Archive for the 'Archaeology' Category

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Starch granules found on Neanderthal teeth

Should We Clone Neanderthals? The scientific, legal and ethical obstacles.

Evidence of a new type of prehistoric humans known as Denisovans, who last shared a common ancestor with modern humans over 1 million years ago,  has been found in a Siberian cave. with Homo sapiens over 1 million years ago..

A 400,000 year-old tooth found in a Israeli cave doubles the age of the oldest known Homo sapiens remains.

How did the Neanderthals die? One theory was that a poor diet that relied too heavily on meat eventually killed them. However, starch granules found on Neanderthal teeth indicate that the species ate a variety of plants and cooked grains.

The rare Cambodian elephant has finally been caught on video.

The fossils of a new species of prehistoric crocodile were discovered in Italian limestone slated to become kitchen counters.

The Shark Conservation Act has been signed into law.

On the Discovery Docket: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

With the season of gift giving upon us, I find myself surrounded by advertisements for “beautiful” things. A diamond necklace, a new car, a flat screen television: all these objects ultimately end up being called “beautiful.” This somewhat cavalier use of the term “beauty” over such a broad spectrum of objects leads me to wonder about the real meaning of the word. What is beautiful, and how do we know?

Dennis Dutton, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Cantebury in New Zealand and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily, has an idea for an answer. What is beauty? Dutton argues that it’s a core part of our human nature – one with deep evolutionary origins that began before we even had the ability to speak.

In his fascinating and wonderfully illustrated Ted Talk, “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty,” Dutton explores the idea of a universal understanding of beauty. According to Dutton, it is possible to discover an evolutionary history of our artistic and aesthetic tastes, and to see how what we presently call beautiful is the result of millennia of influence from the environments our ancestors lived in and the situations they encountered.

My favorite part of Dutton’s talk is his discussion of Acheulian hand axes. Teardrop-shaped stone tools made 1.4 million years ago and found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, Dutton argues that these are tools that became the first known works of art, functioning as sexually selective fitness signals of skill and intelligence the way a male peacock displays his feathers.

The next time you come to the museum, be sure to stop by our exhibit on the Lindenmeier Archaeolgical Site and look at the display of artifacts. It’s easy to look at the artifacts as stone tools: a projectile point, a knife, a scraper. It’s much more awe inspiring, however, to also look at the artifacts as works of art and things of beauty. You’ll be surprised just how much your perspective changes.

So, is anyone planning on giving a hand axe to someone special this year?

Read a transcript of Dutton’s talk here.

One Veteran Remembered

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The Museum published a booklet, The Excavation of Lindenmeier, earlier this year. I researched the section on the “camp life” of the young men that worked on the Smithsonian-led excavations in the 1930s. Most of those young men, in their twenties when they worked on the site, also served in World War II: Jim Greenacre, John Cotter, Charles “Chili” Scoggin, and C.T.R. Bohannon, to name just a few.

Bohannon had an intriguing military career. Remember by Cotter (who received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the landing at Normandy) as a “real long rifle” and “Western toughie,” Bohannon was an officer who survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

Prior to World War II, the Philippines were American-controlled. The Japanese invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941, just 10 hours after the attacking Pearl Harbor, and occupied the country from 1942–1945.

The Japanese aerial bombardment had damaged the American Asiatic Fleet, forcing General MacArthur to retreat. Reinforcements and resupply were impossible given the condition of the fleet there and in Pearl Harbor, leaving the American and Filipino defenders vulnerable and without needed supplies.

After the three-month Battle of Bataan, the remaining American and Filipino defenders surrendered on April 9, 1942. The Japanese forced 76,000 prisoners of war on a 61-mile march to relocate them. Many of these defenders were sick and starving.

The Bataan Death March is recognized as a crime of war. It lasted a week, with the captives forced to march continuously in the tropical heat. An estimated 7,000-10,000 people died on the March, and many thousands more died from the effects of the march while held in prisoner of war camps in San Fernando. Survivors of the March recount horrors that are stomach turning. I often wonder about the fortitude and courage required of “Bo,” as he was known, to survive that torture. I also am awed that he managed to escape the Japanese and join forces with native Filipinos to fight behind the lines against the Japanese.

After his experiences in the Philippines, Bohannon went on to become an expert in guerilla and counter-guerilla warfare for the U.S. Military. He co-wrote a book with Napoleon D. Valeriano in 1962 entitled Counter-Guerrilla Operations: The Philippine Experience. That book was reprinted in 2006 and is still used in military training.

Today, please remember to thank a vet. It’s difficult sometimes to imagine what they have been through to protect freedom.

The Marks People Leave on the Land

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

I recently saw an amazing photograph from Google Earth, courtesy of Dr. Jason LaBelle, archaeologist at CSU’s Department of Anthropology, that I had to share.  Dr. LaBelle is one of many consultants working with our staff to develop exhibits and verify content for our new museum.  I spent Monday morning with him, crouched over a small working surface in his on-campus office pouring over exhibit renderings and artifact lists, debating the merits of highlighting different themes for our exhibit on First Peoples.

One of the themes we want to explore is the continuity of people on this landscape.  As I’ve written before on this blog, people have lived on what is now Northern Colorado for at least 12,000 years (see Why is the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site Important? and We still learn from Lindenmeier).  We see evidence of human presence all over the landscape: from the ancient campsite of Lindenmeier to wagon ruts in the historic Overland Trail to abandoned railroad grades running along side Highway 287 to the highway itself. However, the photograph Dr. LaBelle showed me is one of the only times I’ve seen evidence of human occupation of the land representing an extreme depth of time so concentrated spatially. Take a look.

The photo is an aerial view of Rollins Pass, west of Nederland, Colorado.  In this photo are three obvious trails: a historic 19th century railroad grade, a modern road, and a recreation trail.  Many of our modern pathways follow earlier wagon and foot paths, which usually followed animal trails.  Animals find the easiest way across the landscape and so we benefit from their work and utilize their paths, too, for our roads and railroads.  Given this layering of uses over animal paths, these three trails could represent several hundred years of passing time and various uses.

But this photo captures something much older; ancient, in fact.  A faint dark line can be seen to the south of the obvious lines.  It follows the same contours of the landscape that the other three do.  This is a rock wall built by Paleoindians many thousands of years ago.  It served as part of a game drive system: Paleoindian hunters would drive their prey along the wall to breaks.  The animals would pass through the break and either fall from a precipice or be speared by hunters hiding behind blinds.  According to Dr. LaBelle, people hiking the recreation trail can see this rock wall, and most likely never suspecting the antiquity of it.

One of Dr. LaBelle’s colleagues, Dr. James Benedict, has published many articles about these game drive systems.  High in the Front Range, he has identified over 50 rock-wall game drive systems existing above timberline ranging in age from the Paleoindian era (as long as 11,000 years ago) through Late Prehistoric time (from 2000 to about 200 years ago, give or take).  Eight of them are on Rollins Pass alone!  I’ve been inspired to carefully scan Google Earth for more Paleoindian marks on the landscape.  Maybe you will be, too.


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