Arquivo da tag: Arqueologia

Long Before Making Enigmatic Earthworks, People Reshaped Brazil’s Rain Forest (N.Y.Times)

By   FEB. 10, 2017

New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit: Jenny Watling 

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery.

There are 450 geoglyphs concentrated in Brazil’s Acre State. Credit: Jenny Watling 

For centuries, the enigmatic structures remained hidden to all but a few archaeologists. Then in the 1980s, ranchers cleared land to raise cattle, uncovering the true extent of the earthworks in the process. More than 450 of these geoglyphs are concentrated within Acre State in Brazil.

Since the discovery, archaeological study of the earthworks and other evidence has challenged the notion that the rain forests of the Amazon were untouched by human hands before the arrival of European explorers in the 15th century. And while the true purpose of the geoglyphs remains unknown, a study published on Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new insight into the lives of the ancient people who lived in the Amazon. Thousands of years before the earthworks were built, humans were managing the forests, using what appear to be sustainable agricultural practices.

“Our study was looking at the environmental impact that the geoglyph builders had on the landscape,” said Jennifer Watling, an archaeologist at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, who conducted the research while a student at the University of Exeter in Britain. “A lot of people have the idea that the Amazon forests are pristine forests, never touched by humans, and that’s obviously not the case.”

Dr. Watling and her team reconstructed a 6,000-year-old environmental history of two geoglyph sites in the Amazon rain forest. To do this, they searched for clues in soil samples in and around the sites. Microscopic plant fossils called phytoliths told them about ancient vegetation. Bits of charcoal revealed evidence of burnings. And a kind of carbon dating gave them a sense of how open the vegetation had been in the past.

About 4,000 years ago, people started burning the forest, which was mostly bamboo, just enough to make small openings. They may have planted maize or squash, weeded out some underbrush, and transported seeds or saplings to create a partly curated forest of useful tree products that Dr. Watling calls a “prehistoric supermarket.” After that, they started building the geoglyphs. The presence of just a few artifacts, and the layout of the earthworks, suggest they weren’t used as ancient villages or for military defenses. They were likely built for rituals, some archaeologists suspect.

Dr. Watling and her colleagues found that in contrast with the large-scale deforestation we see today — which threatens about 20 percent of the largest rain forest in the world — ancient indigenous people of the Amazon practiced something more akin to what we now call agroforestry. They restricted burns to site locations and maintained the surrounding landscape, creating small, temporary clearings in the bamboo and promoting the growth of plants like palm, cedar and Brazil nut that were, and still are, useful commodities. Today, indigenous groups around the world continue these sustainable practices in forests.

“Indigenous communities have actually transformed the ecosystem over a very long time,” said Dr. Watling. “The modern forest owes its biodiversity to the agroforestry practices that were happening during the time of the geoglyph builders.”

Anúncios

An Ancient Mayan Copernicus (The Current/UC Santa Barbara)

In a new paper, UCSB scholar says ancient hieroglyphic texts reveal Mayans made a major discovery in math, astronomy

By Jim Logan

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 – 09:00 – Santa Barbara, CA

The Observatory, Chich'en Itza

“The Observatory” at Chich’en Itza, the building where a Mayan astronomer would have worked. Photo Credit: GERARDO ALDANA

Venus Table

The Preface of the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex, first panel on left, and the first three pages of the Table.

Gerardo Aldana

Gerardo Aldana. Photo Credit: LEROY LAVERMAN

For more than 120 years the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex — an ancient Mayan book containing astronomical data — has been of great interest to scholars around the world. The accuracy of its observations, especially the calculation of a kind of ‘leap year’ in the Mayan Calendar, was deemed an impressive curiosity used primarily for astrology.

But UC Santa Barbara’s Gerardo Aldana, a professor of anthropology and of Chicana and Chicano studies, believes the Venus Table has been misunderstood and vastly underappreciated. In a new journal article, Aldana makes the case that the Venus Table represents a remarkable innovation in mathematics and astronomy — and a distinctly Mayan accomplishment. “That’s why I’m calling it ‘discovering discovery,’ ” he explained, “because it’s not just their discovery, it’s all the blinders that we have, that we’ve constructed and put in place that prevent us from seeing that this was their own actual scientific discovery made by Mayan people at a Mayan city.”

Multitasking science

Aldana’s paper, “Discovering Discovery: Chich’en Itza, the Dresden Codex Venus Table and 10th Century Mayan Astronomical Innovation,” in the Journal of Astronomy in Culture, blends the study of Mayan hieroglyphics (epigraphy), archaeology and astronomy to present a new interpretation of the Venus Table, which tracks the observable phases of the second planet from the Sun. Using this multidisciplinary approach, he said, a new reading of the table demonstrates that the mathematical correction of their “Venus calendar” — a sophisticated innovation — was likely developed at the city of Chich’en Itza during the Terminal Classic period (AD 800-1000). What’s more, the calculations may have been done under the patronage of K’ak’ U Pakal K’awiil, one of the city’s most prominent historical figures.

“This is the part that I find to be most rewarding, that when we get in here, we’re looking at the work of an individual Mayan, and we could call him or her a scientist, an astronomer,” Aldana said. “This person, who’s witnessing events at this one city during this very specific period of time, created, through their own creativity, this mathematical innovation.”

The Venus Table

Scholars have long known that the Preface to the Venus Table, Page 24 of the Dresden Codex, contained what Aldana called a “mathematical subtlety” in its hieroglyphic text. They even knew what it was for: to serve as a correction for Venus’s irregular cycle, which is 583.92 days. “So that means if you do anything on a calendar that’s based on days as a basic unit, there is going to be an error that accrues,” Aldana explained. It’s the same principle used for Leap Years in the Gregorian calendar. Scholars figured out the math for the Venus Table’s leap in the 1930s, Aldana said, “but the question is, what does it mean? Did they discover it way back in the 1st century BC? Did they discover it in the 16th? When did they discover it and what did it mean to them? And that’s where I come in.”

Unraveling the mystery demanded Aldana employ a unique set of skills. The first involved epigraphy, and it led to an important development: In poring over the Table’s hieroglyphics, he came to realize that a key verb, k’al, had a different meaning than traditionally interpreted. Used throughout the Table, k’al means “to enclose” and, in Aldana’s reading, had a historical and cosmological purpose.

Rethinking assumptions

That breakthrough led him to question the assumptions of what the Mayan scribe who authored the text was doing in the Table. Archaeologists and other scholars could see its observations of Venus were accurate, but insisted it was based in numerology. “They [the Maya] knew it was wrong, but the numerology was more important. And that’s what scholars have been saying for the last 70 years,” Aldana said.

“So what I’m saying is, let’s step back and make a different assumption,” he continued. “Let’s assume that they had historical records and they were keeping historical records of astronomical events and they were consulting them in the future — exactly what the Greeks did and the Egyptians and everybody else. That’s what they did. They kept these over a long period of time and then they found patterns within them. The history of Western astronomy is based entirely on this premise.”

To test his new assumption, Aldana turned to another Mayan archaeological site, Copán in Honduras. The former city-state has its own record of Venus, which matched as a historical record the observations in the Dresden Codex. “Now we’re just saying, let’s take these as historical records rather than numerology,” he said. “And when you do that, when you see it as historical record, it changes the interpretation.”

Putting the pieces together

The final piece of the puzzle was what Aldana, whose undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering, calls “the machinery,” or how the pieces fit together. Scholars know the Mayans had accurate observations of Venus, and Aldana could see that they were historical, not numerological. The question was, Why? One hint lay more than 500 years in the future: Nicolaus Copernicus.

The great Polish astronomer stumbled into the heliocentric universe while trying to figure out the predictions for future dates of Easter, a challenging feat that requires good mathematical models. That’s what Aldana saw in the Venus Table. “They’re using Venus not just to strictly chart when it was going to appear, but they were using it for their ritual cycles,” he explained. “They had ritual activities when the whole city would come together and they would do certain events based on the observation of Venus. And that has to have a degree of accuracy, but it doesn’t have to have overwhelming accuracy. When you change that perspective of, ‘What are you putting these cycles together for?’ that’s the third component.”

Putting those pieces together, Aldana found there was a unique period of time during the occupation of Chichen’Itza when an ancient astronomer in the temple that was used to observe Venus would have seen the progressions of the planet and discovered it was a viable way to correct the calendar and to set their ritual events.

“If you say it’s just numerology that this date corresponds to; it’s not based on anything you can see. And if you say, ‘We’re just going to manipulate them [the corrections written] until they give us the most accurate trajectory,’ you’re not confining that whole thing in any historical time,” he said. “If, on the other hand, you say, ‘This is based on a historical record,’ that’s going to nail down the range of possibilities. And if you say that they were correcting it for a certain kind of purpose, then all of a sudden you have a very small window of when this discovery could have occurred.”

A Mayan achievement

By reinterpreting the work, Aldana said it puts the Venus Table into cultural context. It was an achievement of Mayan science, and not a numerological oddity. We might never know exactly who made that discovery, he noted, but recasting it as a historical work of science returns it to the Mayans.

“I don’t have a name for this person, but I have a name for the person who is probably one of the authority figures at the time,” Aldana said. “It’s the kind of thing where you know who the pope was, but you don’t know Copernicus’s name. You know the pope was giving him this charge, but the person who did it? You don’t know his or her name.”

Antigas listas de compras viram evidência sobre quando a Bíblia foi escrita (UOL/NYT)

Isabel Kershner
Em Tel Aviv (Israel)

13/04/201606h00 

Anotações feitas em tinta em cerâmica

Anotações feitas em tinta em cerâmica. Michael Cordonsky/Israel Antiquities Authority via The New York Times

Eliashib, o intendente da remota fortaleza no deserto, recebia suas instruções por escrito, anotações feitas em tinta em cerâmica pedindo que provisões fossem enviadas para as forças no antigo reino de Judá.

Os pedidos por vinho, farinha e óleo parecem listas de compras mundanas, apesar de antigas. Mas uma nova análise da caligrafia sugere que a capacidade de ler e escrever era bem mais disseminada do que antes se sabia na Terra Santa por volta de 600 a.C., perto do final do período do Primeiro Templo. As conclusões, segundo pesquisadores da Universidade de Tel Aviv, pode ter alguma relevância para o debate de um século sobre quando o corpo principal dos textos bíblicos foi composto.

“Para Eliashib: agora, dê a Kittiyim 3 batos de vinho, e escreva o nome do dia”, diz um dos textos, compostos em hebraico antigo usando o alfabeto aramaico, e aparentemente referindo-se a uma unidade mercenária grega na área.

Outra dizia: “E um coro pleno de vinho, traga amanhã. Não atrase. E se tiver vinagre, dê a eles”.

O novo estudo, publicado na “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, combinou arqueologia, história judaica e matemática aplicada, assim como envolveu processamento de imagens por computador e o desenvolvimento de um algoritmo para distinguir entre os vários autores emitindo as ordens.

Com base na análise estatística dos resultados, e levando em consideração o conteúdo dos textos escolhidos como amostra, os pesquisadores concluíram que pelo menos seis mãos escreveram as 18 mensagens mais ou menos na mesma época. Até mesmo soldados das fileiras mais baixas do exército de Judá, ao que parece, sabiam ler e escrever.

“Há algo psicológico além das estatísticas”, disse o professor Israel Finkelstein, do Departamento de Arqueologia e Civilizações Antigas do Oriente Próximo da Universidade de Tel Aviv, um dos líderes do projeto. “Há um entendimento do poder da alfabetização. E eles escreviam bem, praticamente sem erros.”

O estudo se baseou em um conjunto de cerca de 100 cartas escritas com tinta em pedaços de cerâmica, conhecidos como óstracos, que foram descobertos perto do Mar Morto em escavações do forte Arad, décadas atrás, e datados de cerca de 600 a.C. Isso foi pouco antes da destruição de Jerusalém e do reino de Judá por Nabucodonosor, e o exílio de sua elite para a Babilônia, e antes de quando muitos acadêmicos acreditam que grande parte dos textos bíblicos, incluindo os cinco livros de Moisés também conhecidos como Pentateuco, foram escritos de forma coesa.

A cidadela de Arad era uma frente pequena, distante e ativa, próxima da fronteira com o reino rival de Edom. O forte em si tinha apenas cerca de 2.000 metros quadrados e provavelmente só acomodava cerca de 30 soldados. A riqueza dos textos encontrados ali, registrando movimentos de tropas, provisões e outras atividades diárias, foi criada em um período curto, o que os torna uma amostra valiosa para estudo de quantas mãos diferentes os escreveram.

“Para Eliashib: agora, forneça 3 batos de vinho”, ordenava outro óstraco, adicionando: “E Hananyahu ordena que envie a Beersheba 2 mulas carregadas e envie a massa de pão com elas”.

Um dos argumentos mais antigos para o corpo principal da literatura bíblica não ter sido escrito em nada parecido com sua presente forma até depois da destruição e exílio, em 586 a.C., é que antes não havia alfabetização suficiente e nem escribas suficientes para a realização de uma empreitada tão grande.

Mas se a taxa de alfabetização no forte Arad se repetir por todo o reino de Judá, que contava com cerca de 100 mil habitantes, haveria centenas de pessoas alfabetizadas, sugere a equipe de pesquisa de Tel Aviv.

Isso forneceria a infraestrutura para a composição das obras bíblicas que constituem a base da história e teologia de Judá, incluindo as primeiras versões dos livros do Deuteronômio ao Segundo Livro de Reis, segundo os pesquisadores.

Desde o século 19, os acadêmicos debatem “quando foi escrito?”, disse Finkelstein. “Na própria época ou depois”, ele acrescentou, referindo-se à destruição e exílio.

Nos séculos após a destruição e exílio, até 200 a.C., disse Finkelstein, praticamente não há evidência arqueológica de inscrições em hebraico. Ele disse que esperava que escavações revelassem selos gravados e escritos cotidianos em cerâmica, mesmo que textos mais importantes, como os bíblicos, fossem feitos em materiais perecíveis, como pergaminho e papiro.

Os textos bíblicos escritos nos séculos após 586 a.C., ele sugeriu, provavelmente foram compostos na Babilônia.

Outros acadêmicos alertaram contra extrair conclusões demais a respeito de quando a primeira grande parte da Bíblia foi escrita, com base em extrapolações a partir das taxas de alfabetização antigas.

“Não há um consenso atualmente nos estudos bíblicos”, disse o professor Edward Greenstein, da Universidade Bar-Ilan, perto de Tel Aviv. “O processo de transmissão era muito mais complicado do que os acadêmicos costumam pensar.”

O processo de composição da Torá, segundo Greenstein, parece ter envolvido camadas de reescrições, suplementos e revisões. Apontando para o saber recente da literatura bíblica, ele disse que os escribas podiam registrar os textos principalmente como auxílio à memória, em um mundo onde ainda eram transmitidos oralmente.

“Os textos bíblicos não precisavam ser escritos por muitas pessoas, ou lidos por muitas pessoas, para serem redigidos”, ele disse, acrescentando que os textos não circulavam amplamente.

Para deduzir as taxas de alfabetização, a equipe de pesquisa usou um método que Barak Sober, do Departamento de Matemática Aplicada da Universidade de Tel Aviv, comparou à análise forense de caligrafia adaptada aos tempos antigos.

Os matemáticos pegaram 16 cacos de cerâmica de Arad que eram mais ricos em conteúdo (dois apresentavam inscrições em ambos os lados). Dois dos textos lembravam uma chamada, apenas listando as pessoas presentes, e foram claramente escritos no posto avançado no deserto; outros foram compostos em outro lugar.

Muitas das cartas em aramaico não eram claras, de modo que não era possível dar simplesmente entrada dos dados em um computador. Em vez disso, os pesquisadores conceberam uma forma de reconstruí-las. Então as letras de pares de textos foram misturadas e o algoritmo as separou com base na caligrafia.

Se o algoritmo dividisse as letras em dois grupos claros, os textos eram contados como tendo sido escritos por dois autores. Quando o algoritmo não distinguia entre as letras e as deixava juntas em um grupo, nenhuma posição era tomada; elas podiam ter sido escritas pela mesma mão ou, possivelmente, por duas pessoas com estilo semelhante.

Um cálculo conservador revelou pelo menos quatro autores, e seis quando o conteúdo foi levado em consideração, como quem estava escrevendo para quem.

Outro óstraco foi endereçado a um homem chamado Nahum. Ele foi instruído a ir “até a casa de Eliashib, filho de Eshiyahu” para pegar um jarro de óleo, para enviá-lo a Ziph “rapidamente, o lacrando com seu selo”.

Tradutor: George El Khouri Andolfato

Populações pré-colombianas afetavam pouco a Amazônia, diz estudo (Estado de São Paulo)

Fábio de Castro

28 de outubro de 2015

Antes da chegada dos Europeus às Américas, uma grande população indígena habitava a Amazônia. Mas, ao contrário do que sustentam alguns cientistas, os impactos dessa ocupação humana sobre a floresta eram extremamente pequenos, segundo um novo estudo internacional realizado com participação brasileira.

pesquisa, publicada nesta quarta-feira, 28, na revista científica Journal of Biogeography, foi liderada por cientistas do Instituto de Tecnologia da Flórida, nos Estados Unidos e teve a participação de Carlos Peres, pesquisador do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi.

Imagem de satélite da Amazônia ocidental mostra mendros de rios com 'braços-mortos', onde viviam grandes populações antes da chegada dos europeus; o novo estudo mostra que o impacto desses povos na floresta era menor do que se pensava

Imagem de satélite da Amazônia ocidental mostra mendros de rios com ‘braços-mortos’, onde viviam grandes populações antes da chegada dos europeus; o novo estudo mostra que o impacto desses povos na floresta era menor do que se pensava

Segundo o novo estudo, as populações amazônicas pré-colombianas viviam em densos assentamentos perto dos rios, afetando profundamente essas áreas. Mas os impactos que elas produziam na floresta eram limitados a uma distância de um dia de caminhada a partir das margens – deixando intocada a maior parte da Bacia Amazônica.

A pesquisa foi realizada com o uso de plantas fósseis, estimativas de densidade de mamíferos, sensoriamento remoto e modelagens computacionais de populações humanas. Segundo os autores, os resultados indicam que as florestas amazônicas podem ser muito vulneráveis às perturbações provocadas por atividades madeireiras e de mineração.

O novo estudo refuta uma teoria emergente, sustentada por alguns arqueólogos e antropólogos, de que as florestas da Amazônia são resultado de modificações da paisagem produzidas por populações ancestrais. Essa teoria contradiz a noção de que as florestas são ecossistemas frágeis.

“Ninguém duvida da importância da ação humana ao longo das principais vias fluviais. Mas, na Amazônia ocidental, ainda não se sabe se os humanos tiveram sobre o ecossistema um impacto maior que qualquer outro grande mamífero”, disse o autor principal do estudo, Mark Bush, do Instituto de Tecnologia da Flórida.

Dolores Piperno, outra autora do estudo, arqueóloga do Museu Americano de História Natural, afirma que há exagero na ideia de que a Amazônia é uma paisagem fabricada e domesticada. “Estudos anteriores se basearam em poucos sítios arqueológicos próximos aos cursos de água, e extrapolaram os efeitos da ocupação humana pré-histórica para todo o bioma. Mas a Amazônia é heterogênea e essas extrapolações precisam ser revistas com dados empíricos”, disse ela.

“Esse não é apenas um debate sobre o que ocorreu há 500 anos, ele tem implicações muito relevantes para a sociedade moderna e para as iniciativas de conservação”, afirmou Bush.

De acordo com Bush, se as florestas tivessem sido pesadamente modificadas antes da chegada dos Europeus e tivessem se recuperado no período de uma só geração de árvores para adquirir um nível tão vasto de biodiversidade, essa capacidade de recuperação rápida poderia ser usada como justificativa para uma atividade madeireira agressiva.

Entretanto, se a influência dos humanos foi muito limitada, como mostra o novo estudo, a atividade madeireira e mineradora têm potencial para provocar na floresta consequências de longo prazo, possivelmente irreversíveis.

“Essa distinção se torna cada vez mais importante, à medida em que os gestores decidem se irão reforçar ou flexibilizar a proteção de áreas já designadas como parques de conservação”, afirmou Bush.

Myth of pristine Amazon rainforest busted as old cities reappear (New Scientist)

23 July 2015

Myth of pristine Amazon rainforest busted as old cities reappear

Dreamscape: the Amazon was once lined with fields and plazas (Image: Mario Tama/Getty)

The first Europeans to penetrate the Amazon rainforests reported cities, roads and fertile fields along the banks of its major rivers. “There was one town that stretched for 15 miles without any space from house to house, which was a marvellous thing to behold,” wrote Gaspar de Carvajal, chronicler of explorer and conquistador Francisco de Orellana in 1542. “The land is as fertile and as normal in appearance as our Spain.”

Such tales were long dismissed as fantasies, not least because teeming cities were never seen or talked about again. But it now seems the chroniclers were right all along. It is our modern vision of a pristine rainforest wilderness that turns out to be the dream.

What is today one of the largest tracts of rainforest in the world was, until little more than 500 years ago, a landscape dominated by human activity, according to a review of the evidence by Charles Clement of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, and his colleagues.

After Europeans showed up, the inhabitants were decimated by disease and superior weaponry, and retreated into the bush, while the jungle reclaimed their fields and plazas. But, thanks to a combination of deforestation and remote sensing, what’s left of their civilisation is now re-emerging.

They reveal an anthropogenically modified Amazonia before the European conquest. “Few if any pristine landscapes remained in 1492,” says Clement. “Many present Amazon forests, while seemingly natural, are domesticated.”

Amazon domesticity

The evidence for this radical rethink has been stacking up for some time. Archaeologists have uncovered dense urban centres that would have been home to up to 10,000 inhabitants along riverbanks, with fields and cultivated orchards of Brazil nuts, palm and fruit trees stretching for tens of kilometres. Remote sensing has revealed extensive earthworks, including cities, causeways, canals, graveyards and huge areas of ridged fields that kept crops like manioc, maize and squash clear of floods and frosts.

Meanwhile, agriculturalists have discovered that many forest soils have been mulched and composted with waste. These fertile “dark earths”, or terra preta, may cover 150,000 square kilometres, much of it now reclaimed by rainforests. Before the arrival of Europeans, the region’s population may have reached 50 million.

The remains date back 3000 years or more, say the authors, who include geographer William Denevan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and anthropologist Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida at Gainesville – both pioneers of the idea that the Amazon has long been modified by humans.

Not everyone agrees. Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama recently argued that “recent investigations of soils in parts of the western Amazon… found little vegetation disturbance“.

Clement and his co-authors agree that “the idea of a domesticated Amazonia… contrasts strongly with reports of empty forests, which continue to captivate scientific and popular media”.

But the idea of a domesticated Amazon complements research in other rainforest regions, including the Congo basin and South-East Asia, that also suggest that much of what seems pristine is actually regrowth after dense human occupation. Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, says such evidence suggests that we should be dating the start of the Anthropocene – the era of human domination of the planet – to thousands of years ago rather than in the middle of 20th century.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0813

Study underscores complexity of geopolitics in the age of the Aztec empire (North Carolina State Univ.)

25-MAR-2015

IMAGE

IMAGE: HERE IS A VIEW TO THE WEST FROM THE HEIGHTS OF TLAXCALLAN. THE ACTIVE VOLCANO, POPOCATEPETL, IS VISIBLE IN THE BACKGROUND. CREDIT: LANE FARGHER

New findings from an international team of archaeological researchers highlight the complexity of geopolitics in Aztec era Mesoamerica and illustrate how the relationships among ancient states extended beyond warfare and diplomacy to issues concerning trade and the flow of goods.

The work was done by researchers from North Carolina State University, the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional-Unidad Mérida, El Colegio de Michoacán and Purdue University.

The researchers focused on an independent republic called Tlaxcallan in what is now central Mexico, about 75 miles east of modern Mexico City. Tlaxcallan was founded in the mid-13th century and, by 1500, was effectively surrounded by the Aztec Empire – but never lost its independence. In fact, Tlaxcallan supported Cortés and played a critical role in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century.

The new research focuses on where the people of Tlaxcallan obtained their obsidian in the century before the arrival of Cortés. Obsidian is a volcanic glass that was widely used in everything from household tools and weapons to jewelry and religious objects. But Tlaxcallan did not have a source of obsidian within its territory – so where did it come from?

“It turns out that Tlaxcallan relied on a source we hadn’t expected, called El Paredón,” says Dr. John Millhauser, an assistant professor of anthropology at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “Almost no one else was using El Paredón at the time, and it fell just outside the boundaries of the Aztec Empire. So, one question it raises is why the Aztecs – who were openly hostile to Tlaxcallan – didn’t intervene.”

One possible explanation is that the Aztecs didn’t intervene because it would have been too much effort. “Obsidian was widely available and was an everyday good. It probably wasn’t worth the time and expense to try to cut off Tlaxcallan’s supply of obsidian from El Paredón because other sources were available,” Millhauser says.

The finding drives home how complex international relations were during the Aztec Empire’s reign.

“The fact that they got so much obsidian so close to the Aztec Empire makes me question the scope of conflict at the time,” Millhauser says. “Tlaxcallan was able to access a source of household and military goods from a source that required it to go right up to the border of enemy territory.”

At the same time, the research makes clear that there was an economic rift between Tlaxcallan and the Aztecs. Previous research shows that more than 90 percent of Aztec obsidian came from a source called Pachuca, further to the north. But the new research finds that only 14 percent of the obsidian at Tlaxcallan was from Pachuca – most of the rest came from El Paredón.

For this study, the researchers systematically collected artifacts from the surfaces of stone-walled terraces at the site of the pre-Columbian city of Tlaxcallan. A representative number of the artifacts were then analyzed using x-ray fluorescence. This information was compared with samples from known sources of obsidian in the region to determine where the obsidian artifacts came from.

“All of this drives home the fact that geopolitics mattered for the economies of ancient states,” Millhauser says. “Political stances and political boundaries influenced everyday behavior, down to the flow of basic commodities like obsidian. The popular conception of the Aztec Empire as all powerful before the arrival of Cortés is exaggerated. The region was a politically and culturally complicated place.”

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The paper, “The Geopolitics of Obsidian Supply in Postclassic Tlaxcallan: A Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Study,” was published online March 25 in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Lane Fargher of the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional-Unidad Mérida; Dr. Verenice Heredia Espinoza, of El Colegio de Michoacán; and Dr. Richard Blanton, of Purdue University.

The research was done with support from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, the Elemental Analysis Facility of the Field Museum of Natural History, The Grainger Foundation, Purdue University, the Colegio de Michoacán, FAMSI, the National Geographical Society (under grant number 8008-06), and the National Science Foundation (under grant number BCS-0809643).

Exclusive: Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rain Forest (NatGeo)

In search for legendary “City of the Monkey God,” explorers find the untouched ruins of a vanished culture.

A “were-jaguar” effigy, likely representing a combination of a human and spirit animal, is part of a still-buried ceremonial seat, or metate, one of many artifacts discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle.

An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied “White City,” also referred to in legend as the “City of the Monkey God.”

Archaeologists surveyed and mapped extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid belonging to a culture that thrived a thousand years ago, and then vanished. The team, which returned from the site last Wednesday, also discovered a remarkable cache of stone sculptures that had lain untouched since the city was abandoned.

Picture of Honduran troops leading  a fuel truck and convoy

Honduran troops lead a convoy through a town that served as the base for helicopters ferrying members of the expedition to a location in the Mosquitia rain forest where they examined ruins of an ancient city. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

In contrast to the nearby Maya, this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don’t even have a name for it.

Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican archaeologist on the team from Colorado State University, said the pristine, unlooted condition of the site was “incredibly rare.” He speculated that the cache, found at the base of the pyramid, may have been an offering.

“The undisturbed context is unique,” Fisher said. “This is a powerful ritual display, to take wealth objects like this out of circulation.”

The tops of 52 artifacts were peeking from the earth. Many more evidently lie below ground, with possible burials. They include stone ceremonial seats (called metates) and finely carved vessels decorated with snakes, zoomorphic figures, and vultures.

The most striking object emerging from the ground is the head of what Fisher speculated might be “a were-jaguar,” possibly depicting a shaman in a transformed, spirit state. Alternatively, the artifact might be related to ritualized ball games that were a feature of pre-Columbian life in Mesoamerica.

“The figure seems to be wearing a helmet,” said Fisher. Team member Oscar Neil Cruz, head archaeologist at the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), believes the artifacts date to A.D. 1000 to 1400.

The objects were documented but left unexcavated. To protect the site from looters, its location is not being revealed.

Picture of a stream winds through part of an unexplored valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras

A stream winds through part of an unexplored valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras, a region long rumored to contain a legendary “White City,” also called the City of the Monkey God. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Stories of “Casa Blanca” and a Monkey God

The ruins were first identified in May 2012, during an aerial survey of a remote valley in La Mosquitia, a vast region of swamps, rivers, and mountains containing some of the last scientifically unexplored places on earth.

For a hundred years, explorers and prospectors told tales of the white ramparts of a lost city glimpsed above the jungle foliage. Indigenous stories speak of a “white house” or a “place of cacao” where Indians took refuge from Spanish conquistadores—a mystical, Eden-like paradise from which no one ever returned.

Since the 1920s, several expeditions had searched for the White City, orCiudad Blanca. The eccentric explorer Theodore Morde mounted the most famous of these in 1940, under the aegis of the Museum of the American Indian (now part of the Smithsonian Institution).

Picture of former British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers prepare a helicopter pilot for liftoff

Former British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers prepare a helicopter pilot for liftoff from a landing zone cleared for a team of scientists surveying a secret location in the Mosquitia jungle. The helicopter ferried people and supplies from its base. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Morde returned from Mosquitia with thousands of artifacts, claiming to have entered the City. According to Morde, the indigenous people there said it contained a giant, buried statue of a monkey god. He refused to divulge the location out of fear, he said, that the site would be looted. He later committed suicide and his site—if it existed at all—was never identified.

More recently, documentary filmmakers Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson launched a search for the lost city.

They identified a crater-shaped valley, encircled by steep mountains, as a possible location.

To survey it, in 2012 they enlisted the help of the Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston. A Cessna Skymaster, carrying a million-dollar lidar scanner, flew over the valley, probing the jungle canopy with laser light. lidar—“Light Detection and Ranging”—is able to map the ground even through dense rain forest, delineating any archaeological features that might be present.

When the images were processed, they revealed unnatural features stretching for more than a mile through the valley. When Fisher analyzed the images, he found that the terrain along the river had been almost entirely reshaped by human hands.

The evidence of public and ceremonial architecture, giant earthworks and house mounds, possible irrigation canals and reservoirs, all led Fisher to conclude that the settlement was, indeed, a pre-Columbian city.

Threatened by Deforestation

An archaeological discovery isn’t confirmed until it has been “ground-truthed.” The ground exploration team consisted of American and Honduran archaeologists, a lidar engineer, an anthropologist, an ethnobotanist, documentary filmmakers, and support personnel. Sixteen Honduran Special Forces soldiers provided security. The National Geographic Society sent a photographer and a writer.

The expedition confirmed on the ground all the features seen in the lidar images, along with much more. It was indeed an ancient city. Archaeologists, however, no longer believe in the existence of a single “lost city,” or Ciudad Blanca, as described in the legends. They believe Mosquitia harbors many such “lost cities,” which taken together represent something far more important—a lost civilization.

Picture of Anna Cohen, a University of Washington anthropology grad student, documents artifacts

Anna Cohen, a University of Washington anthropology grad student, documents a cache of more than 50 artifacts discovered in the jungle. Following scientific protocol, no objects were removed from the site. The scientists hope to mount an expedition soon to further document and excavate the site before it can be found by looters. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The valley is densely carpeted in a rain forest so primeval that the animals appear never to have seen humans before. An advance team clearing a landing zone for helicopters supplying the expedition noted spider monkeys peering down curiously from the trees above, and guinea hen and a tapir wandering into camp, unafraid of the human visitors.

This is clearly the most undisturbed rain forest in Central America. The importance of this place can’t be overestimated. – Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist

“This is clearly the most undisturbed rain forest in Central America,” said the expedition’s ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, who spent 30 years in Amazonia. “The importance of this place can’t be overestimated.”

The region also is gravely threatened. Deforestation for ranching has checkerboarded the jungle to within a dozen miles of the valley. Huge swaths of virgin rain forest are being cut illegally and burned to make way for cattle. The region has become one of the biggest beef-producing areas in Central America, supplying meat to fast-food franchises in the United States.

Picture of in addition to looting, another threat to the newly discovered ruins is deforestation

In addition to looting, another threat to the newly discovered ruins is deforestation for cattle ranching, seen here on a hillside on the way to the site. At its present pace, deforestation could reach the valley within a few years. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Virgilio Paredes Trapero, the director of the IHAH, under whose auspices the expedition operated, spent several days at the site. He concluded: “If we don’t do something right away, most of this forest and valley will be gone in eight years.” He spread his hands. “The Honduran government is committed to protecting this area, but doesn’t have the money. We urgently need international support.”

The expedition was made possible with the permission, partnership, and support of the government of Honduras; Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Avarado; Virgilio Paredes Trapero, director of the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History (IHAH); Oscar Neil Cruz, Chief of the Archaeology Division of IHAH, as well as Minister of Defense Samuel Reyes and the Armed Forces of Honduras under the command of Gen. Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, with Gen. Carlos Roberto Puerto and Lt. Col. Willy Joel  Oseguera, and the soldiers of TESON, Honduran Special Forces.

Douglas Preston writes about archaeology for the New Yorker and other publications. His account of Coronado’s search for the Seven Cities of Gold was recently issued as an e-book.

Baylor Researcher Finds First-Ever Evidence of Climate Change of Northern China Region Dating Back Thousands of Years (Baylor Univ.)

China's Hunshandake Sandy Lands

China’s Hunshandake Sandy Lands (Courtesy of Steve Forman)

Feb. 16, 2015

By Tonya B. Lewis

Study Sheds Light on How Populations Respond and Adapt to Climate Change

WACO, Texas (Feb. 16, 2015) — Using a relatively new scientific dating technique, a Baylor University geologist and a team of international researchers were able to document—for the first time—a drastic climate change 4,200 years ago in northern China that affected vegetation and led to mass migration from the area.

Steve Forman, Ph.D., professor of geology in the College of Arts & Sciences, and researchers—using a dating technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence—uncovered the first evidence of a severe decrease in precipitation on the freshwater lake system in China’s Hunshandake Sandy Lands. The impact of this extreme climate change led to desertification—or drying of the region—and the mass migration of northern China’s Neolithic cultures.

Their research findings appear in the January 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and are available online.

“With our unique scientific capabilities, we are able to assert with confidence that a quick change in climate drastically changed precipitation in this area, although, further study needs to be conducted to understand why this change occurred,” Forman said.

Between 2001 and 2014, the researchers investigated sediment sections throughout the Hunshandake and were able to determine that a sudden and irreversible shift in the monsoon system led to the abrupt drying of the Hunshandake resulting in complications for the population.

“This disruption of the water flow significantly impacted human activities in the region and limited water availability. The consequences of a rapid climatic shift on the Hunshandake herding and agricultural cultures were likely catastrophic,” Forman said.

He said these climatic changes and drying of the Hunshandake continue to adversely impact the current population today. The Hunshandake remains arid and even with massive rehabilitation efforts will unlikely regrow dense vegetation.

“This study has far-reaching implications for understanding how populations respond and adapt to drastic climate change,” Forman said.

Forman is the director of the Geoluminescence Dating Research Lab in the department of geology.

Study co-authors include: Xiaoping Yang, Ph.D., of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Louis A. Scuderi, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico; Xulong Wang, Ph.D., of Chinese Academy of Sciences; Louis J. Scuderi, Ph.D., of the University of Hawaii; Deguo Zhang, Ph.D., of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Hongwei Li, Ph.D., of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Qinghai Xu, Ph.D., of Hebei Normal University; Ruichang Wang, Ph.D., of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Weiwen Huang, Ph.D., of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and Shixia Yang, Ph.D., of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The West without Water: What Can Past Droughts Tell Us About Tomorrow? (Origins)

vol. 8, issue 6 – march 2015

by  B. LYNN INGRAM

Editor’s Note:
Almost as soon as European settlers arrived in California they began advertising the place as the American Garden of Eden. And just as quickly people realized it was a garden with a very precarious water supply. Currently, California is in the middle of a years-long drought and the water crisis is threatening the region’s vital agricultural economy, not to mention the quality of life of its people, plants, and animals. This month B. Lynn Ingram, Professor of Geography and Earth & Planetary Science, examines how a deep historical account of California’s water patterns can help us plan for the future.


The state of California is beginning its fourth year of a serious drought, with no end in sight.

The majority of water in the western United States is delivered by winter storms from the Pacific, and over the past year, those storms were largely blocked by an enormous ridge of high pressure. A relatively wet December has given way to the driest January on record, and currently over 90 percent of California is in severe to exceptional drought.

The southwestern states are also experiencing moderate to severe drought, and this comes on the heels of a very dry decade. This long drought has crept up on the region, partly because droughts encroach slowly and they lack the visual and visceral effects of other, more immediate natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or tsunamis.

Meteorologists define drought as an abnormally long period of insufficient rainfall adversely affecting growing or living conditions. But this bland definition belies the devastation wrought by these natural disasters. Drought can lead to failed crops, desiccated landscapes, wildfires, dehydrated livestock, and in severe cases, water wars, famine, and mass migration.

Although the situation in the West has not yet reached such epic proportions, the fear is that if it continues much longer, it could.

Lake Powell, in 2009, showing a white calcium carbonate “bathtub ring” exposed after a decade of drought lowered the level of the reservoir to 60 percent of its capacity. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.)

In California, reservoirs are currently at only 38 percent of capacity, and the snowpack is only 25 percent of normal for late January. Elsewhere in the Southwest, Lake Powell, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, is at 44 percent of capacity.

The amount of water transported through irrigation systems to California’s Central Valley—the most productive agricultural region in the world—has been reduced to only 20 percent of customary quantities, forcing farmers to deepen groundwater wells and drill new ones.

Over the past year, 410,000 acres have been fallowed in this vast agricultural region that provides 30 percent of all the produce grown in the United States and virtually all of the world’s almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. As California dries up, food prices might well rise across the nation.

The question on everyone’s mind is when will this dry period finally come to an end and rainfall return to normal—and just what is normal for the U.S. Southwest when it comes to rain?

And with a growing and more urban population and an ever-changing climate, will we ever be free from the threat of long dry periods, with their disruptive effects on food production and the plants and animals that rely on water to survive?

A glance into the history of the Southwest reminds us that the climate and rainfall patterns have varied tremendously over time, with stretches of drought many decades longer than the one we are experiencing now.

Long dry stretches during the Medieval centuries (especially between 900 and 1350 CE) had dramatic effects on the native peoples of the Southwest (the ancestral Pueblo, Hohokam, and Sinagua), including civilizational collapse, violence, malnutrition, and forced social dislocation.

These earlier Americans are a warning to us.

The past 150 years, which we have used as our baseline for assumptions about rainfall patterns, water availability for agriculture, water laws, and infrastructure planning, may in fact be an unusually wet period.

Let’s look at the past few hundred years first and then explore the region’s climate in geological time.

Recent Droughts and the Arid Regions of the United States

John Wesley Powell stands as one of the most extraordinary scientists and explorers in America in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1869 he became the first white man to lead an expedition down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, a feat all the more remarkable considering Powell had lost most of his right arm during the Civil War.

Ten years later, Powell published Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States, a careful assessment of the region’s capacity to be developed.

In it, Powell argued that very little of the West could sustain agriculture. In fact, his calculations suggested that even if all the water in western streams were harnessed, only a tiny fraction of the land could be irrigated.

Further, Powell believed that growth and development ought to be carefully planned and managed, and that boundaries drawn for new western states ought to follow watersheds to avoid inter-state fighting over precious water resources.

When Powell presented his findings to Congress, politicians howled. Powell found himself denounced by pro-development forces, including railroads and agricultural interests.

Prescient as Powell’s study has proved to be, it was almost entirely ignored at the time.

Instead, those development boosters responded to Powell’s data about the aridity of the west with a novel climatological theory: “Rain follows the plow.” They insisted that agriculture could cause the rains to fall, so like magic the more acres brought under cultivation the more rain farmers would enjoy.

The years surrounding the turn of the 20th century turned out to be unusually wet across much of the region. Hopeful pioneers continued to flock to the West, despite the visible signs of aridity.

They still do. The past century and a half in California and the West has been a period of steady population growth. And today the U.S. Southwest is the fastest-growing region in the United States (which itself is the world’s fourth-fastest-growing nation).

The Dirty Thirties and Beyond

The relatively wet period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave way to drought in the late 1920s with the start of the Dust Bowl—now considered to be the United States’ worst climate tragedy.

The years between 1928 and 1939 were among the driest of the 20th century in the American West. This drought had particularly severe effects on California’s developing agricultural industry that were only mitigated by the extensive pumping of groundwater that eventually caused the ground surface in California’s Central Valley to drop by several feet.

Donner Lake, Sierra Nevada Range, California (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram).

In the 20th century, the single driest year (rivaling the 2013-2014 water year) was the drought of 1976-1977, extending across the entire state of California and into the Northwest, the Midwest, and the Canadian Prairie region north of Montana.

In California, precipitation levels dropped to less than a quarter of average. Reservoirs dropped to one-third their normal levels, and 7.5 million trees in the Sierra Nevada weakened by drought succumbed to insect related diseases, fueling massive wildfires. Snowfall was extremely sparse, forcing ski areas to close.

The following decade, another six-year drought occurred from 1987 to 1992, and while no single year was as severe as the drought of 1976-1977, the cumulative effects were ultimately more devastating. Annual precipitation attained only 50 percent of the 20th century average, with far-ranging impacts.

In the Sierra Nevada, water-stressed trees suffered widespread mortality from pine bark beetle infestations. Reduced stream flow caused major declines in fish populations, affecting commercial and recreational fisheries by lowering populations of Chinook salmon and striped bass.

By the fourth year of the drought, reservoir storage statewide was down 60 percent, causing a decline in hydroelectric power generation and the imposition of water restrictions including a decrease in agricultural water delivery by 75 percent.

Farmers relied more on groundwater, with private well owners deepening existing wells or drilling new ones. In the San Joaquin Valley, 11 million acre-feet more groundwater was extracted than could be replenished naturally, further lowering already low groundwater levels.

Measuring Droughts over Geological Time

As bad and worrisome as these more recent historical droughts in California and the West were, they pale in comparison to events uncovered in the geological record.

In recent years, earth scientists have been discovering that the climate and weather in the West over the past 100 to 150 years represents only a narrow part of the full range of climate in the region.

By peering deeper into Earth’s history—the past centuries and millennia—the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate events like drought can be better understood.

The evidence comes in various forms, such as mud from the bottom of lakes and ponds, microscopic organisms living in the oceans, bubbles frozen in glaciers, pencil-thin wood cores drilled from trees, and salts precipitating in dried-up lake bottoms.

A cut section of a Giant Sequoia trunk from Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, showing AD dates of fires (photo courtesy of Thomas Swetnam, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona).

One of the earliest records of past climate change comes from the rings of the long-lived Douglas fir. Trees are particularly effective recorders of climate because they respond every year to conditions of temperature and precipitation, responses recorded in the growth rings of their trunks.

In a landmark study during the early 1940s, a 600-year record of Colorado River flow using Douglas firs revealed several sustained periods of low water flow and these periods recurred with some regularity.

The reconstruction showed a particularly severe drought in the late 1500s, a drought lasting over a decade that has since shown up in multiple records from throughout the West.

These records also reveal that the driest single year over the past millennium (even drier than the parched 1976-1977 drought) occurred in 1580 CE. Trees across the West either had a narrow ring, or even a missing ring, that year.

Looking at an even broader picture, evidence from the past 10 millennia—a relatively warm era since the last Ice Age, which we call the Holocene—informs us that the severity of past extreme events (including droughts and floods) far exceeds those experienced over the past century and a half.

One of the longest dry periods for California and the West occurred during what is known as the mid-Holocene climatic optimum, a time when much of the earth experienced warmer than average conditions from about 4,500 to 7,500 years ago.

In the American West, there are numerous clues showing that this time period was drier than average for upwards of 1,400 years. These climate extremes caused significant human dislocations and forced native populations to migrate from the desert interiors of the West to the coastal regions.

The Tools for Uncovering Climate History

One of the most vivid clues for understanding the patterns of past drought in the West was revealed in Lake Tahoe toward the end of the Great Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s. At that time, Tahoe’s water level dropped fourteen inches, exposing a mysterious clustering of tree stumps sticking up from the water’s surface along the lake’s southern shore.

These trees attracted the attention of Samuel Harding, an engineering Professor from the University of California, Berkeley. Harding discovered that the trees were large, with trunks as wide as three feet in diameter, and appeared to be firmly rooted in the lake bottom.

Harding reasoned that the trees had grown in this location for a long time to attain such sizes, and since they were now submerged in over twelve feet of water, he surmised that at some time in the past the lake level had been much lower.

Frances Malamud-Roam, B. Lynn Ingram, and Christina Brady coring a small oxbow lake in the Sacramento Valley, California. (Photo taken by Anders Noren, University of Minnesota, LaCore curator.)

After collecting cores through their trunks, he counted up to 150 rings, concluding that it was a dry spell of over a century that caused the lake level to drop, allowing the trees to grow along the former shoreline.

Harding had to wait two decades before he could date this drought, after the invention of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s. Radiocarbon measurements of the outermost rings of the tree stumps showed that these trees died approximately 4,800 years ago.

Decades later, more evidence emerged from Lake Tahoe during another of California’s droughts in the late 1980s, when the lake’s surface dropped again, exposing even more tree stumps.

This time, it was an archaeologist, Susan Lindstrom, who noticed the tops of trees sticking out of the water along Tahoe’s southern shore. Donning scuba gear, Lindstrom was able to find fifteen submerged tree stumps that had escaped Harding’s attention, some measuring up to three and a half feet in diameter.

The radiocarbon dates from this much larger population of trees refined and extended the boundaries of the mid-Holocene drought, moving the beginning to as early as 6,290 years ago, and the ending to 4,840 years ago.

These stumps, located deeper in the lake, showed that the lake level had dropped by even more than Harding originally thought – by more than 20 feet. Lindstrom and other researchers have since located tree stumps in more places around the shores of Lake Tahoe and in other Sierran lakes.

Sediment core taken by Frances Malamud-Roam and B. Lynn Ingram from beneath San Francisco Bay, California. (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram.)

Geologists have also discovered more evidence from sediment cores taken from beneath lakes revealing the wide extent of this drought—across California and the Great Basin.

The archaeological records show that native populations migrated from the inland desert regions to the California coast at this time, likely in search of water and other resources during this prolonged drought.

Another dry millennium began about 3,000 years after the mid-Holocene drought ended. Evidence for this prolonged drought was found throughout California and the West.

One study, conducted in my laboratory at UC Berkeley, examined sediments accumulating beneath the San Francisco Bay estuary. These sediments contain information about precipitation over the entire drainage basin of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers—an area that covers 40 percent of California.

Frances Malamud-Roam and Anders Noren coring marsh sediments adjacent to San Francisco Bay (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram)

Rivers draining the Sierra Nevada Range and Central Valley flow through San Francisco Bay and out the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean. In the Bay, fresh river water meets and mixes with the incoming ocean water, producing a range of salinity: fresh at the Delta, saline in the Central bay near the Golden Gate, and brackish in between.

Organisms growing in the Bay record the salinity in their shells, which then sink to the bottom and are preserved in the sediments. We took sediment cores from beneath the Bay and analyzed the chemistry of the fossil shells, allowing us to reconstruct past salinity, and therefore past river flow.

These studies showed that droughts lasting over a decade occurred regularly over the past two millennia, at intervals of 50 to 90 years. The cores also revealed a period of high salinity that began about 1,700 years ago and ending about 700 years ago, suggesting another prolonged drought.

We conducted a related study with Professor Roger Byrne in the Geography Department at UC Berkeley, coring the tidal marshlands surrounding the bay to assess the impact of this drought on this ecosystem.

These marshes have grown up around the edges of San Francisco Bay for the past 5,000 years or so, forming peat. The marsh peats contain fossil plants and chemical evidence for past periods of wetter and drier conditions in the watershed.

A drought in the watershed, if prolonged and severe, can cause higher salinity downstream in the estuary as the inflow of fresh water drops. In response, salt-tolerant species in the marshes expand further inland toward the Delta and the fresh water species retreat. Conversely, unusually wet winters generate fresher conditions in the estuary, leading to an expansion of freshwater-adapted species.

We analyzed the pollen and plant remains, carbon chemistry of the peats, and diatoms—the microscopic phytoplankton that grow in the marshes and produce tiny silica shells.

All of this evidence showed that the average freshwater inflow to San Francisco Bay was significantly lower than today’s levels for a thousand years, between 1,750 and 750 years ago.

The peak of this low-inflow interval, with freshwater flows 40 percent below average levels, occurred approximately 900 to 1,200 years ago, during a time when global temperatures were high, known as the Medieval Warm Period.

Mono Lake, showing calcium carbonate “tufa tower” formations that originally formed beneath the lake but are now exposed after the water level dropped. The eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada range is shown in the background. (Photo by D. J. DePaolo.)

Evidence for this drought was also discovered in an ancient lake situated east of the Sierra Nevada. Geography Professor Scott Stine analyzed the sedimentary sequences in Mono Lake, delineating patterns of alternately higher and lower lake levels for the past 4,000 years.

Mono Lake experienced an extended low stand that began about 1,600 years ago, dropping to an even lower level 700 to 1,200 years ago. During the 1980s drought, Stine also discovered large tree stumps submerged in Mono Lake.

Much like the tree stumps discovered in Lake Tahoe, these submerged trees indicated that at one time the lake was so small that its shoreline was several tens of feet lower than the present shoreline, when the trees now underwater could grow on dry ground. Stine went on to discover similar submerged tree stumps in lakes, marshes, and rivers throughout the central and southern Sierra Nevada Range.

By counting their growth rings, Stine determined that they had lived up to 160 years. Based on the amount the lake level dropped, he calculated that the average annual river flows in the region were only 40 to 60 percent of what they were in the late 20th century.

Radiocarbon dates of the outer growth layers of these tree stumps revealed that these trees clustered around two distinct periods, now known as the “Medieval Megadroughts”: CE 900 to 1100 and CE 1200 to 1350.

An ancient tree stump submerged in the West Walker River, eastern Sierra Nevada. (Photo courtesy of D. J. DePaolo.)

Across North America, tree-ring studies indicate that climate conditions over the past two millennia became steadily more variable (shifting between drier and wetter periods), with especially severe droughts between CE 900 and 1400.

These records show that over half the American West suffered severe drought between CE 1021 and CE 1051, and from CE 1130-1170, CE1240-1265 and CE 1360-1382.

The warm and dry conditions of the Medieval period spawned larger and more frequent wildfires, as recorded in the trunks of Giant sequoias—the massive redwoods growing in about 75 distinct groves along the mid-elevations of the western Sierra Nevada. These spectacular trees can live up to 3,200 years or more, and have exceeded 250 feet in height and 35 feet in diameter.

Thomas Swetnam, the current Director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona, discovered that the trees carry scars on their annual growth rings that indicate past fires in the region.

Swetnam sampled giant sequoias from five groves between Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, far enough apart that individual fires could not have spread from one grove to the next. He dated the trees using ring-width patterns, and recorded the fire scars contained within annual rings.

His analysis reveals that during the Medieval period, from 1,200 to 700 years ago, an average of thirty-six fires burned every century.

During the centuries preceding the Medieval period (from about 1,500 to 1,200 years ago) and immediately following it (from about 700 years ago to the current century), the fire frequency was substantially lower, with an average of 21 fires per century.

The Human Costs of Droughts Then and Now

The archaeological record suggests that the extended periods of drought in the Medieval era caused severe hardship for both coastal and inland peoples— particularly the ancestral Pueblo communities—as dwindling resources increased disease, malnutrition, and warfare. Long inhabited sites were abandoned as the desperate populations wandered in search of new water sources.

Ancient pueblo cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, southwestern Colorado. (Photo taken by B. Lynn Ingram)

Much of what archaeologists know about the ancestral Pueblo comes from pueblo and cliff dwellings from the four corners region, including Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado, and Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona.

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico was the site of one of the most extensive of the ancestral Pueblo settlements. At its peak, during the 11th and early 12th centuries CE, Chaco Canyon had great pueblos the size of apartment blocks housing hundreds of residents in large, high-ceilinged rooms.

These settlements were supported by agriculture, allowing people to settle in one place year-round. Most of the farming depended on annual rains, supplemented by water from nearby streams and groundwater.

But over time, the climate became increasingly arid and unpredictable. The ancestral Pueblo farmers were forced to build an extensive system of diversion dams and canals, directing rainwater from the mesa tops to fields on the canyon floor, allowing them to expand the area of arable land.

The population in the four corners region swelled throughout the 11th and 12th centuries CE—but then collapsed.

Another ancient society, the Hohokam, lived in central Arizona near the confluence of Arizona’s only three rivers, the Gila, Verde, and Salt. The Hohokam civilization thrived in central Arizona for a thousand years, building an extensive network of integrated canal systems, capable of transporting large volumes of water long distances.

At their peak, an estimated 40,000 Hohokam lived in Arizona, but they suddenly vanished in the mid-15th century.

Montezuma’s Castle, a cliff dwelling occupied by the Sinagua, located just north of Camp Verde in central Arizona. (Photo by B. Lynn Ingram.)

In northern Arizona, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, the Sinagua culture also thrived during this period. As the climate turned drier, they built cliff dwellings in central Arizona, suggesting that resources became scarce, forcing them to build fortified dwellings with hidden food storage areas. The Sinagua also disappeared about the same time as the Hohokam.

All of these societies were flourishing prior to a rather abrupt collapse. The archaeological record of the last decades of the ancestral Pueblo in Chaco Canyon abounds with signs of suffering.

Skeletal remains show signs of malnutrition, starvation and disease; life spans declined and infant mortality rates increased. Evidence of violence, possibly warfare, was found in mass graves containing bones penetrated with arrowheads and teeth marks, and skulls bearing the scars of scalping.

Piles of belongings were found, apparently left behind as the people abandoned their settlements and fled, some to live in fortified hideouts carved in the cliff faces, protecting their hoarded food from enemies.

The unusually dry climate of the Medieval period also appeared to have tested the endurance and coping strategies of even the well-adapted native populations in California.

The skeletal remains show that life in the interior of California was particularly difficult, as the drought severely reduced sources of food (nuts, plants, deer, and other game). Settlements along rivers were abandoned, and trade between inland and coastal groups broke down. As water supplies dried up, conflicts – even battles – between groups arose over territory and food and water resources.

The Watery Lessons of the Past

The “Medieval Drought” serves as a model for what can happen in the West. It also provides an important impetus for water sustainability planning. And the hardships suffered by the first human inhabitants in the West provide important lessons.

For instance, during extended periods of abundant moisture, some societies experienced rapid population growth, leaving them vulnerable to collapse when the climate inevitably turned dry again.

Modern societies in the West have followed a similar path over the past century— after a century of fairly abundant moisture, the population in this region has exploded (and become more urbanized).

Modern engineering has allowed the exploitation of all available water sources for human use, and western water policy has favored water development for power, cities, and farms over sustainability of the environment and ecosystems.

These policies have allowed populations to grow to the limit that this region can support, leaving us vulnerable during extended drier conditions.

The longest six-year droughts experienced by the West over the past century are meager by comparison, despite the extreme hardship they brought to the region.

In fact, in the context of the longer-term climate history, the 20th century actually stands out as one of the wettest over the past 1,300 years, yet the droughts of the mid-1920s, 1977 and the late 1980s caused immense hardship for our society, based as it is upon heavy water usage.

In addition, future changes in the global climate will interact with the natural cycles of drought in California and the West in ways that are difficult to predict. Climate models predict that warming will likely make the extreme events, particularly floods and droughts, even larger and more frequent.

Some of these impacts have already begun. Over the past two decades, warming and an earlier start of the spring season have caused forest fires to become more frequent and intense.

A warmer climate will also bring less precipitation that falls as snow. The American West depends on snow-bearing winter storms for a natural water reservoir. This snow begins melting in the late spring, and continues into the summer, filling streams, lakes, and reservoirs that sustain natural ecosystems throughout the dry summer months.

The snow pack supports cities and irrigated agriculture, providing up to 80 percent of the year’s water supply across the West. As the region warms, the snow that does fall will melt faster and earlier in the spring, rather than melting during the late spring and summer, when it is so critically needed.

The message of past climates is that the range of “normal” climate is enormous—and we have experienced only a relatively benign portion of it in recent history. The region’s climate over the past decade has been dry when compared to the 20th century average, suggesting a return to a drier period.

This past year was also the warmest on record in the American West, and the ten hottest years on record occurred since 1997. The position of inhabitants of the West is precarious now and growing more so.

As we continue with an unsustainable pattern of water use, we become more vulnerable each year to a future we cannot control. It is time for policy makers in the West to begin taking action toward preparing for drier conditions and decreased water availability.


Read more from Origins on Water and the Environment: The World Water CrisisThe River JordanWho Owns the Nile?The Changing ArcticOver-Fishing in American WatersClimate Change and Human Population; and the Global Food Crisis.


Suggested Reading

Benson, L., Kashgarian, M., Rye, R., Lund, S., Paillet, F., Smoot, J., Kester, C., Mensing, S., Meko, D. and Lindstrom, S., 2002. “Holocene Multidecadal and Multi-centennial Droughts Affecting Northern California and Nevada.” Quaternary Science Reviews 21, 659-682.

Bradley, R.S., Briffa, K.R., Cole, J., Hughes, M.K., and Osborn, T.J., 2003. “The climate of the last millennium.” In: Alverson, K, Bradley, R.S., and Pedersen, T.F. (Eds.), Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future, Springer Verlag, Berlin, pp. 105-49.

Brunelle, A. and Anderson, R.S., 2003. “Sedimentary charcoal as an indicator of late-Holocene drought in the Sierra Nevada, California, and its relevance to the future. “ The Holocene 13(1), 21-28.

Cayan, D. R., S. A. Kammerdiener, M. D. Dettinger, J. M. Caprio, and D. H. Peterson, 2001. “Changes in the onset of spring in the Western United States.” Bull. Am. Met. Soc., 82, 399-415.

Fagan, B., 2003. Before California: an Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Lanham, MD. 400 p.

Gleick, P.H. and E.L. Chalecki. 1999.” The impacts of climatic changes for water resources of the Colorado and Sacramento-San Joaquin river basins.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp.

Hughes, M.K. and Brown, P.M., 1992. “Drought frequency in central California since 101 B.C. recorded in giant sequoia tree rings.” Climate Dynamics 6,161-197

Ingram, B. Lynn and Malamud-Roam, F. (2013) The West without Water: What past floods, droughts, and other climatic clues tell us about tomorrow. UC Press, 256 pages.

Ingram, B. L., Conrad, M.E., and Ingle, J.C., 1996. “A 2000-yr record of Sacramento-San Joaquin River inflow to San Francisco Bay estuary, California.” Geology 24, 331-334.

Lightfoot, K., 1997. “Cultural construction of coastal landscapes: A middle Holocene perspective from San Francisco Bay.” In: Erlandson, J. and Glassow, M. (eds), Archaeology of the California Coast during the Middle Holocene, 129-141. Series, Perspectives in California Archaeology 4, Institute of Archaeology, Univ. of California.

Malamud-Roam, F. and B.L. Ingram. 2004. “Late Holocene d13C and pollen records of paleosalinity from tidal marshes in the San Francisco estuary.” Quaternary Research 62, 134-145.

Stahle, D. W., Cook, E. R., Cleaveland, M. K., Therrell, M. D., Meko, D. M., Grissino-Mayer, H. D., Watson, E., and Luckman, B., 2000. “Tree-ring data document 16th century megadrought over North America.” EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 81 (12), 121-125.

Stine, S., 1990. “Past Climate At Mono Lake.” Nature 345: 391.

Stine, S., 1994. “Extreme and persistent drought in California and Patagonia during mediaeval time.” Nature 369: 546-549.

Swetnam, T.W. 1993. “Fire history and climate change in Giant Sequoia groves.” Science 262, 885.

Indo-European languages emerged roughly 6,500 years ago on Russian steppes, new research suggests (LSA)

2/13/2015

Linguists have long agreed that languages from English to Greek to Hindi, known as ‘Indo-European languages‘, are part of a language family which first emerged from a common ancestor spoken thousands of years ago. Now, a new study gives us more information on when and where it was most likely used. Using data from over 150 languages, linguists at the University of California, Berkeley provide evidence that this ancestor language originated 5,500 – 6,500 years ago, on the Pontic-Caspian steppe stretching from Moldova and Ukraine to Russia and western Kazakhstan.

Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European steppe hypothesis“, by Will Chang, Chundra Cathcart, David Hall and Andrew Garrett, will appear in the March issue of the academic journal LanguageA pre-print version of the article is available on the LSA website.

Chang et al. abstract

This article provides new support for the “steppe hypothesis” or “Kurgan hypothesis”, which proposes that Indo-European languages first spread with cultural developments in animal husbandry around 4500 – 3500 BCE. (An alternate theory proposes that they spread much earlier, around 7500 – 6000 BCE, in Anatolia in modern-day Turkey.)

Chang et al. examined over 200 sets of words from living and historical Indo-European languages; after determining how quickly these words changed over time through statistical modeling, they concluded that the rate of change indicated that the languages which first used these words began to diverge approximately 6,500 years ago, in accordance with the steppe hypothesis.

This is one of the first quantitatively-based academic papers in support of the steppe hypothesis, and the first to use a model with “ancestry constraints” which more directly incorporate previously discovered relationships between languages. Discussion of prior studies in favor of and against the steppe hypothesis can be found in the paper.

Members of the media who are interested in discussing the article and its findings may contact Brice Russ, LSA Director of Communications, and Andrew Garrett, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Forum: Archaeology of the Anthropocene” (AAA Blog)

“Forum: Archaeology of the Anthropocene”

by Asa Randall

CITATION:

Edgeworth, M., Benjamin, J., Clarke, B., Crossland, Z., Domanska, E., Gorman, A. C., Graves-Brown, P., Harris, E. C., Hudson, M. J., Kelley, J. M., Paz, V. J., Salerno, M. A., Witmore, C. & Zarankin, A. 2014. Forum: Archaeology of the Anthropocene. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 1,1, pp. 73-132.

ON-LINE AVAILABILITY:

 DOI: 10.1558/jca.v1i1.73

ABSTRACT:

What role will archaeology play in the Anthropocene – the proposed new geological epoch marked by human impact on Earth systems? That is the question discussed by thirteen archaeologists and other scholars from five continents in this thought-provoking forum. Their responses are diverse and wide-ranging. While Edward Harris looks to archaeological stratigraphy for a material paradigm of the Anthropocene, Alice Gorman explores the extent of human impact on orbital space and lunar surfaces – challenging the assumption that the Anthropocene is confined to Earth. Jeff Benjamin investigates the sounds of the Anthropocene. Paul Graves-Brown questions the idea that the epoch had its onset with the invention of the steam engine, while Mark Hudson uses Timothy Morton’s concept of hyperobjects to imagine the dark artefacts of the future. Victor Paz doubts the practical relevance of the concept to archaeological chronologies, and Bruce Clarke warns archaeologists to steer clear of the Anthropocene altogether, on the grounds of the overbearing hubris of the very idea of the Age of Humans. Others like Jason Kelly and Ewa Domanska regard the Anthropocene debate as an opportunity to reach new forms of understanding of Earth systems. André Zarankin and Melisa Salerno ground significant issues in the archaeology of Antarctica. And Zoe Crossland explores the vital links between the known past and the imagined future. As a discipline orientated to the future and contemporary world as well as the past, Chris Witmore concludes, archaeology in the Anthropocene will have more work than it can handle.

The archaeological imagination is the ability to conceive of a past through encounters with old objects, substances, or places (Thomas, 1996, p. 63-64). In a sense, the archaeological imagination meshes the past with the present, as ancient objects are animated with contemporary concerns. Imagining a past and even empathizing with ancient actors likely has its roots in early modern humans (Gamble, 2008, p. 1-2). That is, everyone has an archaeological imagination.  Archaeologists in particular have spent a fair amount of time honing their scientific toolkits and theoretical frameworks to create informed narratives about the past. Much archaeological effort has been oriented towards elucidating patterns and processes in deep time, although archaeologies of modern rubbish disposal or ruination (e.g. Rathje and Murphy, 2001, p, Dawdy, 2010, p.) have coexisted with studies of the more ancient. Indeed, archaeology’s focus on the material world—or human entanglements with it—provides relevant viewpoint in which to engage with, critique, or document the Anthropocene.

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, Edgeworth and colleagues turn their archaeological imagination towards the “anthropocene” and ask what does an archaeology of the Anthropocene look like, how do today’s practices create tangible (or even acoustic) traces, and what might the Anthropocene’s archaeological record look like in the future? The collection of short papers emerged from the 2013 Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting, and there is much to digest here. Of the contributions in the forum, those by Edgeworth (“Introduction”) and Witmore (“Archaeology, the Anthropocene, and the Hypanthropocene”) provide useful discussions of the themes, controversies, and contributions. Broadly speaking, the forum participants engage with the ways in which the Anthropocene destabilizes disciplinary boundaries and makes complex the relationship between time scales (human versus geological) and the spatial scale(s) of human activity in the world. These same sorts of themes echo ongoing debate regarding the Anthropocene as a precise “thing” whose identity is controlled by Geologists, or one that invokes or necessitates many viewpoints.

Of particular interest to me were those contributions that highlighted ways in which aspects of Anthropocenic habitation extend or unsettle traditional archaeological imaginations. For example, Hudson (“Dark Artifacts: Hyperobjects and the Archaeology of the Anthropocene”) considers from an archaeological perspective what Morton (2010, p.) refers to as “hyperobjects.” Paraphrasing Hudson, hyperobjects are characterized as massively distributed such that they are physically and conceptually viscous, of a particular phase but of great durability, nonlocal (i.e. not typical of any one place), formed from interactions, and often “dangerous”.  Cited examples include Styrofoam, radionuclides, or plastiglomerate (so, too, the rebounding landscapes described by Ingo Schlupp may qualify); the spatial distribution, small size, or virtual character of hyperobjects makes them difficult to visualize or even comprehend. Not only do hyperobjects resist easy interpretation due to their lack of being of a particular place, their durability means that they lack life-cycles that are intelligible within a human framework of hundreds or thousands of years (that is, they will co-exist with many different kinds of societies in the future). While hyperobjects are of human agency, they reside in a strange state between cultural and natural whose ubiquity does not neatly sit in the localized or humanized imagined pasts that we are accustomed to thinking through, and which may ultimately lead to indifference towards them.

In a related vein, Crossland (“Anthropocene: Locating Agency, Imagining the Future”) considers the ways in which narratives about the Anthropocene can warp time and agency. To paraphrase Crossland, by restricting the Anthropocene to the industrial era (replete with dangerous hyperobjects), a teological arrow is held fast between the past and the present, such that only a dystopic future is possible. On the other hand, relocating the Anthropocene to the ancient world (the so-called Paleoanthropocene) may promote continuity between present and past (and redistribute the responsibility for it globally), but “the power of the imagery is undercut, and the ability of the concept to shock people and governments into change seems to be weakened” (p. 125). Crossland suggests a third route for our archaeological imaginations in the Anthropocene, which is to accept that at any point in time futures are open ended, and that “traces of the past therefore provide the ground for imagining the future” (p. 127). While preexisting conditions are important, traces of the past are really collaborations between the past and the present. We can avoid historical narratives that are arranged as progressive change with dystopian futures by envisioning that presents (in the past and our own) had many potential futures.  Kenneth Sassaman (2012, p.) has similarly argued that the relationships between past/present/future are never stable, and that communities in the past likely planned for their own alternative futures.

I’m not certain that the concept of hyperobject does anything for us, particularly as a marker of the Anthropocene. It is likely that other “pre-modern” objects or technologies have been equally influential but we do not reflect on them either. Furthermore, the time and space bending properties of the archaeological imagination are not easily translated into a world dominated by progressive thinking.  But, Hudson and other papers in this contribution challenges us to think about how the categories of objects and substances we are creating today—and the methods we use to interrogate them—can influence how we think about time, culture, and even social justice. In this regard, I suspect the upcoming “Anthropocene Slam: A Cabinet of Curiosities” forum (which will apparently be streamed live) will provide much food for thought. According to the forum’s description, each contributor has provided an object of study, ranging from substances such as concrete to room thermostats, through which we might visualize or imagine the relations between pasts and futures and different ecologies.

What will a future archaeological imagination make of the anthropocene? Time will certainly tell.  Yet, perhaps thinking about how we are creating an archaeological record of our own may make us more keenly future oriented.

FURTHER READING:

Dawdy, S. L. 2010. Clockpunk Anthropology and the Ruins of Modernity. Current Anthropology, 51, 761-793. DOI 10.1086/657626. Dawdy explores the ways in which creative uses of  and experiences with the past in contemporary times undermines easy separations between modern and premodern.

Gamble, C. 2008. Archaeology: the basics, New York, Routledge. This is an easy to read introductory text on Archaeology and interpretation.

Morton, T. 2010. The ecological thought, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. Morton considers what interconnectedness means, particularly when we acknowledge that all things have relations.

Rathje, W. L. & Murphy, C. 2001. Rubbish!: the archaeology of garbage, Tucson, AZ, University of Arizona Press. This popular book provides insights from archaeological examinations of modern refuse disposal practices.

Sassaman, K. E. 2012. Futurologists Look Back. Archaeologies, 10.1007/s11759-012-9205-0, 1–19. 10.1007/s11759-012-9205-0. Sassaman argues that the wall that is often erected between modern and premodern communities is minimized if we allow ancient communities to have imagined and acted upon their own futures (so called futures past).

Thomas, J. 1996. Time, Culture and Identity: An Interpretive Archaeology, London, Routledge. Thomas introduces the concept of the archaeological imagination.

Rogue winds swept humans to last uninhabited islands (New Scientist)

13:00 30 September 2014 by Michael Slezak

Too far east? <i>(Image: Thomas J. Abercrombie/National Geographic Creative)</i>

Too far east? (Image: Thomas J. Abercrombie/National Geographic Creative)

Expert navigation and advanced boat-building technology were not enough for humans to finally colonise the world’s most remote islands – shifting wind patterns also played a part.

There were no humans on Easter Island in the south-eastern Pacific until the middle ages, when expert Polynesian sailors spread from the central Pacific islands. Within a few hundred years, they colonised previously uninhabited islands all across the South Pacific. But how they did so has remained a matter of some controversy.

Today winds blow from east to west in the tropics, and in the opposite direction further south. This would have made it an epic struggle against the wind to sail eastwards to Easter Island or westwards to New Zealand, and scientists have clashed over whether Polynesian seafaring could have coped with such a task.

The Polynesians would probably have needed fixed-mast canoes to sail against the wind, which there is no evidence of, says Ian Goodwin from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Instead, his research suggests that these pioneering sailors might have had the winds in their favour after all.

“All previous research that’s been done trying to understand this very rapid colonisation of the Pacific tried to grapple with the migration in terms of modern climate,” says Goodwin, who teamed up with anthropologist Atholl Andersonfrom the Australian National University in Canberra.

They wanted to see whether wind patterns could help explain the migrations. Using evidence from tree rings, lake sediments and ice cores, they tried to reconstruct ancient climates. Their work showed that, for a couple of centuries, a unique set of wind changes would have made these journeys easier.

Catching the breeze

The wind record reveals that every few decades there were dramatic shifts in wind direction, corresponding to expansions and contractions of the predominantly warm, moist climates of the tropical regions, caused by warming of the western Pacific Ocean. Many of these events explain the movements of Polynesians’ across the pacific.

From 1080 to 1100, the tropics contracted, moving the westerly winds further north. This would have created ideal sailing routes from the already colonised South Austral Islands to Easter Island – exactly when many archaeologists now think the island was colonised. Later, from 1140 to 1160, the opposite happened. The tropics expanded, and the easterly winds moved further south, allowing migration to New Zealand, which corresponds with archaeological and oral history records.

But the wind changes seem to have stopped as suddenly as they emerged – which could be why there don’t appear to have been any major voyages after 1300

Debating blows on

Terry Hunt, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon in the US, believes the timings are significant. He and his colleagues previously establishedexactly when some of the colonisations happened using radiocarbon dating. “When we wrote our paper, we were saying to ourselves ‘something must have erased distance in the rapid colonization of the remote Pacific.’ These windows may be the critical clue,” he says.

Dilys Johns from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, is more reserved about the role the wind played for the Polynesians’ rapid spread across the South Pacific. “It’s good to know they had chunks of time when it wouldn’t have been as difficult,” she says, but she still believes Polynesians were probably capable of sailing against the winds.

Hunt disagrees. “I think this is a compelling argument that an upwind capability was not necessary for long-distance voyaging, and indeed did not play a role.”

Journal Reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408918111

A Future as Clouded as Their Past (New York Times)

Credit: Carl Wiens

We won’t ever know what the Anasazi were thinking on the eve of the 13th century when they abandoned the cities they had worked so long to build on the Colorado Plateau. The reasons had something to do with climate — a great drought and, perhaps on top of that, a mini ice age. If that wasn’t enough to defeat a thriving culture, there was the turmoil that came from just not knowing. Why were the sky and earth behaving so strangely? Why wasn’t the old magic working anymore?

The rains were not just sparser. They were no longer coming when they were supposed to — when the seedlings were in the ground waiting for water. Cooler temperatures were putting an earlier end to the growing season. Fields had been overplanted, forests stripped of wood. Crops were failing as people reverted from agriculture to hunting and gathering and fighting violently over food.

Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde — these grand stone settlements fell silent, repurposed centuries later as national parks and monuments, memorials to the repercussions of ancient climate change.

There are many theories seeking to explain the abandonment, abstracted from faint clues in old rocks and bones and in the patterns of tree rings and pollen deposition. By some measures, there was enough water, just barely, for the Anasazi settlements to hang on. And there is evidence that they had survived drier times. A more complex story has emerged as archaeologists try to infer what they can from changes in architectural styles and pottery design — hints perhaps of a people trying out new rituals, new ways to entreat suddenly indifferent gods.

Something was happening — a slow horror, perhaps so slow that it didn’t feel like a horror, until the Anasazi’s culture began to unwind. Did their leaders engage at first in denial and then quiet deliberation? When that failed, did communities split into factions with the conservatives insisting on standing their ground — clinging to the old ways and waiting for the rains to return — and the liberals pushing for new approaches? Did a visionary arise? Some Moses leading a migration? Or three Moseses leading migrations in different directions?

One way or the other, the Anasazi disintegrated, the people moving southward. Their descendants are believed to live now in the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, perched on mesa tops and hugging the banks of the Rio Grande.

In modern times, many of these pueblos divide themselves, for reasons they keep from the anthropologists, into kinship groups called summer and winter people or squash and turquoise people. Could these divisions be imprints left from that 13th-century upheaval?

It is frustrating how little is known. Compared with the Byzantines, the Normans, or the Mongols, the Anasazi left such faint traces, like ripples from the radiation of their own Big Bang. They have an oral history but it is mostly secret. And there is only so much that can be derived from mythology. The closest we have to records are the crude rock etchings called petroglyphs. Were these symbols in a rudimentary language or just doodling?

Our own deliberations — imprinted onto electromagnetic waves — have been pulsing outward from Earth since the first radio news shows in the 1920s and 30s, interspersed with the “Grand Ole Opry” and the “Amos ’n’ Andy” show.

By now broadcasts about greenhouses gases, melting ice caps and rising sea levels are rippling far beyond Alpha Centauri, along with the carefully calculated outrage of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. As the waves travel farther, they converge asymptotically toward a vanishing point. Even at their strongest they might seem as esoteric to curious aliens as Anasazi rock art.

Our later emanations, if they are ever understood, might tell of great feats of geoengineering: swarms of orbiting mirrors to bounce back sunlight, oceans fertilized to create carbon-absorbing algae blooms.

The Anasazi had to make do with simpler technology — water catchment basins, irrigation channels. But when all else failed at least they had somewhere to go.

Stuck here on Earth, do we embrace the Anthropocene — this new geological epoch in which the human race has become its own force of nature? Or do we hunker down for the sixth extinction? Faced with the dilemma, we cleave as naturally as a crystal into factions, like the squash people and the pumpkin people.

Diane Ackerman is one of the latest to join the environmental optimists, who believe that the same kind of technological prowess that got us into this mess will help us adapt to it, in ways we can only begin to imagine. (Her new book, “The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us” is reviewed on Page 5.)

With her following, Ms. Ackerman may become the counterpart to Bill McKibben, the environmentalist whose book “Eaarth” (he changed the name of the planet since we have irremediably transformed the place) called for a return to simpler times with backyard farms instead of lawns and decentralized green energy. The Anasazi with solar panels on the roof.

Finally there is the 25 percent of Americans (“cool skeptics,” as a Gallup poll called them) who don’t believe the keepers of the models — the interpreters of the signs. As we flail we are generating so much data that future archaeologists, if they exist, may be overwhelmed — the opposite problem presented by the Anasazi.

More than 700 years after their fall, we have the knowledge to tell us what is going wrong this time with the atmosphere. But that has made it no easier to agree on a plan. Science can only lay the case out on the table. For all our supercomputers and climatological models, what happens next will come down to something unpredictable: the meteorology of the human mind.

The Most Violent Era In America Was Before Europeans Arrived (Science 2.0)

By News Staff | August 4th 2014 01:34 AM

There’s a mythology about the native Americans, that they were all peaceful and in harmony with nature – it’s easy to create narratives when there is no written record.

But archeology keeps its own history and a new paper finds that the 20th century, with its hundreds of millions dead in wars and, in the case of Germany, China, Russia and other dictatorships, genocide, was not the most violent – on a per-capita basis that honor may belong to the central Mesa Verde of southwest Colorado and the Pueblo Indians.

Writing in the journal American Antiquity, Washington State University archaeologist Tim Kohler and colleagues document how nearly 90 percent of human remains from that period had trauma from blows to either their heads or parts of their arms.

“If we’re identifying that much trauma, many were dying a violent death,” said Kohler. The study also offers new clues to the mysterious depopulation of the northern Southwest, from a population of about 40,000 people in the mid-1200s to 0 in 30 years.

From the days they first arrived in the Southwest in the 1800s, most anthropologists and archaeologists have downplayed evidence of violent conflict among native Americans.

“Archaeologists with one or two exceptions have not tried to develop an objective metric of levels of violence through time,” said Kohler. “They’ve looked at a mix of various things like burned structures, defensive site locations and so forth, but it’s very difficult to distill an estimate of levels of violence from such things. We’ve concentrated on one thing, and that is trauma, especially to the head and portions of the arms. That’s allowed us to look at levels of violence through time in a comparative way.”

It wasn’t just violent deaths that poke holes in the harmony with the land and each other myth. A paper in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Southwest also had a baby boom between 500 and 1300 that likely exceeded any population spurt on earth today. The northern Rio Grande also experienced population booms but the central Mesa Verde got more violent while the northern Rio Grande was less so.

Kohler has conjectures on why. Social structures among people in the northern Rio Grande changed so that they identified less with their kin and more with the larger pueblo and specific organizations that span many pueblos, such as medicine societies. The Rio Grande also had more commercial exchanges where craft specialists provided people both in the pueblo, and outsiders, specific things they needed, such as obsidian arrow points.

But in the central Mesa Verde, there was less specialization.

“When you don’t have specialization in societies, there’s a sense in which everybody is a competitor because everybody is doing the same thing,” said Kohler. But with specialization, people are more dependent on each other and more reluctant to do harm.

If that sounds like rationalization based on Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, it is.

“Pinker thought that what he called ‘gentle commerce’ was very important in the pacification of the world over the last 5,000 years,” said Kohler. “That seems to work pretty well in our record as well.”

The episode of conflict in Southwest Colorado seems to have begun when people in the Chaco culture, halfway between central Mesa Verde and northern Rio Grande, attempted to spread into Southwest Colorado.

From 1080 to 1130, the Chaco-influenced people in Southwest Colorado did well. In the mid-1100s, there was a severe drought and the core of Chaco culture fell apart. Much of the area around Chaco lost population, and in 1160, violence in the central Mesa Verde peaked. Slightly more than a century later, everyone left that area, too.

“In the Mesa Verde there could be a haves-versus-have-nots dynamic towards the very end,” said Kohler. “The people who stayed the longest were probably the people who were located in the very best spots. But those pueblos too were likely losing population. And it might have been the older folks who stuck around, who weren’t so anxious to move as the young folks who thought, ‘We could make a better living elsewhere.'” Older, or with too few people to marshal a good defense, the remaining people in the Mesa Verde pueblos were particularly vulnerable to raids.

At least two of the last-surviving large pueblos in the central Mesa Verde were attacked as the region was being abandoned. Some of their inhabitants probably made it out alive, but, says Kohler, “Many did not.”

Citation: Timothy A. Kohler, Scott G. Ortman, Katie E. Grundtisch, Carly M. Fitzpatrick and Sarah M. Cole, ‘The Better Angels of Their Nature: Declining Violence through Time among Prehispanic Farmers of the Pueblo Southwest’, American Antiquity, Volume 79, Number 3 / July 2014, DOI: 10.7183/0002-7316.79.3.444. Source: Washington State University

Ice age lion figurine: Ancient fragment of ivory belonging to 40,000 year old animal figurine unearthed (Science Daily)

Date: July 30, 2014

Source: Universitaet Tübingen

Summary: Archaeologists have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine’s head.

The fragment on the left makes up half the head of the animal figure on the right, showing that the “lion” was fully three-dimensional, and not a relief as long thought. Credit: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen

Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine’s head, and the sculpture may be viewed at the Tübingen University Museum from 30 July.

“The figurine depicts a lion,” says Professor Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University’s Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen. “It is one of the most famous Ice Age works of art, and until now, we thought it was a relief, unique among these finds dating to the dawn of figurative art. The reconstructed figurine clearly is a three dimensional sculpture.”

The new fragment was discovered when today’s archaeologists revisited the work of their predecessors from the 1930s. “We have been carrying out renewed excavations and analysis at Vogelherd Cave for nearly ten years,” says Conard. “The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artifacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals.” He points out that the Vogelherd Cave has provided evidence of the world’s earliest art and music and is a key element in the push to make the caves of the Swabian Jura a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Vogelherd is one of four caves in the region where the world’s earliest figurines have been found, dating back to 40,000 years ago. Several dozen figurines and fragments of figurines have been found in the Vogelherd alone, and researchers are piecing together thousands of mammoth ivory fragments.

What caused the baby boom in the American southwest 1500 years ago? (The Christian Science Monitor)

By Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer / July 1, 2014

For hundreds of years, Native Americans in the southwestern United States had a prolonged baby boom — which would average out to each woman giving birth to more than six children, a new study finds. That baby streak, however, ended a little before the Spanish colonized the Americas.

“Birthrates were as high, or even higher, than anything we know in the world today,” said study co-author Tim Kohler, an archaeologist and anthropologist at Washington State University.

The precolonial baby boom was likely fueled by Native Americans in the region switching from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a settled farming way of life, Kohler said. [Images: Maya Maize Secrets Revealed In Tikal Soil]

Skeletal analysisThe researchers analyzed thousands of skeletal remains from hundreds of sites across the Four Corners region of the Southwest (the area that now makes up Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) dating from 900 B.C. until the beginning of the colonial period in the early 1500s. (Most sites were excavated decades ago, and most of the remains have been returned to their tribes, Kohler said.)

By estimating the fraction of the population between ages 5 and 19 (young children’s remains are too poorly preserved to include in the calculation), the researchers could get a rough estimate of the birthrate, or the number of babies born per year for every 1,000 people.

The birthrate slowly increased until about A.D. 500, and then rose more quickly and stayed high until A.D. 1300. The birthrate, about 0.049 in a year, was akin to that in modern-day Niger, where every woman has, on average, 6.89 children.

The rise in birthrate coincided with shifts in agricultural production. Though maize was first cultivated around Mexico City nearly 8,000 years ago and reached the Southwest by about 2000 B.C., most Native Americans in the region were nomadic, so they weren’t farming it.

Then, in A.D. 500, selective breeding led to plumper maize seeds, and the crop also became more productive. This shift also coincided with a transition to a more settled way of life.

“We begin to see much more substantial dwellings, indicating that people are spending a much longer period of time in specific places,” with shifts from wood to stone structures, Kohler told Live Science.

The number of dwellings also increased around this time period.

“We go from small hamlets to large villages in space of time from A.D. 600 to A.D. 800,” Kohler said.

Birthrates leveled off around A.D. 1100 and declined precipitously after A.D. 1300. It’s not clear exactly why that happened, but a severe drought in the 1100s may have fueled more conflict, eventually leading to a sudden collapse in the population, the researchers noted.

Nomad vs. agriculturalist

The shift to agriculture could have spurred a baby boom in multiple ways.

A nomadic lifestyle could mean picking up camp and trekking long distances every month — no easy feat for a woman if she had more than one child to carry. At the same time, hunter-gatherers tend to breastfeed their children longer because they have few appropriate “weaning foods.” The high-caloric demand of the lifestyle, combined with prolonged breastfeeding, may have suppressed ovulation in women, leading to fewer children, Kohler said.

In contrast, a woman who had to walk only a small distance to tend the fields could take care of multiple dependent children, and could also wean her children sooner by feeding them a maize porridge, Kohler said.

The findings were published today (June 30) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans History’s 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries In Photos: Human Skeleton Sheds Light on First AmericansCopyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ancient Man Used “Super-Acoustics” to Alter Consciousness (… and speak with the dead?) (Phys.Org)

June 16th, 2014 Linda Eneix

Ancient Man Used “Super-Acoustics” to Alter Consciousness (... and speak with the dead?)

Research team members enter the “Oracle Room” of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta (ca. 3600 BCE)

A prehistoric necropolis yields clues to the ancient use of sound and its effect on human brain activity.Researchers detected the presence of a strong double resonance frequency at 70Hz and 114Hz inside a 5,000-years-old mortuary temple on the Mediterranean island of Malta. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground complex created in the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period as a depository for bones and a shrine for ritual use. A chamber known as “The Oracle Room” has a fabled reputation for exceptional sound behavior.

During testing, a deep male voice tuned to these frequencies stimulated a resonance phenomenon throughout the hypogeum, creating bone-chilling effects. It was reported that sounds echoed for up to 8 seconds. Archaeologist Fernando Coimbra said that he felt the sound crossing his body at high speed, leaving a sensation of relaxation. When it was repeated, the sensation returned and he also had the illusion that the sound was reflected from his body to the ancient red ochre paintings on the walls. One can only imagine the experience in antiquity: standing in what must have been somewhat odorous dark and listening to ritual chant while low light flickered over the bones of one’s departed loved ones.

Sound in a Basso/Baritone range of 70 – 130 hz vibrates in a certain way as a natural phenomenon of the environment in the Hypogeum, as it does in Newgrange passage tomb, megalithic cairns and any stone cavity of the right dimensions. At these resonance frequencies, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude oscillations, because the system stores vibrational energy. Echoes bounce off the hard surfaces and compound before they fade. Laboratory testing indicates that exposure to these particular resonant frequencies can have a physical effect on human brain activity.

In the publication from the conference on Archaeoacoustics which sparked the study, Dr. Paolo Debertolis reports on tests conducted at the Clinical Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Trieste in Italy: “…each volunteer has their own individual frequency of activation, …always between 90 and 120 hz. Those volunteers with a frontal lobe prevalence during the testing received ideas and thoughts similar to what happens during meditation, whilst those with occipital lobe prevalence visualized images.” He goes on to state that under the right circumstances, “Ancient populations were able to obtain different states of consciousness without the use of drugs or other chemical substances.”

Hal Saflieni (ca. 3600 BCE)

Credit: Mediterranean Institute of Ancient CivilizationsWriting jointly, Anthropologist, Dr. Ezra Zubrow, Archaeologist and Psychologist, Dr. Torill Lindstrom state: “We regard it as almost inevitable that people in the Neolithic past in Malta discovered the acoustic effects of the Hypogeum, and experienced them as extraordinary, strange, perhaps even as weird and “otherworldly”.

What is astounding is that five thousand years ago the builders exploited the phenomenon, intentionally using architectural techniques to boost these “super-acoustics”. Glenn Kreisberg, a radio frequency spectrum engineer who was with the research group, observed that in the Hypogeum, “The Oracle Chamber ceiling, especially near its entrance from the outer area, and the elongated inner chamber itself, appears to be intentionally carved into the form of a wave guide.”

Project organizer Linda Eneix points to other features: “The carving of the two niches which concentrate the effect of sound, the curved shape of the Oracle Chamber with its shallow “shelf” cut high across the back, the corbelled ceilings and concave walls in the finer rooms are all precursors of todays’ acoustically engineered performance environments.” She says, “If we can accept that these developments were not by accident, then it’s clear that Ħal Saflieni’s builders knew how to manipulate a desired human psychological and physiological experience, whether they could explain it or not.”

Why?

It was demonstrated at the conference that special sound is associated with the sacred: from prehistoric caves in France and Spain to musical stone temples in India; from protected Aztec codexes in Mexico to Eleusinian Mysteries and sanctuaries in Greece to sacred Elamite valleys in Iran. It was human nature to isolate these hyper-acoustic places from mundane daily life and to place high importance to them because abnormal sound behavior implied a divine presence.

In the same conference publication Emeritus Professor Iegor Reznikoff suggests that Ħal Saflieni is a link between Palaeolithic painted caves and Romanesque chapels … “That people sang laments or prayers for the dead in the Hypogeum is certain, for a) it is a universal practice in all oral traditions we know, b) at the same period, around 3,000 BC, we have the Sumerian or Egyptian inscriptions mentioning singing to the Invisible, particularly in relationship with death and Second Life, and finally c) the resonance is so strong in the Hypogeum already when simply speaking, that one is forced to use it and singing becomes natural.”

Drs. Lindstrom and Zubrow hint at a more hierarchal purpose for the manipulation of sound. “The Neolithic itself was characterized by cultures focused on new invention…enormous collective collaborations over extended periods of time. For these large-scale projects of agriculture and building, social cohesion and compliance was absolutely necessary.”

The same people who created Ħal Saflieni also engineered a complete solar calendar with solstice and equinox sunrise alignments that still function today in one of their above-ground megalithic structures. There is no question that a sophisticated school of architectural, astronomic and audiologic knowledge was already in place a thousand years before the Egyptians started building pyramids. Eneix believes that Malta’s Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a remnant of a rich cultural tradition carried by the Neolithic migrations that spanned thousands of years and thousands of miles.

Domestication of Dogs May Explain Mammoth Kill Sites and the Success of Early Modern Humans (The Pennsylvania State University)

Pat Shipman and Barbara K. Kennedy

May 30, 2014

a dog's skullA fragment of a large bone, probably from a mammoth, Pat Shipman reports, was placed in this dog’s mouth shortly after death. This finding suggests the animal was according special mortuary treatment, perhaps acknowledging its role in mammoth hunting. The fossil comes from the site of Predmosti, in the Czech republic, and is about 27,000 years B.P. old. This object is one of three canid skulls from Predmosti that were identified as dogs based on analysis of their morphology. Photo credit: Anthropos Museum, Brno, the Czech Republic, courtesy of Mietje Germonpre.

29 May 2014 — A new analysis of European archaeological sites containing large numbers of dead mammoths and dwellings built with mammoth bones has led Penn State Professor Emerita Pat Shipman to formulate a new interpretation of how these sites were formed. She suggests that their abrupt appearance may have been due to early modern humans working with the earliest domestic dogs to kill the now-extinct mammoth — a now-extinct animal distantly related to the modern-day elephant. Shipman’s analysis also provides a way to test the predictions of her new hypothesis. Advance publication of her article “How do you kill 86 mammoths?” is available online throughQuaternary International.

Spectacular archaeological sites yielding stone tools and extraordinary numbers of dead mammoths — some containing the remains of hundreds of individuals — suddenly became common in central and eastern Eurasia between about 45,000 and 15,000 years ago, although mammoths previously had been hunted by humans and their extinct relatives and ancestors for at least a million years. Some of these mysterious sites have huts built of mammoth bones in complex, geometric patterns as well as piles of butchered mammoth bones.

“One of the greatest puzzles about these sites is how such large numbers of mammoths could have been killed with the weapons available during that time,” Shipman said. Many earlier studies of the age distribution of the mammoths at these sites found similarities with modern elephants killed by hunting or natural disasters, but Shipman’s new analysis of the earlier studies found that they lacked the statistical evaluations necessary for concluding with any certainty how these animals were killed.

Surprisingly, Shipman said, she found that “few of the mortality patterns from these mammoth deaths matched either those from natural deaths among modern elephants killed by droughts or by culling operations with modern weapons that kill entire family herds of modern elephants at once.” This discovery suggested to Shipman that a successful new technique for killing such large animals had been developed and its repeated use over time could explain the mysterious, massive collections of mammoth bones in Europe.

hand-drawn mapThese maps show the locations of collections of mammoth bones at the archaeological sites that Pat Shipman analyzed in her paper that will be published in the journal Quaternary International. Credit: Jeffrey Mathison. 

The key to Shipman’s new hypothesis is recent work by a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which has uncovered evidence that some of the large carnivores at these sites were early domesticated dogs, not wolves as generally had been assumed. Then, with this evidence as a clue, Shipman used information about how humans hunt with dogs to formulate a series of testable predictions about these mammoth sites.

“Dogs help hunters find prey faster and more often, and dogs also can surround a large animal and hold it in place by growling and charging while hunters move in. Both of these effects would increase hunting success,” Shipman said. “Furthermore, large dogs like those identified by Germonpré either can help carry the prey home or, by guarding the carcass from other carnivores, can make it possible for the hunters to camp at the kill sites.” Shipman said that these predictions already have been confirmed by other analyses. In addition, she said, “if hunters working with dogs catch more prey, have a higher intake of protein and fat, and have a lower expenditure of energy, their reproductive rate is likely to rise.”

Another unusual feature of these large mammoth kill sites is the presence of extraordinary numbers of other predators, particularly wolves and foxes. “Both dogs and wolves are very alert to the presence of other related carnivores — the canids — and they defend their territories and food fiercely,” Shipman explained. “If humans were working and living with domesticated dogs or even semi-domesticated wolves at these archaeological sites, we would expect to find the new focus on killing the wild wolves that we see there.”

bonesThe photo shows part of the very-high-density concentration of mammoth bones at the Krakow-Spadzista Street archaeological site. Credit line Piotr Wojtal.

Two other types of studies have yielded data that support Shipman’s hypothesis. Hervé Bocherens and Dorothée Drucker of the University of Tubingen in Germany, carried out an isotopic analysis of the ones of wolves and purported dogs from the Czech site of Predmostí. They found that the individuals identified as dogs had different diets from those identified as wolves, possibly indicating feeding by humans. Also, analysis of mitochondrial DNA by Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland, and others, showed that the individuals identified as dogs have a distinctive genetic signature that is not known from any other canid. “Since mitochondrial DNA is carried only by females, this finding may indicate that these odd canids did not give rise to modern domesticated dogs and were simply a peculiar, extinct group of wolves,” Shipman said. “Alternatively, it may indicate that early humans did domesticate wolves into dogs or a doglike group, but the female canids interbred with wild wolf males and so the distinctive female mitochondrial DNA lineage was lost.”

As more information is gathered on fossil canids dated to between 45,000 and 15,000 years ago, Shipman’s hunting-dog hypothesis will be supported “if more of these distinctive doglike canids are found at large, long-term sites with unusually high numbers of dead mammoths and wolves; if the canids are consistently large, strong individuals; and if their diets differ from those of wolves,” Shipman said. “Dogs may indeed be man’s best friend.”

Rio’s Race to Future Intersects Slave Past (New York Times)

By  – MARCH 8, 2014

Slave ships in the 19th century docked at the huge stone Valongo wharf, exposed by archaeologists near Rio’s port. CreditLianne Milton for The New York Times

RIO DE JANEIRO — Sailing from the Angolan coast across the Atlantic, the slave ships docked here in the 19th century at the huge stone wharf, delivering their human cargo to the “fattening houses” on Valongo Street. Foreign chroniclers described the depravity in the teeming slave market, including so-called boutiques selling emaciated and diseased African children.

The newly arrived slaves who died before they even started toiling in Brazil’s mines were hauled to a mass grave nearby, their corpses left to decay amid piles of garbage. As imperial plantations flourished, diggers at the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos — Cemetery of New Blacks — crushed the bones of the dead, making way for thousands of new cadavers.

Now, with construction crews tearing apart areas of Rio de Janeiro in the building spree ahead of this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, stunning archaeological discoveries around the work sites are providing new insight into the city’s brutal distinction as a nerve center for the Atlantic slave trade.

Petrúcio Guimarães dos Anjos and his wife, Ana de la Merced Guimarães, in their home. Credit Lianne Milton for The New York Times

But as developers press ahead in the surroundings of the unearthed slave port — with futuristic projects like the Museum of Tomorrow, costing about $100 million and designed in the shape of a fish by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava — the frenzied overhaul is setting off a debate over whether Rio is neglecting its past in the all-consuming rush to build its future.

“We’re finding archaeological sites of global importance, and probably far more extensive than what’s been excavated so far, but instead of prioritizing these discoveries our leaders are proceeding with their grotesque remaking of Rio,” said Sonia Rabello, a prominent legal scholar and former city councilwoman.

The city has installed plaques at the ruins of the slave port and a map of an African heritage circuit, which visitors can walk to see where the slave market once functioned. Still, scholars, activists and residents of the port argue that such moves are far too timid in comparison with the multibillion-dollar development projects taking hold.

Beyond the Museum of Tomorrow, which has been disparaged by critics as a costly venture drawing attention away from Rio’s complex history, developers are working on an array of other flashy projects, like a complex of skyscrapers branded in homage to Donald Trump and a gated community of villas for Olympic judges.

At the same time, descendants of African slaves who live as squatters in crumbling buildings around the old slave port are organizing in an effort to obtain titles for their homes, pitting them against a Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church that claims ownership of the properties.

“We know our rights,” said Luiz Torres, 50, a history teacher and leader in the property rights movement. With the slave market’s ruins near his home as testament, he added, “Everything that happened in Rio was shaped by the hand of blacks.”

Crushed human bones from a cemetery were discovered in the home of Mr. and Ms. Guimarães during a renovation. Credit Lianne Milton for The New York Times

Scholars say the scale of the slave trade here was staggering. Brazil received about 4.9 million slaves through the Atlantic trade, while mainland North America imported about 389,000 during the same period, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a project at Emory University.

Rio is believed to have imported more slaves than any other city in the Americas, outranking places like Charleston, S.C.; Kingston, Jamaica; and Salvador in northeast Brazil. Altogether, Rio received more than 1.8 million African slaves, or 21.5 percent of all slaves who landed in the Americas, said Mariana P. Candido, a historian at the University of Kansas.

Activists say the archaeological discoveries merit at least a museum and far more extensive excavations, pointing to projects elsewhere like the International Slavery Museum in the British port city Liverpool, where slave ships were prepared for voyages; the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston and Elmina Castle, a slave trading site on Ghana’s coast.

“The horrors committed here are a stain on our history,” said Tânia Andrade Lima, the chief archaeologist at the dig that exposed Valongo, built soon after Portugal’s prince regent, João VI, fled from Napoleon’s armies in 1808, transferring the seat of his empire to Rio from Lisbon.

The squalid wharf functioned until the 1840s, when officials buried it under more elegant docks designed to receive Brazil’s new empress from Europe. Both wharves were eventually buried under landfill and a residential port district, called Little Africa.

Many descendants of slaves settled where the slave market once functioned, with African languages spoken in the area into the 20th century. While the district is gaining recognition as a cradle of samba, one of Brazil’s most treasured musical traditions, it was long neglected by the authorities.

Artifacts from the old wharf where slave ships docked. Credit Lianne Milton for The New York Times

Black Consciousness Day is observed annually in Brazil on Nov. 20 to reflect on the injustices of slavery. In 2013 Ms. Rabello, the legal scholar, pointed out, Rio’s hard-charging mayor, Eduardo Paes, who is overseeing the biggest overhaul of the city in decades, did not attend the ceremony at Valongo, where residents began a campaign to have it recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site. Complicating the debate over how Rio’s past should be balanced alongside the city’s frenetic reconstruction, some families still live on top of the archaeological sites, occasionally excavating Brazil’s patrimony on their own.

“When I first saw the bones, I thought they were the result of a gruesome murder involving previous tenants,” said Ana de la Merced Guimarães, 56, the owner of a small pest control company who lives in an old house where workers doing a renovation first discovered remains from the mass grave in 1996.

It turned out Ms. Guimarães was living above a dumping ground for dead slaves that was used for decades, until around 1830. Estimates vary, but scholars say that as many as 20,000 people were buried in the grave, including many children.

Ms. Guimarães and her husband opted to stay in their property, opening a modest nonprofit organization on the premises, where visitors can view portions of the archaeological dig. The authorities have plans to build a light-rail project on their street, which may lead to more discoveries.

“This was a place of unspeakable crimes against humanity, but it’s also where we live,” Ms. Guimarães said in her home, complaining that public agencies had provided her organization with little support.

Washington Fajardo, a senior adviser to Rio’s mayor on urban planning issues, said that some important steps had been taken at the archaeological sites, including the designation of the slave port as an environmental protection area. And he said that a plan under consideration would create an urban archaeology laboratory where visitors could view archaeologists studying material from the sites.

A dilapidated house near where the Valongo slave market in Rio de Janeiro once functioned. Credit Lianne Milton for The New York Times

Mr. Fajardo also emphasized that at another new venture in the port, the Rio Art Museum, residents of the area make up more than half the staff.

“We’d like to do more,” he said, referring to the slave cemetery. “It’s complex because there are people living on top of the site. If they want to stay, we have to respect their wishes.”

Throughout Rio, other discoveries are being made. Near the expansion of a subway line, researchers recently found relics belonging to Pedro II, Brazil’s last emperor before he was overthrown in 1889. And near the slave port, archaeologists found cannons thought to be part of a four-century-old marine defense system.

But none of the discoveries have been quite as striking as the unearthing of the Valongo wharf in 2011 and the earlier excavations of the cemetery under Ms. Guimarães’s home. Beyond the large stones of the wharf itself, archaeologists found items that helped reconstruct the daily lives of slaves, including copper pieces thought to be talismans and dominoes used for gambling.

Between the slave port and the cemetery, visitors can also view the Ladeira do Valongo, where the depots of Rio’s slave market once horrified foreign travelers. One visitor, Robert Walsh, a British clergyman who came to Brazil in 1828, wrote about the transactions.

“They are handled by the purchaser in different parts, exactly as I have seen butchers feeling a calf,” he said. “I sometimes saw groups of well-dressed females here, shopping for slaves, exactly as I have seen English ladies amusing themselves at our bazaars.”

Slavery’s legacy is clear across Brazil, where more than half of its 200 million people define themselves as black or mixed race, giving the nation more people of African descent than any other country outside Africa. In Rio, the large majority of slaves came from what is now Angola, said Walter Hawthorne, a historian at Michigan State University.

“Rio was a culturally vibrant African city,” Dr. Hawthorne said. “The foods people ate, the way they worshiped, how they dressed and more were to a large extent influenced by Angolan cultural norms.”

Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, making it the last country in the Americas to do so. Now the relatively relaxed approach to the archaeological discoveries is raising doubts about how willing the authorities are to revisit such aspects of Brazilian history.

“Archaeologists are exposing the foundations of our unequal society while we are witnessing a perverse attempt to remake the city into something resembling Miami or Dubai,” said Cláudio Lima Castro, an architect and scholar of urban planning. “We’re losing an opportunity to focus in detail on our past, and maybe even learn from it.”

Native American city on the Mississippi was America’s first ‘melting pot’ (Phys)

phys.org

March 4, 2014

New evidence establishes for the first time that Cahokia, a sprawling, pre-Columbian city situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, hosted a sizable population of immigrants.

Cahokia was an early experiment in urban life, said Thomas Emerson, who led the new analysis. Emerson is Illinois state archaeologist and the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois.

Researchers have traditionally thought of Cahokia as a relatively homogeneous and stable population drawn from the immediate area, he said. “But increasingly archaeologists are realizing that Cahokia at AD 1100 was very likely an urban center with as many as 20,000 inhabitants,” he said. “Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate.”

The new analysis, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Research, tested the chemical composition of 133  from 87 people buried at Cahokia during its heyday. The researchers looked specifically at strontium isotope ratios in the teeth and in the remains of small mammals from the same area.

“Strontium isotope ratios in rock, soil, groundwater and vegetation vary according to the underlying geology of a region,” the researchers wrote. “As an animal eats and drinks, the local strontium isotope composition of the water, plants and animals consumed is recorded in its skeletal tissues.” Strontium signatures may not be unique to a location, Emerson said, but the ratios in a person’s teeth can be compared to those of plants and animals in the immediate environment.

“Teeth retain the isotopic signature of an individual’s diet at various periods of life depending on the tooth type sampled, ranging from in utero to approximately 16 years of age,” the researchers wrote. The strontium signature in the teeth can be compared to that of their place of burial, to determine whether the person lived only in that vicinity. Early teeth and later teeth may have different strontium signatures, an indication that the person immigrated.

By analyzing the teeth of those buried in different locations in Cahokia, Emerson, state archaeological survey bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater discovered that immigrants formed one-third of the population of the city throughout its history (from about AD 1050 through the early 1300s).

“This indicates that Cahokia as a political, social and religious center was extremely fluid and dynamic, with a constantly fluctuating composition,” Emerson said.

The findings contradict traditional anthropological models of Cahokian society that are built on analogies with 19th-century Native American groups, Emerson said.

“Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual ‘melting pot’ that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs,” he said.

More information: “Immigrants at the Mississippian Polity of Cahokia: Strontium Isotope Evidence for Population Movement,” Journal of Archaeological Research, 2014.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-03-native-american-city-mississippi-america.html#jCp

Ancient fishing techniques teach modern fisheries industry some history (Science Daily)

Date: February 17, 2014

Source: Simon Fraser University

Summary: Archaeological data indicate modern herring management needs to take a longer look into the past to manage fisheries for the future says a new study. This study’s authors combed through reams of archaeological reports that analyze almost half a million fish bones at 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State. Up to 10,000 years old, the bones belonged to primarily Pacific herring, not the iconic salmon or any other fish, during a time when Indigenous fisheries reigned. The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.

Iain McKechnie and Dana Lepofsky examine ancient herring fish bones that tell a fascinating story about how gigantic herring fisheries were for thousands of years in the Pacific Northwest. Credit: Diane Luckow, SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations

Archaeological data indicate modern herring management needs to take a longer look into the past to manage fisheries for the future says a new study involving Simon Fraser University researchers.

That is one of the key findings in the study, just published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). SFU researchers Iain McKechnie, Dana Lepofsky and Ken Lertzman, and scientists in Ontario, Alberta and the United States are its co-authors. The study is one of many initiatives of the SFU-based Herring School, a group of researchers that investigates the cultural and ecological importance of herring.

This study’s authors combed through reams of archaeological reports that analyze almost half a million fish bones at 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State.

Up to 10,000 years old, the bones belonged to primarily Pacific herring, not the iconic salmon or any other fish, during a time when Indigenous fisheries reigned.

The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.

“By compiling the largest dataset of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” says Iain McKechnie. The SFU archaeology postdoctoral fellow is the study’s lead author and a recent University of British Columbia graduate.

Co-author and SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky states: “Our archaeological findings fit well with what First Nations have been telling us. Herring have always played a central role in the social and economic lives of coastal communities. Archaeology, combined with oral traditions, is a powerful tool for understanding coastal ecology prior to industrial development.”

“This kind of ecological baseline extends into the past well beyond the era of industrial fisheries. It is critical for understanding the ecological and cultural basis of coastal fisheries and designing sustainable management systems today,” says Ken Lertzman, another SFU co-author. The SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management professor directs the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management.

Journal Reference:

  1. I. McKechnie, D. Lepofsky, M. L. Moss, V. L. Butler, T. J. Orchard, G. Coupland, F. Foster, M. Caldwell, K. Lertzman. Archaeological data provide alternative hypotheses on Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) distribution, abundance, and variabilityProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1316072111

Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk (BBC)

7 February 2014 Last updated at 10:30 GMT

By Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent, BBC News

Dr Nick Ashton shows Pallab Ghosh where the footprints were found

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.

The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.

They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in the science journal Plos One.

Infographic

The footprints have been described as “one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain’s] shores,” by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.

“It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe,” he told BBC News.

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

Footprints

The footprints on Happisburgh beach are possibly those of a family in search of food

I walked with Dr Ashton along the shore where the discovery was made. He recalled how he and a colleague stumbled across the hollows: “At the time, I wondered ‘could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible.”

The footprints are one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery, that has been made on these shores” – Dr Nick AstonBritish Museum

Such discoveries are very rare. The Happisburgh footprints are the only ones of this age in Europe and there are only three other sets that are older, all of which are in Africa.

“At first, we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” Dr Ashton told me, “but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints.”

The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum later this month.

The video shows the researchers on their hands and knees in cold, driving rain, engaged in a race against time to record the hollows. Dr Ashton recalls how they scooped out rainwater from the footprints so that they could be photographed. “But the rain was filling the hollows as quickly as we could empty them,” he told me.

When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned” – Dr Isabelle De GrooteLiverpool John Moores University

The team took a 3D scan of the footprints over the following two weeks. A detailed analysis of these images by Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University confirmed that the hollows were indeed human footprints, possibly of five people, one adult male and some children.

Dr De Groote said she could make out the heel, arch and even toes in some of the prints, the largest of which would have filled a UK shoe size 8 (European size 42; American size 9) .

“When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned,” Dr De Groote told BBC News.

“They appear to have been made by one adult male who was about 5ft 9in (175cm) tall and the shortest was about 3ft. The other larger footprints could come from young adult males or have been left by females. The glimpse of the past that we are seeing is that we have a family group moving together across the landscape.”

Diagram of footprint scene

It is unclear who these humans were. One suggestion is that they were a species called Homo antecessor, which was known to have lived in southern Europe. It is thought that these people could have made their way to what is now Norfolk across a strip of land that connected the UK to the rest of Europe a million years ago. They would have disappeared around 800,000 years ago because of a much colder climate setting in not long after the footprints were made.

It was not until 500,000 years ago that a species called Homo heidelbergensis lived in the UK. It is thought that these people evolved into early Neanderthals some 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthals then lived in Britain intermittently until about 40,000 years ago – a time that coincided with the arrival of our species, Homo sapiens.

There are no fossils of antecessor in Happisburgh, but the circumstantial evidence of their presence is getting stronger by the day.

In 2010, the same research team discovered the stone tools used by such people. And the discovery of the footprints now all but confirms that humans were in Britain nearly a million years ago, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is also involved in the research at Happisburgh.

“This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there,” he told BBC News. “We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream”.

Happisburgh

The prints were first noticed when a low tide uncovered them

Footprints

The sea has now washed away the prints – but not before they were recorded

Who owns the bones? Should bodies in museum exhibits be returned home? (Science Daily)

Date: February 4, 2014

Source: Wiley

Summary: From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. A researcher now explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. Writing in Clinical Anatomy, Dr. Philippe Charlier explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

The recent case of the ‘Irish Giant’ Charles Byrne reveals that this is not an issue limited to cadavers from pre-antiquity. Byrne found celebrity in the 1780s and while his skeleton remains in the Royal College of Surgeons in London, ethics experts argue his remains should be buried at sea in accordance with his wishes.

Dr. Charlier argues that human remains in museums and scientific institutions can be divided into four categories, ‘ethnographical elements’ such as hair samples with no certain identification; anatomical remains such as whole skeletons or skulls; archaeological remains; and more modern collections of skulls, used in now discredited studies in the early 20th century.

After exploring case study examples from around the world, Dr. Charlier argues that the concept of the body as property is anything but clear and depends heavily on local political views and the administrative status of the human remains. The author proposes that the only precise factor permitting restitution should be the name of the individual, as in the case of Charles Byrne.

“The ethical problem posed by the bones of this 18th century individual approximates to that of all human remains conserved in public collections, displayed in museums or other cultural institutions,” said Dr. Charlier. “In the near future, curators will have to choose between global conservation of all (or almost all) anthropological collections on the one hand and systematic restitution to their original communities or families on the other.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Adelheid Soubry, Cathrine Hoyo, Randy L. Jirtle, Susan K. Murphy. A paternal environmental legacy: Evidence for epigenetic inheritance through the male germ lineBioEssays, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/bies.201300113