DONATE NOW
Home Blog

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

Articles:

REDISCOVER ING THE ALAMO BY RICHARD A. MARINI
An archaeological project is playing an important role in an effort to make this iconic site more interesting to tourists.

A SENSE OF PLACE BY MIKE TONER
A Hohokam rock art study takes the unusual approach of examining not only the images, but also their surroundings.

A NEW VIEW OF MOUNDVILLE BY ALEXANDRA WITZE
For years this Mississippian site was thought to be a political capital, but recently some researchers have arrived at a different conclusion.

FINDING LUNA BY TAMARA J. STEWART
Archaeologists have recently discovered the first permanent European colony along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

HOW WERE THE AMERICAS COLONIZED? BY DAVID MALAKOFF
Experts are struggling to develop a plausible colonization model from the latest archaeological and genetic evidence.

New Acquisitions:

EARLY LIFE IN THE AMERICAN BOTTOM
The McCarty Mound could offer a glimpse of the American Bottom’s prehistory.

MAKING MEYER POTTERY
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.

Crowdfunding Launches to Protect Our Irreplaceable National Treasures (POINT-6)

The Archaeological Conservancy is excited to announce the launch of the crowdfunding campaign for the POINT-6 Program (Protect Our Irreplaceable National Treasures)

The Archaeological Conservancy is excited to announce the launch of our crowdfunding campaign for POINT-6 (Protect Our Irreplaceable National Treasures) on Monday April 23rd. This is an emergency acquisition project is intended to purchase and preserve significant sites in danger of destruction.

The POINT Program launched when The Archaeological Conservancy lost a significant site due to lack of immediate funds. The site was an extraordinary Hohokam village in Phoenix. The land was expensive, and we didn’t have the full amount in cash in our Preservation Fund. So we approached the landowner and explained our mission and the importance of protecting archaeological resources. Unfortunately, the landowner’s financial situation made this impossible. Although he recognized the cultural value of the property, he needed the money right away and sold to the first buyer with ready cash.

Today, a warehouse stands on the site – the ancient village is lost forever.

In response, we created an emergency fund for immediate cash purchases. This fund, the Protect Our Irreplaceable National Treasures Program, continues with POINT-6 today. The greatest obstacle to saving threatened archaeological sites is immediate funding, cash on hand to protect these sites. Driven by the need for emergency preservation funds, Leslie Masson & her husband Colin have pledged a $1 million dollar challenge grant to be matched dollar for dollar for phase 6 of the POINT program. We have raised $671,000 so far in gifts from foundations, corporations, and donors. In this new crowdfunding effort, we need to raise $29,000 to reach our next goal of $700,000 by June 2018. The funds will be used to quickly acquire highly endangered and significant archaeological sites around the nation.

Every dollar you give to POINT-6 will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your contribution to Protecting Our Irreplaceable National Treasures!

The Conservancy has protected 134 highly threatened sites throughout the nation through previous phases of the POINT Program. To date, new POINT-6 funds have been used to protect three significant archaeological sites. The 135th site to be preserved with POINT funds is the Dein Ruin. This significant early twelfth-century archaeological site sits on a rocky terrace overlooking Aztec Ruins National Monument. Experts believe that Dein was part of an important ceremonial center in the larger Chaco Canyon system.

Also included among these newly protected sites is the second parcel of Chickasawba Mounds, Arkansas, which was continuously occupied from the Late Archaic (ca. 3000 – 1500 B.C.) through the Proto-historic periods and was part of a chiefdom society.  It is believed to have originally consisted of three mounds arranged around a plaza area. The Tinaja Pueblo, another POINT-6 acquisition, is a proto-Zuni site located near the foothills of the Zuni Mountains in the El Morro Valley, New Mexico. This 13th century masonry pueblo has more than 130 rooms and a large associated stone roomblock situated on a small mesa about thirty feet above the valley floor. These sites will be preserved in perpetuity for future generations of Americans.

Today, superstores, fast food restaurants and parking lots take up an ever-increasing amount of our nation’s land and open space.  Along with the natural resources that are consumed, such rapid, unchecked development also destroys our cultural resources. Once an archaeological site is leveled for development, that part of our national heritage is erased forever. Looters sell artifacts to unscrupulous collectors; vandals damage sites; and modern agricultural and industrial practices destroy sites forever. Now, more than ever, sites are in imminent danger of being destroyed or sold.

This POINT-6 crowdfunding campaign makes cash immediately available to rescue sites that are in eminent danger from all of these pressures. Mark Michel, the Conservancy’s President, stated, “Having the ability to move quickly and to pay cash for a site greatly increases our chances of preventing its destruction.” Using crowdfunding allows us to reach outside of our regular contributors and involve more people in this great preservation project.

All donations can be made at www.give.archaeologicalconservancy.org and will support protecting extraordinary sites across the country. With these funds, the Conservancy will ensure that endangered sites are preserved for posterity, saving phenomenal pieces of America’s history and prehistory.

DONATE TODAY!

About The Archaeological Conservancy: The Archaeological Conservancy, established in 1980, is the only national non-profit organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving the best of our nation’s remaining archaeological sites. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Conservancy also operates regional offices in Mississippi, Maryland, Ohio, and California. The Conservancy continues to be rated a 4 star charity by Charity Navigator. The Conservancy has preserved over 515 sites across the nation. Learn More: What The Archaeological Conservancy Does

Press Contact: Mark Michel, 505.266-1540, mark.archcons@gmail.com

For Images Contact: Sarah saraht.tac@gmail.com

Preserving History of and for the Chickasaw

The archaeological preserve of Chisha’talla’ Today. Once the Chickasaw Nation leased the property TAC, the began bringing visitors from the Nation to their homeland on a regular basis. The Nation established walking trails and erected interpretive signage.
The archaeological preserve of Chisha’talla’ Today. Once the Chickasaw Nation leased the property TAC, the began bringing visitors from the Nation to their homeland on a regular basis. The Nation established walking trails and erected interpretive signage.

Guest Blog By Richard Green, Retired Chickasaw Tribal Historian, Writer

As tribal historian of the Chickasaw Nation, I produced 19 quarterly issues of The Journal of Chickasaw History, from 1994-1999. Then, for a complete change of pace I decided to write a book-length manuscript on the ethnohistory of the Chickasaw. I got approval from my supervisor, Gov. Bill Anoatubby, and headed out for field research to the tribe’s ancestral homeland, centered in Tupelo, Mississippi.

I had been there before but was disappointed to see so few signs of the tribe’s former existence there. And evidently, there were no Chickasaws, whose ancestors had been forcibly removed from their Homeland, via a treaty, to Indian Territory starting in 1837.

However, I had met some knowledgeable archaeologists, Jay Johnson, John O’Hear and Brad Lieb, who provided information based on 20th century excavations, and their own examination of Chickasaw-related source material. And by just hanging around Tupelo and asking questions, I met some artifact collectors who back in 1980 had written a scholarly well-documented paper about the locations of Chickasaw villages in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Map of Historic Chickasaw Villages
Map of Historic Chickasaw Villages

Our relationship went from adversarial to collegial. This set the stage for quite an irony: the same collectors who had dug up graves in the sixties and seventies to amass huge artifact collections, would come to play key roles in preserving the dozen or so sites that had not been destroyed by them or commercial development.

By 2002, I was trying to build a coalition of interested parties to save these sites in the Tupelo area–a daunting task, to be sure. A meeting was convened at the Tupelo City Hall with attendees included Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis and two city councilmen, a small delegation of tribal leaders, archaeologists, area land owners and two collectors and Jessica Crawford, who at that time worked part time for The Archaeological Conservancy (TAC). Though she hadn’t been with TAC very long, she was about to go full time as the Delta Field Representative.

A site visit with local community leaders of Tupelo
A site visit with local community leaders of Tupelo

In a room of aging men, Jessica stood out, being young and winsome. As the meeting proceeded, her contributions, mainly explaining TAC’s mission and methods and asking pertinent questions, showed she was also an extremely good communicator and ready to collaborate with all parties. It was obvious that this articulate young woman could make a valuable ally for the Chickasaw Nation.

After the meeting I sought her out to discuss the Conservancy’s interest in one at-risk site in particular, and others in general. Eventually, most of that village site was saved through private action. Although, I understood that the Conservancy was not minting money, Jessica said without equivocation that TAC was actively interested in helping find ways to accomplish our mutual goals. Jessica emphasized that TAC wanted to be a partner with the Chickasaw Nation.

We kept in touch. And she also exchanged notes occasionally with Kirk Perry, the tribe’s director of heritage preservation, an apt title for the goals we were pursuing, prioritizing these sites sacred to Chickasaws and preserving as many as possible.

***

With Gov. Anoatubby’s permission, I contacted Julian Riley, a major collector in April 2001, mainly to gather information for the Chickasaw ethnohistory I was developing. These interviews with Riley, a retired CPA, led me to other collectors, civil engineer Steve Cook, and businessman Buddy Palmer. Within a year, they offered to donate their collections to the Nation and as paid consultants tell the Nation everything they knew about the artifacts in the context of Chickasaw history. In March 2004, a memorandum of agreement was signed for the eventual transfer of the tens of thousands of artifacts from Tupelo to a new state-of-the-art Chickasaw Cultural Center, then in a formative stage of development in Sulphur, OK.

Chickasaw Culture in the signage of Chisha’talla’
Chickasaw Culture symbols and artifacts in the signage of Chisha’talla’

Almost simultaneously, Cook, who owned ridge top land overlooking Coonewah Creek on what had been a Chickasaw village, told me he wanted to sell the land to the Nation. Then he found he couldn’t get the co-owners (his sisters) to go along, so talks ceased. But he told both me and Jessica that his adjacent neighbors, John Ray and Lottye Betts Beasley lived on a site that, according to his research and theory, had been the Chickasaw village of Chisha’ talla’. According to Cook and Riley, it had been an important barrier village against Choctaw attack in the early 1720s. Circumstantial evidence indicated that it had been overrun by Choctaws and abandoned until the latter part of the 18th century, when it was again resettled to some extent. So, Chisha’ talla’ had two distinct occupations.

Historic French map of the region dating to 1733.
Historic French map of the region dating to 1733, identifying the village of Chisha’talla’ .

The Beasleys were looking to sell their nearby 34 acres, but not to developers. Jessica wasted no time meeting them. She told me that the Beasleys had known that they were living on a former Chickasaw settlement.  They wanted the new owner to preserve the land, they called Cedarscape, the way they had. The Conservancy would do that, Jessica said, as would the Chickasaw Nation. She told them that she already had been working to that end with me and Kirk Perry. Maybe we could all work together on Cedarscape, she said.

At this point, she introduced me to the Beasleys who I soon assigned to the high echelon of “salt of the earth.” Apart from their intelligence, affability and hospitality, I greatly admired and respected their effort to preserve the land they had purchased in 1963. Pot hunters knew they were not welcome, but sometimes they trespassed anyway, and John Ray would find them and order them out. It was apparent from that first meeting that Jessica and the Beasleys had bonded. They beamed when she talked, whether it was about Cedarscape, or her family and growing up in the Delta.

John Ray and Lottye Betts Beasley
John Ray and Lottye Betts Beasley

In December 2004, Jessica asked if I could arrange a meeting with the Governor to see if he and the Chickasaw Nation would be willing to help TAC acquire certain properties, including Cedarscape. Earlier that month, the Beasleys had set an asking price. The Governor agreed to the meeting later that December.

Site Visit to Chisha’talla’ to John Ray Beasley, Governor Bill Anoatubby and Richard Green
Site Visit to Chisha’talla’ with John Ray Beasley, Governor Bill Anoatubby and Richard Green (Author of this piece)

We had hardly started when Governor shocked everyone by announcing that he felt that he “had a strong obligation” to protect and preserve sites with the historical importance of Chisha’ talla’. And he also felt that the highly credible Archaeological Conservancy should be intimately involved. Therefore, he said, the Nation would donate the money to the Conservancy, which would purchase Cedarscape/Chisha’talla’. In return, TAC would lease the property to the Nation in perpetuity for $10 a year. The sale closed on May 6, 2005. The tribe and Conservancy jointly produced a management plan, including a retreat, an interpretive center and the use of approved research protocols including archaeological surveys with technology like ground penetrating radar.

Welcome Signage at Site Visit to Chisha’talla’
Welcome Signage at Site Visit to Chisha’talla’

All of us who played a significant role in the acquisition and preservation of Chisha’ talla’ feel proud to have had a part. But it is my opinion that the two people who were most essential to the success were Gov. Anoatubby and Jessica Crawford. Later, the Beasleys both told me they had rather quickly begun to think of and treat her as family. There is probably no higher compliment in Southern society. With that bond in place, the couple knew they were doing the right thing saving this sacred piece of Chickasaw history.

Jessica Crawford, TAC Southeastern Regional Director, and Chickasaw Nation Governor  Bill
Jessica Crawford, TAC Southeastern Regional Director, and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby

Postscript: Some of these events covered here were also featured in an excellent article, “An Unlikely Alliance,” in the fall 2006 American Archaeology.

a member of the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe taking a break when they visited the site in 2009
A member of the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe taking a break when they visited the site in 2009

Explore a photo gallery of visiting the Chisha’talla’ site Preserve

 

Back On The Road: Visiting 2 Virginia Preserves of Prehistory

Not a sign of Spring at the Belmont Preserve
Not a sign of Spring at the Belmont Preserve

Spring has arrived in the East, and with it comes increased travel to check on current preserves and potential new acquisitions. I headed to Central Virginia hoping that the weather would cooperate; it did not! While much of the trip was spent dealing with late spring snow, it did not prevent me from trekking out to some of our preserves.

The first stop was the Belmont Preserve. This preserve contains the remains of a Late Woodland Village dating from AD 1200-1450 that is identified as being part of the Dan River Phase. Villages from this period are marked by an increase in size with houses surrounding a central plaza, and are often surrounded by a stockade. At Belmont the village was surrounded by a double palisade that was 300 feet in diameter, and contained houses that were 20 feet in diameter. Numerous pit features and dog burials have been found at the site.

Belmont Preserve under an early spring blanket of Snow.
Belmont Preserve under an early spring blanket of snow.

The Belmont site was acquired in 2010. It is located in a quiet residential area and everything was as it should be when I visited. Conservancy staff conducts these periodic visits to preserves to make sure the sites are not being disturbed or treated improperly. This is done in addition to relying on our nationwide site steward program. Site stewards are often former property owners, neighbors, or archaeologists who help keep an eye on Conservancy preserves and contact regional staff if they note any questionable activity. With a small nonprofit staff the Conservancy relies heavily on our stewards to be our eyes and ears on the ground!

 

Ceramics recovered from the Bryant site during previous excavations.
Ceramics recovered from the Bryant site during previous excavations.

 

After finishing at Belmont I headed to the Bryant Preserve, another Dan River Village the Conservancy has protected. It spans the Middle and Late Woodland Periods, dating from AD 600-1450. Based on excavations at the site it is thought that the Late Woodland population at Bryant was approximately 200 people.

 

The Bryant Preserve, a Dan River Village , dating to the woodland period.
The Bryant Preserve, a Dan River Village , dating to the woodland period.

The Bryant Preserve

The Belmont and Bryant Preserves are in similar geographic settings, and with a fresh coat of snow they are hard to differentiate from one another in photographs.

The Bryant Preserve waits for spring under a new snow.
The Bryant Preserve waits for spring under a new snow.

After checking on our Central Virginia preserves I stopped in at Longwood University to meet with Dr. Brian Bates, a professor and Director of the Dr. James W. Jordan Archaeology Field School. We had a chance to discuss some of his current research and the curriculum they have in place to train students using the archaeological equipment they will encounter in the field. The program exposes undergraduates to the techniques of field work and many more advanced imaging and mapping technologies.

I finished the trip with visits to site owners who may be interested in working with the Conservancy to permanently protect archaeological sites located on their properties. By the end of these visits I had made it all the way out to Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore—as you can tell from the below image the weather had changed quite a bit!

Cape Charles and the first signs of Spring.
Cape Charles and the first signs of Spring.

Cape Charles

These types of trips are a large part of what we do at the Conservancy. They are the best means for checking on Preserves, finding new sites, and meeting with other archaeologists in the region. Now that the weather is starting to improve in the East we will find ourselves out on the road much more often.

~Kelley Berliner, Eastern Regional Field Representative

Read more about our preserve road trips in  4 Intriguing Archaeological Preserves of North Carolina and Searching for Endangered Sites of North Carolina

A Promise 30 Years in the Keeping

Aerial photo of the Samels farmstead. The parcel around the buildings and the cleared land across the road in the background have been donated to SFHS. Credit SFHS
Aerial photo of the Samels farmstead. The parcel around the buildings and the cleared land across the road in the background have been donated to SFHS. Credit SFHS

In 1988 Sylvia Ball, the Conservancy’s first Midwest Regional Director, met with Ben and Bob Samels, two septuagenarian bachelor farmer brothers who owned a 86-acre farm on Skekemog Point near Traverse City, Michigan.

The Conservancy was interested in the Samels farm because it encompassed at least two highly significant archaeological sites, including one listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One one was is an Early Archaic site and the other is Late Woodland period. The brothers were interested because, having no heirs, they were looking for a way to ensure that after their deaths that their property would contribute to the general public good rather than being parceled into lake-shore condominium lots.

View of the Samels Farm Archaeological Preserve. The Early Archaic period Samels Field site is in the plowed field directly behind the end of the fence. The Late Woodland period Skekemog Point site is in the forest to the right in the background.Credit: The Archaeological Conservancy
View of the Samels Farm Archaeological Preserve. The Early Archaic period Samels Field site is in the field behind the fence. The Late Woodland period Skekemog Point site is in the forest in the background. Credit: The Archaeological Conservancy.

The Samels family were among the earliest white settlers in the Skekemong Point area. Frank Samels, the father of Ben and Bob, purchased the land in 1889 when it was literally a field of stumps. Previously the land had been owned by a timber company that cut all the old-growth timber, then moved on, putting the denuded land up for sale. Frank, equipped with a horse-operated stump puller (still present on the farm) and considerable pioneer resolve, proceeded to create the farm that would support the family for the next century.

The Samels family was a bit unusual in that they were “technology-adverse”. The buildings on the farm — the house, barn, and other principal outbuildings — were all constructed during the period 1895 to 1917. Furthermore, they continued to farm using horse- and steam-operated equipment well into the age of industrialized farming, and what equipment they didn’t continue to use, they stored in barn. As a result, in the late 1980s it was apparent that the Samels Farm had largely become a relic of a past era.

Nineteenth Century horse-powered stump-puller.
Historic Nineteenth Century horse-powered stump-puller.

Fortunately for all, a local man, Warren Studley, who knew the brothers through his work as the county soil conversation specialist, recognized the importance of both the prehistoric and historic resources on the farm and their worthiness of permanent preservation. He arranged for Sylvia Ball to meet the brothers, and he was instrumental in brokering an agreement whereby the Conservancy would become the owner of the property after the death of the brothers and would manage the open land as a permanent archaeological preserve. The Conservancy would also act as a caretaker for the farmstead building and equipment until Studley and other locals could form another nonprofit organization to take ownership of the farmstead and manage it as a “living history” farm.

Antique thresher (foreground) and hay bailer (background).
Antique thresher (foreground) and hay bailer (background).

In 1999 Ben and Bob Samels passed away within six months of each other, and the Conservancy became the sole owner of the 86-acre farm along with all the buildings and farm equipment. Meanwhile, the local supporters of the living history farm created the nonprofit Samels Family Heritage Society with the intent of taking ownership of the farmstead. To everyone’s frustration, SFHS soon encountered the “Catch 22” that faces new nonprofits: Foundations are reluctant to fund new organizations without a track record of successfully carrying out the activities that they need the money for, and of course, without funds it is difficult to build that track record.

Fortunately, what SFHS lacked in finances they made up for with dedication, passion and considerable hard work. By growing carefully with public activities and outreach to school groups and otherwise raising their profile in the community, SFHS was able to reach a point where they felt institutionally and financially secure enough to take sole ownership of the farmstead and maintain the living history farm as an ongoing concern.  Consequently this winter the Conservancy donated to SFHS 19 acres of land encompassing the farm buildings and a portion of non-archaeologically sensitive land that they can develop for parking and other needed infrastructure. In addition the Conservancy transferred one-half of the modest endowment that we received from the brothers to SFHS to help defer the costs of maintaining the farmstead.

The annual Harvest Days event is a key public outreach activity of SFHS
The annual Harvest Days event is a key public outreach activity of SFHS

Going forward, the Conservancy and SFHS will continue to cooperate with SFHS taking the lead role in public outreach allowing the Conservancy to concentrate on its core mission of managing the archaeological research preserves, both keeping our promise made to the  Samels brothers now 30 years ago.

~Paul Gardner, Midwest Regional Director

To learn more about the archaeological significance of Samels Farm, see “In the Wake of the Ice Age”, American Archaeology 3(2):34-35, Summer 1999. https://www.archaeologicalconservancy.org/?wpfb_dl=23.

To learn more about visiting the farmstead and SFHS, see http://www.samelsfarm.org/.

Fun for all ages! You'll hardly know it's educational.
Fun for all ages! You’ll hardly know it’s educational.

American Archaeology Magazine Spring 2018 is Here!

The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, SPRING 2018, is now available! COVER: Researchers carefully position a 3-D scanner on the fragile steps of Copán’s Hieroglyphic Stairway. The scans are used to reproduce the stairway. Credit: Barbara Fash
The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, SPRING 2018, is now available! COVER: Researchers carefully position a 3-D scanner on the fragile steps of Copán’s Hieroglyphic Stairway. The scans are used to reproduce the stairway. Credit: Barbara Fash

The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, SPRING 2018, is now available!

  • COVER: Researchers carefully position a 3-D scanner on the fragile steps of Copán’s Hieroglyphic Stairway. The scans are used to reproduce the stairway.
  • Credit: Barbara Fash

Articles:

THE PAST REPRODUCED BY ELIZABETH LUNDAY
Old and new technologies are being used to reproduce Copán’s fragile hieroglyphic stairway. with VIDEO

DISCOVERING THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF TATTOOING BY GAYLE KECK
After decades of ignoring tattooing, archaeologists are now studying its role in the lives of ancient Native Americans. with VIDEO

THE MYSTERY OF HOHOKAM BALLCOURTS BY ALEXANDRA WITZE
Why are there over 200 ballcour ts in Arizona and what were they used for?

THE STORY OF NUNALLEQ BY DAVID MALAKOFF
Climate change and coastal erosion are threatening a remarkable site in southwestern Alaska.

A CASE FOR COLLABORATION BY JULIAN SMITH
According to some researchers, collaborating with the residents of the communities in which archaeologists work makes for better science.

ACQUISITIONS:

POINT-6 acquisition: A CHACO OUTLIER SAVED
The Dein Ruin appears to have been part of a ceremonial center.

new acquisition: AN ANCIENT EARTHWORK IN THE BACKYARD

Get your Copy of SPRING 2018 Now! Receive a subscription to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on becoming a member.

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.

Discovering The Archaeology Of Tattooing

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.

Spring 2018: By Gayle Keck.

In old Western movies, Indians were invariably depicted galloping into the scene whooping and streaked with war paint. At least one aspect of that cliché is true. Native Americans did decorate their bodies with temporary pigments. But you might be surprised to learn that they practiced a more permanent—and deeply meaningful—way of adorning their bodies: tattooing. Equally surprising is the fact that this important aspect of Native American culture was largely neglected by archaeologists.

Why that neglect? The reasons are complex. Some are cultural. “People wearing tattoos were perceived as marginal,” said Christian Gates St-Pierre, an archaeologist at the University of Montreal. “It might have looked like a non-serious topic for academics.” Tattoos were long considered to be “primitive;” they were frowned on by religious groups, and became casualties of the larger effort to erase Native American culture. According to Aaron Deter-Wolf, of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, and Washington University anthropologist Carol Diaz-Granados, this meant that tattoo imagery wasn’t granted the same cultural value as images on pottery, shells, stone, and other media.

Even when archaeologists focus on identifying Native American tattoo tools, it’s a challenge. “There is no one single tool type,” explained Deter-Wolf. “In the ethnographic record, there’s an incredible assortment of things people say are being used to tattoo: bones, thorns, fish teeth, stone tools, bones set onto a stick, cactus spines.” Fragile botanical items would most likely have deteriorated over time, and other tools could easily be misidentified.

“Bone tattoo tools are the unwanted stepchild, the Harry Potter of the archaeological world,” added independent researcher Benoît Robitaille. “They are often just inventoried as ‘miscellaneous bone tools.'” In fact, pointed bone objects could potentially be awls, pins, pottery or weaving tools, food-processing implements, blood-letting tools—even game pieces.

Tattooing’s twenty-first century transition from tawdry to trendy has sparked interest in ancient tattoo practices; however, it turns out Native American tattoos were a far cry from an inked hula dancer who shimmies when the wearer flexes his bicep. “This is not tattooing as we know it today,” Deter-Wolf said. “It’s culturally mandated. There are rules, regulations, taboos. It’s something people aspired to. The tools themselves, the inks, and even the contexts in which these things were stored, have important cultural connotations.

Excerpt.

Below a special exclusive video of Tattooing using replicated Deer Bone tools:

  • The examination of use wear –microscopic patterns left behind when a tool is employed for a specific task– provides archaeologists with the ability to differentiate between bone tools used to tattoo and similarly-shaped implements used for other  tasks such as processing hides. Use wear studies on bone tattoo tools have used pig skin as a proxy for human flesh. However, until recently there had been no study of possible differences in microwear created by tattooing the skin of a deceased pig, as compared to tattooing the skin of a live human. In 2016 archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf and colleagues created a series of deer bone tools which they used to tattoo identical patterns on both human and pig skin. Microscopic examinations of the tools before, during, and after tattooing showed that there was no discernible difference in the resulting microwear patterns, and so reaffirms the results of use wear studies using pig skin. The results of their work were published in the new volume Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing, published January 2018. Aaron Deter-Wolf will be speaking at Northern Kentucky University on March 19: find the event at https://www.facebook.com/events/400090620440484/

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue: Spring 2018 .

Subscribe to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Click To Explore Our Online Bonus Images For The Story:

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.

The 3D Past Reproduced

COVER: Researchers carefully position a 3-D scanner on the fragile steps of Copán’s Hieroglyphic Stairway. The scans are used to reproduce the stairway. Credit: Barbara Fash
COVER: Researchers carefully position a 3-D scanner on the fragile steps of Copán’s Hieroglyphic Stairway. The scans are used to reproduce the stairway. Credit: Barbara Fash

Spring 2018: By Elizabeth Lunday.

In 1885, when British scholar Alfred Percival Maudslay and his wife Anne Cary Morris Maudslay first explored the ruins of the Maya city Copán, Morris Maudslay described the unexcavated site as filled with “imposing plazas, studded with strangely carved monuments and surrounded by lofty mounds and great stone stairways . . . very solemn and imposing in their decay.”

Morris Maudslay’s description contains one of the first mentions of one of the most important Maya monuments: the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Copán. The area was covered by trees, mud, and rubble, but Maudslay was able to reconstruct what had happened: a great stairway had once risen up a massive stepped pyramid. In the following centuries, earthquakes had rocked the site. One section of fifteen stairs had slid down the slope and was covered by debris that rained down from above.

Further excavation by archaeologists with Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology between 1891 and 1901 found more steps, each covered with carved hieroglyphics. They realized the stairway had originally formed a single, lengthy inscription. Later research would prove the Hieroglyphic Stairway is the longest known Maya inscription and among the largest single inscriptions from the ancient world. At thirty-three-feet wide and eighty-five-feet high, its sixty-four steps contain some 2,200 glyphs. UNESCO named Copán a World Heritage Site in 1980.

Scholars in the 1890s recognized the significance of the stairway even though they were unable to decipher the glyphs. But today, after more than a century of effort, epigraphers can read the majority of the Hieroglyphic Stairway. It’s a breakthrough that required the best of both old and new technology—century-old glass-plate negatives were as critical in deciphering the inscription as cutting-edge 3-D scanning and printing. “The glass-plate negatives have done as much as the 3-D scans in a different way,” said Barbara Fash, director of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Program at the Peabody Museum. “We’re using the best technologies from different eras to advance to the stage where we are now.”

Excerpt.

In the video below Barbara Fash, Director, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Program and the Gordon R. Willey Laboratory for Mesoamerican Studies, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology; speaks on the project. Learn more at https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/decoding-maya-hieroglyphs

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue: Spring 2018.

Subscribe to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Click To Explore Our Online Bonus Images For The Story:

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.

The Mystery Of Hohokam Ballcourts

An artist’s depiction of the Hohokam gathered at one of their ballcourts. Credit: Artwork by Rob Ciaccio, Courtesy Archaeology Southwest.
An artist’s depiction of the Hohokam gathered at one of their ballcourts. Credit: Artwork by Rob Ciaccio, Courtesy Archaeology Southwest.

Spring 2018: By Alexandra Witze.

From the Olmec to the Maya to the Aztec, ballgames were one of the defining activities of Mesoamerican cultures. Beginning some time before 1200 B.C., competitors kicked and whacked rubber balls up and down a playing court. These ballgames were rich in symbolism—in some cases the gods were said to have played—and a powerful force that bound communities together. But it’s possible these games weren’t limited to Mesoamerica. Archaeologists have found more than 200 oval-shaped earthen depressions with embankments in central and southern Arizona that resemble the Mesoamerican ballcourts. These features date between roughly A.D. 750 and 1200 and are associated with the Hohokam culture.

Though archaeologists continue to debate their purpose, and ethnographic accounts are silent on this matter, most researchers now surmise that the Hohokam courts were used for ballgames, much as the Mesoamerican ones were, according to Henry Wallace, a senior research archaeologist with Desert Archaeology, Inc., in Tucson, Arizona. In doing so the courts played a major role in strengthening Hohokam identity and interactions among villages. “Whenever you have games, you have people coming together,” Wallace said. “It’s a great way of linking social groups.”

New research suggests that the Hohokam ballcourts could have spread as part of a burgeoning religious revitalization movement. Villagers may have picked up on the Mesoamerican style of playing and adapted it to their own purposes. In some locations, such as Pueblo Grande in Phoenix, Hohokam ballcourts are large, intact ovals surrounded by earthen embankments.  In other places they have been eroded, buried, or otherwise destroyed. According to a database maintained by Andy Laurenzi at Archaeology Southwest in Tucson, there are at least 220 ballcourts at 181 sites across Arizona. Most sites have one ballcourt, although several have more than one, including the well-studied site of Snaketown along the Gila River, which has both a large and a small court.

Excerpt.

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue: Spring 2018.

Subscribe to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Click To Explore Our Online Bonus Images For The Story:

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.

The Story Of Nunalleq

This aerial photo of the Nunalleq site was taken by a drone in 2017. Credit: Sven Haakanson
This aerial photo of the Nunalleq site was taken by a drone in 2017. Credit: Sven Haakanson

Spring 2018: By David Malakoff.

When Russian fur traders began exploring southwestern Alaska in the early 1800s, they met native Yup’ik people who told horrific tales of violence and revenge. In one common but unverified story, two boys were playing with bone-tipped darts when one accidentally blinded the other in one eye. Enraged, the father of the blinded boy retaliated by poking out both eyes of the wrongdoer, only to have his own son murdered in return. The tit-for-tat violence soon escalated, with clans and villages taking sides in a brutal, generations-long conflict that became known as the Bow and Arrow Wars. Fear stalked the land as attackers burned homes, murdered families, and forced entire communities to flee.

For more than a century, however, many people discounted such oral histories of the Bow and Arrow Wars, considering them little more than melodramatic yarns. Instead, in scholarly studies and popular media alike, the Yup’ik and other Arctic peoples often were portrayed as “the peaceful Eskimo” with little history of waging war. But now an extraordinary dig on the shore of the Bering Sea is revealing just how ferocious the Bow and Arrow Wars were as well as providing unprecedented insight into the everyday life of a Yup’ik community in the centuries before European outsiders arrived. Since 2009, archaeologists working at the Nunalleq site near the small town of Quinhagak have unearthed human skeletons, animal and plant remains, and tens of thousands of artifacts—including remarkably preserved weapons, tools, artwork, and housewares—that are providing an unusually comprehensive look at life in prehistoric Alaska.

“What they are finding is simply breathtaking,” said archaeologist Chris Wooley of Chumis Cultural Resource Services in Anchorage, who is not directly involved in the project. “It’s really blowing the lid off our broader understanding of the late pre-contact era, and helping us better understand the cultural interactions that were shaping that world.” And although scholars are aware of many other prehistoric sites in western Alaska, “very few have been systematically excavated,” said anthropologist Kenneth Pratt, who has worked in the region for more than thirty years. In particular, he said, Nunalleq is giving scholars hard evidence of “prehistoric warfare in the Yup’ik region.” Previously, they “had to rely almost exclusively on oral history accounts, all of which were recorded generations after warfare is known to have ceased.”

Excerpt.

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue:  Spring 2018.

Subscribe to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Click To Explore Our Online Bonus Images For The Story:

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.

A Case For Collaboration

Tooru Nakahira (left) and Anna Shishido (center), two former internees at Amache, point to a diagram of the barracks where they were once confined. The barracks have been reconstructed (background) based on historical and archaeological evidence. Credit: Nancy Ukai
Tooru Nakahira (left) and Anna Shishido (center), two former internees at Amache, point to a diagram of the barracks where they were once confined. The barracks have been reconstructed (background) based on historical and archaeological evidence. Credit: Nancy Ukai

Spring 2018: By Julian Smith.

In 2016, Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver was running an archaeology field school at the Granada War Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp in southeast Colorado, when a student found a flat piece of rusty metal. It looked like it had been made from the base of a large can, and it had dozens of small holes punched in it.

Also known as Amache, the site was the smallest of ten government-run “relocation centers” in the country, housing slightly over 7,000 people at its peak in 1943. Clark did three years of community consultation before starting the field school in 2008. Since then, she and her students have been engaged in a collaboration with living survivors of the camp or their descendants to help understand daily life in Amache. It was the only ethical way to do the work, she said, and important to show Japanese Americans with a connection to the camp that she wasn’t going to “take the data and run,” as she put it. “I needed their input and blessing.”

Some people shared memories and photographs, while others volunteered on the project, worked in paid internships, or helped interpret artifacts. When one member of the community saw the rusty metal, she suggested it was a homemade grater used to shred daikon radishes to make a kind of Japanese relish. “Now her cultural expertise becomes a working hypothesis I can test through residue analysis,” Clark said.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind” that collaborative archaeology results in “better science,” said Clark, who co-organized a symposium on the topic at the 2017 Society for American Archaeology (SAA) meeting in Vancouver, B. C. with Meredith Chesson of the University of Notre Dame. Archaeologists have been partnering with groups who have personal connections to sites for decades, she noted. But it is happening more and more often, whether in the form of local communities that spearhead projects themselves, or researchers who teach residents archaeological techniques and share publication bylines.

Excerpt.

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue: Spring 2018 .

Subscribe to American Archaeology Magazine with a $30 annual donation. Visit our Membership page for details on how you can become a member.

Click To Explore Our Online Bonus Images For The Story:

Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, WINTER 2017-18

Explore Back Issues Online. Back issues, 2 years old or older, are available online to search and download. Order hard copies of Back Issues mailed to your home.