Like many archaeological sites in California, the amazing Borax Lake site was recently devastated by a wildfire. The Sulphur Fire that burned the site took place this past November. Wildfires can damage archaeological sites by damaging the artifacts or features, and exposing sites to the elements and erosion. But once they occur they can also serve to expose unknown sites and the extent of sites that might not have been known. With so many recent wildfires across western United States, fire archaeology is becoming an area of study.
Above, Dr. Greg White of SubTerra Consulting (in the yellow shirt) leads a team of volunteers to surface survey the site and recover any artifacts exposed by the fire. The survey was conducted for two reasons, 1. to recover artifacts before looters could get into the site and take them, and 2. to use the recovered artifacts to help map the boundaries of the site.
Dr. White and his team of volunteers collected many bifaces, points, crescents, and other stone artifacts (pictured on the tailgate) during the survey. Dr. White is currently writing a report of his findings that will appear in the Spring Issue of American Archaeology magazine.
-Cory Wilkins, West Regional Director
More about the Borax Lake Site and Preserve, California:
In 2010 the Conservancy negotiated an agreement with a real estate developer to acquire a 3.4-acre parcel of land in the center of a large industrial development in Antrim Township in south-central Pennsylvania. The parcel contained a portion of Ebbert Spring, a multi component site with artifacts spanning from the Paleo-Indian period to the nineteenth century. The site is centered around a spring that produces approximately 700 gallons of water per minute and now serves the surrounding community.
Just this fall The Conservancy acquired an additional five acres of the site, known as the Bonnell parcel. In addition to including the heart of the prehistoric component of the site, the Bonnell parcel also contains an eighteenth-century farmhouse and associated outbuildings.
Ebbert Spring was first excavated by a chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology in 2003. Over the course of the next ten years they recovered tens of thousands of historic items and prehistoric lithic, ceramic, and bone artifacts at the site; as well as various intact features such as postmolds, hearths, and refuse pits predominantly from the Middle and Late Woodland periods.
The prehistoric component of the site helped redefine thinking about how prehistoric people utilized this portion of the Great Appalachian Valley. Most Native American habitation areas in the region have been found near tributaries of the Potomac River, but Ebbert Spring is one of several documented sites in the valley located next to springs.
In addition to the site’s prehistoric significance, the historic buildings represent the only standing structures built by the Allison family, who came to the area from Ireland in the eighteenth century. John Allison served in the Revolutionary War and founded the nearby town of Greencastle. Historical documents indicate that his father, William Allison Sr. (who helped build the house at Ebbert Spring), agreed to build a private fort in the area to defend against attack. The exact location of the fort, known as Ft. Allison, has never been verified, though it’s possible that it’s the fortified springhouse
at the site.
This fieldstone and brick springhouse appears to have been used as a French and Indian War fortification. Excavators discovered postmold features of a palisade around the structure along with gunflints, a spur, and other period artifacts. The springhouse
was constructed directly above the spring so that water passes through a channel built into the floor, providing a constant flow of fresh water to the structure’s occupants. The fact that the springhouse is found in the front yard of the family commissioned to build the fort also supports the idea that it’s Ft. Allison, but more research is needed before a definitive determination can be made. All of the artifacts, notes, and
maps from these excavations were collected by Conservancy staff and donated to the Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencaslte so that they will be available for future researchers.
Al Bonnell, who had owned this parcel until his passing in 2016, had devoted his life to restoring the house and to studying the history of the property. He wanted the entire site to be preserved, and his wishes are being honored by his son, Terry. Working closely with the Bonnell family, the Conservancy’s Eastern regional staff negotiated a bargain sale to charity to acquire the site. The staff also organized a powerful coalition of conservation allies involving local, regional, and state agencies.
Funding for the property was obtained from Antrim Township together with a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Additional funding was also obtained from the Elfrieda Frank Foundation. The
Conservancy’s partners in this project include Antrim Township, the Allison-Antrim Museum, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Shippensburg University, the Conococheague Institute, and the Greencastle-Antrim School District.
An interpretive trail featuring a series of kiosks will be installed at the site to tell the story of people at this location from 10000 b.c. to the present. The Allison-Antrim Museum has agreed to lease and care for all of the structures on the property. The eight-plus-acre site is expected to open to the public as the Ebbert Spring Archaeological Preserve and Heritage Park in August of 2019.
—Andy Stout, Eastern Regional Director
This story was published in our Fall 2017 Issue of American Archaeology. Browse the article excerpts in our last issue Winter 2017 Issue.
One of the Conservancy’s most popular Central American tours is back again in March, 2018. We’ll be visiting the highlands of Guatemala and the incredible Mayan archaeological site of Copán in Honduras. Join us in Guatemala, the Land of Eternal Spring, for the trip of a lifetime! Guatemala Highlands and Copán March 29 to April 8, 2018
Rain forests, snow-capped volcanoes, and magnificent lakes make up the landscape of the ancient Maya in the highlands of Guatemala. Our travels take us from beautiful Lake Atitlán to the Honduran rainforest where we visit Copán, considered the crown jewel of the southern Maya cities. Noted Maya scholar Professor John Henderson from Cornell University accompanies us on our tour.
Here is just a little photo blog taster of this grand trip from 2016. We begin in Guatemala City visiting two museums filled with stunning examples of ancient arts and culture: the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena, specializing in textile art, and the Museo Popol Vuh featuring ceramics. This impressive vessel featuring three Quetzal birds is truly breathtaking:
To join us on this archaeological adventure, contact us at email@example.com or by phone at (505) 266-1540.
Our journey into the highlands takes us the town of Chichicastenango. Here are some of the sights we will be seeing:
We’ll also visit the amazing ruins of the capital of the Cakchiquel Maya from the late 1400’s until the early 1500’s, the site of Iximiche:
We will spend a day touring through Antigua. Founded in 1543, it was Guatemala’s first capital city, destroyed by an earthquake in 1773.
We’ll visit the Mayan site of Copán in Honduras, staying at the fabulous Hotel Marina:
We’ll have an opportunity to see the famed Sculpture Museum at Copan:
We will see residential compounds at Las Sepulturas:
On our way back to Guatemala City, we’ll stop to visit the Mayan archaeological site of Quirigua:
To join us on this tour, or for further information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (505) 266-1540.
When: March 29-April 8, 2018 Where: Guatemala and Honduras How Much: $2,995 per person ($325 single supplement)
Since 1980, we’ve permanently protected over 515 sites in 45 states – sites that otherwise might have been dug up by looters, razed for development, or simply damaged by neglect. We’ve established long term relationships with archaeologists, tribal leaders, farmers and landowners. Even though we’ve achieved so much, there is still a lot of work to be done. Be A Preservation Hero! Please GIVE so we can continue this important preservation work.
We face many more challenges than we did back 37 years ago. Development continues to grow, demand for artifacts on the black market increases every year with the rise of internet sales, and environmental threats continue to endanger sites that aren’t properly stabilized.
This year, the General Fund was instrumental in the preservation of many invaluable sites, including:
The McCarty Mound is a Mississippian period (A.D. 1000 – 1500) platform mound that lies about one mile north of the Conservancy’s East Saint Louis Mound Group Preserve, an ongoing project that started in 2006 in Illinois. This mound group, first mapped in 1880, was comprised of about 45 mounds and extended for about a mile in a crescent east of the Mississippi River. The McCarty Mound is shown on the map and has traditionally been considered a part of the group. The mound group appears to be a mound and village complex similar to and contemporary with nearby Cahokia, although its relationship to the dominant site is unknown. Unfortunately, all but one mound disappeared under the once prospering city of East St. Louis. Even though today the McCarty Mound only rises about three feet above the ground surface, it is the second-best preserved mound of the East St. Louis Mound Group.
Meyer Pottery Kiln was established in 1887 by the Meyer family, master potters who immigrated from Germany in 1884. The kiln began as a two-man operation, producing all sizes of jugs and water coolers, churns, crocks, poultry watering fountains, and flower pots. In 1895 the kiln switched from a salt glaze technique commonly used in Texas to a clay slip glaze technique the family learned in Germany. The slip, mined from clay found at nearby Leon Creek, can be fired from yellow to green to brown tones with finishes from shiny to matte depending on firing conditions. Leon Slip Glaze became a unique hallmark of Meyer Pottery. Production peaked in the 1920s and ceased in the 1960s. The 2-acre parcel is covered with glazed bricks and building blocks that formed the foundations and walls of the buildings as well as the kiln’s chimney stack. Future research at the site can tell us more about early American manufacturing and crafts development as well as what life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries in south Texas.
In 1717 Fort Ouiatenon was established by the French as a fur-trading post on the Wabash River opposite a large village of the Wea. The fort was the first European settlement in what is now Indiana. By 1730 a number of Algonquin-speaking tribes loosely affiliated with the Miami, including the Kickapoo, the Mascouten and the Piankashaw, had established villages outside the fort. The fortunes of the Natives waxed and waned – mostly waned – as the fort passed through French, British and American hands. The villages were finally destroyed by a punitive expedition of Kentucky militia in 1791. The fort itself was abandoned as a military post in 1762, and Euro-American settlers had relocated to more secure locations by the 1780s. The site of the fort is owned by the Tippecanoe County Historical Association (TCHA). In 2014 the Conservancy and TCHA joined forces to to acquire the adjacent land containing the five Native villages and have preserved three tracts totaling 181-acres over the last two years.
Because of you and other members of The Archaeological Conservancy, we have preserved many sites from damage and destruction in 2017.
These are just a few more of the sites that you helped the Conservancy preserve in 2017:
In the Northeast, we preserved Ebbert Spring, a multi-component site centered around a limestone spring in south-central Pennsylvania. This 8.5-acre site was occupied from Paleo-Indian times until today.
In the Southeast, we protected part of Chickasawba Mounds in northeastern Arkansas. The site was continuously occupied from the Late Archaic (ca. 3000 – 1500 B.C.) through the Proto-historic periods.
In the Midwest, we preserved Hocking Fort in southeastern Ohio. The 10-acre site is an extraordinary Hopewell Culture hilltop earthwork. Dating to the Woodland Period, Hocking Fort is similar to well-known Hopewell earthworks, but is much smaller that its colossal counterparts.
In the Southwest, we acquired Tinaja Pueblo in New Mexico. This 40-acre Proto-Zuni site contains a 160 room masonry pueblo dating to A.D. 1250 – 1300.
In the West, we acquired an archaeological easement on the Terrarium site, a Central Pomo site in California that incorporates five sites over a 360-acre property in Mendocino County.
Without your support and the support of our other members for the General Fund, we could never hope to save sites like these. Next year, we hope to save even more. Help Support the Archaeological Conservancy into 2017 ! It’s your generosity that keeps our cultural legacy alive.
I know that the Conservancy is just one of many organizations asking for your help. That’s why I hope that as you consider your year-end giving, you’ll feel that the preservation of this great nation’s past is one effort that merits your support.
With my best regards and wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.
As editor, I chose these amazing archaeology stories from the pages of American Archaeology magazine because each of them stood out for 2017 in some way—from the highly-disputed contention that humans occupied southern California 130,000 years ago, to the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s role in aerial archaeology, to the remarkably dissimilar way very ancient skeletons are treated. The stories are ranked in no particular order.
When Christopher Columbus visited the Isla de Mona, located halfway between Puerto Rico and Hispañola, in 1494, he found its indigenous residents fishing and farming, part of a thriving Taíno culture that spread across much of the Caribbean. At only twenty-two square miles, Mona is roughly the size of Manhattan. But beneath its surface is another world: an astonishing network of tunnels and caves that often made it easier to get around underground than through the dense vegetation above.
Mona, which is now part of Puerto Rico, is an uninhabited island that’s managed as a nature reserve. When Jago Cooper of the British Museum and his colleague, Alice Samson of the University of Leicester, arrived on Mona in 2013, they intended only to conduct an aboveground archaeological survey. “We kind of got sucked into the caves,” said Cooper. What they found quickly became the focus of their work: prehistoric people had left rock art in many of the caverns, usually by carving directly into the soft walls.
The team eventually explored seventy cave systems over several field seasons and found about thirty had some kind of rock art. Hundreds of yards underground, people had created geometric, humanoid, and anthrozoomorphic images by carving, rubbing, or otherwise removing the soft crust that naturally covers the walls and ceilings. See More Images
Controversial Study Claims Ancient Humans Were In The New World 130,000 Years Ago (Summer Issue)
A group of scientists have proposed that ancient humans occupied an area near San Diego, California approximately 130,000 years ago. The research team, led by Steve Holen, research director of the Center for American Paleolithic Research, published their findings in the journal Nature, causing an uproar among archaeologists who generally consider the earliest date for humans in the Americas to be less than 25,000 years ago. The debate is by no means settled.
To some Native Americans, the repatriation and reburial of very ancient human remains is simple justice. To many archaeologists and other scientists, it’s akin to reburying the Rosetta stone. “Every burial is a potential loss for science to learn about America’s past and for Native Americans to learn about their ancestors,” said Eske Willerslev, director of the Copenhagen-based Center of Excellence in GeoGenetics, where studies of ancient human DNA are reshaping what is known about the peopling of the Americas. “But science can no longer ignore the wishes of native communities. If we take a confrontational approach, science will lose. And so will they.”
Earlier this year 8,600-year-old Kennewick Man, whose remains were discovered more than twenty years ago in eastern Washington, was repatriated to the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce tribes, who claimed him as their ancestor. The tribes then reburied the skeleton at a secret location in the Columbia River Basin. The tribes had waged a long, costly, and highly-publicized legal battle to take custody of Kennewick Man under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which they lost in 2004 when the court ruled they could not prove a connection to the skeleton.
But recent DNA analysis by Willerslev’s laboratory in Denmark showed that Kennewick Man genetically resembled today’s Native Americans more than any other living people. Consequently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kennewick Man’s custodians, concluded that he was in fact Native American, and the Corps began the process of repatriating the skeleton. See More Images
On January 26, 2017, Kimberlee Moran, the director of forensic science at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey, and Anna Dhody, a forensic anthropologist with the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, visited a construction site in Philadelphia’s Old City Historic District. The site, a vacant lot at 218 Arch Street, is where the developer, PMC Property Group, plans to build an apartment complex.
In November of 2016, Moran and Dhody had read a Philly.com story that a construction crew with Fastrack Builders, which was hired by PMC, had uncovered human remains while excavating the lot with heavy equipment. So Moran and Dhody contacted PMC and asked permission to recover a small box of bones for analysis and to survey the site. “There were bones on the surface of the grounds,” said Moran, and they were clearly from humans. They collected some bones—“enough to fit in a shoebox,” Moran recalled—for analysis. Before departing, they offered to monitor the excavation on a voluntary basis in the likely event that more remains were uncovered, but PMC declined.
Approximately three weeks later, Moran and Dhody were contacted by the construction foreman: the workers had uncovered more bones and they didn’t know what to do with them. As the construction project continued, many more bones, and in some cases entire skeletons enclosed in their caskets, were uncovered. It turns out that a portion of the lot at 218 Arch Street covers the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia Cemetery, which was in service from 1707 to the mid 1800s, when the First Baptist Church moved to another location. See More Images
Florida, with an average elevation of six feet above sea level, tops the list of states at risk of flooding due to climate change. Over three-quarters of the Sunshine State’s twenty million residents live on or near its 1,350-mile coastline, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that sea levels are already rising more than a third of an inch a year. Even modest projections show Florida’s sea levels up to seventeen inches higher by 2030. While politicians and urban planners debate how to deal with this, archaeologists are looking to the past to see how its earliest inhabitants adapted to changing sea levels long before high-rises filled the streets of Miami.
The Lower Suwannee Archaeological Survey (LSAS) was launched in 2009 to investigate prehistoric sites along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, fifty miles north of Tampa. Its goal, said project leader Ken Sassaman, an archaeologist with the University of Florida, is more than just recording and interpreting data from sites that may well be underwater in the near future. It’s also to use this information to help contemporary policy makers respond to climate change and its consequences. “In our lifetime, we could see half of lower Florida under water,” Sassaman said. “We’re trying to understand how people who lived through this sort of change anticipated different futures.” See More Images
In 1927 an obscure U.S. Air Mail pilot named Charles A. Lindbergh completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, thereby achieving word-wide fame. Virtually everyone knows about Lucky Lindy’s historic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. But few people know that Lindbergh was also a pioneer in the field of aerial archaeology. Vocational historian and writer Erik Berg has extensively researched Lindbergh’s life and aerial archaeological surveys, bringing to light his efforts to help locate and document ancient sites and landscapes.
“Lindbergh always had broad and varied interests and his fame from the 1927 Atlantic flight opened a lot of doors for him to indulge those interests,” said Berg. “His interest in archaeology stems from spotting Maya ruins in the jungle while flying over the Yucatán in the winter of 1928-29, scouting possible air routes for Pan-American Airways.”
Shortly after spying the stone ruins from his plane, Lindbergh visited the Smithsonian Institution to find out more about them. He was sent to John Merriam, the director of the nearby Carnegie Institution of Washington (now the Carnegie Institution of Science), who described their ongoing archaeological investigations in the Maya region of southern Mexico, and at Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings and settlements in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, and Chaco Canyon and the Pecos Valley in New Mexico. Lindbergh quickly volunteered to photograph these areas when flying nearby. See More Images
Having scrambling about the shallow, open-air rock shelter known as the Wiley site in southwest Texas, six archaeologists took inventory of the many iconographic figures painted on the shelter wall and prepare to make high-resolution photographs that document, and possibly reveal new details, about these ancient, often indecipherable images. The archaeologists work for the Shumla Archaeology Research & Education Center, a nonprofit organization based in the dusty town of Comstock.
Shumla has recently begun the Alexandria Project, an ambitious effort to catalog and digitize more than 350 rock art sites scattered throughout Val Verde County, a three-hour drive west of San Antonio, hard by the U.S.-Mexico border. The project’s name is a nod to the ancient Egyptian library that was destroyed in antiquity. The archaeologists are racing against time to build a library of high-resolution images of the murals, some of which are 4,000 years old and are painted in what’s known as the Lower Pecos River style. They have a busy schedule that calls for them to visit and record an average of ten sites per month. See More Images
Study Concludes Canadian Site Is 24,000 Years Old (Spring Issue)
A recent re-analysis of cut marks on ancient bones discovered at Bluefish Caves near the Alaska/Yukon border confirms previous controversial claims that humans occupied the area about 24,000 years ago, according to a study published by PLOS ONE in January. If true, this would mean the Americas were occupied about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
“I sometimes ask myself why I didn’t do one of those projects where the dig is right next to the parking lot.” Archaeologist Becca Peixotto wasn’t complaining, but she sounded a bit wistful on a cool, cloudy day last December as she caught her breath, brushed some mud off her hip waders, and dropped a heavy pack at her excavation site deep within the Great Dismal Swamp, a vast wooded wetland that straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border near the Atlantic coast.
To get to the site, which was perched on a forested hummock barely higher than the surrounding water, we’d taken a jolting drive down a dirt road pitted with yawning potholes, and then lugged a pile of gear nearly half-a-mile under fallen trees and through thick reeds, sharp brambles, boot-sucking mires, and deep pools of icy water. Still, we’d had it pretty easy, Peixotto informed me and two volunteers. We hadn’t needed the machete she often used to slash a path through the tangle, nor the insect repellent or leg chaps she uses in summer to defend against the swamp’s voracious bugs and venomous snakes. And our forty-five-minute trek was nothing compared to the hardship endured by the people who journeyed here centuries ago to build new lives in a landscape that one Colonia-era writer considered so dangerous and inhospitable that “not even a turkey buzzard will venture to fly over it.” Given such a reputation, “to live in the Dismal, you really had to want to be here,” said Peixotto, who is pursuing a doctorate at American University in Washington, D.C. See More Images
In the late 1980s, while working in Wisconsin, Lynne Goldstein, now archaeology professor and director of the Campus Archaeology Program at Michigan State University, served on a panel working to assess Wisconsin’s historic preservation laws. “A wide range of changes were proposed and passed—with bipartisan support—and Wisconsin had some of the best overall preservation laws and policies in the country,” recalled Goldstein. The state adopted a highly effective and innovative burial law.
Nearly thirty years later, when a politically-connected developer proposed building on land containing documented burials, the governor and others pushed to change the state burial law. “Fortunately, enough people—including Native American tribes—pushed back, and the changes were halted, at least temporarily,” Goldstein said, though a study committee continues to review the law.
Nationwide attempts to weaken historic preservation and burial laws have been accompanied by funding cuts for archaeology programs, museums, and historic sites, as well as state and federal archaeological positions. “We are already losing a huge amount of institutional knowledge about the archaeological record, and now we are losing the positions and any possible transfer of that knowledge,” said Lynne Sebastian, the former director of historic preservation programs with the non-profit SRI Foundation and the former New Mexico State Archaeologist.
“There have been budget cuts in most state offices across the Midwest, leaving staffing of preservation offices at a bare minimum,” said Goldstein. She noted a trend in the last five to ten years toward government officials and the public devaluing archaeology and historic preservation, and resisting state and federal mandates that protect cultural resources. See More Images
The Conservancy recently acquired Tinaja Pueblo, a proto-Zuni site located near the foothills of the Zuni Mountains in the El Morro Valley of northeastern New Mexico. Named after the nearby abandoned Village of Tinaja that was established in the 1860s by several farming and ranching families, this thirteenth-century masonry pueblo has more than 130 rooms. A large, associated stone roomblock is situated on a small mesa about thirty feet above the valley floor, and several smaller roomblocks were built around the base of the mesa.
The gated subdivision of El Morro Ranches surrounds the forty-acre tract containing Tinaja Pueblo on three sides. The Village of Tinaja served as a stopping place for travelers and pioneers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but by 1940 it was deserted, with just a few stone foundations and a small cemetery remaining.
Archaeologist Leslie Spier first recorded Tinaja Pueblo in 1917, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that test excavations were conducted there by the Cibola Archaeological Research Project, directed by the noted archaeologist Patty Jo Watson. The Cibola archaeologists were able to obtain tree ring cutting dates from beams of A.D. 1270 and 1284, indicating that construction of the pueblo took place during that time. A few excavated rooms can be seen on the site today, which were probably left uncovered by the Cibola archaeologists.
Summary. Read More in our Winter 2017 Issue of American Archaeology. Browse the article excerpts in our last issue Fall 2017 Issue.
The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, WINTER 2017, is now available!
COVER: Shumla researchers Jerod Roberts (on ladder) and Karen Steelman use a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument to identify the elemental composition of rock art paintings at the White Shaman site in southwest Texas.
Credit: Photo by Vicky Roberts / Courtesy Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center
SAVING AN ANCIENT LIBRARY BY RICHARD A. MARINI
Researchers are digitally preserving ancient pictographs and the knowledge they contain.
READING JEFFERSON ’S LANDSCAPE BY DAVID MALAKOFF
Evidence of major changes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are seen on the grounds of Monticello.
Having scrambled about the shallow, open-air rock shelter known as the Wiley site in southwest Texas, six archaeologists took inventory of the many iconographic figures painted on the shelter wall. They prepared to make high-resolution photographs that will document, and possibly reveal new details, about these ancient, often indecipherable images. The archaeologists work for the Shumla Archaeology Research & Education Center, a nonprofit organization based in the dusty town of Comstock.
Shumla has recently begun the Alexandria Project, an ambitious effort to catalog and digitize more than 350 rock art sites scattered throughout Val Verde County, a three-hour drive west of San Antonio, hard by the U.S.-Mexico border. The project’s name is a nod to the ancient Egyptian library that was destroyed in antiquity. The archaeologists are racing against time to build a library of high-resolution images of the murals, some of which are 4,000 years old and are painted in what’s known as the Pecos River style. They have a busy schedule that calls for them to visit and record an average of ten sites per month.
The hope is that future researchers will be able to study these digitized images should the originals—facing threats both natural and man-made—ever be lost. Together, the paintings tell the story of the aboriginal peoples who inhabited this dry, windswept land thousands of years ago. “This is one of the most important regions in the world for archaeologists who study hunter-gatherer rock art,” said Karen Steelman, an archaeological chemist who directs Shumla’s research. Steelman is one of only a few people in the world with the expertise to extract organic compounds from paint samples in order to radiocarbon date the ancient paintings.
Read More in our Winter 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: WINTER 2017.
At first glance, it might not seem like much for archaeologists to work with. At Monticello there are microscopic grains of pollen that wafted from pine and oak trees more than 200 years ago and became buried at the bottom of a muddy stream. Some bricks and patches of discolored sediment that mark the locations of earthen pits that once sat hidden beneath the floorboards of slave quarters. Handfuls of ceramic sherds and rusty nails, some broken or bent. One half of a shattered porcelain plate discovered a half-mile from its mate.
These humble finds, however, are helping archaeologists reveal a tale of profound social, economic, and ecological upheaval at the home of one of America’s most famous founding fathers. Over the past few decades, researchers working at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s iconic home in central Virginia, have acquired a clearer understanding of how the sprawling plantation evolved during the life of the remarkable man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, served as the nation’s third president, and founded the University of Virginia.
Painstaking fieldwork—including the systematic digging of over 20,000 shovel test pits—has yielded new insights into how Jefferson ran his plantation, treated the approximately 600 enslaved people he owned during his lifetime, and reacted to the dramatic economic and political changes in Europe and North America in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This past summer, researchers helped document important spaces linked to Jefferson’s elegant brick mansion, including a room used by Sally Hemings, the enslaved African-American who historians believe gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children, as well as an elaborate brick stove used by Hemings’ brothers to prepare the French cuisine Jefferson savored.
Read More in our Winter 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: WINTER 2017.
Climbing up a hillside away from the heart of Tlaxcala, Mexico, it doesn’t take long to leave behind the well-maintained churches and immaculate plazas of this colonial city. The road grows steep and bumpy, the pavement giving way to cobblestones, and then dirt. Cinderblock houses are replaced by the cornfields the local residents plant and tend every summer. Urban life, while still visible in the valley below, seems far away. Just off this dirt road about two dozen people are hard at work unearthing the remains of a remarkable city: Tlaxcallan, the capital of a pre-Columbian state that resisted domination by the powerful Aztec empire and whose leaders were accountable to their people.
On an August afternoon, with the volcano Malinche towering above, archaeologist Lane Fargher with the Mexican research institute Cinvestav strode onto this terrace high above the modern city to check on his team’s progress. Under the terrace’s surface they found stone walls from a 600-year-old house. It’s a comfortable size, with five or six rooms plus some patio areas—plenty of space for a family of about seven to ten people. “But it’s not spectacular,” Fargher said. “Not by any means a palace.” And that makes what’s next to the house—an enormous two-tiered public plaza, with the remains of low walls and ramps that once allowed people to move between the two levels—highly unusual. Fargher believes the two connected public spaces ensured there was room for everyone in the neighborhood to watch and participate in community rituals. Other than that minimal architecture, the plazas are devoid of artifacts, an indication that they were used for public events and cleaned in between, he said.
In other Mesoamerican cities, this kind of public space would have been in the center of the city, surrounded by palaces, temples, and the sprawling houses of the most elite residents. But in Tlaxcallan, which was occupied from about A.D. 1250 to 1550, this is just one node in a vibrant urban network of more than twenty neighborhood plazas, connected by paved hilltop roads and flanked by the relatively humble homes of the city’s typical citizens.
Read More in our Winter 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: WINTER 2017.