Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Exploring the 14th Century Upper Mississippian Village of Noble-Wieting


Our meeting was cancelled.
The Evanston Library has cancelled all of their events as of March, 2020.

Speaker: Logan Miller, PhD
March 29, 2020

Dr. Logan Miller, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, is our speaker on March 29. He is an anthropological archaeologist with research interests in lithic
analysis and the archaeology of the Eastern Woodlands.

His talk will cover the past three summers of his archaeological excavation at Noble-Wieting to provide a glimpse into life at this Native American village in central Illinois during the 1300s AD.

During the Mississippian period (1000-1400 AD) the largest prehistoric North American city, Cahokia, existed right here in Illinois. The rise and fall of Cahokia reverberated throughout eastern North America, resulting in many population movements and new ways of life in the region.

Archaeologists refer to the new lifestyles in northern Illinois at this time as the Langford tradition. While most major Langford sites occur along the upper Illinois River and its tributaries, one site that does not fit the pattern is the village of Noble-Wieting in McLean County.

Since the early 1900s archaeologists have puzzled over the site’s anomalous geographic position. Additionally, the site not only includes Langford artifacts but those related to Cahokia or other Mississippian villages to the south and west. Cahokia was largely abandoned by about 1300 AD, providing a potential piece of the explanation for why people were in this new spot on the landscape.

The fall of Cahokia could have “pulled” some people from other Langford villages up north and “pushed” some Cahokia affiliated inhabitants to the area from the south.

As in any community, the inhabitants of Noble-Wieting shared certain similarities, as well as important differences, with their fellow villagers. Luckily for archaeologists, many of these social dynamics were likely
reflected in the houses and possessions of the inhabitants of Noble-Wieting.

This presentation will provide a comparison of the remains of houses, and their associated artifacts, from different areas of the village to illustrate what we know about life at this unique and important site.

The evidence points to inhabitants making new traditions at Noble-Wieting representing an example of ethnogenesis, a new cultural entity emerging from the interaction of two or more disparate groups.

Dr. Logan Miller is an anthropological archaeologist with research interests in stone tools in particular and the archaeology of the pre-contact Midwest in general. He has conducted fieldwork and directed field schools in Illinois and Ohio. His research covers a large extent of Midwestern history from 13,000 year old Clovis stone tools to 2,000 year old Hopewell mound builders to the study of discarded cigarette butts on the Illinois State University/ISU (supposedly)
non-smoking campus.

Dr. Miller reports that in class, he talks about how we know aliens did not build pyramids, why it is offensive to suggest they did, and other ways that archaeology applies to the world today.

He “grew up in NW Ohio but I don’t have a story about wanting to be an archaeologist from a young age. My mom always says that my brother was the one digging holes in the backyard. When it came time to pick a major/career, I was drawn to the adventure of archaeology (even in the Midwest) and luckily everything worked out.”

Dr. Miller holds a BA in Anthropology from Wright State University. His MA and PhD in Anthropology were earned at Ohio State University. Since 2015, he has been an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at ISU.

Members and the public are invited to join us for a social period beginning at 3:00pm and the talk at 3:30pm.

The Palimpsest

from Bob Stelton

Mule Safari to El Mirador

The MexiMayan adventure began in Carmelita, Guatemala in the northern Petén rainforest. Carmelita is at the end of the road. Traveling beyond to El Mirador would involve horses, mules, and walking. Our mules carried everything including water.

Assembling horses and mules was trick in itself. The good folk of Carmelita didn’t believe we were really coming, and we were short of mules, horses, and saddles.

Our drive to Carmelita took longer than planned and we were running short of daylight.

In time the mules and horses were saddled, and we were off into the jungle. Nightfall did overtake the expedition before first camp stop as we stumbled along chicle hunters’ trails with only moonlight serving as a beacon.

Our first stop was a chicleros camp. Chicle–still collected by chicleros by their slashing sapodilla trees and collecting the latex–once was the basic ingredient in chewing gum.

An uncomfortable bareback mule ride, or a jungle hike, battling mosquitoes, cursing ticks, and questioning personal sanity can test the strength and determination of the most intrepid adventurer but a short rest and dinner prepared by trail cooks recharged all batteries and we enjoyed a wonderful night roughing it!

A few chores before breaking camp, some dishes to wash, packing fodder for the mules on the trail, and we’re off into the jungle. Next camp — El Mirador.

Then a short jungle hike from Danta and a 260-foot climb to its top for an unparalled and awesome view of the jungle complete with sightings of distant Maya centers. Miles of green surrounded the pyramid and countless Maya structures dotted the arboreal sea.

El Mirador offered a few amenities we were denied on the trail: benches and a rough table for dining as well as an aguada with a catwalk into the pond to get the traveler closer to the algae like water.

Another serving of jungle cuisine before our discovery of many shocking any looters’ pits: the priceless heritage of a culture torn into as rodents might destroy a garbage dump.

Then Carmelita and civilization, a pleasant drive through Tikal, and we’re back at Lago Petén Itza, our mule safari to El Mirador completed.

We invite you to check out the full narrated story of our travel adventure from this timeless 1990 movie posted in 2008 to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLgV_ojfvWoiDqU44Ysvh3A

Exploring Archaeobotany in Ancient Near East

February Speaker Melissa Rosenzweig Attracts and Engages Audience
~ report by Anne Wilson-Dooley ~

Dr. Melissa Rosenzweig, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University, led us through a wide-ranging discussion of her use of archaeobotany to understand the expansion of the Assyrian Empire during the Neo-Assyrian period (Iron age, 911-609 BCE). Her excavations at Tel Akko in the Israel city of Acre and Turkey’s Ziyaret Tepe illustrated her lecture.

Archaeobotany is the study of human (and animal) interactions with plants in the past. It uses several methods to recover macro- and micro-plant remains from archaeological sites and their surrounding environments.  As important as the actual recovery of plant materials is deeply thinking about the processes that lead to certain materials being present–and absent–from archaeological contexts and environments.

Charring, drying, or waterlogging are often necessary for the preservation of plant parts. It is the recovery of many micro-plant materials–small seeds, pollens, and silica skeletons of plant cells–that substantially fill out our understanding of past cultures and reconstruction of their past environments. To illustrate her site findings, Dr. Rosenzweig brought small vials with examples of charred plant remains for our inspection.

Typical excavation, flotation, and chemical processes are used for recovery. Identification of materials to at least a genus level is sought, although species level is more beneficial when it can be achieved, and can enable reconstruction of the environment of their location. The reconstructions can also lead to what materials have been found that would not be expected to occur in the general location, hence procured or received from elsewhere and/or gathered, hunted, or obtained agricultural products. Recovering DNA from archaeological plant remains is of interest but not really available yet. 

Dr. Rosenzweig involved the audience several times, inviting questions. She asked us to think about all the aspects of plant material used for eating and production of clothing, furnishing, caring for our animals. She passed out apples and asked how many seeds were likely to remain after charring. Evidence from remains of what we typically eat or utilize tell something about our culture.

She addressed the concept of terra nullius, which involves cultural biased assumptions on appropriate use of lands and is often a part of colonization justification. Neo-Assyrian expansion included “agricultural and resettlement programs intended to bring subjects under control.” To use a familiar example, European expansion across North America considered ownership and cultivation of land appropriate as opposed to the Native American populations thinking of unfenced lands as communal for gathering, growing, and hunting.

Extensive soil samples from the site of Ziyaret Tepe located on the southeastern border of present-day Turkey were put through the various levels of screening, flotation, and chemical treatment to extract botanical remains. (In Assyrian times it was located in the hinterland of Assyrian Empire and was
then fully incorporated into the Neo-Assyrian Empire.) Based on her analyses, the occupants of the site were a fully agrarian community, producing domesticated crops prior to the Neo-Assyrian assimilation; their surrounding area was substantially utilized so did not fit a general definition of terra nullius. But by the Neo-Assyrian ideology the area was certainly under-utilized. 

“King-as-cultivator was a popular Assyrian trope, and Assyrian rulers used programs of agrarian investment [irrigation, intensification of cultivation, moving peoples into areas] to explain and legitimize their forays into surrounding territories as proactive measures against famine.”

The presentation was very well received and numerous questions were asked extending us beyond
our expected end time.