A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
By JULIAN SMITH
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Tamara Bray of Wayne State University walks through a municipal lot in a suburb of the colonial city of Ibarra, in the Andean highlands of northern Ecuador. At 7,550 feet on the northern slope of Imbabura Volcano, the equatorial sun has an intensity that burns through the occasional cool breeze. Chickens peck in the dirt and we can hear children playing at a school nearby. As we walk through the lot, which is now an archaeological site called Inca-Caranqui, Bray explains that the local people knew this was an ancient settlement long before the first archaeological surveys in the late 1990s. Just across the street stand two walls—one 130 feet long and the other 165—that were built by the Inca. One wall has traces of three trapezoidal doorways with remnants of plaster and pigments.
Ecuadorian archaeologist José Echeverría leads us through the site, down a winding path that follows the low outlines of partially excavated walls. He explains that, in 2006, he was helping clear debris left over from a brickmaking operation when he uncovered some Inca masonry at the east end of the site, which turned out to be part of a large ceremonial pool about 33 by 55 feet in size. It was dug to a depth of four to five feet below the modern ground level and was surrounded by walls about three feet high. The walls and floor were made of finely cut and fitted stone.
Bray and Echeverría believe the pool may date to a period in the early 1500s, shortly after the Inca ruler Huayna Capac had concluded a 10-year war of conquest against the local people, the Caranqui. Legend has it that Huayna Capac had every adult male Caranqui executed. Their bodies were thrown into a lake known today as Yahuarcocha, or the “Lake of Blood,” on Ibarra’s northeast edge. Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de León estimated the conflict left 20,000 to 50,000 Caranqui dead.
Bray and Echeverría think that in the aftermath of that bloodshed, the Inca built the pool as part of a construction project that was meant to demonstrate their power to their new Caranqui subjects. The ceremonial pool would have represented a considerable investment of wealth and labor by the Inca. It also would have showed their skill as engineers by bringing water from as far as five and a half miles away and demonstrated their mastery over a resource with powerful religious symbolism.
By KATE RAVILIOUS
Thursday, March 19, 2015
In 2002, Ola and Arnie Tait decided they wanted to change the view from their kitchen window. Rather than staring at a sheep pasture, they envisioned looking out onto a wildflower meadow full of poppies, cornflowers, buttercups, and singing birds. Their farm, on Orkney, a remote archipelago of 70 islands 10 miles off the north coast of Scotland, sits in a stunning natural setting, on a narrow strip of land between two sparkling lochs, and is equidistant from two of the most significant Neolithic stone circle monuments: the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, each less than a mile away. In 2003, the Taits plowed their field in preparation for planting that meadow. Just as they rounded the last bend, the plow brought up a surprise: a notched slab of stone. They showed the find to Orkney’s regional archaeologist, Julie Gibson, who thought it might be a side panel from a Bronze Age stone coffin. “This find implied that there were human remains under the field, so a test trench was opened,” says Roy Towers, an archaeologist at the Orkney campus of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Years have passed and the Taits are still not looking at their wildflower meadow. Rather, they have a prime view of one of the most spectacular Neolithic ceremonial complexes ever discovered. Spanning a millennium of activity beginning around 5,000 years ago, these exquisitely preserved buildings, including foundations and low walls, are revealing how Neolithic society changed over time, and why Orkney—despite its seemingly remote location—was at the center of Neolithic Europe. “Thank goodness the Taits didn’t use a deep plow, or else we’d have been looking at a pile of rubble,” says Towers.
Instead of digging up a Bronze Age coffin in the 2003 test trench, as they expected, the archaeologists uncovered part of a finely crafted Neolithic wall. “It had sharp internal angles, beautifully coursed stonework, and fine corner buttresses,” explains Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, dig director at the site, now known as the “Ness of Brodgar.”
The next year the archaeologists embarked on a season of digging test pits and trial trenches across the field. To their delight they encountered incredible Neolithic stonework in virtually every hole. Realizing that they were looking at a major Neolithic complex, Card and his colleagues decided to open up a larger area. For the last five years, he and his team have dug for six weeks every summer. So far they have identified more than 20 structures, and observed even more through geophysical tests such as magnetometer surveys and ground-penetrating radar, all enclosed by the remains of a thick boundary wall delineating a six-acre complex—the size of three soccer pitches. Carbon dating of animal bone, wood, and charcoal indicates at least 1,000 years of continuous activity, from around 3300 to 2300 B.C. The site was likely in use for even longer. “In many cases one structure is built on top of another structure. The whole thing is sitting on a jelly of earlier structures,” says Card. “What we are seeing really is just the tip of the iceberg.” So far the archaeologists have concentrated on a small portion of the site—just 10 percent of the total area—and only excavated down to the floor level of the uppermost structures. In the layers of building foundations, Card and his team are seeing a clear progression in building style and architecture—a pattern they think may reflect some of the changes occurring in Neolithic society over that time.
By THE EDITORS
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Any discussion of archaeology in the year 2012 would be incomplete without mention of the much-talked-about end of the Maya Long Count calendar and the apocalyptic prophecies it has engendered. With that in mind, as 2013 approaches, the year’s biggest discovery may actually be that we’re all still here—at least that’s what the editors of Archaeology continue to bet on.
However, you won’t find that story on our Top 10 list. We steered clear of speculation and focused, instead, on singular finds—the stuff, if you will—the material that comes out of the earth and changes what we thought we knew about the past. Here you’ll see discoveries that range from a work of Europe’s earliest wall art to the revelation that Neanderthals, our closest relatives, selectively picked and ate medicinal plants, and from the unexpected discovery of a 20-foot Egyptian ceremonial boat to the excavation of stunning masks that decorate a Maya temple and tell us of a civilization’s relation to the cosmos.
Then there are the discoveries that just made us wonder. What drove someone to wrap their valuables in a cloth and hide them almost 2,000 years ago? And why were people in Bronze Age Scotland gathering bones and burying them in bogs?
The finds span the last 50,000 years and cover territories from the cradle of civilization to what is today one of the world’s most populous cities. These are a few of the discoveries that speak to us of both our record of ingenuity and our humanity. The enduring question is always: Were the people behind the evidence anything like us?
San Francisco's earthquake-ravaged City Hall unearthed, Dakar floodwaters reveal Neolithic artifacts, the source of Angkor Wat's sandstone blocks