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


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.

WINTER 2019 | The Threat Of Climate Change

The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Tamara Jager Stewart

With sea levels and temperatures rising, permafrost thawing, hurricanes and wildfires raging, archaeological resources are facing grave threats. “There is global scientific agreement that this is a real crisis,” emphasized David Anderson, an archaeologist with the University of Tennessee. “And cultural heritage needs to be part of the climate change discussion. Do we abandon these structures and sites, move them, build sea walls? What gets protected? When tens of millions of people have to move off coast, what happens with their past places?”

In 2018, the Moccasin Mesa Fire burned 185 acres in Mesa Verde National Park, including a number of archaeological sites. The park’s archaeologists spent last summer assessing and recording sites in the burned area. They also looked for trees that could fall and damage the sites, as well as areas that could be affected by erosion. | Photo: NPS/ Cristy Brown
Rachel Reckin examines a length of what was later determined to be horsehair cordage that had been exposed by the retreating Greater Yellowstone area ice patch visible in the background of the photo. The cordage was subsequently radiocarbon dated to the 1700s. | Photo: Craig Lee, Univ. of Colorado – INSTAAR
A crew wraps fire-resistant material around the wooden portion of an ancient cliff dwelling at the Tonto National Monument in central Arizona. The monument was threatened by a wildfire last June. | Photo: NPS/M. Monahan
In 2002, the Long Mesa Fire came very close to burning offices at Mesa Verde National Park. Firefighters managed to save all of the buildings. | Photo: NPS


A paper that was published in American Antiquity in 2019 titled “Preparing for the Future Impacts of Megastorms on Archaeological Sites: An Evaluation of Flooding from Hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas” warned that “Powerful hurricanes in 2017—Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria—were stark examples of how these previously rare catastrophes are becoming increasingly normal due to climate change, with dire consequences for cultural resources.” According to the paper, 920 archaeological sites in southeast Texas were flooded by Harvey’s storm surge and rainfall.

In 2017 environmental archaeologist Isabel Rivera-Collazo of the University of California, San Diego, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography led a cultural heritage assessment for the Climate Change Council, a panel that advises the Puerto Rican government. That assessment concluded that many sites face inundation by rising sea levels and violent tropical storms. That year Hurricane Maria hit the region with a thirty-foot storm surge, causing flooding, massive erosion, and mudslides. It’s estimated that thousands of historic buildings were destroyed or damaged. The impacts to archaeological resources have yet to be assessed, but reports indicate countless eroded sites and looting of exposed sites. “There is an urgent need to identify innovative ways to mitigate loss,” said Rivera-Collazo.

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

WINTER 2019 | The Paquimé Enigma

The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Elizabeth Lunday

Paquimé has been a mystery since Spanish explorers first saw the abandoned city. In an account of a 1565 expedition, chronicler Baltasar Obregón described the site as encompassing “many houses of great size, strength, and height . . . with towers and walls like fortresses. . . . The houses contain large and magnificent patios paved with enormous and beautiful stones resembling jasper. There are knife-shaped stones which support the wonderful and big pillars of heavy timbers brought from far away. The walls of the houses were whitewashed and painted in many colors and shades.”

And yet this city was empty of inhabitants. The Spanish asked indigenous people living in the surrounding area about the community, and they said that the city had been defeated in battle a few generations before and its residents had fled.

These Paquimé macaw pens were excavated from December 1960 to January 1961 during the
Joint Casas Grandes Project headed by Charles Di Peso. Eleven nesting boxes and twenty-four macaw burials were found. | Photo: Russell Rosene, courtesy of the Amerind Foundation, Dragoon, Ariz.
This photograph taken in September 1960 shows Room 36 of the House of Pillars at Paquimé. Room 36 was a two-story structure that was part of a cluster of rooms. Di Peso called rooms like 36 “butterfly rooms” because of their shapes. | Photo: Russell Rosene, courtesy of the Amerind Foundation, Dragoon, Ariz.
This altar stone and plinth were found in Altar Room 1 in the Mound of the Offerings at Paquimé. The Mound of the Offerings contained the burials of people presumed to be among the highest status individuals in the community. | Photo: Margaret Cohn, courtesy of the Amerind Foundation, Dragoon, Ariz.
Michael Searcy (center) wraps a wooden post with cotton batting and gauze after it was removed to prepare it for transport and analysis. Searcy and his colleagues found the post while excavating the floor of a communal structure at the San Diego site, a Viejo period settlement (A.D. 700-1200)  located south of Paquimé. | Credit: Scott Ure


Today, archaeologists know much more about Paquimé, which is located in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua in a wide, fertile river valley in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. The surrounding region, and the culture that thrived there, is known as Casas Grandes. Paquimé was a wealthy city whose residents imported rare and valuable objects from hundreds of miles away—from the western coast of Mexico, from Mesoamerica to the south, and from Ancestral Pueblo region to the north. The city’s architecture also incorporates elements from distant cultures.

The Casas Grandes region received little attention from archaeologists until 1958, when Charles Di Peso of the Amerind Foundation began a three-year excavation of the city. Di Peso developed a basic chronology for the site; although it was revised by later archaeologists, researchers continue to divide the timeline of the Casas Grandes culture into two periods, the Viejo (Old) period between A.D. 700 and 1200, and the Medio (Middle) period between 1200 and 1450.

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

WINTER 2019 | Investigating The Vacant Quarter

The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By David Malakoff

In 1978, archaeologist Stephen Williams was touring ancient settlement sites around the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers when an intriguing “notion came to me,” he later recalled. Williams, a Harvard University professor who had worked in the Central and Southeastern United States for decades, knew that the archaeological evidence showed that many of the sites had hosted thriving communities, some with thousands of people, during the Mississippian Period, which lasted from roughly A. D. 800 to 1550. Some featured the huge earthen ceremonial mounds that were a hallmark of Mississippian peoples. But Williams was also aware of a growing number of studies suggesting that people had abandoned many of the sites at roughly the same time, beginning in the mid-1400s. And when he sketched a map of the abandoned settlements, he realized they formed a vast area that he called the “Vacant Quarter,” which covered some 50,000 square miles across eight states. It included some of the region’s largest and most studied Mississippian sites, including Cahokia in western Illinois and the Angel Mounds in Indiana, and also lesser-known sites far to the south in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Chickasaw Explorer Alyson Chapman and University of Florida graduate student Catrina Cuadra take depth measurements in an excavation unit at the Butler Mound site. | Credit: Patrick Cravatt
The researchers are doing chemical and physical analyses of pottery fragments to determine where they were manufactured. This information can demonstrate the movement of pots, and presumably people, from one community to another. This pot sherd comes from the Lubbub Creek site, a small mound center in Alabama south of the Vacant Quarter that may have been a refuge for people fleeing from further north. | Credit: Charles Cobb
Catrina Cuadra makes a detailed map of the remains of a burned structure at the Butler Mound site. | Photo: Patrick Cravatt

When Williams, who died in 2017, first published his Vacant Quarter hypothesis in 1983, he was careful to note that he wasn’t proposing that the region became totally devoid of people. Some Native Americans likely still hunted and gathered food there. But the Vacant Quarter no longer had any “year-round settled villages,” he wrote, even as communities flourished around its perimeter. Indeed, the void appeared to represent the “burned out center” of the Late Mississippian period. And the abandonment could help explain why the first Europeans to visit the area, who arrived in the 1500s, reported finding derelict villages marked by an “echoing stillness.”

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

WINTER 2019 | And Yet, They Persisted

The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Gayle Keck

At Mak-‘amham restaurant in Berkeley, California, you can sample “old school acorn bread” or more contemporary “acorn-flour brownies with walnuts + bay salt,” on a menu created from traditional Native Ohlone ingredients. In San Bernadino, elementary school students read a series of historical novels approved by Chumash tribal elders, tracing California history from a Native viewpoint, rather than constructing models of colonial Spanish missions like past generations. And Julia Parker, a Native Coast Miwok-Kashaya Pomo basket-weaver—whose works are owned by the Smithsonian Institution and Queen Elizabeth II—passes on her skills to four generations of her family.

The mission church is the centerpiece of Santa Clara University. The church itself is a twentieth-century reconstruction of an 1820s church and associated quadrangle that were located on the same site. Like many other California missions, Santa Clara had to be rebuilt several times during the colonial period due to floods and earthquakes. | Photo: Lee Panich
Santa Clara University students excavate a portion of the Native American rancheria at Mission Santa Clara. The adobe building in the background is the remnant of a dormitory used to house Native American families in the colonial period. Projects like this offer insight into how Native people coped with colonialism in the privacy of their own homes. | Photo by Lee Panich
A Santa Clara University student measures faunal bone recovered from the Native A Santa Clara University student measures faunal bone recovered from the Native American rancheria at Mission Santa Clara. Although the missions provided Native people with a diet of beef and various grains, archaeological research shows that many mission residents continued aspects of their traditional hunting and gathering practices. | Photo by Haven Kato
Spanish missionaries and other colonists brought large quantities of glass beads to California as a way to forge connections with local Native people who already had well developed shell bead traditions. The Natives quickly incorporated glass beads into their cultural practices. These beads, recovered from a mission dormitory that housed a Native family, were originally produced in Venice, Italy. | Photo by Lee Panich

All of these activities may come as a surprise to many who assume Native Californians and their traditional lifeways didn’t survive the Spanish Mission era (1769 – 1834). When California’s twenty-one missions were secularized in 1833, the popular belief was that Native Californians had all died, assimilated into other cultures, or intermarried, losing any traces of their traditions and practices. But in fact “Native people found ways to weather that period and survive,” according to Tsim Schneider, an enrolled citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo) and an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“For so long, all of the scholarship focused on the missions as a colonial space,” said Rebecca Allen, a mission researcher and president of the Society for California Archaeology. “Even when Native American peoples are talked about, it’s their role in that colonial space. The more archaeology and research, and the more Native Americans get involved in this dialog, we realize we need to reframe this and start to recognize the missions as Native space.”

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

WINTER 2019 | A Glimpse of Early Agriculture

The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Julian Smith

Last summer and fall, drivers on Interstate 10 in Tucson, Arizona, could see an archaeological dig in progress near the Ruthraff Road exit. Desert Archaeology, a local cultural resource management firm, was excavating part of a prehistoric site called Los Pozos in advance of a highway improvement project. The project is the latest investigation at the site, which stretches for over a mile between the highway and the Santa Cruz River. Los Pozos dates to the Early Agricultural Period, roughly between 2000 B.C. and A.D. 1, a period during which irrigated maize agriculture was introduced to northwest Mexico and the U.S. Southwest from Mesoamerica. Over the past few decades, researchers in the Tucson area have found that farming occurred much earlier than was once thought and that it affected the lives of residents in profound ways.

Archaeologists excavate a Late Cienega-phase structure at Los Pozos. The large storage pits dug into the floors were used to cache tools such as metates, as well as food like dried maize and mesquite beans. | Photo by Helga Worcherl
The two items on the left are fragments of plainware bowls, decorated with punctate designs. The remaining anthropomorphic figurines depict hair styles and perhaps body decoration such as face paint or tattoos. These items were likely used in esoteric or ritual practices related to maize and agriculture, and the reciprocal union between maize and humans. | Photo by Jonathan Mabry
This footprint is one of dozens found at the Rillito Fan site. The footprints suggest how ancient farmers operated their irrigation system. | Photo by Ian Milliken
Jewelry made from shell that came from the Sea of Cortez and the Southern California coast indicates that people who lived in southern Arizona during the Early Agricultural period had extensive long-distance ties with groups throughout the region. Although many items were probably obtained through trade, it is likely that people also made the journey to the coast. | Photo by: Robert Ciaccio


During the two millennia of the Early Agricultural period, local cultures gradually shifted from mobile hunting and foraging to a more sedentary lifestyle centered around growing maize, a transition that had profound effects. The Santa Cruz River floodplains and terraces offered the perfect setting for irrigation agriculture: a dependable and plentiful water source and regular floods of rich sediment, said Ian Milliken, Pima County Cultural Resources Project Manager, who is involved in the Los Pozos investigation. (Tucson is located in Pima County, and the county government is a consulting party in this project.) Residents learned how to build dams, terraces, and canal systems that watered individual garden plots. Their primary crop was maize, which was originally thought to have arrived by 1000 or 500 B.C., according to Jim Watson of the Arizona State Museum, who has worked at numerous Early Agricultural period sites.

Since the 1990s, however, a series of projects in the Santa Cruz River basin near Tucson have pushed these dates back significantly. “They really redefined our understanding of the origins and adoption of agriculture in the Sonoran Desert,” Watson said. Most, if not all, of this research has been done by cultural resource management firms hired by Pima County, the City of Tucson, and the State of Arizona.

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

PHOTO TOUR | 2019 French Indian War Tour

This past September, participants on our French and Indian War Tour traveled across New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to explore the rich history and archaeology of the French and Indian War. This epic struggle involving Native Americans, the English and French Empires, and Colonial forces, was one of the first global conflicts and a defining moment in American history.

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! 

The group explores the interior of the reconstructed Iroquois longhouse at Ganondagan State Historic Site.

The reconstructed longhouse at Ganondagan. 

The reconstructed fort at Fort Stanwix National Monument.

Inside Fort Ticonderoga.

The view from Fort Ticonderoga looking south across Lake Champlain.

The ruins of the barracks at Crown Point. Charles Vandrei, an archaeologist and historic preservation officer with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, served as a guide for part of the tour. 

The ruins of Fort George.

Dr. David Starbuck shows the group a broadaxe found on Roger's Island, the home of Roger's Rangers. 

A Susquehannock pot on display at the Pennsylvania State Museum.

Dr. Kurt Carr, the Senior Curator of Archaeology at the Pennsylvania State Museum, explains the ongoing archaeological excavations at Fort Hunter just outside of Harrisburg. 

An interpreter at Fort Frederick, Maryland, prepares for a musket firing demonstration.

The outline of the bastions at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh, looking back at the hotel. 

Fort Niagara overlooking Lake Ontario.

Emergency Acquisition Opportunity at Fortified Hill Earthwork – UPDATED


SOUTHWESTERN OHIO  |  In September, The Archaeological Conservancy joined forces with local conservation organizations in Ohio to try our hand at the winning bid for one of the Hopewell Culture’s most enigmatic earthworks, Fortified Hill. Located in Hamilton, Ohio, the site is one of six Hopewell Culture earthworks on the Great Miami River included on a map in Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848. The site was initially documented in 1836, but it has never been excavated. Today, it is the only one of the six earthworks that survives.  The perimeter earthworks enclose some 17 acres on the top of a high hill.



Years ago, a local physician with an interest in the past purchased the land containing Fortified Hill in an attempt to protect it from the urban sprawl of Dayton and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he passed away this summer without leaving instructions for the site, and although his intentions to see the earthwork permanently protected were well known within his circle of friends, some heirs insisted that the property be auctioned to the highest bidder. The Conservancy had reached out earlier and offered to pay a fair market price for the property but were denied. After months of delay, we were informed that an auction date was set for September 28th, and we had five weeks to raise funds. The auction would be the one shot at preserving the earthworks; failure would lose the cultural resource forever.

Its survival was critically threatened. Given the booming population of southwestern Ohio and the scenic views offered by property, the highest bidder may well have been a builder of McMansions. Needless to say, this scenario would destroy the earthwork and its potential for any future archaeological research. With this in mind, the Conservancy partnered with local land trusts and the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, located immediately east of the earthwork. The sculpture park had long wanted to own the earthwork and was a crucial part of the auction process.

Due to a ground swell of support, both locally and nationally, the Conservancy raised $400,000 in pledges and all four parcels containing the Fortified Hill site were successfully bid! We will receive an ownership interest in the property allowing us to manage the cultural resources and ensure the preservation of the site. Preservation of the Fortified Hill site will contribute to public knowledge about the site’s significance and the importance of cultural resource preservation. The preserve will be used as open space and protected against future development. Fortified Hill will be preserved for posterity and will be made available for research under strict terms set by the Conservancy.

Thank you to everyone who has pledged and donated to this significant project!



FALL 2019 | Recovering from the Ashes

The following is an article excerpt from the Fall 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Gayle Keck

Jasper, a border collie with a mottled black, white, and brown face, picks his way through ashes, melted blobs of glass, jutting rebar, and hundreds of smashed terra cotta roof tiles—sniffing, always sniffing. This devastation was once Tim and Becky Muser’s house in Paradise, California, one of nearly 14,000 homes destroyed by the Camp Fire in November, 2018.

The chances are slim that Jasper will find what he’s looking for: the cremains (cremated remains) of Tim’s father, Harry, a military veteran who died in 2001. The air temperature is 105 degrees; the ground temperature, nearly 125. Six rainy, snowy months have passed since the fire, and the family has disturbed the site while searching for keepsakes. All these factors impact the dog’s ability to catch a scent.

These urns containing the cremains of Tony Eglant’s two daughters and his wife’s father, were recovered by archaeologists from the area where Piper, a specially-trained dog, alerted in the Eglant family home. | Photo by Lynne Engelbert
Human cremains that have been through a fire are quite distinctive in color—they can range from pinkish to golden—and they usually have tiny bone chips, and sometimes tooth fragments. Identifications tags like the one in the center of this picture include the name or number of the mortuary or crematorium and a number that is signed to that specific individual.
Kris Black (plaid jacket) and her dog Annie watch as the archaeologists begin the process of recovering cremains. | Credit: Susanne Martin
Adela Morris and her dog Jasper search the remnants of a burned home for cremains. | Credit Lynne Engelbert


Tim and three volunteer archaeologists stand by, watching Jasper’s every move as his handler, Adela Morris, directs her dog toward the area that was once the Musers’ den. This, Tim had showed the team, is where his dad’s cremains were kept, in a wooden box on a shelf. The only thing standing here now is a stub of concrete foundation.

“He has a scent,” archaeologist Alex DeGeorgey says, as Jasper pokes his nose into a buckled piece of stucco a few feet away. “Sometimes when a stucco wall fell and is still intact, they alert on that because that’s where the scent is collecting.” Camp is the fourth wildfire aftermath for which DeGeorgey has helped organize archaeologists, who partner with dog handlers from the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF)—all volunteering their time—to hunt for cremains.

Become a member to subscribe to American Archaeology magazine.  

PHOTO TOUR | 2019 Chaco Canyon In Depth

Explore the vast cultural system of Chaco Canyon and the extensive network of outlying communities with our recent tour, Chaco Canyon In Depth.

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! 

Dr. John Roney explains the midden at Casamero Pueblo, a small Chaco outlier.

We get a very informative lecture on Navajo rugs at Richardson’s Trading Post in Gallup.

Ladder at Acoma Pueblo

The Chacoan great kiva at Salmon Ruins. Salmon is a large Chaco outlier on the San Juan River.

Dr. Susan Ryan tells us about Haynie Pueblo, a large Chaco outlier near Cortez, Colorado. Haynie is a Conservancy preserve currently being excavated by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Chimney Rock Pueblo is a Chaco outlier high on a mountain in Colorado. It has important ceremonial and astronomical status.

At the northern lunar standstill every 18.6 years, the full moon rises between the twin peaks of Chimney Rock.

Conservancy President Mark Michel tells us about Aztec Ruins which was built in the early 1100s as a possible replacement center for the Chaco Culture.

In Chaco Canyon, we visit Pueblo Bonito, the largest Chaco great house.

Pueblo Bonito had some 800 rooms and was five stories high at its peak in A.D. 1100.

Multiple kivas, including great kivas, are important parts of Pueblo Bonito.

The full moon rises over Pueblo Bonito.

At our camp in Chaco Canyon, we practice throwing spears with an atlatl.

Our group climbs to the north rim of Chaco Canyon for a spectacular view of the ruins below.

Pueblo Bonito from the canyon rim.

Casa Rinconada in Chaco Canyon is the largest great kiva at about 65 feet in diameter.

Our group poses in front of Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, the site of the sun dagger an astronomical observatory.

IN THE NEWS | Butler Co. residents hoping to preserve land of ancient Hopewell earthwork up for auction

Published on September 13, 2019 by Alexa Helwig from WKRC News in Ohio:

HAMILTON, Ohio  | A sacred piece of land is up for sale in Butler County, and the community is trying to preserve it.

Fortified Hill is a 2,000-year-old earthwork built by the Hopewell Tribe. The hilltop enclosure is thought to be a ceremonial site where members would come to worship.

The owner of the land, who passed away, registered the property to be a historical site in the ’70s. After passing, Dr. Jeff Leipzig, a community activist, said they ran into a problem.

“Lou and his wife Donna knew this site was here and they wanted this to be a special place. The only difficulty was he didn’t put it in his will that he wanted to turn it into a special place,” said Leipzig.

Fortified Hill is up for auction on Sept. 28. The Archaeological Conservancy and community members in Hamilton hope to raise $400,000 in pledge money to acquire the land. If they are unsuccessful, it is a missed opportunity to preserve and learn more about Hopewell land.

“That’s the beauty of this place. If you ask the archaeologists, it’s a blank slate. It’s a place that really has been unstudied,” said Leipzig.

The Ohio History Connection is working to make land like Fortified Hill a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It could potentially bring more tourism to the area.

To help preserve Fortified Hill earthwork, make a pledge to the Archaeological Conservancy here>>See Original Article Here 

Thank you to all who have pledged so far! Please help us spread the word!