Bonus blog

The most interesting site to me this semester, after much deliberation, is the Chauvet Cave in France. I know, it does not feature any large cool looking architecture, or gold or precious jewels, or any other kind of material culture.But tt features the oldest known cave paintings in the world and was visited repeatedly over a 10,000 year period. Very few places have cultural significance over that long of a time period. Like VERY FEW.

What I think is cool about Chauvet is that it plays a pivotal role in our modern understanding of the evolution of our species. It marks a turning point in the development of human intelligence that would eventually lead you and me to understanding the evolution of our species! We are the only intelligent species we know of. That is crazy to think about for me, and is a huge reason I chose the anthropology as my major. This time period is described by some anthropologists/archaeologists as the “cultural explosion.” It is when we became us, and it is unknown why or how it happened.

Perhaps we really are the evolutionary pinnacle of the life on this planet, or perhaps we were given our intelligence through some divine intervention. I have no idea and will not claim to, but I think about this all the time, and the explanation I usually come up with falls somewhere in between. I think the ability to show compassion for others in your immediate community plays a large role in why we evolved intelligence, based on the fact that elephants, whales, and monkeys are some of the few other species on the planet that also exhibit caring for other group members, and are our next closest relatives on the intelligence scale. On the other hand, sharks and alligators are pretty sour, and they have been around since before the first mammals ever existed, but they both could survive at sea when land was not habitable.

The species I listed that show compassion, also usually are the most intelligent, most communal based species in their respective environments. Their strength in numbers or, size, and communication abilities put them at a huge advantage to their predators, unless of course the predator is human. The ability of these creatures to understand the potential threats in their environment and warn others when danger is near shows higher level of concern than a vast majority of species.

The Chauvet cave is so significant in my eyes, because it takes our mental evolution one step further, where we can communicate with visual symbols. It shows the transition of our minds to be able to interpret something that someone else in our group has created and interpret it the way the wanted us to. We are not using our senses to communicate, but our mutual concept of an artistic representation. This psychological transition is what I hope to understand after a long prosperous career as an anthropologist. Once we understand what made us smart, whether it was a creator or evolution or our ancestors traveling from another planet,  perhaps the people of the world will finally realize we are all in this together, and a little compassion can go a long way.


Chichen Itza

I will be visiting the Yucatan peninsula this summer and I am planning on taking a day trip to visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, so I thought I would do some research to see what  I am in for.


The textbook says that Chichen Itza came to prominence during the Postclassic Mayan period, which was from 900 to 1517 AD. It came to power after the downfall of the well known site of Tikal. The site was constructed gradually starting sometime in the 8th or 9th century and was finished as we see it today after 900 AD, when it became the capital of the surrounding region. The textbook also says that the area has never been mapped entirely, so the population and size of the city itself remain undetermined. It is also encouraging that today in class we discussed how new discoveries were just made at Teotihuacan and there is potentially more to excavate at Chichen Itza.

One thing that strikes me as I read about the site is how short the time period was that this particular site was considered the capital of its region. It seems common among mesoamerican cultures to have transferred power between new city centers every few hundred years or less. It goes against the common conception of historical civilizations usually having one main cultural site that the empire radiated out from. It seems as the Maya conquered surrounding areas, if they liked one spot better than where they were currently at, the political system uprooted and moved there. This can most likely be attributed to a struggle to maintain a large population off of the natural resources in the immediate area. But it also points to a cultural trend that persists not only with Maya, but the Aztec and other historical groups that populated mesoamerica.

According to the textbook, the site features a central plaza dominated by the Castillo, a Temple of the Warriors, The temple of Kukulcan, and a stepped pyramid about 75 feet high. The proposition of seeing these ruins up close is very exciting to me especially fresh off taking this course. These are some massive structures that I am excited to see first hand and try to visualize the construction process that went into constructing not only the individual buildings but the complex as a whole. I have always been curious about the motivations of the cultures that build huge temples and hopefully my trip to Chichen Itza will uncover a few of these mysteries.

The picture at the top of the blog is showing the serpent effect on the side of the Northeast staircase of the Castillo. This only occurs on the autumn and vernal equinox when the sun strikes the side of the pyramid at the right angle. As the sun sets it makes the design look like a snake moving down the side of the stairs, which has the head of a serpent at the base. This speaks to the astounding ability of the Mayans to track celestial movement and even construct temples that use the movement of the sun to create moving artwork.

Monte Verde

As I browsed the list of possible sites for the great discoveries project I came across Monte Verde, which I recognized as a site discussed in the textbook. Monte Verde is potentially the oldest known settlement on either of the american continents, dating back to 12,200 BC. It is located in northern Chile and was excavated by Tom Dillehay. It was initially discovered in 1975, and is estimated to be about 1000 years older than the next oldest site. I find it interesting that one of the oldest known settlements in the Americas is in the southern hemisphere. The textbook says that people came to the Americas from asia over the Bering strait land bridge. It would seem if this was the case that the first settlements would be in Alaska or the northwest regions of Canada and the U.S. Perhaps discoveries have not yet been made here due to the hostile environment. The fact that these first Americans appear in the Southern hemisphere is perplexing in this context. These people would have migrated south along the west coast of the continent because apparently this region was not entirely buried under glaciers. So it makes sense that there is a settlement in Chile, but many other sites have been found in central america and mexico and the southwest U.S. are not as old as Monte Verde. One possible explanation is that the people who came from asia were a seafaring culture, similar to the native cultures living in this part of the world today. Their extensive marine knowledge could have enabled them to travel primarily by sea down the west coast rather than on land, which would have been easier. There is also proof that sea levels have risen by as much as 200 feet from the time when the migration occurred, potentially submerging other sites under water that would mark the progression of the migration down the west coast.

The Clovis people are the first designated culture to settle the Americas, with sites dating back to 11,200 BC. They are found in North and Central America and are named after the town in New Mexico in which the first site was discovered. These are the most likely candidates connected with the site at Monte Verde, even though the sites are as much as 1000 years apart. 

There is apparently one site in Alaska that may link American settlement as far back as 11,800 BC. It is not conclusive however due to the minimal amount of material at the site. 


King Herod

When Israel is discussed in the news today it is usually in reference to the conflict between Arabs and Jews over the right to inhabit the region. This political issue has almost always taken precedence over the profound historical and archaeological significance of this region. As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel to Israel a few times, I have always been fascinated by the ancient architecture and in turn archaeology of many sites around the country.

One name you become familiar with quickly when looking at ancient Israeli architecture is King Herod, who built many structures there. King Herod lived from approximately 74 – 4 BC and was a ruler under Roman authority over the region that today is known as Israel. Some of his famous projects were, expanding the second temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem, the massive port complex at Caesarea, and the fortress atop Mount Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.

The temple mount is one of the most holy sites in Jerusalem today and the western wall in particular is where jews still pray to this day. Herod is thought to be responsible for the construction of the portion of the western wall that is still visible today and most frequently photographed. Some of the stones used in the construction of this portion of the wall are amongst the largest to be quarried and moved in history, including those used for the pyramids.


The complex at Caesarea is over one square mile and features a roman amphitheatre and hippodrome, which is the oval-shape track that chariots were raced around. This city was a major port on the eastern mediterranean during its time period. It was where Herod built one of his homes and was an administrative center for various empires that ruled there after its completion.

The fortress at Masada is probably the most memorable location besides Jerusalem in my visits to Israel. This remote outpost is a military fortress built covering the entire top of a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. It is the size of a small town with different areas featuring buildings of different types. The military history of this location is one of legend, and a very cool story. The mountain it is built on is freestanding which made it an ideal defensive military position as a vantage point for the entire region.

King Herod has been described to me on my trips to Israel as the most prominent builder in this regions history due to the scale and importance of the structures he built.

masada Masada

Egypt in America?

If you were a dead president, what kind of monument would you want made for you? A few presidents have their faces carved into Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota of all places. Kennedy has the ever-burning torch at Arlington. Roosevelt and Lincoln have memorial buildings. Our founding father George Washington however, has an obelisk, among many others. Why of all these options was an obelisk chosen to memorialize our greatest president?


The name obelisk actually is a Greek term, which has stuck with the structure since our boy Herodotus dubbed it so when he started writing about ancient Egypt. It is believed that obelisks in egyptian times were a representation of a ray of sun descending from Ra, the egyptian sun-god. It is in essence an elevated pyramid, the pyramid structure being the just the top stone.

Obelisks were common throughout ancient Egypt usually in pairs at the entrance of a complex or structure. The romans really liked them and apparently littered them throughout Rome because of how nice they look, not for any significant purpose as in Egypt.

What I found interesting after researching a bit is that the obelisks in Egypt and Rome and elsewhere in the world were all less than 200 feet high. The Washington monument is 555 feet tall, and a little over 55 feet square at the base. It is massive in comparison with those found in antiquity, and as we learned in today’s lecture, it also happens to be taller than Khufu’s pyramid.

This brings up many questions for me, first of all why an Obelisk? My sources (wikipedia, national park service) say that it is to mimic the timelessness of the great ancient civilizations. Those of you who are conspiracy inclined may also draw a connection between George being a freemason and the use of the pyramid as their symbol. It is also the highest point in Washington D.C. to this today which is also intentional as no man in american history has been as influential.

Tying this all back to Egypt brings up a few more points. One being that egyptian obelisks, as I know them, were usually carved from one solid piece of stone much like the sphinx, then transported to their final site. The Washington monument would have been near impossible to create in this manner and is in fact constructed of individual bricks. Score one for the egyptians.


Last interesting point for me are the inscriptions at the top of the Washington monument, on the eastern sunrise facing side, which say in latin “Laus Deo.”

I’ll let you check out the source article to figure out what it means. Its short and pretty interesting.