Category Archives: Student Blog Posts

Engaged Archaeology Project – Emma McGinn

When initially considering what to do for my engaged archaeology project, I knew that I wanted it to have something to do with languages. As an English and Spanish major, I am extremely passionate about languages. I decided that it would be most interesting for me to focus on archaeology in the context of ancient scripts. I then decided that one of the most effective ways to engage a modern audience in the study of ancient scripts would be through the creation of a website. For my engaged archaeology project, I created a wordpress website that deals with ancient scripts and the languages that they represent.

On this website, I created the four following categories: Ancient Egyptian scripts, Discovered but not Deciphered, Typology of Ancient Scripts, and a section dedicated to all of my references. I originally planned to also include a section that deal with hoaxes of planted fake inscriptions in archaeological sites, but I couldn’t find enough well-researched and supported information to construct this category. I was still able to attain a great wealth of information in the categories I have included on my website. In the “Ancient Egyptian scripts” category, I discussed how writing was influential in ancient Egyptian society through discussions of where writing was used as well as who scribes were and what they did. I then discussed some of the different Egyptian scripts. I extensively covered hieroglyphics and hieratic script because they were the ones I was able to find the most information about. I then touched on demotic, Coptic, and meroitic scripts. In the “Discovered but not Deciphered” category of my website, I discussed a few examples of inscriptions that have been found in various archaeological sites that have yet to be deciphered. I also included a discussion of how archaeologists usually approach the decipherment of unknown texts. Finally, in the category “Typology of Ancient Scripts,” I discussed 6 main divisions of writing systems, and covered one example of each.

I was able to learn a lot through doing this project. It was very interesting for me to look at some of the history of language and writing, as it these are the areas that I am most passionate about. I think that my website is a good way to engage with the public in that it has a simple layout. I also tried to use the most straight-forward language possible, although sometimes I had to delve into more technical terms. I also employed a multi-media approach with this website, using pictures to help illustrate my points.

My website:


Drones in Archaeology

An interesting article about archaeology that I found this week deals with the possible incorporation of drones, or pilotless aircrafts, into the field of study. These drones are currently being used on certain site projects to track and combat potential looting of archaeological sites. The title of this article intrigued me for the simple fact that it discussed drones. The usage of drones in the very different context of the army has been very contentious issue in fairly recent news. Due to the attention and conversation involving it, the concept of using drones initially intrigued me. Once I began reading the actual article, the information it provided about the usage of drones in archaeology maintained my interest. We have learned about the dangers of looting in recent lectures. The prevalence of looted archaeological objects being sold on the black and gray markets is undeniable. There are certain laws in place to try to discourage this type of robbery of archaeological goods, but in many cases looting is very difficult to prevent. Looting, along with full destruction of objects, is of particular concern in war torn areas. This article focuses on looting in the Middle East, where areas of political instability have enabled the growth of this type of robbery on archaeological sites.

The benefits of drones when applied to archaeology are considerable. They are able to map and display incredibly detailed and accurate topographic data, and do so at a cheaper cost than a manned aircraft and with the ability to capture more granular imagery. Some people working on sites, such as one man mentioned in the article at a site in Jordan, have begun using drones to track the occurrence of looting over time. This man, named Morag Kersel, hopes to able to track stolen artifacts to Israel, where he supposes they have ended up. If he is able to do so, other sites might begin to employ drone in their attempted tracking of stolen artifacts. The article establishes the fact that the use of drones for surveillance purposes at unattended sites has not yet been proposed, but seems to suggest that this might be a possibility in the future.

Wikipedia Edit: Sherds!

It has been roughly five days since I edited the article on Sherds, and my edits are still up. Before I edited the article, it lacked information on how sherds are used in the field of archaeology. It did say what they were, but it did not explain why they were important.  The edits I made were aimed at explaining  their importance. I will admit that I did not add enough information as I would have liked to. I searched up information on sherds through Google and Google Scholar, but wasn’t able to find much information. I would have liked to synthesize multiple articles together to edit the article, but my edits were mainly done from my own knowledge. I added a paragraph on the importance of sherds in archaeology, and a new section called “Types of Sherds”. I also was able to add a reference a source, which was a goal of mine. I wanted my edits to stay on the page, so I tried to cite my sources.

If I could have added more edits, I would have liked to add pictures to the “Types of Sherds” section. I found a few open source photos I wanted to use, but wasn’t able to add them to the article because my account apparently was not old enough. I also would have liked to find specific examples of sherds that were used at an archaeological site to determine how past human cultures behaved.

I am glad that we were all assigned to edit a Wikipedia article. Before this assignment, I never even thought of editing a Wikipedia article. It always seemed like it was above me, and I was not able to do it. Now that I know how easy it is, I plan on editing more in the future. I think that free information is great, and I want to be a part of it by contributing to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Project

For the Wikipedia project, I decided to edit a page about Mississippian culture. I had an extensive amount of notes from class about this topic, so it seemed a logical place to add my contributions. An additional motivation behind choosing this page was the fact that it contained no mention of past inaccurate assumptions about the mound builder culture.  I believe it is important to understand this historical context about the Mississippians because it illustrates the ability of scholars and academics to allow prejudice to influence their assertions. This historical context is also important in understanding the development of archaeology in North America, as the correction of initial incorrect assumptions about the source of the mounds led to the beginning of archaeological research and discovery in this region. Realizing that the addition of this historical context would be important and substantial, I added a section to the beginning of this Wikipedia article titled “Early Myths and Misconceptions” in which I described early attempts to attribute the mounds to anyone but Native Americans. I then detailed the eventual work of scholars like Cyrus Thomas to unequivocally prove that Native American ancestors were in fact responsible for these mounds.

When I returned to this page almost a week later, I discovered that none of my changes had been edited. While I suppose this could be looked at as a success by me, as no one immediately decided my words were inadequate or incorrect and edited them away, it also raised a red flag for me about the credibility of Wikipedia. I was, naturally, already aware of its potentially dangerous nature and knew not to cite the website in any academic papers. However, it was an interesting perspective to witness what happened with my own additions to the Wikipedia community. Since the information that I added was knowledge that I gained from lecture, there was no way I could think to cite it, so I didn’t. Regardless of this fact, my edits have remained. While everything I said was truthful and gained from a credible source (ie classroom discussion), its permanence independent of citation begs the question of how much uncited information remains on Wikipedia and how much of this information is actually true.

Wikipedia Project on Pokotia Monolith and Soil Marks- “Indiana Lovett”-RL

My first attempt at editing a Wikipedia archaeology stub was simple… at least that is what I thought. I decided to edit the archaeology stub of Pokotia Monolith which is a stone statue excavated from the pre-Incan site of Pokotia in 1960. I decided to expand the topic of the Pokotia Monolith and its connection with the Sumerian culture. I talked about how the language that was written on the Pokotia Monolith happened to be Sumerian language and helped explain the spread of the Sumerian culture across the land of Bolivia. An example of the translation on the Monolith is, “[Citizens] witness in favor of this human being to create wisdom (for all mankind), and send forth [an example of good] character [Indeed].”

I explain in more detail on what the language was translated into and in the end of my research it is determined that the Monolith is an oracle. An oracle helps people with communication to god or in their prayers.  After doing research about the Pokotia Monolith and having completed three paragraphs, I was ready to edit the Wikipedia page. Editing the Wikipedia page was difficult at first with the citations, but using the tutorials helped me source my data. Feeling accomplished, I made my changes and went on my day.  I decided to check the page to see how my information had stayed on the site. As I got to my page all my information was deleted all thanks to TheRedPenOfDoom. This so called “person” deleted my work within 15 minutes of editing the Wikipedia page! I was a little outraged that I had spent so much time to write and research about the Pokotia Monolith and it was gone that quickly. I wanted a reason and answer to my disbelief! In his comments I saw that he said, the source that I used was not a credible source. Could I have been wrong? I decided to check my sources and compare the “credible” sources to the ones on that describe the Pokotia Monolith in the original Wikipedia Page. You wouldn’t believe what happen next. The source that TheRedPenOfDoom thinks is “credible” is the same exact source that I referenced. Not only was I angry that my work was deleted, but also to the reason that my source was unreliable even though it uses the same “reliable source” as the original data. I was not going to let TheRedPenOfDoom hear the end of it until he gave me a better reason to why my information was not used. Unfortunately, it is difficult to communicate to the person or robot that made changes on my Wikipedia page that I edited. I only had one option and that was to keep reposting my edit until the editor gave me valuable response. Of course he did not and I was left without a page edited just like that. Wikipedia and its community strive to make sure that things are sourced properly as well as using accredited sources from the view of an expert in that field only. Wikipedia will not allow you to post opinionated responses or claims that are not based of reliable sources. Wikipedia wants all of its information to be as scientifically factual and be able to provide information about any topic with credible sources. If the editors believe that Wikipedia information isn’t using the correct source it will be automatically deleted.  I think this is great to make Wikipedia more reliable of a resource for information, but in my case if you are saying my resource isn’t good and you use the same one that just doesn’t make any sense. I think the ability to edit Wikipedia is extremely important in which it connects the community together to information from the past as well as present. Being able to edit the Wikipedia pages allows for more information to be added or information to be changed so that it is more reliable to the community as possible. Wikipedia helps spread the knowledge of information through its pages and brings people together to a community to learn. People who use Wikipedia as a source of reliable information care about whether or not people who are editing use reliable sources. People want to learn information that is factual and not contain information such as theories, opinions, claims that are made by people with no credible source. I especially care that Wikipedia pages are edited properly because I use the information in my papers and other projects.  The community uses Wikipedia to learn and if that information is altered the community is at risk. This project was a great way to understand the idea of doing research and trying to communicate it to the public. It also shows the struggle sometimes on information that you worked hard for might not be as fitting for the community or as reliable as the community had wanted.  The posting also made me frustrated though because of the editors and how their reasoning’s are validated.

Even though I was not successful with my first post, I decided to post another edit on another stub called Soil Marks. I explained more in-depth about Soil Marks and how they can be identified as well as what they represent in the context of the mark in the last two paragraphs of the Wikipedia page. An example of this is “Archaeology that involves plough-damaged field systems, burial mounds, Roman villas or former sites usually produce soil marks. The soil marks gives the archaeologists an idea of where the structures were built or where the soil was damaged and for what reason.” This post with reliable source is still up and I encourage anyone to check it out. It was a great project and great experience to do research and give back to the community as well as the struggle to gain acceptance or not from the community.

Ancient Astronauts

In this post, I will be arguing against the Ancient Astronauts case. To start, let’s look at Erich von Daniken. Eric is known to be the main founder of the Ancient Astronauts idea, ever since he wrote his first book Chariots of the Gods. The problem with this is that Eric does not work in a scientific field, and never has. While he was writing Chariots of the Gods, he was a hotel manager. Shortly after publishing Chariots of the Gods, he found himself in prison, and wrote his second book there. Clearly there is a problem here. He is not a credible source for information, as he has no experience in the field of Archaeology, or any other related field. It is possible that money was a  motivation for publishing his books in order to bail him out of debt and prison.

Now for the actual ideas behind Ancient Astronauts, I would like to address the theme of “Our Ancestors, the Idiots.” The idea that some ancient artifacts and inventions are far too complex to have resulted from past human intelligence. The proponents of this theory will look at large archaeological structures, and immediately conclude that aliens built the structures. They do not reference the Archaeological record to study how ancient peoples lived, or the technology they used to build their structures. This commonly occurs in the TV show Ancient Aliens. The end conclusion of every episode is that the structures shown were too complex for past intelligence life, so aliens must have built them. The people on the show who make the conclusions are not credible either. None are archeologists or architects. Archaeologists and architects are not even brought to the show to help guide their conclusions.

The “Our Ancestors, the Idiots” theme also is seen to belittling to many cultures. This is because many structures chosen for this argument were built by non-European people. The people who were “too primitive” to build these structures are non-European, but there are very few cases where a European structure in analyzed. This shows the European Ethnocentrism surrounding the Ancient Astronauts case.



Erich Von Daniken and his Sloppy Pseudoarchaeology

Learning about the various ways in which people have used psuedoarchaeology to make outlandish claims was very surprising to me. What was most surprising in our discussion was the fact that the majority of these pseudoarchaeologists are academics and scientists from other fields. Their educational status is enough for many people to deem their assertions credible. However, as they have received no training in the specific field of archaeology, they do not have the proper background to produce archaeological theory. They make these claims as if they were fact, however, and that is where the issue arises.

One such pseudoarchaeologist who presents his own assumptions as theoretical fact is Erich Von Daniken. The tools of analysis that we learned in classs to deconstruct a pseudoarchaeological argument are useful in considering Von Daniken’s claims.  For starters, he is not actually an archaeologist although he bases his “theory” (namely, that aliens visited and impacted the ancient world) on “evidence” from archaeological data.  Because of his lack of training in archaeology, he is entirely unaware of the context of the artifacts that he is analyzing and making claims about to support his own argument.  As we have learned in this class, the archaeological context of an artifact is crucial to its understanding. Many of the objects that Von Daniken insists can only be resultant of ancient alien contact have actually been scientifically proven to hold particular, sensible purposes that have nothing to do with aliens.

It is important to note that Von Daniken’s claims were published in his own series of books rather than in a peer reviewed scholarly journal, which brings the validity of his writing further into question. This fact also brings focus to the author’s motivations. He has gained a great amount of money and certain notoriety from these books, which leads one to wonder if these were his original intentions all along, as opposed to scientific discovery.

Neanderthals had capacity to speak

I found an article this week that really intrigued me, one which also illustrates some of the important and informative things that can be discovered through archaeological research. This article is titled Neanderthals could speak, archaeologists say, and is posted on online news site The remarkable archaeological discovery, which revealed that our ancestors the Neanderthals had the ability to speak, was made in Israel after archaeologists discovered a hyoid bone in skeletal remains of a 60,000 year old Neanderthal male. The fact that the article was able to assign an approximate age to this specimen illustrates the important archaeological tool of dating. It was not revealed in the article which dating technique was used to arrive at this conclusive age but, regardless of method, the ability to date the skeleton is vital to our scientific understanding of this artifact. This skeleton can now be compared with other skeletal remains of Neanderthals, as well as with remains of their predecessors and descendants, to better understand the development of the human species. Knowing the time frame for the development of the ability to speak also allows archaeologists to place this adaptation within the context of certain extraneous factors, such as possible environment or climate change as well as social and behavioral changes. The article makes an important distinction in clarifying that just because these Neanderthals had the capacity to speak, does not mean that they necessarily did so or that, if they did, that they established some language or were able to understand one another. This point was an important one to make, as many people might read the fact that Neanderthals had the ability to speak and then automatically assume they did so, and did so in some complex language. It is necessary to have concrete scientific evidence to support these types of claims, however. An archaeologist was cited in the article as saying that Neanderthal and human hyoids have “very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviors,” to support the likelihood of Neanderthals having spoken. It is still important to draw a line between probability and fact.

Blog Post #7 Giant Beasts-RL

Lions and tigers and bears and…..Megatherium? The heavily debated topic  between archaeologists is whether or not climate change or man killed off what we know of is Giant Beasts. This article discusses the possibility that humans have been the reason to have killed off car-sized species of armadillos, sloths and more animals around the world.  A big question that they were curious about was how these creatures were living on the planet for million of years and all of a sudden started to vanish.  A problem that Archaeologists have found was that it is difficult to understand the ecology of the animals that lived in certain climates.  There are a lot of ecological changes throughout the many years in which the giant beasts have been living for millions of years.  The idea that had came to mind to some archaeologists was that these giant beasts were already becoming extinct and the man/ Homo Sapiens finished off these giant beasts.

I think that this article was a great read as always to the articles that I read and post! When reading this article about these giant beasts, my mind began to paint a picture of these beasts roaming around the streets. I could not imagine a sloth as big as an elephant or a car. I believe that the reason why these huge animals went extinct was because of climate change. Climate change has been happening for millions of years and is currently still happening today. I can believe, however, Homo sapiens could have finished off the big beasts, but to say that man were the ones to have made these animals extinct is completely wrong. The amount of men that it would take to take down these creatures would just not be possible especially due to their equipment they used for hunting. This makes science/archaeology great to be able to propose hypothesis about the past in hopes of finding the answer. It brings excitement to see whether or not your hypothesis is right. I believe that places that used to inhabit these creatures started to change due to climate change and the animals were stuck in a trap zone where they either died off or found a place that can inhabit them. Besides for the animals being as big as cars, the article also discussed about ways for archaeologists to connect animals that are living to ones that lived in the past.  The idea of protecting the megafauna will help explain the mysteries about these huge animals that went extinct. This article was exciting and  would recommend this article to anyone that would want to learn about Megafauna and these large beasts.


“How Climate Change Ended World’s First Great Civilisations”

I found an interesting article this week in The Independent which is closely linked to what we are currently studying in class. The title of this article is Revealed: How climate change ended world’s first great civilisations, and is obviously closely linked to what we are learning about the importance of climate change to the study of archaeology. This article deals specifically with the discovery by archaeologists and other scientists that the world’s first great civilizations collapsed due to past climate change. The fact alone that it took the collaborative efforts of various scientists to generate this theory provides a good example of the interdisciplinary nature of a lot of archaeological research. Although the article does not specifically state the other types of scientists that collaborated on the project, I would imagine that the contributions of botanists and zoologists would have been helpful in classifying and dating certain floral and faunal remains. The specific type of climate change that brought about the collapse of the so-called ‘megacities’ of the Indus Valley during the 21st and 20th centuries BC was a drought. A recent archaeological study a series of droughts that lasted around 200 years and undoubtedly brought a great deal of devastation to the area and, as the archaeologists are now positing, eventually brought these civilizations to their end. The article links the decline of these civilizations themselves with the decline of their great Bronze Age, clearly illustrating the important clues that the study of material culture can provide us with in regards to a particular culture. Overall, this article exemplifies the important link between understanding climate change and understanding the archaeological record. In many ways, one cannot gain a full understanding of archaeology without background knowledge of climate change. In this specific example, if archaeologists and other scientists had not thought to look for climate related data and to link this with the civilizations being studied, they might have never discovered the cause of their decline.