American Archaeology Magazines’ Top 10 Articles Of 2015
The end of the year is a time for, among other things, top 10 lists. Here, in no particular order, is my list of the 10 most interesting North American archaeology articles, both news and features, that appeared in American Archaeology in 2015. Readers may have other favorites from the 2015 Magazines that they want to share or comment on.
- Kennewick Man DNA Indicates Native American Ancestry (Fall Issue)
News Article: Researchers in Denmark who analyzed ancient DNA from Kennewick Man recently reported that he shares ancestry with North American Native Americans. The research, led by geneticist Eske Willerslev, was conducted at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, a world leader in ancient DNA analysis.
Not everyone is convinced, however. James Chatters, the first archaeologist who examined the ancient skeleton, says the number of individuals sampled is not sufficient and the results have not been replicated. “It’s fuzzy. I think they have over-reached science and are meddling with politics.”
A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that could result in the repatriation of Kennewick Man’s remains to Native American tribes that claim affiliation.
- Here Come The Drones (Fall Issue)
Featured Story: In recent years, archaeologists around the world have taken advantage of plummeting drone prices and advances in imaging technology to take to the skies without ever leaving the ground. For less than $1,000 archaeologists can now buy remotely-piloted drones that can carry an array of instruments from digital cameras to sensors capable of “seeing” underground. Drones are helping researchers to discover new sites and document hard-to-reach features in rugged terrain. The aircraft can also monitor vast areas threatened by looters, development, and natural weathering, and the images they obtain can be used to create virtual copies of ancient ruins and artworks that could aid restoration efforts.
But government officials are struggling to decide how to regulate the aircraft, which have raised concerns about safety, privacy, and security. New rules are expected in 2016, but for the moment many researchers are barred from flying drones within the U.S., unless they go through an expensive and time-consuming permitting process.
- A Lost City Found? (Summer Issue)
Featured Story: A March news story on the National Geographic website announced the discovery of an ancient “lost city” that was once inhabited by a mysterious culture in the Mosquitia area of eastern Honduras. The article said an expedition, which had been searching for the legendary White City (also known as the City of the Monkey God) verified the existence of an ancient site found by LiDAR during a 2012 aerial survey. After the National Geographic story appeared, dozens of other media published versions of it.
Shortly thereafter, 27 researchers and scholars with knowledge of the region, including several Hondurans, signed an open letter attacking the press accounts of this project, known as the Under the LiDAR (UTL) expedition. They complained that the National Geographic article—published by the venerable organization that has supported numerous archaeological projects—and subsequent media coverage exaggerated and sensationalized the expedition’s discovery, and ignored previous research and local knowledge about the thousand-year-old ruins.
- Revisiting Old Vero Man (Summer Issue)
Featured Story: In 1916, Florida State geologist Elias Sellards found Pleistocene animal bones that appeared to be associated with Paleo-Indian artifacts and a human skull and 44 other bones at the Old Vero Man site in east-central Florida. It was a shocking idea at the time, but Sellards nonetheless persisted in his interpretation of the site, inviting scholars from various disciplines to come view the evidence.
Naysayers cast doubt on the site’s human associations, questioning Sellards’ stratigraphic interpretation and claiming the human remains resulted from recent burials. People weren’t ready to accept Sellards’ conclusion, and those human bones became scattered among various institutions, and some of them were eventually lost. With no direct dating methods yet available, Sellards’ interpretation of the Old Vero Man site was left in question.
But nearly a century later, an investigation of the site led by J. M. Adovasio of Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute has uncovered the burned bones of extinct animals that date to approximately 14,000 years ago. Adovasio and his colleagues believe humans burned the bones. The archaeologists believe their discovery not only confirms Sellards’ conclusion, but it also makes Vero one of only a handful in the Southeast with evidence of humans alongside the likes of mammoths, saber tooth cats, and ground sloths.
- Analysis Reveals Evidence Of Norse Metalworking In Northern Canada (Spring Issue)
News Article: The recent analysis of a stone vessel found some 50 years ago offers further evidence that the Norse, who are often referred to as Vikings, visited the New World centuries before Columbus. Archaeologist Patricia Sutherland and her colleagues recently published a paper in the journal Geoarchaeology detailing the results of their study that confirmed a vessel found at the Nanook site on Baffin Island in northern Canada was used as a crucible for melting bronze.
Research at Nanook and other Dorset sites in the eastern Canadian Arctic is providing new information about the presence of Europeans in the New World sometime around A.D. 1000. Until recently it was assumed that the Norse made only short, occasional trips to the New World from their colonies in Greenland. In the past Norse artifacts have also been found in the remains of Inuit settlements.
- Vive La Belle (Spring Issue)
Featured Story: In the spring of 1684, a team labored to assemble a ship in the port town of Rochefort in southwest France. They fastened timbers using iron bolts and wooden pegs and raised three masts over the single deck. That summer the vessel, christened La Belle, set sail with Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who was on a quest to establish a French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
More than 300 years later, a team is again laboring to assemble La Belle, this time in a museum in Austin, Texas. Archaeologists and conservators are carefully hoisting the vessel’s original timbers, resting them on carbon fiber and fiberglass supports, and securing them with fiberglass bolts.
La Belle spent only a few years afloat after it launched from Rochefort. The story of its journey to America and subsequent sinking is an example of what could go wrong in the New World. The story of its discovery, conservation, and reconstruction is an account of what can go right when archaeologists find creative solutions to perplexing conservation challenges.
- From Atlatls To Arrows (Spring Issue)
Featured Story: For thousands of years, North America’s ancient people relied on an ingenious spear-throwing device called the atlatl to hunt game and wage war. Then they discovered, and eventually embraced, a new technology: the bow and arrow. “The introduction of the bow had profound implications for population aggregation and density, subsistence and settlement strategies, as well as an impact on trade and warfare,” says University of Missouri archaeologist Todd Vanpool.
The timing of the bow and arrow’s introduction and its replacement of the atlatl varied from region to region. Although some experts believe that early versions of the bow, which is often called the self bow, were used in the Arctic as much as 12,000 years ago, the preponderance of archaeological evidence suggests that this technology didn’t reach much of North America until roughly 1,600 years ago.
- Jamestown Bodies Identified (Fall Issue)
News Article: Jamestown archaeologists and scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History recently announced the identities of four founders of the first permanent English colony in the New World whose unmarked graves were discovered beneath the chancel of the 1608 church where Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married.
According to William Kelso, director of archaeology at Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, the graves and the artifacts discovered with them underscore the importance of religion to the colonists at Jamestown. The discoveries also raise questions about the role of Catholicism in the colony at a time when Catholics in England were persecuted for practicing their religion.
The men were identified as The Rev. Robert Hunt, the first Anglican minister of Jamestown; Capt. Gabriel Archer, secretary of the colony; Sir Ferdinando Wainman, a high ranking officer who was master of the ordnance and in charge of the horse troops; and Captain William West, who was killed in a fight with Indians in 1610 and brought back to Jamestown for burial.
- Did The Clovis People Have Neighbors? (Winter Issue)
Until fairly recently, most archaeologists believed the Clovis people, who appeared in North America around 13,000 years ago, were the first inhabitants of the Americas. But the ages of the Western Stemmed points found at Cooper’s Ferry and a few other sites suggest the possibility that two different peoples with different traditions lived in North America during that time.
“There is no doubt that they are contemporaries,” says Dennis Jenkins, senior research archaeologist for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. Jenkins and his team found Western Stemmed artifacts at the Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon that also date to the Clovis period.
- When France Tried To Colonize Florida (Fall Issue)
Featured Story: Nearly every school child knows that St. Augustine, Florida, is the site of the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in mainland North America. It was founded in 1565, and this year marks its 450th anniversary. What’s not commonly known—at least outside of Florida—is how French intrigue provoked that first settlement.
By 1564, the French had established Fort Caroline, a tenuous colony with a rudimentary garrison, at the mouth of the St. Johns River near present-day Jacksonville, about 30 miles north of St. Augustine. La Trinité had just arrived at Fort Caroline on a resupply mission, thereby drawing the Spanish fleet and resulting in a showdown.
Fort Caroline was in fact France’s second attempt to establish a settlement on the North American mainland. In 1562 they built the short-lived Charlesfort on present day Parris Island in South Carolina, which they abandoned after a year. For chronological context, note that Fort Caroline preceded France’s settlement of Montreal and Quebec by nearly a half-century, and was two decades prior to the British “Lost Colony” of Roanoke.
Michael Bawaya is the editor of American Archaeology.
Online on Our Website
Our most popular blog piece for 2015: The Great Mound Builders’ Debate and Origins of Our First Field Office
Our Most Popular Field Updates for 2015 from Regional Offices:
3. Midwest: Serpent Mound Vandalism, Vandal Charged
1. Southeast: An Arkansas Site Visit Filled with New Discoveries
Wishing A Happy New Year!