stone easily available to build a city with. The researchers added that other Incan cities, including Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Cusco, are located at similar intersections.

Those same fractures that provided stone also make for excellent drains. Which is important to help avoid flooding during the heavy rainstorms that can happen in the region. The excellent drainage almost certainly contributed to Macchu Picchu surviving so well, after its abandonment by the Inca, and being left to the elements for over 400 years.

From Jaina Island’s cemetary, where archaeologists have found figurines cradled in the arms of the deceased.

This figurine is special because rather than depicting the deceased as a robust young adult,  it shows a proud elderly warrior. He is definitely a warrior because he holds a flexible, rectangular shield in his right hand and wears a quilted armor tunic, both being requisite for Maya warriors during this period.

Earthenware figure, crafted sometime between 550 CE and 850 CE.

Yeibichai – a female mask – carved by Navajo artist Clitso Dedman (1897-1953). I was not able to find much clear information on Yeibichai online. If anyone knows about their place in the Navajo universe, I would love to hear about it – just message me through tumblr or the website!

Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Answer

One of the earliest sites showing Aboriginal occupation of northwestern Australia — dating to some 50,000 years ago — has been discovered at the Drysdale River catchment in the Kimberley region of Australia. They also found evidence of an early ax production industry at the Minjiwarra site, which had previously been interpreted as a dune feature indicating a break in Aboriginal occupation.

The “dune feature” is actually a sedimentary flood feature which built up over 50,000 years. It preserves early, intermediate and more recent occupation by Aboriginal people. Minjiwarra was settled even through the peak of the Ice Age 19,000 years ago, when environmental conditions were especially cold and dry.

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.