Why Are Changes In Soil Colour Important?; The Baghdad Batteries; Amazon Stonehenge, Brazil.

Why Are Changes in Soil Colour Important?

Many archaeological features are identified by changes in soil colour which may be all that remains after it is taken out, or decomposed over time.

Changes in Soil Colour ©Sue Carter 2014
Changes in Soil Colour
©Sue Carter 2014

Changes in soil can indicate a ditch, bank, foundation, what is left of human remains, a hearth, a pit, a post hole and many other examples. When organic matter has decayed it leaves a very dark colour in the soil which is often contrasted to the natural, surrounding colour.

In ditches that have been buried, the remains usually include, vegetation, (plants that have grown and died), artefacts from nearby when the ditch was filled or which may have deposited there over time, and leaves. These will eventually show up as being darker to the surrounding soil.

Burning can also leave discoloured soil, either black which will include charcoal from the burning, or red, where clay has been heated to a very high temperature.

Soil Colour Changes ©Sue Carter 2014
Soil Colour Changes
©Sue Carter 2014

One very famous site was excavated by carefully following the changes in soil colour -Sutton Hoo. The timber from the burial ship had rotted away, and only the outline remained. Careful excavation ensured that the layout of the ship was preserved and could be seen.

Outline remains of Sutton Hoo Ship ©Wiki Commons
Outline remains of Sutton Hoo Ship
©Wiki Commons

Soil changes can also show where palaeochannels (ancient river courses) once were as well as flood plans and flood levels. Environmental archaeologists are usually the people who check out these features.

Human remains can sometimes be completely destroyed through very acidic soil, and all that remains is an outline of where the body once was. Osteologists and Forensic Archaeologists specialize in this area and they also analyze the soil which will still hold the evidence that a body was once there.

Now you can see why archaeologists are very careful when they come across changes in soil colour and make sure it is recorded and investigated in the proper way.



Archaeology Wow!! –  The Baghdad Batteries

The Baghdad Batteries are also known as the Parthian Batteries, come from the village of Khuyut Rabbou’a, near Baghdad in Iraq.

They were discovered in 1938 by German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig and have been dated to between 250 BC and 250 AD, the period in time they were related to was known as the Parthian Period.

Baghdad Battery - http://www.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/battery2.html
Baghdad Battery – http://www.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/battery2.html

The batteries are terracotta pots standing 5 inches high, with an opening of 1½ inches at the top. Inside them is a copper cylinder in which an iron rod sits. It is beleived that lemon juice, grape juice or vinegar was then poured into the container which would emit a small electrical current.

No one is sure exactly how they were used or, if indeed, they are what we would call batteries. Theories as to their use include,

  • for gold and silver plating of objects
  • medicinal uses
  • storage of sacred scrolls
  • used in temples and attached to God statues, so when the statue was touched it would shock the person and make them believe the Gods were there

Whatever their use was, it does demonstrate that at the time there was a general and fundamental understanding of electricity, even if on a very small scale. Past civilizations may not have been so backward, as some people think!



Archaeological Site Guide – Amazon Stonehenge, Brazil.

The Amazon Stonehenge is also known as the Calçoene Megalithic Observatory, and lies at the village of Amapa, near Calçoene, Brazil.

Calcoene - Google Maps
Calcoene – Google Maps

The site consists of 127 granite blocks each standing 4 m high and arranged in a circle with a diameter of 30 m. It was discovered in the late 19th century by Emilio Goebli, and in 2005 it was excavated, and found to be older than Stonehenge in England. Finds included pottery sherds, red clay, ash from human cremation, 3 intact urns arranged in a triangular shape, a further pit contained more urns but not arranged.

Amazon Stonehenge ©Wiki Commons
Amazon Stonehenge
©Wiki Commons

One of the stones has a circular hole carved through it and at the Winter Solstice the sun shines directly through it. The sun also shines directly above one of the other stones and this one then has no shadow, therefore, researchers believe the place to have been an astronomical observatory. It is also beleived to have possibly had ceremonial or ritual meaning, perhaps a combination of all three.

The megaliths show that some 2000 years ago there was a complex society living in the area, who were able to carve, transport and erect the stones at the site for a specific meaning.


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