Author Archives: cermakj1

The Central Characteristic of State Authority

There are many ways to approach this question. There are different aspects of these characteristics in terms of importance; they could be important to archaeologists, in helping us interpret the remains of the civilization that we find or they could be important in terms of helping the society grow into complexity. As for growing into complexity I believe all of the characteristics, including the secondary characteristics, can be fundamental to any society depending on the climate they live in and the general socio-political direction they are tending to grow in. Taking all of this into consideration, in my opinion, the most important primary characteristics for both measures of importance discussed above would be state authority or a state system of decision making and ability to enforce decisions.

I realize that there are also other characteristics that others may consider more important and fundamental for the growing complexity of a society however state authority is what I think defines a state as a state. Tribes or chiefdoms don’t have this level of authority in their government by cause of their general tendency toward egalitarian characteristics. Once we are able to identify that a civilization had this characteristic we are able to confidently confirm that the civilization in question was indeed a state and there is no ambiguity unlike the primary characteristic of agriculture or specialization where as these could be applied to both chiefdoms and possibly complex tribes. This characteristic is also relatively easy to spot in the form of state art and architecture. Since large works of art imply a strong state authority that can successfully command many people (slaves or citizens alike) into doing things that they want them to do.

However states don’t necessarily need state art to confirm that they indeed held the characteristic of state authority. We can also see the presence of state authority in the characteristic of a complex economy. In order for a state to distribute its goods widely a central coordinator is necessary. It is important for a state to be able to record transactions and distribute incoming goods to the population. This would be impossible without some form of state authority large enough to manage all of the incoming and outgoing goods in a large society. This also implies that the state is large enough to hold a large number of people which means urbanism is involved, something that a tribe or chiefdom lacks.

In conclusion, the primary characteristic of state authority is important not only for the central management of the other primary characteristics but also for archaeologists to identify a state in the future.

The Looting of Sipan

While discussing the site of Sipan in Peru Professor Watrall said that the site was in extremely good condition because it had never been disturbed or it had only been disturbed minimally. Curious about how this came to be (considering there were pyramids not too far away), I did a little research and found a few articles that said the site of Sipan was actually victim of ‘one of the best-known cases of archaeological looting’.

The looting took place in 1987, when the archeologists still thought the temples in Sipan belonged to a culture other than the Moche, the Chimú culture. There hadn’t been any archeological digging in that site at that time and archeologists didn’t even know there was a grave site located there. A team of ‘huaqueros’ ( a person who illegally digs at an archeological site and sells the artifacts) that were brothers tunneled into Huaca Rajada, a nearby pyramid, and came across an untouched Moche elite tomb filled with silver, gold, and hundreds of pots. The articles I am referencing say different things about how the police and archeologists became involved however the most interesting story I think is that the police got a call from a bar owner who said that the brothers paid for their drinks with old-looking gold coins. (Ochoa)

By the time the police caught the looters they had already taken an unknown amount of valuables from the tomb they discovered and sold them. Other locals had also heard about the luck the Bernal brothers had had and decided to look for some gold themselves. There was no way to trace the travel of the valuables. Archeologists were able to dismiss the huaqueros and continue digging.

In 1994, some of these artifacts were seized by the United States government at an auction. Five of the lots at the Sotheby auction were said to be Chavin or Mochica gold. They were as follows: a ‘Late Chavin Gold Head Bead’ valued at $4,000, an ‘Early Mochica Gold and Turquoise Effigy Ear Ornament’ valued at $20,000, a ‘Late Chavin Gold and Turquoise Necklace’ sold for $6,325, and a ‘Early Mochica Gold Ornament’ sold for $2,185. An archeologist working with the Peruvian Embassy of the U.S. tried to seize the lots but they were denied by the auction house. Eventually the Attorney General and the Customs Agency had to get involved to return these artifacts to their rightful place, in the hands of the people whose ancestors made these works.

The Neolithic Site of Banpo

Something that caught my attention during lecture this week was the site in northern Neolithic China called Banpo. Professor Watrall said that it was one of the best excavated sites in China however we didn’t spend that much time talking about it. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about it and some of its archeologically history.

Banpo was first discovered in the fall of 1953 accidentally during the construction of a new power plant by the Banpo work group (which is also where it got its name from). The site was turned over to the Institute for Archeological Research at the Chinese Academy of Science and was one of the first large scale digs for post-revolutionary China. (Shea) The site was excavated continuously from 1954 until 1957 in a series of five digs. In 1958 the site was opened to the public by means of the Banpo Museum. This museum was “the first museum erected at the prehistoric site, it lies at the base of the Banpo site excavations.” (Zhiyong)

The neolithic site of Banpo and the Banpo museum are located near Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province. During the excavation of Banpo they found that “[the site] was divided into three parts: the living area, the pottery making area and the cemetery area. Among the ruins are 46 dwellings, two domestic animal pens and over 200 storage pits, 174 adult tombs, 73 burial jars for kids, six pottery making kilns and many production and domestic tools.” (Zhou) After excavating a site that was 12-17 acres big they also found that there was a moat around the village (perhaps to protect against invaders, perhaps for irrigation or perhaps for both). Also the houses are all partially subterranean. (Shea)

However the most interesting (to me) find was what led archeologists to believe that Banpo was a matriarchal society. Matriarchal societies show the characteristic feature of males belonging to their mother’s family. Once a male dies it can only be buried with other males of the same family. Therefore no males are ever buried with females. “Among the 174 adult graves found, there were two graves that buried multiple bodies. One of them buried four young female of similar age. The other buried two adult male. All others were buried single. Single burial and homo-sex multi-body burial are typical features of a matriarchal society.” (Bolman)

Shea, Marilyn. “Banpo Neolithic Culture” (

Zhiyong, Wang. “Banpo Neolithic Village Museum” (

Zhou, Ruru. “Banpo Museum” (

Bolman, Katherine. “An Overview of Banpo’s Neolithic Village” (

The Heb-Sed Festival

In class the other day we discussed briefly the Heb-Sed jubilee or festival. It caught my interest so I decided to find more information on it.

First I’d like to talk about the reason that this festival was held. The festival was a renewal of the pharaoh’s power and an affirmation of the health of the pharaoh for the whole nation to see. It proved that they were still capable of running the country. We have seen something similar to this in class already where Narmer is scene traveling down the Nile in a procession that is meant to reaffirm the power that Narmer holds over Egypt.

Second I’d like to talk about the ritual itself and what it was composed of. It was usually held after a thirty year ruling period and then after this period held every three years. However, it wasn’t unheard of for pharaohs to shorten the period between each festival for reasons like failing health etc. Some pharaohs even started before the thirty year, an example of this being Hatshepsut who celebrated the festival in her 16th year as pharaoh. (Kinnaer)

The festival varied over the years so the is not one simple procession however most seemed to include a ritual offering to the gods from the king, a crowning of the king with the crowns of both lower and upper egypt, a race alongside the Apis Bull where the pharaoh ran around a track 8 times, four times as the king of upper Egypt and four times as the king of lower Egypt. Finally, there was a procession where the king was carried to “the temple of Horus, where he receives the crook and the flail as the king of Lower Egpyt. Next, as king of Upper Egypt, he was carried to the two chapels of Horus of Edfu and Seth of Ombos, where he was handed a bow and arrow, with which he shoots an arrow in each one of the four directions.” (Arab) In some variations of the festival the king was on a boat going down the Nile which symbolizes the sun god’s journey to the underworld. (Dunn)

There are various Egyptian gods associated with this festival, all with their own representations and symbols. Some pharaohs decided not to include certain gods in their festivals and use others instead. The mythology on the Heb-Sed festival is not very clear. However here are a few gods that may or may not have been involved over the years: “the cobra-goddess Wadjit of the Delta town of Buto,… the vulture goddess Nekhbet of el-Kab”, Sed, and Ma’at. (Dunn)

Heb-Sed. Kinnaer, Jacques (

The Sed-festival: Renewal of the kings Rule and Health. Dunn, Jimmy (

The Sed-festival: Renewal of the kings’ Reign. Arab, Sameh (

Use and Formation of Jewelry

In class this week we discussed a few different kinds of material culture that set apart Neolithic Egypt from Predynastic Egypt. One of the most interesting kinds of material culture for me was the beads that were made out of rocks and the time and effort that were put into making them where as today it takes a matter of minutes. I decided to do a little more research on the types of jewels that they used and the techniques they had to turn these precious gems into wearable jewelry.

The first article I found talked about how the ancient Egyptians were believed to have made the beads seeing as they had no metals to drill with. Looking at two Badarian pendants, they discovered that the beads were made with flint drills and one in particular was made with a tubular drill. This showed the evolution of the bead making process. Many of the beads they found were made out of alabaster, carnelian, rock crystal, and garnet. “…Out of 569 Predynastic beads, 38% were of hard stone.” (pg. 125) The article goes on to say that this increased use of hard stone clearly shows the presence of social inequality beginning to emerge between the Badarian and Naqada periods as the drilling of hard stone was time consuming and expensive.

Beads, Scarabs, and Amulets: Methods of Manufacture in Ancient Egypt, A. John Gwinnett and L. Gorelick (

The next article I found went beyond the Predynastic periods that we have been talking about and elaborated on the significance of jewelry and certain kinds of beads in Egyptian culture as a whole. It turns out that beads were used by more than just the dead or to symbolize power, but also held religious significance and were sometimes even used to ward off evil. “Gem carvings known as “glyptic art” typically took the form of scarab beetles and other anthropomorphic religious symbols.” Once again the difficulty of drilling hard stone is discussed and an alternative is produced: polychrome glass. This glass was used to make beads and also as a glaze for pottery or other kinds of beads. Some of the most used kinds of soft gems were “Carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, malachite, rock crystal (quartz) and turquoise.” Finally the article relates Egypt other cultures by discussing the connection that the color blue has a symbol of royalty. This explains the extensive use of turquoise in Egyptian jewelry in the dynastic eras.

The History of Jewelry : Ancient Egyptian Jewelry Design, (