Author Archives: Sam Miller

Primary vs. Secondary Characteristics of a State

In the beginning of the course, we talked about the primary and secondary characteristics that define a civilization. Primary characteristics are those like: urban (type of settlement), agriculture (intensive agriculture), specialization (occupational – only part of the population involved in certain tasks), complex economy (large scale interchanges of goods and services), stratification (marked social classes or ranked hereditary status), and state authority (state system of decision making (power) and ability to enforce decisions (authority)). Secondary characteristics are those like: writing, state art, tribute/taxation, monumental public works, mass production of goods, epidemic disease and malnutrition, metallurgy (decorative or warfare), and state religion (associate arts like astrology and calendrics).

Based on this, I think that primary characteristics are the most important. If they weren’t the most important then they wouldn’t be called ‘primary’ would they? Primary characteristics of civilizations are those that define them as civilizations, while secondary characteristics are the ones that make the civilizations unique and more interesting.

For example, primary sex characteristics are the ones associated with reproduction, so either a uterus or testicles. Secondary sex characteristics are those differences that are a result from puberty, like underarm hair, breasts, pubic hair, and facial hair. The primary sex characteristics are the most important, they are the ones that distinguish a person’s sex from a male or a female.

Back to the primary characteristics versus secondary characteristics debate. Intensive agriculture is a primary characteristic of a state because it requires a lot of forethought and preparation. It is a full time job that demands a great portion of the population for the work required in keeping the crops thriving and taken care of. Specialization is another important primary characteristic because it divides up the work of the population so that different jobs and needs can be seen to at the same time. Specialization also requires a lot of planning so that there are enough people to do each job, but at the same time, that the most important jobs have the most people working on them. A complex economy shows that the state authority can take care of the population and get rid of the surplus resources to trade or make a profit on. It shows how advanced and well put together a state is. Stratification shows that the population is broken up into different social classes, each with their own requirements and certain duties that is expected of them.

The primary characteristics are the most important because they are the defining characteristics that make a state a state. The secondary characteristics are the ones that make a state unique and more interesting, but you don’t need them to define a state. The secondary characteristics like epidemic disease, writing and art aren’t really important enough to define a state.

Inca: Fattening Up Before the Kill

During our class Monday, we talked about the Inca. This reminded me about something I heard or watched sometime about Incan human sacrifices. So I decided to do a little research about the topic and I found this article:

The article talks about how the children chosen as sacrifice victims were “fattened up” before their death. The article also says that they were chosen some considerable time before, like a year before their intended sacrifice. The children were switched from their ‘peasant diet’ of potatoes to the ‘elite diet’  of maize and llama that was protein rich. Scientists were able to find these things out by testing the hair of the victims. The hair logs a chemical record of what an individual consumes. Their change of diet is also mentioned in this video:

According to the article, the children were also forced on a hard pilgrimage several months before the died. The evidence is shown in their feet which were callused and swollen. Capacocha ceremonies are also talked about in this video:

According to the video, the Inca believed that there were spirits in nature and that the mountains were the most powerful; they controlled the weather. One boy, found in the mountains of Chile, was found with many artifacts, such as: a gold llama, pouches with his baby teeth, a silver dog. These artifacts were gifts to the gods, as was the boy. The parents of these children saw it as a honor to have their child selected. When going to be sacrificed, the children were brought to Cuzco, paraded around, and then marched to the mountain tops. Evidence of frostbitten fingers is proof that the individuals were still alive when they reached the top of the mountain where they were sacrificed. They were then drugged and killed, or left to die. A girl found on Malpato mountain in Peru, nicknamed ‘Juanita’, died from a blow to the head. Another boy found in South America, realized that he was about to be sacrificed and was absolutely terrified and stressed. Scientists know this from the presence of vomit and diarrhea on his remains. Another girl, known as The Maiden, was 15 years old and had some white hair from the stress.

What I found most interesting is that during the lecture, Dr. Watrall said that the Inca conquered other territories and groups from the power of persuasion, and yet the Inca were violent towards their own sons and daughters. It really makes you think if everyone has a dark side that is hidden from others.

Terracotta Warriors in Life and the Media

Since in this week’s last class we talked about ancient China, I thought it would be a good idea to do my blog about the terra-cotta warriors.

Four years ago, during Spring Break, I went to Washington D.C. with my family and while there I was able to visit the ‘Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor’ exhibit at the National Geographic Museum. It was a cool exhibit, although being younger, I didn’t fully realize what an important find it was and I didn’t appreciate the history of the terra-cotta warriors (my parents were forever going to museums and dragging us kids along with them. Needless to say we weren’t always interested in the exhibits, and this particular trip I was more interested in the gift shop).

Anyway, according to my article workers that were digging a well in 1974 found one of the life-size clay soldiers. Archaeologists then uncovered thousands more in an excavated dig. The warriors had unique facial expressions and were “positioned according to rank”. The terra-cotta army were “part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China into the afterlife”. They were originally brightly painted, although now they are gray. Ying Zheng took the throne and 20 years later took the name Qin Shi Huang Di – the First Emperor of Qin because he had “unified a collection of warring kingdoms”. According to records of the time, Qin ordered the construction of the mausoleum soon after he took the throne. The mausoleum was never finished due to uprisings after Qin’s death, but 3 of the 4 pits at the site contained terra-cotta warriors.

Another article I read about the terra-cotta warriors said that the “shapes of the faces [taken together with the shape of the head and hairstyle] of the 8,099 soldiers, corresponded to just 10 shapes of the 10,516 character Chinese alphabet”. According  to some, the faces of the terra-cotta warriors tell a story about the Sun and God.

I think that there are a lot of romanticized misconceptions about the terra-cotta warriors, mainly because of movies portrayed about them. Most recently (and I use the term loosely) has been The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). For those unfamiliar with the story, Alex O’Connell, Rick and Evelyn O’Connell’s son, unearths the mummy of the first Emperor of Qin — a shape-shifting entity cursed by a witch centuries ago. The Emperor becomes immortal and awakens his terra-cotta army to conquer the world. For some reason, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Queen (2006) also comes to mind, but the terra-cotta warriors were only showed in a few scenes and not an important element in the story. In the movie Arabian Nights (2000), the terra-cotta warriors also make an appearance during the Aladdin story told, but again it is only for one scene.

Honor or Horror?

Abydos is the final resting place for the first kings or pharaohs of Egypt. But it with the discovery of new evidence (2005), that human sacrifice helped populate the royal necropolis.

King Aha’s subsidiary graves are the earliest to be found. There was a seamless plaster floor that extended out from Aha’s enclosure and covered all the graves. This indicates that it would have been impossible to entomb people under the floor and have it be seamless unless they were buried all at the same time. And it’s unlikely that 41 people – 6 at Aha’s enclosure and 35 at his tomb – would have died of natural causes at the same time, so the evidence strongly supports the notion that they were sacrificed to serve the king in the afterlife.

Aha’s successor, Djer, greatly expanded the practice of sacrificial graves. Djer had more than 300 graves flanking his tomb and another 269 surrounding his mortuary enclosure. However the sacrificial practice quickly waned, because the last ruler of the1st dynasty, Qaa had fewer than 30sacrificial graves beside his tomb.

Some scientists think that the sacrifices ended because the royal staff rebelled. “Perhaps it was an honor to serve the king in the afterlife, but it was an honor that could wait” as some scientists hypothesize what the royal staff members thought all those years ago.

Getting back to the sacrificial practices, there are 2 main hypotheses about how the servants were sacrificed. The first is that they were drugged/poisoned and the second is that they were strangled. There was no trauma damage done to the remains of those sacrificed, but some did have stained teeth which supports the strangulation theory. (When someone is strangled, increased blood pressure can cause blood cells inside the teeth to rupture and stain the dentin, the part of the tooth just under the enamel).

Personally I think it would be easier resource wise to strangle the select group of people who were to join the pharaoh in the afterlife. The only thing wrong with this is that the person(or people) strangling everyone else would have to have a steel resolve and be strong enough to kill them. Or maybe they didn’t really have to be strong, if the sacrifices didn’t resist or struggle. I also think it would be easier and less violent to poison them, but then you would need to get a good amount of poison to kill everyone and that would cost money/goods while a rope would be cheaper because you could reuse the rope on everyone. Poisoning also wouldn’t fall to any one person or group of people to carry out, the sacrifices could take the poison themselves.

Early Farming in Egypt

The article “5200 B.C. is New Date for Farms in Egypt” from The New York Times, reevaluates what Professor Watrall was talking about in his last lecture. This article, published February 12th, 2008, states that archaeologists found the earliest known farming settlement in ancient Egypt. “The animal bones, carbonized grains, hearths and pottery were roughly dated at 5200 BC” this means that this site at Fayum is part of Fayum A. If you recall from our lecture that Fayum A is from 5200-4000 BC, while Fayum B is from 6000-5000 BC, and that Fayum A was defined first thus the ‘A’ even though it is more recent than Fayum B. Using this knowledge and pairing it with the article, this site – said to be the earliest known farming settlement in ancient Egypt – was probably the site that defined Fayum A. The American and Dutch archaeologists that excavated the site said that the site was definitely predynastic, but they also said that the site was Neolithic so perhaps the site is actually part of the end of Fayum B as opposed to the beginning of Fayum A. Among the discoveries present at the site were “clay floors of simple dwellings…a wood sickle with a serrated flint blade and grain storage pits”. Excavations of the settlement “uncovered multiple layers of farm remains and hearths, indicating occupation over at least 1000 years”.

The same article was also published in The National Geographic Magazine. This article: “Egypt’s Earliest Farming Village Found” gives more details into the excavation of the settlement. The site included evidence of domesticated animals – like sheep, goats, and pigs – and crops – such as six-rowed barley and emmer wheat. The presence of pigs at the site, made an interesting discussion among the archaeologists who excavated the settlement. “Pigs are not…all that conducive to nomadic movement” so the presence of the pigs mean that the people that lived in the settlement weren’t nomads but at the same time it could mean that they were semi sedentary or sedentary. Magnetic surveys and extensive excavations of the settlement revealed that “different generations of the settlement were buried on top of one another”. The stratified site gives archaeologists the opportunity “to track changes in the settlement over time” which can lead to a greater knowledge and understanding of the ancient Egyptian agriculturally way of life.

Since these articles were published in 2008, there is no doubt that other early agricultural settlements have been found. All findings help add another piece to the puzzle of how and why ancient Egyptians – and other civilizations in the Near East – turned to agriculture and animal and plant domestication.