Category: Native American

While people talk about modern beauty standards being artificial and western, it can be easy to not understand the true diversity of beauty standards across time and across history.

For instance, the ancient Maya thought being cross-eyed was highly desirable. Parents would hang an object between their infant’s eyes hoping to induce permanent cross-eyes.

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In Iran until modern times, women were more desirable if they had unibrows and mustaches and many used darkening products to achieve them.

No matter what you look like, there was probably a time and a place when you were the height of attractiveness. Think about that the next time you look in a mirror!

Oyster eaters have been avoiding the shellfish during the summer
months — and so lowering their risk of food poisoning — for at least 4,000
years. That’s the major finding of a new study
examining remains of the Boonea impressa, a parasitic snail that latches onto
oyster shells, in a 230-foot shell ring built by the inhabitants of St.
Catherine’s Island off the coast of Georgia.

The snail has a predictable
12-month life cycle, and so by measuring the length of its shell, the
scientists were able to estimate when its oyster host had been harvested
by humans. Based on the size of the snail shells on the oyster shells in the ring, oyster harvest was limited to the late fall, winter,
and spring. This avoids not only the summer months, but the time when southeastern oysters spawned as well. In other words humans knew how to ensure they would have food for next year.

The Maya at Chichen Itza were known to practice human sacrifice a thousand years ago. Who they were sacrificing, though, has long been a mystery. A recent isotope analysis of tooth enamel from sacrificial victims
thrown into the city’s Sacred Cenote shows that there was some variety in who was sacrificed. Some  grew up locally, while others hailed from the Gulf Coast, the
Central Highlands, and as far away as Central America.

How the mix of individuals were chosen, and how those from further away ended up in Chichen Itza, remains unknown – there is always something more to investigate.

New genetic research now suggests that when the ancient Inuits migrated from Siberia to North America they brought their dogs with them. Considered one of the toughest and strongest breeds, this ancient Siberian canine was so indispensable, the genetic research shows the Inuits used them exclusively. They did not even interbreed with the new dogs they found in North America. The new study showed that over 4,500 years, Inuit new dogs were and remained genetically distinct and physically different from the dogs who arrived earlier in North America.

Where the humans went they brought their dogs, so Inuit dogs rapidly dominated and spread eastward in the North American Arctic alongside their humans’ migration. Because the Inuit remained faithful to their sled dogs, the pre-existing native dogs were almost completely replaced.

This genetic distinction has been maintained through today, too. The study compared 922 Arctic dogs and wolves who lived over 4,500 years. Modern sled dogs, according to their genomes, are some of the last direct descendants of the breed the Inuit brought with them from Siberia.

Drone-mounted lasers appear to have detected details of the architecture of an ancient island settlement off Florida’s Gulf coast, using 3D mapping technology. Archaeological remains were first noted on Raleigh Island in 1990. In-person exploration of the area in 2010 revealed the presence of a settlement dating from 900 to 1200 CE.

Unfortunately, the island’s dense foliage impeded traditional land-based surveys of what remained. That’s why this drone-based laser survey, almost ten years later, is so important.

Among other details we now can see 37 residential areas “enclosed by ridges of oyster shell” that are up to 12ft (4m) tall. Archaeological digs at 10 identified residential areas found evidence that beads made from large marine mollusks were produced in these settlements. Stone tools, used to make the beads, were also found. The beads were likely for import among inland chiefdoms. In areas that were far from the coast, such as the lower midwest of the US, mollusk beads and even sizable sea mollusks were imported, where they were used as social capital in economic and social interactions between groups.

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

A Native American woman and her two children at the camp grounds during the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, 1940. Photographed by Ivan Dmitri.

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.