Thursday, September 10, 2015

Skeletons, Skulls, and Bones in the Art of Chichén Itzá

The Chicago Archaeological Society is pleased to announce that its opening presentation of the 2015 – 2016 Lecture Season at 3:00 p.m., September 27 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue will be Dr. Virginia Miller. Dr. Miller is along-time friend and favorite of the CAS, her last visit was January 25, 2006.

The UNESCO heritage site of Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Its proximity to busy Cancun International Airport, and as a Caribbean cruise destination off Isla Cozumel are partial explanations for its popularity. But beyond location its overwhelming size and the fact that it is an amalgam of Maya architectural styles and its history make it a treasure trove of Maya antiquity.

Chichén Itzá is perhaps the largest, most famous and most accessible Mayan site, about 125 kilometers west of Cancun and Cozumel. With its soaring pyramids, massive temples and the largest Maya ballpark Chichén is a compelling attraction. But there is more— literally hundreds of carved columns as well as enigmatic platforms— one decorated with countless skulls.
For more than a century Chichén has challenged hordes of visitors. John Lloyd Stephens, Desire Charney, Edward Herbert Thompson, and Sylvanus Gris-wold Morley are some who have been seduced by Chichén's charms and there were many others and the list is growing!. For the reader unfamiliar with Chichén’s attractions take a tour! At your fingertips is this link to a virtual visit into the past:

Left : El Castello 1925 (Photo taken by Desire Charney, 1863, reveals the triumph of nature over the Maya.) Right: El Castillo 2014 During Equinox.
Dr. Miller, UIC, teaches courses in Pre-Columbian and Native American art, in addition to currently she is exploring 20th-century Maya revival architec-ture and monuments, particularly those built in post-revolutionary Mérida, Mexico.
Her publications include The Frieze of the Palace of the Stuccoes, Acanceh, Yuca-tan, Mexico (1991), a pioneer-ing edited volume, The Role of Gender in Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture (1988), and numerous articles on Pre-Columbian art and architecture.
Her CAS presentation, Skele-tons, Skulls, and Bones in the Art of Chichén Itzá, re-veals a determination to better understand the Maya through interpretation of their art and the message transmitted from the past to the present.

As a focal point of the region it is an amalgam of an older Maya city and newer Toltec influences. Within its confines is the towering El Castillo pyramid, aka The Temple of Kukulcan, which is fraught with cosmological symbolism. Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century as well as each week in the solar year) and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the religious year).

Within the Castillo is an earlier pyramid and temple that includes a jade —studded jaguar throne and a ceremonial Chac Mool, believed to have served as an altar.

The throne and Chac Mool were once accessible for the trav-eler viewing via an enclosed pas-sage within El Castillo. Access is now closed to the public. Dur-ing the fall and spring equinox-es, the sun’s shadow forms an enormous snake’s body, which lines up with the carved stone snake head at the bottom of the Castillo pyramid.

Most recently a group of re-searchers of the National Autonomous University of Mexi-(UNAM) have discovered a cenote and subterranean river be-neath El Castillo perhaps indicating a sacred nature of the precinct.

Mayan sports included a game with a soccer-sized ball that had its own intricate rules and provided exciting competition for huge crowds of spectators. The enormous Chichén Itzá court where this game was played is the largest ever found and is lined with fascinating carvings that display the rules and details of the sacred game (often in bloody detail).

One carving even shows the captain of the losing game being beheaded.
The site also contains a sacred well, the astronomical Observatory, the imposing Temple of Warriors with an altar for sacrifices, and the Nunnery.

The premier season presentation will be a highlight of the 2015-16 season.

The CAS welcomes you back from the summer. Come early and enjoy the refreshments and, by all means after the meeting, join us at Dave’s Italian Kitchen for dinner, talk and good fun.

>By Robert Stelton  

The Palimpsest

Welcome back to the new, 2015 – 2016, program series of archaeological adventures and discovery a presentation of the Chicago Archaeological Society.

The Officers and Board hope you had a refreshing change of season and hope you enjoy the new CAS season.

2015 Summer Safaris

The Safaris have been part of CAS out-reach to provide information of the organization to the public and to offer an activity to engage members. One goal of the 2015 Safaris was creation of an activity directly accessible to its membership
The CAS experiment of two Summer Safaris were thumping successes. The First: An exploration of Chicago’s Hellenic Museum and a sampling of Greek culture with afternoon luncheon at Roditys Restaurant.

The Acropolis exhibition at the Hellenic was enhanced by Deb Stelton’s comments. The feature presentation was an exhibition of the art work of renowned actor Anthony Quinn. Quinn’s accomplishments go far beyond his role of Alexis Zorba in Zorba the Greek.
The hospitality of Roditys was exceptional.

While individuals ordered from the menu, MexiMayan Travel served wine and desserts.

Roditys’ provided an opportunity for Bob Stelton to premier his Greece DVD. Deb made a presentation that elaborated on earlier comments about the Acropolis and the Parthenon made in the Hellenic Museum.

The Second: An ultra-super personal introduction to the Field Museum.

Members may who have been to the muse-ums previously probably had never enjoyed the special opportunities arranged by Director of Docents, Ms. Mary Ann Bloom and Field Muse-um Docents Beth Spencer, Gary Drimmer and Victoria Grigelaitis (members of the CAS).

Deb Stelton’s planning sessions with Ms. Bloom at the Field included special parking in the reserved Museum Parking Lot.

>By Robert Stelton  

Spade, Trowel and the CT

A new health plan for antiquities, CTs should be made more applicable to antiquities
>By Robert Stelton  

Had a CT (CAT scan) lately? If not, not to worry. CTs are part of a growth industry. If not now, maybe later.

At the final meeting of the 2014-15 Program year CAS Guest Speaker, Dr. Michael Vannier introduced Meresamun (Beloved of Amun), and “Singer in the Interior of the Temple” to the Chicago Archaeological So-ciety by sharing with us a few of the results of submitting the Oriental Institute occupant, Meresamun to a CT.

It was Dr. Vannier’s considered opinion that one scan wasn’t enough. His CAT advise should be made applicable to more discoveries and probably will.

For the uninitiated, a CT scan, also called X-ray computed tomography (X-ray CT) or computerized axial tomography scan (CAT scan), makes use of computer-processed combinations of many X-ray images taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional (tomographic) images (virtual 'slices') of specific areas of a scanned object, allowing the user to see inside the object without cutting.

Meresamun, A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt was a priestess-musician in Egypt in about the year 800 BC. She probably lived in Thebes.

The Oriental Institute has been the home of Meresamun, the aforesaid “Singer in the Interior of the Temple.” However, be-yond attaching a name to the person enwrapped in the beautiful cartonnage, not much more was known.

Even taking in the vicissitudes of show biz, it had been a long journey for Meresamun. She was introduced to a Chicagoan, James Henry Breasted in 1920 by an Egyptian antiquities deal-er. Breasted made arrangement for her to travel, in an exquisitely decorated cartonnage.

Mersamum, “Singer in the Interior of the Temple” and admirers
While not languishing in Chicago, she met hundreds of people every day, she complained that life in Chicago lacked the glitter and gloss of Egypt. However she refused a changing of her gown.
Many of her personal possession ultimately caught up with her, a papyrus and her personal cestrum and menat. During summer days she enjoyed rattling her sistrum taking in the sun or shaking her menat. She hated Chicago winters.

In 2009 The Oriental Institute arranged a gala to celebrate her stay in America. She agreed to the arrangements but insisted that she would only appear in her traditional cartonnage. And nothing personal, despite her years in show biz she remained a very personal person. She never admitted to wearing one of those gossamer shifts so favored by fashion magazines and temple walls.
Age had been generous with the wrinkles, but the CT was equally generous with a face-lift.

There has been an ongoing scholarly debate whether women who held the title “Singer in the Interior of the Temple” were, on account of their temple duties, celibate. Emily Teeter, Oriental Institute, regarded the idea as nonsense. However one specific goal of the CT examination was to determine whether Meresamun had given birth through an examination of the pelvic symphysis. The question went unresolved because the results were inconclusive.

Meresamun mummy has re-turned to museum display. Her cartonnage in almost pris-tine condition and her mum-my undefiled. She is ready and waiting for newer technology to resume an old friendship.

Mersamum, “Singer in the Inte-rior of the Temple”
The romantic notion of the spade and the trowel is being challenge.
Dan Vergano, in National Geographic, January 03, 2014, Twitter reports that:
New England's woody hills and dales hide a secret—they weren't always forested. Instead, many were once covered with colonial roads and farm-steads.

This "lost" New England of the colonial era has started to emerge, thanks to archaeologists piercing the forests with the latest in high-tech scan-ners, called light detection and ranging (LiDAR).

In the images above, LiDAR re-veals farm walls, roads and homesteads hidden within Connecticut's Pachaug State Forest. Dating to the 18th Century, the farmsteads were abandoned in the 1950's.
This "lost" New England of the colonial era has started to emerge, thanks to archaeologists piercing the forests with the lat-est in high-tech scanners, called light detection and ranging (LiDAR). In the images above, LiDAR reveals farm walls, roads and homesteads hidden within Connecticut's Pachaug State Forest. Dating to the 18th Century, the farmsteads were abandoned in the 1950's.

What makes the New England LiDAR survey compelling information are the discernable similarities between it and any similar survey that might be carried out over the Yucatan.

R.I.P. Michael Robert Lisle

February 7, 1961 – July 1, 2015
It is with heavy heart that we report the passing of our friend and companion. The Chicago Archaeological Society has lost a stalwart friend as has the discipline. His sudden passing has yet to come to the attention of many of his friends. Long- time members of the CAS look back to the many hours shared with Mike at meetings and his company on Safaris and at other convivial gatherings. His immediate presence exuded a strong sense of comradery and well-being. Mike was a voracious reader whose knowledge of the ancient world spanned continents and regions as easily as his smile could span the breadth of a room. We shall miss him but shall never forget him.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

High Tech reopening doors to the past Dr. Vannier surprised by many of the findings when Chicago mummies were rescanned after several decades

The Chicago Archaeological Society may well look forward to a rewarding afternoon of archaeological adventure when it assembles on May 31 for its final presentation of the 2014-15 program presentation with Dr. Michael Vannier as its guest speaker. Several years earlier Dr. Vannier was associated with a remarkable exhibit at the Oriental Institute.

A reexamination of the mummy of an ancient Egyptian singer-priestess named Meresamun brought visitors to a face to face meeting as revealed in CT scans using the latest equipment, help tell her life story. Accordingly, in a virtual way, people met a remarkable woman and, “through her eyes, learn what it was like to live in Egypt 2,800 years ago," according to Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute and the curator of the exhibition. "We will be able to `recreate' the life of an Egyptian in a way no one has attempted before," reported Dr. Teeter.

A papyrus that belonged to Meresamun was also recovered. It is inscribed with an annuity contract. It states that in exchange for thirty pieces of silver that a woman gave to her husband, he, in turn, was obligated to supply her with a stated amount of silver and grain each year. Other objects reflect Meresamun's personal life, such as a selection of necklaces, hairstyling tools, and a hand mirror decorated with gold leaf. Dr. Geoff Emberling, the Director of the Oriental Institute Museum, noted in a press release, "Our collections have seemingly unlimited research value. It is remarkable how the mummy of Meresamun which has been on exhibit for nearly eighty years is now the focus of research that is providing new perspectives on life more than 2,800 years ago." 

Dr.Vannier, M.D. is Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago. He was Professor of Radiology at the University of Iowa from 1996-2004, and Special Assistant to the Director of the Biomedical Imaging Program at the National Cancer Institute from 2001 to 2003.

His special background may appear to place him beyond the discipline of anthropology/archaeology. Not so.
According to Dr. Vannier, “The best known mummies in Chicago, like many other well-known examples, were CT scanned in the past. In the meantime, the technology for CT imaging has improved dramatically. We were surprised by many of the findings when we rescanned the Chicago mummies after several decades. I think that the same could be reported for many other mummies if newer CT technology was used. The same may be true for many other archeological artifacts.”

May 31, 2015 - Dr. Michael Vannier:
CT scanning of Egyptian Mummies - Repeat Examinations Provide New Findings .
Date: Sunday, May 31, 2015.
Time: 3:00 p.m. Social Hour: Refreshments and Fellowship. 
Place: Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Av., Evanston
Program: 3:30 p.m. Presentation by our guest speaker: Dr. Michael Vannier, CT scanning of Egyptian Mummies - Repeat Examinations Provide New Findings .
Dinner: 5:00 p.m. Informal dinner with our guest speaker at Dave’s Kitchen.

Please note that the May meeting is scheduled to return to the Evanston Library, 1703 Orrington, Evanston.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gender and sexuality in the ancient world

From prehistory to the present, the human body has inspired the creation of gender and sexuality images of men, women, and the divine

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? These are questions that haunted Paul Gauguin to the extent that he inscribed them on a painting: D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous.

We share the artist’s curiosity and to some extent these questions provide partial explanations of the human psyche’s interest in viewing museum collections.

Specialized investigation of museum collections have provided a new dimension of understanding as well as justifying continuation archaeological exploration that brings us closer to understanding the nature of the human psyche.

The CAS is delighted to have as its guest speaker Dr. Jack Green of the Oriental Institute on Sunday, 3:00 pm, April 26 in The Ballroom of the Merion Hotel (formerly the North Shore Retirement Hotel) 1611 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Dr. Green’s, topic, Gender and Sexuality, until recently would have been “X” rated and calling for a “warning notice and parental discretion” mes-sage similar to those that now proceed TV series like The Vi-kings! However he has made similar presentations at the South Suburban Archaeological Society and the Art Institute of Chicago without puritanical disturbance!

Dr. Green was a guest speaker at the December 2013 Annual CAS Party when he spoke on the subject of Life To Death In Ancient Canaan and Israel.

As has been a CAS ongoing tradition, Dr. Green will be the CAS guest at Dave’s Italian Kitchen. CAS post-meeting dinner gathering has been a highlight for members. If you’ve never participated, don’t be shy. It’s dutch treat, the company’s sparkling, and you have an opportunity to interact with real archaeologists!

A reminder to CAS members and guests (Meetings are free and open to the public.). In April you can join Jack Green, chief curator, Oriental Institute Museum as he explores interpretations of female “fertility” images from prehistory, representations of male kingship in early Mesopotamia, and examples of intersexuality in ancient Near Eastern art.

Members, friends and guests of the CAS should notice the change of venue for the meeting as well as the program change. The regular April change from the Evanston Library to the Merion Hotel oc-curs when the library hosts a special convention.

For April 2015 there is a program change to accommodate professional conflicts of the previously scheduled speaker Mr. Brian Adams.

The CAS extends special thanks to the Merion Hotel and its new Social Director, Tammy for special accommodation arrangements for the April meeting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dr. Robert J. Hasenstab, The Prehistory of the Iroquoian- speaking peoples of the Northeast

Date: Sunday, January 25, 2015
Place: Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue.
Time: 3:00 p.m. Meeting Opening: Election of Officers and Board, and Social Hour.
Program: 3:30 p.m. Presentation by our guest speaker:
Dr. Robert J. Hasenstab, The Prehistory of the Iroquoian- speaking peoples of the Northeast .
Dinner: 5:00 p.m. Informal dinner with our guest speaker at Dave’s Italian Kitchen.
[Presentation of The January 2015 speaker has been underwritten by Jeanne Zasadil.]

Introducing Robert J. Hasenstab and the Iroquois: The Prehistory of the Iroquoian speaking peoples of the Northeast

Who were (or are) the Iroquois? Where did they come from? Where are they now? At the January 2015 Members Night meeting Guest Speaker, Dr. Robert J. Hasenstab, will assist our understanding about this very important New World culture.

Dr. Hasenstab is Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Anthropology where he manages the Student Spatial Analysis Lab and teaches Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing. His dissertation research focused on the prehistory and geography of the 5-Nations League of the Iroquois in New York State.

His talk will examine the prehistory and archaeology of the League of the Iroquois and related groups and will focus on the development of longhouse life in the Northeast. For many, present knowledge of the Iroquois ends with a fuzzy notion of an Amerindian tribe something like the Sioux.

Unfortunately Americans may only recognize Pocahontas or recall that a long time ago the Pilgrims celebrated a Turkey Thanksgiving with cranberries and assorted invited Indian guests.

We should have learned more about the Iroquois; after all didn’t it exert some influence on the Constitutional Convention? Actually it didn’t! Chalk that up to urban legend or myth.

The first five nations and later with the addition of the Tuscarora as the sixth were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and the Seneca constituted the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations.

Not a myth, of the six, only the Oneida was allied with the patriot cause during the War for Independence.

In a preliminary statement Dr. Hasenstab reports that the northern Iroquoian-speaking peoples were among the most populous and well-organized Native groups of the Eastern Woodlands. The famous League of the Iroquois called themselves the "Haudenosaunee" or "People of the Longhouse". Longhouse life was the core of Iroquois society, both at the local, every-day level and at a regional, political scale.

For more about the Iroquois please join our welcoming party for Dr. Robert J. Hasenstab and the Iroquois on January 25 at 3:30 p.m. at the Evanston Public Library.