Museum Blog

Diggin' Archaeology!: Update 2/15/13

Posted 2/15/2013 12:02 AM by Michele Koons | Comments

It is a very exciting time for archaeology indeed! Recently there have been a bunch of amazing new archaeological discoveries.  I thought I would share a few here and continue to update as new ones are made.   The combination of new scientific techniques applied to archaeological materials, such as genetics and DNA analysis, advanced dating methods, and residue and isotope analysis, has led to some of these incredible finds.  And then there is always just good old fashion digging in the dirt.



This article is about making soup 20,000 years ago.  However, what I find most exciting about this is the discovery of 20,000 year old pottery in China.  This discovery continues to push the date back of the first pottery further in time.  Until somewhat recently, it was thought that the invention of pottery for cooking corresponded to “Neolithic Revolution” (invention of agriculture) roughly 10,000 years ago and when humans left their hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settle down in villages. This discovery indicates that pots were made by mobile and semi-sedentary societies prior to the domestication of plants.  That’s cool!



The identity of King Tutankhamun’s parents was determined through genetic testing in recent years.  His father was Akhenaten, and it was thought his mother was Akhenaten’s sister, but a new interpretation of this DNA evidence by French Egyptologist Marc Gabolde suggests that Tut’s mom was Akhenaten’s cousin, Nefertiti.



Two hundred decapitated and aligned skulls were found in the northern basin of Mexico near the important site of Teotihuacan.  The ritual sacrifice of these individuals likely related to the collapse of Teotihuacan (and the classic Maya) since they date to around 660-890 AD.



Chocolate, a tropical plant, has been discovered in pots near the Canyonlands in Utah dating to the 8th century.   This indicates that people in Utah were interacting with people from Mexico to import cacao much earlier than previously thought.  Chocolate had been previously found in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico dating to 11th and 12th centuries.  The interaction of people between the Southwest and Mexico is not well understood and this finding may prove to be significant for many future studies on their interactions.



The common narrative is that Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, but new evidence shows that Pacific Islanders may have beaten him to the punch.  Prior to new genetic studies, many researchers believed that the sweet potato, which was domesticated in the Andes 8,000 years ago, was brought to the South Pacific by Spanish and Portuguese sailors in the 16th century.  New genetic evidence suggests that South Pacific sailors were actually traveling via boat to South America at least 1000 years ago and returning with sweet potatoes!



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