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, iRocks.com – 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 http://www.philipcoppens.com/copper.html
For a more detailed discussion on the Old Copper Complex and their production methodologies,  go to http://copperculture.homestead.com/ 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: https://www.msu.edu/~oberg/copper/funfacts.html

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. http://etcweb.princeton.edu/asianart/interactives/bronze/bronze.html
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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/games/pyramid_challenge/index_embed.shtml
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: http://archive.org/details/chineseclassics07legggoog.   
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.