28 Mar 2014

The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth? By Amanda Foreman

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Strong and brave, the Amazons were a force to be reckoned with in Greek mythology—but did the fierce female warriors really exist?
Read more:http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/amazon-women-there-any-truth-behind-myth-180950188/#gUKulS6wIfe0yetI.99

The creators of Wonder Woman had no interest in proving an actual link to the past. In some parts of the academic world, however, the historical existence of the Amazons, or any matriarchal society, has long been a raging issue. The origins of the debate can be traced back to a Swiss law professor and classical scholar named Johann Jakob Bachofen. In 1861 Bachofen published his radical thesis that the Amazons were not a myth but a fact. In his view, humanity started out under the rule of womankind and only switched to patriarchy at the dawn of civilization. Despite his admiration for the earth-mother women/priestesses who once held sway, Bachofen believed that the domination of men was a necessary step toward progress. Women “only know of the physical life,” he wrote. “The triumph of patriarchy brings with it the liberation of the spirit from the manifestations of nature.”
There was, however, one major problem with the Bachofen-inspired theory of matriarchy: There was not a shred of physical evidence to support it. In the 20th century, one school of thought claimed that the real Amazons were probably beardless “bow-toting Mongoloids” mistaken for women by the Greeks. Another insisted that they were simply a propaganda tool used by the Athenians during times of political stress. The only theorists who remained relatively unfazed by the debates swirling through academia were the Freudians, for whom the idea of the Amazons was far more interesting in the abstract than in a pottery fragment or arrowhead. The Amazonian myths appeared to hold the key to the innermost neuroses of the Athenian male. All those women sitting astride their horses, for example—surely the animal was nothing but a phallus substitute. As for their violent death in tale after tale, this was obviously an expression of unresolved sexual conflict.
The eighth-century B.C. poet Homer was the first to mention the existence of the Amazons. In the Iliad—which is set 500 years earlier, during the Bronze or Heroic Age—Homer referred to them somewhat cursorily as Amazons antianeirai, an ambiguous term that has resulted in many different translations, from “antagonistic to men” to “the equal of men.” In any case, these women were considered worthy enough opponents for Homer’s male characters to be able to boast of killing them—without looking like cowardly bullies.
By the mid-sixth century B.C., the foundation of Athens and the defeat of the Amazons had become inextricably linked, as had the notion of democracy and the subjugation of women. The Hercules versus the Amazons myth was adapted to include Theseus, whom the Athenians venerated as the unifier of ancient Greece. In the new version, the Amazons came storming after Theseus and attacked the city in a battle known as the Attic War. It was apparently a close-run thing. According to the first century A.D. Greek historian Plutarch, the Amazons “were no trivial nor womanish enterprise for Theseus. For they would not have pitched their camp within the city, nor fought hand-to-hand battles in the neighborhood of the Pynx and the Museum, had they not mastered the surrounding country and approached the city with impunity.” As ever, though, Athenian bravery saved the day.
The first pictorial representations of Greek heroes fighting scantily clad Amazons began to appear on ceramics around the sixth century B.C. The idea quickly caught on and soon “amazonomachy,” as the motif is called (meaning Amazon battle), could be found everywhere: on jewelry, friezes, household items and, of course, pottery. It became a ubiquitous trope in Greek culture, just like vampires are today, perfectly blending the allure of sex with the frisson of danger. The one substantial difference between the depictions of Amazons in art and in poetry was the breasts. Greek artists balked at presenting anything less than physical perfection.
The trail of the Amazons nearly went cold after Herodotus. Until, that is, the early 1990s when a joint U.S.-Russian team of archaeologists made an extraordinary discovery while excavating 2,000-year-old burial mounds—known as kurgans—outside Pokrovka, a remote Russian outpost in the southern Ural Steppes near the Kazakhstan border. There, they found over 150 graves belonging to the Sauromatians and their descendants, the Sarmatians. Among the burials of “ordinary women,” the researchers uncovered evidence of women who were anything but ordinary. There were graves of warrior women who had been buried with their weapons. One young female, bowlegged from constant riding, lay with an iron dagger on her left side and a quiver containing 40 bronze-tipped arrows on her right. The skeleton of another female still had a bent arrowhead embedded in the cavity. Nor was it merely the presence of wounds and daggers that amazed the archaeologists. On average, the weapon-bearing females measured 5 feet 6 inches, making them preternaturally tall for their time.
Finally, here was evidence of the women warriors that could have inspired the Amazon myths. In recent years, a combination of new archaeological finds and a reappraisal of older discoveries has confirmed that Pokrovka was no anomaly. Though clearly not a matriarchal society, the ancient nomadic peoples of the steppes lived within a social order that was far more flexible and fluid than the polis of their Athenian contemporaries.
To the Greeks, the Scythian women must have seemed like incredible aberrations, ghastly even. To us, their graves provide an insight into the lives of the world beyond the Adriatic. Strong, resourceful and brave, these warrior women offer another reason for girls “to want to be girls” without the need of a mythical Wonder Woman.

21 Mar 2014

Neanderthals could speak, archaeologists say — By Ruth Schuster

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To read the complete article, please go to:“http://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.580384″ title=”Neanderthals could speak”>

A human hyoid bone as depicted by Gray’s Anatomy. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

It has been established that many humans have Neanderthal genes: our ancestors did the nasty eons ago. Now it appears they may have cooed words of love as well, and in both directions. The hyoid bone in the 60,000-year body of a Neanderthal male, found in Israel, shows it to be remarkably like that of humans, as opposed to say apes.
Of course, whether the Neanderthals and humans could understand each other is another matter. But for the nonce, PLOS ONE reports, some scientists have concluded that Neanderthals evidently had the ability to emit speech. Whether they actually did, or how complex that speech is – we shall never know.
How likely is it that the Neanderthals talked? For one thing, writes the archaeological team headed by Ruggero D’Anastasio in their December 2013 paper, based on x-ray scans, the Neanderthal and human hyoids have “very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours.”
That supports a hypothesis that they did talk: “Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals,” the team wrote.
That supports a hypothesis that they did talk: “Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals,” the team wrote.
The hyoid bones of humans and, for instance, chimpanzees are vastly different in appearance and biomechanics, the team demonstrates. They conclude that proto-humans developed a hyoid competent to produce speech a good half-million years ago.
The Kebara cave had been excavated before, by a team including renowned archaeologist Dorothy Garrod, back in the 1930s. But this particular Neanderthal man hadn’t been found, only coming to the surface in 1983, and in excellent condition. At least the hyoid was, becoming the first such bone found in a Neanderthal body.
Perhaps further evidence that Neanderthals had what to say is evidence of symbolic thought. Once maligned as being closer to ape than man, that thinking started to change with the discovery of elaborate burials in Israel, featuring embellished, carved bones. Neanderthals evident wore jewelry, albeit possibly rather grisly in appearance: Perforated and pigmented shells, and teeth, were found in sites associated exclusively with the species in Spain.
It makes sense that they had speech to govern the manufacture, handling and possibly trade in these manipulated artifacts, not to mention the conceptualization of elaborate burial rituals. And maybe they could say to that cute human in the cave next door, Honey, let’s make my bed rock

16 Mar 2014

10,000 years on the Bering Land Bridge: Ancestors of Native Americans paused en route from Asia. From University of Utah

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This map shows the outlines of modern Siberia (left) and Alaska (right) with dashed lines. The broader area in darker green (now covered by ocean) …

Credit: Wlliam Manley, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado

Genetic and environmental evidence indicates that after the ancestors of Native Americans left Asia, they spent 10,000 years in shrubby lowlands on a broad land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska. Archaeological evidence is lacking because it drowned beneath the Bering Sea when sea levels rose.

University of Utah anthropologist Dennis O’Rourke and two colleagues make that argument in the Friday, Feb. 28, issue of the journal Science. They seek to reconcile existing genetic and paleoenvironmental evidence for human habitation on the Bering land bridge — also called Beringia — with an absence of archaeological evidence. O’Rourke says cumulative evidence indicates the ancestors of Native Americans lived on the Bering land bridge “in the neighborhood of 10,000 years,” from roughly 25,000 years ago until they began moving into the Americas about 15,000 years ago once glacial ice sheets melted and opened migration routes.
O’Rourke co-authored the Science Perspective column — titled “Out of Beringia?” — with archaeologist John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Scott Elias, a paleoecologist at the University of London. Perspective columns in Sciencedon’t feature research by the authors, but instead are meant to highlight and provide context for exciting new research in a field or across fields.
“Nobody disputes that the ancestors of Native American peoples came from Asia over the coast and interior of the land bridge” during an ice age called the “last glacial maximum,” which lasted from 28,000 to at least 18,000 years ago, O’Rourke says, The ice sheets extended south into the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Ohio. Large expanses of Siberia and Beringia were cold but lacked glaciers.
The absence of archaeological sites and the inhospitable nature of open, treeless landscape known as tundra steppe mean that “archaeologists have not given much credence to the idea there was a population that lived on the Bering land bridge for thousands of years,” he adds.
O’Rourke and colleagues say that in recent years, paleoecologists — scientists who study ancient environments — drilled sediment cores from the Bering Sea and Alaskan bogs. Those sediments contain pollen, plant and insect fossils, suggesting the Bering land bridge wasn’t just barren, grassy tundra steppe but was dotted by “refugia” or refuges where there were brushy shrubs and even trees such as spruce, birch, willow and alder.
“We’re putting it together with the archaeology and genetics that speak to American origins and saying, look, there was an environment with trees and shrubs that was very different than the open, grassy steppe. It was an area where people could have had resources, lived and persisted through the last glacial maximum in Beringia,” O’Rourke says. “That may have been critical for the people to subsist because they would have had wood for construction and for fires. Otherwise, they would have had to use bone, which is difficult to burn.”

A Frozen, Isolated Dawn for the Earliest Americans
During the last glacial maximum, thick glacial ice sheets extended south into what now is the northern United States, sea levels dropped some 400 feet, O’Rourke says. As the glaciers melted, sea levels began to rise, reaching current levels 6,000 years ago.
During the long glacial period, Siberia and Alaska were linked by the Bering land bridge, which contrary to the name’s implication, really was a huge swath of land north, between and south of Siberia and Alaska, at the present sites of the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea, respectively.
At its largest extent, Beringia measured as much as 1,000 miles from north to south and as much as 3,000 miles from Siberia’s Verkoyansk Range east to the Mackenzie River in in Canada.
The theory that humans inhabited the Bering land bridge for some 10,000 years “helps explain how a Native American genome (genetic blueprint) became separate from its Asian ancestor,” O’Rourke says.
“At some point, the genetic blueprint that defines Native American populations had to become distinct from that Asian ancestry,” he explains. “The only way to do that was for the population to be isolated. Most of us don’t believe that isolation took place in Siberia because we don’t see a place where a population could be sufficiently isolated. It would always have been in contact with other Asian groups on its periphery.” “But if there were these shrub-tundra refugia in central Beringia, that provided a place where isolation could occur” due to distance from Siberia, O’Rourke says.
Genetic and Paleoenvironmental Evidence.
O’Rourke and colleagues point to a study of mitochondrial DNA — genetic information passed by mothers — sampled from Native Americans throughout the Americas. The study found that the unique genome or genetic blueprint of Native Americans arose sometime before 25,000 years ago but didn’t spread through the Americas until about 15,000 years ago.
“This result indicated that a substantial population existed somewhere, in isolation from the rest of Asia, while its genome differentiated from the parental Asian genome,” O’Rourke says. “The researchers suggested Beringia as the location for this isolated population, and suggested it existed there for several thousand years before members of the population migrated southward into the rest of North and, ultimately, South America as retreating glaciers provided routes for southern migration.”
“Several other genetic-genomic analyses of Native American populations have resulted in similar conclusions,” he adds.
“For a long time, many of us thought the land bridge was a uniform tundra-steppe environment” — a broad windswept grassland devoid of shrubs and trees, O’Rourke says. But in recent years, sediment cores drilled in the Bering Sea and along the Alaskan coast — the now-submerged lowlands of Beringia — found pollens of trees and shrubs.
That “suggests Beringia was not a uniform tundra-steppe environment, but a patchwork of environments, including substantial areas of lowland shrub tundra,” O’Rourke says. “These shrub-tundra areas were likely refugia for a population that would be invisible archaeologically, since the former Beringian lowlands are now submerged.”

“Large herd animals like bison or mammoths likely lived on the highland steppe tundra because they graze. Many smaller animals, birds, elk and moose (which browse shrubs instead of grazing on grass) would have been in the shrub tundra,” he adds.
Other research indicates “that much of Beringia — particularly the lowlands — appears to have had average summer temperatures nearly identical (or only slightly cooler in some regions) to those in the region today,” O’Rourke says. “The local environments likely were not as daunting as many have assumed for years. They probably hunkered down pretty good in the winter though. It would have been cold.”
The idea that rising sea levels covered evidence of human migration to the Americas has long been cited by researchers studying how early Native Americans moved south along the Pacific coast as the glaciers receded and sea levels rose. O’Rourke says the idea hasn’t been used before to explain the scarcity of archaeological sites in Alaska and Siberia, which were highlands when the land bridge was exposed.
But O’Rourke and his colleagues say archaeological sites must be found in Beringia if the long human layover there is to be confirmed. Although most such sites are underwater, some evidence of human habitation in shrub tundra might remain above sea level in low-lying portions of Alaska and eastern Chukotka (in Russia).”

10 Mar 2014

Join Dr. Baram for a dynamic tour and interactive discussion of the historical events that took place around the spring

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Read Dr. Baram’s full article about the various histories and the archaeological research that has informed the history at http://tinyurl.com/qe2h77j
Driving down Manatee Avenue (State Road 64), it is easy to assume all is recent. Yet going from Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island eastward through Bradenton and then across the Braden River and on to Arcadia, the road passes impressive history, if one knows to look. Just north of Manatee Avenue in east Bradenton, Reflections of Manatee, Inc., has preserved and interpreted the past around the Manatee Mineral Spring. The historic marker might seem out-of-place but much history is beneath the surface.Manatee Mineral Springs
The history around the Manatee Mineral Spring is impressive, complicated and engaging. Reflections of Manatee, Inc., the stewards of the property, has collected a tremendous amount of information on those histories and has been generous in sharing the knowledge with scholars and community members. What is today a field with interpretative signs, a historic marker, sugar cane fields, and gardens was, many times over the centuries, a thriving center of social activities. From evidence of the Native American presence to suggestive insights into the modern period, archaeological excavations have informed the history, expanding understandings for many chapters and revealing new ones.
Piecing together the past, going beyond the simplifications and assumptions that muffle history in order to repair our understandings of what happened around the Manatee Mineral Spring is the goal of the research and studies. The individual chapters include stories of successes as well as destruction; the sweep of history illustrates the adaptations and significance of the spring to many peoples and times, but the goal is not to simply have a collection of historical facts. Rather delineating the many histories moves us to recognize the cosmopolitanism of the past, a thousand years of history of different peoples coming together at or near the Manatee Mineral Spring. Whether lives of pre-Columbian Native Americans, the Spaniards recording the coastline, the various peoples of African heritage coming together as a maroon community with help of British filibusters and Cuban fishermen, or the women and men of the Village of Manatee, the past was socially complicated and dynamic with each epoch having its own variation and several aspects of the built environment and modifications of the ecology leaving legacies for the next generation. The many histories around the spring are a reminder of those cosmopolitan eras with their diversity, and even if they are not visible on the surface now, we can appreciate the rich heritage that is beneath our feet

05 Mar 2014

Popcorn Was Popular in Ancient Peru, Discovery Suggests By History.com Staff

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To read the whole article, please go to:http://www.history.com/news/popcorn-was-popular-in-ancient-peru-discovery-suggests

An ancient corncob recently discovered in Peru. (Credit: Tom D. Dillehay)

People in what is now Peru were eating popcorn as early as 6,700 years ago, according to researchers. Telltale traces of their snacking habits—ancient cobs, husks, stalks and tassels—were recently unearthed at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two coastal sites that were once home to prehistoric settlements. After examining the cobs, the researchers determined that the Peruvian sites’ ancient occupants didn’t only pop their corn: they also ground it into flour and may have cooked it in other ways as well. At this early stage of maize’s history, however, it didn’t represent a major component of their diet. This would change by the 12th century, when maize cultivation became vital to the Inca Empire’s rise and subsequent expansion across Peru.
Corn was first domesticated from a wild grass in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago, according to study co-author Dolores Piperno, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. It then made its way across Central and South America, where hundreds of distinct maize types—including the ancestors of sweet corn, which many people eat today—arose. The cobs and other corn scraps found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta indicate a diversity of kernel shapes and colors, a sign that this process was already in full swing.

The discovery described in the study suggests that popcorn came about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. It also represents a rare example of early maize remains; since the humid tropics between Central and South America are not conducive to the grain’s preservation, much of what we know about corn evolution comes from microscopic remnants.

How did popcorn’s earliest addicts prepare the crunchy treat in a world without microwaves, stovetops or artificial butter? Since they didn’t even have ceramic pots at their disposal back then, chances are they roasted the cobs directly over coals or flames. Later inhabitants of Peru’s northern coast would perfect the technique by developing the world’s oldest known popper—a shallow vessel with a handle and a hole on top—around 300 A.D. The first popcorn machine made its debut 1,500 years later at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

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