Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

The dominant theory in American migration studies for the past several decades has been that the Clovis were the first people cross into the New World from Asia during the last ice age about 13,500 BCE. A few months ago I posted about the Lapa Do Santo petroglyph discovered in Brazil in 2009. It was dated to about 9,000-12,000 years ago, making it the oldest petroglyph found in South America (read more about it here). Discoveries like this have caused disagreements with the Clovis first theory.

Image: Brendan Leach, New York Times

There have been several sites which initially were dated to far earlier than Clovis, but quite often the dating is contested. Such as the Chilean Monte Verde site. This site is older than any known Clovis site and is also much further south. The speed and ease with which people were able to migrate is also debated.

It finally appears that a significant number of American archaeologists, lagging behind their S. American and European counterparts, have accepted that the Clovis were most likely not the first people to migrate to the New World.

There have been several articles lately discussing this dismissing of ‘Clovis first’. Both Archaeology Magazine and the New York Times report about the Buttermilk Creek site in central Texas which predates Clovis:

There, in perfect stratigraphical alignment, archaeologists found the remains of tools left behind by different Archaic period hunter-gatherers sitting above those of various Paleoindian cultures. The team believes the oldest layer, containing 20,000 pieces made of chert, a sedimentary rock—with roughly 100 discernable tools such as blades, choppers, and end scrapers—dates to 15,500 years ago, 2,500 years before
Clovis technology.

The assemblage found at Buttermilk Creek does not resemble those at several previously found pre-Clovis sites, such as the 14,500-year-old tools from Monte Verde in southern Chile. Its incorporation of bifacial and bladelet technology does recall Clovis culture, suggesting a lineage between the two. “There’s a logical expectation that somewhere in North America we are going to find something that can be called proto-Clovis,” says Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist at the Louis Berger Group in Richmond, Virginia. Source: Nikhil Swaminathan, Archaeology Magazine.

Chert tools from Buttermilk Creek date to 15,500 years ago and some show evidence of bifacial technology. Photo: Michael R. Waters

Agreeing that the were Clovis most likely were not the first people to have migrated to America, this doesn’t mean that archaeologists have come up with any definitive answers yet. In fact, the mystery has enlarged because the puzzle has just broken into more pieces. We still aren’t sure who the Clovis people really were, let alone who preceded them. Material evidence and genetic studies hold the key to this mystery, if only we  can find enough of it.


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Class of 2012

I did it! I graduated May 12, 2012 from Millersville University!

Anthropology, B.A.
Concentration: Archaeology
Minor: History
Magna Cum Laude

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The debate of when early people migrated to Americas is as strong as ever. I’ve heard dates ranging from 40,000-10,000 BCE. That is a very broad range. Most archaeologists do agree that there most likely were multiple waves of people who made their way to this continent. This is one of the explanations given for the cultural variety that existed among native groups.

Lapa Do Santo petroglyph. "The Little Horny Man." Photo: Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of São Paulo.

The oldest known petroglyph in the Americas was discovered in 2009 in Brazil. Radiocarbon dating estimates the petroglyph to have been carved 9,000-12,000 years ago. Assuming that people migrated over the Bering Straight (or at least sailed around the coast) they would have had to do so with enough time to migrate all the way to South America. Obviously, people would have had to migrated to central Brazil by the earliest date of the petroglyph at 12,000 years ago.

A brief report released by the archaeological team expresses their arguments for why this petroglyph is an important find.

Little is known, however, about the symbolic world of the first humans who settled the New World, because artistic manifestations either as rock-art, ornaments, and portable art objects dated to the Pleistocene/Holocene transition are exceedingly rare in the Americas.

Photo: Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of São Paulo.

The figure definitely appears to be a human representation.

The figure was pecked in the bedrock and consisted of a small anthropomorphic filiform petroglyph with tri-digits, a c-like head, and an oversized phallus.

Walter Alves Neves, an archaeologist at the University of San Paulo says the team has named the figure “the little horny man.” The rock art was found about 13 feet below the ground surface. The figure is about 12 inches tall and 8 inches wide, with an oversized phallus about the size of the figures arm!

Lapa do Santo Cave archaeological site. Photo: Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of São Paulo.

13 feet down. Photo: Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of São Paulo.

No doubt this petroglyph will provide additional evidence to the story of early American occupation.

Rock-art similar to the one reported here can be found in at least two other rockshelters in the same region, Lapa do Ballet and Lapa das Caieiras. However, the stylistic similarity is not restricted to Lagoa Santa but extends to other parts of Brazil. Two stylistic traditions have been defined in Northeastern Brazil: The Nordeste and the Agreste Traditions. The Nordeste Tradition is indirectly dated to between 12 and 6 kyr, while the Agreste Tradition seems to be later, spanning from 9 to 2 kyr, although there is some controversy about these ages…Several authors have suggested that a short chronology for the occupation of the New World cannot account for the variability of the South American lithic industries in the Early Holocene… Both pieces of information converge to support a deep chronology for the peopling of the New World.

Read the full report here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0032228


Rock Art at the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary in Eastern South America

Oldest American Rock Art Found in Brazil

‘Little Horny Man’: Rock Carving of Giant Phallus Discovered

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The Star Barn. (Photo: Deborah Noell)

February 19, 2010 – Written for a historic preservation class.

A beautiful and intriguing barn stands not fifty feet from busy Interstate-283 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. With spired cupola reaching toward the sky, the structure takes resemblance of a church. This may explain why the barn seems to have a familiar feeling to someone who has just seen it for the first time. The 14,000 square foot white barn has distinctive star-shaped ventilators on all four sides. Popularly known as the Star Barn, “it may be one of the most artistically photographed, painted, and replicated buildings in America because of its unique architectural design, building layout, and most notably, its giant five-point stars on each end”.  The National Barn Alliance says the Star Barn is the most recognizable barn in North America (The Star Barn). This is testimony to the extraordinary aesthetic beauty of this 138 year old barn.

The earliest documentation of the farm land’s ownership dates back to 1778 when the land was purchased by a Revolutionary War veteran. Over the next one hundred years the land was owned by influential men who included a member of the United States Congress, a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate, and a county judge. In 1872 John Motter, a man who supplied the United States army with thousands of horses during the Civil War, purchased the farm for just over $19,000. (The Star Barn).

Inside of the Star Barn

Soon after the purchase, Motter commissioned master carpenter Daniel Reichert to design the new farm buildings, most of which still stand to this day. The carriage house/corn crib, chicken coop, and pig barn all mimic the Gothic Revival architectural details of the main barn, but on a much smaller scale.  “Each of the buildings had characteristics of that style including cross gables, pointed arch ventilators, trefoil brackets, and spired cupolas” (The Star Barn).

Built on a limestone foundation, the three-story Star Barn is not a forgettable sight. It is approximately 68 feet wide by 106 feet long and about 65 feet in height.  “The Gothic Revival five-bay barn has a centered cross gable and square cupola rising above the gabled roof. A metal cap in the shape of a fleur-de-lis tops the octagonal spire. The barn has tall pointed-arch ventilators along all four elevations” (The Star Barn). The star-shaped ventilators are centered on each side of the barn, making it easily recognizable from any angle.  Form follows function for this decoration. The wooden louvers that created the star pattern allowed for additional sunlight and air circulation for drying hay and other grains on the upper levels. (The Star Barn).

The initial use of the lower levels was to keep horses and was most likely used for that purpose until 1925 when the farm changed hands to the Nissley Family who converted it into a dairy farm. The Nissley’s dramatically changed the lower level of the barn to accommodate cattle. The other outbuildings were now used primarily for storing equipment and not animals; this led to a deterioration of those buildings which became no longer functioning components of the 20th century farm (The Star Barn).

The farm flourished during the late 19th century through the post-Civil War era of restoration. Prior to the war a farmer was self-sufficient and generally grew only enough food to feed his family. The railroad gave the farmer more opportunity to accumulate large fortunes by being able to ship food to the ever expanding territory out west. “By constructing new farms or rebuilding existing farms utilizing more modern agrarian practices, the farming industry became more efficient and more productive” (The Star Barn).  However, the good fortunes of the farm would not last forever. By 1986 the farm was no longer functioning and was starting to deteriorate.  For several years the future of the Star Barn was uncertain.

Interstate 283, just yards from the Star Barn, was completed in 1971 (Interstate-Guide). It did not take long for residential and industrial development to begin closing in around the farm. Ereno Lewis purchased the land and its buildings in 1986. This is where the bumpy road to preservation began. Lewis had considered making the Star Barn a bed and breakfast (“Preservation”). Surely, the building is beautiful enough for such an endeavor. Nothing ever came of this idea and in 1994 the farm land was subdivided for housing (Foster). The original farm of 164 acres was now scaled back to 3.6 acres.  Now neglected, the great barn’s doors had sagged and “countless storms had ravaged the once-proud cupola and stripped white paint from the star-shaped louver vents” (“Preservation”).

Meanwhile, a group formed called the Friends of the Star Barn. They would become the first preservation group to put forth a real effort to save the Star Barn from further deterioration. They proposed a $3 million project to convert the barn into an agricultural museum and education center. In 1995 Preservation Pennsylvania featured the Star Barn in their Pennsylvania At Risk newsletter. They reported that the Friends of the Star Barn had to scale back their initial plan to just purchase the barn and its small parcel of land whose ticket price was $120,000 (“Pennsylvania”). Friends of the Star Barn volunteer David Morrison explained that through grass roots efforts they managed to raise $40,000 by selling Star Barn artwork by Lititz artist Al Taft, but that eventually their efforts simply burned out (“Preservation”).  They had some ambitious ideas, but unfortunately were not able to gather the support to raise the amount of money needed.  For such a small organization, their plans for an agricultural museum were very unrealistic. For starters, they were not even successful with raising enough money to purchase the 3.6 acres of land the barn was on.

Hope arrived again in 2000 when Preservation Pennsylvania purchased the property for $140,000 (Miller, “Star Barn Sold”). They worked with Historic York to research the barn to get it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places (The Star Barn).  Not only in this an aesthetically pleasing building, but it is the last of its kind of an estimated fifteen Gothic Revival barns were once present in Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties (The Barn Journal). This barn is also the perfect example of the post Civil War era of restoration in business and agriculture (The Star Barn). Preservation Pennsylvania put money into the barn for repairs such as fixing the weather tattered doors (“Preservation”). In 2003 the organization, who had definitely done their part to help save the barn, put it on the market trying to find a buyer who would take care of the historic property. Several years went by and dozens of inquiries fell through. Finally in 2007 there was a serious buyer.

The Star Barn. (Photo: Dan Myers)

Robert Barr, founder of Agrarian Country, an organization established to preserve Pennsylvania farmland and farm buildings, bought the barn for $100,000 (Miller, “Star Barn Sold”) with incredibly large aspirations in mind. Similar to the idea that the Friends of the Star Barn proposed, Barr also wanted to create an agricultural museum, but on a much bigger scale.  The four acre parcel was just too small for his idea but finally, after more than a year of searching and negotiations, Barr bought a 300 acre plot of land in Grantville, about twenty miles down the road. The old white barn that sometimes shudders when 18-wheelers drive by is planned to be moved to a new location where Barr plans to build a large agricultural education and exhibit center (Miller, “Star Barn will shine”). Through preservation and “hands-on agricultural educational activities, Agrarian Country hopes to rekindle interest in America’s agricultural heritage and a self-sufficient way of life, to promote wholesome, moral, and healthy living” (The Star Barn).

The plan is for the Star Barn to be moved piece by piece and rebuilt “using historically accurate methods, tools and a few oxen” (Miller, “Star Barn Sold”).The barn will be rehabilitated to serve a new purpose. The first two levels of the barn will serve as the expo center and the third floor will be turned into a museum and art gallery (Long). It is estimated to cost about $3 million to dismantle, move, and rebuild the barn, and another $7 million to get the entire agricultural education center up and running (Torres).

Barr has started an aggressive fundraising campaign and has raised a good deal of money by appearing at conferences, such as the Historic Barn & Farm Foundation Conference in 2008, setting up a booth with a model of the Star Barn at the 2008-10 Farm Show exhibitions, appearing in many local newspapers and having news TV crews come to tape him giving news conferences in the Star Barn itself.  It is undisclosed how much money has been raised so far, but there is progress being made. However, progress is slow. It took a year for his new property in Grantville to be allotted the proper agri-tourism zoning ordinances (Miller, “East Hanover”). During that time nothing was done with the barn. The seven month process of dismantling the barn was initially set to start in January of 2009 (Miller, “Star Barn will shine”), a year later it hasn’t begun yet.

Although the project is running behind schedule, it is still in the works. Preservation is never easy. Robert Barr has found out that purchasing a large amount of land, changing that land’s zoning rights, and setting up the movement of a building is extremely time consuming and expensive. Several people have tried to rehabilitate the Star Barn and have failed.  Although this preservation project has not come to an end, most are still very optimistic that Mr. Barr has what it takes to create a great learning center in our community which will teach the appreciation of Pennsylvania’s great agricultural past. Agrarian Country works to “provide a place where people of all ages can visit and participate in the operation of numerous agricultural enterprises in a real-life farm setting” (The Star Barn). The goal of this preservation project is not just to rehabilitate this beautiful building, but more importantly it is an effort that intends to involve the community in our agricultural past.

Update:  As of February 18, 2012 the Star Barn still hasn’t been dismantled and there has not been a date announced for this task. 

Works Cited

The Barn Journal. 2010. George and Matilda Neyer Leik Foundation. <http://www.thebarnjournal.org/&gt;.

Foster, Margaret. “New Plans for Pennsylvania’s 1872 Star Barn.” PreservationNation. 19 Dec. 2007. 12

Feb. 2010.   <http://blogs.<nationaltrust.org/preservationnation/?p=374&gt;.

Interstate-Guide.2010. AARoads. <hhtp://www.interstate-guide.com>.

Miller, Barbara. “Star Barn sold, to be moved.” The Patriot-News 19 Dec. 2007. 14 Feb. 2010.


Miller, Barbara. “East Hanover amends zoning ordinance for Star Barn project.” The Patriot-News 22 Dec.

2008.  13 Feb. 2010. <http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2008/12/east_hanover_twp_


—. “Star Barn sold, to be moved.” The Patriot-News 19 Dec. 2007. 14 Feb. 2010.


—. “Star Barn will shine in Lebanon County.” The Patriot-News 01 Jul. 2008. 12 Feb. 2010.


“Pensylvania At Risk.” Preserving Pennsylvania 9.1 (1995):8. 12 Feb. 2010.


“Preservation group saves landmark barn.” Gettysburg Times. 21 Jan. 1999. 14 Feb. 2010. <http://news.


Long, Jeremy. “Bye, bye barn!” Press And Journal. 26 Dec. 2007. 14 Feb. 2010. <http://www.pressand


The Star Barn. 2007. Agrarian Country. <http://www.thestarbarn.com/&gt;.

Torres, Chris. “Star Barn Gets an New Lease on Life.” Lancaster Farming. 3 Jul. 2008. 14 Feb. 2010.


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Mummies of the World, the largest exhibition of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled, presents a never-before-seen collection of naturally and intentionally preserved mummies.  This compelling collection, presented with reverence and dignity, includes ancient mummies and important artifacts from Asia, Oceania, South America, Europe, as well as ancient Egypt, dating as far back as 6,500 years.

Embark on a journey into the extraordinary world of mummies and mummification.  Through modern science, engaging interactives and multi-media exhibits, the exhibition reveals how the scientific study of mummies provides a window into the lives of ancient people from every region of the world, offering unprecedented insights into past cultures and civilization.

Wow! What a very cool exhibit! I visited this exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia a few months ago.  Some of the mummies were insanely well preserved. I was most fascinated with the South American mummies. Several of them still had hair, in fact one still had braids. The ‘tattooed woman’, a 13th century mummy from Peru, had many visible tattoos on her body and the clothing she wore was in great condition and still brightly colored. It is a great collection of mummies (even animals) from around the world, most being from South America, Egypt, and Eastern Europe.  The exhibit also includes CT scans of mummies in an attempt to conduct comprehensive, but noninvasive, research. I recommend going to see it if you get the opportunity.

The exhibition Mummies of the World began with a mysterious and rare find of 20 human mummies hidden in the basement of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim, Germany in 2004.  The mummies, which once belonged to artist Gabriel von Max (1840–1915) were thought to have been destroyed or lost during World War II.  This startling discovery prompted the most important research project ever undertaken with regard to mummies.  Without documentation explaining who they were, where they were from or why they were collected, an international team of scientists from many disciplines studied the mummies.  Their studies and research, known as the German Mummy Project, is the largest mummy research project in the world.  The results of their research and studies are presented in the Mummies of the World exhibition, made possible through the collaboration of 21 world-renowned museums, organizations and collections from seven countries.

Below are photos of several mummies in the exhibit that really amazed me due to their preservation.

The Detmold Child is a Peruvian child mummy in a remarkable state of preservation, radiocarbon dated to 4504 – 4457 B.C. It is on loan from the Lippisches Landesmuseum in Detmold, Germany.

The mummified remains of a decorated howler monkey from Argentina wearing a feathered skirt and headdress. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The mummified remains of Johannes Orlovitz, one of the Vac mummies. The Orlovits family was with a group of mummies found in 1994 in a forgotten church crypt in Vac, Hungary. (AP Photo/Adam Lau)

13th century woman still bearing a full head of hair and tattoos around her mouth and breasts, was discovered in the desert of Peru.

An adult male mummy from the Pre-Columbian Atacama Desert in present-day Chile. (AP Photo/Adam Lau)

The Egyptian cat mummy dated to the Ptolemic period, and show how Egyptian cats were ritually embalmed in a lengthy process using salt and various resins. (The Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany)

For more information about the exhibit and mummies on display visit http://www.mummiesoftheworld.com/

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Last week I blogged about the information potential within the melting ice patches. You can read that the discovery in Canada’s  Northwest Territory here. Today I read a report of another ancient hunting tool revealed by the melting ice. This time the object was found high in the Rocky Mountains near the Yellowstone National Park.  It was University of Colorado’s Craig Lee that discovered the 10,000 year old atlatl dart. He says the dart still has visible personal markings made by the hunter. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a picture of any of these markings.

There is a very important point that Craig Lee brought up in a recorded interview about the importance of organic remains. This is a topic that I did not bring up in my last post but Lee’s comment is so important that I am driven to post again about these ice patch discoveries.

Ninety-five percent of the archaeological record that we usually base our interpretations on is comprised of chip stone artifacts, ground stone artifacts, maybe old hearths, which is a fire pit, or rock rings that would have been used to stabilize a house, so we really have to base our understanding about ancient times on these inorganic materials. But ice patches are giving us this window into organic technology that we just don’t get in other environments.

Craig Lee, University of Colorado at Boulder holding 10,000 atlatl dart. Photo: Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

These discoveries are incredibly important because we may find artifacts that we’ve never seen before or have only few examples of due to their organic components. Dry climates with little precipitation have been known to preserve organic materials. An example would be a preserved wicker basket found in a dry cave. Most organic materials like wood and clothing would not have been preserved in a North American climate such as Canada or the northern United States experiences. It is rare to find organic artifacts preserved in this region. This type of archaeology needs to be supported. As I posted last week, once exposed to the environment these artifacts need to be removed from the soil because they will not survive long.

View video interview with Craig Lee


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The Moai of Easter Island are monolithic human figures commonly believed to be carved between 500 and 1000 years ago. There are roughly 887 Moai statues found, most of which have rather disproportional head to body ratio. These figures are huge, on average standing over 13 feet tall and weighing over 14 tons, they make quite the presence on the island. Hundreds of these Moai statues are still unfinished at the quarry site. Obviously, this is a good starting point to figure out how the statues were built and then transported. Like Stonehenge and other monolithic sites, the transportation and construction techniques are debated. After all, the architects did not leave behind written records of the construction. Even the construction of the pyramids of Egypt, built by a culture that did leave a great deal of written record, is debated.

Ideas about how the Moai were transported include efforts using ropes, wooden sleds, wooden rollers, or by a rocking process. Many Moai lay on their sides along the road. The main theory is that this was the road used for movement of the figures and that the Moai found toppled over were merely abandoned during transportation. For a long time this seemed like an acceptable theory based on the evidence. However, with 21st century technology we are able to go back and analyze archaeological sites and this often leads to new discoveries. University College London and the University of Manchester have recently used new geophysical surveying equipment on Easter Island and determined that each of these so called abandoned Moai were actually propped on platforms, just the same as the other upright Moai, and had just fallen from the platforms over time.

The UCL and U. Manchester study has concluded that the roads were not built to transport the Moai but rather for ceremonial purposes. University of Manchester’s Dr. Colin Richards says in regard to the road system:

“they lead – from different parts of the island – to the Rano Raraku volcano where the Moai were quarried. Volcano cones were considered as points of entry to the underworld and mythical origin land Hawaiki. Hence, Rano Ranaku was not just a quarry but a sacred centre of the island.”

The shape of these roads is concave in shape, obviously making it difficult to transport large objects using human energy. Dr. Sue Hamilton of University College London further explains why they came to the conclusion about the use of the roads.

“It all makes sense: the moai face the people walking towards the volcano. The statues are more frequent the closer they are to the volcano – which has to be way of signifying the increasing levels of importance.”

Based on the evidence, I would agree that the roads were ceremonial. However, does this absolutely disprove that the same roads were used to transport the Moai? “The truth of the matter is, we will never know how the statues were moved,” said Dr Richards of U. Manchester. I find it surprising that he would make such a definitive statement. After all, the original evidence of the fallen Moai indicated that they had been abandoned during transportation. It took 60 years for Dr. Richards to find new evidence to argue the contrary. There are many things we do not know. Sometimes it is acceptable to say ‘we may never know’. But never in regards to history should be say “we will never know.” In another 60 years we might have uncovered something on Easter Island to completely change what we know about their culture.

If you are interested in current research check out the Easter Island Statue Project.





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