Friday, December 31, 2010

Archaeologists driven to solve mystery of abandoned city

Archaeologists who have uncovered the remains of a prehistoric city beneath what is now East St. Louis are trying to unravel why that ancient city was abandoned while another one just to the east managed to survive two more centuries.

Archaeologists believe Native Americans abandoned the city of roughly 3,000 or more people around the year 1200, some 200 years before a bigger settlement at nearby Cahokia Mounds ended inexplicably.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that the East St. Louis settlement appeared to have been ravaged by fire in the late 1100s, although the cause of that blaze isn't clear. Joe Galloy, coordinator at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's American Bottom Field Station in Wood River, said an attack from outside, rioting or a ritual burning are among theories for the fire's origin, though archaeologists hope to pinpoint during the dig.

Archaeologists have been working the site since 2008, in advance of construction of an Interstate 70 bridge across the Mississippi River.

Galloy called the archaeological dig near the site of the old St. Louis National Stockyards “an unprecedented look at a Mississippian city” and perhaps the most significant archaeology of any kind under way in the country. About 50 people are working full-time on the effort.

“We're digging up ancient urban neighborhoods,” he said. “It's an unprecedented look at a Mississippian city.” When finished, more land will have been excavated than at the internationally known Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, near Collinsville.

Cahokia Mounds was the administrative center for the mound-building Mississippians, who flourished from around 700 to around 1400 over what is now the Midwest and Southeast. In 1100, Galloy said, Cahokia Mounds had roughly 15,000 to 20,000 people; the United States would have no city as populous until Philadelphia in the late 1700s.

Galloy said Cahokia Mounds, the East St. Louis settlements and similar mounds in St. Louis were in near alignment. The only surviving mounds are in the Cahokia Mounds state historic site, with others on both sides of the river long lost to development.

At Cahokia Mounds and many other archaeological sites, land intentionally is left undisturbed for future excavation. But exploration in the path of the bridge needs to be finished in the next two or three years or the opportunity is lost.

Last year, Galloy said, a 3 1/2-inch figurine of a woman holding a cup or dipper was found near a manure drain installed at the stockyards more than a century ago. Workers have found axes and arrow points, along with pieces of pottery.

None of the findings may be a “game changer” greatly altering beliefs about the Mississippians, Galloy said, though he said the project is producing new information against which to evaluate those beliefs. He said researchers will be analyzing the findings for years.

“We're still in the beginning of the way to understanding,” he said.

Associated Press. 2010. "Archaeologists driven to solve mystery of abandoned city". . Posted: December 30, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lost Civilization Under Persian Gulf?

A once fertile landmass now submerged beneath the Persian Gulf may have been home to some of the earliest human populations outside Africa, according to an article published in Current Anthropology.

Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist and researcher with the University of Birmingham in the U.K., says that the area in and around this "Persian Gulf Oasis" may have been host to humans for over 100,000 years before it was swallowed up by the Indian Ocean around 8,000 years ago. Rose's hypothesis introduces a "new and substantial cast of characters" to the human history of the Near East, and suggests that humans may have established permanent settlements in the region thousands of years before current migration models suppose.

In recent years, archaeologists have turned up evidence of a wave of human settlements along the shores of the Gulf dating to about 7,500 years ago. "Where before there had been but a handful of scattered hunting camps, suddenly, over 60 new archaeological sites appear virtually overnight," Rose said. "These settlements boast well-built, permanent stone houses, long-distance trade networks, elaborately decorated pottery, domesticated animals, and even evidence for one of the oldest boats in the world."

But how could such highly developed settlements pop up so quickly, with no precursor populations to be found in the archaeological record? Rose believes that evidence of those preceding populations is missing because it's under the Gulf.

"Perhaps it is no coincidence that the founding of such remarkably well developed communities along the shoreline corresponds with the flooding of the Persian Gulf basin around 8,000 years ago," Rose said. "These new colonists may have come from the heart of the Gulf, displaced by rising water levels that plunged the once fertile landscape beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean."

Historical sea level data show that, prior to the flood, the Gulf basin would have been above water beginning about 75,000 years ago. And it would have been an ideal refuge from the harsh deserts surrounding it, with fresh water supplied by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Wadi Baton Rivers, as well as by underground springs. When conditions were at their driest in the surrounding hinterlands, the Gulf Oasis would have been at its largest in terms of exposed land area. At its peak, the exposed basin would have been about the size of Great Britain, Rose says.

Evidence is also emerging that modern humans could have been in the region even before the oasis was above water. Recently discovered archaeological sites in Yemen and Oman have yielded a stone tool style that is distinct from the East African tradition. That raises the possibility that humans were established on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula beginning as far back as 100,000 years ago or more, Rose says. That is far earlier than the estimates generated by several recent migration models, which place the first successful migration into Arabia between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.

The Gulf Oasis would have been available to these early migrants, and would have provided "a sanctuary throughout the Ice Ages when much of the region was rendered uninhabitable due to hyperaridity," Rose said. "The presence of human groups in the oasis fundamentally alters our understanding of human emergence and cultural evolution in the ancient Near East."

It also hints that vital pieces of the human evolutionary puzzle may be hidden in the depths of the Persian Gulf.

Science Daily. 2010. "Lost Civilization Under Persian Gulf?". Science Daily. Posted: December 8, 2010. Available online:

Journal Reference:

Jeffrey I. Rose. New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis. Current Anthropology, 2010; 51: 6 DOI: 10.1086/657397

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ancient tablets reveal Babylonian math skills

An exhibit of 13 ancient Babylonian tablets in New York has revealed that highly sophisticated mathematical practice flourished in Babylonia nearly 1,000 years prior to the Greek sages Thales and Pythagoras, with whom mathematics is said to have begun.

The exhibition-Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics-opened at New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, reports

The tablets in the exhibition, at once beautiful and enlightening, date from the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1900-1700 BCE).

They have been assembled from three important collections: the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and the Yale Babylonian Collection, Yale University.

Jennifer Chi, of ISAW's exhibitions and public programs, stated, "By demonstrating the richness and sophistication of ancient Mesopotamian mathematics, Before Pythagoras adds an important dimension to the public knowledge of the history of historic cultures and attainments of present-day Iraq."

Alexander Jones of ISAW noted, "The evidence we have for Old Babylonian mathematics is amazing not only in its abundance, but also in its range, from basic arithmetic to really challenging problems and investigations. And since the documents are the actual manuscripts of the scribes, not copies selected and edited by later generations, we feel as if we were looking over their shoulders as they work; we can even see them getting confused and making mistakes."

The tablets in Before Pythagoras, inscribed in cuneiform script, cover the full spectrum of mathematical activity, from arithmetical tables copied by scribes-in-training to sophisticated work on topics that today would be classified as number theory and algebra.

In so doing, they illuminated three major themes: arithmetic exploiting a notation of numbers based entirely on two basic symbols; the scribal schools of Nippur, which was the most prestigious center of scribal education; and advanced mathematical training.

New Kerala. 2010. "Ancient tablets reveal Babylonian math skills". New Kerala. Posted: December 19, 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

China’s Maritime Silk Road Revealed

A research project which took place between 2004 and 2009 has revealed the discovery of over 30 archaeological shipwreck sites which are scattered along the shores of China.

The research project, called 908, was carried out by the State Oceanic Administration’s Department of science and technology and examined an incredible 676,000 square-kilometres of inland waters and territorial ocean waters.

Many of these wrecks will belong to ancient merchants who used used the waters to transport a huge variety of goods along the Maritime Silk Road, a famous sea route which dates back almost 2000 years and linked China to India, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and into the Mediterranean.

The variety of goods exported for trade consisted of silk, porcelain and tea, while imported merchandise included spices and cedar wood from Lebanon.

The route was first used in the Qin and Han Dynasties (25-220 AD), and increased in popularity from the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD) to the Sui Dynasty (581–618 AD). Until the Tang Dynasty An shi Rebellions (755–762), this route was always viewed as a secondary alternative to the overland Silk Road, However in the latter half of the eighth century,with wars raging through the vast Western Regions, trade volumes along the Maritime Silk Road boomed just as its overland counterpart suffered a decline.

Technological advances in shipbuilding and navigation led to the opening of new sea-lanes to Southeast Asia, Malacca, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Guangzhou became the first great harbour in China around the time of the Tang and Song Dynasties, although it was later substituted by Quanzhou in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) as the most important trade port.

The governments of the Ming and Qing Dynasties however issued a ban on maritime trade, contributing to a massive decline in its use. As the Opium War broke out in 1840, the Silk Road on the sea disappeared completely.

Liu Wensuo, an archaeologist at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou said, ” [These] shipwrecks may yield clues about the Maritime Silk Road, which connected China to India, Africa and Europe.”

Sun Jian, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Culture Heritage, said: “There are plenty of underwater archaeological sites near southeast China’s coast and neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam.”

Looting problems

However these newly discovered wreck sites have encouraged many fishermen and looters to head to these waters to recover ancient treasures and police have been forced to intervene and launch a crackdown on the looters.

“One ancient shipwreck usually contains thousands of relics,” Sun explained. “[and this] opportunity for huge profits has enticed a growing number of people to dive for riches.”

In 2006 for example, police recovered 45 cases of smuggled antiquities consisting of 7,144 artefacts taken from sunken ships. An Official from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Chai Xiaoming, said last week: “…we should protect [our] marine heritage by strengthening the legal position and creating stronger teams equipped to deal with this looting.”

Two Chinese government agencies have signed an agreement to protect the country’s underwater cultural heritage, a recent article in the China Daily reported .

Both the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) will work closely in the fields of underwater archaeology and management of underwater relics.

Past Horizons. 2010. "China’s Maritime Silk Road Revealed". Past Horizons: Adventures in Archaeology. Posted: December 21, 2010. Available online:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ancient city unearthed in Socotra Island

Russian archaeological team has unearthed an ancient city in Socotra Island, the state-run reported on Friday.

After four-year archaeological excavations, the Russian team managed to discover an ancient city called "Khajlah" and located near Hidibu city, the main city in the island.

The city is dated back to the second century AD, according to the team's expectation.

The team said that the remains of the exposed ancient houses, roads, alleys and squares indicated that the city had been an administrative, religious and cultural area for the entire island.

In a related context, the Tourist office in the island said that about 2,590 tourists visited Socotra last November.

Socotra is an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra, is about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago.

The island is very isolated and through the process of speciation, a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth.

Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants - part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh - indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37%) plant species on Socotra are endemic i.e. they are found nowhere else on Earth.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye.

Saba Net News. 2010. "Ancient city unearthed in Socotra Island". Saba Net News. Posted: December 24, 2010. Available online:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Borneo tribes under threat from massive palm oil expansion

The hunter-gatherer Penan and other tribes are under threat from new plans to expand palm oil plantations massively in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

The Sarawak government has announced plans to double the area used for palm oil by 2020, using indigenous land which it says is ‘mostly under-utilized and without titles’.

Logging companies have destroyed much of the rainforest the Penan rely on. They and other tribes are now seeing their land being sold off for palm oil plantations. Indigenous people have filed more than 100 land rights cases in the Sarawak courts.

One Penan woman told Survival, ‘The forest is my roof and my shelter and the forest is also where I can find food to eat. But when the oil palm comes in everything will be gone.’

A Penan headman called Matu, whose land has already been planted with palm oil, said, ‘Our land and our forests have been taken by force. Our fruit trees are gone, our hunting grounds are very limited, and the rivers are polluted, so the fish are dying. Before, there were lots of wild boar around here. Now, we only find one every two or three months.’

The government target for 2020 is two million hectares. Sarawak’s land development minister James Masing told Malaysian newspaper The Star that palm oil had emerged as the state’s third largest foreign exchange earner after petroleum and liquified natural gas. He said his ministry was working to remove red tape and look into a ‘more aggressive development’ of indigenous land.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The Sarawak government is, as usual, putting profit before people, and is blatant in its disregard for indigenous peoples’ rights. More palm oil plantations will be a disaster for the Penan, and they don’t want them.’

Palm oil is used for biofuel and in many foods and cosmetics.

Survival International. 2010. "Borneo tribes under threat from massive palm oil expansion". Survival International. Posted: December 20, 2010. Available online:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fossil Finger Bone Yields Genome of a Previously Unknown Human Relative

A 30,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in southern Siberia came from a young girl who was neither an early modern human nor a Neanderthal, but belonged to a previously unknown group of human relatives who may have lived throughout much of Asia during the late Pleistocene epoch. Although the fossil evidence consists of just a bone fragment and one tooth, DNA extracted from the bone has yielded a draft genome sequence, enabling scientists to reach some startling conclusions about this extinct branch of the human family tree, called "Denisovans" after the cave where the fossils were found.

The findings are reported in the Dec. 23 issue of Nature by an international team of scientists, including many of the same researchers who earlier this year published the Neanderthal genome. Coauthor Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, played a lead role in the analysis of the genome sequence data, for which a special portal was designed on the UCSC Genome Browser. The team was led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

By comparing the Denisovan genome sequence with the genomes of Neanderthals and modern humans, the researchers determined that the Denisovans were a sister group to the Neanderthals, descended from the same ancestral population that had separated earlier from the ancestors of present-day humans. The study also found surprising evidence of Denisovan gene sequences in modern-day Melanesians, suggesting that there was interbreeding between Denisovans and the ancestors of Melanesians, just as Neanderthals appear to have interbred with the ancestors of all modern-day non-Africans.

"The story now gets a bit more complicated," said Green, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz. "Instead of the clean story we used to have of modern humans migrating out of Africa and replacing Neanderthals, we now see these very intertwined story lines with more players and more interactions than we knew of before."

The Denisovans appear to have been quite different both genetically and morphologically from Neanderthals and modern humans. The tooth found in the same cave as the finger bone shows a morphology that is distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans and resembles much older human ancestors, such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus. DNA analysis showed that the tooth and the finger bone came from different individuals in the same population.

The finger bone was found in 2008 by Russian scientists in Denisova Cave, an archaeological site in southern Siberia. Pääbo, who had worked with the Russian scientists before, obtained the bone for his research on ancient DNA. In Leipzig, researchers extracted DNA from the bone and sequenced the mitochondrial genome, a smaller DNA sequence separate from the chromosomal DNA and easier to obtain from ancient samples. The results, published earlier this year, showed a surprising divergence from the mitochondrial genomes of Neanderthals and modern humans, and the team quickly began working to sequence the nuclear genome.

"It was fortuitous that this discovery came quickly on the heels of the Neanderthal genome, because we already had the team assembled and ready to do another similar analysis," Green said. "This is an incredibly well-preserved sample, so it was a joy to work with data this nice. We don't know all the reasons why, but it is almost miraculous how well-preserved the DNA is."

The relationship between Denisovans and present-day Melanesians was a completely unexpected finding, he said. The comparative analysis, which included genome sequences of individuals from New Guinea and Bougainville Island, indicates that genetic material derived from Denisovans makes up about 4 to 6 percent of the genomes of at least some Melanesian populations. The fact that Denisovans were discovered in southern Siberia but contributed genetic material to modern human populations in Southeast Asia suggests that their population may have been widespread in Asia during the late Pleistocene, said David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who led the population genetic analysis.

It is not clear why fossil evidence had not already revealed the existence of this group of ancient human relatives. But Green noted that the finger bone was originally thought to be from an early modern human, and the tooth resembles those of other ancient human ancestors. "It could be that other samples are misclassified," he said. "But now, by analyzing DNA, we can say more definitively what they are. It's getting easier technically to do this, and it's a great new way to extract information from fossil remains."

In the light of the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, a new, more complex picture is emerging of the evolutionary history of modern humans and our extinct relatives. According to Green, there was probably an ancestral group that left Africa between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago and quickly diverged, with one branch becoming the Neanderthals who spread into Europe and the other branch moving east and becoming Denisovans. When modern humans left Africa about 70,000 to 80,000 years ago, they first encountered the Neanderthals, an interaction that left traces of Neanderthal DNA scattered through the genomes of all non-Africans. One group of humans later came in contact with Denisovans, leaving traces of Denisovan DNA in the genomes of humans who settled in Melanesia.

"This study fills in some of the details, but we would like to know much more about the Denisovans and their interactions with human populations," Green said. "And you have to wonder if there were other populations that remain to be discovered. Is there a fourth player in this story?"

The paper's 28 coauthors include scientists from Germany, Spain, China, Russia, Canada, and the United States. Reich and Green are among seven coauthors credited with contributing equally to this work. This research was supported by the Max Planck Society, the Krekeler Foundation, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Science Daily. 2010. "Fossil Finger Bone Yields Genome of a Previously Unknown Human Relative". Science Daily. Posted: December 22, 2010. Available online:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Books that didn’t make the exhibition #3

Page from George McKesey, The Belizean lingo (Belize City, 1974). © The British Library Board.

The Englishes of the Caribbean appear throughout the exhibition: in manuscript (John Agard's draft of the poem 'Listen Mr Oxford Don'), in print (a 1731 issue of the Barbados Gazette), as sound recordings (Linton Kwesi Johnson), and in film (a hilarious Jamaican Dr Who sketch from 'The Real McCoy'). As always, however, the richness of the British Library's collections means that we could have told so many more stories.

The Belizean lingo is a 106-page book which reproduces a wide range of material gathered by the broadcaster and comedian George McKesey. Among its contents is the story shown here 'Bra Hanahncy an di Craab' (Brother Anancy and the Crab). Tales about the trickster Brother Anancy (or Anansi) are found throughout the Caribbean and also in West Africa.

This variety of English is today usually called Kriol, or Belizean Creole English. It is part of a family of Englishes spoken in and around the Caribbean. Jamaican Patois and John Agard's Guyanese are also part of this family.

Kriol is used as the spoken language by the vast majority of the population of Belize. This book's publication in 1974 came shortly after the country's name was changed from British Honduras. It can be seen in the light of a growing sense of national identity.


2010. "Books that didn’t make the exhibition #3". . Posted: December 16, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Humans Helped Vultures Colonize the Canary Islands

The Egyptian vulture population of the Canary Islands was established following the arrival of the first human settlers who brought livestock to the islands. A genetic comparison of Iberian and Canarian birds, published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, found that the Egyptian vulture population in the Canary Islands was likely established around 2500 years ago -- around the same time as humans began to colonise the islands.

Rosa Agudo worked with a team of researchers from the Doñana Biological Station, Seville, Spain, to investigate genetic and morphological changes between 143 Iberian birds and 242 from Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. She said, "We found that the island vultures are significantly heavier and larger than those from Iberia. The establishment of this insular population took place some 2500 years ago, matching the date of human colonization. Our results suggest that human activity can trigger divergent evolution and that this process may take place on a relatively brief time scale."

The authors suggest that before the arrival of humans, the Canary Islands would not have been able to support vultures, as food resources would have been scarce, consisting only of the remains of seabirds and sea mammals, or of rodents. They say, "The introduction of new and abundant food sources by humans could have allowed not only colonization by vultures, but also their demographic expansion and their putative adaptation to the new island environment." For once, human activity has actually assisted in the diversification and adaptation of the Egyptian vulture, now globally threatened and classified as 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List.

Science Daily. 2010. "Humans Helped Vultures Colonize the Canary Islands". Science Daily. Posted: December 12, 2010. Available online:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Prehistoric Dice Boards Found—Oldest Games in Americas?

American Indian casinos aren't exactly new to the game—people were playing dice in the New World as early as 5,000 years ago, preliminary research suggests.

Mysterious holes arranged in c shapes—punched into clay floors at the Tlacuachero archaeological site in Mexico's Chiapas state (see map)—may have been dice-game scoreboards, according to archaeologist Barbara Voorhies.

If so, Voorhies added, the semicircles are the oldest known evidence of games in Mesoamerica, a region that stretches from Mexico to Costa Rica.

Previously, the oldest known evidence of games in Mesoamerica was a 3,600-year-old ball court located not far from Chiapas.

Voorhies first found one of the arcs in 1988, when she discovered a buried floor within a Chantuto shell mound, a large ancient pile of discarded seafood shells and other debris. The Chantuto people were foragers who lived along the coast of what is now southern Mexico between about 3,500 to 7,500 years ago.

In 2009 she found another clay floor just below the first floor—as well as portions of nine other arcs. The upper floor has been radiocarbon dated to about 4,300 years ago, the lower to about 4,800 years ago.
Finding the lower floor's holes reignited her decades-long search for an explanation of the patterns.

Later that year Voorhies found a historical account that revealed a "striking similarity" between the Chantuto holes and known native gaming boards—including those used by the Aztec in the 1500s and northern Mexico's Tarahumara in the 1800s.

"There's no absolute proof that my interpretation of these strange features [is right], but it's a very strong analogy, and that's about as good as it gets for archaeology," said Voorhies, a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The arcs' resemblance to other native gaming boards is particularly convincing to John Johnson, curator of anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California.

He agreed the patterns may be the oldest evidence of gaming in Mesoamerica, and even takes it a step further: "It looks to me like it's a very compelling argument for the earliest Indian gaming in the Americas—period," said Johnson, who wasn't involved in the research.

Scoreboards Found at "Clambake" Camps

The Chantuto people set up temporary fishing camps, collecting seafood from the wetlands and cooking it during large "clambakes," Voorhies said.

Thousands of years of such feasts have left behind shell piles that dominate the landscape even today.

After finding the strange hole patterns within the shell mound, Voorhies came up with various ideas about their purpose—for example, that they may have been marks left by the fenceposts of an animal pen.

But once she'd read ethnographer Stewart Culin's 1907 book Games of the North American Indians, such theories became "preposterous."

The book's illustrations and descriptions showed that the Chantuto holes most closely resembled 19th-century scoreboards of Arizona's Walapai people—"even though they're separated by 4,000 years," noted Voorhies, who received funding for her research from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

The Walapai dice board is made up of stones, not holes, arranged in a crescent. The Chantuto would have had no access to stones, which were scarce on the outer Mexican coast, Voorhies said.

To play a game, two Walapai players would sit in front of the opening in the c created by the holes, Voorhies said.

A player would throw a stick with one flat side—the Walapai "die." The flat and round sides each had a number value.

Based on the number he or she had rolled, the player would move his or her stone (or other marker—it's not clear what the Walapai or Chantuto used) a certain number of spaces around the crescent. The person whose stone first reached the opposite end of the crescent would win the game.

Dice Games Passed the Time?

Prehistoric peoples such as the Chantuto had a lot of free time, Voorhies said.

"It's tempting to imagine prehistoric men and women engaged in gaming during slack times while their fish, clams, and shrimp were drying in the sun," she wrote in a research summary. Her theory has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

Robert Rosenswig, an anthropological archaeologist at the University at Albany, State University of New York, agreed it's a "plausible scenario."

"What better thing to do when you're sitting around than to play some kind of game?" said Rosenswig, who studies prehistoric Mexican peoples and wasn't involved in Voorhies' research.

"Gaming and gambling is important cross-culturally and a nearly universal aspect of a society, so I would be surprised if these people didn't gamble and play some kind of games."

What's more, the discovery "fills in information about recreation, a whole other aspect of life that we know virtually nothing about for this earlier period," Rosenswig emphasized.

That's because the Chantuto lived during the Archaic period, before the advent of ceramics and "bling"—such as jewelry—which can flesh out how a person lived, Voorhies said.

Native American Gambling Has Deep Roots

Games—and gambling on their outcomes—have been widespread throughout Native American cultures for centuries, especially during "raucous" ceremonial gatherings, Voorhies noted.

In general "Native Americans played gambling games to come into harmony with their universe," writer Kathryn Loving wrote in the 2003 book Gambling: Who Wins? Who Loses?

For instance, games were thought to please the gods and thus increase fertility, cause rain, give or prolong life, expel demons, or cure sickness, among other benefits, according to Games of the North American Indians.

So, as the Santa Barbara museum's Johnson pointed out, "the Indian casino thing, in a way, is not anything new—this has always been a popular activity."

For example, games of chance, including betting, were often played by California native peoples prior to the Spanish arrival—which, in at least once case, gave the Indians an upper hand.

In 1800 a missionary wrote about an incident involving a Spanish sailor whose ship was stationed at Santa Barbara.

The missionary "got wind of something going on in one of the rooms," Johnson said, "and surprised an Indian, who was playing cards with one of the sailors on the ship."

The Indian, Johnson said, "had won all the clothes off the sailor."

Prehistoric People Made More "Real"

Of course, mysteries persist—especially the purpose of the large clay floors, which UC Santa Barbara's Voorhies doubts were built solely for games. A team of scientists is currently analyzing the clay's chemical contents, which may offer clues.

Voorhies also hopes to find dice, though the pieces were likely made of wood and so wouldn't have survived the millennia, she said.

Even so, the new theory has already changed how she sees the Chantuto.

"I've spent a great deal of my life thinking about these particular people," she said. The unexpected insight into their amusements "makes them seem more real to me."

Dell'Amore, Christine. 2010. "Prehistoric Dice Boards Found—Oldest Games in Americas? ". National Geographic Daily News. Posted: December 10, 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sign languages help us understand the nature of metaphors

A recent study of the use of metaphors in spoken language and various sign languages shows that certain types of metaphors are difficult to convey in sign language. The study, "Iconicity and metaphor: Constraints on metaphorical extension of iconic forms," to be published in the December 2010 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Irit Meir of the University of Haifa. A preprint version is available on line at:

Dr. Meir's research sheds new light on the interrelations between two notions that play an important role in language and communication, iconicity and metaphor. This study shows that the iconicity of a form may constrain the possible metaphorical extensions that the form might take. Put another way, certain metaphorical expressions in spoken language cannot be "translated directly" into sign language if their form is iconic.

Sign languages are natural languages, with rich and complex grammatical structures and lexicons. Sign languages have rich use of metaphors. But quite often, when trying to translate metaphors from a spoken language to a sign language, we find that it is impossible to use the same words. For example, it is impossible to use the sign FLY (in Israeli Sign Language and American Sign Language) in the expression "time flies" or "the day just flew by". The metaphorical uses of a word such as FLY are impossible because of the form of this sign, in particular, its iconicity. The sign for FLY is produced by moving the arms as if flapping one's wings. But in the expression "time flies", we do not mean that time is flapping its wings. Rather, the metaphor is built on an implication of the action of flying, namely that it is a very fast way of motion. So there is a clash between what the form of the sign encodes (wing flapping) and the aspect of meaning on which the metaphor is built (fast movement).

When such a clash occurs, the metaphorical use is not possible. The meaning components reflected by the form of the (iconic) verb and the meaning component which serves as the basis for its metaphorical use should be congruent. If they are not, then the sign cannot be used for the specific metaphorical use in question. Iconic signs, then, are more restricted in the metaphorical extensions they can undergo than non-iconic signs, because their form is not arbitrary. The effects of iconicity on metaphors are much more salient in signed languages, because of their better ability to express many concepts in an iconic way. Sign languages, then, are instrumental in getting better understanding of metaphors and the forces that shape them.

EurekAlert. 2010. "Sign languages help us understand the nature of metaphors". EurekAlert. Posted: December 10, 2010. Available online:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Amelia Earhart's Finger Bone Recovered?

A tiny bone fragment collected on a remote tropical island could be turtle -- or it could belong to the legendary pilot, researchers say.

A tiny bone fragment could provide crucial information about the fate of Amelia Earhart, the legendary pilot who disappeared 73 years ago while flying over the Pacific Ocean in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator.

Collected on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, the bone has raised the interest of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the Earhart mystery, as it may be from a human finger.

The phalax was found together with other artifacts during a month-long expedition last June to the tiny coral atoll believed to be Earhart's final resting place.

"At first we assumed it was from the turtle whose remains we found nearby. Indeed, sea turtles have finger bones in their flippers. But further research suggests it could also be human," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.

TIGHAR's investigations and theories challenge the assumption that Earhart's twin-engined Lockheed "Electra" crashed in the ocean when running out of fuel on July 2, 1937.

Their findings, along with historical reconstructions of Earhart's disappearance and the futile massive search that followed, are detailed in "Finding Amelia," a Discovery Channel documentary that airs Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The Discovery Channel.

"After 22 years of rigorous research and 10 grueling expeditions, we can say that all of the evidence we have found on Nikumaroro is consistent with the hypothesis that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed and eventually died there as castaways," Gillespie said.

Indeed, a number of artifacts unearthed on the uninhabited island provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.

Among the most interesting features are the remains of small fires with birds and fish bones, giant clams that had been opened like a New England oyster, empty shells laid out as if to collect rain water, pieces of a pocket knife, pieces of rouge and the broken mirror from a woman's compact, and pre-war American bottles with melted bottoms that had once stood in a fire as if to boil drinking water.

Discovered near turtle remains on the island's remote southeast end, in an area called the Seven Site, where campsite and fire features were also found, the mysterious tiny finger bone is one of the most promising pieces.

Initially, Gillespie and his team did not pay much attention to the tiny fragment, assuming it belonged to the turtle. It was only when archaeologist Tom King catalogued the turtle bones that questions began to arise.

"We discovered that the turtle remains consisted only of parts of the carapace and plastron (the shell and underbelly). There were no limb bones. If whoever brought the turtle to the Seven Site didn't bring the legs, how did a phalanx get there?" said Gillespie.

Densely vegetated in shrubs known as Scaevola frutescens, the Seven Site site is where the partial skeleton of a castaway was found in 1940.

Recovered by British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher, human remains were described in a forensic report and attributed to an individual "more likely female than male," "more likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander," "most likely between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches in height." Unfortunately the bones have been lost.

Gillespie believes that many of the bones might have been carried off by crabs, suggesting an unmerciful end for Earhart.

However, parts of the skeleton not found in 1940 may still remain at the site.

"We know that none of the hand bones of the castaway were found in 1940. Could that bone be a human finger?" Gillespie said.

Forensic anthropologist Karen Ramey Burns, a specialist in the identification of human remains, examined the phalanx. She could not say with certainty that it was or was not human.

"Human and turtle phalanges are easily distinguishable when they are whole and complete. The problem with that bone is the fragmentation and disintegration. Many key morphological details are not visible," Burns told Discovery News.

The mystery will be soon solved when the finger bone is examined at the Molecular Science Laboratories at Oklahoma University in Norman, Okla.

"Whether or not the phalanx bone yields human DNA, there is a sufficient preponderance of circumstantial evidence to continue our research with hope and determination," Gillespie said.

Lorenzi, Rossella. 2010. "Amelia Earhart's Finger Bone Recovered?". Discovery News. Posted: December 10, 2010. Available online:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Math Puzzles’ Oldest Ancestors Took Form on Egyptian Papyrus

“As I was going to St. Ives

I met a man with seven wives. ...”

You may know this singsong quiz,

But what you might not know is this:

That it began with ancient Egypt’s

Early math-filled manuscripts.

It’s true. That very British-sounding St. Ives conundrum (the one where the seven wives each have seven sacks containing seven cats who each have seven kits, and you have to figure out how many are going to St. Ives) has a decidedly archaic antecedent.

An Egyptian document more than 3,600 years old, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, contains a puzzle of sevens that bears an uncanny likeness to the St. Ives riddle. It has mice and barley, not wives and sacks, but the gist is similar. Seven houses have seven cats that each eat seven mice that each eat seven grains of barley. Each barley grain would have produced seven hekat of grain. (A hekat was a unit of volume, roughly 1.3 gallons.)

The goal: to determine how many things are described. The answer: 19,607. (The method: 7 + 7² + 7³ + 74 + 75.)

The Rhind papyrus, which dates to 1650 B.C., is one of several precocious papyri and other artifacts displaying Egyptian mathematical ingenuity. There is the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (held at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow), the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll (which along with the Rhind papyrus is housed at the British Museum) and the Akhmim Wooden Tablets (at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo).

They include methods of measuring a ship’s mast and rudder, calculating the volume of cylinders and truncated pyramids, dividing grain quantities into fractions and verifying how much bread to exchange for beer. They even compute a circle’s area using an early approximation of pi. (They use 256/81, about 3.16, instead of pi’s value of 3.14159....)

It all goes to show that making puzzles is “the most ancient of all instincts,” said Marcel Danesi, a puzzle expert and anthropology professor at the University of Toronto, who calls documents like the Rhind papyrus “the first puzzle books in history.”

Dr. Danesi says people of all eras and cultures gravitate toward puzzles because puzzles have solutions.

“Other philosophical puzzles of life do not,” he continued. “When you do get it you go, ‘Aha, there it is, damn it,’ and it gives you some relief.”

But the Egyptian puzzles were not just recreational diversions seeking the comforting illusion of competence. They were serious about their mission. In the Rhind papyrus, its scribe, known as Ahmes, introduces the roughly 85 problems by saying that he is presenting the “correct method of reckoning, for grasping the meaning of things and knowing everything that is, obscurities and all secrets.”

And the documents were practical guides to navigating a maturing civilization and an expanding economy.

“Egypt was going from a centralized, structured world to partially being decentralized,” said Milo Gardner, an amateur decoder of Egyptian mathematical texts who has written extensively about them. “They had an economic system that was run by absentee landowners and paid people in units of grain, and in order to make it fair had to have exact weights and measures. They were trying to figure out a way to evenly divide the hekat so they could use it as a unit of currency.”

So the Akhmim tablets, nearly 4,000 years old, contain lists of servants’ names, along with a series of computations concerning how a hekat of grain can be divided by 3, 7, 10, 11 and 13.

The Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, also from about 1650 B.C., is generally considered a kind of practice test for students to learn how to convert fractions into sums of other fractions.

The Rhind papyrus contains geometry problems that compute the slopes of pyramids and the volume of various-shaped granaries. And the Moscow papyrus, from about 1850 B.C., has about 25 problems, including ways to measure ships’ parts and find the surface area of a hemisphere and the area of triangles. Especially interesting are problems that calculate how efficient a laborer was by how many logs he carried or how many sandals he could make and decorate. Or the problems that involve a pefsu, a unit measuring the strength or weakness of beer or bread based on how much grain is used to make it.

One problem calculates whether it’s right to exchange 100 loaves of 20-pefsu bread for 10 jugs of 4-pefsu malt-date beer. After a series of steps, the papyrus proclaims, according to one translation: “Behold! The beer quantity is found to be correct.”

The problems in these ancient texts are not difficult by modern mathematical standards. The challenge for scholars has come in deciphering what the problems are saying and checking their accuracy. Some of the numerical equivalents are written in a symbolic system called the Eye of Horus, based on a drawing representing the eye of the sky god Horus, depicted as a falcon. Sections of the falcon’s eye are used to represent fractions: one-half, one-quarter and so on, up to one sixty-fourth.

Scholars have found a few errors in the problems, and Ahmes even wrote an incorrect number in his St. Ives problem. But over all, the equations are considered remarkably accurate.

“The practical answers are solved,” Mr. Gardner said. “What is unsolved about them is the actual thinking in the scribe’s head. We don’t know exactly how he thought of it.”


Belluck, Pam. 2010. "Math Puzzles’ Oldest Ancestors Took Form on Egyptian Papyrus". New York Times. Posted: December 6, 2010. Available online:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ancient Mega-Lake Found in Egyptian Desert

One of the driest places in the world was once home to a lush lake nearly the size of Lake Michigan.

The hyper-arid deserts of western Egypt were once home to a lush mega-lake fed by the Nile River's earliest annual floods.

Fossil fish and space shuttle radar images have defined the bed and drainage channels of the long lost lake, which at times was larger than Lake Michigan, stretching as far as 250 miles west of the Nile in southwestern Egypt.

The discovery pushes back the origin of the "Gift of the Nile" floods to more than a quarter million years ago and paints a drastically different picture of Egypt's environment than is seen today. It also explains the longstanding puzzle of the fossilized fish found in the desert -- fish that are of the same kinds that live in today's Nile River.

It took a lot of staring at the high-resolution radar topographic maps from the 1980s and 1990s -- and tinkering with the colors of those maps -- to make sense of it all.

"It just struck me that: 'Hey, maybe that was the level for the lake,'" said Ted Maxwell of the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies.

Although the topography is compelling, the evidence by itself isn't sufficient to prove a lake was there or how it was created.

For one thing, there needs to be a source for all the water. That would likely have been Wadi Tushka, a pass to the west of the Nile, which is low enough for the Nile River to have flooded through provided there was more rainfall and larger annual floods than are known today.

Then there are the fish fossils, which are unmistakable evidence for there having been Nile-related water filling the basin.

There are also archaeological sites, said Maxwell, that help to roughly confine the dates of the lake's surface elevation in more recent times. Maxwell and his coauthors Bahay Issawi and C. Vance Haynes, Jr., published their study in the December issue of the journal Geology.

Despite the radar maps, fish and archaeology, however, there is a lot of evidence that should be there, but isn't, said Maxwell.

Take the old shorelines, or "bathtub rings," that are often the definitive evidence of long-lost mega-lakes of wetter times in other parts of the world, including in Utah, Nevada and California. In Egypt those shorelines have probably been sandblasted away over the millennia by scouring winds, Maxwell said.

And what about some distinctively lake-formed sediments in the basin itself?

"The problem is there is no sedimentary evidence," Maxwell told Discovery News. And so the mega-lake is harder to prove than most.

Despite this, other researchers looking at the area find there are more reasons for believing that a long lineage of great lakes filled the basin that might not have needed the Nile as their source.

"Other possibilities for the source of the water include drainage from the highlands to the west, groundwater recharge from the south, and local rains, potentially from different directions and sources," said researcher Christopher Hill of Boise State University.

The older sedimentary remnants associated with springs and archaeological artifacts seem to point to local rains or groundwater creating lakes that were smaller and smaller over time and not from the Nile, said Hill. Those sources could have, perhaps, enlarged the lake enough to join and flow into the the Nile and allow the fish to move upstream into the lake, without Nile flooding. That would mean the water at Wadi Tushka would have been flowing east into the Nile rather than west into the lake.

In other words, the lake certainly existed, but the jury is still out on how it got there.

O'Hanlon, Larry. 2010. "Ancient Mega-Lake Found in Egyptian Desert". Discovery News. Posted: December 3, 2010. Available online:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Imitating someone's accent makes it easier to understand them

In conversation, we often imitate each other's speech style and may even change our accent to fit that of the person we're talking to. A recent study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that imitating someone who speaks with a regional or foreign accent may actually help you understand them better.

"If people are talking to each other, they tend to sort of move their speech toward each other," says Patti Adank, of the University of Manchester, who cowrote the study with Peter Hagoort and Harold Bekkering from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. People don't only do this with speech, she says. "People have a tendency to imitate each other in body posture, for instance in the way they cross their arms." She and her colleagues devised an experiment to test the effect of imitating and accent on subsequent comprehension of sentences spoken in that accent.

In the experiment, Dutch volunteers were first tested on how well they understood sentences spoken in an unfamiliar accent of Dutch. To make sure that all listeners were unfamiliar, a new accent was invented for the study, in which all the vowels were swapped (for instance 'ball' would become 'bale'). Next, each participant listened to 100 sentences in the unfamiliar accent. But first, they were given different instructions on how to respond to the sentences. Some were told to repeat the sentence, imitating the accent. Others were told either only to listen, to repeat the sentences in their own accent, or to transcribe the accented sentences as they had heard them, complete with strange vowels. Finally, the participants were tested again on how well they could understand sentences spoken in the unfamiliar accent.

People who had imitated the accent did much better at understanding the sentences than the other people. "When listening to someone who has a really strong accent, if you talked to them in their accent, you would understand better," Adank says. Of course, she says, "it's obvious that you can't really do that." If you put on, say, a fake Southern accent when talking to someone from Georgia, they might not think your intention is friendly. But when your brain subtly and unconsciously shifts your voice to sound more like theirs, it appears to be deploying a useful strategy.

EurekAlert. 2010. "Imitating someone's accent makes it easier to understand them". EurekAlert. Posted: December 6, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

AAA Long-Range Plan

The American Anthropological Association was established as a national organization 'to promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology'" [Source]

Adopted November 20, 2010

Section 1. The purposes of the Association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects. This includes, but is not limited to, archaeological, biological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research. The Association also commits itself to further the professional interests of anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation.

Section 2. To advance the public understanding of humankind, the Association shall: Publish and promote the publication of anthropological journals and monographs; Encourage anthropological teaching, research, and practice; and maintain effective liaison with related knowledge disciplines and their organizations.

Section3. To further the professional interests of anthropologists, the Association shall promote the widespread recognition and constant improvement of professional standards in anthropology.


As the largest organization representing anthropology in all its diversity, the American Anthropological Association is committed to assessing how it can best carry out its mission in changing milieus of research, education, and employment. To honor this commitment, the AAA Executive Board has instituted an ongoing long-range and operational planning process.

This plan is an ongoing, evolving document that outlines twelve objectives for advancing and disseminating anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation early in the 21st century. Consistent with the vision outlined below, the Executive Board annually revises and reassesses these objectives to determine how the AAA might best advance anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation; clarify its values; create a more effective organization; ensure that its conferences are stimulating, well-organized, and appropriate; and develop financial resources and communication outlets for disseminating anthropological research, pedagogy, and practice to our membership and the broader society.


The mission and the Long-Range Plan entail a vision of the American Anthropological Association that contains three interlocking aspects:

1. The American Anthropological Association will support the growth, advancement and application of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation through research, publication, and dissemination within a broad range of educational and research institutions as well as to the society at large.

2. The AAA will reinforce and promote the values associated with the acquisition of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. This includes a commitment to the AAA Code of Ethics and the AAA Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights. It also includes a commitment to the importance of diversity in the anthropological profession, both social and intellectual.

3. The AAA will remain an organization that enables the development and dissemination of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. It is committed to having all of the following work toward this goal: its internal organizational structure; its long-range planning process; its Annual Meetings; its Section-sponsored conferences; its support for the integration of practicing anthropology within the AAA and the discipline at large; its support for a state-of-the art communications infrastructure; its support for departments of anthropology within colleges, universities, and other research and teaching institutions; and its support for anthropologists otherwise employed in those institutions, other kinds of institutions, and other organizations. The AAA will develop and maintain the financial resources to carry out this vision.


1. The AAA will have a publications program that disseminates the most current anthropological research, expertise, and interpretation to its members, the discipline, and the broader society. The American Anthropologist will continue to publish broadly across the fields, subfields, and emerging scholarly communities that constitute anthropology today.

2. The AAA will foster the discussion and dissemination of research on social and policy issues in the society at large, and respond in a timely fashion when opportunities present themselves to apply relevant anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation.

3. The AAA will promote quality effectiveness and equity in the teaching of anthropology and anthropological perspectives at all levels.

4. The AAA will foster the discussion and dissemination of ethical principles and ethical issues in anthropological research, teaching and practice.

5. The AAA will foster inclusion of socially minoritized people in the discipline; advocate improved understanding of diversity, sameness, and difference in society; and promote the equitable treatment of all anthropologists.

5.1. The AAA will increase the impact and presence of socially minoritized anthropologists by supporting and fostering programs that bring more underrepresented or less visible sectors of the wider population into the Association and discipline. It will also commit itself to creating and promoting awareness of the issues facing minoritized groups both in the United States and elsewhere.

5.2. The AAA will promote a broader understanding of social diversity in anthropological practice, research, training, and outreach. It commits itself to a broad sense of social inclusion in its own hiring practices, intellectual work, conference programs, and publishing program. It understands diversity to include socially constructed categories of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, disability, class, language, nationality, national origin, citizenship, caste, descent group, and religion.

6. The AAA will strengthen internal working relationships among its Sections and Committees and the Association Office by effectively communicating its organizational structure, its Long-Range Plan, and its financial and programmatic activities.

7. The AAA will organize the Annual Meeting to meet the following objectives:

7.1. To provide the broadest possible access to the Annual Meeting to all member constituencies, and to increase participation in the Meeting by students and professionals in community colleges, undergraduate and graduate students in general, anthropologists with Master's degrees (whether or not in doctoral programs), anthropologists employed outside of academia, and anthropologists normally living and working outside the United States.

7.2. To serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas; the dissemination of research, expertise, and interpretation within and across sub-disciplines, emerging scholarly communities, and thematic networks; and discussion and debate on key topical and theoretical issues.

7.3. To provide a venue for informal networking and interaction both within and across sections and interest groups, for all members at all stages of their careers.

7.4. To promote the professional development of its members.

7.5. To disseminate information and ideas about the teaching of Anthropology.

7.6. To engage the media and other publics in order to demonstrate both the general relevance of Anthropology to the understanding of the human condition and to promote the relevance of anthropological research and perspectives on specific, contemporary ethical, social, cultural and policy issues.

8. The AAA will improve and maintain support for the professional development of practicing anthropologists in all sub-fields and better integrate them into the Association.

9. The AAA will support and work with anthropology departments and programs to develop resources to assist them to meet their objectives.

10. The AAA will expand collegial and organizational collaboration across international and disciplinary boundaries.

11. The AAA will respond to needs for anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation in the wider society by identifying and using effective mechanisms for making such resources available through print, broadcast, online and other media.

12. The AAA will develop and periodically revise its long-term financial plans and goals, including but not limited to its investment policy, its targets for annual fundraising, and the growth and size of the endowment. Financial goals and funding decisions will be based upon articulated objectives and priorities of the Association, the size and diversity of our membership, and costs to members and others consumers of AAA's services.

AAA. 2010. "AAA Long-Range Plan". American Anthropological Association. Posted: November 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roman Circus project in Colchester under threat

The people behind the Colchester’s Roman circus are having to work on an alternative plan to be able to move forward with the heritage centre envisioned for the site. The site was part of the British Army’s garrisons, which is based in Colchester.

Colchester Archaeological Trust the driving force behind the project has been seeking investors to help it buy the Sergeants mess which is the main building currently occupying the site. The plan is to convert into a tourist attraction and educational base for visitors to the ancient chariot-racing arena.

The plans for the site have are to create a three-dimensional display in the garden of the Sergeants' Mess using special viewing screens to help recreate what the gates would have looked like.

It is hoped to permanently expose under a weather protective cover the central part of the gates and construct stumps of the correct size showing the positions of the various parts of the rest of the gates.

Visitors to the site will be able to look through two screens, one inside the circus, the other outside, to get a good idea of what the original building would have looked like. The gardens according to the plans for the site will be professionally designed and planted so to create a pleasant and attractive place to visit.

The interpretation centre would include a tearoom, the profits from which would be used to make the facility free. The intention behind the plan is to create an important tourist attraction and venue which would be of economic value to the town and provide local people and visitors with an attractive facility where they could sit down, enjoy the surroundings and buy a cup of coffee to help towards the running costs.

The Trust hope the interpretation centre and the garden would act as the gateway to the circus itself, where low grassed mounds coupled with surface marking would enable visitors to walk around the footprint of the building and grasp the enormous size of the original structure.

However the plan has hit a major barrier in that it has still failed to generate enough funds in its appeal to proceed with the project. In addition to the appeal, the trust has one investor on board, Dr Georgene Wade, who will pay £200,000 to convert about a quarter of the Sergeants mess into a house.

Regardless of the shortfall, the Trust currently has £200,000 in the bank, which was raised from the public appeal, and on this bases trust bosses have decided to move forward with the plan

Director of the project Philip Crummy, stated the trust was considering ways of getting the project back on track without the £275,000 shortfall

He said: “There are some options we are exploring and we are expecting to be able to make a decision, as to what happens next, by December 10.

“We are anxious to resolve the thing, but we are having difficulty. We thank people for their patience.”

While Mr Crummy has not revealed what these options were, but admitted money was very tight, adding: “It’s all on a knife-edge.”

The old Army building, in Le Cateau Road, known as the sergeants’ mess, are wanted for the heritage centre because the starting gates of the Roman circus, discovered in 2004, are buried in is garden grounds.

Bill Hayton, who helped run the fundraising appeal, said the best option would have been to carry on collecting money. He added: “The plan at the moment only allows for the bare minimum of visitor facilities. “If the archaeological trust had kept the original fundraising team involved, we could have got the money to buy a bigger piece of the building.”

The trust was against a further fundraising campaign as it wanted investors to take on a stake in the building and share the cost of repair work.

Stephen. 2010. "Roman Circus project in Colchester under threat". ArchNews. Posted: December 1, 2010. Available online:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Smugglers discovered and plundered a Parthian Dynastic site in Masjed-Soleiman

Smugglers in search of treasures in an area known as Shanzdah-Maylee (Šānzdah-Māylē / sixteen-mile) have discovered and plundered an ancient tappeh (archaeological mound) in a depth of four meters, according to a recent report by the Persian service of Mehr News Agency.

The site is located between Batvand and Karāee villages, near the city of Masjed-Soleiman in the south-western Iranian province of Khuzestan.

According to the report, 75 year old farmer Farhad Pur-Rezaee alerted volunteers at Khuzestan's Friends of the Cultural Heritage Association (TARIANA), regarding the illegal excavation in his 56 hectares farmland.

Nine years ago the same farmer reported illegal excavation in his land to Islamic Republic officials who ignored the complaint, as a result he reported this particular incident to TARIANA. The TARIANA volunteers attended the site and inspected the damages and subsequently reported to Khuzestan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation (KCHTO) to take appropriate action.

Volunteer archaeologists working with TARIANA dated the site to the third Iranian dynasty, the Parthians (Arsacids) 248 BCE-224CE, due to the type of stone-work and style of construction which is similar to nearby ancient sites from that period. The volunteers also discovered a large number of openings in the farmland, which points to an ongoing operation by the smugglers. It is suspected that the holes are kind of test-trenches to ascertain the location of ancient structures buried beneath the farmland. It is expected to be looted soon if it has not been done so already.

The farmer also told TARAINA that he has obtained planning permission from KCHTO to build a factory-farm only 300 meters away from the plundered tappeh. This demonstrates that the permit was issued without any survey on the site; otherwise the results would have revealed the presence of an ancient structure and consequently would have stopped the plundering.

Locals believe that smugglers have people in KCHTO working with them, since this is beyond KCHTO’s norm of incompetency.

After informing the KCHTO, it came to light that the authority was aware of the existence of Parthian constructions in the farmland and promised an investigation. Three days later, KCHTO to everyone’s surprise claimed the discovery and plunder was a rumour. ICHTHO also backed KCHTO and issued a statement calling the news fictitious and asked news-agencies not to concern the public with the plundering of sites in Iran. Both KCHTO and ICHTO refused to explain the farmer's statement as well as the picures that were taken from the site as evidence.

ICHTO in March 2009 banned Iranian archaeologists from giving interviews, and anyone in breach of the imposed law will lose their job and will face draconian punishments.

The volunteers at TARIANA since its foundation in 2006 have single-handedly done the jobs of the government run KCHTO as well as the provincial police in safeguarding the Iranian heritage in Khuzestan Province. KCHTO management has constantly penalised and attacked TARIANA for being a ‘Wikileak’-like cultural body, but despite this they are still fighting for their noble cause. The majority in the province consider TARIANA as the main cultural body rather than KCHTO – with many sharing the view of a Khuzestani archaeologist who said, “it is better to dismantle KCHTO and let TARIANA do the job of safeguarding the Iranian heritage of the province in a real term, at no cost.”

CAIS. 2010. "Smugglers discovered and plundered a Parthian Dynastic site in Masjed-Soleiman". Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. Posted: December 3, 2010. Available online:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2,300-Year-old Maya ruins destroyed for pastureland

An ancient Mayan residential complex some 2,300 years old was destroyed by heavy machinery in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucutan to clear the land for pasture on a private ranch, officials told Efe.

According to experts at the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, the Maya site near the town of Chicxulub dates to the 300 B.C. Preclassical Period and is registered as No. 15 in the Yucutan archaeological catalog.

"The presence of remains were previously known in the area and for that reason INAH will act quickly," the communications chief of the public institute, Julio Castrejon, said.

He also said that, as a first step, the national coordinating team for judicial and archaeological matters went to the Yucatan on Thursday to prepare a technical appraisal of the presumed damages.

A previous inspection carried out Wednesday by archaeologists Angel Gongora and Victor Castillo determined that the ancient Mayan settlement covering 1 square kilometer (250 acres) suffered "irreversible" damage because the nucleus of the settlement was directly affected, the daily Reforma said Thursday.

"If that is so, the loss is total and irreparable," Gongora said.

Both experts said that among the rubble left by the earthmoving equipment they found the remains of walls, roofs and stairways, and a block from a cylindrical column believed to form part of the portico of one of the buildings.

Also toppled and cleared away were seven structures and two altars that stood in the main square. The largest building was more than 3 meters (10 feet) tall.

Though at first the owner of the premises, Ricardo Ascencio Maldonado, denied what had happened, he later admitted that the work was done to level the ground for pastureland, the reason he used heavy earthmoving machinery, the newspaper said.

He said that he bought the land three months ago and no one ever told him it was an archaeological site, in spite of which INAH has summoned him to testify before its attorneys to get to the bottom of what happened.

"Our duty is to protect the nation's cultural heritage and we will act according to that principle," Castrejon said.

Fox News Latino. 2010. "2,300-Year-old Maya ruins destroyed for pastureland". Fox News Latino. Posted: December 3, 2010. Available online:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fish traps 'almost 1400 years old'

Radio carbonating strengthens case for National Historic Site

Some of the ancient fish traps in the Courtenay Estuary are way older than first imagined.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains of wooden stakes pounded in to the mud has revealed some date back almost 1400 years.

The results, announced on Tuesday, could strengthen the case to designate the estuary as a National Historic Site.

Archaeologist Nancy Greene and her husband, geologist David McGee, have been investigating the mystery of the fish traps for years.

They estimate there are the remains of perhaps 150,000 stakes in the estuary, although many are not immediately obvious as the remnants are below the mud.

But at low tide, the remains of huge numbers are visible, and careful mapping of 14,000 of them using GPS equipment has exposed intricate patterns.

They include large heart and chevron-shaped compounds, with long straight lines of stakes once used to help guide fish, particularly salmon and herring, into the traps as tides receded.

Fragments of basketry and cord have been found buried in the mud, indicating that many stakes were linked like fences to create pens to prevent fish escaping.

While a handful of stakes were scientifically dated six years ago - a process that proved that some had been in place for centuries - Greene and McGee realized a much larger sampling was needed to progress the research to the next level.

A wider sampling would not only provide more precise dates for the structures, but also help unravel the mystery of overlapping patterns. But the cost was prohibitive.

To the rescue came the specially-created 'Stick in the Mud Club,' an idea conceived by regional district Area B director Jim Gillis and Project Watershed vice-chair Paul Horgen.

The idea was each member of the new club would put up $500 to cover the costs of scientifically dating a stake, with a target of getting at least 40 analyzed. The end result topped that, with enough money raised to date 46.

A host of individuals, groups and local governments stepped forward to join the club, and on Tuesday each was presented with a certificate of appreciation, including the date of their stake now the results are in.

Greene gave an illustrated presentation on the outcome of the research to coincide with the distribution of certificates at the Black Fin Pub in Comox.

She said the oldest date for a stake was 1360 years, and the youngest around 170 years, all before Europeans settled in the Comox Valley.

Because the stakes had been sampled from various parts of the estuary, what could be gleaned from the results was spectacular, she said. Groups of stakes of a similar age had helped define specific patterns of fish traps from different eras.

"We now have the scientific evidence for something that is extremely rare - maybe unique in North America," she said.

"The estuary has the merits to be a National Historic Site and these new dates could nail it," Greene added.

The latest radiocarbon results pushed the earliest trap dates back a further 200 years and had allowed "a whole range of questions to be answered."

She added: "There's no doubt now that this is the biggest, most sophisticated and intense fishing site ever recorded in Canada.

"Some of the traps are 140ft across and had the capability of catching immense numbers of fish, capable of feeding a vastly larger population than we imagined.

"The First Nations knew how to fish on a huge scale but they did it sustainably. There's a lesson to be learned from that."

Greene said the research to date would now be written up for publication in a professional journal, with full acknowledgement to the community input to the project.

"The community has really supported our research, especially through the Stick in the Mud Club. We could not have reached this point without that support," she said.

Gillis said he was delighted with the outcome of the fundraising and research and looked forward to the next stage of the project.

When he originally wanted to get people to sponsor a stake and part with $500, he had some difficulty getting traction.

Then he pitched the idea to Comox Mayor Paul Ives who, he recalled, had responded: 'Why should I be interested in a bunch of sticks in the mud?'

"What he said got me thinking," said Gillis. "'Stick in the Mud' would be a great phrase to draw attention to the project, so the idea of the club was born."

Ives soon signed up as a member, putting $500 of his own in to the pot and later his council also joined.

At Tuesday's event, Ives said what had been discovered had really opened his eyes to the estuary's historic as well as natural significance.

"The magnitude of this is really quite mind boggling," he commented. "A lot more people were living here at one time than most people realize."


Round, Philip. 2010. "Fish traps 'almost 1400 years old'". Posted: December 3, 2010. Available online:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oldest mine in Americas found in Chile

Archaeologists have discovered an iron oxide mine from 12,000 years ago in northern Chile, making it the oldest mine yet discovered in all the Americas, the El Mercurio daily says.

The iron oxide mined by the Huentelauquen Indians was used as a pigment in dying cloth and in religious rituals, revealing an unexpected sophistication in what was previously considered a primitive group of people, University of Chile researcher Diego Salazar said on Sunday.

"The fact they developed a mine shows the importance religion had in their lives, because iron oxide was not used as food, was not bought or sold," he told the daily.
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The ancient mine was discovered near the town of Taltal, in the Antofagasta region, 1,100km north of Santiago, in October 2008, but its antiquity was not determined until tests were conducted this year in US and Polish laboratories.

Named "San Ramon 15", the mine was exploited heavily between around 10,000 BC and 2,000 BC. It yielded over the millennia a total of 2,000 tonnes of pigment extracted from 700 cubic metres of rock.

Researchers also found a treasure trove of stone and conch mining tools in the area.

"We've found more than 1,000 hammers ... but considering the amount of material we have yet to sift through, the real number could rise to several thousands," said archaeologist Hernan Salinas.

Before this find, the oldest mine in the Americas was 2,500 years old and located in the United States. The world's most ancient mine is in South Africa and is about 40,000 years old.

AFP. 2010. "Oldest mine in Americas found in Chile". Sydney Morning Herald. Posted: December 6, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Warring Greeks Find Peace in Ancient Egypt

TAU researcher uncovers origins of Greek trade city in Egypt's Nile delta region

Naukrtis, a Greek trade emporium on Egyptian soil, has long captured the imagination of archaeologists and historians. Not only is the presence of a Greek trading settlement in Egypt during the 7th and 6th century B.C.E. surprising, but the Greeks that lived there in harmony hailed from several Greek states which traditionally warred amongst themselves.

Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology is delving deeper into this unique piece of ancient history to come up with a new explanation for how Naukrtis developed, and how its inhabitants managed to operate on foreign soil and create a new sense of common identity.

The Greeks that inhabited Naukrtis, explains Dr. Fantalkin, may have come from warring city states at home, but they formed a trade settlement in Egypt under the protection of powerful Eastern empires. This link not only brought them together as a culture, but explains how they were allowed to operate in the midst of Egyptian territory. Dr. Fantalkin's theory was recently presented at the Cultural Contexts in Antiquity conference in Innsbruck, Austria, and will soon be published in the proceedings of the conference.

Making the best of oppression

Naukrtis is remarkable for two main reasons, Dr. Fantalkin says. First, the Egyptian empire allowed Greeks to operate a lucrative trade emporium at the delta of the Nile, complete with special privileges. Second, the Greeks who lived there, though from different tribes, lived and worshipped together, pointing to the emergence of a national Greek identity. The city also acted as a symbiotic nexus for the interchange of Greek and Egyptian art and culture.

How this arrangement came to be has always puzzled researchers, Dr. Fantalkin notes, explaining his new theory about Naukrtis. In Eastern Greece, the Greeks were plagued by powerful Eastern empires such as Lydia, which was located in the central and western parts of current day Turkey. The Greeks were forced to operate under the Lydian regime, paying tribute to their overlords.

Despite this situation, the so-called Eastern Greeks continued to lead advances in material culture and intellectual achievements. They were also politically savvy, Dr. Fantalkin says, when it came to economics. At the time Naukrtis was created, Lydia had a formal alliance with the Egyptian empire. A select group of Greek businessmen used this connection to set up a trade emporium — they paid tribute to their Lydian benefactors and were guaranteed rights and freedoms as Greek representatives of the Lydian empire. Thus, they made the best of an oppressive regime.

The land of the free?

Previous theories suggested that the Greek traders settled in Naukratis of their own free will, creating a brotherhood of merchants in the process, indifferent to interstate rivalries at home and bound firmly by a common interest in trade. In reality, Prof. Fantalkin speculates, they operated as formal representatives of the Lydian power.

"On one hand," he continues, "the Greeks were given new opportunities for trade. On the other, they owed taxes to the empire that ruled over them. This was not a free settlement of Greek merchants as was previously thought, but an organized move on behalf of a more formidable empire."

Naukratis, in his opinion, should be considered a unique and particularly important instance of "contact zones" in antiquity, in which Greek trade, although controlled by the Egyptians and mediated to a certain extant by the Lydians, both contributed to and profited from the imperial ambitions of others.

2010. "Warring Greeks Find Peace in Ancient Egypt". American Friends Tel Aviv University. Posted: December 6, 2010. Available online:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Peru: 'sensational' Inca find for British team in Andes

A British team of archaeologists on expedition in the Peruvian Andes has hailed as "sensational" the discovery of some of the most sacred objects in the Inca civilisation – three "ancestor stones", which were once believed to form a precious link between the heavens and the underworld.

The find, which was made on an isolated Andean mountainside, provoked joy among local specialists and the experts present from, among others, the British Museum, Reading University and Royal Holloway, University of London. No examples of the stones were thought to have survived until now.

"It was a very moving moment," said Dr Colin McEwan, the British Museum's head of the Americas, as he recalled seeing the stones for the first time.

Dr Frank Meddens, research associate of Royal Holloway, who was also on the expedition, said they had "danced a little jig on top of the mountain" after discovering the objects that they had only read about in 16th-century Spanish documents.

The Incas would have been just as overawed. The conical-shaped stones were among the most significant items in Inca society and religion. Key elements in ritual events, they were thought to facilitate a connection between different realms of the world – the celestial and the underworld of the ancestors – with the Inca king, as the divine ruler, acting as intermediary. And they were considered more precious than gold.

"This is a whole new category of object. It is nothing short of sensational," said McEwan of the three stones in red and white Andesite, a hard, granite-like rock, which were excavated some 2.5 metres beneath an Inca stone platform. The platform too was recently excavated and is a structure of distinctive stonework that once symbolised the imperial control of conquered territories.

The site – at Incapirca Waminan – is one of 20 undocumented high-altitude Inca ceremonial platforms explored by the archaeologists around the Ayacucho basin. Such sites were potent imperial symbols of religious and political authority as the Incas expanded outwards from Cuzco, a sacred city of temples and palaces in the central Peruvian Andes.

Ancestor stones represented deities, ancestors and the sun, and were imbued with supreme symbolic significance. They were greeted with incomprehension by Spanish chroniclers of the early 16th century, who sacrilegiously likened their shape to sugar loaves, pineapples and bowling pins. The insult, however, was returned: when the 16th-century Inca ruler Atahualpa was shown a copy of the Bible by the Conquistadors, he reacted with similar contempt.

According to Spanish sources, the stones were used in public solar rituals, sometimes draped in gold cloth and paraded. One witness wrote: "The stones… were held to be blessed and sacred."

Symbols of the ancestral essence of the Inca king, the objects were placed on display when the supreme leader was absent from Cuzco, the capital of the Inca people, in an attempt to demonstrate the perpetual presence and his power. The Incas believed their king to be a living god who ruled by divine right.

As the Incas had no system of writing, the significance of the archaeologists' unprecedented find is reinforced by the identification of ancestor stones in the decoration of a unique 16th-century Inca vessel (cocha) in the British Museum. Spanning 50cm in diameter, it bears a carved scene showing a central solar disc and two kneeling figures with their hands clasped as they honour an ancestor stone. They are flanked on either side by an Inca king and queen and high-ranking lords.

The Incas created a huge empire that stretched more than 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes and whose economy was based on taxed labour, with its people farming and herding animals, working in mines and producing goods such as clothing and pottery.

The sites for ceremonial platforms were chosen for their vistas of the snow-capped peaks, which were worshipped as mountain deities. It was at such sites that the Incas sacrificed children – the ceremony of capacocha – at moments of potential instability.

These structures also had sacred central spaces known as the ushnu, with a vertical opening into "the body of the earth" into which libations such as maize beer were poured. The ushnu platforms served as a stage from which the Inca king and his lords could preside over seasonal festivals and ceremonies.


Alberge, Dalya. 2010. "Peru: 'sensational' Inca find for British team in Andes". Guardian. Posted: December 5, 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If an island state vanishes, is it still a nation?

I've posted on this subject before. See If a Country Sinks Beneath the Sea, is it still a Country? It seems that as more and more stories come out, that the rising seas are changing the face of archaeology too. See for instance, Archaeological Sites Threatened by Rising Seas posted November 4 of this year; as well as, Rising Seas Clue in Sunken World off Orkney posted in December of last year.

Encroaching seas in the far Pacific are raising the salt level in the wells of the Marshall Islands. Waves threaten to cut one sliver of an island in two. "It's getting worse," says Kaminaga Kaminaga, the tiny nation's climate change coordinator.

The rising ocean raises questions, too: What happens if the 61,000 Marshallese must abandon their low-lying atolls? Would they still be a nation? With a U.N. seat? With control of their old fisheries and their undersea minerals? Where would they live, and how would they make a living? Who, precisely, would they and their children become?

For years global negotiations to act on climate change have dragged on, with little to show. Parties to the 193-nation U.N. climate treaty are meeting again in this Caribbean resort, but no one expects decisive action to roll back the industrial, agricultural and transport emissions blamed for global warming — and consequently for swelling seas.

From 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) away, the people of the Marshalls — and of Kiribati, Tuvalu and other atoll nations beyond — can only wonder how many more years they'll be able to cope.

"People who built their homes close to shore, all they can do is get more rocks to rebuild the seawall in front day by day," said Kaminaga, who is in Cancun with the Marshallese delegation to the U.N. talks.

The Marshallese government is looking beyond today, however, to those ultimate questions of nationhood, displacement and rights.

"We're facing a set of issues unique in the history of the system of nation-states," Dean Bialek, a New York-based adviser to the Republic of the Marshall Islands who is also in Cancun, told The Associated Press. "We're confronting existential issues associated with climate impacts that are not adequately addressed in the international legal framework."

The Marshallese government took a first step to confront these issues by asking for advice from the Center for Climate Change Law at New York's Columbia University. The center's director, Michael B. Gerrard, in turn has asked legal scholars worldwide to assemble at Columbia next May to begin to piece together answers.

Nations have faded into history through secession — recently with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, for example — or through conquest or ceding their territory to other countries.

But "no country has ever physically disappeared, and it's a real void in the law," Gerrard said during an interview in New York.

The U.N. network of climate scientists projects that seas, expanding from heat and from the runoff of melting land ice, may rise by up to 1.94 feet (0.59 meters) by 2100, swamping much of the scarce land of coral atolls.

But the islands may become uninhabitable long before waves wash over them, because of the saline contamination of water supplies and ruining of crops, and because warming is expected to produce more threatening tropical storms.

"If a country like Tuvalu or Kiribati were to become uninhabitable, would the people be stateless? What's their position in international law?" asked Australian legal scholar Jane McAdam. "The short answer is, it depends. It's complicated."

McAdam, of the University of New South Wales, has traveled in the atoll nations and studied the legal history.

As far as islanders keeping their citizenship and sovereignty if they abandon their homelands, she said by telephone from Sydney, "it's unclear when a state would end because of climate change. It would come down to what the international community was prepared to tolerate" — that is, whether the U.N. General Assembly would move to take a seat away from a displaced people.

The 1951 global treaty on refugees, mandating that nations shelter those fleeing because of persecution, does not cover the looming situation of those displaced by climate change. Some advocate negotiating a new international pact obliging similar treatment for environmental refugees.

In the case of the Marshallese, the picture is murkier. Under a compact with Washington, citizens of the former U.S. trusteeship territory have the right to freely enter the U.S. for study or work, but their right to permanent residency must be clarified, government advisers say.

The islanders worry, too, about their long-term economic rights. The wide scattering of the Marshalls' 29 atolls, 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii, give them an exclusive economic zone of 800,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of ocean, an area the size of Mexico.

The tuna coursing through those waters are the Marshalls' chief resource, exploited by selling licenses to foreign fishing fleets. "If their islands go underwater, what becomes of their fishing rights?" Gerrard asked. Potentially just as important: revenues from magnesium and other sea-floor minerals that geologists have been exploring in recent years.

While lawyers at next May's New York conference begin to sort out the puzzle of disappeared nations, the Marshallese will grapple with the growing problems.

The "top priority," Kaminaga said, is to save the isthmus linking the Marshalls' Jaluit island to its airport, a link now swept by high tides.

Meantime, a lingering drought this year led islanders to tap deeper into their wells, finding salty water requiring them to deploy emergency desalination units. And "parts of the islands are eroding away," Kaminaga said, as undermined lines of coconut palms topple into the sea.

This week in Cancun and in the months to come, the Marshalls' representatives will seek international aid for climate adaptation. They envision such projects as a Jaluit causeway, replanting of protective vegetation on shorelines, and a 3-mile-long (5-kilometer-long) seawall protecting their capital, Majuro, from the Pacific's rising tides.

Islanders' hopes are fading, however, for quick, decisive action to slash global emissions and save their remote spits of land for the next century.

"If all these financial and diplomatic tools don't work, I think some countries are looking at some kind of legal measures," said Dessima Williams, Grenada's U.N. ambassador and chair of a group of small island-nations. Those measures might include appeals to the International Court of Justice or other forums for compensation, a difficult route at best.

In the end, islanders wonder, too, what will happen to their culture, their history, their identity with a homeland — even to their ancestors — if they must leave.

"Cemeteries along the coastline are being eroded. Gravesites are falling into the sea," Kaminaga said. "Even in death we're affected."


Hanley, Charles J. 2010. "If an island state vanishes, is it still a nation?". Yahoo News. Posted: December 6, 2010. Available online: