Bonus Blog-Chauvet Cave

Throughout the course of the semester, I found most sites to be interesting. Others I may have found less interesting because I had already learned about them before whereas ones I had not heard of were more exciting. I always knew that cave paintings were out there but I did not know the names of the caves or what made each of them unique. In my mind, I just pictured small, simple drawings of mammoths or deer. Little did I know of the ancient caves whose paintings were so beautiful and elaborate.

The most interesting site we talked about this semester would be Chauvet Cave. I enjoyed watching the movie, partially because the narrator had such a cool accent and also because I had never heard of the cave before. How they discovered the cave was interesting to me as well. They had to spend lots of time and effort venturing over the landscape just in the hopes of finding something. They had no guarantee of finding anything but they went for it anyways. It shows true dedication to their job and to benefit the scientific and rest of the world. Once they did find it, they crawled into the unknown of a dark, deep cave. In the movie, it showed them having to be lowered several feet into the cave. Personally, I could never do that and applaud their courage. Chauvet is a great example of the social culture of the peoples who lived tens of thousands of years ago in Europe. Not only did they paint the figures of the wildlife around them, they used the contours of the cave to make the images come alive in the light of a torch. This takes vision beyond what you see in front of you, creativity that many of our society do not even possess. The preservation of the cave interested me as well. They described it looking as if the paintings were drawn recently. I feel that this sets this site apart from others. With the Egyptian pyramids and the Mayan temples, it is easy to tell that they are thousands of years old. Looking at these paintings transports you back to the time they were created and the landscape and surroundings the artists were living in. Chauvet Cave, or “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, was one of the sites we learned about this semester that I found most interesting. The beauty and elaborateness of the cave speaks for itself.

Aztec Human Sacrifice

When you think of the Aztec, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of the Spanish conquistadors or their beautiful capital at Tenochtitlan. What comes to mind for a lot of people is their practice of human sacrifice. In class, we learned a lot about the civilizations of the Maya and the Inca but not much about the Maya. Chapter 13 of the assigned readings talks about the Aztec and how they came to power and their collapse. One paragraph in the chapter, although morbid and disturbing, caught my attention. “The victim was stretched out over the sacrificial stone. In seconds, a priest with an obsidian knife broke open his chest and ripped out his still beating heart, dashing it against the sacrificial stone.” (pg. 340) These sentences refer to the ritual of human sacrificed practiced by the Aztec priests.

The Aztec believed that they owed everything to the gods who created themselves as well as the world around them. The would perform sacrifices in order for a good crop yield or good weather among other things. They believed that the best way to repay them was to offer up blood to them in regular rituals. Although many just assume this was human blood, they also sacrificed animals as well. Some offerings weren’t outright killings as well. They would have been cutting oneself and offering the blood shed to the gods. Archaeologists estimate that a few thousand people would have been sacrificed each year. Some were members of the Aztec community but they believe that most were prisoners of war. Instead of killing their enemies in battle, they would sometimes capture them and take them back to the capital to be offered up to the gods. In one ritual, the prisoners were forced to walk up the many stairs of the temple. Once they reached the top, the priest would cut open their stomach from throat to stomach. They would rip out their heart to offer it to the gods. The bodies were then pushed down the stairs. At the bottom, the body would be dismembered or carried off depending on the ritual.

Its hard to believe this sort of activity happened regularly, especially as a public event where people would gather in the square to watch. Human sacrifice was not only an Aztec event. It happened all over the world in several different cultures. It was a part of their religion and a way to please the gods so the Aztecs would avoid disaster. No amount of human sacrifice could have stopped their collapse at the hands of the Spaniards.

References:

Chapter 13 of the textbook

http://www.aztec-history.com/aztec-sacrifice.html

 

The Hobbit

No not the movie. I’m talking about the species of humans found on a remote island in Indonesia. The scientific name for them is homo floresiensis. Their remains are believed to be 95,000-17,000 years old. Why does this species have the nickname of “The Hobbit”? How do they know it is a different species instead of the result of a genetic disease?

BH-033-comp-lg

In 2003, a research team found an almost complete skeleton of a female inside the Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia. This was one of the most significant discoveries of the 21st century. The woman had small features and an unusually small brain size. They also found teeth and bones from 12 others inside the cave all having the same characteristics as the female. This led them to conclude it was a whole other species of human. They estimate the size of the individuals to be about three and a half feet and their weight to be around 65-75 pounds. These estimates were based on the female individual found. Some other characteristic of this species include large teeth, shrugged shoulders, lack of chins, receding foreheads, large feet, and brains a third the size of ours. One of the questions surrounding this species is which species of human was their immediate ancestor. One theory for their small stature is that it was a form of evolutionary dwarfism, that they evolved this way because of the isolation of living on the island as well as the small amount of resources available to them. Support for this can be found in the pygmy elephant species also on the island, which are now extinct.

Even though homo floresiesnsis had small brains, they developed stone tools and hunted to survive. The oldest tools found on the island are 800,000 and it is a mystery how humans arrived on the island because the nearest one is nine miles away. The stone tools found in the cave resembled those found elsewhere on the island. Archaeological evidence showed that they hunted the small elephants living on the island as many of their bones are found where they resided. They also hunted large rodents, fended off predators, and may have used fire. Who said small brains don’t get you anywhere! Trying to discover the past of humans is a daunting task. There are so many questions surrounding each species and how they came to develop their characteristics. The Hobbit species is a unique and mysterious fork in the road of human evolution.

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-floresiensis

The Bog People

I read an article recently titled “The 7 Most Terrifying Archaeological Discoveries.” It is not written in the most scholarly way, more to entertain the readers. I decided to look further into some of the discoveries to find out more facts about them. One in particular caught my eye the most, mostly because I found the pictures associated with it especially gruesome. This discovery was of the Bog People.

bog people

Mining for peat (peat cutting) is a practice mainly in the bog and marsh areas of Ireland, Great Britain, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. It is a great profession if you like accidentally finding naturally preserved human skeletons and bodies. The age of the bodies that have been discovered range from 8000 B.C. to the Medieval Period. The reason for the preservation of the bodies is the high acidity of the water, lack of oxygen, and low temperature of the bogs. The amount of preservation ranges depending on what environment they are found. Some bodies still have skin, hair, and internal organs while others are only skeletons. Archaeologists and scientists were able to discover the diet of the early peoples by analyzing the contents of the intact small intestines.

The most interesting thing about the bog bodies is that a majority of the people were murdered before being thrown into the bog. Many times all that is found is a dismembered arm or half of a body. In one instance, just the head of a female was found. Archaeologists believe there are two main reasons why the bodies were brutally killed and left in the bog. One is that they were criminals and this was their punishment. In other cases, they believe they were sacrificed to the bog in order for a good harvest. An adult woman was found with marks all over her arms and legs. Her right arm was not attached to her body and they believe this happened before she died. In 1904, two bodies were found together. One had a large cut in the stomach and the intestines were protruding. Tollund Man was discovered in 1950. He was choked to death and the leather strap was still found around his neck. What is notable about this find is how well preserved his head is. He is thought to have died between 30 and 40 years of age. You can clearly see wrinkles on his forehead and his facial features. In my opinion, he looks like a statue. The bog people are a great representation of natural preservation and can help us answer many questions about the ancient cultures of Europe.

Links:

http://www.cracked.com/article_19837_the-7-most-terrifying-archaeological-discoveries.html

http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/violence1.html

Honey, I found a Mastodon

While thinking of a topic that was interesting to me to write this post about, I decided to take a quick look through my notes again. One point caught my eye in particular. In talking about how archaeological sites are found, it was mentioned that many are found by farmers. They would plow their field, turning over the soil and unintentionally bring artifacts up to the surface. Immediately, I thought of my hometown, Portland, Michigan. Wait, there is a Portland in Michigan? Yup!

My small town is surrounded by fields and a good size amount of kids at my school lived and worked on a farm. It was not uncommon for some of us to find things in our own backyards. Half of my class used to bring in arrowheads as show in tell back in elementary school. However, a bigger and more significant artifact was found in Portland just a few years ago. It wasn’t found through farming activities but through landscaping. A couple living in the area decided to put a pond into their backyard. In the process of digging the hole, a massive thigh bone was uncovered. They stopped the digging and decided to go through the rest of the pile of dirt. In doing this, they found a tusk, rib bones, and other pieces of bone as well.

Mastodons started roaming the American landscape about 15 million years ago. They resemble woolly mammoths in that they have a layer of fur. To picture how big a mastodon is picture an African elephant you would see at the zoo. Mastodons were bigger than that. They could weigh up to six tons. It is believed that the mastodon became extinct about 10,000 years ago. There are several speculations as to why. Some believe it was because of climate change and scarce food. Others think is was over-hunting by the Indian peoples. When the family in Portland found the bones, they called the University of Michigan and Professor Daniel Fisher came out to study the excavation site and the bones themselves. He found that this particular mastodon was about 10,000 years old. They believe it was killed by humans and the bones thrown into a pond to preserve them for later use.

After all of the bones were uncovered, the family decided to donate them to scientific research. It brought some excitement to our small town and also the scientists who got to work on the site and on the bones back in the lab. It is crazy to think that something as big as a mastodon could be buried in our backyards and we would never know it. Maybe by chance and with a little bit of luck, one of us might find something in our own yards someday.

The article about the mastodon can be found here:

http://www.michiganscience.org/11308