Category: Uncategorized

Hot Off the Press: The-Not-So New World?

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There have been some very heated debts among the archaeological community about the first Homo sapiens sapiens to arrive in America. The modern consensus is the Clovis culture arrived around 15,000 years ago migrating across the Bering land bridge. But based on very recently published findings form Nature, it could push back the time table to when earlier hominin (key word) arrived in America and not modern Homo sapiens sapiens. The time change could be over 115,000 earlier than what the modern consensus is, that modern day humans where the first to arrive in American around 15,000 years ago.

It starts in the early 90’s at Route 54 in San Diego county. When (recently dated to be 130,000 years old) mastodon fossils were discovered a portion of the area was blocked off for excavation. What was odd about the discovery was the fossilized bones of the mastodon where crushed by what looked like stone tools found with them. And at the site they also found some very rudimentary stone tools that look like other stone tools found that would have been used like a hammer and anvil. Based on the breakage of the mastodon bones and testing of modern elephant bones using similar stone tools found at the site they make the same pattern of breakage.

What is interesting is that they found the (possibly tools) stones in the first place. Because the sedimentary layer they found the fossils is made of siltstone, which was deposited by slow moving water. And based on geological processes, the current of the water to deposit silt is way to weak to have placed the ,some 30 pounds, rocks. It is suggested that they were likely left there from human activity. They also claim based on the fractures of bones they were done soon after death and not by natural or geological processes.

Cerutti Mastodon site.

If not us then who? The site dates back to 130,000 years ago but the earliest evidence of us leaving Africa is 100,000 years ago. So who was there. Sadly there were no human bones discovered at the site. And Hominins were a lot more diverse then they are are now, Homo sapiens sapiens being the only ones alive today. And based on the time there are numerous possibilities like the late Homo erects, the mysterious Denisovans, Neandertals, or even Homo floresiensis, though I seriously doubt it was people of the Flores man. But until there is a skeleton found around this date, if there is any to be found, we wont know for sure.

Currently the team that discovered the site are looking for mastodon protein residue in the pores of the rocks. If the rocks really were used as tools and the residue is there then the tools(not just rocks at this point) will really become compelling. The team will also begin there re-excavation of the site hopefully discovering further evidence. For now I remain skeptical, but intrigued and optimistic. For the time being there have already been the skeptic archaeologists making there claims, as anthropologists usually do when a new discovery might put a dent in the modern consensus. But I agree that there needs to be more evidence (bones) before we cut down trees to change the history books.

For more information, evidence, and skepticism please visit these articles.

http://www.nature.com/news/controversial-study-claims-humans-reached-americas-100-000-years-earlier-than-thought-1.21886?WT.mc_id=SFB_NNEWS_1508_RHBox

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/mastodons-americas-peopling-migrations-archaeology-science/

Colonial Cold Case

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It starts with the Lost Towns Project, a non-profit organization in modern day Anne Arundel county Maryland where they conduct research to make new discoverers of the Chesapeake region.  And in 2003 they discoverer and old plantation on the site called Leavy Neck. The owners records indicate William Neale acquired the house and property in 1662 and abandoned around 1677 after his death. And around where the home would have been they discovered a colonial storage cellar used for food, beverages and household items. But another purpose is as a trash dump. This is not a unusual purpose for the cellar but after digging through a thin layer of clay they found a entire human skeleton! And based on the “archaeological”evidence(trash) below and above that was used to cover the body, he died when the Neale family lived there most likely pre 1670s. Based on the disrespectful manner of which he was buried he was not close to the family and has no loved ones near, most likely in England. And based on this evidence the initial assumption was he was a indentured servant.

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Indentured servant contract.

Indentured servants were the work force of plantations in 17th century Chesapeake. At the time 3/4 of immigrants where indentured servants. And they would sign a legally binding agreement to serve there owner for a certain time frame they agreed upon, usually 4 to 7 years. And in return for their service the owner would have to pay for their travels to America, give them shelter, and provide food. After the agreed amount of time expires they gain their freedom and are given land to use by the government. But the work was hard and they had to do everything their owner demanded.

Life history based on the bones

But was he really a indentured servant? Once he was brought to the Smithsonian Institute they would try to solve that question. Based on the bones he was a European male, about 5ft 2in and still growing based on the incomplete fused epiphyses on his long bones. And he was around 15 to 16 years old. And based on the extensive muscle attachment on his shoulder and arm bones he did a lot of heavy lifting on a daily basis. Based on his vertebrae he did heavy lifting and he developed Schmorl’s depressions. This is a compression in the spine caused by heavy lifting. The same thing can be seen in weight lifters and gymnasts. Also based on stable isotope analysis he was a recent     immigrant. He also had poor health. He suffered for the beginning symptoms of tuberculosis. 19 of his 32 teeth had cavities, some of where infected which could have been the cause of his tuberculosis. All of these factors would have made work as a indentured servant difficult, if not impossible. Which could have lead to his death.

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Because there is beveling on the ceramic edge this was definitely used to bury his grave.   

But why bury him under the cellar? Well based on the laws of the time it was prohibited to give a inappropriate burial of a servant and they had to be public. Public burials cost the owner money but also gave government officials the opportunity to look at indentured servants remains for mistreatment and abuse. Something the Neale’s might not of wanted them to see. There is other skeletal evidence that show foul play. Perimortem ( before death with no signs of healing) fractures in the right wrist indicate a defensive injury. This indicates that there was an altercation that lead to his death, mostly likely because he couldn’t preform the takes that his owner demanded of him. The burial that was given to him also supports the suspicious causes around his death because he was buried in a quick grave that didn’t even fit him completely, and the quickest tool he/ she could find which was the ceramic sherd (yes sherd) that was in the trash pit with him. A burial that was done in haste and secrecy.

More information:

Written in the Bones by       – has a lot of information on this case and other in Chesapeake during the 17th century.

http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone/leavy_neck.html – Smithsonian site about the findings in the Chesapeake region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bones with Stingers

biological-anthropology-bs-2-hIf your still in high school with a interest in anthropology you should consider going to Appalachian State’s Forensic Anthropology Camp. I know, because I did

Because I was a late bloomer and didn’t discover my love for anthropology until my junior year, I was actually one of the oldest kid there in the summer of 2016. Just a few months before I would go to school at ISU. I also had to do the June camp that year, because if i went to the July camp I would have been to old to even apply. But luckily, I found the camp opportunity just in time to apply and participate just before I started college. 

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APP State

When my mom and I first got there I knew I was going to have a good time. The campus was beautiful and the scenery was like nothing Illinois could offer. You could tell the people where as interested in anthropology as I was. And could actually have a conversation about something like balanced polymorphism and its correlation with natural selective pressures for the heterozygote of sickle cell anemia in parts of the world like Central Africa. And no one would bat an eye.

Throughout the week I worked with other campers, Counselors(grad students at the school), and the one and only Dr. Schung. A well know bioarchaeologists and professor at App State. And we got to work with real human skeletons and learn basic human osteology, like sex age ancestry, and stature. Also skeletal evidence for trauma, starvation, and infectious diseases. Once we learned all these techniques to read bones and someones life we where split up into groups and each given a case to solve and reconstruct the life and manner of death from our skeletal remains. And then present it to the camp and see how much we got right.

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From the specific case we got we where able to tell our suspect was male. From the robustness of his skull and the shape and angle of his pelvis. His age based on his dentition, all his epiphyseal fused and advanced osteoporosis  we determined he was sixty plus years old. Based on his facial features he was of European dissent. And that he stood around five feet eight inches. Based on the healed injures like his Salter Harris Type 1 Fracture on his left Tibia, and the amount of muscle markings on his long bones suggested he lived a very active lifestyle. He also had DISH on his spine and some ribs which can happen at old age. The lack of trauma on his body and his old age we assumed he died of natural causes. We presented our findings to the camp and at the end like everyone else after we presented got to know the true identity of there individual. And we where right on everything except cause of death. He actually died of cancer which was present in the ribs but was hard to distinguish between the Dish which he also had. 

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The FAKE remains we found.

On the last day ,which was the most eventful day for me, we went into the woods(just pick a direction) and was tasked with finding FAKE skeletal remains underground. We split up into groups again and was assigned a general area where the remains would be. one spot looked suspicious for it was sagging a bit as if the soil has been turned awhile ago. This is where we learned to the surveying and excavation techniques. Which weren’t that much different from the techniques I learned at camp CAA the year before. The biggest difference was the rate of digging. I was internally having a meltdown when I saw people thrust their shovel or trowel inches deep. Almost like they were stabbing the ground. This was very different form my time at CAA where the process was slow only going centimeters deep. Looking for the tiniest pieces of flint or pottery. I asked one of the councilors about this and she agreed, but in a forensic setting time was sometimes not an ally so the rate of digging was faster. I did go down once people actually started hitting bone and realized they should slow down a bit.

When everyone was done digging up there skeletons groups took turns looking at what other groups had found. But apparently someone had disturbed a wasp nest(yellow jacket) and when I turned to leave I felt an extreme pinching in my leg and when a look down a see a wasp jabbing its stinger in my leg! I’m not allergic but instantly I knew this would wreck the rest of my day. I told one of the councilers and it turned out i wasn’t the only one and we all left for the nearby clinic. Also luckily no one was allergic and so nobody needed any care. So once the professor made all the calls the the parents to let them know we left the clinic the professor now driving us and me riding shotgun. Luckily I made this crap situation into a positive. I had the rare opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions and also tell her about the CAA camp which ironically she brought up since I went there the summer before!

So the day wasn’t a total loss. And If anyone is serious about physical anthropology then you should consider this camp. It has probably the best hands on experience opportunity for high school students using real bones. You get to be around people your own age with the same interests. And the grad students and professor have a wealth of knowledge, With the grad students having immeasurable knowledge on what it’s like to be a anthropology student and what to plan for for your specific interests in the department.

Information:

http://www.appalachianbioanth.org/Camp_index.html – For more details on this unique camp.

    

You Are What You Eat

hamburger-headThe picture might be an exaggeration. The isotopes in your body aren’t!

The study of isotopes from the departments of chemistry and geology have, in recent decades, helped archaeologists and anthropologists alike answer questions. The answers most sought after when using isotope analysis are about past civilizations and there past diets, mobility, and trade. And can get further knowledge about past peoples and the environment they lived and culture.

Most people who think of isotope analysis think of absolute dating, which are radioactive isotopes ,like carbon-14, which decay in predictable “half-lives” to something more stable. This can be used, particularly C-14 in archaeology, to date certain items like artifacts, strata, and fossils. Absolute dating was actually used to determine the age of the Earth!

But few are familiar with “stable” isotopes. Which aren’t radioactive and so don’t go under radioactive decay over time. Because of this we can find artifacts and plants and animals skeletons with the same isotopic value from when they where alive. The most common elements used are Carbon(C-13), Nitrogen(N-15), Oxygen(O-18), and Strontium(Sr-87,Sr-86). These stable isotopes can then be used to study artifacts like ceramics, metals. soft tissue, bone, teeth, plants and soil. And the reason for the funny title is isotope values in organisms are a reflection of the there geographic location and diets. So, you literally are what you eat!

Types of Isotope Use

Isotopes to Study the Environment 

Learning about the past environments of past peoples can help explain the environmental factors they faced. Like agriculture, trade, and settled or nomadic lifestyles. An example would be people who lived in arid environments have enriched N-15 values while people who lived in mild environment have a low N-15 value.

Isotopes and Diet

This method provides a very direct approach to discovering the diets of past people and civilizations. Through the use of carbon and nitrogen isotopes it can determine terrestrial or marine consumption and the different plant life.

Isotopes to Study Mobility

Isotopes Strontium and oxygen can be used to study the travel of people, animals and artifacts like ceramics. can be used to study the trade among past civilizations and peoples migration from different geographical locations for they will have different isotopic values.

Examples in the Field

The Very English Eater

arrowpointboy20composite20sharpIn The Jamestown Rediscovery Project in 2005 they where able to discover a early inhabitant of the town near James Fort. From the bones he was a young European man that stood about 5ft 8in. And when they brought his remains to to Smithsonian Institution they did a isotopic analysis using C-13. This information can be valuable when studying colonial remains for they can help tell there original origins and how long they have stayed in America. Because maize have a richer source of C-13 compared to the other plant life in Europe which are barley, wheat, and rye. And over time as a colonial eats more local foods and plant life changing there nutrition that there body transports which changes over time there bones which reflect a diet with more C-13. But the Isotope analysis of the young man reflects that he had a low C-13 diet which reflects that he had no local food in his diet and that he most likely died shortly after arriving in Jamestown around 1607.

What did Egyptians Eat?   

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Mummy of a Middle Class Egyptian Woman.

In Katheryn Emery’s blog Bones Don’t Lie she talks about the Diet of ancient Egyptians inferred from stable isotope systematics and whether depictions of Egyptian art really show how they lived. And based on the research gathered using human hair, enamel, and bones from a sample of 43 individuals from the Egyptian middle class. And based on the isotopic analysis using Strontium they consumed all local crops and meats. which makes sense since they where able to take advantage of the Nile river and delta. Which means they didn’t need to import food resources from other civilizations. Also based on the isotope analysis the article inferred that the Egyptian middle class had a ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. Which meant they primarily ate fruits and vegetables but also byproducts of animals like milk and cheese. Meat consumption was between 20% to a extreme of 50% of there diet. But this is still low compared to modern day where meat is around 65% of our diet. So they mostly kept to there greens.

Books and websites:

Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker – book about the excavation of Colonial James Town and Maryland.

https://bonesdontlie.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/what-did-the-egyptians-eat/ – Katheryn Emery’s blog

http://www.pbs.org/time-team/experience-archaeology/isotope-analysis/ – a good site about isotope analysis. Hopefully clears up anything that was confusing. I’m not the best at Chemistry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Dirt with a PhD

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Thunderstorm over Illinois River near Kampsville.

After the hours of driving my heart was shattered. The town was half flooded form the tropical storm Bill. Kampsville a town in southeastern Illinois near the Mississippi river and right on the bank of Illinois river. And from days of heavy rain the rivers went past their banks and flooded towns and completely covered roads with its strong flowing current. We spent hours looking for a route to the town but only say the destruction of this enigmatic force. With the main roads closed off we had to use the help of local divers as they guided use through country roads not even recognized by our GPS or paper map. The GPS kept telling use for miles to get on a road. When we finally reached the town, I was in dismay. It was the last straw. After hours of seeing flooded towns and reaching dead ends from floods I was brought to a very negative level and I almost wanted to go home. And when I saw the Kampsville it didn’t help me in the slightest. It was the same as the other towns with flooded buildings near the bank and the main road at some points under 2 or three feet of water. Now I was almost in a melodramatic state wanting my parents to turn around and take us back home. But luckily, we pushed through it and my worst fears were wrong, we finally found a staff member who told us the camp was still open and the cabin was further inland up a small hill!

The cabin where I would be staying for a week was part of the Center for American Archeology. Yes, it’s spelled without the a. And their mission, since 1953, is to educate and conduct research in archaeology. And to learn more about the unwritten story of early American. The week I would be there I was part of the High School Field School, a opportunity for young students to actually work in the field of archaeology with professionals, professors, other high school students, and Arizona State interns.

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Our excavation site would be called Golden Eagle. A prehistoric site with geometric properties from ancient human activity. And throughout the week I learned more about field and lab work. At Golden eagle (field) I learned techniques like mapping and measuring and flotation sampling at a archaeological site. And how to use a shovel and trowel (archaeologists weapon of choice) while at the excavation site. And at the lab (really the cabin) we would wash artifacts and learn the process of identification, logging them, and storing them based on factors like where they were found and date found. And there were a couple of lectures throughout the week. My favorite ones where about the archaeological evidence about trade between Southwestern tribes and Mesoamerica. And learning about Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon. Which can predict the solstices throughout the year. We had evenings off, but I remember mostly drinking Arizona like it was nectar and sleeping.

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At Golden Eagle. You can roughly see me looking cool with my black cowboy hat.

Even though I had the worst drive of my life to get there. The rest of the week was nice and I only had to worry about brown recluse spiders getting in my boots while I was asleep. But if anyone in high school is serious about archaeology or anthropology in general then they should consider going to this camp. You get to spend a week with people with the same odd ball obsessions as you and know what you’re talking about or would want to learn about it. And you get on hands experience with professionals.

For more information visit there site:

http://www.caa-archeology.org/

 

 

 

First blog post

First blog post

Anthropology. What? anty-banner

Most people will go through life without understanding anthology, or even talk to an anthropologist. So, people can have a vague idea what anthropology is. Some will automatically think Indiana Jones, when he was an archaeologist and a bad one at that. Though I do like the hat. Or say yeah, I like bugs to, hearing entomology instead of Anthropology. For those and many other reasons I decided to write this blog post about what Anthropology is and its origins.

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Around the time explores made transcontinental travels they made amazing discoveries in new lands that help us further understand our world in fields like natural history, geology, and biology. But when the explorers got to “new” lands they encountered people as well. People that looked, talked, and dressed very differently from there way in western society. And in an age of great discovery and further understanding Europeans tried to explain this, what was to them, phenomenon. And slowly but surely the discoplone Anthropology was born in the 19th century. Even when you look at googles “use over time for: anthropology” graph the word catapults from 1850’s to modern day.

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Frank Foas. Considered the “Father of American Anthropology.”

Anthropology in America will eventually be known as the study of humankind, viewed at all perspectives of people at all times. American anthropology has become so specialized, we can also look at ourselves in many different but connected ways, it has been divided into four sub-fields. The four sub-fields in America are Cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and physical(biological) anthropology.

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Margaret Mead. A popular Cultural Anthropologist. With a mother in the Admiralty Island

Cultural Anthropologists studies living cultures and will often spend long trips with cultural groups to gain more intimate perspective of these cultures. Archaeologists are like Cultural Anthropologists, but study the past cultures using material culture or more known artifacts. Linguists study language, its structure, evolution, and social and cultural context for language. Finally, physical anthropologists study the human evolution and variation, both past and present.

Even through anthropology is very diverse it is also a studying field that holistic as well. Unlike other disciplines, anthropologists study humans using a biocultural approach. Acknowledging the fact that there is a intercorrelation between culture and biology using scientific study.

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Louis and Mary Leaky. Famous Paleoanthropologists in East Africa (successfully) looking for hominid fossils.

Now I will only be blogging about Physical Anthropology and its fields. If you think looking at one fourth of the sub-fields will be a light read, then you’re wrong. What makes physical anthropology interesting is its relationship with the other sub-fields and that it is science and social science. Also, its close ties to other disciplines like biology, genetics, paleontology, geology, and many other fields and specialties. So, I hope you enjoy my topics but more so the world that is Physical Anthropology.