African American History Month Spotlight, Dr. Alexandra Jones: By Mikala Hardie

In celebration of African American history month, IUP’s Instagram has been featuring one African American archaeologist a week, so we decided to include them on the blog as well! This week’s archaeologist is Dr. Alexandra Jones, a historical archaeologist who specializes in the African Diaspora. Jones first studied at Howard University earning a dual B.A. in History and Anthropology. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she went on to receive an M.A. in History and Anthropology at Howard and U.C. Berkley respectively. She then received her doctorate from U.C. Berkley in 2010 for her research at Gibson Grove, an African American church in Cabin John, Maryland.

Most of her work involves the community and focuses on public outreach in archaeology. Around the time when she was developing her dissertation, she realized that not a lot of people in her home community knew about archaeology or the heritage that was right below their feet. This is why she decided to start her non-profit “Archaeology in the Community” which organizes educational events for kids K-12, events for the community, and professional development for aspiring archaeologists all with the aim to educate the public of their archaeological heritage. She also created customizable programs for schools to incorporate into their curriculum in order to expand the understanding of archaeology. Archaeology in the community’s most recent project is an informational app for children that is free and available to download on apple and android.

You may have also seen Dr. Jones teaching field schools on PBS’s “Time Team America” a show that aims to give viewers an “over the shoulder” look into what archaeologists do. These field schools took place at a plethora of sites in Maryland, Oklahoma, and Colorado and involved students at the junior high and high school level. Jones taught them how to properly conduct an archaeological project including how to survey, keep records, and conserve the artifacts that they found. Additionally, at the Josiah Henson site, Dr. Jones taught her students about the importance of working with the decendent communities to gain a greater understanding of the people who inhabited the area.

Her current project is called the Hollowed Ground Project and is at Goucher College, where she is currently employed. Since the college is situated on an old plantation site, this project researches the slavery and racism that took place there in attempts to honor the enslaved people who came before. The project also helps contribute to the larger body of research that examines how the historical enslavement of African Americans contributes to the institutional racism and predjudice that occurs today.

Dr. Alexandra Jones is still active in the Archaeological community and is a part of the Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA) and the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) to name a few. She recently received the SHA’s John L.Cotter award for her work in public archaeology and engaging the community.

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I DIG U Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and we are here to gear you up with some archaeological and historical related material to prepare you for this candy-giving, love-spreading holiday! As many know, the origin of Valentine’s Day is rooted both in the Catholic Saint from whom it is named after as well as secular customs. The exact details of how the martyrdom of St. Valentine led to the holiday we celebrate today are not well-known, but the tales are similar. Three different St. Valentines actually share February 14th as their feast day, with the first being a priest and physician in Rome during the third century who is said to have been condemned to death by Emperor Claudius II after either aiding martyrs or by performing marriages after the emperor had outlawed them due to the belief that unmarried men made better soldiers. Another story states that he was a Bishop, Saint Valentine of Terni, who was ordered by Emperor Claudius II to be arrested, beaten, and beheaded as well. The third St. Valentine is said to have served in and become a martyr in Africa, but not much else is known about this saint.

Some legends continue that either the St. Valentine of Rome or the St. Valentine of Terni, while in jail before their executions, signed a letter to the jailer’s daughter whom they had befriended with “From your Valentine,” thus leading to the commonly used expression today. St. Valentine is said to have been buried on the Flaminian way, with Pope Julius I (AD 333-356) building a basilica at the site, preserving his tomb. Archaeological excavations during the 1500s and 1800s at the basilica found evidence of the tomb of St. Valentine, most likely the St. Valentine of Rome, and relics were transferred to the Church of Saint Praxedes in the 13th century, where they remain today. Although each story is slightly different, the underlying themes of the legends are similar.

Around the world, people celebrate St. Valentine in a variety of ways. Of course, we know that Americans typically send cards or letters, chocolate, and flowers to their sweethearts, friends, and family on February 14th. In Denmark, on the same day, friends and sweethearts exchange white flowers called snowdrops and “joking letters” or gaekkebrev, a funny poem or rhyme written on a paper with cut decorations and lacking a signature, with only a number of dots corresponding to the number of letters in the anonymous sender’s name. If you can guess the sender, you will later receive an Easter egg on Easter Sunday, but if you do not, you owe the sender one. In South Korea February 14th was originally a day for women to give chocolate to men as a sign of affection, but marketing has changed it more into a couple’s day. However, on March 14th, also called White Day, men then give women primarily white gifts to answer the Valentine’s Day gifts. And finally, on Black Day, April 14th, singles who did not receive a gift on either of the prior days, eat jjajangmyeon, or Black Noodles. Brazil’s Valentine’s Day is known as Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” “Day of the Enamored,” or “Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day,” and it is actually celebrated on June 12th. They celebrate on that day due to its’ proximity to St. Anthony’s Day on June 13th, a Saint in Brazil believed to bless young couples with a prosperous marriage. They too, like Americans exchange gifts, flowers, and chocolates, as well as have grand dinners.

The Lovers of Valdaro

The skeleton’s of the embracing couple from the Northern Wei period (International Journal of Osteoarchaeology).

Here are some romantic archaeological discoveries that are sure to make you believe in true love this upcoming Valentine’s Day.  The “Lovers of Valdaro,” the Neolithic, entangled, male and female corpses from 6,000 years ago found in Mantua, Italy in 2007, are well-known figures representing “eternal love”, despite evidence that they were positioned in this way after death because they were buried in a necropolis. In 2021 in the city of Datong, Shanxi Province, China, the remains of a man and women wrapped in an embrace were discovered while excavating more than 600 tombs at a cemetery uncovered during construction work. They lived during the Northern Wei period (386 to 534 A.D.), another example of “embracing each other for eternal love during the afterlife.” Similar intimate burials include the skeletons dating to 5,800 years ago found at Alepotrypa, a cave in Laconia, Greece, the double burials of the Bronze Age Vysotskaya culture in the Ukraine, the two 14th century skeletons holding hands at a site in Leicestershire, England, dozens of Bronze Age couple burials belonging to the Andronovo culture found in Siberia, and many more.

The love letter found on the chest of 16th century mummy of Eung-tae (Andong National University).

Other romantic discoveries must include love letters. Archaeologists in South Korea found several in a tomb by the mummified body of a 16th century male named Eung-tae, a member of Korea’s ancient Goseong Yi clan. His pregnant wife wrote them around 1568 A.D., expressing her grief and hope of seeing him in her dreams. A 4,000-year-old Sumerian clay tablet called Istanbul #2461 or “The Love Song for Shu-Sin,” holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest surviving love poem. It is currently held at the Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient in Turkey. Dating to around 2025 B.C., it contains a ballad written by the priestess bride professing her love the king Shu-Sin. It is also postulated that this ballad is part of a sacred rite or ‘sacred marriage’ that takes place each year, for a ceremonial and symbolic marriage to the goddess Inanna (the goddess of fertility and sexual love) through one of her priestesses, to make both soil and women fertile.

As the sign says, the world’s oldest love poem.

There are many more symbols of love found amongst archaeological sites, carved into monuments and stone, evident in ancient rings, described and depicted on fading papers, all remnants of the universally shared emotion. As Valentine’s Day approaches, and you receive candy hearts and vibrant red roses, perhaps ponder how archaeologists hundreds or thousands of years from now will interpret the professions of love that you left behind! Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Status of Afghanistan’s National Museum and Cultural Treasures

People visiting the National Museum of Afghanistan, Dec, 21, 2021. (AFP)

While discussing property law theory in one of our classes, Law and Ethics, I remembered the crisis Afghanistan was and is still facing and began to wonder about the state of their antiquities, cultural resources, and museums, under the Taliban’s rule. Little did I know that this had been a subject discussed heavily in the media only a few months ago, so I decided to dig into some past and current events to reveal the status and state of Afghanistan’s cultural history.

After years of conflict and negotiations, in February 2020 the U.S. government and the Taliban signed a peace agreement, which included a timeline by which U.S. troops would withdrawal from Afghanistan. While the U.S. pledged full withdrawal withing 14 months, the Taliban pledged “to prevent territory under its control from being used by terrorist groups and enter into negotiations with the Afghan government.” Unfortunately, with no official cease-fire in place, the Taliban eventually resumed attacks on Afghan civilians, their government, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Despite U.S. air strikes and raids against the Taliban, the Taliban’s violence and suicide attacks allowed them to make territorial gains throughout 2020 and 2021. In April 2021, President Joe Biden announced the removal of U.S. military forces by September 2021 from Afghanistan. The Taliban increased their attacks on urban areas and border crossings, and by mid-August, they had captured all provincial capitals, causing the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee, along with thousands of citizens.

One of the Buddhas of Bamiyan before it was destroyed by Taliban. (Associated Press)

Afghanistan is no stranger to devastation and violence, especially when it comes to their cultural resources. During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s many of their archaeological sites were illegally excavated and looted. 12th century items from the palace of Mas’ud III were looted and sold on the black market in the 1990s during the Afghanistan civil war. In 1992, after the end of communist rule, an estimated 70% of the 100,000 pieces in the National Museum in Kabul’s collection, were looted or damaged. From 1994-2001, the “Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism,” some dating to the 2nd century A.D., were stolen and sold to collections around the world. The Taliban destroyed many libraries and museums, persecuted academics, and outlawed art from 1996-2001. Despite the Taliban Minister of Culture claiming in 1999 that Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage would be protected under his rule, in 2001 the Taliban proceeded to blast with dynamite and artillery the well-known Buddhas of Bamiyan cliff statues, which dated to the 6th century.

The destruction of one of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. (Getty Images)

Today, with Afghanistan once again controlled by the Taliban, and repeated claims that Afghanistan heritage will be safe, the international community is still skeptical. Although there have been statements claiming they have forbidden the selling of antiquities on the black market, instructed fighters to protect and safeguard historical sites, and vowed to stop the looting of archaeological digs, many think the Taliban could easily hold Afghanistan’s cultural heritage hostage in the future. As academics, archaeologists, and curators flee the nation, preservation projects are put on hold, and looting increases, many also question if the artifacts and cultural objects will fall prey to neglect.

Since the destructions in the 1990s and into the 2000s, documentation of Afghan cultural heritage has improved with the creation of museum collection catalogues, archaeological site maps, 3-D models of heritage building, and much more, but the threat of destroying the collections, sites, buildings, and artifacts themselves remains. Although a contingency plan to remove 50,000 of the treasures and move them to safter locations had been created in case of an emergency, the Taliban’s quick takeover prevented this plan from happening.

The National Museum of Afghanistan.

After being seized by the Taliban in August 2021, the National Museum of Afghanistan reopened late November of the same year, under the protection of Islamic Emirate soldiers. As expected, visitor numbers have dropped, but some hope the reopening is a sign that their Afghan heritage might remain protected and see it as a chance for residents of Kabul, travelers, and younger generations a chance to learn about the history and culture held in the more than 80,000 artifacts contained in the museum. The Taliban have also allowed Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, the director of the museum, the remain in his position. However, some see the reopening as a political move, as music in public areas has still been banded, limitations on radio and television have been put in place, street murals have been painted over, and in Bamiyan just last year the Taliban blew up a statue of the Shitte militia leader Abdul Ali Mazari, whom they killed in 1995. The fundamentalist Taliban are known for their ideological rejection of art that is not considered Islamic or art that portrays living beings. The museum itself contains artifacts, such as their pottery collection, decorated with images of animals and humans, but apparently no changes have been made to restrict what is being displayed. While some also assume the Taliban is trying to project a more “moderate” image, others see reopening as a way to get sanctions lifted and international aid unsuspended.

A museum employee in front of a destroyed statue in the basement of the Kabul Museum in 2001. (AP Photo/Marco Di La Lauro.

The National Museum of Afghanistan is currently open only three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with staff being unpaid and visitors only allowed admission with a permission letter from the Islamic Emirate. The Taliban is also in control of the Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist monastery, including the 10,000 artifacts excavated from the site. They control the new museum in the Herat citadel, smaller museums and collections in Kandahar, Ghazni, and Balkh, as well as The Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

Afghanistan is first and foremost facing a humanitarian crisis, as people flee and many who remain sink into poverty. Many cultural heritage staff in Afghanistan and others who have fled, claim to have received threats from the Taliban, as well. When it comes to the safety of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan for now, many can only watch and wait.

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Further Reading:,across%20the%20border%20to%20Pakistan.,Taliban%20Vows%20to%20Protect%20Afghan%20Cultural%20Heritage%2C%20but%20Fears%20Persist,the%20destruction%20of%20prior%20years.

In Celebration of Black History Month

February is dedicated as Black History Month, as seeing as it is soon approaching, let’s learn about some African Americans who have solidified themselves into the history of archaeology.

John Wesley Gilbert, 1888

Many have heard of John Wesley Gilbert, considered to be the first African American archaeologist. Born free in 1863, this man went on to become a graduate from Paine College who also went on to be the first African American to receive their master’s degree from Brown University; his master’s was in Archaeology. Along with being a professor, Dr. Gilbert was also a minister and missionary. He did fieldwork at the Greek city of Eretria, helping to discover it and create the first map of the area, established a church and school in the village of Wembo-Nyama in the Belgian Congo, and taught subjects such as Greek, Latin, English, French, German, Hebrew, and New Testament literature as an educator. He passed away in 1923, but his achievements continue to inspire all archaeologists.

Dr. Theresa Singlton, Syracuse University

Another notable figure in African American archaeology is Dr. Theresa Singleton, the first African American women to receive a Ph.D. in historical archaeology and African American history from the University of Florida in 1980. She is also the first and only African American to be awarded the Society of Historical Archaeology’s J.C. Harrington Award to this date. Dr. Singleton’s areas of interest are historical archaeology, African Diasporas, Museums, North America, and the Caribbean. She focuses on comparative studies of slave societies in the Americas and the Caribbean, concentrating on culture and plantation life under slavery. She is currently an author and associate professor at Syracuse University teaching anthropology and historical archaeology.

A great resource centered on supporting archaeologists of African descent is The Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA).

Based in Washington D.C., but consisting of members from throughout the world, this group was founded in 2011. They seek to “increase the number of professionally trained archaeologists of African descent through the promotion of social responsibility, academic excellence, and the creation of spaces that foster the SBA’s goals and activities.” Their website includes resources such as online maps and databases, interviews from their Oral History Project, and links to other related websites. This non-profit organization has hosted online presentations as well, that can still be watched through the link below:

Check out the achievements of the current board members, President Justin Dunnavant, Ph.D., President-Elect Ayana Omilade Flewellen, Ph.D., member Alexandra Jones, Ph.D., member Cheryl LaRoche, Ph.D., and member Jay V. Haigler here:

As February, and therefore Black History Month, is not too far away, consider checking out this organization, their talks, or the other related websites they have listed!

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Archaeology of Glaciers and Ice

2022 has arrived and so have students here at Indian University of Pennsylvania as a new spring semester begins! We were welcomed back for the first day of classes with around a foot of snow this Monday the seventeenth. While we may be hoping for these icy, cold mounds of snow to melt away, there are other fields of ice around the world that we wish were not melting as fast as they are. Glaciers in many parts of the world are melting as global temperatures rise. Glaciers and ice patches, while revealing many preserved artifacts as they melt, also produce a host of other challenges when it comes to finding and retrieving these artifacts.

Mouth of the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska.

The constant movement of ice within glaciers tends to crush and damage artifacts and bodies, before dumping them at the mouth of the ice flow. Some researchers say that glaciers rarely preserve objects for more than 500 years. Areas such as non-moving fields of ice attached to glaciers, and even more likely, ice patches (isolated non-moving or very slow-moving accumulations of ice) are turned to as potentially better sources to explore for preserved artifacts.

Ice patches at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Ice patches reveal more intact artifacts; however, with accessibility also comes exposure to the elements. Ice patches are susceptible to rising temperatures, summer wind and temperatures, winter wind direction and strength, and precipitation. Ice patches change quickly in response to the climate, thus allowing meltwater and wind to cause artifacts to become encapsulated in old ice or displaced from where they were originally lost. With climate change more artifacts are being exposed and objects made from soft organic materials, like hides or textiles, have at most, a year before they are lost to history forever.

Ice mummy of the six-to-eight-month old wooly mammoth baby named Dima in situ near Kirgiljach River in northeast Siberia. Dated to 37,000 B.C.

Glacier archaeologists, doing more hiking than digging, have uncovered a range of incredible historical treasures from ice mummies to Viking trade routes, extinct animal species, thousands of year-old organic artifacts like arrows, throwing spears, skis, and so much more. Researchers around the world are striving to make efforts toward saving artifacts emerging from the ice, including the U.S. National Park Service with their Glacier National Park Ice Patch project, and the well-known Glacier Archaeology Program in Innlandet, Norway, which has recovered over 3,000 artifacts, the oldest finds dating to 6,000 years old. Ground-penetrating radar and ice coring have been used to collect artifact and sediment samples, while predictive models for melting glaciers and ice patches could be good sources suggesting where archaeologists should focus future efforts.

Along with melting glaciers and ice patches, oceanfront erosion and receding coastlines are also prevalent in some parts of the world, causing sites to be washed away while others rot in the ground. As many archaeologists understand, the loss of any part of any culture’s history is not only devastating to them, but to the history and heritage of humanity. Losing the artifacts and bodies kept preserved for so many years in ice is losing knowledge that could contribute to broader understandings of humanity.

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Photos from Wikimedia commons

Gobble, Gobble! It’s Time for Turkey!

Let’s dig into some history about the famous gobbling bird, the holiday we love to eat it on, and the archaeology of the area the tradition originated from!

The modern domestic turkeys we see today are descended from ones domesticated by Mayans in Mexico around 2,000 years ago. Evidence for Turkey domestication has also been dated to around 2,000 years ago in the American Southwest, Four Corners region, by the Ancestral Puebloans. Sites like Basketmaker III sites have included evidence such as

Designs incorporating turkeys from black-on-white bowls made during the Classic Mimbres phase in southwestern New Mexico, as drawn in essays by Jesse Walter Fewkes, published by the Smithsonian in 1923 and 1924.

droppings, eggshells, and feathers. Turkeys were kept for food but also most likely valued for their feathers, used for ritual objects and even textiles. It has also been argued that turkeys were used in ritual sacrifices.

The earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the ancient Mayan world is from turkey bones discovered by archaeologists at the site of EL Mirador in Guatemala, dating to 300 B.C. to 100 A.D. Along with archaeological, zooarchaeological, and ancient DNA, researchers were able to determine that the non-local turkeys indicate a Preclassic exchange of animals between northern Mesoamerica and the Maya cultural region. The evidence represents the earliest Mesoamerican domestication and rearing of turkeys and provides information on long-distance trade connections.

Turkey eggshells and bones from an offering 1,500 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico. (

The original Thanksgiving dinner or Harvest Feast that lasted for three days at the Plymouth Colony in 1621 was most certainly smaller and less varied than what we gorge on today. An English leader who was present at the meal, Edward Winslow, wrote in a letter to a friend, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…many of the Indians coming amongst us…for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer.” Turkeys were mentioned by William Bradford of Plymouth while describing the 1621 autumn, “And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild Turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison,” increasing the chance that turkeys were present at the meal.

Plymonth Rock. (

Today, archaeologists and graduate students with the University of Massachusetts-Boston excavate undeveloped lots on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, near the National Historic Landmarks site which includes the Pilgrims first cemetery which was a Wampanoag Village thousands of years before. With plans for a permanent memorial titled Remembrance Park, opportunities for excavations are becoming more limited. The Park will focus on The Great Dying of 1616-1619 when diseases from Europeans plagued the Wampanoag and killed around 50,000, the first and harsh winter the Pilgrims experience in 1620-162, and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The construction of the park is scheduled for 2023 unless archaeologists make extraordinary finds. Linda Coombs, a Wampanoag tribal leader and activist states, “The Park is intended to acknowledge and preserve what we’ve all lived through in 2020. It’s an opportunity to bring the past and present together in ways we never could have foreseen.”

So please enjoy your turkey this Thanksgiving, but do not forget the history behind the holiday!

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Green Cabin Quarry Rhyolite Flakes: By Dr. Lara Homsey-Messer

Several undergraduate and graduate students are working in the IUP Archaeology lab processing thousands to rhyolite flakes excavated from the Green Cabin quarry site, located in Adams County, PA, on the hillslopes of South Mountain, just east of the Carbaugh Run Natural Area. Green Cabin is one of hundreds of quarry loci where rhyolite for making stone tools was quarried prehistorically in the South Mountain region.

The Precambrian-aged rhyolite in South Mountain originated as lava over 500 million years ago. About 250 million years ago, this lava was altered by heat and pressure associated with mountain building resulting from the collision of North America and Africa. This process resulted in a strong, fine-grained, and intergranular texture conducive to knapping into stone tools. Rhyolite varies widely in color and texture, sometimes even within one quarry location. During the Archaic and Woodland cultural periods, Native Americans quarried for high-quality material in pits measuring approximately 6-8 feet in depth and 20 feet in diameter. Today, the quarry pits appear as subtle depressions that have been backfilled prehistorically by the excavation of adjacent pits, as well as historically by erosion and vegetative debris.

What has long puzzled archaeologists is why prehistoric people went to so much work to dig pits down to bedrock when it could have been more easily collected from the surface. The other question of interest is why they quarried in some locations and not others where rhyolite outcrops. In order to help answer these questions, and with a permit from the PA SHPO and DCNR, Paul Marr of Shippensburg University began excavating the Green Cabin site in 2020. Thousands of flakes and debitage were recovered from 3 pits approximately a meter deep each.

Students are conducting a lithic and geologic analysis of the material. This includes measuring the size of the flakes, determining the type of flake, as well as describing the geology in terms of color, texture, volcanic structures and phenocrysts (i.e., large crystals of quartz and potassium feldspar embedded in the fine-grained groundmass).

Usually, quarry lithics exhibit evidence for early-stage reduction:  large flakes with a lot of weathering rind on them—this cortex must be removed in order to evaluate the suitability of the stone for knapping, and to reduce the initial size of cobbles for transport elsewhere for further reduction. But at Green Cabin, we were surprised to find a large proportion of small, later stage reduction flakes, suggestion that more reduction was happening at this quarry then one would expect.

The answer may lie partly in the unique geologic setting of Green Cabin itself. Marr notes several anomalous features: the site sits on a mid-slope bench rather than a ridgetop like most of the quarries; there are no outcrops of similar rhyolite within several hundred meter; and it is covered by a thick layer of colluvium, such that bedrock is very deep here—the prehistoric miners were not digging to bedrock in this location.  Marr argues that this flow of material plucked fractured bedrock from upslope and moved it downhill, making quality rhyolite available near the surface.

Work is ongoing and is expected to continue into the spring semester. We also anticipate comparing the material from Green Cabin to material excavated at ridgetop quarry sites in the region. As we increase our sample size and see a wider array of material from other sites, we hope to be able to answer some of the questions related to selection criteria, quarry location, and why the quarried material was reduced further here than at other quarry locations.

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Why Do the Leaves Change Color in Fall?

When the days shorten and temperatures fall, the season of autumn begins, most noticeably with the changing color and falling of leaves. As plants stop making what gives them their green color, chlorophyll, due to the colder and darker weather, they instead break it down into smaller molecules, changing the leaves from green into shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple with the carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments accumulating in the leaves in the absences of the chlorophyll. If plants can break down and move the chlorophyll out of the leaves before the leaves fall, they save energy by reabsorbing the molecules that make up chlorophyll so when it is sunnier again, they do not have to start from the beginning to make chlorophyll, as it takes a lot of energy to do so.

While some like to believe that old Jack Frost has a hand in changing leaf colors, long before this legend and modern science, Native American tribes had other explanations for the beautiful fall leaf colors we experience every year. Enjoy reading summaries of some of these ancient Native American legends about why the leaves change color or why they fall (see links below for the full stories!):

The Algonquin believed that there was once a great bear threatening the people of the tribe, by eating their food, destroying their homes, and mauling their women and children. Warriors from several tribes had to come together to hunt it, chasing the bear for months over mountains and seas. One arrow finally pierced the bear but did not kill it. The pain caused the bear to rear up to the heavens where it is still chased by the warriors to this day around the earth. In autumn, the bear rises above the horizon, dripping its blood onto the trees below, causing them to change color.

A similar Haudenosaunee legend also includes a great bear that was stealing the animals the villagers relied on as food. As hunger increased, many parties of warriors went out to kill the bear but failed. Three brothers for three nights had the same recurring dream that they would track and kill the bear. After setting off, they tracked the bears to the end of the earth, following it into the heavens as it leaped from the earth into the sky. The three brothers are still chasing it to this day, and as the bear slows down in the fall to prepare for its winter sleep, the brothers are able to get close enough to injure the bear with arrows, causing the blood to drip down and paint the leaves of fall. Both legends state that the bear reappears in the sky as the Big Dipper, with the warriors still chasing him (they are the handle).

Other similar myths say that celestial hunters do capture the bear each fall, changing the leaves to red from the bears blood, but also as the hunters cook the bear, the fat that spatters out of the great kettle in the sky color the leaves yellow or turn the grass white!

A Lakota legend states that as the winter weather approached, the “grass and flower folk were in sad condition, for they had no protection from the sharp cold.” Then, “he who looks after the things of His creation came to their aid,” by telling the leaves of the trees to fall to the ground to create a warm blanket to protect the roots of the grass and flowers. To repay the trees, he let them have “one last bright array of beauty.” Therefore, every Indian summer, the leaves fall after their display of “farewell colors” to follow their “appointed task-covering the Earth with a thick rug of warmth against the chill of winter.”

A Wyandot (Huron) legend also involves a bear, along with a deer. The selfish Bear who “often made trouble among the Animals of the Great Council” sought out the Deer who had walked over the Rainbow Bridge into the sky land. The Bear said to the Deer, “This sky land is the home of the Little Turtle. Why did you come into this land? Why did you not come to meet us in the Great Council? Why did you not wait until all the Animals could come to live here?” The Deer became angry, believing that only the Wolf could ask these questions. The Deer tried to kill the Bear with his horns, tearing into him, as they fought. The noise from the battle urged the Wolf into the sky to stop the fighting, and both animals fled. The blood of the Bear fell from the Deer’s horns onto the leaves below, changing them to red, yellow, brown, scarlet, and crimson. Each year the leaves take on the multitude of colors, and the Wyandots say “the blood of the Bear has again been thrown down from the sky upon the trees of the Great Island.”

While these are probably only a few of the myths and variations of past reasonings behind the changing of the leaves, they are beautiful stories and a lasting part of Native American history and legends. I hope you enjoyed these small summaries and pause to appreciate the gorgeous, colorful leaves this fall!

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Happy Halloween, Be On the Lookout for Witches!

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s learn more about one of the holidays most popular figures, the witch! What does the history of this crooked nosed, cauldron brewing, broomstick flying, black pointed hat character look like? What does witchcraft look like in historical and modern contexts?

The Book of Samuel 1 from the Bible, written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C., contains one of the earliest mentions of a witch. To help defeat the Philistine army, the Witch of Endor is used by a King to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel from the dead. The witch is able to do so, but the now alive Samuel prophesies the Kings death, as well as his sons, which comes to pass the very next day. Other bible verses from the Old Testament condemn witches and warn people not to take part in witchcraft or other related activities.

In the 11th century, the belief in witches and their abilities to fly was approached with skepticism rather than taken as fact. Bishop Burchard of Worms stated that, “Some wicked women, turning back to Satan and seduced by the illusions and phantasms of demons, believe [that] in the night hours they ride on certain animals with the pagan goddess Diana and a countless multitude of women, and they cross a great span of the world in the stillness of the dead of night.” While women were seen as more susceptible to demons during this time, men too were convicted of witchcraft.

By the mid-1400s, in places like Europe, skepticism turned to facts, and fear took ahold as people looked for witches among themselves. The book “Malleus Maleficarum” or “The Hammer of Witches,” written in 1486 by two German Dominicans, most likely aided and spurred on the hunt for witches. The book enabled one to identify witches and pointed to women as more likely to be one. One passage reads, “Just as through the first defect in their [women’s] intelligence they are more prone to abjure the faith; so through their second defect of inordinate passions…they inflict various vengeances through witchcraft. Wherefore it is no wonder that so great a number of witches exist in this sex.” By the 16th century thousands, mostly women, were accused and killed on the basis of witchcraft throughout Europe.

In the New World, witch hysteria also took root more into the 17th century, with the execution of Alse Young, the first person in America the be executed for witchcraft in 1647 in Windsor, Connecticut. Prior to the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, in 1655 Lower Norfolk County in the state of Virginia actually passed a law that made it a crime to falsely accuse someone of witchcraft. While Virginia still had several witch trials from 1626 to 1730, no one was executed.

Proctor’s Ledge.

In contrast, the accused in Salem, Massachusetts numbered over 150. Nineteen people were hanged, both men and women, starting with Bridget Bishop on June 10th. Seven more died in jail, and a man named Giles Corey was pressed to death by stones during the trials, as well. As a quick note for archaeology: although Proctor’s Ledge was theorized to have been the location where the hangings took place in Salem according to historian Sidney Perley in 1921, in 2016, a team of researchers concluded this fact using GIS and an overlooked piece of testimony.

While external factors are believed to have played a larger role in Salem (fungus’ causing delusions and fits) thus intensifying witch mania in this town, not all of the new world was out on a witch hunt during the 17th and 18th century. The hysterics over witches declined as time passed and laws were put into place to protect people from being wrongly accused.

Poster from the Netflix series Chilling Adventrues of Sabrina released in 2018.

Today witchcraft is often practiced by Wiccans, and witches are portrayed in pop culture in movies and TV shows. From the cult-classic Hocus Pocus, to the terrifying The Witches, the beloved sitcom Bewitched, and the recently, re-imagined Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, witches are portrayed with a variety of personalities and agendas. While witch hunts are over, our fascination with this figure is not.

Hope you all have a spooky Halloween!

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Further Reading:

A Trip to Meadowcroft

The second colloquium for our Applied Archaeology graduate students was held on October 16th with a trip to the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village for their Archaeology Day event.

The Meadowcroft Rockshelter is marketed as one of the oldest sites of human habitation in North America. The large overhang of sandstone was undercut by the Cross Creek waters over tens of thousands of years ago, creating the rockshelter used by people starting as early as 19,000 years ago. After farmer Albert Miller discovered what looked like a prehistoric tool in 1955 on his property, he connected with Dr. James Adovasio from the University of Pittsburgh nearly twenty years later in 1973. Dr. Adovasio led a field school excavation of the site over the following six years. Excavations and tedious work recovered around 20,000 artifacts, almost a million animal remains, and over 1.4 million plant remains.

In 2005 the site was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

Today, people across the U.S. and the world can visit the site in its modern enclosure. The enclosure was built in 2008 to protect the site and create an ideal viewing spot for visitors, highlighting stratigraphy layers and where major artifacts were found.

Along with touring the Rockshelter, students explored the Historic Village, the Prehistoric Indian Village, the Frontier Trading Post, exhibits, and met with several interpreters and craftspeople along the way.

At the 16th century Monongahela Indian Village, students had the chance to see the recreated dome-shaped dwellings, meet with someone who has been doing flint napping for over 30 years, and even got to try atlatl throwing! The atlatl was a prehistoric spear throwing device used by American Indians for hunting.

At the 18th century frontier trading post, students observed a typical early European trading shelter used in Western Pennsylvania. Students met with an informative interpreter who let them try their hand at tomahawk throwing!

Students crossed the Pine Bank Covered Bridge to check out the 19th century historic village filled with rural architecture and artifacts the Miller family put together. An interpreter dressed as a schoolmaster described the typical day-to-day life for a student in the 1800s, and how he would have taught lessons in the one-room schoolhouse visitors were seated in. Students also has a chance to observe a log house, log church, and a blacksmith shop.

Students visited the Miller Museum, complete with a Carriage Museum, Farm Implement Museum, Barn Exhibit, and Harness Racing Exhibit. Before leaving students also checked out prehistoric textile spinning and weaving demonstrations.

The day was filled with learning, and if you ever get the chance, you should definitely take the time to experience the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village.

Check out the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village Website to look for upcoming events:

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