Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mystery solved Mysteries of the mesa solved

Almost a century after these ancient Indian ruins became a national park in 1906, strange earthen formations near the cliff and mesa-top dwellings continued to puzzle and divide scientists, until recently.
One mysterious dirt mound, 200 feet across, rises 16 feet above the floor of Morefield Canyon. A 1,400-foot path or channel extends from it, making it resemble an upside-down frying pan with a long, flat handle.
And then there was the large depression in the park's heart on Chapin Mesa. It was labeled for years as either a prehistoric amphitheater or perhaps an impoundment of water — nicknamed Mummy Lake — with no known source of water.
Now, scientists know the depression was part of an elaborate water storage system and have dubbed it Far View Reservoir. And Morefield Canyon's elevated mound, which does not resemble a reservoir, was a storage facility that could have held 120,000 gallons of water.

We think this is fascinating. There was also a story several years ago of some archaeologists studying some odd trench features associated with raised-field agriculture in South America. No one really knew what the function of the trenches were other than irrigation and protecting the planted parts from the high ground water. Turns out the water in the tranches retained some heat from the day and prevented frost from ruining the crops.

Here's a link to the guy who did this work. Explanation of raised-field agriculture from page 3 of this link:

Raised fields are large artificial platforms of soil created to protect crops from flooding. They are generally found in areas of permanent high water table or seasonal flooding. The addition of earth for drainage also increases the depth of the rich topsoil available to plants. In the process of building raised fields, canals are excavated adjacent to and between fields. These depressions fill with water during the growing season and provide irrigation when necessary. Decomposing aquatic plants and nutrients captured in the canals provide a fertile "muck" or "green manure" for periodically renewing the soils of the platforms. We found that in the high Andes where "killer" frost is a serious problem at night, the water in the canals of raised fields helps to store thesun’s heat and blanket the fields in warm air at night—protecting crops against the cold. Raised fields have been found to be highly productive, and if managed properly, can be planted and harvested for many years.

It's not often archaeology can be used to actually improve the lives of existing people. But in this case at least ancient agricultural methods have been resurrected and turn out to be more appropriate for the area than more modern techniques.

Buckeye rocks An ancient quarry: Indians found high-quality, colored stones at Ohio site

Little-known Flint Ridge may be the most important historical site in Ohio, but it's a place that's unfamiliar to most people.

Flint Ridge State Memorial in southeast Licking County marks the site where ancient Indians quarried brightly colored flint, starting 11,000 or more years ago.

The Indians needed razor-sharp flint for tools, weapons, ceremonial objects and jewelry, and Flint Ridge offered high-quality stone in a rainbow of colors: pink, gray, white, black and copper.

The Ohio flint had a high quartz content, flecked with crystals that made it shine when polished by the Hopewell Indians.

Oops Lost letter spells heritage 'disaster'

A DEVELOPMENT which archaeologists claim could destroy thousands of years of Welsh history was given the go- ahead because a letter went missing.

Monmouth Archaeological Society is dismayed an extension to a business on Monmouth's Monnow Street is taking place without, they allege, proper precautions to protect the town's heritage.

They claim permission was granted for the property to be modified without an archaeological evaluation first taking place and that no requirement was made for the developers to have an expert on site.

. . .

Monmouthshire County Council's head of planning said a letter was sent to umbrella group Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust but it never arrived.

See? If they only used email. . . .

Hmmm. Searching for the 'Mayan Atlantis'

A team of international archaeologists have set sail from Mexico to seek a sunken city that has been dubbed the "Mayan Atlantis", press reports said on Monday.

Quoted by the Mexican newspaper Milenio, team leader Paulina Zelintzky, a Russian archaeologist, said sonar equipment had given indications there could be ancient structures on the ocean floor between Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and Cuba.

According to Milenio, resonances showed geometric images similar to pyramids and round structures. The archaeologists will search the area using a mini-submarine known as "Deep Worker".

Signs there could be Mayan remains on the seabed first surfaced in 2000 when the area next to Cuba's westernmost tip was being explored for petroleum.

Before beginning their project, the archaeologists had to raise $2-million (about R13-million). They set sail from the port of Progreso in eastern Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula. - Sapa-dpa

That's the whole thing. We're rather dubious of this since many geological features can be mistaken for man-made objects. Besides being excellent pattern-recognition animals, the old adage that nature abhors right angles (in addition to a vaccuum) is not really true.

At least they could still dance. . . Artifacts a field of dreams for Mexican village

The ancestors on the hill left no written record. Until a team of Chicago archaeologists came, nobody really thought much about them. And, strangely, some of the urns they left behind showed supernatural figures with two left hands. (hint hint -- Ed.)

Nevertheless, this small village hopes a connection with the 6th century Zapotec community on the nearby hilltop will help preserve their 21st century future, or at least keep some of the teenagers from leaving for Los Angeles.

Good news from Afghanistan Afghan archaeology on road to recovery

Persian and Hellenistic strata uncovered in Bagram (ancient Kapissa) were bulldozed into the ground and destroyed. The Great Buddha from the Bamiyan Valley was dynamited. Everywhere the Taliban destroyed anything that told a story about Afghanistan's cultural and historical heritage, predating their particularly sectarian version of "history."

Now Afghanistan is recovering from years of war and civil strife. Seventy years of hard work and research have been lost through the chaos and anarchy of war. The central government had become so weak that it was not in a position to protect any public or state properties. In the early 1990's, over 60,000 citizens of Kabul died in the fighting, and nearly 70 percent of the objects in the National Museum were plundered.

Remember this when you read yet another story on the Iraq museum and archaeology.