How Does Stuff Get Covered Up?
As a Young archaeologist you will see that stuff gets covered up in a number of ways, by erosion, soil and land deposits, water, flood, building activities, and when nature decides to take back its place by overgrowing things that have been left – by grass, weeds, plants and trees.
Buildings – In towns, old buildings are knocked down to make way for new ones. They are mostly demolished completely, but sometimes certain parts of a building may be kept – like a chimney, or a well-built wall. Sometimes parts of older buildings are used for parts of new ones, or their old stone re-used to help save money when building again.
If buildings have been abandoned, over time they fall down. If someone has not taken any of the stone away to use for another building, then the grass, weeds, bushes and trees can grow over where they once were, leaving clues with lumps and bumps in the soil – as we mentioned in Knowing Where To Dig.
Erosion – Over time areas of land erode. This can happen in two major ways, when land is lost to the sea, or when it is lost inland through landslides and earth movement.
Along the coast land is lost to the sea. This can be due to the wearing away of the land by the movement of the waves, especially in an area where the weather can be windy, rainy and the land is low lying, for example, along the coastline of East Yorkshire, in England.
Landslides happen inland, where bad weather can loosen the underlying structure of the ground, making it weak and no longer able to support its weight. Earth movement can also cause a landslide. Small vibrations, like mini earthquakes, can make land unstable and with bad weather can dislodge earth and cause the landslide.
Land deposits – This is where deposits are made on the land over time. Earth and soil can be windblown, and as the different deposits get laid down, they can build up overtime.This leads to Stratigraphy (which we will cover at a later date!). Knowing when these deposits were laid down give us clues for dating as well.
Also, we cannot forget volcano’s!! Pompeii and Herculaneum are two well known and well buried Roman sites thanks to Mount Vesuvius!! Volcanic ash, and hundreds of years of deposits made these cities well protected from destruction – wonder if there are any more out there waiting to be discovered??
Water and flooding – In the past sea levels have risen, and this means that sites and places that used to be next to the waters edge, have been buried. In some cases this means that the artefacts have been preserved because they have not been destroyed through building. Once Mesolithic site that has been well preserved due to sea levels rising is at Bouldner Cliff (c. 6,000 years old) on the Isle of Wight.
Reclaiming Land – This is when areas that were once wet and boggy have been dried out and over the years sediment has blown over them. This builds up the land and preserves the sites and artefacts that may once have been at the edge of a river, marsh or inland lake. These sites that were once wet preserve artefacts really well. A great discovery was made in the Somerset Levels, Somerset, England: the Sweet Track – an ancient causeway made of wood dating back to around 3,800 BC. Uncovered in 2009 it is the oldest surviving track-way in Europe!
Nature – When places, artefacts are buildings are abandoned, for whatever reason, nature takes over. With soil and sediment blowing over the areas allowing windblown seeds to take root and grow, nature takes over and returns the land to plants and trees. Lumps and bumps in the ground can give us clues as to where places and buildings may have once stood. At other times we may not known anything is there because Nature can be so good at its job of taking back!
Some artefacts are deliberately buried. These include rubbish pits, middens and even hoards of gold and treasure that past people have buried and not returned for – maybe they died or could not return to their land – and has been left for archaeologists to uncover, like the Staffordshire Hoard that was buried and later discovered by accident!
Archaeology Wow!! – The Venus of Willendorf Statue
The Venus of Willendorf is a small statuette of a woman measuring only 10.8 cm high.
The statuette was uncovered in 1908 at Willendorf, in Austria by workmen Johann Veran and Josef Veram on an archaeological dig. The small find was named after the place it was discovered.
The statuette is made from oolitic limestone, which was not local to the area. This shows that it must have traveled to the site, either through exchange of as a gift. Traces of red ochre were also found on it.
The Venus of Willendorf is a female and believed to represent either nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction, or a few of these together. Her fine carved body and intricate detail in her headdress/hat shows that a lot of care and attention to detail was given to its design.
Dating within the Upper Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age) it is thought o have been carved between 24,000 and 22,000 years ago. There is debate as to whether she was meant to represent females, goddesses or had a religious meaning. She had no facial image and she never had any feet, so was not meant to stand on its own. The time period it was carved in also saw the development of stone tools, and it may even have been a fancy piece of art! We will never really know for sure.
It is, however, the earliest known representation in history of a female. so could this show that women held positions of power in the Upper Paleolithic period? Were they worshiped as divine or goddesses? The detail on the carving of the headdress could represent an early crown, or maybe the fashion of the day – is it her hair or is it a hat? If it is a hat this shows that people were producing textiles at the time, much earlier than previously thought. Did she represent a homeland, a tribe, the region where she was born?
She was named after the Roman Goddess of Love, a fitting tribute to such an amazing artefact!!
There are many questions that will possibly never be answered about the Venus of Willendorf. In HER time and HER culture she held some sort of meaning – which may remain one of the mystery’s of history!
Archaeological Site Guide – Lake Mungo, Australia.
Lake Mungo is part of the Willandra Lakes UNESCO World Heritage site in New South Wales, Australia.
The site was discovered in 1969 by Geomorphologist Jim Bowler. Little did he know the affect his discovery would have, not just on Australian prehistory, but also that of the world.
At Lake Mungo Dr Bowler discovered two very important discoveries, Mungo Man and Mungo Lady.
Mungo Man was the full extended skeletal remains of a man dated to 30,000 years ago. He had been covered in red ochre when he was buried. This showed that there were burial practices and possibly religion in Australia at the time.
Mungo Lady was the remains of a partially cremated woman, whose bones had been smashed yet 25% of her skeleton had survived. Dated to 25,000 years ago this has now been recognized as the oldest known cremation in the world!!
The importance of these discoveries has shown that humans came to Australia long before it was thought. Not only did that change the date for the settlement of the continent, but also for the migration of humans from Africa to the rest of the world. It placed the date backwards – earlier than previously thought!
Within Australia the discoveries also proved that Aboriginal cultures had changed over time, and not remained the same as previously thought. It demonstrated adaptability, burial practices, possible ritualistic practices and also probable gender equality.
At Willandra Lakes a total of around 874 tools have been uncovered and they have been placed within the Core and Scraper Tradition of Australian tool technology. This included grinding stones which were thought not to have been introduced until the Holocene period around 10,000 years ago – yet here they were at 25,000 years ago in the Pleistocene period.
The foods eaten by the early Australians included fish, birds, small mammals, including rat, kangaroo, brown hare, wallaby, native cat and the hairy-nosed wombat. Some of these species are now extinct.
A great fact to come from the Willandra Lakes is that the human remains uncovered there are older than two specimens of Neanderthals – Now that’s old!!
Great Books to Read…….
Great Web Pages to Look At…….