Stonehenge: settlement may have housed its builders

Stonehenge is one of those classic sites one thinks of when archaeology is discussed. Now, archaeologists working at Durrington Walls on the Salisbury Plain about 2 miles from Stonehenge itself think they’ve located the settlement that the neolithic builders of the monument called home. With hundreds of residents, this settlement becomes the largest in Britain of its time 2,600 to 2,500 BCE. The houses excavated to date have the same layout as those at Skara Brae.

“In what were houses, we have excavated the outlines on the floors of box beds and wooden dressers or cupboards,” said archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University. [...] “It is the richest – by that I mean the filthiest – site of this period known in Britain,” Professor Parker Pearson told BBC News. “We’ve never seen such quantities of pottery and animal bone and flint.”

Read More at:
Stonehenge Builders’ Houses Found [bbc.co.uk]
Stonehenge Settlement Found: Builders’ Homes, “Cult Houses” [nationalgeographic.com]

Archaeology and the Public: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center


afarensis asks “where are the children?” in the context of where are they in the archaeological record. In another context, I can answer that they’re at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, learning about science and archaeology. Look below the fold to get the full scoop.

A private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Crow Canyon “is dedicated to understanding, teaching, and preserving the rich history of the ancestral Pueblo Indians (also called the Anasazi) who inhabited the canyons and mesas of the Mesa Verde region more than 700 years ago.” The center is located near Cortez, Colorado and has on-campus education programs where students of all ages can participate in field and laboratory research as well as general education on topics of archaeology and science.

Vila Schwindt has a brief article in the Cortez Journal that describes the center and some of the curricula available as relayed to her by Lew Mathis, of the program’s educators.

Crow Canyon’s program starts with a general introduction to the chronology of cultures in the Southwest.

It’s hands-on stuff where they’re looking at artifacts and making comparisons between a collection from a certain period to a later period, and as the week progresses, it goes into greater detail.

The very first thing students do is meet the staff. Then they go with their educator and start either “Windows into the Past” for elementary students, or “Inquiries into the Past” for older and adult students.

Crow Canyon has courses for kids and educators alike designed to give kids an idea what archaeology might be like as a career through a three-week camp, and to give teachers a valuable experience in understanding the Pueblo Indian culture that they’ll be able to share with their students.

In addition, Crow Canyon hosts a variety of summer camps for various age-groups, programs for school groups, day tours, and even domestic and international archaeology trips to destinations like Chaco Canyon and Eygpt!

I wish I would have discovered this place years ago! At least I have a good idea for a family vacation or future summer camp for my daughter once she’s of age.

I’ll be adding more “Archaeology and the Public” in the future, so keep an eye on that label in the side bar.

Basic Concepts: Pottery in the Archaeological Record


I‘ve read a few other science bloggers who are posting some basic concepts articles, clarifying specific topics in their fields of endeavor at a level designed to reach the lay person. It hasn’t escaped me that a large portion of my visitors reach me through search engines and may be students or the generally interested who are looking for basic information. So I thought it might be useful for some visitors if I create a basic concepts post of my own and, depending on the number of hits it gets, I may continue the series. Of course, I’d be willing to accept any questions or suggestions for future topics and hope that each topic sparks questions and comments.

Why study pottery and ceramics in archaeology? Look below the fold and see…

  1. There’s a lot of it. Nearly every culture has used some form of fired clay at some point in time for purposes that range from food/water storage and cooking to writing and religious figurines.
  2. It’s extremely durable. Other materials used by humans are far less so: paper, leather textiles, etc. deteriorate more readily than durable materials such as metals (which do deteriorate), glass, stone, and ceramics. Of these four materials, stone and ceramics are the most valuable when looking at neolithic cultures since they predate metal and glass.
  3. It gets ignored. Most pottery remains end up broken and all semblance of the original vessel or object is lost and, thus, of little interest to looters or casual collectors. When other items have long since been removed or plundered, broken pot sherds will remain for archaeologists to study.
  4. Pottery is common. For a society that sues pottery, it is usually present in all social strata, giving a good overview of the day-to-day activities in a society.
  5. Pots break. A lot. Because of this, people in antiquity had to replace them just as they do in modernity. A consistent industry of ceramics allows for changes and trends to develop which are present in the archaeological record and allow for seriation.

The Basic Recipe
At a minimum, pottery includes three ingredients: clay, a tempering agent, and water. The water and clay are mixed to form a paste and another substance is included to strengthen the mix and improve firing characteristics. Substances other than the original clay in the pot’s material are referred to as inclusions, including the temper, but not all temper are inclusions. Temper generally refers to material that’s intentionally put in the mix for a specific purpose -all other inclusions are accidental. Mineral from the clay source, sand, gravel, grass, insects, ash from firing, etc. can all find their way into the pot’s mix.

Once the paste is created, the next step is to shape a pot. The most basic pottery is hand-formed -perhaps a small vessel pressed into a bowl shape. A more advanced form is made by coiling rolled out strips of clay into the final form, smoothing the interior and exterior as the potter gos along. Further advanced forms of pottery are thrown on a wheel, spinning the lump of clay while the potter shapes the vessel, thinning the wall and building up the vessel with a skilled and patient hand.

Once the basic shape of the pot is formed, the exterior can be treated before firing to give the pot a stylistic representation or functional form. Slips are very watery clay that’s painted on the surface, often giving a different color that allows the potter to create a design. But slips are also functional in that they seal the pot, allowing the vessel to better hold liquids. Glazes can be added for much the same reason, but will create a glassy surface that is more watertight. This is achieved by adding substances like tin or lead. Other decorations can be added to the exterior of pottery through punctations, incisions, embossments, stampings, and burnishing. Pots can be very simple or extremely elegant.

The Finished Product
Once the basic form is created, the slip or glaze added and other decorations applied, the pot is ready to be fired. This could include the use of an enclosed oven with an open top or a pit where the fuel is stacked around the pottery. A potter was likely to create many pots to be fired, since there was always a risk of a pot exploding or cracking during the process. Broken bits of potter could be used to segment the kiln, protecting against fragments from neighboring pots that do explode. Also, the positioning of pots and fuel, and type of fuel used affected the oxygen levels in the kiln, which in turn affect the metallic oxides in slips and glazes, thus producing varied results in color and luster.

Summary
When examining the ceramic remains of a society, archaeologists are able to determine dates, levels of stratification, trade patterns, technological innovation, religious affiliations and beliefs, and so on. Analyzing form and function can lead archaeologists to discover things about economic activities in a given society and being able to distinguish between utilitarian and ceremonial functions can offer clues to the status of individuals in burials or residents of a home. Analyzing pottery styles can reveal the nature of restrictiveness a society had: standardized style can imply formal and rigid expectations from the society; less standardized and formal styles could imply fewer societal controls on the potters. Style can also reveal trade patterns and evidence of contact with other societies as trends and fads “catch on” as they are diffused from one society to another. Similarly, technical analyses of a pot’s paste can provide evidence for trade patterns as a pot’s paste is matched to clay deposits many miles away and

Definitions

  • Ceramics and Pottery – These two words often get used interchangeably, but “ceramics” can also include tiles, bricks, tablets, and the like – thought the term “pottery” isn’t exclusive to just vessels and containers. All products constructed by people of clay can be considered “pottery,” but products that are fired, baked or heated as a means of finishing the product -rendering it more durable- are considered ceramics.
  • Sherd - a broken piece of pottery in the archaeological record
  • Seriation - a relative dating method that places artifacts in chronological order by using form to show stylistic changes over time -the evolution of pottery, for instance.
  • Inclusion - material included in the clay mix that forms the final pot, either intentionally, as with tempering agents, or accidentally, as with sand or ash.
  • Temper - an inclusion that is intentionally added, usually to strengthen a pot or to improve firing characteristics.
  • kiln - an oven or pit used to fire, or heat, finished pots to a high temperature which strengthens the pot and vitrifies a slip or glaze.
  • slip - a coating of clay, usually of a different color, which can often give the appearance of a paint.
  • glaze - a coating melted onto the exterior of a pot that seals it, making it watertight, and creates a glassy surface.

The Perceived Threat of Linguistic Diversity

In a recent discussion about culture and cultural diversity, of which I was more of a bystander than active participant, the topic moved to race, as so many of these kinds of discussions do. And it’s at this point in such discussions that I usually move on, but it wasn’t’ before one of the participants made the comment that he found the steady influx of immigrants to be a threat to his own culture, listing the ways: loss of his own culture’s physical features through interbreeding; loss of jobs to immigrant workers; the strain on the educational system; etc. The one concern that really stuck in my mind, even after I checked out of the discussion, was the threat to his culture’s language as the language of immigrants replaces or infuses his own.

Language is no doubt an integral part of culture. If you accept the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, as many linguists do, then you understand that language influences habitual thought through a kind of linguistic determinism (language determines the way we think). The extent to which language affects culture is debatable, but it’s clear that as languages both infuse and diffuse with cultures, changes in culture occur.

In my own community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, the influence of the Mexican culture is prominent and the affect of the Spanish language obvious. Most businesses and government offices have literature in both Spanish and English, and many businesses exist that cater only to Spanish-speakers. It certainly helps to understand at least a smattering of Spanish when conducting day-to-day business and greatly improves one’s chances of being hired if bilingual.

This linguistic diversity doesn’t come without a fair bit of resistance and rejection, however. Many of my neighbors are quick to associate cultural presence of Spanish-speakers to the problem of illegal immigration and, in some ways, this is a fair association. The population of illegal immigrants in North Texas is significant, but it isn’t clear to what extent the illegal population is a sub-set of the much larger, overall Hispanic immigrant culture here.

It is clear, however, that language can be a cultural divider as easily as it can a unifier. Shops in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods whose signage is only in Spanish generally cater to only Hispanic customers. The obverse isn’t true, of course, since one can visit any Wal-Mart or McDonalds and find Hispanic customers who speak little or no English. But rarely will the average white Texan shop at the local taqueria or Mexican market. A local chain of pizza restaurants, Pizza Patron, have recently fallen under heavy criticism and even threats simply for deciding to accept pesos from customers, giving dollars as change.

Part of the resistance to change in culture is reasonable: being around those whose language you don’t understand is naturally disconcerting; trying to conduct business with speakers of foreign languages is challenging; and obtaining or sharing an education can be difficult to say the least. But looking back on the concern mentioned in the first paragraph, the danger of losing one’s culture, particularly language, to immigrants seems largely unfounded. It is true that changes will occur in any culture that allows another to infuse with it, but it’s also true that the diffusing culture changes as well. In both directions change will occur –some good, some bad. But I truly wonder about the efforts that some in government are taking to see to it that English is the “official language” and I worry about those that think if they can control the language people speak, they can “preserve their culture.” There are endangered languages in the world, but English isn’t one of them. Indeed, English is one of the languages that is fast wiping out many others.

In North America, only about 194 languages remain out of the hundreds that once existed. 73 of these are spoken only by adults over 50 and 49 spoken only by a scant few individuals. These figures are, at best, from the 1990’s, so they’re certainly much lower baring some sudden, massive revival where young people took the time to learn the languages of their elders. I heard it said once that Oklahoma was home to more dialects and languages than all of Europe. I don’t know if this is true or not, but the Native American population in the state is high. Interestingly enough, it’s also where a state-level Senator is pushing a bill to make English the official language. In her words:

The purpose of this bill is to establish a policy that unifies the state…“It unites us as a common people with diverse cultures. It unites us with a common language… English is the language of success. If you want to succeed in government, economy or school you have to be able to speak English,” Senator Kathleen Wilcoxson, R-Oklahoma City, said.

Instead of passing laws restricting languages, we should be focused more on teaching them. I have friends in Europe who I converse with on a regular basis whose first languages are German and Danish, yet their mastery of English rivals that of many Americans their age. In the United States, we appear to be slow to figure out what Europeans have long understood: speaking and writing in only one language is a limiting factor in economics, academia, and politics.

I’ll leave this post with a quote from the Linguistic Society of America and its position on “English only,” which is a measure that consistently rears its ugly head on both state and national levels:

The English language in America is not threatened. All evidence suggests that recent immigrants are overwhelmingly aware of the social and economic advantages of becoming proficient in English, and require no additional compulsion to learn the language.

American unity has never rested primarily on unity of language, but rather on common political and social ideals.

History shows that a common language cannot be imposed by force of law, and that attempts to do so usually create divisiveness and disunity. This has been the effect, for example, of the efforts of the English to impose the English language in Ireland, of Soviet efforts to impose the Russian language on non-Russian nationalities, and of Franco’s efforts to impose Spanish on the Basques and Catalans.

It is to the economic and cultural advantage of the nation as a whole that its citizens should be proficient in more than one language, and to this end we should encourage both foreign language study for native English speakers, and programs that enable speakers with other linguistic backgrounds to maintain proficiency in those languages along with English.

You can find the source for the quote above in the links section below.

Related links:

Pizza Por Pesos
Pesos Lift Pizza Patrón’s Profile
Bill would make English official state language
Caregivers help expand children’s language skills
What is an Endangered Language?
Resolution: English Only

Blog Critic reviews my friends at Scienceblogs

Blog critic, ggwfung, an anonymous blogger and critic with his own blog, Ideas Man, has written an article at Blogcritics titled ScienceBlogs Network Reviewed – the A’s. In it, he gives an apparent thumbs up for the only two anthropology blogs at Scienceblogs, but doesn’t seem so enthused about three of my other favorites there. Indeed, I just realized that its the blogs that start with “A” at Scienceblogs that I like the most!

Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist’s new blog (he’s formerly of Salto Sobrius), gets a “well done” and is described by ggwfung as “crisp” and “clean” in style. And, according to the anonymous critic, should he be reduced to a single word for Martin’s blog it would be “robust.” I can’t argue with him there -Martin does a good job.

ggwfung also liked afarensis, giving him a “seven out of ten” score and commenting favorably on afarensis’ style and content. Perhaps ggwfung finds a natural appeal to bloggers that don’t capitalize their nom de blog, or perhaps he has an affinity for anthropology/archaeology bloggers. Either way, he didn’t pull the punches on the rest of the “A”‘s.

Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock, one of my all-time favorite blogs, is accused of “spinning around in dizzy circles.” His implication that Coturnix posts at a fantastic rate is fair, but I strongly disagree with his assessment that Coturnix’s posts are “haphazard and trivial.” If this *is* the case, then haphazard and trivial are what his readers want -his appears to be one of the more visited and commented blogs at Seed. 1200+ visits per day is not a figure to sneeze at. ggwfung gave Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science “a low rating” and, to Tara at Aetiology, he gave “[a]n ambivalent rating” (whatever that means). His criticisms of these women included their tendency to blog about their personal lives and to engage in chit-chat. Both Janet and Tara are fine bloggers and, while I seldom post at either, I visit them regularly. I enjoy reading about their personal lives and the lighter posts that are intermixed with scientific ones. And its clear that ggwfung didn’t bother to click the tags of “Ethical Research“, “Professional Ethics“, “AIDS/HIV“, or “Infectious Disease” at either of these fine blogs. For, if he had, he would have been presented with some of the very best writing available on blogs or other popular media in these subjects. And, being presented with such glaringly fine examples of what good science blogging is about, ggwfung would never have been able to write critiques that were so far off the mark and still be considered intellectually honest. Instead, it looks as though ggwfung, the “Ideas Man,” visited the blogs of scientists-slash-parents in the post-holiday season and based his critiques from there.

Next time, look a little deeper, “Ideas Man.”

Egyptology Online Karnak and Avaris

The Near Eastern Studies department of Johns Hopkins University is scheduled to roll out an educational website on January 19, 2007 titled Hopkins in Egypt Today.

Also, Tell el-Dabca (a.k.a. Avaris) has its own homepage. Avaris was the capital of the Hyksos in Lower Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyksos were Canaanite immigrants and Manethos referred to the them as heku-shoswet, and, Hellenized, it became “Hyksos,” which means rulers of a foreign land. This later became a general Egyptian term for Asiatic foreigners. Pharaoh Ahmose I (18th Dynasty) sacked Avaris and chased the Hyksos to southern Canaan to their fortress, Sharuhen near modern day Gaza. Ahmose laid siege to the fortress for three years before he stormed it.

Look below the fold for quotes and further discussion.

Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins
The goal of the site is:

to provide the viewer with the elements of archaeological work, including the progress of excavation. The daily results are crucial to an understanding of how field investigation takes place, since decisions must be made on the basis of ongoing work. The people involved in the work are also an essential feature and contribute profoundly to the final outcomes. The focus of our diary is thus often on the people and their activities.

Returning for her 12th season, Professor Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins will oversee archaeological work at the Temple of the Goddess Mut (pronounced “moot”) at Karnak (in Luxor, Egypt).

Mut was the wife of the great national god of ancient Egypt, Amun, whose central temple at Karnak is the largest existing religious complex in the world. Mut had her own temple in the southern precinct of Karnak, and the main temple was linked to it by two different paved alleys flanked by rows of ram headed sphinxes. The god Amun’s statue was brought to the Mut temple when rituals occurred commemorating the birth of a son to Amun and Mut. That son, Khonsu, a moon god, has his own temple at Karnak as well.

Avaris Online
The site appears to be run by Professor Manfred Bietak, the Professor of Egyptology at the University of Vienna in Austria. He’s also director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo (Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Kairo). It could be run by one or more of his grad students, however. I couldn’t tell for sure.

While obviously still under development, there is already a great wealth of information for the student interested in the Hyksos period of Egypt (that would be me). Descriptions of the sites and the excavations as well as artifacts and features recovered are included as well as a detailed bibliography. Of course, if you plan to study or write on the Hyksos, a familiarity with German is a must! The site is in both English and German, but most of the references are from German language publications. Here’s a short quote from the site:

After the conquest of Avaris by Ahmose c. 1530 BC the major part of the town was abandoned. The citadel, however, was destroyed and enormous storage facilities set up, among them numerous silos. On top of those remains traces of a camp with bonfires a, ovens and postholes of tents were encountered. Bodies probably of soldiers were buried without any offerings in pits. Also bodies of several horses were found in this stratum.

Go. Visit these sites. Get your learn on.
Hopkins in Egypt Today
Tell el-Dabca Homepage

Stolen & Looted: Convicted Smuggler and Looter Reveals Trade Secrets

Pietro Casasanta spent five decades robbing his country of priceless artifacts and cultural items which he sold on the open market. According to Signor Casasanta, however, his efforts should earn him a senator’s seat instead of a jail cell.

Look below the fold to find out why.

The testimony that allowed Casasanta’s description of the methods and extent to which he and his people plundered Roman villas and archaeological sites of their artifacts and art came during the trial of Getty curator (former) Marion True and art dealer (former) Robert Hecht, who are both charged with trafficking in stolen antiquities. Though he never met with or dealt with True and Hecht directly, Casasanta was providing the court with an overview of the way the illegal antiquities market worked in Italy. He claimed that his plunders saved art that would have been destroyed anyway in development projects and fancied himself just in his work:

I saved thousands of artifacts that would have been ground into cement. … It’s a shame that they don’t make me a senator for life.

Apparently, much of the art he recovered was in the rubble being moved for construction of buildings and public works, but rather than share the treasure with the Italian public, he chose to profit from the finds. He even admitted to “excavations” of his own and the manner in which the loot was processed:

Casasanta told the court he would poke around construction sites and find treasures in piles of earth that had been dug up. But he also organized his own vast excavations – largely the ruins of ancient Roman countryside villas – working in daylight with two or three people using bulldozers over thousands of square yards.

He also explained how he and other looters would give their finds a clean record by selling them to themselves at international auction houses through dummy companies or straw men.

“This allowed me to legalize the piece and put a price on it,” he told the judges.

Its good to see the Italian and Greek governments working hard to get a handle on their national treasures. To paraphrase Colin Renfrew, it’s the curators and dealers who are perhaps the most complicit since those that plunder antiquities of their nations wouldn’t have a market without them. I think the on-going trial of True and Hecht (of the Hecht co. department stores chain) will be on the minds dealers and curators for years to come.

Source: Witness in Italy antiquities case reveals secrets of art looting
[signonsandiego.com]

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