Max Friesen and Team Find a Complete House in the Arctic
An archeologist from the University of Toronto is celebrating the discovery this summer of the first complete example of a cruciform pit home across from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., in the Mackenzie Delta. The structures were built by Inuvialuit from about 500 years ago up until around 1900. "For me, it was almost the capping of my career," says Max Friesen, who’s been working in the area off and on since 1986.
Friesen says large, cruciform houses are one of the things most spoken about in early histories, recollections of elders and the writings of early explorers in the delta. "But even though others have excavated parts of these houses, there’s never been one that’s fully dug, so you can actually see how it all fits together." They’re called cruciform houses because they have a central floor area and then three very large alcoves, each of which would’ve had one or two different families in them. "If you look at it from above, it kind of looks like a cross," Friesen says.
Driftwood logs make up the house’s floor, benches and roof, which would have been covered in skin and sod for insulation. With a main living area about seven metres wide and almost six metres long, the house is almost twice the size as those built by the Thule people, the ancestors of the Inuvialuit. "By almost any early standard, that’s huge," Friesen says. He says the house may have been lived in, on and off, for 20, 30 or 40 years. When it was abandoned, it collapsed into the permafrost and became completely frozen. That makes it horrible to dig in, Friesen says, but it means the structure is wonderfully preserved. "When you expose some of the wood, it looks like fresh wood. Like something that just drifted in this morning."
Friesen spent five weeks doing the dig this summer at the Kuukpak archeological site that extends about a kilometer along the Mackenzie River. "It’s probably the single largest Inuvialuit site that was ever occupied," Friesen says. "I would guess at least maybe 40 houses. That’s enormous." The settlement was the site of a large, very successful beluga hunt every July. Now, Friesen says, the area is rapidly eroding. "We could walk on the beach and see a lot of beluga bones and artifacts currently eroding out of the edges of the site and get an amazing view of the size and complexity of what Inuvialuit society must have looked like." That erosion is putting a time limit on the work. Friesen says the pit house is so big that 10 people working for five weeks were unable to get to the bottom of it. He plans to head back to the area next year for an aerial survey. Then try to complete the dig in the summer of 2016. "I’m really hoping that this will last for at least another three, four, five years and that we will manage to preserve a large amount of information that would otherwise be destroyed."
From a CBC article.
Read the complete article, view additional images and hear an interview with Max Friesen
Photo Max Friesen
Huqoq excavation continues to uncover mosaics
Excavations in the Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s Lower Galilee, have brought to light stunning mosaics which decorated the floor.
The Huqoq excavations are directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-directed by Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The University of Toronto participates in the consortium excavating at Huqoq.
In 2012, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. Last summer (2013), a second mosaic was found which shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3).
A third mosaic discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle is divided into three horizontal registers (strips), and differs in style, quality and content from the Samson scenes. Portions of this mosaic were uncovered in 2013, and the rest was revealed this summer. The lowest register shows a bull pierced by spears, with blood gushing from his wounds, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield. The middle register depicts an arcade, with the arches framing young men arranged around a seated elderly man holding a scroll, and lighted oil lamps above each arch. The uppermost register depicts a meeting between two large male figures: a bearded and diademed soldier wearing elaborate battle dress and a purple cloak, who is leading a large bull by the horns, accompanied by a phalanx of soldiers and elephants with shields tied to their sides; and a grey-haired and bearded elderly man wearing a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords who are also wearing ceremonial white tunics and mantles (these appear to be the same male figures depicted in the middle register).
The identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants. As battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, Professor Magness suggests that this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest, different versions of which appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature.
The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation, and the excavated areas have been backfilled. Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2015. University of Toronto participation in the Huqoq excavations are sponsored by the Archaeology Centre, Jewish Studies, and the Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies. University of Toronto students participating in the 2014 excavations were Ira Schwartz, Camille Angelo, Anna Shapiro, Alisa Mahrova, and Irina Chirmanovo
Photo: Jim Haberman
Biblical Archaeology Review Article on Huqoq
Millions of Stone Tools from the Earlier Stone Age of South Africa
Excavations at an archaeological site at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa have produced tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artifacts, including hand axes and other tools. These discoveries were made Steven James Walker from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and Vasa Lukich and Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto, in collaboration with the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa.
The archaeologists’ research on the Kathu Townlands site, one of the richest early prehistoric archaeological sites in South Africa, was published in the journal, PLOS ONE, on 24 July 2014. It is estimated that the site is between 700,000 and one million years old.
Steven James Walker from the Department of Archaeology at UCT, lead author of the journal paper, says: “The site is amazing and it is threatened. We’ve been working well with developers as well as the South African Heritage Resources Agency to preserve it, but the town of Kathu is rapidly expanding around the site. It might get cut off on all sides by development and this would be regrettable.”
Today, Kathu is a major iron mining centre. Walker adds that the fact that such an extensive prehistoric site is located in the middle of a zone of intensive development poses a unique challenge for archaeologists and developers to find strategies to work cooperatively.
The Kathu Townlands site is one component of a grouping of prehistoric sites known as the Kathu Complex. Other sites in the complex include Kathu Pan 1 which has produced fossils of animals such as elephants and hippos, as well as the earliest known evidence of tools used as spears from a level dated to half a million years ago.
Michael Chazan, Director of the Archaeology Centre at U of T, emphasizes the scientific challenge posed by the density of the traces of early human activity in this area.
“We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa.”
Read the Research article on PLOS One
Photo by S.J. Walker
Photo: Y.Zheng, G.W. Crawford, X.Chen
Gary Crawford publishes on the origins of Peach Domestication in China
Recently published work by Archaeology Centre Faulty Member Gary Crawford and colleagues from the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Relics and Archaeology, Hangzhou, China have elucidated the nature and timing of peach domestication though an extensive study of archaeologically recovered peach stones.
Read the article here: PLoS One
ABSTRACT: The cultivated/domesticated peach (Prunus persica var. persica; Rosaceae, subgenus Amygdalus; synonym: Amygdalus persica) originated in China, but its wild ancestor, as well as where, when, and under what circumstances the peach was domesticated, is poorly known. Five populations of archaeological peach stones recovered from Zhejiang Province, China, document peach use and evolution beginning ca. 8000 BP. The majority of the archaeological sites from which the earliest peach stones have been recovered are from the Yangzi River valley, indicating that this is where early selection for favorable peach varieties likely took place.
Furthermore, peach stone morphology through time is consistent with the hypothesis that an unknown wild P. persica was the ancestor of the cultivated peach. The oldest archaeological peach stones are from the Kuahuqiao (8000–7000 BP) and Tianluoshan (7000–6500 BP) sites and both stone samples segregate into two size groups, suggesting early selection of preferred types. The first peach stones in China most similar to modern cultivated forms are from the Liangzhu culture (ca. 5300 to 4300 BP), where the peach stones are significantly larger and more compressed than earlier stones. Similar peach stones are reported from Japan much earlier (6700–6400 BP). This large, compressed-stone peach was introduced to Japan and indicates a yet unidentified source population in China that was similar to the Liangzhu culture peach. This study proposes that the lower Yangzi River valley is a region, if not the region, of early peach selection and domestication and that the process began at least 7500 years ago.
The Moche were the region’s most advanced pre-modern society, consisting of independently governed agricultural communities with a shared religion and a penchant for complex irrigation systems, intricate ceramics, metallurgy and ritual human sacrifice. In addition to copper production areas, tools, pottery and ornaments, Swenson has uncovered the skeletal remains of several sacrificial victims, including two young women with traces of rope used in their garroting still around their necks.
But Swenson isn’t so much interested in the grisly details of how Moche sacrifices died — which is to say violently — but in how such rituals defined and politicized the experience of life. “The pyramid is steeped in ritual understanding,” he says. “What does ritual achieve? It cures, it empowers, it hexes, it changes or maintains the status quo.”
And no ritual was of greater significance to the Moche than human sacrifice. It was intertwined with their religious-political ideology and informed their everyday life. “The pyramid, with its ceremonial architecture, appears to have been perceived as a living, breathing being,” Swenson says. “We may never grasp the true cosmological significance of the place, but sacrifices were a means of transferring vitality and life force, a way of feeding the monument and nourishing the gods.”
Human sacrifice also gave a sense of control over death as a way to exercise some control over the vicissitudes of life. “For the Moche, death was essential for rebirth and rejuvenation; growth, creation, beauty could only be achieved through rituals of socially encapsulated destruction and death,” Swenson says.
This idea of rejuvenation is evident in how the Moche periodically buried their ceremonial altar-like platforms only to build new ones atop the old. Seven platforms have been discovered thus far in a chamber with graffiti on the walls depicting serpents and warriors. But unlike Moche high art, the graffiti is crude.
“It’s unusual because the Moche were known for the realistic detail in their pottery and ceramics — graphic images of war and sex and human sacrifice that told their stories — yet this graffiti is more like stick figures,” says Swenson. “So it’s entirely possible that it was done by visitors and pilgrims to the site, not artisans.”
The graffiti is one of Swenson’s most exciting discoveries. “It reveals that the site evoked deep emotions and heightened consciousness of the religious power of the huaca,” he says. “The etchings provide a rare source of information on the experience and sentiments of the Moche, and they remind us that we should always strive to humanize our subjects of study.”
The main pyramid of Huaca Colorada served as an important temple complex and possible oracle in the Jequetepeque Region. The site did not have a large permanent population but did accommodate congregants who resided there episodically to fulfill tribute obligations and partake in great religious festivals. “The consumption of corn beer (chicha), the production of copper ornaments, and rituals of architectural and human sacrifice were part of complex religious celebrations at Huaca Colorada,” Swenson says. These rituals were associated with a powerful priestess cult. “We have found painted representations of the priestess on fine-line ceramics, and it is possible that the priestess travelled to Huaca Colorada to preside over important feasts and religious celebrations.”
Huaca Colorada and the questions it raises are all very wonderful and frustrating, says Swenson. “We are presented with important philosophical questions about the fundamental politicization of life and death. Being human is a very messy thing and archaeology reminds us of that.”
Life, death and meaning in the Jequetepeque Valley of northern Peru
by Barrett Hooper — Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Sciences News
Archaeology is about more than filling in the blanks of human history. It is fundamentally a philosophical pursuit with questions about life and death at the very core of all that digging. This is particularly evident in Edward Swenson’s research at Huaca Colorada, a 1,400-year-old pre-Inca pyramid in northern Peru.
Rising from the sand dunes of the Jequetepeque Valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains, the mud-brick structure is a remnant of the Moche culture, which thrived from 100-800 AD, long before Spanish conquistadors ravaged the continent.
Photo: Edward R. Swenson
Sea snails provide glimpse of profound socio-political change in ancient Greece
by Barrett Hooper - University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Sciences News
Hexaplex trunculus. It sounds like a Harry Potter spell, although there’s nothing particularly magical about this species of sea snail common in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Still, these tiny purplish mollusks are an important piece of an enormous puzzle that’s been perplexing Carl Knappett for years.
Knappett is the co-director of the Palaikastro Project and the Walter Graham/Homer Thompson Chair in Aegean Prehistory in the Department of Art. He is studying the urbanization of Minoan Crete during the Aegean Bronze Age. Why did the Minoans choose to settle in some locations and not others? What impact did they have on the landscape? In what ways were local resources exploited and how did this change over time? “We can observe the process of urbanization through features like monumental architecture, planned streets and sewers, as well as changes in agriculture and the landscape,” says Knappett. This is where the Hexaplex trunculus comes in.
Knappett and his team of researchers, which includes specialists in botanical, faunal and marine remains, have been excavating at Palaikastro, the site of a Minoan harbour town on the island of Crete that dates back to 1700 BCE. Recently, they uncovered a deposit of more than 10,000 Hexaplex trunculus shells. In ancient times, they would have been used to create a purple-blue indigo dye. (The dye is even mentioned in the Hebrew bible.)
The shells were discovered a few feet below the surface, in what appears to have been a basement room used for processing. Creating the dye is complicated — Knappett even enlisted a couple of students to experiment with making the dye using shells given to them by local fishermen, which they then applied to linen, wool and silk — and it suggests that the Minoans were skilled at making fine textiles. “It also tells us that they were proficient in exploiting marine resources, and indeed we found various other kinds of shells used for consumption and even triton shells for some sort of religious activity,” says Knappett.
Knappett’s team has also discovered tiny carbonized fragments from olives, almonds, pulses and cereals, that, when combined with goat and sheep remains found at the site, paint a picture of agropastoral practices. “It’s not just what was exploited, but how — whether in small gardens or larger fields,” he says. “We're keen to see if urbanization had any effect on these strategies, and if that led to land erosion and other environmental impacts.”
Near the beach at Palaikastro, Knappett is collecting palaeoenvironmental data by coring the wetland. He’s already drilled down 7.5 metres in the hope of uncovering carbon that can be dated, as well as pollen. “We’ll be able to say what trees and other plants were in the landscape at given dates thousands of years in the past,” he says.
But Knappett’s research doesn’t end at snail shells and almonds. Those items are just tiny clues to understanding the economic, social and political organization of the town and its surrounding hinterland.
“Given that it’s a coastal site, and for many centuries people here seem to favour the uplands, it begs the question: why did the Minoans decide to live here to begin with?” says Knappett. “Presumably the opportunities for trade and exchange through wider regional connectivities were too good to pass up, and the coast allowed for more ready contact with some distant parts of the island, and indeed with other islands, and even with the Near East and Egypt.”
It’s these kinds of connectivities that Knappett is exploring through his pioneering work in network analysis, which models the kinds of interactions that might have been beneficial to the inhabitants at the time.
“Profound socio-political change in ancient societies seems often to be generated by contact and exchange with other cultures, in many cases over long-distances,” he says. “Why does this happen? How are such connections established and then maintained? These are the big questions that we are trying to answer.”
And it all starts with understanding something as simple as the role of a sea snail.
Photo: Carl Knappett
Archaeology students dig opportunity to get their hands dirty
by Sean Bettam - University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science News
The trenches of an archaeological site on the Mediterranean island of Crete are a long way from the classrooms of the University of Toronto. But for a lucky group of students, those trenches provided an opportunity to learn things in a way that no textbook or lecture could.
Photo: Carl Knappett
The four students were searching for a Minoan palace, alongside U of T archaeologist Carl Knappett. An Aegean prehistorian specializing in Bronze Age Crete, Knappett directs an international team excavating at the site. He took the students along on a recent dig as part of the Faculty of Arts & Science Research Excursions Program.
“Everything I learned about doing archaeology prior to this was theoretical,” said Kaitlyn Smid, a St. Michael’s College student studying archaeology and Classical civilization. “It was helpful to use the tools I learned during my studies in a true excavation. I learned much more than I had expected.”
Crete was once the home of the earliest Bronze Age civilization in Europe and one of its most important settlements is Palaikastro, a large harbour town dating to this ‘Minoan’ period (c. 3000 – 1100 BC). Past excavations unearthed an extensive town but what has never been found is a central building, often called a “palace” in Minoan archaeology. Considering that all Bronze Age towns on the island had such a building, Knappett is trying to determine if Palaikastro was different, or if they simply still have to find it.
“The students were able to see how the excavation informs our understanding of the site, and experience the excitement of how new finds are processed, analyzed, discussed and interpreted,” he said.
The students worked as assistants, supporting trench supervisors with a range of tasks that included labelling and bagging “finds” as well as cleaning them for analysis.
“We spent a lot of time shovelling soil and taking it to the soil heap, to uncover the layers of soil from the time period we were looking for,” said Charlotte Scott, a St. Michael’s College student studying anthropology, archaeology and Aboriginal studies.
“You need to be able to notice changes in the soil, the texture, the color and even the density when you’re excavating,” added Smid. “We really learned how to understand and engage with our surroundings to make sense of what we were seeing in the trench.”
Scott had just completed an introductory course on archaeology before leaving for Crete, and with everything still fresh in her mind, she enjoyed comparing the classroom version with observations of real archaeologists at work. “I found that the two lined up quite well.”
Knappett was compelled to participate in the Research Excursions Program for the entry point it provides to students. “Excavations almost always involve student training. Apprenticeship is a key part of the dig because digs do not happen all that often, and there’s no way you can acquire in the classroom the field skills needed to be an archaeologist.”
As for Smid, the experience confirmed that. “Archaeology and field research is something I really want to pursue in the future.”
Photo: Carl Knappett
Photo: Carl Knappett
A house in the Arctic
More Mosaics at Huqoq
Millions of Stone Tools
Early Peach Domestication
Ritual Sacrifice in Peru
Mollusk Markers of Change
Students Excavate on Crete
Link to March 2015 Newsletter
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