Category Archives: Uncategorized

Collapse in the New World

Out of all the ancient states we have covered throughout the semester, the ancient states of the New World fascinate me the most. I must admit, I was most looking forward to going over Mesopotamia, as I have always been interested cuneiform, Mesopotamian mythology, ziggurats, etc. Professor Watrall’s lectures on Mesoamerica and Andean South America painted a vivid picture of how people lived in those areas of the New World. What interested me the most was that collapse for these states was centered around environmental disasters and European conquest. While environmental disasters conquest had a hand in the collapse of ancient states in the Old World, they play a more prominent role in the New World.

Going back to the end of the Classic Maya, we see a pattern of environmental disasters. From our textbook, it is suggested that three major droughts occurred during the last years of the Classic Maya period. Droughts can upend an entire society, throwing everything into chaos, causing death and destruction. It’s true that other factors contributed to the collapse, but the Droughts were the tipping point for Mayan collapse.

We see the Moche collapse from El Ninos and droughts. The Moche were hit with devastating drought cycles, causing crop yields to drop at a significant rate. The Moche also suffered from an earthquake that hit the Andes, resulting in the rivers being choked with debris from landslides. Even the Moche capital was flooded by an El Nino. At Tiwanaku we see the same thing again. A drought cycle brought Tiwanaku to its knees, spanning decades, leading to the inevitable collapse of the central government, and field systems falling into disrepair.

Aside from environmental disasters, many ancient states of the New World succumbed to European conquest, most notably from Spanish Conquistadors. Cortes lands in Vera Cruz in 1519; by 1521, Tenochtitlan was conquered. The Conquistadors, with their horses and guns, proved too much for the Aztecs, and the whole region was under Spanish control by 1531. A byproduct of Spanish conquest was disease. Disease ravaged the people of the New World, spreading through Mesoamerica and killing everyone it infected. Syphilis was the main disease that caused so much death.  The Inca would suffer the same fate; Francisco Pizarro and his soldiers laid waste to the Inca, which, up until that point, was the largest empire in the New World.

The ancient states of the New World are unique in the sense that their stories are one of extreme adaptability, having to adapt to extreme climates, but at the same time, being at the mercy of those climates and environments. Floods, earthquakes, droughts, and El Ninos all wreaked havoc across the New World. What also makes the New World unique is the records we have of Spanish conquest. We have exact dates of when these ancient states fell because of records kept by Spanish priests. Another thing that makes this unique is that this is contact (horrible contact) between the Old and New Worlds. It’s a contact that had devastating and tragic consequences for the people that had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting the Spanish Conquistadors.

The “Mayan Doomsday”

Here’s a little excerpt from a long, angry rant thing (minus a bit of the angry verbiage for the sake of professionalism) that I wrote back in 2012, when everyone was still in the midst of all the “December 21 2012 is the end of the world oh nooo” thing.

For a little bit of background, around the time I wrote this, there was a post on Popular Social Media Website that I was getting pretty sick of seeing which claimed the following:

“There have been about 514 Leap Years since Caesar created it in 45BC. Without the extra day every 4 years, today would be July 28, 2013. Also, the Mayan calendar did not account for leap year…so technically the world should have ended 7 months ago.”

First off, this is worded very poorly. The original writer seems to be implying that if you take away the days given by leap year, we somehow end up in the future. This is obviously untrue, because it’s really stupid. Instead, what I think they meant was that the date would be 28-7-2013 if we used a calendar that consistently counted a 366-day(?) year instead of the 365.25-day year first implemented by the Julian calendar.

 Where this idea came from, I’m not sure. The Mayans did not have a 366-day calendar, or anything of the sort. I doubt many people even know what they’re talking about when they say all this nonsense about the Mayans predicting the end of the world.

 The Mayans are commonly believed to have used two calendars: the 260-day Tzolk’in and the 365-day solar Haab’. These two calendars did not identify years, but days. The combination of a Tzolk’in and a Haab’ date marked a specific “date” which would not repeat for approximately 52 Haab’ years. So, for example, the Mayan’s creation date is 4 Ahau; 8Kum’ku. This combination of days, one pulled from each calendar, would not repeat for 18,980 days, or 52 years. This period is referred to as a Calendar Round.

 Oh, but what if you had to keep track of events that happened in periods longer than 52 years? Well you were out of luck, then… unless you resorted to what is referred to as the Long Count calendar. The Long Count calendar counted the number of days had passed since the Mayan’s creation date and thus could be used to make more accurate measurements of periods over 52 years.

 The Mayan word for one day on the Long Count calendar is a k’in. Twenty k’ins made one winal, eighteen winals made one tun, twenty tuns made one k’atun, twenty k’atuns made one b’ak’tun, twenty b’ak’tuns made one piktun, and so on.

 First of all, one important thing to note, and another thing that makes comparing the Mayan to the Julian calendar pointless, is that the Mayans counted in base-20 and base-18 (most western counting systems use base-10). Therefore, (representing one k’in) is equal to one day. But (representing one winal) is equal to 20 days. Thus, is equal to 25, and is equal to 40. Since there are eighteen winals in one tun, is 360 days, not 400. Given all this, one b’ak’tun ( is 144,000 days, or approximately 394.3 solar years.

 Again, the Long Count calendar does not count years, but days. Specifically, the number of days since the aforementioned creation date, 4 Ahau; 8 Kum’ku, which is estimated by historians to be roughly around 11-8-3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar.

 If it were not already incredibly obvious, you might have noticed that, given the way the Mayan’s Long Count works, it does not simply end. The Mayans didn’t predict a single thing about anything ending. 21-12-2012 is simply the start of the next b’ak’tun (, roughly 5125.9 solar years after the Mayan creation date. It’s not the end of the world, it’s simply just the beginning of the next cycle in the calendar.

 Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), notes that “for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle”. She considers the portrayal of December 2012 as a doomsday or cosmic-shift event to be “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

 In short, all this stuff about doomsday is nonsense and if people would do a little research then they would know that we should all actually celebrate on December 21, 2012 because it’s a huge deal to be around for the beginning of a new cycle!

 Oh yeah, and those of us around on October 13, 4772 will get to see the first piktun (20 b’ak’tuns, or!

Andean Potatoes

I had heard of the Andean peoples’ use of potatoes a long time ago, but with the subject brought up once more in class, I feel like talking about it.  Compared to the other regions discussed in class, the Andean peoples’ use of potatoes as their main staple crop strikes a contrast to the other regions in which grains became the dominant crop.  While maize eventually became a staple crop for the peoples of the Andean region, the potato did not simply get sidelined, but endured to remain the main staple in the Andean diet, even to today.   There are many questions I want to ask regarding the Andean peoples’ use of the potato.

One question is in regards to how the potato came to be domesticated.  As we learned earlier this semester,  while we may not know exactly how the various crops of today became domesticated, one common theory is that domestication followed discovery and extensive gathering of wild crops by hunter-gatherer groups.  Now, while it is easy to imagine hunter-gatherers seeing patches of wild wheat and other grains growing across the terrains they traversed, it is harder for me to image tubers like potatoes attraction much notice.  Unless the tops of potatoes were the only viewable “greenery” for miles, I would think that hunter-gatherers would ignore it in the face of other, more noticeable plants.  Of course, that is a modern prospective, as we can only hazard a guess as to the methods in which hunter-gatherers selected what they gathered.  From some research on the side I have learned that there were over 3000 varieties of potatoes in the region alone, so perhaps they were more noticeable than anything else.

Another question is to what effect if any the cultivation of potatoes had on the physiology of the Andean peoples.  For example, we know that the people of this region have over the centuries adapted physically to the low oxygen levels of their highland environments.  We also know that the teeth of modern humans are vastly different from earlier hominids as a result of millions of years of diet differentiation.  So, what did a diet that rested mainly upon potatoes result in for the Andean peoples?  Was the high starch content of potatoes a factor in their biology?  I would be interested to know whether or not the people of the Andean region today have higher than the common norm for starch in their physiology.

Finally, while we have learned about the paste making and freeze drying of potatoes in this region first done by the people of ancient Andean states, but I also wonder if like other ancient peoples, the ancient Andeans combined potatoes into a stew or porridge like meal.  Many of us today know or eat regularly potato soup, but I imagine the ancient versions of this classic dish may not appeal as much as one might think.

Submerged History of the Adriatic Bonus Blog

For me the most interesting portion of the lecture was the amazing artifacts that were found at the wreckage. The first one that really stood out for me was the bell. To think that the year the bell was created was still completely observable on the outside of the bell is amazing. No amount of dating techniques could possibly give a more accurate representation of the possible age in which the wreckage could have came from. The other impressive fact about the bell is that not only did it date itself but it ended up in giving a very specific age range for the rest of the items found in the wreckage. The only item that would not be able to be dated with a relative certainty at the wreckage would be the ship itself since it was most likely made many years before the bell made the voyage. But the age of the ship is still somewhere around the age of the bell since the ship would not be ridiculously older than the bell.

The other amazing artifact that was found in the Adriatic was the bronze statue. I am not certain what affect the water of the Adriatic would be able to do to bronze in terms of degeneration of quality but the statue that was recovered is of exceptional quality and the restoration that was done is of impeccable ability. That statue must have been a spectacular find, especially when considered how complete it was.

The final amazing part of the lecture in my opinion was the future intent of Project AdriaS. Most specifically the idea of an underwater museum. That is a completely original and amazing idea. That is something that I would most definitely want to go visit in the future. It would be amazing to see all the underwater artifacts as they were found. I liken it to the prospect of going to the pyramids of Egypt. Most things there are in their original placement and it is amazing to see them in a representation of how they were originally found. The cool part about the underwater museum is that it is the same thing, just under water. I mean, I never picked squirtle, I was always a charmander fan but I still consider water to be a cool thing and to be able to explore history through this exceptional medium is a truly revolutionary idea.

Under the Adriatic- A Discussion

First off, I’d like to thank Doctor Hrvoje Potrebica for opening my eyes to the fascinating subject of underwater archaeology. Going into the good doctor’s lecture, I did not know what to expect from examining a bunch of old shipwrecks. As it turns out, however, underwater antiquity sites are just as rich in culture and history as their aboveground counterparts. A lot can be learned by examining the remnants of old ships, or cargo lost at sea, or old harbors and portside buildings that have long since been overtaken by the sea. Overall, I’m glad that I attended Dr. Potrebica’s lecture, as it really made me consider a lot about archaeology in ways I never would have considered before.

I can imagine, since the Adriatic Sea is a pretty big place, that one problem with finding an old shipwreck or cache of lost cargo would be determining where it came from or who it belonged to. This is a problem unique to underwater archaeology, as even with trade routes above ground you can use physical clues to tell where it belonged or where it may have been going to or coming from. Doctor Potrebica covered this scenario briefly, showing off a chart of different unique amphora shapes that have been categorized over the years. I think it’s fascinating how they can use the form and shape of the amphorae recovered in a cache to determine where they were made, and then use that information to determine where the shipment was coming from, or perhaps going to. With the sheer amount of trade routes going on in the Adriatic Sea- especially those going to and form the Roman empire, it’s astounding that archaeologists are able to use such techniques to narrow it down to that extent.

Doctor Potrebica even described one situation where a ship’s bell was found intact with the year inscribed on its surface. Using similar techniques to those described above, the port of origin for the shipment was determined and historians are looking through old records to see if they can determine the name of this individual vessel.  Perhaps they will then be able to use this information to extrapolate on trade and the relationships between ancient states in the medieval era.

These aquatic archaeological expeditions are also helping us determine new information about more modern wrecks. A World War 1 battleship or an American heavy bomber plane can serve to teach us about more recent history, and to recover precious artefacts that may be worth something a bit more sentimental to the families of those who may have died and were never recovered.

All in all, I’m glad I attended the lecture with an open mind. Underwater archaeology is a very interesting field with a lot of potential to uncover the secrets of the past.

Submerged History of the Adriatic

I really like Hrvoje Potrebica’s presentation on the Submered History of the Adriatic because not only was the topic of underwater archaeology different from what I normally learn about archaeology, but it was easy to tell that Potrebica really enjoys and values his work. One thing that really stuck with me from his presentation was what he said about archaeologists trying to figure out people’s stories. Sometimes it can seem like they just find artifacts, but Potrebica made the point that he is really trying to learn about the lives of people like the ship’s crew. I think that passion is a key ingredient in anything a person does, especially in the case of archaeology.
Potrebica’s overview of Croatian underwater archaeology encompassed a lot of information and definite sparked my interest. There are over 400 archaeological sites in the Adriatic Sea, and one is even a Neanderthal site. They range from prehistoric, Roman, Medieval, Remaissance, World War I, and World War II shipwrecks. The vessels could have been trading, visiting and traveling, or military ships. Many of the trade vessels made various stops, acquiring goods at multiple ports, so in order to determine their country of origin, Potrebica and his colleagues look at the ship’a kitchen and the origins of the artifacts in there. In addition to the ships on the Adriatic, there are sites in lakes and rivers, where smaller ships would move trade goods further inland.
Unfortunately, many shipwrecks fall victim to plundering, so conserving underwater sites can be problematic. When a new site is found, plunderers hear about it and will disturb the site before it can be fully excavated. The challenge for archaeologists is to excavate the site as quickly as possible to get everything out of the water. However, the artifacts can crumble very easily when exposed again because they have been underwater for so long. I think that underwater sites seem more difficult to preserve because they are harder to keep under surveillance. Potrebica talked about some ways in which archaeologists have been trying to overcome these obstacles. They have built cages around sites in an effort to keep out plunderers. Hopefully innovations such as that will be successful in the future when more site are discovered.

Underwater Archaeology of the Croatian Adriatic

Dr. Potrebica’s presentation on the underwater archaeological discoveries off the coast of Croatia was very interesting; it is incredible to think about how much of the worlds history is hidden under the Adriatic Sea. The Croatian Adriatic is home to more that 400 sites, 200 of which are shipwrecks, and all of these contain links to the ancient and more recent past. One thing that amazed me about the material culture found in the Adriatic was that of the bronze statue of Apoxyomeno, also known as “The Scraper”, discovered at Losinj by Renne Wouters, a Belgian tourist on a quest to photograph fish. This Roman Bronze statue is believed to have been a copy of Lysippos’ (a sculptor courted to Alexander the Great) famous bronze sculpture that had been also copied in marble. Because there was no evidence of a shipwreck in the area in which the sculpture was found, it is believed that the ship originally carrying the piece had at one point taken on some type of distress, causing the crew to toss the heaviest items overboard to make it back to shore. Researchers have also discovered a mouse nest within the sculpture, suggesting it was abandoned or neglected on land before its final abandonment out to sea. It seems strange to me that a bronze copy of such a well known or prized piece, prized enough to warrant a copy made of marble as well, would be basically thrown out.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that through these underwater sites, researchers can better understand Roman maritime trade routes from the east and the west which ended up in the Adriatic. The archaeological remains of these maritime complexes help paint a better picture of what, how much of, when, how, and where different products were being shipped. Many shipping vessels such as amphora have been found at the bottom of the Adriatic, along with oil lamps, kitchen course ware, etc. I recently read an article for another class by an MSU Packaging alum about the ancient transport of amphoras. They are designed to be easily moved around as well as easy to stack and store. They were also lined with a glaze so they would not leak their contents and the strong clay material used in the making of these amphora was helpful in preventing breakage during transit because they were intended to be reused. This makes them the perfect vessel for shipping and handling (below is a link to the article). Due to the fact that these ceramic containers were designed to withstand the ware and tare that comes with being shipped on rough seas, it it understandable why they have stood the test of time under the sea. Because these vessel were in fact made to be packed in tightly on top of one another in large quantities, it is easier to understand why great numbers of amphora were found stacked up in rows beneath the Adriatic. Many of these amphora were stamped or carved with identification markers that allowed people to know where the vessel came from, where it was going, what it contained, or how much it weighed.

I was also glad Dr. Potrebica brought up some of the ship and plane wrecks from WWI and WWII that were also found under the sea. Many people focus only on the ancient past in areas near the Adriatic, but I was interested in some of the things he had to say about 19th and 20th century wrecks found off the coast of Croatia. These types of remains found through underwater archaeology can help reshape our recent past which is just as important to learn from as the ancient past. There is so much more that can be learned from what lies under the sea through underwater archaeology (in addition to the Little Mermaid), allowing us to put together the pieces of the past.

Click to access 185%20twede.pdf

Underwater Archaeology Bonus Blog: The Importance of Bias

Attending Dr. Potrebica’s lecture on Croatian underwater archaeology was very interesting and informative. It is hard to believe how much time and effort is involved in processing sites that are difficult to locate, and are often plundered. While all the facts were certainly interesting, what really struck a chord with me was Dr. Potrebica briefly mentioning that archaeology is supposed to tell a story of the past, and of people’s daily lives. This reminded me of the previous in-class guest lecturer Jon Frey mentioning that up until recently archaeologists had been focusing almost entirely on elites, rather than commoners. While it sometimes may be difficult to discover much about the common person, this is no excuse for bias. Both Dr. Potrebica and Frey really reminded me of the degree of potential bias in archaeology, and the importance of the archaeologists themselves in shaping the information taken from a site.
While bias is an obvious problem that is constantly being addressed, I feel that another sneaky issue is just as important: how the archaeologist him or herself affects the study. From what Dr. Potrebica said on the various case studies around the Adriatic, it appears that the archaeologists are doing their best to be as scientific and precise as possible. It is good that they are using specialists to restore artifacts, otherwise the data would be skewed. How the artifacts are restored will affect an archaeologist’s interpretation of them, even if it is at the subconscious level. These specialists will be the main players in underwater archaeology not only because there are not enough for the demand (as Dr. Potrebica stated), but also because of their subtle role in affecting interpretation of data.
Archaeology is supposed to be more than categorizing artifacts or assessing complexity, it is supposed to show how a people lived. I am glad that the archaeologists in Croatia looked at more than just the cargo of the shipwrecks, they also tried to identify who the crew was and how they lived by looking at regular items such kitchen tools. While such items may not seem important, they can tell great deal about the people who used them, from basic subsistence to reasonable inferences on more vague topics such as ideology or social structure. Archaeology is an incredibly informative field, rich in knowledge and understanding. It is unfortunate that this knowledge is often hampered by bias or misunderstandings. Whenever reading any archaeological studies, one must always be on the lookout for bias and be aware of the flexibility of interpretation.