Tag Archives: Archaeology

Finally, the Mayan Apocalypse Explained

In a moment of what may have been trance induced ague, my friend John McKay uttered a few words about Twinkies and the Maya that made a certain amount of sense, but something was still missing. But then it hit me like a loaf of bread. Wonderbread. Which, in Afrikaans, means “Miracle Bread” (you probably didn’t know that). Anyway, look at these two Google Image Search screen captures:

All Mayan sites have these things in them. That is how you tell they are Mayan. No kidding. The earliest Mayan site is defined, literally, as the oldest site with one of these things in it. When these things start NOT occurring on sites, those are "post-Classic" and not really "Mayan" in the, well, Classic sense.


OK, so many of them are laying on their sides, but the are still THE SAME THING.

The Mayan Apocalypse IS the End of the Twinkies. The End of the Twinkies IS the Mayan Apocalypse. It has been right in front of our eyes all this time. Also, in Mayan, the word for “Five Women” is almost the same as the utterance “Hostess.”

Across Atlantic Ice: Clovis Origins

I want to talk about the book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture. It was written by Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, both highly respected archaeologists. The point they make in the book is very simple: An important archaeological culture known as the “Clovis” is actually a European culture that traveled east to west from Europe to North America, arriving first along the New England coast and then fairly quickly spreading across the US to the Rockies, and subsequently kinda petering out though there are bits and pieces of Clovis looking stuff farther west.

From the book’s publisher:

Who were the first humans to inhabit North America? According to the now familiar story, mammal hunters entered the continent some 12,000 years ago via a land bridge that spanned the Bering Sea. The presence of these early New World people was established by distinctive stone tools belonging to the Clovis culture. But are the Clovis tools Asian in origin?

Drawing from original archaeological analysis, paleoclimatic research, and genetic studies, noted archaeologists Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley challenge the old narrative and, in the process, counter traditional–and often subjective–approaches to archaeological testing for historical relatedness.

The authors apply rigorous scholarship to a hypothesis that places the technological antecedents of Clovis in Europe and posits that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.

This flies in the face of everything everybody thinks, except for those of us who have been thinking that something like this may have happened all along. I’ve always thought this was possible, if not probable, for two reasons: 1) Clovis looks more like Europe than it looks like anything else, even though I don’t see any immediate comparison (contra Stanford and Bradley who do). I also don’t need an immediate comparison. I don’t need an archaeological culture that looks just like Clovis to be in Europe, since the time period during which such a culture would have existed was during lowest sea level stands. An entire sub-continent worth of land is now inundated by the sea, and if Clovis is truly coastal it would be truly invisible in Europe. Why did Clovis go from coastal to inland in the North Atlantic in the New World and not the old world? Stupid question. People do stuff like that all the time.

If you live many months of the year on the ice at the edge of the sea, Europe and North America are one place.

The second reason is even more compelling and is the first thing I noticed. Despite intransigent denialim by North American archaeologist, Clovis appears in the east first, then moves west, and does not really cross the Rockies. No amount of pretending it is found first in the west (where it hardly exists) and moved east (against the tide of C14 dates) will change those facts.

One might suggest that this causes a problem because Native Americans are from Asia and Clovis can’t therefore be from Europe. It might help to know that in most places in North America, where Clovis occurs, it is followed by nothingness or at best notmuchingness. There is very little continuity from Clovis to later cultures, not enough to require that the same people stuck around everywhere. I regard Clovis as one intrusion in to a mostly empty continetn, not the first, not the last, probably preceded by relative but not complete emptiness in most places in North America, and followed, probably, but periods of population decline probably owing to climate change. But that’s just me; I don’t accept that the past is simple no matter how complex the present is. Rather, I think the complexity of human land use and migration is probably one of those general rules that applies across time and space at archaeological scales.

The Personal Benefits of Doing Archaeology: Subversive subsurfaces.

In discussing the relevance of archeology to anything, there is an easy answer provided by my friend Peter Wells, a specialist in Culture Contact and the Central European Iron Age. Peter tells his students on the first day of class that “Archaeology is the study of everything that happened anywhere, any time, with any human beings that ever existed or exist now.” And if you think that he is exaggerating, you don’t know much about Archaeology.

Recently, my friend Elizabeth Reetz has asked a more narrowly defined question: “What are the benefits of environmental education through archaeology?” Elizabeth goes on to ask of her archaeological colleagues their “… thoughts on doing archaeology and how it has provided a greater connection to the outdoors, the environment, natural spaces, and special places … how has it increased your knowledge about a place, its ecology/environment, academics in general, or how has it increased your knowledge about yourself or your cultural history.”

And my response was something like “well, Duh” so she was like “Well, OK then…” and now I seem to be committed to writing a few blog posts on this…

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A word or two about tobacco, and some neat and new research

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgOver the last few weeks I’ve run into a few misconceptions about tobacco, as well as some interesting news, so I thought I’d share. If you already know some of this, forgive me, not everyone else does.

First, tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum, is a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, which from a human perspective has got to be one of the most interesting plant families out there. It includes Belladonna, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. So, from this one family of plants, you can kill your neighbor, have a nice meal, and a smoke a cigar afterward.
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i-bd270ae2df5d82618e27c3a480cd153e-290px-Kyle-cassidy-steampunk.jpgTradition. Not just a song from Fiddler on the Roof.

You know the refrain: “The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.” It’s a great play but it is firmly rooted in the patriarchy, as “tradition” often is.

There are many ways to define “tradition” and we can look it up somewhere and have a flameware over dictionary meanings if you want. But instead I’ll tell you what I think the word means, roughly, generally, and subject to revision.

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The Origin of Wine

ResearchBlogging.orgWith Julia spending the summer and most of the fall in The Republic of Georgia, I’ve been thinking about various political and historical aspects of that country, and one of the things that is claimed to be true is that wine was first invented there.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgRecently, someone asked me (always ask the archaeologist esoteric stuff like this) where wine was first invented. And, recently, we scored some Concord Grapes, which are native to North America (presumably thanks to some bird a long time ago) as opposed to most grapes, and which provide the roots for most (nearly all?) wine grape stock. And, a paper on the genetics of wine came out recently and has been staring at me for a few weeks now. All these things together made me want to update my current knowledge of the origin of wine.
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How are art and human evolution related?

My interest is in developing a plausible evidence-based story of how modern humans emerged from ancestral species. This means guessing at what features of humans make us “human” and attempting to see the emergence of each of these features in the fossilized record of our bodies (bones) and behaviors (artifacts and archaeological sites). This question has traditionally been treated, inappropriately, as simple. Walking upright, or freeing of the hands, or using tools, or hunting animals, or scavenging from carnivores, violence, provisioning mates, bonobo-ism (a form of erotica, it would seem) or some other thing (or combination of two, possibly three, of these things) is seen as the “kick” causing the evolution of our peculiar brand of ape. The situation is certainly more complex than that.
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Art and Human Evolution at the Black Dog Cafe

Please join Abbi Allan and me at the black Dog Cafe next Tuesday.

Art and Human Evolution – June 14, 2011

6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Are humans the only creatures who create art? At what point in human evolution did artistic creations become separate from tools, become art for arts’ sake? What in us is so driven to create?

Dr. Greg Laden is a biological anthropologist who has done research in human evolution as well as eco-tourism in South Africa. In his own words: “I think of myself as a biologist who focuses on humans (past and present) and who uses archaeology as one of the tools of the trade.” .

Abbi Allan is a visual artist and sculptor whose work is “an expression of the fragility of living things inspired by the world’s biological forms.” She received her MFA in sculpture from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and has exhibited in galleries across the U.S. Read more about her at abbiallan.com and view her work online.

What is your comfort zone?

Today, I took out the trash. I may or may not have taken the trash out last week, but I can tell you that the last time I did take it out, whenever it was, I had to drag the trash barrel across ice. Yesterday I went to the gym without a coat or jacket. That made me have to decide if I wanted to go to the locker room to stow the contents of my pockets (car keys, etc.) or just keep those things in my pocket. The grass outside is green. We expect snow on Friday.
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Amelia Earhart’s Finger Found in Pacific?

If you go to a place where humans have lived for hundreds of thousands of years and bone happens to be well preserved, you will find bits and pieces of people on a regular basis. If you go to a Polynesian island and look for bones you are more likely to find a turtle or fish bone than a human bone. Thus, when I see ….
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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.
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