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Digs & Discoveries

Off the Grid

Ozette, Washington


Monday, August 22, 2022

SO22 Digs OTG Ozette BeachSO22 Digs OTG PetroglyphFrom the village of Ozette on the westernmost point of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, members of the Makah tribe hunted whales and fished for halibut. They smoked their catch on racks and in smokehouses and traded with neighboring groups from around the Puget Sound and nearby Vancouver Island. Ozette was one of five main villages inhabited by the Makah, an Indigenous people who have been based in the region for millennia and who now mostly live about 15 miles north in Neah Bay on the peninsula’s tip. Tribal oral history and archaeological evidence suggest that, sometime between 1500 and 1700, at least a century before Makah people first came into sustained contact with Europeans, a mudslide destroyed part of the village, covering several longhouses and sealing in their contents. Thousands of artifacts that would not otherwise have survived, including baskets, cradles, clothing, and sleeping mats, as well as bows and arrows, fishhooks, clubs, and other whaling paraphernalia, were preserved under the mud.


In 1970, a storm caused coastal erosion that revealed the remains of these longhouses and artifacts. Collaborative excavations were launched by Makah community members and Washington State University archaeologist Richard Daugherty. The excavations lasted for 11 years and unearthed more than 55,000 artifacts, hundreds of which are now on display at the Makah Museum, housed at the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay. The center’s executive director, Janine Ledford, visited the excavations as a child and studied traditional Makah basketry, learning to make mats and replicas of harpoon sheaths for museum exhibitions. “I learned to weave an older style of beautiful, functional basketry based in part on examples found at Ozette,” says Ledford. “One outcome of the excavations was that Makah artists, including carvers and weavers, were really inspired by the artifacts that were uncovered. They have incorporated forms and styles from objects discovered at Ozette into their work.”



Members of the Makah tribe no longer live at Ozette, but they still visit the area to camp, hike, and fish. In 1981, after the excavations were completed, the site was filled in, and thus the archaeological remains are no longer visible. Along a picturesque four-mile hike to a remote beach, there are rocks featuring Makah petroglyphs. The artwork, Ledford says, includes designs similar to those on objects recovered from Ozette now on display at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. One of these artifacts is a wooden model of the dorsal fin of a female killer whale inlaid with more than 700 sea otter teeth. Interpretive displays and presentations provide background on the material culture and history of the Makah people.



Bring your passport and cross from Port Angeles, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia. Ferries run daily for those who want to experience the beauty of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a passage navigated by Makah mariners for thousands of years.

Herod's Fancy Fixtures


Monday, August 22, 2022

SO22 Digs Israel Teomim CaveAfter being installed as king of Judea by the Romans, Herod the Great launched an expansive building campaign that involved constructing fortresses, palaces, and even entire cities. Herod (r. 37–4 B.C.) also installed massive bathtubs in at least two of his residences—the Kypros Fortress and the Herodium—to foster a Roman-style culture of bathing. Both tubs were made of translucent calcite alabaster and were assumed to have been imported from Egypt as no quarries producing the fine stone were known to have existed in the Levant.


In recent years, however, a calcite alabaster quarry has been discovered in Te’omim Cave, on the western slopes of the Jerusalem hills, near the present-day city of Beth Shemesh. Ayala Amir, while a researcher at Bar-Ilan University, led a team that demonstrated unequivocally that the alabaster used to craft Herod’s tubs, which weigh around 3,300 pounds each, was quarried from Te’omim Cave. “We thought Herod would import materials from the best-known source—Egypt—and surprisingly, he didn’t,” says Amir. “This local quarrying industry must have been well developed, so he decided to use it instead of importing these luxurious materials from abroad.”


SO22 Digs Jerusalem Herod Bathtub

Linking the Lineages


Monday, August 22, 2022

SO22 Digs California Ohlone ExcavationA genetic study comparing DNA from California’s Muwekma Ohlone people and DNA from remains of their ancestors supports the community’s oral history, which contends that the tribe has lived in the area for millennia. Muwekma Ohlone tribal members worked alongside archaeologists at two sites near the town of Sunol in the San Francisco Bay Area, within the group’s traditional territory. The team recovered the remains of 29 individuals at one site, which was inhabited from around 490 B.C. through 1775, and the remains of 76 people at another site, which was occupied between roughly 1345 and 1850. They sequenced the genomes of 12 of these individuals, including one who lived some 2,000 years ago.


“We identified a genetic signature connecting the two sites and then compared that signature to present-day Muwekma Ohlone community members, whose ancestors underwent a harsh colonial process, including forced movements, missionization, and strict social control,” says genetic anthropologist Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “The genetic signature identified in the remains of Muwekma Ohlone ancestors was found in contemporary Muwekma Ohlone community members in high frequency and shows that the community has been in the region for at least 2,000 years.” For more, see “Letter From the Bay Area: California’s Coastal Homelands” (May/June 2022).

The Avars Advance


Monday, August 22, 2022

SO22 Digs Hungary Avars Block REVISEDBeginning in Late Antiquity, around the sixth century A.D., a powerful group of nomads known as the Avars ruled much of Europe—and nearly conquered Constantinople. The Avars were based in the Carpathian Basin at the height of their grip on the region—from the sixth through ninth centuries A.D.—but where they came from has been a mystery. They left no written records, and scholars believe they were probably not literate. Some contemporaneous Byzantine sources portray the Avars as a menace who suddenly appeared in Europe from somewhere to the east. Archaeological discoveries, including weapons and harnesses, at Avar sites in modern-day Hungary are similar to those found on the steppes of eastern Eurasia.


Analysis of DNA extracted from the remains of 66 Avars found in Hungary has provided evidence that they originated in what is now Mongolia and migrated to Hungary, a distance of more than 3,000 miles, over a single decade. “The Avars are the longest-lasting of the steppe empires in this region, longer than the more well-known Huns or Mongols, yet they are poorly understood,” says Patrick J. Geary, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study. “Our next step is to better understand the extent to which this elite group integrated with the local population.”

Pictish Pictograms


Monday, August 22, 2022

JA22 Digs Scotland Pictish StoneA rare carved Pictish stone was unearthed near the village of Aberlemno in eastern Scotland. The 5.5-foot-tall monument, which dates to the fifth or sixth century A.D., is covered with geometric symbols such as disks, ovals, and crescents. “The Picts appear to have created a communication system that is unique and as yet undecipherable,” says University of Aberdeen archaeologist Gordon Noble. “Our best bet is that this was a form of identity marking, perhaps communicating a person’s name or status.” The stone was reused as a paving slab in an eleventh- or twelfth-century structure that was built directly atop an ancient Pictish settlement.


The region of Angus, where the discovery was made, was an important landscape for the Picts in the early Middle Ages, and several other carved monoliths have been recovered there. The pivotal Battle of Nechtansmere is believed to have been fought nearby in A.D. 685. During the battle, the Pictish king Bridei Mac Bili III defeated an army of invading Anglo-Saxons. His victory helped pave the way for the creation of the Kingdom of Scotland some 160 years later.