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Why is Archaeology Important? Let’s find out from Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6! [Spoiler Alert]

By: Salome Mega

 

This article will discuss the sixth and last episode of season 8 of the tv show Game of Thrones (S8E6). Released in April 2019, this last season raised numerous fan critiques, notably concerning the choice of Bran the Broken as King of the Six Kingdoms.

But, you’re probably wondering why such a subject ends up being discussed on this forum dedicated to archaeology— and Gallina archaeology in particular. Here is why: as a student in the field, I quite enjoyed the ending that was proposed by the writers of the series. Why? Because the monologue of Tyrion Lannister in front of the assembly of lords and ladies of Westeros to propose Bran the Broken as King can be interpreted as a tribute to the importance of History and Archaeology to understand our present and lead our future.

tyrion

Original picture by HBO

To refresh your memory, I joined to this post the link to the scene and the transcript of the monologue of Tyrion:

https://youtu.be/moM00oXhmes

“Tyrion Lannister: I have had nothing to do but think these past few weeks, about our bloody history, about the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? (shaking his head) Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the wall, a crippled boy, and became the three-eyed raven. He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories: the wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats; our past. Who better to lead us into the future?”

 Tyrion suggests Bran should be king because the powers of the three-eyed raven enable him to see into the past of Westeros, and into the future as well. Bran is thus the guardian of the History of the people of Westeros, and is according to Tyrion the most fit to lead thanks to his knowledge of the past and his visions of the future. Tyrion thus values History as a guide for the present and the future of his world. He sees the absolute historical knowledge of Bran as a way to avoid repeating mistakes that have been made in the past. Tyrion also considers History as the only binding agent between humans. Even though the houses of Westeros are often in open conflict, they are all in a way linked to one another by their history: be it by “the wars, weddings, births” etc.

Much of what Tyrion argues for in this monologue can be applied in our world. Even if no one has the supernatural power of seeing the past, our History is still accessible to us through oral histories (knowledge of events that occurred in one community and that is passed down verbally for generations), written histories, and archaeological data. Written histories are translated and studied by historians. Archaeological data are obtained by archaeologists when excavating and are interpreted in the most objective way possible. What distinguishes historians and archaeologists is that the former study written texts and imagery left by a culture or describing a culture, while the latter study the material remains of past human societies. Together, historians and archaeologists aim at reconstituting the past in the most accurate and objective way possible. Thanks to the knowledge maintained in oral histories, texts, and archaeological interpretations, we can now look into some of our past (almost) like the three-eyed raven. Even though we cannot visualize past events as well as Bran does, we at least know of their existence.

Archaeology is therefore important as it enables us to access our past and retrace our History. It is essential for human societies to know about their past for the following reasons.

First, History is an important element in the building of identities. A common ancestry or History can provide a sense of belonging to a community and can be supplemented by an attachment to a place. National identities, for instance, are often built on a historical narrative that is considered to be shared by a large number of citizens. Such narratives can exclude regional or local identities to favor social and cultural cohesion within the nation by omitting events in the narrative. Such omissions can be pointed out by scholars or clarified by new archaeological research. This way, local communities can claim their past and reaffirm their identity.

Second, like Tyrion argued, History unites people. The oral histories, written histories, and archaeological data have helped us retrace the history of our species from the origins, through different cultural stages and up until nowadays. As human beings, we are defined by our past and united by it beyond our cultural differences. Keeping the record of our past is a way to show our existence in this world. Actually, this is well illustrated in S8 of Game of Thrones when the Night King targets solely Bran to erase any record of the History of the people of Westeros and therefore of their existence in their world.

Third, the mistakes we have made in our past can be avoided by learning from them. That is what Tyrion proposes when he suggests Bran should be king. He considers that his knowledge of the past makes him more able to find solutions to their contemporary problems. This would also be the case in our world. The study of past societies and of the systems they put in place to overcome external and internal pressures can help us find new ways to approach the major problems of this century (climate change, overpopulation, increasing globalization, large population migrations, the rise of far-right politicians, and on and on and on). The key to the future is found in the past. It is possible to “break the wheel” by avoiding repeating the same mistakes over and over. And who better to lead us into the future than History?

Pottery, Mural and Rock Art: Considerations from the Gallina Region and beyond

By: Georgina Taylor

 

Gallina murals come in two forms; geometric and figurative. Frequent geometric patterns that appear are vertical paneling, banded lines, and pennant-like designs. These geometric motifs are often paired with floral figures, such as sunflowers, spruce trees and potentially yucca. The aim of my research is to look for similarities in stylistic elements between murals, ceramics and rock art, as this could shed light on the ways the Gallina interpreted their worlds, and the shared design characteristics across their various mediums; whether that’s crafting pots or decorating houses.

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Stylistic similarities between one of the murals at the Cerrito site and the pottery vessel on display at Ghost Ranch. We were having a gander around the Gallina section there when I came across this pot. I double took.

A visit to the Ghost Ranch museum, Abiquiu, revealed the similarities in design choices across walls and pots. Aside from a few minor differences, the composition, choice and shape of elements in the vessel below and the murals are strikingly similar (fig. 1). This vessel is from Rattlesnake Ridge and the similar mural designs are from Cerritos, which could show a high-resolution example of a connection between the sites. This vessel is not documented in prior Gallina literature, and without a visit to Ghost Ranch, it could have never appeared in my research.

Another interesting motif present in Gallina murals across at least three sites is the concentric circle (fig.2). Going on a weekend excursion revealed that the concentric circle is also present at Chaco Canyon, as seen on a stroll between Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito. However, this rock art also has a zoomorphic figure built up from the concentric design, meaning it’s not the mirror image of those seen in the Gallina Region. Nonetheless, the same raw design elements are still there, which presents an interesting comparison between designs in the Gallina region and at Chaco. Although, you could say that the concentric circle is an innate human design motif, for example a phosphene, which is a light pattern originated within the eye and brain (think spirals, lattices, waves etc.). Therefore, it would make sense that these patterns appear in rock art designs in multiple places, and spiral designs have been drawn by other local indigenous groups in the region.

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Examples of the concentric circle design at Gallina sites (top left, top right, and bottom right), and at Chaco Canyon (bottom left). This design has been recorded at the Evans site, Rattlesnake Ridge as painted artwork, and as a rock engraving at an unnamed Gallina site, kindly made known to me by one of the wildland fire team at the Cuba Ranger District.

Being present in the Southwest on the GLOH project has added a whole new suite of knowledge to my research external to academic literature, involving trips to the sites and museum themselves, and by contacting and conversing with many helpful people along the way.

 

 

Sources

Bellorado, B. A. (2017). The Context, Dating, and Role of Painted Building Murals in Gallina Society. Kiva83(4), 494-514.

Hibben, F. C. (1939). The Gallina Culture of North Central New Mexico. Unpublished Dissertation. Havard University, Cambridge.

Lange, C. (1956). The Evans site and the archaeology of the Gallina region, New Mexico. El Palacio, 63, 72-92.

Ortman, S. G. (2000). Conceptual metaphor in the archaeological record: methods and an example from the American Southwest. American antiquity65(4), 613-645.

Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. (1978). Drug-induced optical sensations and their relationship to applied art among some Colombian Indians.

 

Why do archaeologists ask questions?

By: Olivier van Rooij

 

Simple question right? To gain information about the past, of course. Why? Well, because it interests us. But, why?

This is called the “why” game. You can keep asking “why”, “why”, “but, why” after everything someone says, quickly spiraling down into the irritating, infinite chain of back-and-forth questions and answers. Kids do it all of the time . . .

. . . and adults should do it more often.

Okay, maybe don’t do that, it’s annoying . . . but, we already kind of do! We just use academic writing and intellectual thought as a facade for this “why” game.

So why do we ask these questions? Like, who cares. Well, why not? We ask questions because we can. It’s what makes us human. It sets us aside from any other species in the animal kingdom.

There are apes — the species that are known to have some close common ancestors — that have been taught to use sign language to communicate with us. And while they can do things like answer questions and even express thought and emotion, they have never once been observed to ask a question.

Asking questions is something that is unique to humans. But it doesn’t only make us unique from any other species, it also makes us unique as individuals. People express themselves with things like the clothes they wear or the music they listen to, but can also do so with their knowledge, their interests, the things they know about, the stuff they like, the questions they ask.

As much as these characteristics can emphasize someone’s unique identity, they can also bring people with these same characteristics together. This unified group of people will have created a group identity, maybe even without them realizing it.

During my fieldwork with the Gallina Landscape of History Project, I realized that the distinct group identity of isolation and non-conformism to other Ancestral Puebloans of the historic people we are researching may have been the outcome of a question, as well. The process of separation may have initiated simply from a question that could have gone along the lines of “Why should we conform?”.

So why do archaeologists ask questions? Why are we so fascinated by the past? It’s because we like it, because we are like it. Humans from the past and present are in many ways not very different from one another. The above question that the Gallina may have asked doesn’t sound very much different for the question archaeologist may be asking “Why didn’t the Gallina conform?”. While we will never actually know what exactly the past people’s intentions and what went on in their minds in many ways asking questions may bring us closer to those who have lived before us as they did the exact same thing themselves.

The Tale of Two Metates – a Preservation Story?

By: Jaye Smith

 

When involved in any project, I am reminded about a statement Dr. Raymond Thompson made in a past article of Glyphs (Arizona Archaeological and History Society 2015) in regard to the differences and similarities between looters, collectors, avocational and professional archaeologists.  Dr. Thompson stated that we are all “pot hunters” in one way or another, with the looters being those who excavate simply for greed and prosperity, without regard for preservation or research.

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Dr. Raymond Thompson (https://www.az-arch-and-hist.org/2010/05/speaker-to-be-announced/p1020444-2-2/)

Currently, in Feature 4 of the site being excavated during the Gallina Landscapes of History Project conducted by Dr. Lewis Borck in northwestern New Mexico, we are faced with at least three previous phases of survey and excavation – two by “professional archaeologists” in the 1960s and 1970s and one more recently by obvious “looters” with limited knowledge of the Gallina-area culture and architecture.  One of my tasks this field season was to continue clearing fill dirt and debris that was a combination of backfill from archaeological excavations and discarded looter dirt.

When artifacts are encountered, it is unclear whether they actually originated in Feature 4 or if they are from nearby adjacent looted features and discarded into Feature 4 by the looters (or even previous archaeologists) just to get “the stuff” out of the way of their careless digging.  As I continued clearing this mish-mash of fill away from the beautifully plastered north wall of Feature 4, two large, flat metates were encountered on the prepared-surface floor that would have been underneath a bench that was destroyed during previous activity. This was in the northwest corner of the unit house.

 

 

The metates were placed end-to-end next to the north wall.  The first metate encountered shows use-wear and was placed wear-side down.  The second metate, found closest to the northwest corner, appears to be unused.  Laying parallel to the second metate was a large two-handed mano, again placed use-wear side down in soft fill consisting of loose dirt and burned corn.  While we can’t say for certain that these artifacts were originally found in Feature 4, the uncovering of these objects do raise many questions as to what their positioning can tell us in regard to past desires to preserve and protect:

1) Did the early professional excavators uncover these objects in Feature 4 and carefully place them in a way so that they would be protected and preserved?

2) Why didn’t the early professional excavators collect the objects? The condition of all three artifacts are pristine, and the shape and size of the metates might indicate they were for uses other than grinding corn and thus unusual for the Gallina area.

3) Did the looters “miss” these objects?  The nearby looters “pit” is very obvious, as it dug through the flagstone floor of Feature 4 for about 40 centimeters. One could reason that if the looters had encountered these artifacts, they would have a) taken them; or b) discarded them carelessly outside of the unit house, thus causing a considerable amount of damage to the objects. Or, did the looters have a momentary desire to preserve these objects by carefully placing them against the wall, covering them up and leaving them behind?

4) Could these artifacts be in their original positions in Feature 4, placed by the early inhabitants in a way to honor and revere their uses?

Early professional survey and excavation notes on Feature 4 are rare, with little to no information given as to what was collected or the basis for the early excavation platforms.  While this can be frustrating when working in a feature that has been previously excavated and then looted afterwards, we can be very thankful for the care that was taken by others to preserve this part of the archaeological record.  I am privileged to be able to share in that part of the story, and know the Tale of the Two Metates (both will undergo starch grain analysis for the project) will continue to tell us more in the future about Gallina culture, the peoples of the past who made this breathtaking region their home, and the previous “pot-hunters” who were here before us.

 

Just the Charred Bits—Gallina People and Their Plants

By: EB Dresser-Kluchman

 

Today, I’ve written on paper made from trees, and eaten ground–up legumes spread on ground-up, risen wheat grains. I’ve enjoyed the shade of ponderosa pines and the scent of sagebrush, eaten an apple and disposed of the seeds, and depended on my cotton bandana to keep the gnats off of my neck. I’ve also poured over seven hundred year–old corn kernels. Each of these ‘plant-based’ activities tell a story of who I am: what I like to eat, how I live my life, and the archaeology that I do.

Gallina cob
Charred corn cobs found on the surface of our excavation site this season! These cobs fused together into this blob of corn when they burned.

As a paleoethnobotanist, I study plant use in the past. Paleoethnobotanists study everything from whole fruits to microscopic phytoliths and starch grains. I focus on “macro” remains, which means I mostly study seeds and wood. These preserved over time by carbonization or burning. I spend a lot of my time in the field collecting charcoal from our excavation screens and running liters of excavated dirt through a flotation tank.

After pieces of charcoal have been pulled out of excavation screens and floated through our machine to remove them from the dirt, I will identify seeds, wood charcoal, and other plant parts. Knowing which plants are present at these Gallina houses will allow me to think about how people here dealt with them.

Gallina_flotation
GLOH project members use a flotation tank—built in the field!—to separate out floating pieces of tiny charcoal from sediment. The water is brown because this machine recycles water, which makes flotation more responsible in the dry Southwest.

Plants are important in human lives and communities. We need to eat them in order to survive, but they are useful and meaningful in other ways, too. In contemporary New Mexico, green chile and red chile display personal preference and proud tradition. We use certain firewood because it’s available, sure, but also because it burns well or because it makes grilled meat taste better. We add spices and sweetening to our personal tastes, and the tastes of the people we feed. Whether in the city or the woods, we live with plants. Their smells, sights, and shade are the backdrop of our lives. To me, the oaky forests and ferns of New England will always be home, though I am now a more regular visitor to the ponderosas and cacti. The questions I ask depend on the assumption that plants meant something to people in the past as well.

So, how can we think about the relationships that Gallina people had with plants? What did they eat? What did they like to eat? What type of wood was right for building, and what type was right for burning? How and why did they include gathered food in their corn–rich lifestyles? We can’t ask them, but the charred bits left behind can say something.

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A bag of charred corn kernels from a  dense excavation unit. The tinfoil protects delicate corn cobs and wood charcoal in this very full bag!

First of all, Gallina sites, especially those that burned full of stored food, are packed with corn. Corn is a staple of the ancestral pueblo Southwest at large, but the density at these sites is exceptional. Also informative are the burned pieces of roof daub that we find in excavation and on survey with the bark of latillas and vigas still impressed in them. We’ve even seen evidence of agricultural terracing this summer on survey, which gives us a hint about how and where food and other domesticated plants were being grown.

Besides corn, we’ve also seen charred beans and a charred juniper berry in the excavation screens, but we’ll have to wait until I look at our flotation samples under a microscope to know more. I’m excited to learn more about firewood selection and to find out what wild plants and tasty seasonings entered Gallina hearths and storage. With a firm understanding of Gallina plants in hand, I can start thinking about how these plants took part in the lives of Gallina people—as tastes, traditions, sustenance, and so much more.

A Hen’s Song

By Georgina Taylor

I’m currently writing up my Masters thesis and am conducting a stylistic analysis on Gallina ceramics and painted building murals. Deciding against the conventional route of summarising my research in a 300-word 100-metre sprint to you guys, I wanted to communicate the kinds of imagery that the Gallina painted on their pots and walls using an artistic approach. So, I aimed to do something completely new to me and write a ’60s Folk style song inspired by what you would see on Gallina rocks, walls and pots, as well as weaving in information from the academic literature about the political decisions of the Gallina in early first millennium AD New Mexico, especially in relation to the changes in social organisation going on in the wider Four Corners region. I also recorded the song using a cheap, yet mighty, resophonic guitar (see picture), that I picked up from Main Street Music from the city of Aztec. This type of guitar is commonly used in blues, bluegrass and country and the metal resonators give it that distinctive twang that’ll make me miss the Southwest even more! But hey, it’s nice to bring a piece of the place home.

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A Hen’s Song

 

Drifting geese sail up high,
Pine trees whirl, pennants fly,
Infinite circles pass me by,
A thunder's blade splits the sky.
Chequer banquettes, quadrupeds,
Painted panels and sunflowers heads,
On the plaster of these humble walls,
Where the tale of those who left be told.
To the west, my love, most men drone,
Cast in sand and permanent stone,
Are the many stories shaped by wealth, 
Devout souls controlled through stealth.
A river's spell floods throughout,
Turquoise, shells, plumes, Cacao,
Yet who'll stay to break a cry,
When the desert creeks soon run dry.
To the hills obscured by pine,
Beyond the Badlands ridged and striped,
Revel back to our ancestral way,
Fine teachings for children of clay.

If Your History is Simple, It’s Probably Wrong

By Olivia Ellard

 

The project I have been working on in New Mexico is focused on a unique regional sphere of archaeology labeled Gallina. Named for a proximity to the Rio Gallina, the area is characterized by unusually large, single-family, residential structures, called unit and pit houses. Pottery is decorated with basic designs applied with a carbon based paint. The most common food found is corn, although beans and various other plants are found in smaller quantities. Archaeology shows that many of the structure were intentionally burned, either as a ritual closing or, less often, in acts of violence. By itself, none of these facts are unique in the Southwest. The dates of the Gallina region are what make the research unique: the houses were made between 1100 and 1300 CE, just after the height of “Great House” architecture made famous by Chaco Canyon and after most other people had moved into large, apartment like architecture.

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Finger pinched appliqued rim sherd from the Gallina region. Here, people often create stark relief indentations through finger pinching instead of just using their finger tips to create more subtle indentations. There are meanings behind these differences in cultural actions.

The characteristics of the Gallina region are different than the rest of the archaeology in the region, creating a complex and multi-faceted debate among archaeologists. The many aspects of these discussions are fascinating, yet unfortunately the richness of research potential in the area is ignored by how Southwestern archaeology is presented to public audiences. In a general exhibit or article about Southwestern archaeology, the Gallina region is usually ignored altogether in favor of more famous regions like Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde. The one museum actually focusing on the region is the Ghost Ranch Archaeological Museum in Abiquiu, New Mexico. While the displays are interesting to read and easy to understand, the museum focuses on archaeologist Florence Hawley Ellis, a prominent figure of anthropology who practiced in the mid twentieth century. This presentation cements Gallina archaeology as it was in the past rather than how it is understood in the present. In the Southwest, there are no avenues for the public to understand contemporary archaeology in the Gallina region – instead they are shown past practices or led to skip Gallina sites all together.

I have avidly participated in museum programs since I was young, learning about excavation in fake paleontological digs and learning about history in places as big as the Met and as small as a room in the local library. Now, three-quarters of the way through a bachelor’s degree, the difference between learning through museums and learning through traditional academia is stark. The latter is expensive and dense, only available to those within an academic institution, while the former is meant for anyone with the ability to walk through the front doors. A system that separates public and academic knowledge inherently restricts information in the process. As academic issues become more complex, public interpretation is increasingly boiled down to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “single story”.

In a TED talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie delivered a powerful and poignant speech about the danger of imposing a single perception onto a community or place. Published in 2009, as of 2019 the talk is closing on 5 million views on YouTube and is commonly used in schools, colleges, and workplaces. As a writer, Adichie focuses specifically on western literature, and how a single repeated story of Africa portrays the diverse continent in a narrow lens as pitiful and underdeveloped. She shows how the ability to create a single story from a cacophonous array is inherently linked to social, economic, and political power.

For the past five hundred years, power in the Americas has been controlled by colonial groups. In the United States, the single story of native peoples is one of replacement, relocation, or removal. Rarely are native nations discussed as living, evolving communities facing the oppressive history of settler-colonialism along with pressures of modern global society (for example, see https://blog.americananthro.org/2018/11/22/the-miseducation-of-the-public-and-the-erasure-of-native-americans/). Part of the work being done in the field of Indigenous archaeology is figuring out a way to shift the focus away from the single story to a format that is more inclusive and representative of contemporary native nations. Undoing the long history of misrepresentation is essential for the future of the discipline, yet resolving the differences between complicated and multilayered histories is often too difficult and they become excluded from the single-story narrative that the media and the academy make available to the public. This exclusion increases the pre-existing gap between academic and public literature.

Single stories in archaeology are perpetuated by an increasing gap between information available to research academics and information easily available to the general public. In the process of making information publicly accessible, it is boiled down to the simplest and most interesting terms, thus loosing essential components of research that are essential for complex understandings. A single story of Indigenous American archaeology reiterates the single story of native peoples on this continent. It is a story born out of oppression and violence, and one that continues to negatively impact communities to this day. Although difficult, it is not impossible to change the story. A better public understanding of research disciplines such as archaeology would allow for more broader and more inclusive discussions, helping to eliminate the single story as well as educate a wider scope of society.