Younger Dryas and Gobekli Tepe

Interesting new theory: a comet killed off the wooly mammoth – and impelled the rise of civilization!

Experts at the University of Edinburgh analysed mysterious symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, to find out if they could be linked to constellations.

The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that a mini-ice age struck, changing the entire course of human history.

Scientists have speculated for decades that a comet could be behind the sudden fall in temperature during a period known as the Younger Dryas. But recently the theory appeared to have been debunked by new dating of meteor craters in North America where the comet is thought to have struck.

However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar – known as the vulture stone – at Gobekli Tepe they discovered that the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.

Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, they were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950 BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas begins according to ice core data from Greenland.

The Younger Dryas is viewed as a crucial period for humanity, as it roughly coincides with the emergence of agriculture and the first Neolithic civilisations.

Before the strike, vast areas of wild wheat and barley had allowed nomadic hunters in the Middle East to establish permanent base camps. But the difficult climate conditions following the impact forced communities to come together and work out new ways of maintaining the crops, through watering and selective breeding. Thus farming began, allowing the rise of the first towns. 

Emphasis added. There’s more at the link. Gobekli Tepe has been noticed earlier on this blog.

From Greenland’s Icy Mountains…

From Tim Folger in Smithsonian.com, an interesting article about a new theory on the fate of Greenland’s Viking community:

Archaeologists once assumed that the Norse in Greenland were primarily farmers who did some hunting on the side. Now it seems clear that the reverse was true. They were ivory hunters first and foremost, their farms only a means to an end….

When the Norse arrived in Greenland, there were no locals to teach them how to live. “The Scandinavians had this remarkable ability to colonize these high-latitude islands,” says Andrew Dugmore. “You have to be able to hunt wild animals; you have to build up your livestock; you have to work hard to exist in these areas….This is about as far as you can push the farming system in the Northern Hemisphere.”…

For all their intrepidness, though, the Norse were far from self-sufficient, and imported grains, iron, wine and other essentials. Ivory was their currency. “Norse society in Greenland couldn’t survive without trade with Europe,” says Arneborg, “and that’s from day one.”

Then, in the 13th century, after three centuries, their world changed profoundly. First, the climate cooled because of the volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Sea ice increased, and so did ocean storms—ice cores from that period contain more salt from oceanic winds that blew over the ice sheet. Second, the market for walrus ivory collapsed, partly because Portugal and other countries started to open trade routes into sub-Saharan Africa, which brought elephant ivory to the European market. “The fashion for ivory began to wane,” says Dugmore, “and there was also the competition with elephant ivory, which was much better quality.” And finally, the Black Death devastated Europe. There is no evidence that the plague ever reached Greenland, but half the population of Norway—which was Greenland’s lifeline to the civilized world—perished.

The Norse probably could have survived any one of those calamities separately. After all, they remained in Greenland for at least a century after the climate changed, so the onset of colder conditions alone wasn’t enough to undo them. Moreover, they were still building new churches—like the one at Hvalsey—in the 14th century. But all three blows must have left them reeling. With nothing to exchange for European goods—and with fewer Europeans left—their way of life would have been impossible to maintain. The Greenland Vikings were essentially victims of globalization and a pandemic.

Read the whole thing.

Minoans and Mycenaeans

From Smithsonian Magazine, news of a recently discovered tomb at Pylos, which has upended our knowledge of Bronze Age Greece. An excerpt:

“What brings about the collapse of the Minoans, and at the same time what causes the emergence of the Mycenaean palace civilization?”

The distinctions between the two societies are clear enough, quite apart from the fundamental difference in their languages. The Mycenaeans organized their towns with free-standing houses rather than the conglomerated shared buildings seen on Crete, for example. But the relationship between the peoples has long been a contentious subject. In 1900, just 24 years after Schliemann announced he’d found Homer’s heroes at Mycenae, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered the Minoan civilization (named for Crete’s mythic King Minos) when he unearthed Knossos. Evans and subsequent scholars argued that the Minoans, and not the Mycenaean mainlanders, were the “first” Greeks—“the first link in the European chain,” according to the historian Will Durant. Schliemann’s graves, the thinking went, belonged to wealthy rulers of Minoan colonies established on the mainland.

In 1950, however, scholars finally deciphered Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos and showed the writing to be the earliest known form of Greek. Opinion now swung the other way: The Mycenaeans were reinstated as the first Greeks, and Minoan objects found in mainland graves were reinterpreted as status symbols stolen or imported from the island. “It’s like the Romans copying Greek statues and carting them off from Greece to put in their villas,” says Shelmerdine.

And this has been the scholarly consensus ever since: The Mycenaeans, now thought to have sacked Knossos at around the time they built their mainland palaces and established their language and administrative system on Crete, were the true ancestors of Europe.

The griffin warrior’s grave at Pylos offers a radical new perspective on the relationship between the two societies and thus on Europe’s cultural origins. As in previously discovered shaft graves, the objects themselves are a cross-cultural mix. For instance, the boar tusk helmet is typically Mycenaean, but the gold rings, which are rich with Minoan religious imagery and are on their own a hugely significant find for scholars, says Davis, reflect artifacts previously found on Crete….

In their view, the arrangement of objects in the grave provides the first real evidence that the mainland elite were experts in Minoan ideas and customs, who understood very well the symbolic meaning of the products they acquired. “The grave shows these are not just knuckle-scraping, Neanderthal Mycenaeans who were completely bowled over by the very existence of Minoan culture,” says Bennet. “They know what these objects are.”…

Together, the grave goods and the wall paintings present a remarkable case that the first wave of Mycenaean elite embraced Minoan culture, from its religious symbols to its domestic décor. “At the very beginning, the people who are going to become the Mycenaean kings, the Homeric kings, are sophisticated, powerful, rich and aware of something beyond the world that they are emerging from,” says Shelmerdine.

This has led Davis and Stocker to favor the idea that the two cultures became entwined at a very early stage. It’s a conclusion that fits recent suggestions that regime change on Crete around the time the mainland palaces went up, which traditionally corresponds to the decline of Minoan civilization, may not have resulted from the aggressive invasion that historians have assumed. The later period on Knossos might represent something more like “an EU in the Aegean,” says Bennet, of the British School at Athens. Minoans and Mycenaean Greeks would surely have spoken each other’s languages, may have intermarried and likely adopted and refashioned one another’s customs. And they may not have seen themselves with the rigid identities we moderns have tended to impose on them.

In other words, it isn’t the Mycenaeans or the Minoans to whom we can trace our cultural heritage since 1450 B.C., but rather a blending of the two.

More at the link.

St. Olaf

The relics of Norway’s patron saint seem to have been found:

Norway’s Saint Olaf Uncovered: Archaeologists Believe They have Discovered the Shrine of the Lost Viking King

A team of Norwegian archaeologists believes they have discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old church that once served as the final resting place for one of Norway’s great Viking kings, and its patron saint.

Olaf II Haraldson reigned in the eleventh century, from 1015 until 1028 AD, and today is largely credited for spreading the Christian religion throughout Norway. Olaf was driven into exile by the Danish King Canute and was slain in battle upon his return to Norway, just north of the city of Trondheim, where his forces fell to the enemy Danes and a rebellious group of Norwegian nobles.

Olaf was proclaimed a saint and was buried in St. Clement’s Church in Trondheim, but as his cult grew larger and larger, his body was eventually moved to the Trondheim cathedral. Some time after, historians believe that St. Clement’s church was destroyed, its location lost – until now.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) may have discovered the original foundations of St. Clement’s Church, and even believe that they have identified the lost shrine of the martyred King. They uncovered a stone slab which they claim had been the foundation of the altar where the King’s coffin once rested. Researchers have also found skeletons at the site, believed to be the remains of the church graveyard, but they were likely buried many years after Saint Olaf.

More at the link.

Cahokia

From Arstechnica, courtesy my colleague Pam Wilson, an extensive article on the biggest Mississippian mound site of all: Cahokia, in Collinsville, Illinois.

Finding North America’s lost medieval city

Cahokia was bigger than Paris—then it was completely abandoned. I went there to find out why.

A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region’s tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.

At the city’s apex in 1050, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what became the United States, bigger than London or Paris at the time. Its colorful wooden homes and monuments rose along the eastern side of the Mississippi, eventually spreading across the river to St. Louis. One particularly magnificent structure, known today as Monk’s Mound, marked the center of downtown. It towered 30 meters over an enormous central plaza and had three dramatic ascending levels, each covered in ceremonial buildings. Standing on the highest level, a person speaking loudly could be heard all the way across the Grand Plaza below. Flanking Monk’s Mound to the west was a circle of tall wooden poles, dubbed Woodhenge, that marked the solstices.

Despite its greatness, the city’s name has been lost to time. Its culture is known simply as Mississippian. When Europeans explored Illinois in the 17th century, the city had been abandoned for hundreds of years. At that time, the region was inhabited by the Cahokia, a tribe from the Illinois Confederation. Europeans decided to name the ancient city after them, despite the fact that the Cahokia themselves claimed no connection to it.

Centuries later, Cahokia’s meteoric rise and fall remain a mystery. It was booming in 1050, and by 1400 its population had disappeared, leaving behind a landscape completely geoengineered by human hands. Looking for clues about its history, archaeologists dig through the thick, wet, stubborn clay that Cahokians once used to construct their mounds. Buried beneath just a few feet of earth are millennia-old building foundations, trash pits, the cryptic remains of public rituals, and in some places, even, graves.

To find out what happened to Cahokia, I joined an archaeological dig there in July. It was led by two archaeologists who specialize in Cahokian history, Sarah Baires of Eastern Connecticut State University and Melissa Baltus of University of Toledo. They were assisted by Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Watts of Indiana University, Bloomington, and a class of tireless undergraduates with the Institute for Field Research. Together, they spent the summer opening three large trenches in what they thought would be a sleepy little residential neighborhood southwest of Monk’s Mound.

They were wrong. The more they dug, the more obvious it became that this was no ordinary place. The structures they excavated were full of ritual objects charred by sacred fires. We found the remains of feasts and a rare earthen structure lined with yellow soils. Baires, Baltus, and their team had accidentally stumbled on an archaeological treasure trove linked to the city’s demise. The story of this place would take us back to the final decades of a great city whose social structure was undergoing a radical transformation.

Much more at the link.

Farley Mowat

My hometown of Port Hope, Ontario has had a number of notable residents, among them Joseph Scriven (author of the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus”), artist David Blackwood, impresario and explorer William Leonard Hunt (the Great Farini), and author Farley Mowat, who died in 2014. I remember seeing Mowat around town, and everyone knew the story about him mooning the guests at a banquet, by means of illustrating that no underclothes were worn under a kilt. Now Chris Robert, a high school teacher of mine, sends me images of a monument constructed to honor Mowat and moved this past weekend to its current site on the east bank of the Ganaraska River. You can see Port Hope’s town hall in the background.

14691243_1254589777926794_6316591112072391310_o

Photo: Chris Robert

Why an upside-down boat, you ask? Well, this is a reference to Mowat’s book The Farfarers (1998), which impressed the Port Hope Friends of Farley Mowat. From the plinth:

14567394_1254590171260088_7801282074782153243_o

Photo: Chris Robert

I had never heard of this before, and I confess that the passive-voice construction “are believed” in the first paragraph made me suspicious (Wikipedians will automatically insert a superscripted [by whom?] whenever they find stuff like this). Moreover, there is a long tradition of imagining the arrival of pre-Columbian explorers to the Americas for various reasons – is this just the latest example? Who were these people, and what exactly did Thomas Lee discover on the Ungava Peninsula?

I do not have a copy of The Farfarers to hand, although you can look inside the book at Amazon. According to the summary at Wikipedia, Mowat claims that even before the Vikings, settlers from the island of Orkney, chasing walrus ivory, reached Iceland, then Greenland, and then arctic Canada. Mowat calls these settlers Albans, after “Alba,” a Gaelic name for Scotland, and believes they were the descendants of the prehistoric inhabitants of the British Isles, pushed to the fringes by Celts and then Romans. Thomas Lee was an archaeologist at Laval University; his excavations on the Ungava Peninsula uncovered stone building foundations that Lee thought were temporary shelters built by Vikings around the year 1000, the same time as their settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Lee also found a stone landmark that he dubbed the Hammer of Thor on the assumption that it too was Viking, although it could simply have been an Inuit inukshuk. So it seems that Mowat was reinterpreting Lee’s data – Lee did not originate the theory of the Albans.

Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the editors of Canadian Geographic designated The Farfarers as “highly speculative” and noted that “no professional archeologists are known to share Mowat’s theories.” Stuart Brown of Memorial University noted the “small problem” of a complete lack of “reasonably compelling evidence,” with the book being “entertaining as fiction, [but] far from convincing as fact.” As much as I hate to run down a hometown hero, these assessments are probably accurate. Mowat did indeed have a reputation of never letting the facts ruin a good story. I recall a 1996 cover story in (the now sadly defunct) Saturday Night magazine, with Farley Mowat as Pinocchio.

farleymowatsatniteReporter John Goddard investigated the research and composition of Mowat’s bestselling book Never Cry Wolf, and discovered quite a few things that he simply made up.

As a historian, I confess that I cannot approve of this schtick….

Priam’s Treasure

Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War, a series of six hour-long videos that first aired on BBC2 in 1985, remains very interesting and is a great teaching tool. I enjoy showing episode one, The Age of Heroes, in my upper-level Classical Civilizations course. That title is ambiguous: it refers to Homeric characters like Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector, and it also refers to the heroes of archaeology who opened up the field of Bronze Age Greece. The biggest name of all, of course, is that of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), the self-made German businessman who, deciding that he wanted to do something significant, took up archaeology and excavated Hisarlik, a hill overlooking the Hellespont in northwestern Anatolia, thereby uncovering the ancient city of Troy. This was a remarkable achievement for which he remains justifiably famous, although Wood hints that Schilemann was a self-promoter and perhaps also a “liar.” Schliemann certainly seemed to enjoy remarkable strokes of luck at just the right times. His discovery of a treasure trove at Hisarlik in 1873 (from 25:45 in the video), right as his first season was about to end, is one such. A copper cauldron inside a stone-lined chamber contained “gold, silver and bronze vessels, bronze lance heads, several thousand gold finger rings and earrings, bracelets and necklaces, and two splendid diadems.” An ecstatic Schliemann dubbed it the “Treasure of Priam,” after the king of Troy in Homer’s Iliad (with the diadems being the “Jewels of Helen”), even though he had not yet discerned an archaeological layer that matched up with the traditional date of fall of the city, some time in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1250 BC). It turns out that this treasure was a thousand years too early to be associated with the characters of the Trojan War – and, admits Wood, may even have been planted by Schliemann as a way of attracting further attention! But Wood then interviews Donald Easton of the University Cambridge, who asserts that “despite all the hoo-ha” (contradictory field notes, and the false assertion that Schliemann’s wife Sophie was present at the time of the find), Schliemann did find the “Treasure of Priam” as a single hoard. Furthermore, it may have been dug down into the ground from a later period, i.e. it could very well have been a collection of grave goods deposited in the Late Bronze Age.

Unfortunately, the treasure disappeared from Berlin in 1945, and in the 1980s was unavailable for further tests of its authenticity. Wood implies that it was destroyed by allied bombing during the Second World War – but as it turns out, it wasn’t destroyed, it was liberated by the Red Army and removed to the Soviet Union. It came to public attention in 1993 and is now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Germany has asked for it back, but the Russians refuse to return it, claiming that they’re entitled to everything they stole as compensation for the damage they suffered in the war. (In 1998, in order to justify this policy, the Duma passed the gloriously-named “Federal Law on Cultural Valuables Displaced to the USSR as a Result of the Second World War and Located on the Territory of the Russian Federation.”)

So have any tests been done on it since 1993? Have we discovered something that reveals the whole thing as a hoax, like the Hitler Diaries or the Getty kouros? One Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tübingen has had the chance to examine some of the pieces, and found no evidence that they are fakes. But more details about the discovery of Treasure of Priam are available in David A. Traill’s Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit (1995), and they aren’t particularly savory. Essentially, the Treasure of Priam was not discovered at once – it was bundled together from a number of different discoveries, in order to be smuggled out behind the back of the Ottoman official supervising the excavation! Eventually Schliemann did hand over some of the treasure to the Ottoman government, as he was obliged to do, in return for the right to continue digging at Troy. Traill notes, however, that Schliemann had contracted with a Parisian jeweler to make reproductions of some of the items, which Schliemann was probably hoping to pass off to the Turks.

As you can see, a bit of a charlatan.

But for actual forgeries, we have to turn to the other great hero of Greek archaeology, Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941), who excavated Knossos on Crete (and who is the subject of the second of Wood’s videos, The Legend Under Siege). What Evans uncovered on Crete was so different from was Schliemann uncovered at Troy (and subsequently at Mycenae and other sites on the mainland), that Evans gave the civilization a new name: Minoan, after the legendary Cretan King Minos. Evans seems to have been a man of greater integrity than Schliemann, although just as much of a fantasist: if Schliemann was bent on proving the Iliad true, Evans was keen on imagining a peaceful Bronze Age society, perhaps as an example to the warring Greeks and Turks that he saw around him (this is the thesis of Cathy Gere in her brilliant book Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism [2009]). The forgeries were produced behind Evans’s back by two people in his employ, a father and son both bearing the name Émile Gilliéron. The Gilliérons were in charge of cleaning and as much as possible reconstructing artifacts that the excavators uncovered, but according to Kenneth Lapantin in Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History (2002), the pair did far more than that. Working in their own building and paid by the piece, they constructed any number of Cretan “goddess” figurines from nothing much at all – or at least, according to Lapantin, “the combined evidence of history, style, imagery, technique, and science… suggests that [the sculptures] are modern works.”

Just as Homer’s audience might have felt grateful not to be living in the Bronze Age, so also one feels gratitude that we’re no longer living in the “heroic age” of archaeology….

Henry I

Philippa Langley, discoverer of the remains of King Richard III five years ago, has made an announcement. From the Telegraph (emphasis added):

Another car park, another King: ‘Henry I’s remains’ found beneath tarmac at Reading Gaol

Britain’s kings appear to be making a habit of this.

First it was Richard III, whose bones were found under a car park in Leicester. Now it appears that Henry I may have met a similarly undignified fate.

Archaeologists have discovered what could be King Henry’s remains languishing beneath a Ministry of Justice car park on the site of Reading prison.

The bones were detected among a series of graves discovered by archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), during an exploration of the site containing the ruins of Reading Abbey.

They came across the graves, along with a number of other potentially significant archaeological finds, while scanning tarmacked land close to the Abbey’s High Altar.

The announcement on Monday of the latest discovery came five years to the day that archaeologists from Leicester University revealed they had found the bones of Richard III, beneath the Greyfriars carpark in the city. These were later confirmed by DNA testing to be those of the Plantagenet king.

The graves beneath the car park at the former Reading Gaol where discovered as the result of an ambitious project to establish the full historic significance of the Abbey.

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 and was always known to have been the final resting place of the King and his Queen Adeliza.

However, there has long been speculation about the precise location of his remains, as a result of grave robbers raiding the area for the silver coffin the king was reportedly buried in.

It had previously been thought Henry, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, had been buried in front of the High Altar and a full excavation will be required to confirm whether the newly discovered graves contain his remains.

A spokeswoman for Reading Borough Council, which is leading the project along with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth and the Ministry of Justice, said:

“The graves are located behind the High Altar in an apse at the east end of the Abbey. They are located east of the area where King Henry I’s grave is believed to be. No direct connection between these features and King Henry can be made using these results alone.”

So they’ve discovered some skeletons, but there’s no proof yet whose they are. They haven’t even dug them up to examine them! I’m sorry, but after Ms. Langley’s breathless announcement about the Princes in the Tower last year I am starting to think she’s a bit of a self-promoter.

Roman Scotland

From the Scotsman, something I’ve always wondered:

Why couldn’t the Romans hold and conquer Scotland?

ALISON CAMPSIE

There is no doubt that the Imperial Roman Army flexed their might on Scottish soil after Agricola first sent a survey fleet in 79 AD.

His leadership peaked around 83 AD at the Battle of Mons Graupius- now known as the Grampian Mountains – when 10,000 Caledonians are thought to have died at the hands of a well-organised Roman legion of around half the size of the tribal force raised from 30,000 men.

Agricola returned triumphant to Rome and was highly decorated for his efforts but the victory did not seal Roman influence in Caledonia. Indeed, it coincided with the withdrawal of large numbers of troops.

Shortly after the victory at Mons Graupius, the Romans suffered crushing defeats on The Danube in 85 and 86 in the Dacian Kingdom, now modern-day Transylvania.

The Romans withdrew to a line just north of the Cheviots – the rolling hills that straddle the modern border between Scotland and England – to a position reached some 12 years earlier and men filtered east.

Several key forts – from Stracathro in Angus in the north to Broomholm and Drumlanrig in the south – remained occupied but further forces filtered away from Caledonia with the start of the Dacian War in 103.

The decision to pull resources from Scotland may well have been made on a “last in, first out” basis but other reasons have been long debated.

According to David Breeze in his book Roman Scotland, Frontier Country, the Caledonians appeared to be “doughty fighters” with Roman statesman Dio crediting the “fearsome and dangerous” men with standing their ground over the two-year battle.

Others have suggested that the “guerilla tactics” of the Caledonians were the perfect assault on disciplined Roman fighters.

The mountainous terrain of northern Caledonia has also been considered as a barrier to conquest but, as Breeze points out, the ranges are no greater than those found in other parts of the Empire, such as Spain or the Alps.

Scotland perhaps became simply not worth the bother for the Romans, who were forced to fight and defend deep elsewhere.

“It is difficult to believe that the conquest of Scotland would have brought any economic gain to Rome. It was not rich in mineral or agricultural produce, “ Breeze said.

It is not clear how much this would have dampen the resolve to rule, given “Rome considered she had the right to rule the world,” Breeze added.

Caledonia’s tribal lands and society may have been just too unruly for the Romans who may have struggled to impose their own government and currency. Manufacturing, such as pottery and metal work, were not well developed.

Caledonians were, however, able enough to rise to the huge test of the advancing Roman army and raise battle groups of their own. The tribes at this point probably had their own Kings with society organised well enough to feed itself.

However, the situation was not help by Britain being “on the very edge of the known world,” Breeze said.

He added: “Perhaps if the tribes had not been so warlike, the mountains so high, the lack of economic benefit so obvious, geographical and social difficulties so great, Rome might have triumphed.”

The Antonine Wall – stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde and the most northerly frontier barrier of the Roman Army – was abandoned around 165 AD with the troops returning to Hadrian’s Wall, around 100 miles south.

 

Native America

On our trip we saw a number of things built by the original inhabitants of this continent. In reverse chronological order they were:

cabin

1. Sequoyah’s Cabin, Sallisaw, Okla. Sequoyah (a.k.a. George Gist, c. 1770-1843) is famous for having invented a syllabary for the Cherokee language, which was widely adopted and still in use today. His birthplace in Vonore, Tenn., is now a museum. He moved out to Arkansaw Territory some ten years before the Trail of Tears, as he could see the writing on the wall and believed that the future of the Cherokee lay out west. There he built a cabin, which was completely enclosed by a stone building by the WPA in the 1930s in order to preserve it. I did not know that he died in Mexico, on a quest to find more Cherokee who he believed had moved there during the time of the Indian removal.

Jerry Dobbs, manager of the facility, taught us about Sequoyah’s syllabary, and rendered our names in it.

spiro

moundville

2. Mound sites in Spiro, Okla. (top) and Moundville, Ala. (bottom). These ones were built by the Mississippian people of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (roughly 1000-1500); only Cahokia (Ill.) and Etowah (Ga.) rival them in importance. The Spiro site suffered greatly from looters in the 1930s, and the current Archaeological Center probably needs an injection of cash, but we greatly enjoyed chatting with the Center’s director, Dennis Peterson, who was very knowledgeable about Spiro, the SECC, and the rise of civilizations in general (and their fall: the SECC was largely a victim of a changing climate in the late Middle Ages). He told us about Moundville, so of course we stopped there on our way home. This one is run by the nearby University of Alabama, and is apparently well-funded – one of the WPA-era buildings at the site has recently had an addition put on it, and features displays of the artifacts unearthed at the site, as well as dioramas describing social organization and funerary customs of the Mississippians. The site itself is quite spectacular – when you’re there, you can really get the sense that this was a thriving city (none of my photographs can quite do it justice).

poverty

3. Poverty Point, near Pioneer, Louisiana. This is a State Historic Site, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it’s not Mississippian, or even Woodland, but Archaic, i.e. it was built during the second millennium BC, by a hunter-gatherer people. It consists of a large semi-circle of six earthen ridges, which may have supported houses; at the apex of the semi-circle is a quite large earthen mound known as the Bird Mound (pictured). Unfortunately, the semi-circle is rather hard to make out these days, because throughout the nineteenth century this was a plantation, and regularly plowed to grow cotton! And to think people used to do this…