The Joukowsky Institute Competition for Accessible Archaeological Writing
As archaeologists, we write for each other in journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and other forums, using language that makes sense to fellow members of the profession. That is as it should be: we have no more reason to “dumb down” our findings than do, say, astronomers, brain surgeons, or epidemiologists in publications for their own communities of scholarship. At the same time, the results of archaeological discovery and analysis are important and deserve the widest possible audience: archaeology has momentous findings to report, and for the periods before written history stands as the only source of evidence we have for the human condition. Unlike other fields which have benefited from brilliant writing in a popular vein by scholars such as Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan, archaeology as a discipline has done rather poorly at the effective communication of its most interesting and important results to the general public, and indeed to itself, which is also important. Certainly, some writers, such as Brian Fagan, have excelled at the task of popular dissemination of some of archaeology’s big themes. Yet most websites, TV shows, and archaeology magazines (such as Archaeology or Biblical Archaeology Review) tend to emphasize the sheer luck of discovery, the romance of archaeology, and supposed “mysteries” that archaeology tries (but usually has failed) to resolve.
We believe that archaeology is worthy of a better level of writing, one that is accessible and exciting to non-specialists, but at the same time avoids excessive simplification, speculation, mystification, or romanticization. As a discipline, we have some fascinating and astonishing results to report, findings that impact our entire understanding of who we are as a species, and how we have come to be as we are now. Some of the most effective writing in this vein has appeared not in professional venues, but in publications with a far wider readership. As just one example, we would cite Elif Batuman’s article in The New Yorker (December 19, 2011) on the Göbekli Tepe site in Turkey, and the many fundamental questions it raises about religion, technology, and human social evolution.
With these thoughts in mind, and to encourage more writing in this vein, we propose a competition for new archaeological writing. We invite the submission of accessible and engaging articles, accompanied by a single illustration, that showcase any aspect of archaeology of potential interest to a wide readership. As an incentive, we offer a prize of $5,000 to the winner. The prize-winning article, together with those by eight to ten other runners-up, will be published in Spring 2015 in a volume of the Joukowsky Institute Publication series (published and distributed by Oxbow Books).
Anyone may enter the competition, except faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University.
Authors must be able to vouch that their article is solely their own work and has not been published elsewhere.
Articles should be about five to six thousand words in length; include no references, notes, or other scholarly apparatus; be accompanied by a single piece of artwork; and be submitted as a double-spaced Word document. The Word document should be saved so that its name is the title of your article (abbreviated as necessary). The first page should provide your name, address, and e-mail. Your name or other identifying information should not be included anywhere else in the document.
The deadline for receipt of entries is September 1, 2014. Articles must be submitted electronically, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email’s subject heading should read “Archaeology for the People”.
Submissions will be read anonymously and adjudicated by a panel consisting of faculty and postdoctoral fellows at Brown University.
The result of the competition will be announced by November 2014.
Questions concerning the competition should be directed to Prof. John Cherry (email@example.com) and Prof. Felipe Rojas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A team of archaeologists come across a shaman sculpture (pictured) in an underground burial chamber in the state of Colima, Mexico
He has been guarding a tomb for over 1,500 years.
And only now have a team of archaeologists come across a shaman sculpture in an underground burial chamber in the state of Colima, Mexico.
It is unusual to find one of the statues intact as many have fallen victim to tomb raiders over the centuries.
The sculpture has a long face and holds a weapon - probably an axe - to guard the shaft tomb which was covered over by slabs of volcanic rock.
It was uncovered by archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) who have become the first people to see the sculpture in hundreds of years.
Archaeologist Marco Zavaleta explained that the model was found in the entrance of an underground funerary space in Villa de Alverez.
'With regards to the figure of the shaman, he was found upright and is holding some kind of weapon, probably an axe. He was placed exactly at the entrance, towards the crypt. He is some kind of a guardian of the main character deposited inside the shaft tomb,' he said.
Sites nearby have recently revealed burials of around 35 adults and three infants in cists - small stone coffin-like boxes or used to hold bodies from a slightly later period.
The square shaft, which is around one-and-a-half metres deep, is thought to date to between 300 AD and 600AD and leads to an underground vault measuring approximately two metres squared, containing bones of either one or two individuals, physical anthropologist Rosa Maria Flores Ramirez explained.
They could have been moved to the sides of the vault to make way for another individual who was found lying on his back, who was presumably buried slightly later.
The sculpture has a long face and holds a weapon to guard the shaft tomb which was covered over by slabs of volcanic rock. Six pots of different sizes (pictured) were also recovered
There is a theory that shaft tombs were used as homage to people’s ancestors as well as where people and shaman sculptures were buried.
Six pots of different sizes and an earthenware bowl called a tecomate were also found in the shaft, along with the shaman figure, which measures 19.7inches (51cm).
The objects will be painstakingly cleaned in a bid to recover any traces of seed or other organic material, which could shed light on how the ancient people lived.
Archaeologist Marco Zavaleta (pictured) explained that the model was found in an underground funerary space in Villa de Alverez, in the state of Colima
There is a theory that shaft tombs were used as homage to people’s ancestors as well as where people and shaman sculptures were buried. Six pots of different sizes and an earthenware bowl called a tecomate were also found in the shaft, along with the shaman figure, which measures 19.7inches (51cm) in height
Other shaman figures discovered from the time are less stylised and more representative of the ancient people, some of whom practiced cranial deformation to elongate their heads.
It is believed that burials of this kind belonged to elite members of society as only richer people had the resources to fund such constructions.
Dogs were also buried with important people at the time as a guide to the underworld for the deceased and archaeologists have recovered what they think are dog’s teeth from the Villa de Alverez site, hinting that those laid to rest there were of high social standing.
It is believed that burials of this kind belonged to elite members of society as only richer people had the resources to fund such constructions. Here, the underground burial chamber which has lain undisturbed for 1,500 years is carefully excavated
The square shaft, which is around one-and-a-half metres deep, is thought to date to between 300 AD and 600AD and leads to an underground vault measuring approximately two metres squared (pictured), containing bones of either one or two individuals, according to the archaeologists
Did the Polynesians beat Columbus to South America? Not according to the tale of migration uncovered by analysis of ancient DNA from chicken bones recovered in archaeological digs across the Pacific.
The ancient DNA has been used to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens, reconstructing the early migrations of people and the animals they carried with them.
The study, led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that previous claims of contact between early Polynesians and South America were probably based on contaminated results. Instead, the new study has identified and traced a unique genetic marker of the original Polynesian chickens that is only present in the Pacific and Island Southeast Asia.
The research team of national and international collaborators, including Australian National University, University of Sydney, and Durham and Aberdeen Universities in the UK, used female-inherited mitochondrial DNA extracted from chicken bones excavated in archaeological digs from islands including Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Niue.
"We have identified genetic signatures of the original Polynesian chickens, and used these to track early movements and trading patterns across the Pacific," says lead author Dr Vicki Thomson of ACAD. "We were also able to trace the origins of these lineages back into the Philippines, providing clues about the source of the original Polynesian chicken populations."
Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, ACAD Deputy Director, says: “There are still many theories about where the early human colonists of the remote Pacific came from, which routes they followed and whether they made contact with the South American mainland. Domestic animals, such as chickens, carried on these early voyages have left behind a genetic record that can solve some of these long standing mysteries.”
Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD says: “We were able to re-examine bones used in previous studies that had linked ancient Pacific and South American chickens, suggesting early human contact, and found that some of the results were contaminated with modern chicken DNA, which occurs at trace levels in many laboratory components,” says ACAD Director Professor Alan Cooper. “We were able to show that the ancient chicken DNA provided no evidence of any pre-Columbian contact between these areas.”
"Remarkably, our study also shows that the original Polynesian lineages appear to have survived on some isolated Pacific islands, despite the introduction of European domestic animals across the Pacific in the last couple of hundred years," Professor Cooper says. "These original lineages could be of considerable importance to the poultry industry which is concerned about the lack of genetic diversity in commercial stocks."
In the state of Yucatan, including the city of Merida, they have discovered 26 pre-Hispanic ball courts for the Ball Game ritual, but there never had been a discovery of one during the construction of a school’s basketball court, as it happened in the West Technological University (UTP), in the municipality of Maxcanu.
Archaeologist Eunice Uc, investigator of the INAH Center in Yucatan, just gave word of the finding, and was in charge of verifying the information that was presented by the UTP to INAH, through its principal Rossana Alpizar Rodríguez, when the pre-Hispanic vestige was found as they excavated in order to build the basketball court at the foot of a hill, in an area that had never been explored by archaeologists.
Rossanna Alpizar narrated: “In order to cover the recreational activities for the students that attend UTP, in 2012 we started to build a basketball court. We chose an area covered in grass, at the foot of the puuc (hill in Mayan language), but when we introduced digging machinery, it crashed into a hard stone which was impossible to move.
“It was a pink stone that seemed ancient, so we immediately called INAH so they would check it out. The archaeologist that came to the university in order to carry out a report told us: The Mayan are way ahead of you, you can’t build your court because a pre-Hispanic one already exists here: it’s a Ball Game court”.
Archaeologist Eunice Uc added that the structure was identified with the same architectonic characteristics as the parallel buildings that make up the pre-Hispanic Ball Game courts, which is why INAH immediately started the salvage in order to preserve this heritage which was evidently used as a ritual center.
The construction was found at the foot of a mountain, semi buried in a plan of red earth called kankab, which is relevant because the construction was placed strategically: at the foot of a hill, and precisely at a point covered by privileged earth to farmers, since kankabal is rich in nutrients.
One of the activities during the Ball Games is narrated in the Popol Vuh: “It says that the mythical twins Hunahpu and Ixbalanque faced, in ball player’s getup, the lords of the underworld who are finally defeated, thus conquering death and giving way to life; this myth continues with the resurrection of the twins father who transforms into the corn god; this suggests there is a huge link between this deity and the ritual game that took place in these sacred spaces”.
A University of Calgary archaeologist is sharing new evidence to suggest powerful warrior queens in the Mayan civilization were not an anomaly.
A University of Calgary archaeologist is sharing new evidence to suggest powerful warrior queens in the Mayan civilization were not an anomaly.
According to Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a large contingent of Mayan warrior queens emerged between 600 to 800 AD.
Her research suggests these queens made a profound impact on their society in areas ranging from politics, culture and commerce to warfare blasts through previous ideas surrounding the role of women in Mayan society.
"As I began researching, I noticed the existing literature suggested there was only a few isolated examples of these warrior queens in Mayan society," said Reese-Taylor, an associate professor at the University of Calgary.
"I started to realize that was bogus. There were, in fact, many examples of noble warrior women."
Reese-Taylor began researching the idea in earnest after a 2004 archaeological expedition to the Great Pyramids of Naachtun in the forests of Guatemala — one of the most remote, inaccessible sites of the Mayan world.
There the research team discovered a massive stone pillar depicting a fierce Naachtun queen standing upon a conquered foe and Reese-Taylor says she decided to look for more evidence of Mayan queens from that era.
While researching a book on the topic, she discovered the appearances of such figures spikes dramatically between 600 and 800 AD, with hundreds of examples popping up in that time frame compared to almost nothing in earlier periods.
"It’s suddenly this quantum leap in the number of women warriors depicted on these royal monuments," she said. "I began to amass this data and look at why this role might have emerged for women at this time."
While research on the warrior queens goes back to the late 19th century, Reese-Taylor says earlier archaeologists simply didn’t have enough information — such as the ability to decipher hieroglyphics — to make sense of what they were investigating.
Up until the 1970s, researchers viewed the Maya as peaceful priest scholars who studied time, rather than warriors whose society involved sacrifice.
It’s possible researchers in the post-World War era had a cultural desire for the possibility of utopian societies, and molded their understanding of the Mayan world to fulfill that fantasy.
As well, cultural biases may have put blinders on the research.
"In the late 19th and early 20th century, the idea of women as warriors was completely unheard of," Reese-Taylor said. "Women didn’t lead battles. Figures like Catherine the Great and Joan of Arc were thought of as the exceptions of history."
Reese-Taylor’s research is currently featured in the March 2014 issue ofDiscover magazine in an article entitled The Power and Glory of the Maya Queens.”
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, researchers say.
Descubren una tumba de tiro intacta en Colima
This is particularly important for my area of study in understanding when and where particular figure styles come from.
New analysis of two spear-throwers excavated nearly a century ago in the Ozark Mountains reveals what one archaeologist calls an “uncanny” similarity to those used in the ancient Southwest and Meso…
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Archaeologists on Friday announced the discovery of “an exceptional” ancient burial site under an apartment building in Mexico City
The findings, based on the only burial from the Clovis culture, reveal these prehistoric toolmakers are the direct ancestors of many contemporary Native Americans, and are closely related to all Native Americans.
By simulating the environment when corn was first exploited by people and then domesticated, Smithsonian scientists discovered that corn’s ancestor, a wild grass called teosinte, may have looked very different then than it does today. The fact that it looks more like corn under these conditions may help to explain how teosinte came to be selected by early farmers who turned it into one of the most important staple crops in the world.
The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.
"We grew teosinte in the conditions that it encountered 10,000 years ago during the early Holocene period: temperatures 2-3 degrees Celsius cooler than today’s with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at around 260 parts per million," said Dolores Piperno, senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who led the project. "Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few, very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation.
After the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide rose to today’s 405 parts per million, the level in the control chamber where teosinte plants look like plants in the wild today — tall, with many long branches tipped by tassels and seed maturation taking place over a period of a few months. Co-author Klaus Winter usually studies the effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on tropical plants as a senior staff scientist at STRI. Piperno and Winter devised a scheme to essentially travel back in time by comparing plants grown in modern conditions with plants grown in the early Holocene chamber.
"Now it appears to be an open question when in the Holocene teosinte became the plant very distinctive from maize in vegetative architecture and inflorescence sexuality that we see today and use as the baseline for research on maize domestication," said Piperno. "When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like — naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication. The environment may have played a significant, if serendipitous, role in the transition through inducing phenotypic plasticity that gave early farmers a head start."
Phenotypic plasticity is an organism’s ability to change in response to the environment, causing genetically identical organisms to look very different when they live in different conditions. As they formulate a “new modern evolutionary synthesis,” in part with concepts that Darwin could not have known of, evolutionary biologists continue to debate the importance of the environment and plasticity on evolutionary change and the origins of the diverse forms of life on Earth today. However, new evidence shows that these environmental-phenotypic interactions are in a growing number of organisms. This is one of the first studies to examine the influence of these processes on plant domestication.
"Extending these concepts to domestication research allows anthropologists to become more fully engaged in modern evolutionary theory and practice," Piperno said
Fragments of human bones that show cuts and prolonged exposure to fire, have allowed investigators to conclude that during the Post Classic period (900 through 1521 AD) rulers, priests and some high ranking warriors practiced cannibalism as a religious rite.
Fragments of human bones have cut marks and prolonged exposure to fire
The findings are a result of recent investigations by archaeologist Gabino Lopez Arenas on craniums, tibia, humerus and jaws located among the offerings of the Great Temple and in the surroundings of the historical center. Lopez Arenas explained that the osteological evidence found in the Sacred Grounds of Tenochtitlan, allows the conclusion that individuals were decapitated and dismembered, the majority of which still possessed bland tissue.
Cannibalism”was intended to absorb the divine force that held the body of the sacrificed
“We observed that immediately after the victims were immolated their flesh was removed, this is confirmed because a great quantity of bones had cuts and alterations that were done while the bone was fresh and recently exposed to fire”, he assured. The specialist added that the practice of cannibalism had the purpose of “absorbing the divine strength that remained in the victim’s bodies: To Mexicas, the human victims were the incarnation of the gods they represented, and by eating their flesh they could share their divinity”.
To the Aztecs, the victims were the incarnation of the gods
The archaeologist pointed out that the flesh of those sacrificed was ingested in specific ceremonies by individuals of a high social status, but it wasn’t a common meal in their diet. Lopez Arenas quoted the famous Spanish writer Francisco Cervantes Salazar, whom added that the arms and legs in the cannibalistic ritual were the most appreciated parts and the most frequently eaten, but the hands and the feet exclusively belonged to the priests and rulers. “To give someone these parts was a distinction, since these were considered the most delicious. The blood was never consumed because it was exclusively for the gods”.
Eating human flesh represented a kind of communion with divinity
The investigator also added a quote from Diego Duran to his investigation; he wrote that within the Mexica militia one of the privileges of warriors who attained the rank of tequihua was to eat human meat in certain ceremonies. Lopez Arenas mentioned that these rituals were made in certain dates. For example, during the parties made celebrating the first month of the Mexica calendar (atlacahualo), several children were sacrificed to honor the gods of water or rain, and after they were killed they were cooked and eaten.
Human offerings were given to the priests and eaten in certain ceremonies
Meanwhile, during the tlacaxipehualizli month, those sacrificed in the temple of the god Huitzilopochtli were devoured in the house of the warrior that captured them.