Neanderthal Bones!

Over the course of 13 years, a group of archaeologists from Greece and France excavated a cave in Greece, known as Kalamakia.  The cave is about 65 feet deep, and is situated in limestone cliffs on the west coast of a peninsula on the Greek mainland.  The team, led by Katerina Harvati, found archaeological deposits from 39,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The team found scrapers and tools which were characteristically Neanderthal in design, made of flint, seashells, and quartz.  In addition, they also found portions of 14 skeletons in the cave – mostly small bone fragments and teeth.  This, however, was enough to show that there was a “thriving and long-standing” population of Neanderthals that lived in the area.  This is the first discovery of Neanderthal remains in Greece, and inspires the idea that there may be many more undiscovered remains of Neanderthals in the country.

The remains date to the Middle Paleolithic, during the ice age.  Like similar sites in France and other areas around the Mediterranean, the site had a mild climate, and supported human and Neanderthal populations, in addition to a wide range of wildlife.  The team says that there is evidence that the populations in the area coexisted with “deer, wild boar, rabbits, elephants, weasels, foxes, wolves, leopards, bears, falcons, toads, vipers and tortoises.”

The discovery of Neanderthal remains in the cave reinforce the prevailing theory of human and Neanderthal dispersal from Africa, as they lie right along one of the primary routes that early ancestors may have taken.  The remains are of both children and adults, showing that this wasn’t some sort of isolated hunting camp, but a location that full families lived at, likely for extended periods of time.

The discovery wasn’t made before now because the majority of archaeologists working in Greece are focused on the rich classical archaeological resources that the country has to offer.  In the future, the team hopes to investigate a myriad of similar sites in Greece, which would help to answer more questions about Neanderthals.  Of particular interest to the team are the questions that this find raises about possible human-Neanderthal coexistence and their spread into Europe.    The location of this specific cave also inspires questions about the seafaring capabilities of both ancient humans and Neanderthals.

This site is significant to archaeology today because it reflects the vast archeological resources that are still available for excavation around the world today.   There has been so much history, especially in a place as richly cultural as Greece, that we can’t just focus on one aspect of history, but that there is so much more to discover from other periods of time.  This holds for other sites around the world as well, and proves that there is a massive amout of discoveries that have yet to be made.



Maya City

A Maya City is defined as the centre of pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica. The Maya cities had a tendency to be more dispersed than cities in other societies found across the world. The primary aim of settlement was upon a lowland tropical environment that allowed for food production. The cities also tended to be located in places that would allow for them to control trade routes or that could support the supply of essential products, in turn the elites were able to control trade and increase their wealth. The architectural significance of these early Mayan Cities which were blessed with the ability to construct public temples for ceremonies, thus attracting inhabitants to the city. With all of these attributes it allowed for the Mayan Cities to eventually develop into the capital cities of the Early Maya states.

Going into deeper context of the architectural organization of Maya cities I wanted to further examine the development of these settlements. I found that most Maya cities had the tendency to expand outwards from the cities, along with growing upwards. As buildings collapsed, new structures were built above the pre-existing structures making the city rise vertically as the city expanded over time. All Mayan city centres featured sacred precincts, surrounded by residential areas and often times walls. The sacred precincts contained pyramidal temples, they supported administrative and elite complexes. These complexes were built to record and contain the deeds of the ruling dynasty. The centres of these cities were found to contain plazas, sacred ball courts were found nearly everywhere resembling modern day recreational parks, along with buildings used for marketplaces and schools. The organizational significance of the Maya cities were advanced for the time period in which they originated, in turn making them the Mesoamerican power that still to this day is recognized as some of the greatest civilizations of their time period. They incorporated outlying roads used for trade purposes and travel, linking cities to one another. The routes linking Mayan powers enabled them to control smaller settlements expanding their empire across the Mesoamerica. Through excavations over the past centuries art has been extracted from these elite residential complexes varying in quality according to the rank of the lineage that resided there. With the largest and richest of these compounds possessed sculptures and craftsmanship of art equal to that of royal art. These early Mesocamerican civilizations still to this day remain amongst the most powerful strcutral forces amongst any of their time. The power that each Mayan ruler held was what I found to be most intriguing, and pushed me to want to learn more of the organizational structure and prestige of these early Mesoamerican civilizations.


Franklin’s Lost Expedition

The Franklin Expedition, a seemingly straightforward mission to explore the last uncharted areas of the Arctic Circle, took an extreme turn for the worse in one of the biggest lost expeditions to ever happen.  A group of 129 men set off from Britain in 1845 with the goal of finally exploring the remaining sections of the arctic circle.  Their job was to take a 1,040 mile path near the north pole and then return to Britain in a timely manner.  It seemed as if the mission would be straightforward and routine, until, however, the expedition failed to return over two years later.  The crew was led by John Franklin.  Franklin was first picked, reluctantly, by John Barrow, who was at the time the secretary of the Admiralty.  John Franklin was not his first or even second choice of candidates to lead the trip.  His top three candidates all opted out of the trip for various reasons, including being newlywed or just being plain sick of exploring the Arctic Circle.  The expedition would consist of two ships, the Erebus and the Crozier.  The expedition took off on May 19th, 1845, and the crew was seen for the last time in July of that year in Baffin Bay when they were waiting out poor weather conditions.  The ships and crew then went missing for over two years.  John Franklin’s wife, as well as members of the parliament, organized a search party afterwards.  The search party consisted of one land group and two sea groups.  One of the sea expeditions would go up through the Canadian Archipelago and the other through the Pacific side.  After all three of these groups failed to find anything, the quest was called an endless crusade, and was paused until 1850 when several more ships were sent out.  This was when the first remnants of the expedition were discovered.  It was a small camp and the graves of 3 crew members.  There was nothing else found until four years later when John Rae began surveying the Boothia Peninsula.  He spoke with some Inuit people there that spoke of a group of 35-40 white men that starved the death in the area.  The Inuit also said that they were fairly sure that cannibalism became involved towards the end of their lives.  They showed John Rae several objects that belonged to the lost ships including a lifeboat, silverware, and notes.  The notes contained things such as the dates of the expeditions, names of crew members, and other personal things.  One of the notes found stated that the ships had become stuck in ice in 1847, two years after the expedition began.  It was then concluded through all of the random evidence found, that the crew had run out of food, succumbed to diseases such as Pneumonia, and resorted to cannibalism as a last resort.  All of these factors, as well as the extremely harsh Arctic climate, would lead to the death of all 129 members of the expedition.  Most of the bodies and the actual ships would never be found.  In the midst of this tragedy, there is one positive light, however.  As Richard Cyriax said, “the loss of the expedition probably added much more [geographical] knowledge than its successful return would have done.”

Amazing Stonehenge

I pondered for a while what I was going to do the final blog post about. After thinking for a while about it, I decided that I want to talk about my favorite archaeological discovery that we learned about in class. After thinking a while longer about it, I realized that the discovery that was most interesting to me was Stonehenge. I thought that it was super interesting that Stonehenge represented the “land of the dead” (since stones aren’t alive) and woodhenge was the “land of the living” (since trees are obviously living things). I think that the most amazing thing is how those giant stones were put there when back then people did not have machines such as bulldozers and cranes. Just like the pyramids, I think that it’s amazing that human beings just like us were able to band together and figure out a way to drag these huge stones to a specific location without machines. To me, it really shows what human potential is really like and it makes me feel like I’m capable of doing more than I ever thought that I could. And even more amazingly, the stones (named standing stones) weren’t just brought out there and dumped wherever, but were actually placed together to make 2 near perfect circles, and later the people opened up the inner circle to make the shape of a horseshoe. Even more interestingly, we found out that the stones were not all the same types. We learned that some of the stones were bluestone, which was brought in from Wales. Then, an earthwork in the form of a perfect circle was dug around the stones with 2 more inside. From an aerial view, the earthworks look so perfect that it doesn’t seem that humans could make them. The whole location looks like it was put there by extraterrestrial efforts.

The cool thing is, Stonehenge is not abandoned today. Even though a lot of stones have fallen and now there are several menhirs (isolated standing stone), it is still the location of a huge celebration during the summer solstice. As we learned, many citizens of England and tourists come there for the summer solstice in order to meet the season, to use the celebration as a “renewal” of emotional and spiritual energy, and of course, to party and have a good time. We also learned that there are many neo-pagans that use Stonehenge during both the summer and winter solstices for their spiritual and religious reasons. Overall I really enjoyed this class and learned a lot about the great discoveries of archaeology that shape the world we live in today.

Mysterious Skulls Found Around the World


Skulls have always been a popular subject for scholars and society as a whole and still remain interesting today as if there is always something new to be learned from them. Skulls have been used in religious ceremonies, education, Hollywood culture, folk tales, legends, and much more. One of the popular most recent examples being Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, a movie based on infinite knowledge, aliens, magical crystal skulls, and all that other good stuff. Although there has not been anything as far-fetched as these “crystal skulls,” there have been a few bizarre skulls found from across the world that some people question their human origin, and others, its authenticity.

In the 1880s during an archaeological dig in Sayre, Bradford County, Pennsylvania a number of human remains were dug up. The skeletons of these artifacts were all anatomically correct for human beings, but they had one odd feature, projections (horns) protruding from the skull above the eyebrow. The fact that they had horns and that they would have been seven feet tall in real life provides people with reason to doubt the “authenticity” of these remains. However, this was not the first time skulls like this were discovered. Similar skulls have been found in Wellsville, New York and El Paso, Texas. The remains were sent to the American Investigating Museum in Philadelphia, were they were conveniently stolen never to be seen again.

Another mysterious case of skulls, are the notable Peruvian skulls excavated near Nazca. Similarly to the horned skulls, they were believed to have been very tall, up to nine feet! This odd phenomenon was also found in Mexico, just as the horned skulls were found at other locations. The difference though, is that these skulls’ cranial portion are elongated to an unbelievable extent. The even more bizarre thing, is that the skulls show evidence that suggests ancient brain surgeries. From this, people believe that during infancy the skull was altered, but this is just a theory.  “Suggestions that the skulls were altered by a process of binding the skull in infancy, when the cranial bones are soft, encouraging them to grow into an un-natural shape, have been rejected” Strangely enough, these un-natural heads have been seen throughout history with the Easter Island rock faces, images of Egyptian Pharaoh, Iknathon, and the hieroglyphics of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family.

Their are even more examples of these un-natural skulls. One, being the Starchild Skull, a skull of a five year old child with a skull 20 cm larger than the adult skull. On top of that, the back of the skull is flattened and the optic nerve is located at the bottom of the eye socket instead of the back. Another case being the Robert Connelly skulls; skulls that have facial “characteristics that are entirely within the range of a normal human skull.” The unusual part is the cranial cavity. The eye sockets are fifteen percent larger than a normal human skull and the cranial cavity is twice the size of a normal skull.

Whether or not you believe in these findings being scientifically correct or authentic or not, ( I too am not completely sure whether or not I believe some of them) they are none the less very interesting mind boggling topics that make you use your imagination. Check them out below if you liked these unusual skulls.


The Mysterious Linear A

In 1886, the keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and prominent Hellenic archaeologist Arthur Evans was given an ancient seal stone from Crete engraved with an unknown writing system.  Intrigued, Evans continued to investigate in Greece and Crete and found much more evidence that connected this writing system with the Aegean empire of the ancient Minoans.  Through the excavation of Minoan ruins on Crete (and Mycenaean ruins on the Greek mainland) Evans discovered two unique, but very similar, writing systems.  He called them Linear A and Linear B because it utilized a linear structure in the construction of its characters unlike much of the other writing of the day which was pictographic.  He also determined that Linear A was a predecessor of Linear B and that Linear A was mostly used in religious and administrative writings, while pictographic writing was used for everyday use.  Despite gaining all this knowledge, Evans and many other archaeologists, linguists, and historians were at a loss as to how to decipher Linear A and B.

The first major breakthrough in deciphering these writing systems came in the early 1950s when American archaeologist Alice Kober constructed a method of determining the grammatical relationship between various symbols in Linear B.  The result of her work was connecting certain symbols to others grammatically within Linear B, and determining that the symbols of Linear B had to represent syllables, not letters.  Not long after this discovery, Michael Ventris made a breakthrough that would crack Linear B wide open.  By comparing the texts from mainland Greece to those from Crete, Ventris noticed that certain words appeared on the Cretan texts and not on the Greek ones.  Ventris guessed that these words represented city and place names in Crete and by deciphering these names he was able to unlock much of the language.  As a result, Ventris determined that the underlying language of Linear B was Greek.

However, Linear A presents a different beast altogether.  Although these two writing systems look very similar, most scholars agree that the underlying language must be completely different for the two systems.  This is because when Linear A was deciphered using symbols from Linear B, the result was a garbled mess that did not make any sense.  Even when similar syllabic values of Linear B are applied to Linear A the underlying language of Linear A appears unrelated to any other presently known language.  While deciphering Linear A has proven out of reach, many scholars have hypothesized its origins.  Some believe it to be Greek in origin, but as we have seen, the linguistic structure is unique from other contemporary languages.  Others believe that Linear A is a descendant of an Anatolian language, but there is little resemblance between Minoan and contemporary Anatolian writing, there is very little evidence for migration of Hitto-Luwian peoples (the people of Anatolia) to Crete, and a distinct lack of connection exists between the two peoples.  Another theory is that Linear A is a descendant of Phoenician; however, while a few terms may be Semitic in origin, Linear A presents many written vowels – a direct contrast to Semitic script.  Indo-Iranian is another candidate, however, the work done by Hubert La Marle to prove this connection ignored established evidence and used different script systems at will.  The most widely accepted theory to date is that Linear A is somehow related to the Tyrrhenian family of languages which is pre-Indo-European and comprises of Etruscan, Rhaetic and Lemnian.  However, even the most robust arguments for any of these theories is lacking and the mystery of Linear A remains.

Skellig Michael, Part Two

Even though my archaeological discovery project was on Skellig Michael, I have so much more to share than I could fit in the project. I also want to add my personal side to the site, which I did not think would be appropriate for a formal project. For those of you that did not read my project but are reading this, Skellig Michael is the site of an early Christian monastery off the southwest coast of Ireland. It was built between the 6th and 8th centuries AD.

The main reason I wanted to write my blog on this is because of the personal experiences I had that could not be shared in the project. In order to paint a picture of exactly what Skellig Michael is like, it is best to start from the beginning. In order to access the island, a small boat must be taken through the Atlantic ocean. At this point of my journey, I was already terrified and I hadn’t even started yet. The ocean waves were higher than the boat, and water constantly splashed over the sides of the boat. We were all instructed to wear heavy protective water proof clothing, because otherwise we would get soaking wet. As we ventured farther and farther out into the ocean, the first of the two islands came closer into view. This island is know as Little Skellig. Little Skellig is completely uninhabitable, except for the massive number of birds and seals that reside there. These islands make an important stopping point for birds as they travel around the ocean. As we rounded the first island, the second came into view. Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) is much taller than little Skellig, and also houses the monastery. The boat stops on the side of a massive mountain and you must wait until the tide brings the boat up to the dock before you can even get off. As soon as this dangerous feat is accomplished, the next dangerous feat is right at your feet. After a short hike around the island, the set of stairs appears in front of you. These stairs were constructed about 1,200 years ago, and are made completely of shaped stone. After years of erosion, the stairs have become brittle and extremely dangerous, especially since they rise 600 feet on the side of a small mountain. The stairs lead up to the northeast side of the island, to where the main monastery is located. The walk up the steps has resulted in numerous deaths in modern times. The wind on the island is extreme, as it is in the middle of the ocean high in the air. With the steps being small, slick, and brittle, the climb truly is treacherous. However, what waits at the top is worth any amount of danger.

The monastery is absolutely amazing both physically and spiritually. The buildings are almost all beehive shaped, with the exception of two oratories and St. Michael’s Church. After being mostly abandoned for hundreds of years, the condition they are in today is incredible. Not only is the site physically impressive, but spiritually as well. Knowing that these monks devoted their lives to solitude on a remote island in order to be closer to God can have a lot of meaning to anyone, religious or not. Also important to the are the crosses. Made out of stone, the island contains over ninety carved crosses. A vast majority are spread around the monastery itself, with some of the others in various other places around the island. The monastery of Skellig Michael is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, however unlike most other sites the number of tourists is fairly low. The level of danger accessing the site keeps people away, as well as the location and the cost to travel there. However, if anyone has the opportunity to travel to southwest Ireland, I cannot recommend highly enough Skellig Michael. It is an experience never forgotten.

The Cradle of Civilization


Recently, British archeologists have uncovered an interesting sight in southern Iraq marking the first foreign dig in the country since the 1930s. Archeological digs were banned for half a century once the Iraqi monarchy fell in the 1950s and the land had been quiet ever since. The site, a temple of some sort, is believed to be some 4,000 years old. Located not far away from the ancient Sumerian capital of Ur, rumors of the ruins purpose have already begun to pop up; everything from a place of worship built by the Biblical patriarch and prophet Abraham of Ur, widely known as the father of monotheistic religion, to a Sumerian administrative center on the outskirts of town. Apparently the structure is impressive. Experts say it held some importance judging by the size and complexity; with nine feet thick walls and grandeur unheard of this far outside the city proper, the site on the banks of the Euphrates river could very well have held some great importance yet to be discovered. The ruins seemed to have been refurbished over and over again as parts of the site are sculpted in Neo-Babylonian architecture which would have been much after the site was first built. Jane Moon, who heads the expedition, said “Ultimately we’re not looking for objects we’re looking for information.… I guess it’s always a possibility. In archaeology you can always be surprised.” Moon, an American, leads a team of six British archeologist, an Iraqi one and two trainees besides and was funded by an unnamed Swiss benefactor. The team is reported to have noted that the temple is “breathtaking” in size. This dig marks a step forward for a country that has recently undergone radical restabilization of the government as a result of ten years of war. The project points to the modernization of the area and its attempts at secularization. Archeologists are sure the Middle East harbors a wealth of history in the form of ruins and artifacts; it just hasn’t been the easiest area to conduct an expedition in the past, what with governmental sanctions and general safety. It’s the cradle of civilization though. Probably there are many, many sites laying underneath the earth in wait for the moment an archaeologist sheds light, literally, on whatever it may be. In the future, with the help of the Arab Spring, maybe that part of the world will undergo its own “enlightenment” movement much as the west did and the land will be combed for ancient treasures much as the west has been.