Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Everybody loves a superhero. Decades of comic books sales and blockbuster Hollywood sequels attest to this. The ancients loved their superheroes too. Many people are familiar with the legendary hero Gilgamesh, a central figure in The Timekeepers Series.  Less familiar is Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh’s alleged father. The Sumerians and Akkadians both told tales of Lugalbanda and his adventures. The stories were so mainstream at the time that they were actually part of the Sumerian scribal school curriculum. Several tablets dating to 20th-17th century BC have been discovered in southern Iraq.


In the tale Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave, Lugalbanda is a soldier in King Enmerkar’s army. Enmerkar, the founder and first king of Uruk, is leading his army to lay siege to the city of Aratta, whose king he has a quarrel with over the favors of a certain goddess, Inana and the matter of tribute. The soldier, Lugalbanda, happens to fall sick along the way. “No man left behind” has not entered the warrior’s creed yet and his fellow soldiers leave him alone in a cave with a few provisions.  There he lies in a fevered state for two days, praying to his gods that he will be healed. His prayers are answered as the gods speak to him in a dream and command him to rise up and sacrifice some animals. Rounding up a bull and a couple of goats on the highlands of ancient Iran, he does the gods' bidding. Not much is left of this particular tale, but the story continues in Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird.   

Anzu Bird (British Museum)

Feeling well enough to set out to join the king’s army in their attempt to overtake Aratta, Lugalbanda, alone on the trail, finds a baby Anzu bird. No ordinary bird, this one has the head of a lion and the body of an eagle. The chick is hungry, waiting for its hunting mother to return with food. When the giant of a mother bird returns and finds her baby in the care of Lugalbanda, she returns the soldier's kindness by bestowing upon him the ability to travel at supersonic speed.  The newly transformed superhero then runs faster than a speeding bullet to Aratta where he finds the king failing in his attempt to overtake the city. The king decides to seek the advice of the goddess Inana. Confident now in his new role of superhero, Lugalbanda volunteers for the mission and zips over seven mountain passes to arrive at the goddess' temple that same day. Returning just as quickly with Inana's sage advice, it’s easy to see how Lugalbanda ends up becoming King Enmerkar's successor and makes the  Sumerian Kings List as the second king of Uruk.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cooper's Ferry Archaeological Site

Now that we’re experiencing subzero weather here in Idaho, I thought it was a good time to reflect on warmer days.  One day in late July, I remembered an article I had read that stated that Oregon State University was excavating a site at Cooper’s Ferry in the Salmon River Canyon near Cottonwood Idaho, and that visitors were welcome to stop by. The site holds some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Pacific Northwest and a team from OSU uses the site as an archeology field school for eight weeks each summer.

View of the Salmon River from the Cooper's Ferry Site

I decided that it was great day to load up the Suburban and visit the dig and enjoy some swimming at one of the beaches nearby.  I invited the neighbor girls and a close friend and her daughter to join my three youngest children and me.  Once the eight seats were filled, we set off on our adventure. Cooper’s Ferry is about an hour’s drive from our house, sufficient time to get everyone excited about what we were going to see. I envisioned the kids digging with trowels, sifting for artifacts, maybe finding an arrowhead.  The area was alive with archaeology students and their instructors.  I parked along the road and went to speak with someone to verify that the kids were welcome to get out and explore. Unfortunately, I was told, the site was only open until 3PM (or maybe it was 2:45) and we had missed it by about five minutes. They were closing down and wrapping things up, setting up security, etc. They did give the kids some quiz cards and invited us to come back during regular hours.

Cooper's Ferry site all closed up and protected for the night.
It was a bit of a disappointment, but the kids were hot and mostly anxious to hit the beach.  The first beach we reached was packed. I decided to continue driving along the Salmon River to what is basically a dead end.  I parked the car and we set off down a well-trod path. Rather than a giant sandy beach like the one we had passed and the kids had been expecting, we arrived at what could best be described as a rock outcropping leading onto a rocky shore swarming with yellow jackets. My friend gave me a dubious look, but we had already hiked down the trail and I was not ready to give up. It turned out to be ideal. We were able to walk along a narrow, underwater sandbar that stretched far out into river, away from the yellow jackets. The bar separated a nice swimming area from the main current of the river. I ordered the kids to stay on the safe side of the bar and they had a blast.
Playing on the sandbar in Salmon River
Coincidentally, a few days later, another friend called and asked if she could take my kids to the beach. I said yes and urged her to stop by the Cooper’s Ferry dig, which she did, and the kids were finally able to enjoy the experience.
The work going on at Cooper’s Ferry is pretty exciting. They’re coming up with some carbon dates and other evidence that could prove that the Clovis People were not the first to inhabit this part of the country as is widely believed. 
OSU's Cooper's Ferry blog:

Archaeological Research at Cooper's Ferry

They have also set up a YouTube channel with video logs and other educational videos related to the Cooper’s Ferry site. Here is an example: 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Old Copper Complex

A 12.1-ounce nugget of natural native copper from the glacial drifts of Michigan
Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0

Ancient Civilizations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Andes, and Mesoamerica are all known to have worked with copper.  A number of Native North Americans societies, referred to collectively as the Old Copper Complex, were also skilled in the production of copper weapons, tools, and ornamentation.  

Copper items have been featured in the first two books of the Timekeepers Series and will continue to be showcased in Book Three. The move from copper to bronze occurred at different time periods around the globe, so some of the cultures in our books, like the Ancient Native Americans, are still working with copper at the  same time that others, like the Shang Dynasty in Ancient China, have discovered that adding an alloy to the copper makes a stronger metal and are operating bronze foundries.

Copper was being quarried in the Great Lakes region of North America at least 6000 years ago. A little research into this subject reveals a surprising controversy.  Some investigators don’t accept the notion that the indigenous people were the miners, but rather that it was explorers from afar, including the Phoenicians or Minoans, who mined the copper. One piece of evidence supporting their theory is, well, lack of evidence. They estimate that a minimum of a half a billion tons of copper was taken from the area. Where did it go? It’s true that there was an extensive trade network across North America and Great Lakes copper artifacts were a part of that network. But could any of it have made it across the Atlantic Ocean as some claim? Skeptics dispute the idea that there is any reliable way to estimate the amount of copper mined, thus dismissing the need to account for vast missing quantities. They insist that it was indeed Native Americans who mined, worked, and traded the copper. Stay tuned for Book Three of the Timekeepers Series to find out what really happened!

To read more about the theory of Great Lakes copper being taken from American shores, see Phillip Cohen’s article Copper: a world trade in 3000 BC? at
For a more detailed discussion on the Old Copper Complex and their production methodologies,  go to This site is the culmination of more than 40 years of research and artifact collection by its creator and his father.
Go here to find out how to make your own “Miskwabik” (copper) tapered tang dart point:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Interactive Websites

Studying the ancient past has never been so exciting with the abundance of interactive websites available.  At The Princeton University Art Museum, you can learn about ancient Chinese bronze casting through an interactive that “provides a schematic recreation of some techniques that were used.”  You begin by choosing a clay model and then carve designs on it. The remaining steps are depicted through user controlled animation.
Zun Vessel
Princeton University Art Museum: China Early Western Zhou dynasty, 11th–10th century B.C.      

In the BBC’s Pyramid Challenge, you’re an Egyptian vizier tasked with building a tomb for the King’s final resting place. After choosing a suitable location, you pick your design and building materials and orient your pyramid.  You must then choose your work force and select their food rations and living supplies before transporting your materials to the construction site.
Transport d'un bloc de pierre à l'aide boeufs, carrière de el-masara: "A popular Account of the Ancient Egyptians" by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, 1854 {PD-1923}

You can also visit Virtual Museum Canada where you will participate in an interactive archaeological dig.  You can either educate yourself first by working your way through their Archeology 101 lesson or just jump right in. After digging for and retrieving artifacts, you can log them in your field notes before transporting them to and cleaning and sorting them at the lab.

This is just scratching the surface.  A web search will help you dig deeper to uncover more details about life in ancient civilizations.




Sunday, February 24, 2013

What's In a Name

File:King Tang of Shang.jpg
King Tang of Shang Dynasty as imagined by by Song Dynasty painter Ma Lin.  Painting is located in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.{{PD-Art}}

When researching ancient Chinese rulers, names can be confusing.  Take for instance Tang, the first ruler of the Shang dynasty, and a major player in Book Two of the Timekeepers Series.  He only became known as Tang after his death, although, we call him Tang in Book Two.  Our cast of characters can be confusing enough without giving everyone multiple names.  Tang’s ancestral name is Zi, his given name is Lu, his courtesy name is Tai Yi, and his temple name is Tai Zu.  When I was researching the topic, I came across the following quote from an Indiana University paper, Shang Kingship And Shang Kinship, “Although the names of the Shang kings may not seem an intrinsically interesting topic. . .”  What?  Of course it is an interesting topic—but probably not to most people.  
While China boasts some of the richest and most detailed records of antiquity, scholars continue to disagree over the exact chronology and accuracy of accounts of the ancient Chinese dynasties and their rulers.   The records may not always match up, but they do so often enough, or close enough, to make a historical fiction novelist feel she’s on the right track.  One of the historical resources of ancient China is the Bamboo Annals.  This vast record begins with the Yellow Emperor (2600 B.C.) and ends with the Warring States Period.  The original text, which was written on strips of bamboo, hence the name, was buried with King Xiang of Wei who died in 296 B.C., only to be rediscovered nearly 600 years later.  Interestingly enough, this burial of the text protected it from an alleged book burning during the Qin Dynasty where all non Qin authored histories were destroyed.  Even grimmer was the tandem event of the alleged burial of the scholars in which a minimum of 460 scholars were buried alive.  The back story on this is incredibly alluring and I’m sure it will be featured in a future Timekeepers book.  
The Shiji or the Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Quian, also date back to the time of the Yellow Emperor.  Sima Quiam produced over 130 scrolls of Chinese history around the year 100 B.C. As a hereditary historian, he had access to source material such as the Annals of the Five Emperors and other Chinese classics.  
Another source for historical Chinese records are the historical oracle bones, Chinese writing on animal bones and turtle shells, dating as far back as the Shang dynasty (somewhere around 1600 B.C., depending on whose chronology you use).  As the Shang dynasty is just getting under way in Book Two of the Timekeepers Series, you can expect to read about the oracle bones as we chronicle the feats of the Shang rulers.
Without a doubt, some of the most useful resources for Ancient Chinese research are The Chinese Classics: with a Translation, Critical and Exegetical Notes, Prolegomena, and Copious Indexes, 5 vols., (Hong Kong: Legge; London: Trubner, 1861–1872).  James Legge was an Oxford Professor of Chinese who translated many Chinese classics, including the Bamboo Annals. Best of all, thanks to Project Gutenberg, Legge’s Classics can be read online at:   
While the practice of laying multiple names on ancient Chinese rulers seems confusing, a twist on the practice usefully lends itself to fictional characterization.  Rather than give one character multiple names, we have given one name multiple characters.  We have fused the character of one our villains with the nefarious ancient Chinese ruler, Ji, the last ruler of the Xia dynasty.  His transgressions helped usher in the Shang dynasty with its preeminent ruler, Tang, and now sets the stage for Book Two of the Timekeepers series.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Giants in the Americas?

We work with facts when we can. The rest is fiction. That is how historical fiction works. For every fact there are a slew of myths and legends. But, to paraphrase Baldwin, “Every legend has a bit of truth.” It is these bits of truth that we search out. Oftentimes we are left only with the physical evidence of a historic event. More often, we are left only with the so called myths and legends, oral traditions, and ancient texts but not the accompanying evidence. Even rarer, we have the evidence, but the experts debate its authenticity, or it is buried in some archive of some museum and no one really knows how to find it. And, occasionally, we have what is held as irrefutable truth, but really how can we know for sure? It is a blend of all of these elements that help to create the world as we present it to you 5 and 6 millennia ago in our Timekeepers Series.

Our heroes are fictional characters, albeit offspring of the legendary Gilgamesh. These sizable siblings are describes as being of great stature. In fact, it is unusual for them to come across other civilizations where the people match them in height or might. Their size does not push the limit of believability, but makes them memorable. But throughout history and across the globe there have been reports of humans of such great height, they were referred to as giants. Most people are familiar with the Biblical giants. But there are other reports of giants as well. Much more “modern” reports.

Take Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who was nearly the first to circumnavigate the globe, (although he didn’t quite make it, 18 of his crew did). Did he encounter “giants” in the New World? According to chronicler of the journey, Anthony Pigafetta, he did. While they wintered at the Bay of St. Julian, along the Patagonian coast, Pigafetta recorded “One day we suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the port, dancing, sing-ing, and throwing dust on his head. The captain-general sent one of our men to the giant so that he might perform the same actions as a sign of peace. Having done that, the man led the giant to an islet into the presence of the captain-general. When the giant was in the captain-general's and our presence, he marveled greatly, and made signs with one finger raised upward, believing that we had come from the sky. He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned.”

English sailor offering bread to a Patagonian woman giant. Frontispiece to Viaggio intorno al mondo fatto dalla nave Inglese il Delfino comandata dal caposqadra Byron (Florence, 1768), the first Italian edition of John Byron’s A Voyage Round the World in His Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin . . . (London, 1767) [Rare Books Division].

Unless Magellan was traveling with a ship full of midgets, it sounds like they really saw a giant, and not just one, but an entire tribe of them. I found it interesting that he said the women were not as tall as the men, but “very much fatter”.
Apparently, Magellan’s crew captured two of these “giants”: “The captain-gen-eral kept two of them -the youngest and best pro- portioned -by means of a very cunning trick, in order to take them to Spagnia." Unfortunately, both of the men died before returning to Spain and were buried at sea. You can read the full account yourself at

So, here we have an eyewitness report, albeit one lacking in physical evidence. A skeleton would be nice. In fact, if such behemoths did exist, shouldn’t there be skeletal evidence somewhere? Where are the skeletons? Indeed, where are the skeletons?
More than one Native American tribe maintains oral histories of giants that terrorized their ancestors. In the west, Shoshone and Paiute legends speak of cannibalistic giants who kidnapped and fed on their people. According to legend, the Paiute finally grew weary of the wicked and interestingly, red-headed giants, and banded together to exterminate them. When they had reduced their numbers to but a few, they trapped them in a cave (now known as Lovelock Cave) they had taken refuge in. When the giants refused to come out and die an honorable death, the Indians filled the mouth of the cave with brush and set it on fire. Some giants rushed out only to be slain by arrows while others died of asphyxiation within the cave. As it goes with such caves, an earthquake collapsed the entrance, and for millennium, it remained a crypt and a guano factory. Bats were still able to fly in and out and fill the cave with guano, which decays as saltpeter, a key ingredient of gun powder and a valuable commodity to the American West. When miners discovered the several feet thick mine of white gold, they also discovered skeletons and other artifacts, but didn’t immediately share their discovery with archaeologists. By the time preservationists arrived on the scene, much had been destroyed, but they still allegedly retrieved over 10,000 artifacts and more remarkably, at minimum, 2 redheaded skeletons, a female and a male, measuring 6.5 and 8 feet respectively. Nobody seems to know where the skeletons are now, but I’m willing to bet the shorter female was much fatter than the male.

Cache of 11 duck decoys at removal from Lovelock Cave,
by Llewellyn L. Loud, photo by M.R. Harrington, 1924,
photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Indian,
Smithsonian Institution.


“Patagonian Giants.” Princeton University Library. Princeton. Web. 14 July 2012.  

“The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803: explorations by early navigators, descriptions of the islands and their peoples, their history and records of the Catholic missions, as related to contemporaneous books and manuscripts, showing the political, economic, commercial, and religious conditions of those islands from their earliest relations with European nations to the beginning of the nineteenth century.”  Viewed 14 July, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chief Joseph's Medicine Bag

Chief Joseph


A recent story I read about the contents of Chief Joseph’s medicine bag got me reflecting on medicine bags in general.  I had some personal experience with the medicine bag, having sported one myself for most of the nineties.  I met a mountain man my first summer out of high school.  Sporting buckskins and a flowing beard, he told me of the powwow circuit he traveled and showed me the medicine bags that he made and sold, more or less covering his travel expenses.  He sold me what I consider a starter kit, a basic fringed leather pouch on a string containing five essential types of medicine.  He stressed that I not show anyone the contents of my pouch or its medicine would be lost, and I stuck to this rule, until I had kids who insisted I let them explore its contents.  I didn’t wear my bag around my neck, but hung it proudly from my rear view mirror.  I feel it kept me safe in my youthful exploits.  

A Native American medicine bag was and is very personal in nature.  Its supernatural power, or medicine, is meant to protect the owner of the bag.  Its contents are considered sacred and include such things as herbs, stones, gems, minerals, bones, feathers, claws, teeth, etc.  Each of these items has special meaning and power.  Today’s medicine bags can also contain modern items that are meaningful to the owner such as photos, coins, etc.  For the life of me, I can’t seem to recall the contents of my bag other than the button made from antler “that I might always have clothing”.  It must have been powerful medicine because I always went about fully clothed. 
So what did the US Cavalry find in Chief Joseph’s medicine bag when they captured him in 1877?  Surprisingly, an Assyrian cuneiform tablet.  This piece of baked clay, measuring no more than one square inch, was determined to be a bill of sale dating to 2042 BC.  It reads "Nalu received 1 lamb from Abbashaga on the 11th day of the month of the festival of An, in the year Enmahgalanna was installed as high priestess of Nanna".

Mary Gindling of History Mysteries writes:  "The chief said that the tablet had been passed down in his family for many generations, and that they had inherited it from their white ancestors. Chief Joseph said that white men had come among his ancestors long ago, and had taught his people many things. His story echoes those told by Native Americans in both North and South America about white culture bringers. But in this case, Joseph had a souvenir to demonstrate the truth of his story."

I don’t know what else was in the bag, at least history seems to have kept that secret and sacred.  The tablet is rumored to be archived at the museum at West Point in Virginia. As for the bag itself, Benjamin Daniali of, believes the insignia on Chief Josephs’s bag to be the Star of Ashur, the same insignia used by ancient Mesopotamians and still found on the Assyrian flag.  

Chief Joseph's Medicine Bag

Assyrian Flag

My research of medicine bags eventually led me to Wikipedia where I learned that medicine bags should not be confused with bandolier bags, most frequently associated with the Anishinaabe people, which includes the Ojibwe.  While a medicine bag is meant to be worn across the shoulder (this I did not know—I wore mine around my neck before it replaced my graduation tassel on my rear view mirror), the bandolier is worn across the shoulder, to the side, or in front like an apron.  It is actually quite a stylish looking accessory and I think I would prefer the bandolier as a replacement pouch.  In fact, genetics might dictate that I choose the bandolier.  You see, I may be of Ojibwe descent.  The lineage here is almost as sketchy as the contents of my medicine bag.   My great-grandfather on my father’s side who was adopted.  As I was searching for his birth roots, I came across the usual stumbling blocks, the church that could have held clues in its archives but had burned down and the family friend who when asked what he knew of my great grandfather’s birth family mailed me a genealogical gold mine of Ojibwe royalty and then died before I had a chance to interrogate him.  I still don’t know how my family line ties into this Ojibwe line, but maybe I can keep a copy of it in my bandolier bag.  

Bandolier Bag

photo courtesy of Children's Museum of Indianapolis

To read more about Chief Joseph's cuneiform tablet, visit: Chief Joseph Carried the Star of Ashur, Benjamin Daniali, 4/25/12