Spring is Here!

Spring has finally arrived, and we have had some nice days here at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Spring is my favorite time of year, with crocuses blooming and the snow finally shifting into rain. Equinoxes, like the spring equinox, are recognized by many Native cultures for various reasons, so I wanted to learn about some Native American spring myths and legends.

One Chippewa Legend tells the story of a cold, old man encountering a young man as he entered his lodge. As they smoked a pipe, the old man said that he was Peboan, the Spirit of Winter, while the younger man said he was Seegwun, the Sprit of Spring. They described their abilities; how one shakes their locks and snow blankets the land, while the other shakes their ringlets and warm rain showers fall. As they spoke the weather changed and Peboan and his lodge dissolved and faded into tiny streams of water, leaving behind the first blossoms of spring as Seegwun grew stronger and more radiant.

Another legend is based on a tribe from the south-western country in Texas, and tells of a time when the beginning of spring was met with bitter cold days, making the people of the tribe suffer from great hunger. The tribe’s medicine man beat his drum and called to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit responded and told him that there was no rain, flowers, or animals, because the tribe had angered him. But, by giving the Great Spirit a burnt offering of something they love and scatter the ashes, then this will please him. A little girl heard what the medicine man had said and realized that she would have to sacrifice her kachina doll, because she felt that nothing could be more loved than it. She sacrificed her doll, and after the ashes had blown away in the wind, the ground began to warm, the smell of spring spread, and a misty rain fell. On the hills around the camp a new flower was growing. They grew in the shape of the little bonnet of feathers her doll had worn. They were blue like the color of feathers, with a speck of red at the center for the fire it had burned in and tipped with silver gray like the ashes that were left behind. The Indians named them bluebonnets and the town knew what the little girl had done. Whenever these flowers appear, the Great Sprit has brought spring.

Because we are still in Women’s History month, I also wanted to include this excerpt from our recent Instagram post, written by fellow graduate student Mikala Hardie, about Bertha Parker Cody who is considered the first Native American female archaeologist. She was of Abenaki and Seneca descent and first learned about archaeology in the field when her uncle took her on one of his digs at a Mesa House site. She is most well known for her discovery at the Gypsum cave site in 1930. Here, she found an ancient ground sloth skull next to human-made tools suggesting that early humans inhabited the United States much earlier than previously thought. In 1933 the Southwest Museum hired her to write up reports of the Gypsum cave site and catalog the artifacts found there. Throughout the rest of her professional career, she wrote a number of articles about the Native American tribes found in California. Currently, she is honored through the SAA’s “Bertha Parker Cody Award for Native American Women”.

I wish you all the best spring!

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Further Reading:



Agatha Christie and Archaeology, An Understated Connection

Has anyone watched the movie Death on the Nile recently? Agatha Christie’s 1937 fictional detective story set in Egypt was recently taken to the big screen, sure to wow any audience, archaeologists included! But did you know that Christie has a strong connection to the world of archaeology, which influenced many of her novels other than Death on the Nile, such as Murder in Mesopotamia, published in 1936, where an archaeologist’s wife is killed, and Death Comes as the End, 1945, another mystery set in Egypt taking place in 2000 B.C.E.

She first visited Egypt in 1910 as a debutante, and later set her first novel in Cairo titled Snow Upon the Desert but was unable to get it published. Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb aided her in her first published work, the short story, Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, in a weekly journal in 1928.

Max Mallowan, Agatha Christie, and Leonard Woolley.

While not a conventional archaeologist, Agatha Christie had a love and passion for the field. Upon an invitation from field director Leonard and his wife Katherine Woolley to the site of Ur in 1928, she took the Orient Express to the Iraqi capital before arriving at the Sumerian city of Ur and coming to understand the methods and awe of archaeology. She spent around 30 years of her life working and living in the East between 1928 and 1958, after meeting her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan who was 15 years her junior, at the site in 1930! They would spend fall and spring in the Middle East, summer in England with her daughter Rosalind, and then the rest of the year either traveling or at home. While working and scouting with her husband, she became an assistant, a field hand, and equipped with an understanding of archaeology which spilled into her books.

In 1933, the Mallowans took a Nile River cruise on their way to an archaeological dig which visited the cities of Luxor and Aswan, followed by another steamer the viewed Karnak and Ramses II’s Abu Simbel temples. After a return to Aswan a few years later and then coming back from the winter spent in Egypt, Death on the Nile was written.

Her earlier travels and duty as an archaeologist’s wife took her to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Greece, Baghdad, Nejef, Kerbala, the site of Nippur, the site of Chagar Bazar, the site of Nimrud, the site of Tell Brak, and many more. Her duties and roles at sites increased as she put archaeology rather than writing first for a change but was still able to bankroll many of her husband’s expeditions through her writing as she spent mornings writing and afternoons completing site work. From 1935-1938 in the

Khabur valley in Syria at the site of Chagar Bazar, Christie would engage in kitchen work, put to use her nursing skills from past experience, supervise the running of meal preparation, collect potsherds, and photograph both the dig and artifacts recovered. Work carried into a second field season in 1936 as they branched into the site of Tell Brak and even into a third until WWII broke out and excavations were halted. The site of Chagar Bazar yielded around 70 cuneiform tablets with insight into the ethnic backgrounds of the former residents of the burned-out palace, and at Tell Brak, the well-known Eye Temple was present. While her husband aided the Air Ministry in Cairo with his knowledge of Arabic during the war, Christie remained in England and published Come, Tell Me How You Live in 1946, a memoir that described her and her husband’s digs in Syria and Iraq.

Agatha Christie photographing an Assyrian ivory figure at Nimrud in Iraq.

At the site of Nimrud from 1949-1959, she began to collect and clean artifacts, even going so far as to use face cream to clean and polish ivory artifacts, a cold-cream wash, as it came to be called. Freed from the social constraints of the Victorian lifestyle, her simplistic tasks that included putting together puzzle-like potsherds, gave her a sense of peace and allowed her to revel in the way archaeology connects the past to the present. At the age of 68, she went on her last dig, which was at Nimrud, still married to Max.

Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan in 1950.

Fictional detective Hercule Poirot states in Death on the Nile, “Once I went professionally to an archaeological expedition and I learnt something there. In the course of an excavation, when something comes out of the ground, everything is cleared away very carefully all around it. You take away the loose earth, and you scrape here and there with a knife until finally your object is there, all alone, ready to be drawn and photographed with no extraneous matter confusing it. That is what I have been seeking to do, clear away the extraneous matter so that we can see the truth, the naked shining truth.” Christie’s interest in archaeology was certainly connected to her love of mysteries. Archaeologists themselves are like detectives, using the left-behind clues of inscriptions or artifacts to decipher the mystery of the past. While Agatha Christie herself was never a recognized archaeologist, and to this day many do not even know about her prominent connections to archaeology, her writings are entrenched in her travels and adventures that inspired readers with her descriptions of ruins and the process of uncovering the past.

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Further Reading:

Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure: By Amanda Adams

The Chickaree Hill Pictograph

On March 3rd we held our second Graduate Colloquium of the semester! We invited Archaeologist Kenneth Burkett to come in-person and talk to us about the Chickaree Hill Pictograph (36CB8), currently the only known prehistoric pictograph site recorded in Pennsylvania! Kenneth Burkett is the Executive Director of the Jefferson County History Center and Field Associate Archaeologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He recently was awarded the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) Crabtree Award, and soon he will be partaking in a 2-year grant study investigating the recorded petroglyph sites in Pennsylvania for their conditions and National Register eligibility status.

The Chickaree pictograph is located on private property in the town of Chickaree in Jackson Township, Cambria County, on a north-sloping upper bench of Laurel Ridge. It was first recorded in 1975 by Dr. Virginia Gerald who was a professor at IUP at the time, and also recorded several other times throughout the eighties and nineties before Burkett began to explore it more in depth in 2017. Advancements in technology and GPS systems have allowed for a more accurate recording of the pictograph’s location.

The pictograph itself is located on the ceiling of a small rock overhang facing north, on a large, sandstone rock tor. It does not appear to somewhere where people would have ‘camped out’ as it faces directly into the wind. What appears to be a test unit was opened up sometime in the past directly in front of the overhang, and the soil beneath the overhang was removed too. The place the rock art was drawn in is a well-protected spot, away from the dripline from rain, in a depressed surface away from weather effects, and also difficult to reach without something to elevate one’s height.

The red, circular pictograph is very small, measuring around 14 cm in diameter. It depicts a bird-like figure with orientation of the detached head facing east and the feet facing west, with what has been interpreted as a tail, and with the body and wings spread out as lines forming a horizontal hourglass pattern. Image digitalization aids like DStrech have been useful in making the patterns more visible.

The pictograph was not painted on with something liquid, rather it was applied by abrading something hard over the stone. A hand-held digital microscope and a portable XRF spectrometer were used to learn more about the pigment and how it might have been applied. The red pigment had a high iron content, which was determined to be the mineral hematite. Burkett used experimental archaeology to determine how siderite could have been heated with an open wood burning campfire to be converted into hematite. He placed a sample of siderite in embers and coals for 2 hours. This allowed the siderite, which prior to firing produces a brown color on a streak plate, to convert to hematite, which produced a more reddish-brown color that was consistent with hematite samples from regional prehistoric sites and the Chickaree pictograph itself.

Burkett then discussed similarities with other sites where hematite traces have been found and sites with similar figures, such as the Indian Cave Petroglyphs aka the Harrison County Pictograph site (46HS1) in West Virginia, petroglyphs within the Upper Ohio and Susquehanna river basins, or the Browns Island site (46HK8) in West Virginia. He questioned why there have not been recorded pictographs in Pennsylvania, besides the Chickaree pictograph. He suggested that perhaps they did not survive as the use of hematite and other natural pigments made them easy to be eroded or degraded from the weather and climate, as well as vegetation, which would both obscure and chemically deteriorate the images. Records from the Sullivan Expedition in 1779 stated that Native American iconography was found on trees or logs, which might be connected to the lack of pictographs found in Pennsylvania, as well.

Although Kenneth Burkett concluded that it is impossible to confirm whether the figure is an authentic prehistoric Native American pictograph or not, there are several considerations he pointed out. For one, the pictograph was put in a place that was naturally protected which contributed to its’ survival over the many years. It is also small and concealed, which is opposite of modern graffiti or vandalism which is typically large and visible to attract attention and was not present at the site. The figure itself is stylistically similar to known prehistoric figures including regional components, however the encirclement of the figure is questionable as it is not common within known styles of other Pennsylvania rock art. And finally, the hematite that was used is expected as the correct pigment.

Burkett also discussed other sites that included large rock landforms that show the importance of these landforms, as well as other parts of the landscape, to prehistoric communities. The Parker’s Landing site in Pennsylvania, popular for the 179 petroglyphs carved into a group of rocks by the Allegheny River, was one such site. He also emphasized that although we are archaeologists, we need to look around at sites in different and new perspectives, such as how the sun might hit parts of the site, or even if it is not a place where people might have settled, they still could have buried someone there or created rock art at the site if the area was important to them.

Burkett emphasized that there are most likely more pictographs out there, but indifference and ignorance might play a role in their inability to be found. However, with public education, hopefully more rock art sites can and will be discovered.

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