Stories tagged archaeology

Feb
11
2014

Heritage Crew member teaching about excavation levels.
Heritage Crew member teaching about excavation levels.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota
Kids at North Dale screening dirt with Heritage Member Elias
Kids at North Dale screening dirt with Heritage Member EliasCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota
December 2013 through February 2014, Heritage Crew went out to do outreach activities at North Dale Rec Center. For six days we taught elementary school aged kids about archaeology and the Sheffield Site. Some activities were learning Oneota pottery, identifying animal bones in archaeology, and stone tools. We created excavation boxes allowing the kids to get a an idea of what an archaeological dig is like. The kids measured a unit, and then dug down layer by layer until they found "artifacts" and "features" that we had set up. Archaeologist, Dr Ed Fleming, let us use copies of the level sheets that were used at Sheffield Site, so the kids could record their findings. We taught them about mapping each level to record artifacts and features, and why archaeologists use this method in the field. We had fun during this experience, and hope to do more outreaches like this in the future.

The Heritage Crew did an interview with the Sheffield Site research associates. Check it out!

Cosmic carbon-14 display
Cosmic carbon-14 displayCourtesy Travis S
If you've ever wondered how radiocarbon dating actually works, the science news website, EarthSky.org, provides a nice explanation of the cosmic origin of the carbon-14 isotope, and how scientists use the degradation of that isotope into carbon-12 to determine the age of organic remains. Be sure to check out some of EarthSky's provided links to learn even more.

SOURCE
EarthSky.org

Dec
10
2013

Sheffield Site
Sheffield SiteCourtesy The Science Museum of Minnesota
Join us on December 14th, from 12-4pm, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, to talk to the KAYSC Heritage Crew and the Archaeology staff in the Archaeology Lab! Get a behind the scenes look at the artifacts from the Sheffield Site, an Oneota Site along the St Croix River! Learn about Minnesota Archaeology, and the research the Archaeology Department has been working on with the Heritage Crew! Dr Ed Fleming will be available to talk to the public about the Sheffield Site and his other projects at the Science Museum of Minnesota!

The other labs on Level 3 will be open as well! Visit the paleontology lab, ethnobotany lab, and biology labs! Visit with the other scientists who work hard to preserve the collections in the museum, and learn about their research too!

Nov
17
2013

When someone tells you about your nice features you should tell them how fun it is to excavate. I am talking about features in archaeology, of course. A feature is information that contains a cultural importance and cannot be taken to the lab the way it was found.
Shell Midden: A group of shells all located together while we were excavating block 1 of the Sheffield Site.
Shell Midden: A group of shells all located together while we were excavating block 1 of the Sheffield Site.Courtesy SMM

Examples features are hearths and post-molds. These features are located when the soils have certain qualities in them. Since archaeologists must keep digging to learn more from their block, the feature is destroyed as you dig the feature out. Another example is when artifacts are found together or next to other features. You can see this when artifacts are given context to where they are found. A group of shells found together has more cultural value than individual artifacts by themselves in an excavation unit. Just as how a piece of bone have more meaning when it is found in a fire hearth. As I have said before, the further we excavate down into our blocks we destroy the features, so in order for features to be represented, archaeologists record the features they find as they excavate.

To record features that are a part of the soil, archaeologists draw and map out the block that they dig with each layer that they dig out. In doing so they will have somewhat of a 3-D map of where the feature was in their block. At the Sheffield site we normally dig ten centimeters per layer and record what we find on the surface. When we find a feature we start digging in five centimeters layers. We dig in smaller layers so that we can record the shape of the feature more accurately. The behavior of how we dig also changes. Sometimes we dig out certain sections of the feature in order to record how the feature looks from the side.
Fire Hearth Feature: The whitish-grey variations in the wall profile is ash from a past fire hearth. This feature was located at block 1 of the Sheffield Site.
Fire Hearth Feature: The whitish-grey variations in the wall profile is ash from a past fire hearth. This feature was located at block 1 of the Sheffield Site.Courtesy SMM

Archeology is ultimately a destructive science and keeping a good record is key for a good analysis. The features we see as we dig will not physically be there when we go analyze our data in the lab. The more data we record from our features the more chances we have of making a cultural connection with our findings. Features are one of the most important parts of archeology because it gives the artifacts and other data more meaning to why they might be there. Without features archeology would just end up as a display of objects without any cultural significance.

Oct
22
2013

Fun Facts about Archaeology: Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening material
Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening materialCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

-It's not paleontology. Paleontology is when you dig up bones, etc from dinosaurs. You don't dig up dinosaurs.
-Archaeology is basically digging up people's cultural artifacts. People's everyday items.
-Archaeology is not just digging up the dirt; it's digging up some one's everyday life and their past and their every day items. it is a fine art of digging up things slowly, patiently, and gently.
-If you find gold or money or anything else, you have to turn it in and report it.
-You have to ask permission from the state archaeologist to do a dig, even if you are a famous archaeologist.
-When you become an archaeologist, you learn a lot of new things. I have enjoyed learning how to clean artifacts and how to learn how to tell the difference from artifacts in the screen at the excavation.

My favorite thing we have done is going to the excavation. It was the hardest thing we've done because we had to work in the hot hot sun all day.

Maya frieze discovery: Archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli looks at the frieze discovered at the Holmul Archaeological Project.
Maya frieze discovery: Archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli looks at the frieze discovered at the Holmul Archaeological Project.Courtesy Francisco Estrada-Belli
One of the largest and most vibrant archaeological discoveries of the Maya culture was announced yesterday.

Archaeologists have uncovered a 30-foot by 6-foot frieze inside the base of a pyramid depicting deified Maya rulers. Much of the frieze's red, blue and yellow paint has been preserved by debris that had fallen over the frieze. Here's a link to the full report of the finding by archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli’s team at the Holmul Archaeological Project in Guatemala.

“This is a unique find. It is a beautiful work of art and it tells us so much about the function and meaning of the building, which was what we were looking for,” said Estrada-Belli. The carving depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. The team had hoped to find clues to the function of this building, since the unearthing of an undisturbed tomb last year. The burial contained an individual accompanied by 28 ceramic vessels and a wooden funerary mask.

The full frieze: Here's a panoramic view of the full frieze found in Guatemala.
The full frieze: Here's a panoramic view of the full frieze found in Guatemala.Courtesy Francisco Estrada-Belli

Aug
02
2013

Last Monday, the Heritage Crew got a lesson in lithics from the Archaeology department at the Science Museum. Lithics are stone tools like arrowheads, hammerstones, metates (millstones or grinders), and stone blades. Lithics,(or stone tools) come in many different shapes and sizes. Some stone tools are "unifacial" which means that they have been flaked on one side only. Others are "bifacial" which means that they have been flaked on both sides of the rock. There are some stone tools that can be "nonfacial" which means that they were not worked on and just used how they were. Efficient knappers (stone tool makers) can flake off long, thin blades and not have to rework it, and then would be able to haft the blade onto a wood or bone handle. Hammerstones however, were not worked on, they were just stones used to hit and crush objects. They were used in conjunction with anvilstones and usually had spots worn away and made very bumpy.

Jun
28
2013

Maya stone idol: A towering replica of Stela A, seen here in artist Frederick Catherwood's wonderful illustration, greets visitors to the new Science Museum of Minnesota Maya exhibit. Catherwood and writer John Lloyd Stephens re-introduced the Maya culture to the world in two travel books written in the early 19th century.
Maya stone idol: A towering replica of Stela A, seen here in artist Frederick Catherwood's wonderful illustration, greets visitors to the new Science Museum of Minnesota Maya exhibit. Catherwood and writer John Lloyd Stephens re-introduced the Maya culture to the world in two travel books written in the early 19th century.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The new Science Museum of Minnesota exhibit, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed has just opened and is a must-see for anyone interested in the ancient and mysterious civilization that once flourished and ruled in Central America. This wide-ranging exploration of the social, political, spiritual and cultural world of the Maya includes artifacts, displays, and hands-on interaction for museum visitors. In conjunction with this very special Science Museum of Minnesota exhibit, the SMM is partnering with the Maya Society of Minnesota to present several lectures at Hamline University during the exhibit's run this summer and into the winter.

I attended the first lecture in the series last Friday night. Archaeologist Jaime Awe Professor Jaime Awe at Hamline: the director of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize lectured on his exploration of Maya ritual sites in the caves of western Belize.
Professor Jaime Awe at Hamline: the director of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize lectured on his exploration of Maya ritual sites in the caves of western Belize.Courtesy Mark Ryan
gave a brief overview of the early Maya worldview then talked about his work investigating some impressively large caves in western Belize near where he was born and raised. Inside the caves he and his research team have discovered pottery, torch sticks, writings, and ritualistic artifacts along with human footsteps and unburied skeletal remains, many of children.

Awe hypothesizes that the caves were used by the Maya (from the Classic Period) to make desperate ritualistic pleas by way of human sacrifices to the Maya rain deity. And evidence seems to back him up. Using carbon dating techniques and core analysis of stalactites from the caves, the time-frame of these cave rituals correlate with a period of severe drought in that region of Belize.

The Maya culture is a truly fascinating one. There are several more lectures and workshops to catch each month through next December, and the Maya exhibit at the museum runs through January 5, 2014. By the way, the museum's Omnitheater is also presenting the film Mystery of the Maya. which presents a very nice overview of the early Maya exploration and discoveries. I recommend you view the film first before going through the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibit.

LINKS
Lectures and Workshops Schedule
Maya Society of Minnesota Facebook page
Hamline University location

Maya mask: Maya is making the news everywhere, from Minnesota to Mexico
Maya mask: Maya is making the news everywhere, from Minnesota to MexicoCourtesy Wolfgang Sauber
You've likely seen the promotional announcements that the Science Museum of Minnesota today opens a huge, new exhibit on the Maya culture – Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed. And coincidentally, archeologists today announced the discovery of another hidden Maya city buried in jungle undergrowth in southern Mexico, including a 75-foot-tall pyramid and housing to hold up to 40,000 people.

Want to learn more about SMM's new Maya exhibit? Here's a link to coverage in the Star-Tribune and also a piece by Minnesota Public Radio.