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American Archaeology Magazine Winter 2016 is Here!

AA winter 2016-17 Cover. Rediscovering the Alamo

The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, WINTER 2016, is now available!

  • COVER: A researcher operates a ground-penetrating radar machine at the Alamo in search of buried artifacts and features.
  • Credit: Reimagine The Alamo


An archaeological project is playing an important role in an effort to make this iconic site more interesting to tourists.

A Hohokam rock art study takes the unusual approach of examining not only the images, but also their surroundings.

For years this Mississippian site was thought to be a political capital, but recently some researchers have arrived at a different conclusion.

Archaeologists have recently discovered the first permanent European colony along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Experts are struggling to develop a plausible colonization model from the latest archaeological and genetic evidence.

New Acquisitions:

The McCarty Mound could offer a glimpse of the American Bottom’s prehistory.

The Meyer Pottery Kiln contains information about nineteenth- and twentieth-century ceramics production.

Get your Copy of WINTER 2016 Now! Receive a subscription to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Please visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Also available at Newsstands and Bookstores near you.

Browse Articles Summaries from our last issue, FALL 2016.  Explore Back Issues. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download.

American Archaeology Wins Its Fifth Gene S. Stuart Award

This portrait painted in 1710 shows the extensively tattooed Mohawk leader Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pleth Tow. Credit: Mezzotint by John Simon, after painting by John Verlest
This portrait painted in 1710 shows the extensively tattooed Mohawk leader Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pleth Tow. Credit: Mezzotint by John Simon, after painting by John Verlest.

The article “Discovering the Archaeology of Tattooing” by Gayle Keck has won the Gene S. Stuart Award. The award, which is bestowed by the Society For American Archaeology, is given to the author of the most interesting and responsible original story or series about any archaeological topic published in a newspaper or magazine.

The award, which includes a $1,000 prize, honors outstanding efforts to enhance public understanding of archaeology. It’s given in memory of Gene S. Stuart (1930-1993), a writer and managing editor of National Geographic Society books.

Keck’s article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue. This is the fifth time in the last ten years that an American Archaeology article has won the award. Past winners have appeared in prestigious publications such as the New York Times and Science.

SPRING 2019 PREVIEW | Harvard’s History Lesson

The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By Elaine K. Howley

COVER IMAGE: The excavators have recovered numerous pipes. This white clay pipe with a partially broken stem dates to the eighteenth century.  | Credit:  President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM# 992-9-10/100212

On a crisp, sun-streaked November day last year, hundreds of people were coming and going across Harvard Yard—the grassy, quadrangle of America’s first institution of higher learning. Harvard College, which was named for its first benefactor, minister John Harvard, was established in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the center of the Old Yard, which was the original campusbut now forms the western section of Harvard Yard, a group of about twenty students armed with trowels, brushes, and sifting screens were participating in the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project (HYAP), a long-term effort to uncover remnants of the earliest days of Harvard College.

Jamie Ostmann  watches as Laura Lu  places a board across a trench at the end of a day of excavating. The board is used to support a tarp that will cover the trench. | Credit: Bruce T. Martin
Kyle Sanok (left) and Rachel Freed (right) examine the tin-glazed earthenware sherds that they excavated. | Credit: Bruce T. Martin
This fragment of a bone comb dates to the seventeenth century. It’s one of roughly 14,000 artifacts recovered during the project. | Credit:  President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM# 987-22-10/100151

“In the seventeenth century, Harvard had four initial buildings,” said Diana D. Loren,  a curator at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, who directs the HYAP along with fellow Peabody Museum curator Patricia Capone. Two buildings were purchased from local landowners: Peyntree House, which was built in 1633 by William Peyntree, was Harvard’s first building. Goffe College (the term “college” was then used to name buildings) was purchased in 1651 from Edward Goffe. Both buildings provided living quarters, classroom space, dining halls, and most everything else the college’s students and staff needed. The other two, the Old College and the Indian College, were built in 1639 and 1655, respectively.

Harvard College struggled financially during its first years. To continue its educational mission in the American colonies, Harvard requested funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England (SPGNE), which was located in England. The society granted the funds with the stipulation that Harvard offer a program for Native American students. This was written into Harvard’s 1650 charter, which dedicated the institution to “the education of the English and Indian youth of this country, in knowledge and godliness.” In furtherance of this goal, Harvard welcomed promising young leaders from nearby Native American tribes who resided in the Indian College. Harvard employed religious education—it converted Native Americans to Puritanism—in an attempt to colonize them. The English believed that converting the Natives to Christianity was for the benefit of all.

SPRING 2019 PREVIEW | Righting Wrongs At Effigy Mounds

The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By Julian Smith

COVER IMAGE: Effigy Mounds’ officials bought so many new pieces of construction equipment that a shed was built to hold them. The shed was built upon the remnants of a conical mound.  |  Credit: NPS

During the Late Woodland Period (A.D. 600-1250), the residents of what would become northeast Iowa built numerous earthen mounds on bluffs along the Mississippi River. They fashioned low hills in the shapes of panthers, bears, deer, birds, and other creatures, as well as conical mounds used to house burials, and long rectangular mounds for unknown purposes. In 1949, Effigy Mounds National Monument was established to protect these constructions from farmers’ plows and looters’ shovels. For two decades, archaeologists with the National Park Service (NPS) excavated within the park, uncovering human remains, ceramic sherds, and other artifacts. Some of the funerary items ended up on display in the visitors center. Today, twenty Native American tribes are affiliated with the 2,526-acre site, which contains the largest concentration of effigy mounds in the world.

Effigy Mound’s scandals occurred during the tenures of superintendents Tom Munson (L) and Phyllis Ewing (R). | Credit: NPS
Human remains were found in former superintendent Tom Munson’s garage. The box in front of the minivan contains the remains. | Credit: NPS
A portion of the Nazekaw Terrace Boardwalk which was stopped by NPS officials mid-construction and subsequently removed.  It was built upon an archaeological site. | Credit: NPS

It might seem obvious that the leadership of a park created to protect prehistoric mounds would make it a priority to preserve them and anything found inside them. But scandals involving two of the monument’s former superintendents have rocked the NPS. “This is the first time I have witnessed the NPS take a good hard look in the proverbial mirror,” said David Barland-Liles, the lead ranger at Effigy Mounds. “It isn’t pretty.”

PHOTO TOUR | 2019 Hidden World of the Ancient Maya of Chiapas and Tabasco

Travel along with our recent tour group as they journey into the heart of Maya country to experience local culture and explore rain forests and ancient ruins on the 2019 Hidden World of the Ancient Maya of Chiapas and Tabasco Tour.

Scroll through the slider below for a virtual tour, and check out our latest tour schedule to find out how you can join the next adventure! 

We begin our adventure in Tabasco and Chiapas at the great Olmec center of La Venta (ca. 600-400 B.C.) The replica Olmec heads are on a platform where they were found in the 1950s.

Our trip archaeologist, Dr. Jeffrey Blomster, explains the Olmec culture at La Venta. We climb the largest Olmec pyramid. It is made of earth and unexplored.

The stone monuments from the site of La Venta have been moved to Villahermosa where we study them. This throne/alter displays exquisite Olmec art.

Dr. Blomster discusses this Olmec head, probably a portrait of a ruler of La Venta.

We visit the Maya center of Comalcalco. All of the buildings are built of fired bricks, unique in the Maya world.

We travel to the Maya center of Palenque and visit the royal palace, mainly built by Pacal the Great in the 7th century.

Pacal build this impressive Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque. It contains his elaborate tomb.

At Bonampak, deep in the rain forest, the Maya king Chaan Muan II is featured on a huge stelae in the central plaza.

Bonampak hosts the spectacular well-preserved murals that cover three rooms. This scene is of the royal court at Bonampak.

We next travel to the Guatemalan border and take boats to the great Maya center of Yaxchilán located on an oxbow of the Usumacinta River.

In the main plaza of Yaxchilán, there is a small Maya ballcourt.

In the main plaza of Yaxchilán, there is a small Maya ballcourt.

Temple 33 at Yaxchilán is located high above the river and the main plaza. It is one of the most important buildings in the Maya world and tells of the great ruler Bird Jaguar IV (A.D. 752-772).

On our way to the Maya highlands we make a refreshing stop at the waterfalls of Agua Azul.

Toniná was a major Maya center that rivaled Palenque. Its impressive acropolis rises high above the forest.

Toniná’s acropolis has many levels. Some impressive stucco decorations are well preserved.

A portrait of a Maya king presides over Toniná.

In the beautiful highland city of San Cristobal de las Casas we visit an exhibit about the discovery of the tomb of wife of Pacal the Great of Palenque. These rich funerary offerings attest to her high status.

The old church and cemetery at the modern highland Maya town of San Juan Chamula. Ancient Maya religion is covered with a façade of Catholicism.

The new church at San Juan Chamula is covered with Maya symbols. Healing ceremonies take place inside.

At the Maya town of Zinacantán, skilled workers use hand tools to repair the church that was badly damaged in an earthquake.

At the Maya town of Zinacantán, skilled workers use hand tools to repair the church that was badly damaged in an earthquake.

Weavers of Zinacantán use a backstrap loom to fashion their beautiful textiles.

Our group enjoyed wonderful food and good company in Chiapas.

SPRING 2019 PREVIEW | Disappearing Digital Data

The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By Alexandra Witze

COVER IMAGE: Archaeologists with Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc. collect data from a Paleo-Indian site in Cave Valley, Nevada  |  Credit: Daron Duke

Michael “Sonny” Trimble has seen many things in his nearly thirty-two-year career as an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including leading the forensic investigation of several mass graves in Iraq. He faced Saddam Hussein in court and detailed the scientific findings that helped convict Hussein of crimes against humanity.

When Trimble worked in Iraq he was protected by American soldiers. When some of those soldiers’ returned home, their tours of duty over, they contacted Trimble in hopes that he would return the favor by helping them find employment. Though Trimble wanted to help, there wasn’t much that he could do.

A researcher observes a burial in a rock shelter in Montana. The researcher was involved in an archaeological project associated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and this picture, which was taken years ago, was digitally preserved as part of the Veterans Curation Program.  |  Credit: National Anthropology Archives, NMNH
Members of a research team enter information from their excavation into a project database. The data are published with Open Context, where they are associated with data from previous years and linked to related content on the Web. |  Credit: Open Context/Sarah Kansa

But then a thought occurred to him. The Army Corps of Engineers’ is the custodian of vast archaeological collections that, according to him, are second only to the Smithsonian’s. The collections represent the tremendous amount of archaeological work that was conducted as the Corps built dams and developed other major projects. So Trimble initiated the Veterans Curation Program to train veterans to help catalogue the Corps’ collections. In laboratories around the country, veterans now photograph, scan, and publicly archive information about everything from a prehistoric quartz quarry in Georgia to a rockshelter in Indiana. The data ends up in a digital repository hosted at Arizona State University in Tempe, known as the Digital Archaeological Record, or tDAR. Sensitive information, such as the specific location of certain sites, is withheld—but the veterans upload everything else to the public site. “That’s the platform where everybody can get to this stuff no matter what their interest is,” said Trimble, who retired in December. “It democratizes it.”

Nonetheless, most archaeologists aren’t curating their digital data at public repositories like tDAR. Keith Kintigh, an archaeologist at Arizona State University and a founder of tDAR, stressed that proper curation is more important than ever because now much of this information is, so to speak, “born digital” and exists in no other form. Without it, future generations of scientists won’t be able to reanalyze and synthesize the information and make fresh discoveries of their own. “It’s a tragedy

SPRING 2019 PREVIEW | A Glimpse Of The First Americans

The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By David Malakoff

COVER IMAGE:  A researcher works at Trail Creek Cave 2 in Alaska, where DNA was extracted from the tooth of a 9,000-year-old skeleton.  |  Credit: Paul Burger/NPS

“Your chance of success is less than one percent.” That was the discouraging prediction that geneticist Eske Willerslev heard five years ago when he arrived in Reno, Nevada, to ask the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe for permission to attempt to extract DNA from the mummified remains of a man who had been buried in Nevada’s remote Spirit Cave about 10,700 years ago.

“On the drive to the meeting, a lawyer for the tribe warned me that I probably wouldn’t get permission,” recalled Willerslev, a pioneer in ancient DNA analysis who works at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The warning didn’t come as a surprise. Willerslev knew many U.S. tribes were skeptical of having researchers experiment on the remains of people they consider sacrosanct ancestors. And for a decade, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone had been locked in a legal battle with the federal government to reclaim and rebury the mummy known as Spirit Cave Man, which archaeologists had discovered in 1940 near tribal lands. Although that battle wasn’t resolved, Willerslev believed it would be unethical to move ahead with any testing without the tribe’s approval.

The exterior of the rock shelter site of Lapa do Santo in Brazil where the remains of a number of ancient individuals analyzed in the Cell study were discovered.  |  Credit: André Strauss
Archaeologists work at Saki Tzul in Belize, where two approximately 7,400-years-old individuals were found. Researchers analyzed DNA that was extracted from their remains.  |  Credit: Keith Prufer

So Willerslev made his case. He told tribal leaders that he needed just a small bone sample to extract the DNA, which could reveal how Spirit Cave Man was related to other ancient Americans. The genetic material might also help the tribe in its legal battle, he suggested, if it showed that the mummy was related to modern Native Americans. “It was a very good discussion, I learned a lot about their concerns,” Willerslev recalled. When the discussion ended, the lawyer said, “I think your chances just increased to fifty percent.” But after that, Willerslev heard nothing for months. “I had kind of given up when I get a call: ‘We want you to do it.’” In 2015, Willerslev’s team successfully completed the painstaking task of extracting DNA from the brittle bones and sequencing it.

Now, the Spirit Cave genome has emerged as a crucial component of recent DNA studies that reveal, in unprecedented detail, how people spread across North and South America thousands of years ago.

SPRING 2019 PREVIEW | His Life As A Field Archaeologist

Denver “Fred” Wendorf
The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine.

By Tamara Jager Stewart

COVER IMAGE: Wendorf poses in front of an excavation trench at a salvage project in New Mexico in the early 1950s.  |  Credit: Gail Wendorf

Since he was eight years old, Denver “Fred” Wendorf had a keen interest in archaeology, sparked by finding arrowheads and flint chips while roaming the cotton fields near his home in Terrell, Texas. In 1942, he began his studies in anthropology at the University of Arizona, and he went on to earn a Ph.D from Harvard eleven years later. But his studies were interrupted in 1943 when he was called up for active duty in World War II. He was severely wounded while leading his platoon on an assault in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Fred Wendorf spent a significant part of his career working in Africa. Here he’s seen working at a site in Nubia in 1963.  |  Credit: Gail Wendorf
The Fred Wendorf Information Commons was dedicated in 2004 at the SMU-in-Taos campus. According to his wife Christy Bednar, Wendorf was so surprised by this event he was, for once in his life, rendered “speechless.”  |  Credit: Christy Bednar


Wendorf visited London to give a speech in conjunction with his donation of a pottery collection to the British Museum. This picture was taken while Wendorf was given a behind the scenes tour of part of the museum.  |  Credit: Christy Bednar

He spent the next two years recovering in Army hospitals. His wound rendered his right arm unusable, but he was determined to overcome this limitation. “People who knew him realized that his experience fighting and being wounded in WWII really shaped his character,” said his wife Christy Bednar. “I saw this firsthand when Fred and I traveled to Tuscany to visit Riva Ridge, Iola (near the site where he was wounded,) and Cutigliano, where he worked with partisans.”

The war over, Wendorf returned to Arizona in 1948 to complete his bachelor’s degree in anthropology. While there, he helped excavate a large prehistoric pueblo during a field school directed by the renowned archaeologist Emil Haury. He considered this project to be an incredible opportunity, as he also worked alongside Alfred Vincent Kidder, another prominent archaeologist.

WATCH: Jim Walker Appears on the KRQE Morning Show

Jim Walker, the The Archaeological Conservancy‘s Southwest Regional Director and Senior Vice President, appeared on FOX New Mexico‘s morning show Monday.

See the interview here, or visit KRQE’s website for the full story:

Rancho along the Rio: preserving Spanish Colonial culture in northern New Mexico

Southwest Region  | Santa Fe, New Mexico |

Camino Real Site is located in a remote region south of Santa Fe near the Santa Fe River.  The site contains the ruins of a Spanish Colonial Rancho, or farm, that was occupied sometime between AD 1610 and 1680, the time of the Pueblo Revolt.

When Santa Fe was founded in 1610, ranchos were established along water ways near the city for easy access to markets and trade. This was also an era of uncertainty and turmoil, as the Spanish settlers were under constant threat of attacks from nomadic native tribes.  This is demonstrated at Camino Real Site by the remains of a defensive structure that is believed to be a torreon or tower. The site consists of several additional structural features including the remains of a a four-room home and a corral.

Camino Real Site is a rare gem, as many Spanish Colonial sites in the southwest have been destroyed by urban sprawl and persistent looting.  The site was was discovered during utility work and acquired through a private donation.  For over 20 years, The Conservancy has worked hard to preserve this important cultural site and protect it from vandalism and looting.


The Archaeological Conservancy Board of Directors recently paid a visit to the site as part of their annual meeting.  Colorfully painted sherds still decorate the desolate landscape, reminding visitors of a time when Santa Fe was only in its infancy.  At first glance, the pieces might lead one to believe that this area was a Pueblo site.  The early Spanish settlers commissioned and purchased pottery from local Pueblos for use as storage and cooking vessels.  This style of pottery is found at various Spanish Colonial settlements throughout New Mexico.

Since land documents were destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt, it is difficult to attach an actual name to the property, but it’s clear that the owner played a role in the early colonization of Santa Fe. As one of the last of it’s kind, the site offers insight into how early settlers lived and survived on the harsh and, often violent, New Mexico landscapes.

April M. Brown – © Copyright Archaeological Conservancy – 2019

Ja Mar Site

Archaeologists with the cultural resource management firm Public Archaeology Laboratory identify and measure prehistoric features.

Ja Mar (Massachusetts)

The Ja Mar site is located along the Nemasket River in historic Middleborough, Massachusetts. It was occupied from the Middle Archaic to the Late Woodland period, and around A.D. 1400 it served as a Wampanoag village. The Nemasket River was a vital resource and the reason the village was located here. To this day, the river has one of the largest herring runs on the Eastern Seaboard. The river may also be why this area around Middleborough has one of the highest densities of Native American sites in the state of Massachusetts.

The site had been periodically subjected to surface collecting and amateur digging during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first documented excavations occurred in the 1930s by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS), during which little was found. Excavations by the MAS in the 1950s and ‘60s uncovered a large number of artifacts, including grit-tempered pottery with incised or stamped surface treatments, and several unfired clay balls that may have been evidence of pottery making. Stone tools such as atlatl weights, drills, knives, scrapers, pestles, an adze, grooved axes, hammerstones, pendants, and projectile points were also found, as well as debitage from tool manufacturing. A carved bear head effigy pestle was also recovered from the site.


This excerpt was published in our WINTER 2018 Issue of American Archaeology.

Browse the article excerpts in our last issue: FALL 2018 .

American Archaeology Magazine is available on newsstands and at bookstores. Subscriptions are available by becoming a Member of the Archaeological Conservancy for an annual Donation of $30 dollars.