Category Archives: Archaeology

About that 130,000 y.o. Human Occupation in California

A claim is being made, in a recent issue of Nature Magazine, that humans were active in the vicinity of San Diego well over 100,000 years before archaeologists think humans were even in the New World. Most commentary on this claim dismisses it out of hand, but out of hand rejections are no better than foundationless assertions. Let’s take a closer look at the Cerutti Mastodon Site. But first, some important context.

The Near Consensus on North American Prehistory

The Clovis Culture is a Native American phenomenon that occurred between about 12 and 10 thousand years ago (most likely between 11,500 and 11,000 uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present). Clovis_Point

The key feature of Clovis is the rather extraordinary “Clovis Point.” There is another, similar looking, point that goes with the Folsom Culture, which is about as old as the Clovis culture, but a bit younger, and there are a couple of other less common named forms. We refer to them all as “fluted points.”

Unlike some other so-called “projectile points” (many of which are knives or spearheads, many perhaps not even mounted in use) fluted points are rarely found in large numbers anywhere, but are represented over a very large region; They are found across the United Sates and Canada, and as far south as Venezuela.

There is almost no evidence suggesting that any humans existed in North America prior to Clovis times, and this has been known for years. Therefore, “Clovis culture” or more broadly, “Paleoindian” culture has long been thought to represent the first humans to come to North America. Since Native Americans physically resemble East Asians (an observation supported and refined by genetic analysis) it has always been assumed that Native Americans came from Asia as Paleoindians, or developed the Paleoindian culture right after arriving in North America. The dates of Clovis sites cluster into such a tight time frame that it makes sense to assume that these folks arrived on an unoccupied continent, spread quickly over a large area, and subsequently differentiated into diverse groups.

The idea of earlier, pre-Clovis, occupation has long been considered by the occasional daring archaeologist, and even the famous African archaeologist, Louis Leakey, suggested that certain finds in the vicinity of modern day San Diego represented much older human occupation. However, North American archaeologists remained firm on the idea that there is no pre-Clovis, and argued strongly and vociferously against the idea. Indeed, any archaeologist who wished to argue for pre-Clovis risked something close to professional censure, others were so sure about Clovis first.

For a very long time it has been at first quietly, and later less quietly, recognized that there are some problems with the Clovis-First hypotheses. First, even though one might expect the early dates for Clovis, if it represented a sudden and rapid colonization of a world with no humans, to be difficult to interpret, it became apparent that the earliest Clovis is in the far East of the continent, with later clovis being farther west. Recent interpretations of the data have suggested that this may not be true, but those interpretations are tenuous. Oddly, pretty solid dating evidence showing east coast Clovis to be earlier was always rejected as unimportant, while a much less clear argument that Clovis out west is early has been quickly and not very critically accepted, presumably because it fits the underlying assumptions of a sudden colonization from Asia.

Fluted points are way more common in the East, east of the Mississippi, in various Mississippi drainage valleys, and along the East Coast. They are relatively sparse in the west, say, on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, and they are very rare in Alaska. So, the distribution of fluted points is exactly the opposite of what one might expect with a simple model of Asians arriving in North America, suddenly becoming Clovis, then spreading from there.

Of the fluted points found in North America, the oldest style, Clovis, is mainly an Eastern phenomenon, with later styles, such as Folsom, are more in the West. If the so-called spatio-temporal boundaries of these styles is correct, and Clovis is older than Folsem, then it is very hard to argue that Clovis is a primary phenomenon that came out of Asia as the first thing people did in North America.

These observations together with the absence of Paleoindian culture in Asia strongly suggests that the actual history of people in North America prior to about 10,000 years ago was a little more complex than the usual textbook version. Indeed, Clovis would make a lot more sense if there was a pre-Clovis culture that did some or much of the initial spreading, followed quickly by the rise of a Clovis Culture among those people, perhaps in the east, which then spread across the continents very quickly. That would have simply been an early example of a phenomenon we see again and again in New World prehistory, where a material phenomenon of some kind, a type of projectile point, or a symbolic image, or something, spreads in what seems like an instant across a vast area.

Beginning mainly in the 1980s, a number of archaeological sites were discovered and presented as pre-Clovis. These are dated using various means. They occur across the US in Pennsylvania, Souoth Carolina, Oregon, Florida, Alaska, and elsewhere. They are also found in South America in Brazil, Chile, and Columbia. Most, perhaps all, of these sites — there are about 16 of them — are very strongly and forcefully argued to be real, and have varying degrees of evidence on them.

Most of the sites date to either just a thousand or two years, or sometime, just centuries, before Clovis and would easily fit into a pre-Clovis model as suggested above. This would go with the idea that somehow, humans arrived in North America, spread out, then popped out Clovis Culture soon after. Some of the sites are much earlier, but as far as I know, all the earliest sites have very questionable artifacts or dating that is not very secure.

I am not certain, but I think most of the North American archaeologists who so forcefully argued against pre-Clovis of any form have either moved off that position, stopped talking, or died off. Now, I believe, most North American archaeologists accept that there is a distinct possibility that there is what I would call a “near-Pre-Clovis.” But, since there are just over one dozen sites across two continents, one must be reserved in assuming this. Such a small number of sites could represent a small number of aberrant if well meaning interpretations of sites that have something wrong with them. I personally have excavated many, many archaeological sites, and I have seen things that can’t be explained. Personally, I think some of the late pre-Clovis sites are good. But, I would not be surprised if an all knowing alien with a time machine landed nearby and proved that I was wrong.

The CM Mastodon Site: Humans in the New World at 130,000 years?

The Cerutti Mastodon site is in San Diego County, California. The site was excavating in the early 1990s by a team from the San Diego Museum of Natural History. If you ever get a chance to visit that museum, do so. It is one of the many museums of Balboa Park, which also includes the famous San Diego Zoo.

3F9FD05F00000578-4447720-image-a-2_1493212011779The finds at this site include a juvenile Mastodon, Mammut Americanum, as well as dire wolf, horse, ground sloth, camel, and mammoth.

The site is dated using Uranium-thorium dating on the mastodon bone, to 130,000 +/- 9,400 years b.p.

A recent analysis of the site, just published in the journal Nature, claims that the bones show evidence of human modification, and that some stones also found on the site show evidence of having been used to modify the bones.

The modification suggested is the smashing of bone to extract marrow, and possibly, to make some flakes or otherwise modify the bone to make tools.

The authors of the paper suggest that there are, as commonly agreed by North American archaeologists, four criteria that a site must meet to be considered a candidate for early pre-Clovis human evidence:

1) archaeological evidence is found in a clearly defined and undisturbed geologic context;

2) age is determined by reliable radiometric dating;

3) multiple lines of evidence from interdisciplinary studies provide consistent results; and

4) unquestionable artefacts are found in primary context

They argue that all of these are met. From the abstract:

The CM site contains spiral-fractured bone and molar fragments, indicating that breakage occured while fresh. Several of these fragments also preserve evidence of percussion. The occurrence and distribution of bone, molar and stone refits suggest that breakage occurred at the site of burial. Five large cobbles (hammerstones and anvils) in the CM bone bed display use-wear and impact marks, and are hydraulically anomalous relative to the low-energy context of the enclosing sandy silt stratum. 230Th/U radiometric analysis of multiple bone specimens using diffusion–adsorption–decay dating models indicates a burial date of 130.7?±?9.4 thousand years ago. These findings confirm the presence of an unidentified species of Homo at the CM site during the last interglacial period (MIS 5e; early late Pleistocene), indicating that humans with manual dexterity and the experiential knowledge to use hammerstones and anvils processed mastodon limb bones for marrow extraction and/or raw material for tool production. Systematic proboscidean bone reduction, evident at the CM site, fits within a broader pattern of Palaeolithic bone percussion technology in Africa, Eurasia, and North America. The CM site is, to our knowledge, the oldest in situ, well-documented archaeological site in North America and, as such, substantially revises the timing of arrival of Homo into the Americas.

That the site is in a good geological context is apparently beyond question, as far as I know. The “refitting” referred to is where bits and pieces of one thing that was broken apart can be glued back together, showing that since the breaking event not much has moved around, which helps to argue that the site is not too messed up by geological processes. The dating seems good. Everything seems good.

Yay, an early site showing humans in North America way before we ever thought!

But wait, not so fast …

Why this site could be real, and other comments on the early Americas

Archaeologists have a conceptual problem with discontinuity. They don’t believe in it.

Say you are working in a previously unstudied part of the world (there are none, but pretend). You find a site with some pottery on it, and date the site to 1,000 years ago. In the same area, you find several sites, of various dates, from 1,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago, but they are all sites with chipped stone tools on them and no pottery. But then, you finally find another pottery bearing site. The pottery looks different, and the site was fairly deep down, so when you get your dates back from the lab and they are about 4,000 years old, you are not surprised.

And, now, you know that pottery using people lived here from 4,000 years ago to 1,000 years ago, right?

Wrong. It is possible that people showed up here with pottery, and left, leaving behind non-pottery using people, then came back later. Or, people moved here with pottery, or invented or were introduced to pottery, 4,000 years ago, then stopped using it for some reason, then pottery made a return, somehow, more recently. The problem is, most archaeologists will not accept that once something happens, it can unhappen, even though we actually do know of places in the world where pottery was brought there with the first people, then forgotten about or rejected for some reason, later.

So, here’s the idea. During warm periods, like the interglacial of roughly the age of the CM site, and the present, hominins tend to spread. Even the ones that like warmer regions, maybe not even humans, spread around during warm periods, and spread north. So, naturally, some of them get to the New World somehow, and these are them. They don’t even have to be chipped stone tool using humans. They could be bone breakers. They could be bigfoot! They could be anything.

Now, this may seem like a crazy idea, and it almost certainly is. But, the rejection of occupation as early as 130,000 years ago because we have no evidence of anything half that old requires that the new world can be occupied in only one way: something or someone shows up, then they never leave. This is in direct conflict with the known migrations of large mammals, many of which migrated either to the New World from the Old World, or the other way round, several times over that last 5 or more million years, and most of which do not exist in the place they migrated to now.

Why the Old World makes the CM site highly unlikely

I know an archaeologist who once said this. She said, teaching her class, that the discovery of a house structure at about 5,000 years ago (by the way, it might have been the house structure I discovered, which for a time was the oldest one in North America) tells us that by 5,000 years ago, Native Americans had a concept of building a house, like a wigwam, and the technology to do so. I once read an archaeological monograph that suggested that the presence in some 3,000 year old pottery of impressions of woven material show that by that time Native Americans could weave cloth. One textbook refers to the earliest fire in North America (several thousands of years back) indicating that we now knew that by that time, at least, Native Americans had fire and thus could possibly cook their food.

I’ve read and heard North American archaeologists say things like this over and over again. These statements assume that the first proto-Native American people to come to the new world, say as just-pre-Clovis people, must have arrived naked and technology free!

People in the Old World had chipped stone technology, whereby stones were used to break stones in a very systematic (and not too easy to learn) way to produce, ultimately, tools. Our ancestors had this technology before the genus Homo existed. In fact, it may be the case that our ancestors were stone tool chipping bipedal apes for as long before the rise of the genus Homo as after (this remains to be pinned down). Modern humans have existed on this planet for only a fraction of the time that hominins were making chipped stone tools. Until the abrupt and dramatic near perfect elimination of chipped stone technology in recent centuries, chipped stone tool technology was as much a part of human behavior and culture as walking on two legs was.

We know this because of all that Old World archaeology that has been done. Despite the limited understanding of world prehistory by many North American archaeologists, the truth is that a human (even a non-fully modern human) presence in the New World would have chipped stone tools with it.

If a creature was at the CM site with a culture that lacked chipped stone tools, but that used hammer and anvil stones to break up bone, it was an ape, not a hominin. It was Gigantopithecus, or something. Bigfoot! CM is potentially believable as a site if it occurred in a larger time horizon with definitive human evidence. In other words, a bunch of chomped up elephant bones down the way from clear unambiguous human occupation on a landscape with many sites of that date might be acceptable as a human site, but not this. Not just pounded bones with no other cultural manifestations.

Now, I want to add new rules to the ones listed above.

5) The artifacts have to include evidence of proper chipped stone tool technology, as this is a ubiquitous trait of Homo and proto-Homo

6) Among the chipped stone, there must be both flakes and pieces that are flaked, because many natural processes will produce one or the other (usually flaked pieces) without human engagement.

7) The flakes must exhibit many cases of clear striking platforms, the part where the flake is hit to make it fly off the parent rock, and those striking platforms must be mostly below 90 degrees angle, because that is the experimentally established difference between “natural” flakes (including those made by cars running over rocks and rocks falling off cliffs, etc.) and human made proper flakes.

8) If flaked bone is invoked as an artifact type, the flakes must be numerous and have the same low angle of percussion, and there must as noted above, also be stone flakes.

This is the underlying fact that must be understood by people considering the CM site as human. Humans bust up bones, but busted up bones in the absence of any other evidence of human activity does not constitute unquestionable artifactual nature. Ever.

Just to make sure that I was still up to date on bone breakage taphonomy, the study of how to interpret bone breakage, I asked Professor Martha Tappen of the University of Minnesota, a bone taphonomist, for her opinion about the site. She told me, “I would say that the breaks appear to be consistent with human breakage, but quite possibly other causes, too, such as backhoes and perhaps other scenarios involving trampling. Other evidence is needed to support the idea that people reached the new world at this early time.”

What really happened at CM

I spent a certain amount of time living among the elephants of the African Rain Forest. Well, OK, I wan’t actually “living among them” but I was living there doing archaeology and other things, and they were there too. In fact, I studied elephant movement and trial making, and in so doing, observed a lot of places where elephants tromp around.

Some of the elephants we observed in the Ituri (along with the afore mentioned Professor Tappen) which had been killed over the years by Efe hunters (they are the traditional elephant hunters of the region), died on or near regular elephant trails. Once an elephant is all butchered up or scavenged, I assume the living elephants walk around the remains, though in some areas they have been known to play around with the bones of the dead. But eventually, the bones get incorporated with the undergrowth and the sediment, and get trampled by the elephants. The elephants also trample rocks. I saw locations where the elephants walked a lot, including trails and one location where they had dug a cave to obtain sediment that they would eat, where there was so much elephant trampling of stone that most of the stone looked human modified.

CM site has several animals, including some large ones. Something about this site attracted animals that then died, but at one point were alive. This is a very common phenomenon in paleontology, and is not fully understood. It is very likely that the broken up bones and the seemingly modified stones look the way they do because huge multi-ton animals stepped on them repeatedly.

But what if …

I don’t want to rule out CM out of hand. I don’t want to do this because Archaeology is full of stuff that was ruled out by orthodoxy then later found out to be important or real, but data was lost because of the narrow mindedness of the narrow minded. I believe it is appropriate and necessary to reserve a part of our dogma for possibilities, evidence for things that we are pretty sure are not real but that have just enough credibility, just enough of a question, to allow for a later surprise. I would love to see more large mammal sites of the late Pleistocene excavated carefully to see what they look like. A program of exploration for and investigation of sites during and near the Last Glacial Maximum in the Western US is a good idea, and should yield some very interesting paleontological results. If there was some kind of a hominin running around then — which is very unlikely and indeed almost impossible to imagine — but if there was one, it would eventually be bumped into. Meanwhile, think of all the cool extinct animal stuff we would get to learn no matter what the human prehistoric story turns out to be!

The archaeology of some Polish vampires

Apotropaic magic is designed to ward off or control evil. In vampire fiction, as well as in real life in cultures that include a belief in vampires, apotropaic objects might be crucifixes, cloves of garlic, etc. Apotropaic methods are known to have been used in burials. In the photograph above, a sickle blade has been placed across a person’s neck at burial time, probably to keep them from reanimating and becoming all vampiry (Individual 49/2012 (30–39 year old female) with a sickle placed across the neck, from the paper cited below.) Some people have believed that a regularly occurring disease can be transmitted from those who died of that disease, after death, even after burial. In these cases, apotrapaic methods would be used to ensure that the corpse remains inactive. One might speculate that the idea of a corpse reanimating comes from the infrequent occurrence of a person not really being dead when everyone is sure they are. Such events are like huge snow storms. That happens once, nobody can stop talking about it.

How the dead are treated is the bread and butter for a lot of archaeology. Death is important, and (usually) it is an unambiguous event. Explaining death is often found to be an important, often formalized or ritualized feature of a culture. For example, among the Efe Pygmies and Lese Villagers I worked with for many years, it was generally thought that a death caused by anything other than an obvious act of violence or accident (and thus, the vast majority of deaths) was caused by some sort of intentional bad magic. In other words, all “natural” deaths are homicides. The response to a death in that culture is typically to determine guilt. Ideally, the perpetrator is identified as a hypothetical individual who carried out magic from a very far away and uncertain location, or at least, that is what I observed and that is how people seemed to regard the process. That way everyone can walk away from the death without having to start a feud with a known neighbor.

Abigail Tucker, writing in the Smithsonian, talks about “The Great New England Vampire Panic” in Connecticut, a mainly 19th century phenomenon which involved special treatment of individuals we think may have died of tuberculosis. Tucker talks about the Brown Family, which had suffered a number of deaths.

As Lena was on her deathbed, her brother was, after a brief remission, taking a turn for the worse. Edwin had returned to Exeter from the Colorado resorts “in a dying condition,” according to one account. “If the good wishes and prayers of his many friends could be realized, friend Eddie would speedily be restored to perfect health,” another newspaper wrote.

But some neighbors, likely fearful for their own health, weren’t content with prayers. Several approached George Brown, the children’s father, and offered an alternative take on the recent tragedies: Perhaps an unseen diabolical force was preying on his family. It could be that one of the three Brown women wasn’t dead after all, instead secretly feasting “on the living tissue and blood of Edwin,” as the Providence Journal later summarized. If the offending corpse—the Journal uses the term “vampire” in some stories but the locals seemed not to—was discovered and destroyed, then Edwin would recover. The neighbors asked to exhume the bodies, in order to check for fresh blood in their hearts.

…On the morning of March 17, 1892, a party of men dug up the bodies, as the family doctor and a Journal correspondent looked on. …

After nearly a decade, Lena’s sister and mother were barely more than bones. Lena, though, had been dead only a few months, and it was wintertime. “The body was in a fairly well-preserved state,” the correspondent later wrote. “The heart and liver were removed, and in cutting open the heart, clotted and decomposed blood was found.” During this impromptu autopsy, the doctor again emphasized that Lena’s lungs “showed diffuse tuberculous germs.”

Undeterred, the villagers burned her heart and liver on a nearby rock, feeding Edwin the ashes. He died less than two months later.

That was in 1892.

As a general rule, a rule that is broken enough to make it interesting, a given people at a given time have a way they normally treat their dead. The ingredients of the typical mortuary practice for a culture might include whether or not the corpse is buried, burned, left out to become a skeleton, “entombed” above ground or in a crypt, put in a coffin or not, buried with a shroud or not, if buried, buried in a particular position, buried in a particular orientation, buried with specific objects, etc. When you see a pattern of mortuary practice in a graveyard, and one or a few of the burials are different, there may be something interesting going on. I had the pleasure of supervising a PhD thesis by my friend and colleague Emily Weglian looking at burial traditions in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Supervising a thesis is a great way to learn numerous esoteric details. One of the issues that came up for Emily was how to interpret burials that were backwards in an oriented cemetery. In parts of Europe it was the practice to bury the dead with the head facing west so when the individual later reanimated and stood, they would be facing Jerusalem, or in the direction one might walk if one was going to walk to Jerusalem (there are a lot of versions of this, I oversimplify here). Individuals who had a life (or a death) that marked them as different, which might mean unholy, criminal, etc., might be posthumously dissed by burring them in the opposite direction, which would not necessarily stop their zombified form from walking (or tunneling underground) to Jerusalem, but it would certainly annoy them when they found out they were going in the wrong direction. But, another possibility was raised for certain corpses buried at 180 degrees; they may have been the pastor of the flock, who would obviously face his own people and presumably know enough to turn around before heading to the Holy Land when the time came for everyone to do that.

VampiresDontExistButSo, what about Polish Vampires? I’m going to keep this simple because a) the research is available in an open access journal so you can read it yourself and b) there is an excellent blog post on the research by Katy Meyers (see links below). From the Abstract of the paper:

Apotropaic observances-traditional practices intended to prevent evil-were not uncommon in post-medieval Poland, and included specific treatment of the dead for those considered at risk for becoming vampires. Excavations at the Drawsko 1 cemetery (17th–18th c. AD) have revealed multiple examples (n = 6) of such deviant burials amidst hundreds of normative interments. While historic records describe the many potential reasons why some were more susceptible to vampirism than others, no study has attempted to discern differences in social identity between individuals within standard and deviant burials using biogeochemical analyses of human skeletal remains. The hypothesis that the individuals selected for apotropaic burial rites were non-local immigrants whose geographic origins differed from the local community was tested using radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from archaeological dental enamel. 87Sr/86Sr ratios ( = 0.7112±0.0006, 1?) from the permanent molars of 60 individuals reflect a predominantly local population, with all individuals interred as potential vampires exhibiting local strontium isotope ratios. These data indicate that those targeted for apotropaic practices were not migrants to the region, but instead, represented local individuals whose social identity or manner of death marked them with suspicion in some other way. Cholera epidemics that swept across much of Eastern Europe during the 17th century may provide one alternate explanation as to the reason behind these apotropaic mortuary customs, as the first person to die from an infectious disease outbreak was presumed more likely to return from the dead as a vampire.

Katy’s post summarizes the results, but also critiques the media attention to this project, which as usual includes some abysmal reporting. She summarizes:

  1. Death by cholera is just an alternative hypothesis, not necessarily the truth. The authors mention that it is an alternative many times, they never say (unlike popular news) that cholera is definitely the cause.
  2. If cholera was the reason, you would be performing the apotropaic rites on the first couple individuals who died from the disease, so this doesn’t mean ALL died from cholera, but perhaps some did.
  3. They were not real life vampires, they were only vulnerable to being turned into vampires by evil spirits. REAL VAMPIRES DON’T EXIST. These were people who died under unfortunate conditions and were thought to be vulnerable to evil spirits in the afterlife.

Just so you know, non-normative treatment of the dead is pretty common. If a body is buried at a funny angle or has some other minor variation, it may not mean much. But if a body is nailed to the ground with several spikes like a burial known in Celakovice, you’ve got to figure something is going on. Unusual treatments like this are not found in the thousands or (probably) even the hundreds, but they are found widely. Also, it isn’t all about vampires. Vampire concern is only one problem. It seems that some individuals are being punished after death by receiving a non-normative mortuary treatment (perhaps they committed suicide or carried out some other act viewed as worthy of eternal damnation). That’s a very different situation than treatment arising from fear of reanimation or posthumous shenanigans.

And, as subtly indicated above, these beliefs are not confined to far away ancient cultures. There are people alive today that are the first generation offspring of those who lived in Griswold, Connecticut, the town with the TB vampirism. Griswald itself is and always has been very small, but the surrounding area is the birthplace of John McCain,Eugen O’Neil, Nathan Hale, Watergate Lawyer L. Patrick Gray, and as far as I know most of these individuals and other notables from the region are not vampires.

Here is your followup reading:

Gregoricka LA, Betsinger TK, Scott AB, Polcyn M (2014) Apotropaic Practices and the Undead: A Biogeochemical Assessment of Deviant Burials in Post-Medieval Poland. PLoS ONE 9(11): e113564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113564

Where do vampires come from? by Katy Meyers.

A true ghost story: The Slide Show

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The McGregor Museum is a complex building with several wings surrounding an inner court yard, a multi-layered roof, balconies everywhere, and numerous trees in the court yard close in to the building. So, a cat can spend the heat of the day in the shaded crown of a tree, and the cool of the evening up on the building’s sun-warmed metal roof.

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The interior of the McGregor museum houses numerious exhibits. The old period rooms and hallways focus on the late 19th century, and other newer areas (not shown) have an excellent set of exhibits on archaeology, human evolution, and “San” rock art.

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Defending Kimberly.

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The dude in the kilt.

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The Gatling Gun. (A Gatling gun is an old fashioned machine gun.)

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A visitor to the museum checking for ghosts.

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Doing fieldwork in a game park.

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Possible “San” burial … which turned out to have no physical remains.

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Although no artifacts of note or bones were found in the burial, there were plenty of these. The scorpions were in a state of torpor, as it was winter.

The End


Interested in some Anthropologically Inspired fiction? Have a look at Sungudogo by Greg Laden.

A True Ghost Story Part 3: Who is that kilted man with the big gun?

… Continued …

Well, we were living with this ghost who would walk up and down the hall in the middle of the night, invisibly leaving behind only the sound of its footsteps. But before I tell you how this all came out, I want to tell you a related side story.

As I had mentioned, I had the “hallway extension” room. Let me explain.
Continue reading A True Ghost Story Part 3: Who is that kilted man with the big gun?

King Tut’s Tomb Discovered!!!

A frail elderly woman would have a hard time walking a few blocks, from her apartment to the subway, then from the subway to the MET, with winds gusting to near hurricane strength. So, the patron of the arts and of archaeology, who happened to be a cousin of my first wife, called around to find a worthy pair to use her tickets to the private opening (for major patrons) of The Treasures of Tutankhamun, the exhibit of King Tut’s tomb. The public opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City would be several days later. When it was found that the two only archaeologists in the extended family were in town, they (we) were located and given the tickets. And so it was that I was to be one of the very few people to take in the art and artifacts of the most famous Egyptian tomb, which housed one of the least famous Egyptian rulers, without the crowds and long lines, even tough those in attendance were rather overdressed.
Continue reading King Tut’s Tomb Discovered!!!

The Pre-Clovis Debra L. Friedkin site

ResearchBlogging.orgButter Milk Creek is a Texas archaeological site and an archaeological complex located rather symbolically a couple of hundred miles downstream from the famous Clovis site in New Mexico. It is the most recently reported alleged manifestation of a “pre-Clovis” archaeological presence. The most important thing about this site is probably this: It is well dated (though the dates need to be independently verified or otherwise run through the gauntlet of criticism dates of important sites are always subjected to) and there are a lot of artifacts at the site. The importance of the number of artifacts is two-fold: It means that the site is unambiguously evidence of human activities and not of the activities of, say, a ground squirrel burrow into which a random artifact from a later time fell, and it means that researchers will be able to say something interesting about the lithic (stone tool) technology represented there.

In order to understand why a “pre-Clovis” site is interesting, one needs to understand the peculiar nature of American archaeology and its conceptions of prehistory.
Continue reading The Pre-Clovis Debra L. Friedkin site

Lew Binford is Dead

Archaeologist Lew Binford has died at the age of 79 at his home in Kirksville, Mo. He died of a a heart attack.

I knew Lew a little, having spent some time with him while I was in graduate school, and having met him at the occassional conference (he was famous for NOT going to conferences very often by the time the 1980s rolled around).

Lew was a dick, a very smart guy, and probably had as much influence on archaeology as any other individual. Those who have taken classes from me know that I’ve got a few stories to tell about him. But not now.

RIP Lew Binford. May your bones be dug up some day by someone with a strong grounding in Middle Range Theory.

A true ghost story: The Slide Show

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The McGregor Museum is a complex building with several wings surrounding an inner court yard, a multi-layered roof, balconies everywhere, and numerous trees in the court yard close in to the building. So, a cat can spend the heat of the day in the shaded crown of a tree, and the cool of the evening up on the building’s sun-warmed metal roof.

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The interior of the McGregor museum houses numerious exhibits. The old period rooms and hallways focus on the late 19th century, and other newer areas (not shown) have an excellent set of exhibits on archaeology, human evolution, and “San” rock art.

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Defending Kimberly.

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The dude in the kilt.

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The Gatling Gun. (A Gatling gun is an old fashioned machine gun.)

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A visitor to the museum checking for ghosts.

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Doing fieldwork in a game park.

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Possible “San” burial … which turned out to have no physical remains.

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Although no artifacts of note or bones were found in the burial, there were plenty of these. The scorpions were in a state of torpor, as it was winter.

The End

A True Ghost Story Part 3: Who is that kilted man with the big gun?

… continued …

Well, we were living with this ghost who would walk up and down the hall in the middle of the night, invisibly leaving behind only the sound of its footsteps. But before I tell you how this all came out, I want to tell you a related side story.

As I had mentioned, I had the “hallway extension” room. Let me explain.
Continue reading A True Ghost Story Part 3: Who is that kilted man with the big gun?