Ancient Roman Port

Through all the archaeology classes I have taken and articles I have read, I have learned that there is always something more at archaeological excavation sites. Whether it’s a new artifact that leads to a new interpretation or new questions or more to a site than was discovered before. In a previous class I had done a project on a port in Italy that was very important during to the Romans called Ostia. While surveying critical ports to Rome during the Romans height, archaeologists have discovered a new boundary wall meaning it was much bigger than they previously thought it to be. Through the use of “geophysical survey techniques”, specifically magnetometry, archaeologists found the boundary wall extended more down the Tiber river and included towers and three more warehouses which were much bigger than previously excavated warehouses. One of which being as big as a football field. This discovery pushes further evidence of commercial activities during the beginning centuries of this ports building. “Director of the Portus Project, Professor Simon Keay says, “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side.” The Portus Project is working on the important ports of Rome between the 1st through 6th century including the port of Ostia and Portus, Ostia’s neighboring port.  Another building was also discovered but its use is still unknown, which is why I believe it’s important for archaeologists to revisit sites that have already had research done on it and for archaeologists to extensively excavate newly discovered sites as to retain as much information from that site as possible. This way archaeologists can get a better interpretation of sites. Professor Keay states, “Our results are of major importance for our understanding of Roman Ostia and the discoveries will lead to a major re-think of the topography of one of the iconic Roman cities in the Mediterranean.”  The workings of this project supports that going back to iconic sites like the Roman port of Ostia can give new insights and a better understanding on topics like topography of critical archaeological sites. With the advancement of technology over the last 50 years, archaeologists should revisit sites and use new technology like GIS to bring forward more information and better understandings of the important sites of past civilizations, like the Portus Project did for the Roman port of Ostia.  

Diego de Landa

Diego de Landa is a person who changed the course of Mayan history forever, and as most of these stories, go the outcome was not a positive one. Diego de Landa was a Spanish priest who was given the task of converting the Mayan people to Catholicism, and in the process almost singlehandedly destroyed the Mayan language.

How did one person wipe away a whole ancient civilization’s language, making deciphering the carved symbols on discovered artifacts so difficult? De Landa accomplished this through burning books and religious idols that would have helped to give insight to the language and other aspects of Mayan life. This was not to say that he was an evil person, he was just very passionate about converting other people to Catholicism and so anything disputing his religion needed to change. While he felt sympathy for the Mayans who were facing disease and societal collapse, the matter of religion took precedent as he believed that by converting the people they could be saved. De Landa was fervently against the practice of human sacrifice, something that the late Mayans performed as a form of appeasement to the gods. He felt he needed to rid Mayan society of this barbaric practice and so attempted to destroy all text, art, statue or physical manifestation of the idea of sacrifice altogether. In doing so, he burned many books in an effort to rid Mayan society of their “evils”, including the idea of sacrifice and their other pagan rituals. Performing somewhat of his own inquisition in the Yucatan, he rid the Mayans of their texts and stripped them of their beliefs and practices, something that did not bode well with the people.

After what he believed to be a successful conversion, it did not take de Landa very long to discover that the people were not pleased with him and that things were not going as smoothly as he originally believed. Upon discovering that some members of society were still worshipping old gods, retaining their original beliefs, and still performing religious ceremonies, de Landa devised a brutal plan. He decided to jail and torture many people, in some cases murdering them if he found them suspicious or guilty of going against the Catholic church. In doing so, he angered the church, who declared his actions to be too harsh and unwarranted. His actions were investigated but were cleared by the church, and he then went on to be appointed to bishop of Yucatan.

After realizing the error of his ways, de Landa decided to write a book on Mayan history, called Relación de las cosas de Yucatán in 1566. After destroying much of the Mayan language and culture, de Landa’s choice of chronicling the civilization is odd. It can be noted that de Landa actually felt remorse later for the way he treated the Mayan people while he was investigating their outlawed religious practices, and felt this was a way to correct his errors. The book was important in helping to decode the hieroglyphics that were written all over Mayan sites and in the discovered texts and artwork, because it provided the full Mayan alphabet as well as ways to sound out the words phonetically. However this deciphering did not happen until the late 1800s to early 1900s because the book was not published until then. With the addition of de Landa’s information, roughly 1/3 of all Mayan hieroglyphs were able to be decoded, a number that is much higher today.

While de Landa was a detrimental person to the fate of the Mayans, he did contribute sufficiently to the understanding of the language and culture with the detailed descriptions in his book. With that being said, there really is nothing to admire about the man. The fact that he treated the Mayans so poorly, tried to get them to abandon their own beliefs and practices with the use of violence and fear, along with the fact that he attempted to destroy one of the most major pieces of their civilization demonstrates his true character. While he tried to make up for it in the end, his whole plan was extremely counterintuitive. De Landa could have saved himself a whole lot of time, effort, and work if he would have left the Mayans in peace in the first place.




One of the strangest features of archaeology to my mind is that it is, almost exclusively, a field focused on studying ruins and other such sites.  This might not seem so odd at first glance, but think about it – archaeology is the study of those things which humanity has left behind.  One does not generally excavate a site that is inhabited today, or at least not the parts of it still in use.  One excavates empty cities and buildings, the abandoned and the lost.  Often those sites of greatest value are those brought down by some cataclysmic event and preserved frozen in their prime, like Pompeii.  Archaeologists, to learn more about past and present, study that which has died, been lost, or been thrown away.

This focus would seem to make the whole field somewhat morbid.  Archaeologists spend the vast majority of their time among the dead and the forgotten.  The people they study are not only long dead, but lost to history, their culture and way of life forgotten.  Humanity moved on, left these people and places behind.  They are often the root of modern things, to be sure, but the reason why they pass into the purview of the archaeologist is because they collapsed.  They grew, flourished, withered, and died, and in doing so left the bare skeleton that an archaeologist seeks to give flesh.

I note this tendency not only because it all seems a bit depressing, but because it  tempers what we know and study of the past, the things we have to learn from.  More is known about the burial practices of many peoples than is known of their lives.  More is known of ancient cities that succumbed to the desert or the jungle than of those that became our modern metropolises.  More is known of some cultures that fell out of existence than of some that grew and changed into those of the present day.  The dead speak to us, those things that were lost tell us of those that were not.  Pompeii, for one, was destroyed, but remains preserved, like a bug in amber, as a record of those cities that lived.  The “bog people” were killed and cast out, but remain as the best witnesses to their contemporaries.  The great cities of the Maya disappeared into the jungle, but persist as a record of their greatness.  It is only from the forgotten that we may learn.

One wonders what we will leave for the archaeologist of the future.  A city abandoned after some nuclear disaster, perhaps?  Some massive industrial complex that fell silent with a change of the economy?  It will not be those things that continue, for the most part.  It will be those that we allow to sink away, to wait in the darkness for new life as new discoveries.  Those things that we forget will become, for the world, our memory.

Namesakes and King

So, when we examine more and more cultures and sites, we inevitably come across something I personally to find to be very interesting: Names. How we define things when we talk about them is of critical importance.  Often times, the names the names we use for a civilization is completely different than the one used by the people of that civilization/culture.

 A good example of this would be China. The name for China in Chinese is “Zhongguo.” With it’s Japanese name being “Chugoku.” Namely, it sounds fairly different from the English name of “China.” So, the question then becomes where names of these things come from? In my mind, one thing starts to arise: Kings.

So what strikes as being the most prolific is how history tends to emphasize the the power of individuals. And of course, who would be the most powerful and influential but Kings?

The Namesakes from Kings: 

So I’d like to take my time here and discuss How Kings have Influenced the naming of various things in history. An example we discussed in class would be the Sapa Inca. Inca itself meaning “King.” And of course, then when we refer to their civilization, we call them “Inca.”

Hey look, It’s a Sapa Inca!

So in this regard, a King defines the name of the people itself, which shows the importance and influence of the King. In a more extreme example, we have Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty of China. It is supposed that he is the namesake of China. Being the first Chinese Emperor, his name Qin, ultimately became the namesake of his entire empire/people/country/civilization for thousands of years.

(Just to make it as painfully obvious as possible)




It’s Emperor Qin…


Kings also give names to not just their own people, but often times set precedent for rulers  that come after them. By following the name of a previous king, it also channels the authority, achievement, and power of that King. The most striking example of this seems to be the case of Julius Caesar.

Caesar was probably among the most prolific Kings (being the catch-all for ruler in this case) who ever lived. And what is important to note is that the number of titles he gave his name to. First off, it’s important to note that Caesar itself become the name of the leader of the Roman Empire, so even his successors wanted to channel his name.

It is also interesting to note though, that a variety of other European titles are derived from Caesar as well: The most notable are the Russian Tsar, and the German Kaiser, the terms for Caesar in Russian and German respectively. It was even flat out stated that by the German Chancellor (during the founding of Germany), that the name was chosen to channel the the authority of the Caesar himself.


So, I guess, I just wanted to make a point, that although we examine cultures and their contexts in Archaeology, it is also important to keep in mind the the influence of Individuals upon cultures. And in the most direct way, that’s usually some kind of King. So whether it’s  The Dolce of Italy or the Emperor of Japan, I’d implore to think not just about the events and culture, but the people within them, and how they fit into the Big Picture.


Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum and Qin terracotta

As the last blog, i decided to write about Terracotta Army, located Lindong District,

Xi’an City, ShanXi province of China. This is where my hometown is.

Ancient feudal kings believed in the immortal soul after death in Egypt, India and other places

.So the mummy, cremation and other customs were created.

Chinese kings like to built Tombs underground.

They wanted to live in the underworld as good as they were alive.

So the mausoleum  was filled in mercury as underground rivers and the sea;

bead and jade  was furnished as the palace where the Qin Shihuang,first king to unify china, lived ;

and slaves and his wife were buried alive to serve him.

Qin terracotta pit is located approximately 955.5 meters in the east of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum mound.

Moreover, It is located in the periphery of the Qin ShiHuang ‘s Mausoleum in order to protect the whole mausoleum.

1987, Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum and Terracotta Warriors in Pit

was approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in “World Heritage List”

The founding of Qin terracotta is quite interesting.

In the spring of 1974, several villagers were sent to open a wells which is not a good errand.

The villagers found a terracotta figurines with  pink face, dark hair, just like they were alive,.

but after a few hours later the color was oxidized into black,

the villagers feel that this is an ominous thing and was going to give him bad luck.

So they decided to throw it out.

But there were a few literate farmers who sent figurines secretly to upper rank government and make the terracotta in front of the world.

There are three pit which has been digging, but there are more underground.

Just unearthed figurines are with color, but would be soon oxidized into black.

So in order to protect the  figurines, the Chinese government has stopped the digging of terracotta

until the archaeological technology can maintain their original appearance some days.

The Figurines were made as the size of normal warrior.

And these were made by processing firing, in all manual labor.

The most amazing about these figurines is that the appearance of the face on every warrior is different.

Now day, more than 10000 warrior figurines has been found.

Besides the warrior, a lot ot weapon, stone horse and War chariot , was also buried in the site.

From the terracotta, we can know how strong the Qin was two thousands year ago.

It used a lot of human labor, material resources , and up to 70 million people were participated in the construction process.

At the end,I hope the Mausoleum of the Qin Emperor will be digged out and remain its beauty safely one day.

End of class

Well, today’s lecture was something.   I can’t really believe that that was the last one.  I learned so much in this class about so many different cultures.  It doesn’t really seem like that long ago that the Pyramids were our new topic, or that we were discussing the basics of archaeology.

Sorry, memory lane is one fun detour.

What I meant to say is that this class has taught me a lot about different cultural histories and ideologies, like the Incan tax system and the Mayan fixation on astronomy or Chauvet’s cave paintings.  (Yes, it was a weird video, but Herzhog definitely put a lot of effort into getting that footage, and it shows)  It really is amazing how much we can learn from what looks like simple drawings or piles of dirt.  The Mississippian culture in particular was something rather unexpectedly large and complex.  Yes, I’d heard bits about it before, but I’d never actually studied it, it was really enlightening to see the accomplishments of pre-Columbian american cultures, rather than take the view that earlier ‘archaeologists’ took (but I wrote about that in another post)  But still, this class has shown me so much new information and piqued my interest toward all of these cultures we’ve studied.

I know this sounds like gushing about this class, but I did really enjoy learning about these subjects, I like history, I am a Science major,  and archaeology is pretty much scientific examination of history.  If I end up switching out of my program now, this class has convinced me to at least look into archaeology/anthropology as a field if study, especially with the field schools that seem so often available to students from MSU.  I was actually going to sign up for the Belize trip for a while, but former engagements prevented much of anything from really going on.


So, to start wrapping this all up, I would totally recommend this class to anyone interested in history or archaeology, it was fun, informative, and full of new information I’d never really heard before, sure, we had some scheduling gaffes, but I can excuse that since we had such a nice class time.  Better to have a good experience late than a bad experience on time, right?

Thanks Professor Watrall, you had to take this one on on short notice, but you did a great job.  I just hope I finish strong now.



Aztec Human Sacrifice

When you think of the Aztec, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of the Spanish conquistadors or their beautiful capital at Tenochtitlan. What comes to mind for a lot of people is their practice of human sacrifice. In class, we learned a lot about the civilizations of the Maya and the Inca but not much about the Maya. Chapter 13 of the assigned readings talks about the Aztec and how they came to power and their collapse. One paragraph in the chapter, although morbid and disturbing, caught my attention. “The victim was stretched out over the sacrificial stone. In seconds, a priest with an obsidian knife broke open his chest and ripped out his still beating heart, dashing it against the sacrificial stone.” (pg. 340) These sentences refer to the ritual of human sacrificed practiced by the Aztec priests.

The Aztec believed that they owed everything to the gods who created themselves as well as the world around them. The would perform sacrifices in order for a good crop yield or good weather among other things. They believed that the best way to repay them was to offer up blood to them in regular rituals. Although many just assume this was human blood, they also sacrificed animals as well. Some offerings weren’t outright killings as well. They would have been cutting oneself and offering the blood shed to the gods. Archaeologists estimate that a few thousand people would have been sacrificed each year. Some were members of the Aztec community but they believe that most were prisoners of war. Instead of killing their enemies in battle, they would sometimes capture them and take them back to the capital to be offered up to the gods. In one ritual, the prisoners were forced to walk up the many stairs of the temple. Once they reached the top, the priest would cut open their stomach from throat to stomach. They would rip out their heart to offer it to the gods. The bodies were then pushed down the stairs. At the bottom, the body would be dismembered or carried off depending on the ritual.

Its hard to believe this sort of activity happened regularly, especially as a public event where people would gather in the square to watch. Human sacrifice was not only an Aztec event. It happened all over the world in several different cultures. It was a part of their religion and a way to please the gods so the Aztecs would avoid disaster. No amount of human sacrifice could have stopped their collapse at the hands of the Spaniards.


Chapter 13 of the textbook


Mount Vesuvius & Pompeii

So normally before I write my blogs I like to see what other students have found interesting and I saw that one student posted about Pompeii, which got me really excited. I am very fascinated with the topic and decided to look into it a little bit more and also do my blog on Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in general.

Mount Vesuvius is located in Europe, along the coast of Italy; on Naples Bay. The name “Vesuvius” has been argued in Latin translation to mean “violent”. This Mountain stretches over the Eurasian and African Tectonic Plates. The height of the volcano is argued as well, due to the changes in height after erupting. It is still considered to be active to this day, but hasn’t erupted since the mid 1900’s. One of the oldest eruptions wiped out the entire city of Pompeii.

The first time I was introduced to the story of what happened in Pompeii was in my Latin II class in my high school. We watched a video about how this once beautiful city existed around 79 AD and was destroyed with one catastrophic event; the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. During the eruption of Mount Vesuvius over 16,000 people were killed. It is considered to be one of the most significant eruptions ever in history and is the biggest eruption from the Campaignian Range.

People were killed by various elements from the volcano eruption. There was ash, sulfur, heat flashes, and pumice. Many people died from heat or from the ash and pumice suffocating them to death. It was said that this lasted for a few days until the entire city was practically wiped out. The most significant discovery and outcome from this tragedy in my opinion is the exceptional preservation of the bodies that came from the ashes and pumice from the volcano. The people were discovered with their clothes still in tact, they could tell the weather based on the bodies clothing, which appeared to be warmer. The fruit in markets was still determinable.

I was very intrigued by researching Pompeii because I really like Roman and Greek mythology and there are stories supporting a legend that the eruption was an outcry from the gods. The gods were upset with the people of Pompeii and struck back by the explosion from Mount Vesuvius. Many philosophers in ancient Rome had made predictions of the gods lashing out. Just one day before the Volcano erupted the roman god of fire, Vulcanalia was celebrated among the people. I just found it interesting by the coincidences and timing of these events.