Category Archives: Student Blog Post 1

What is Race

First I would like to say that I have been in love and interested in Egypt and mummies since I was a little girl. The Lower: Egypt, Buto-Ma’dai Culture, the site, Ma’adi was in the south of Cairo, which is considered the suburbs is a pre historic time. At this time, it seems like the Ma’adi had it pretty well with the shelter and the food and didn’t have to worry about anything. But they did have to rely on the Beersheba for things like globular jars that held things like oil, wine, and resins. But as I read on more in the chapter, it seems that the main focus was about the pottery and its ways of feeding their families. Then it turns into the culture of and the remains of the society where they lived in. But I feel like they will never get the whole picture because the connections between each segment were not completely written. I feel like the chapter jumped from one place to another and we hear group and they were never brought up again. I get that it was a set up to the rest of the chapter, but it could have been laid out better so that the readers could understand more.

At the end of the chapter, an interesting question came up, who were the Ancient Egyptians? Being that archeologist does not look at the physical features to determined whether or not a person is of a certain cultural background. You just can’t look at a person and tell them what the world would consider race. Even to this day, people inter-marry and have kids that may not look like either parents, and this is the same question that is asked in this piece.

The organization and Institutions of the early Dynastic state was nothing more than regular people who just took over the place and called themselves the administration. They say that the society was a moneyless society but still had to pay with things to support the king and his men. It was arranged to be this way. The king is said to come about by being king in whom he was depended on the gods. But who would believe him? Especially since the religion wasn’t really believed in until later.

It seems that many of the archeologist disagreed with a lot of the things that was found. So what are we to believe?

The Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara

In October of 2000, Paul Sereno led a small group of paleontologists into the Ténéré desert in Niger, in search of dinosaur fossils.  Since his first expedition, five years prior, he and his team have found remains of exotic species, ranging from a 500-toothed dinosaur to a crocodilian that is similar in size to a city bus. However, in this expedition, when Mike Hettwer, the photographer joining his team, strayed away from the group toward three small sand dunes, it would be one of their biggest finds yet. The three dunes were literally “spilling over with bones.” But, they were not dinosaur bones; they were human.

Within minutes, Paul Sereno and his team were able to count dozens of human remains, some buried with “clay potsherds, beads and stone tools.” Among the human skeletons, they also discovered hundreds of animal remains. However, the remains were of “water-adapted creatures” such as crocodiles, fish, clams, turtles and hippos.  It was then that he realized that they were in the Green Sahara. The Sahara has pretty much been a desert for the past 70,000 years but about 12,000 years ago, there was a sway in the Earth’s axis, causing seasonal monsoons to shift, bringing rains to new areas, which in turn created abundant watersheds across the Sahara, attracting different animals and eventually people.

Up until then, the only thing that archaeologists knew for sure was that about 3,500 years ago, the waters dried up and the people disappeared. Archaeologists actually knew very little about the people of the Green Sahara. Even though he was a “dinosaur hunter,” Sereno was extremely intrigued by this find and began finding as much information as he could on the people of the Green Sahara.  In 2003, he went back to the site and counted at least 173 different burials. But he knew that if he wanted to know more, he needed someone who had a little more expertise in the area. That is when he brought Elena Garcea, an archaeologist, in to help.

When they arrived at Gobero, the Tuareg name they gave to the site, Garcea picked up one potsherd with a “pointillistic pattern” and recognized the markings to be from a nomadic herding culture known as the Tenerians. She then picked up another piece but this time it was decorated with “wavy lines” and identified this piece as belonging to a fishing-based culture known as the Kiffian. What caught her attention was the fact that the Kiffian and the Tenerians lived more than a thousand years apart. Over the next few weeks Garcea and Sereno created a detailed map of the site, excavated eight different burials and collected artifacts from both the Kiffian and the Tenerians.

While observing some of the graves, Garcea noticed differences in their burials. Some graves appeared to be “a tight bundle of bones,” as if the bodies were squeezed into a confined space. These smaller burials were misleading because the individuals buried in them were actually quite large, some estimated to be as tall as “six feet eight inches” with dense bones, indicating that they must have been extremely muscular. On the other hand, other skeletons were much smaller, measuring to only about five feet, six inches tall. Also, unlike the previous graves, these burials contained goods such as arrowheads, beads and even animal bones. However, since neither grave contained any potsherds, they were not sure which ones where Kiffian and which ones were Tenerian.

When Sereno flew back to the U.S., he took the “most important skeletons and artifacts” with him to examine. Through radiocarbon dating, they were able to roughly estimate the age of each skeleton and learned that the “tightly bundled burials” were about 9,000 years old, which is around the time archaeologists believe the Kiffian were in this area, while the smaller skeletons were about 6,000 years old, which is “well within the Tenerian period.”

After their return to Gobero in 2006, Sereno and Garcea began to uncover an increasing amount of skeletal remains. On this trip they found a male skeleton buried with a finger in his mouth, another buried “inside a frame of disarticulated human bones,” and another buried with a “boar tusk and a crocodile ankle bone and his head resting on a clay pot” with parts of his skeleton burned, suggesting the possibility of a burial ritual. Also, the Tenerians were believed to be herders, but they found no remains belonging to goats or sheep among all of the animal bones they discovered. Sereno suggested the idea of the Tenerians being a transitional group that had not fully adopted to herding and still relied on a fishing and hunting lifestyle, but till today it is still not fully understood. However, as they discovered more and more remains, new questions began to form in their minds, especially about the Tenerians.

The Kiffian bones were left with very little artifacts, causing even more questions to go unanswered. However, from their bones bioarchaeologist Chris Stojanowski, was able to tell that they seemed to be “peaceful, hardworking people.” There were not many head and forearm injuries indicating that they did not fight often but from the long and narrow ridges present along their femurs, they had huge leg muscles, suggesting that they were extremely strong. Stojanowski explained that with such huge muscle attachments, they must have ate a lot of protein and participated in a “strenuous lifestyle,” which is both congruent with a fishing-based culture.

Towards the end of their trip, they discovered a grave with three Tenerian skeletal remains, which was believed to be of a adult female and two children. This discovery had them wondering what their cause of death was since they showed no signs of trauma. “If their deaths weren’t violent, how id they all die at the same time?” and “If it was from a disease or plague, who buried their bodies?” Till today, they still do not know the answers to these questions and being unable to return due to conflicts that arose in Niger, the harsh conditions of the Sahara continue to consume what is left of these two lost tribes.

Article link: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/green-sahara/gwin-text.html

Archaeology and the Importance of Agriculture

            I never really knew about the importance of Archaeology and how complex it was. To be completely honest if someone were to of asked me what comes to mind about Archaeology, I’d tell them about  Harrison Ford running around fighting bad guys with swords, saving the damsels in distress, and reading stone tablets. But now I have gained a new respect and a better understanding what it is that archaeologists do and how their methods are used to by other disciplines.

             Archaeologist use agriculture/irrigation to help better understand ancient complex societies and this method has been adopted by a lot of past Anthropologist. Archaeologists have found that a lot places of today show remnants of ancient structures, such as chiefdoms, bands, tribes, and ancient states. Scholars go on to conclude that the development of irrigation and agricultural systems tell us a lot about origins of certain societies.In another one of my anthropology courses I read about a couple of anthropologist that uses method similar to that of the archaeologist.

The first is a man by the name of E.E. Evans-Pritchard who wrote an article on his fieldwork with the Nuer Tribe of Southern Sudan. In his article he talks about how the Nuer’s social organizations are impacted by the environment. Evans focuses on the Nuer’s environment and how they adapt and use it because it plays a key role in population, housing arrangements, and many of their cultural interactions. They have two seasons which can best be described as the Wet and Dry seasons. Due to the various harsh conditions that the Nuer face in these seasons there are customs and practices which they go threw to share food and help prevent starvation. Evans goes on to explain that it is threw vast years of the agricultural customs and practices are how this Tribe has been able to survive and maintain social order without. He uses kind of the same method as archaeologist do by showing the transition of their village life and agricultural subsistence as grounds for explaining how they have made it thus far.

The second article I read was by Julian Steward entitled “The Patrilineal band”. In Steward’s article he analyzes the cultures of the South African Bushmen, the Congo Negritos of Central Africa, Philippine Negritos, the Australians, the Tasmanians, and Southern Californian groups due to their cultures practice use of the band. Steward focuses his studies on “utility features” which are like the collection of key elements that the culture centers itself around. Steward also analyzes the cultural ecology and shows emphasis on the tribe’s human labor within the environment. He shows quite a bit of concern with the tribes technological processes and how they exploit the environment due to the fact that different subsistence strategies cause different social structures. He focuses on the interplay between the environment and the technology of the tribes because he believes that the environment determines one culture. Steward uses the past and present uses of the environment and agriculture to explain their origins of patrilineality. Archaeologists use the same methods to explain of a lot of pas ancient states came to be.

I felt that is was really interesting that I found similar connections in some of my classes and that some of the archaeologist method have been adopted by other disciplines. I also think its really cool how agriculture play such a crucial role in understanding the origins of a people.

The “Temperamental” Nile

The topic that most drew my attention in the last couple lectures was the one discussing the Nile River.  The Nile was one of the most important aspects with in Egypt and it is one the main focuses of the country even today. What caught my eye was this idea that the Nile could be seen in two lights, both good and bad. In the same year, the Nile, could bring a wealth of crops and then destroy them with a high flood that brought infestation of insects.

The Nile each year would renew the land, flooding it with fresh nutrient rich soil, that could grow many different types of crops. To me this reliance on the environment was fascinating because had the Nile moved or changed in some way we may have not seen the Egypt that grew from the agricultural productivity in this area today. The Egyptians relied heavily on the Nile, not only for its fertile soil cycles, but also for transportation. They used the natural flow of the river, and the direction of the winds to travel up and down the Nile. The current flowed north so those going against the current could use sails to travel south. This was possible because the prevailing winds blew from north to south. For those wanting to travel north along the river the use of poles were used. The easiness of travel along the river allowed for the transportation of goods, as well as the intermixing of ideas through out the area.

The way that the ancient Egyptians were able to use the river and still maintain their civilization is commendable.   Other societies in history have thought to been destroyed by major climatic changes such as the Ancient Harrappan Society that arose in Indus Valley. Which is thought by some to have been destroyed by random floods, as well as a change to the desert like conditions we see in that area today. The very fact that the Egyptians were able to cope with the constantly changing cycles of the Nile and use it to their advantage is admirable.

This idea has made me wonder how on the edge growing societies as well as established ones are from a decline. Since we live in a “first world” country, i begin to wonder what are decline might be. We have talked about the decline of civilizations in class as being a mixture of elements. It has me analyzing what would make supposedly an advanced” society today fall.  Would it be environmental reasons, war, internal disruption or some outside element that is still unforeseen.

 

 

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 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/40000232?seq=4)

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, (http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_egyptian.html)

Abu Simbel Temples: Relocation due to Aswan Dam

In professor Watrall’s lectures last week, he mentioned that modern Egypt built the Aswan Dam in an attempt to try to contain and minimize the impacts of the annual rising and falling of the water levels of the Nile that for centuries has caused fluctuations in the productivity of agriculture on the flood lands along the river. Due to the construction of the dam, many archaeological sites we threaten by the flooding that would result from the construction of the dam. One of the most famous sites that were threatened was the Abu Simbel temples located in Nubia. For those who are not familiar with the temples, the temples are located on the west bank of the Nile, just southwest of Aswan and were originally constructed during the time period of the Pharaoh Ramses II (around 1257 BCE).

abu simbel temples

The Abe Simbel temples are spectacular! In the past I had read about them and have grown quite fond of the temples themselves. The temples were discovered in 1813 and were explored in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni. The temples themselves were actually carved into a face of a cliff, much like our very own Mount Rushmore here in the United States. Instead of 5 faces of past presidents, the Abu Simbel temples’ front face shows four colossal seated figures of Ramses himself, all about 67 feet in height. It has been said that the construction of the temple took about 20 years to complete.

When the proposal of the construction of the Aswan Dam begun and discussions about the area at which would most likely flood started, it became imperative to move the Abel Simbel temples to a location that they would be safe from the rising water levels of Lake Nassar. So in 1959, an international donations campaign to save the monument began. According to one resource, the actual saving and reconstruction act for the temples required 5 years of time and approximately $40 million dollars. On Nov. 16,1963, the disassembling of the temples began. With the help of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Egyptian government, the temples were successfully moved and reconstructed on top of a cliff another 200 feet above the original site.

During my search, I ran across a link for a video that discussed some of the tactics used to disassemble the temples. I thought it was extremely interesting and entertaining so I thought I would share it with you.

Moving the Abu Simbel Temples

Food for thought:

Even though the Aswan dam caused havoc for many archaeologists in terms of moving sites such as the Abu Simbel temples, it must be noted that without the dam construction, surveys of the surrounded area would not have been conducted and it is quite possible that the many archaeological findings found in the area would have never been found if the dam idea had never even been proposed.

Mortuary Practices of The Naqada

Lately we have been discussing the role of socioeconomic status in archaeology. I must admit that initially I found no correlation between class status and archaeology. Granted this could have been due to my pre-conceived notions about archaeology, but it was refreshing to know that other components such as class status is a part of the field. In a few of our class discussions we’ve discussed several civilizations (for lack of a better phrase) that have exhibited class distribution in a variety of areas such as: mortuary practices, material culture and agricultural practices. However I will be focusing on mortuary practices.

For instance in Predynastic Upper Egypt, the Naqada mortuary practices were different depending on the social class of the person being buried. For instance, tombs of the rich were segregated from the poor. The contents within the graves were also evidence of class differentiation. There was an unequal distribution of goods within the graves as well. What I really like about looking at the mortuary practices of the Naqada is how heightened the class distinction became as different levels of the Naqada arose. I also find it interesting that in this period of time there were marked class distinctions that are evident within the burial sites. I think that its very important to look at class distinctions within older societies because it helps us to understand how trends in class status reinvent themselves in newer societies and these are related to concepts of power. High economic class usually represents elite figures and those who are elite usually have power and its evident throughout the society.

Cultural Complexity

The study of the emergence of civilizations examines the development of complex societies from previous simpler ones. But the question of how to define complexity is a tricky one that has affected archaeology from it’s beginning. How complexity is defined changes the framework of how societies are studied and viewed, often with problematic results. This is illustrated more dramatically with nineteenth century academics but still applies to archaeological study today.

Looking back to the nineteenth century provides a good example of how the definition of complexity can change how research is conducted. Most nineteenth century archaeologists and academics had a very Western-centric definition of complexity, focusing on things such as technology and capitalism as signs of advancement. During this time period, a great deal of importance was placed on “progress,” the idea of moving forward linearly to better things. This concept was fed by new scientific theories regarding evolution and geology. Complex societies were seen as the natural progression from simpler societies, with Western societies representing the pinnacle of complexity. Using this framework, many cultural beliefs and systems were discounted as primitive or barbaric. The legacy of nineteenth century research is rife with racism, sexism and an over-focus on the elites of society. Defining societies in a biased manner led to biased conclusions. The cultural focus that is present in archaeology makes it especially susceptible to these sorts of problems.

While the field of archaeology has come a long way from its less culturally sensitive roots, many of the same issues still apply today. Complexity is still defined in a very ethnocentric fashion, favoring Western culture. Harris’ model of complexity uses social organization as its primary classifier, with states as the most complex. This favors Western societal organization. If characteristics such as kinship or piety were used, Western societies would be viewed as simple. Harris’ model is used to organize societies for research purposes, but the problem comes when this cultural complexity is conflated with cultural worth. This is a longstanding issue that persists today. In Patterns in Prehistory, Wenke cites an example of an Iraq city-state citizen in 2500 BC who disparage his nomadic neighbors for their simple, “barbaric” culture (203). The danger of this sort of ethnocentrism is still imminent, even with the prevalence of cultural relativism in anthropology today. While biased definitions of complexity are still used for research’s sake, archaeologist must take care to refrain from making judgements on cultural worth based on these definitions.