The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cool Sites, Weird Names

One of the more entertaining aspects of archaeology is the names that are given to sites. Usually these come from the places where the sites are located, though sometimes they have another source. Here's a few of my favorites:

False Walrus: A true contender for "wackiest archaeological site name", this is an unusually rich archaeological site in the Sierra Nevadas (where there are never, ever, any walruses). The depth of archaeological deposits in the site (a measure of site longevity and intensity of use) as well as the variety of materials present there (everything from stone tools to animal bone to plant remains) makes this a very important site in a region where most sites retain very little stratigraphic* integrity. Pretty damn cool, really.

Danger Cave: There is only one Danger Cave, but the name has been used to refer to a complex of caves that includes Danger Cave. Danger Cave is significant in that it contains materials left behind by Paleoindian peoples (around 11,000 years old) and allows us a glimpse at the lives of some of the earliest residents of the Americas. Sites of this age are extremely rare, and to have one preserved by cave conditions is rarer still.

Dirty Shame Rock Shelter: This site is not the scene of a desperado's last stand, nor of a 1930s private eye's disillusionment, but rather is an important site in the Great Basin providing information on a wide range of prehistoric activities. The arid conditions of the region allowed a degree of preservation that is unusual in much of the rest of North America, making this site especially important.

The Cool site: Located near the town of Cool in El Dorado County, California, this site is named for it's vicinity, but it sounds more like a descriptive name. Indeed, one expects to find Fonzi excavating here. The name of the nearby town seems ironic, as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the site itself is rather important to Californian prehistory. When a site lacks well-preserved organic materials, and therefore can not be tested using radiocarbon (carbon 14) methods or obsidian hydration**, we often have to rely on artifact typologies (the identification of certain types of arrowheads, beads, etc. with a point in time), and the materials from the Cool site helped do this for eastern California and the Sierra Nevada.

Cave of the Glowing Skulls: No, it's not the title of the fifth Indiana Jones movie, but rather is a prehistoric archaeological site in Honduras. The cave is filled with human burials, and the local geology has resulted in the cave's surfaces, and the surfaces of the human bone, being coated in calcite. The calcite crystals gleam when light is shined on them, giving the bones the appearance of luminescence. The site is significance because, in addition to it's creepiness, it provides information regarding a little-known culture that appears to have existed near and along-side the Maya in Honduras, and such information is unfortunately rare.

Go here for more information.

*Stratigraphic integrity roughly means that "everything is where it should be in relation ot everything else." Bsaically, rodents, construction, earthquakes, floods, erosion,e tc. haven't messed up the site's contents too badly.

**When obsidian breaks, the fresh surface begins to accumulate a rind of water that is locked to the surface. The rate at which this happens is dependent on alot of different factors (the type of obsidian, the water content of the soil surrounding it, the altitude of the piece, etc.), but it is of some limited use in determining the age of sites in which obsidian tools are found.

No comments: