Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Problem With Archaeology

As is the case with so many Peruvian so-called “separate cultures,” the relationship between the Chavín and the Cupisnique is not well understood, and the names are sometimes used interchangeably.
Theoretically, these three cultures (Ciupisnioque, Moche, and Chavín) should be in control of separate areas, however, they controlled much of the same lands

For instance, some scholars treat as Cupisnique a culture lasting from 1000 – 200 BC, which are the dates some associate with the Chavín culture. Others claim the Cupisnique a possible ancestor of the Mochica (Moche) culture with no mention of Chavín. Still others claim "the coastal manifestation of the Chavín Horizon was dominated by the Cupisnique style.” It should be noted that the Moche controlled most of the coastal lands in this area, including Sipan, Loma Negra, Dos Cabezas, Pacatnamu, El Brujo, Mocollope, Cerro Mayal, Galindo, Huanchaco and Pañamarka; yet, at the same time, it is claimed, the Cupisnioque controlled some of these coastal areas.
    What is to be done with such misleading information being presented daily about the various cultures archaeologists and anthropologists claimed lived in Andean Peru, one after another, and ones in separate areas all having no relationship with another?
    As an example, Ruth Martha Shady Solis, of the Museum of Archaeology at the National University of San Marcos in Lima, and the Project Director for ongoing research at the architectural site of Caral, claims the Andean civilizations were “a patchwork of different cultures and people that mainly developed in the coastal deserts of Peru” (Solis, “Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru,” Science, Vol 292 (5517), May 2001, pp 723-726).
    Archaeologists claim these cultures stretched from the Andes of Colombia southward down the Andes of northern Chile and Argentina, and that the various civilizations first developed on the narrow coastal plain of the Pacific Ocean in Peru. They also claim that the Andean civilization was one of five civilizations in the world deemed by scholars to be "pristine," that is indigenous and not derived from other civilizations. In fact, due to its isolation from other civilizations, the indigenous people of the Andes are believed to have come up with their own, often unique solutions to environmental and societal challenges.
    On the other hand, the early Andean civilizations used building methods quite similar and comparable to that of Egypt, including platform pyramids and trapezoidal doorways; built thousands of miles of roads quiet similar to those of the Romans, including cobblestone roadbeds and curbing; built underground and above ground aqueducts similar to those of the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans—the Qanat system of underground irrigation tunnels in dry areas was first developed by the Persians in the last millennium BC, and also practiced by the Nazca people of southern Peru in their puquios; mummification along the lines that the Egyptians practiced was also found practiced in Andean Peru; circumcision, known to the Hebrews was also found practiced in Peru, terraced farming is the practice of cutting flat areas out of a hilly or mountainous landscape in order to grow crops, and is practiced in growing  from the rice fields of Asia to the steep slopes of the Andes in South America, including ancient use in the Mediterranean, Italy, Switzerland, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Left: Terraced fields of Vietnam; Right, terraced fields of Andean Peru

Although terrace farming was practiced all through the Andes, it was also an ancient practice elsewhere, and one where scientists are continually finding new evidence of in long-gone civilizations. As recently as 2013, researchers found that terrace farming was used near the desert city of Petra (about 100 miles south of Jerusalem) even earlier than previously thought—some 2000 years ago. "The successful terrace farming of wheat, grapes and possibly olives, resulted in a vast, green, agricultural “suburb” to Petra in an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape," reports the University of Cincinnati (M.B.Reilly, “Terrace Farming Unearthed at Ancient Desert City of Petra,” ScienceDaily, January 2, 2013). This is at the heart of terrace farming: making use of otherwise un-farmable land to create bountiful crops to support humans. Without this practice coming of age so long ago, civilizations around the world may have had a very different future.
    Nor can it be said, as Anthropologists do, that isolation from other civilizations caused Peruvians to come up with their own, often unique solutions to environmental and societal challenges, since numerous civilizations around the world have been in the same situation. Those of Napal, Australia, Hawaii, Japan, Siberia, Greenland and elsewhere have been in the same predicament and all seem to have similar as well as dissimilar customs to other peoples.
    The point is, there were numerous examples of similar practices from building to individual activities found between the Old World and the Andean civilizations. Nor can it be said that the development and domestication of plants is unique to one people or another. Peruvians developed numerous varieties of the potato, sweet potato, quinoa, tomatoes, chili peppers, cotton, coca, tobacco, pineapples, peanuts, and several varieties of beans (Dolores R. Piperno, "The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication in the New World Tropics: Patterns, Process, and new Developments," Current Anthropology, Vol.52, No.54, 2011, ppS457–S459).
Japanese Sannakji, unique to the Far East

At the same time, there are numerous places where they have unique dishes and foods, such as Surströmming in Sweden; Nakji and Sannakji in Japan and the East; Kopi Luwak in Southeast Asia; Stinkbugs in Indonesia; Lutefisk in Scandinavia; Casu Marau in Sardinia; Mopane in Africa; A-ping in Cambodia; Yi-Yang fish in Taiwan; Puffin Heart in Iceland; Pho Ga in Vietnam; Ackee and Saltfish in Jamaica, etc. Foods obviously vary according to what is available in an area, and some are based on unique animals or other ingredients to the area.
    Since Archaeologists and Anthropologists determine these separate cultures based mostly on ceramics found. In fact, their definition of an archaeology culture is “a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society.” This does not allow for a single culture to change its ceramic style, building methods and burials; however “the connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and does not necessarily relate to real groups of humans in the past. The concept of archaeological culture is fundamental to culture-historical archaeology.”
    A simplistic example of the process might be that:
1. If one pottery-type had handles very similar to those of a neighboring type but decoration similar to a different neighbor, the idea for the two features might have diffused from the neighbors; conversely,
2. If one pottery-type suddenly replaces a great diversity of pottery types in an entire region, that might be interpreted as a new group migrating in with this new style.
    Again, the problem lies in making such assumptions. As an example, in #1 above, this simply might be that one people, divided into different cities, developed dissimilar styles in the creation of pottery, causing each group to have different ceramic artifacts. On the other hand, people (or even a single pottery maker) of one city might have migrated to a different city and there continue a style of pottery he developed in his old city.
    On a different scale, the people of Los Angeles are different from the people of San Francisco, and much of their life styles, buildings, and art is different—yet they are the same people of the same national background, but archaeologists would, upon seeing these differences in a past people with no other means of comparison would call them different cultures.
Left: 1880s dress in Chicago; Right: 1880s dress in Dodge City. No similarity, but the same basic people

Another example can be found in the early days of American expansion from the east coast into the west territories. The type of life led in Chicago different considerably from that of Dodge City, Kansas, throughout most of the 1800s, yet, though these two areas are 843 miles apart, they were developed by the same people—one group(s) moving westward.
    Today, those of Provo differ from those of Salt Lake City, if for no other reason than their views of the “Y” and the University of Utah symbols and artifacts.
    Nor are weapons a sure sign. Some groups of people preferred slings in the distant past, others the bow and arrow, and still others the sword. But they were all the same people. Nor is this point lost on modern man, since it is well understood that the people of Greece were one people, yet each city state initially was quite different from one another in material and nonmaterial ways.
    While culture unites people of a single society together through shared beliefs, traditions, and expectations, it does not mean that those people are identical in interests, appetite, art, or most anything else. Yet we are continually being told that in Andean Peru, as an example, it was one culture after another that showed up on the land—and never connected to one another. The result of this is that the average person thinks of a series of peoples settled and lived in the Andean area, rather than one people that developed, changed, and improved themselves over time.
    It should be remembered that the professionals of our day claim the seven elements that make up culture are: Social organization; customs and traditions; religion; language; art and literature; forms of government; and economic systems. These of course develop and change among a single people over time—sometimes in very short periods. This is seen with the early Romans, and nearly all early peoples.
A collection of pottery shards found at an archaeological site used to piece together a culture that settled there
The point is, when all one has is some artifacts to go on, a few pottery shards, such remarkable decisions as claiming two groups were entirely different cultures, should cause people to be suspect at best. It would be far more profitable to knowledge if science would refrain from disconnecting one group from another as science has done of those living in the latter BC and early AD centuries.
    There is absolutely no reason to think that the people of Acaray were different from the people of Caral or Pachacamac or elsewhere in origin and other matters, though they developed certain skills and interests as well as practices and art that differed from one another. Consider for a moment the Zoramites who belonged to the Church, but had altered their religion and climbed upon a tall tower called the Rameumptom in the center of their synagogues to pray in a completely different manner that was quite an affront to Alma and Amulek (Alma 2:12,13,14,20,21). People within a group can differ considerably, but to the archaeologist that makes them different peoples and entirely different cultures.


  1. I've said it before and I'll say it again...

    If you have never read the picture book "Motel of the Mysteries" by David Macaulay, then do it! It takes less than an hour to read and it exposes, in a very fun way, the realities of archeological assumptions.

    From the opening page where a fitting tribute it made to the Nazca lines, to the assumptions that everyday items and places take on ceremonial roles, to the final pages with gift shop replicas, I've loved this book since I was a teenager. It's a treasure of archeological satire. Two thumbs up.

    1. I found this and it is definitely hilarious. The archeologist looks just like Howard Carter who found King Tut's tomb in 1922.

      Motel of the Mystery

      Some are suspicious that Howard Carter actually staged his famous discovery and was a fraud.

      The Great Tutankhamen Hoax - Was the Tomb of King Tut Faked?

    2. That PDF isn't the complete book and detailed story. It's just the pictures with headers, but you get the idea. You can get the book from Amazon.