Tag Archives: Anthropology

Book Review – Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens

MayaChronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya

by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube

This book is chock full of site plans and photos, artifacts and loads of maps.

This is a highly informative work considering that most of Maya history comes from the Glyphs/writing left on buildings and monuments.

This book is a very good quick reference guide for those who do not want to wade through huge blocks of history text to get to the information you need. The volume is divided into sections separating the Maya into their city states and showing their impact on the world around them (as well as the impact on them from outsiders).

The Maya are a precise and warlike people who, it seems, overstretched their natural resources which then lead to their city states to eventual ruin and abandonment.

And now the Maya people today (who have a strong oral tradition) are being taught to read the writing of their ancestors by the Archaeologists who study the ancient Maya.

Writing and language are so much a part of a person’s cultural identity, that when you lose your connection with it, you lose a part of yourself.


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Thors hammer
Both sides of the Hammer Amulet (runes on left hand). Image: National Museum of Denmark

A small hammer dating to the 10th century was found recently on the Danish Island of Lolland. Over 1000 of these amulets have been found across Northern Europe but the pendant from Lolland is the only one with a runic inscription.

This particular torshammere (Thor’s Hammer Amulet) was found at Købelev and reported to the Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Anders Rasmussen by detectorist Torben Christjansen.

 Worn for protection

Hammer pendants are interpreted as amulets shaped like Mjölnir, the hammer owned by the Norse god, Thor. Viking men and women often wore Thor’s hammer for protection.  “It was the amulet’s protective power that counted, and often we see torshammere and Christian crosses appearing together, providing double protection”, said Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark.

This object is cast in bronze and has traces of silver or tin plating as well as gold plating, and is the first ever to be found with runes inscribed. Pentz is grateful to the unknown rune writer who is at last confirming that these amulets actually do depict Thor’s hammer. Over the years there had been doubt cast on whether these small amulets indeed represent a hammer. Some believe that the shaft is too short, while others believe that the hammer would not have had a symmetrical head such as this one. Perhaps this find will place this particular debate to rest, as the runic inscription clearly reads: “Hmar x is” (“This is a Hammer”).

However, the person who inscribed these runes was not a skilled writer, as the proper spelling should have been Hamar. Also the S-rune was reversed.

 Less formal

The find is also interesting, because Viking age written culture is dominated by the approximately 260 rune stones found throughout Denmark and southern Sweden. Other inscribed items although quite rare can give a different impression of the writing culture than the often rather formally bound runic texts found on monuments.

The small Thor’s hammer from Købelev has interlacing ornament on one side of the hammer head and the short runic inscription on the other. The runes range in height from 3 to 7 mm, so it required precision to inscribe them onto the object. It took some time to comprehend the actual meaning of the inscription; partly because the runes are so small, partly due to surface corrosion on the 1100 years year old amulet and also because of the imperfect runic inscription itself.

The runes translate into modern English as ‘Hammer is‘ where the x indicates the separator between the two words. This translates more properly into ‘This is a hammer‘.  This could indicate that the inscriber wasn’t totally literate, but nevertheless still managed to make an inscription fit into a tiny space.

This find does point to a society where written literacy was respected, so the fact that the creator of the amulet was able to write at all probably provided him/her with extra status.

In addition to the torshammere, the detectorist also recovered  fragments of silver needles and a mould for making brooches.- These additional findings indicate that there may have been a workshop producing jewellery nearby and Anders Rasmussen does not rule out that the hammer was made by a local craftsperson.

Museum Lolland-Falster has no plans to excavate the Viking site at Købelev, but instead are working with the finder to continue detailed detector surveys on site.

Source: National Museum of Denmark  – The Hammer of ThorPast Horizons. June 29, 2014, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/06/2014/the-hammer-of-thor

Did you know:

  • There are over 1000 amulets shaped like Thor’s Hammer found in across Scandinavia, the British Isles, Russia and the Baltic.
  • The vast majority of Thor’s Hammer amulets are simple undecorated pieces made of iron or silver,  although 100 decorated ones are known.
  • The Amulet served to protect the wearer.
  • The hammer Mjolnir was forged by the dwarves Brok and Sindri and had the magical property to always hit what it was thrown at and then return to Thor’s hand.
  • According to the “Trymskvadet” the giant Trym stole the hammer of Thor and would only give it back if he got Freyja as his wife. Thor disguised himself as Freyja by wearing her clothes, and during the wedding reception he took back Mjolnir and then killed Trym and his whole family.

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Britain’s oldest settlement is Amesbury not Thatcham

Archaeologists discover Wiltshire site is forerunner to Stonehenge and has been continually occupied since 8,820BC

-Article by Mark Brown

Britain’s oldest settlement is not where we thought it was, a team of archaeologists said on Thursday as they announced with confidence that Amesbury should now hold the distinction.

It was previously considered that Thatcham in Berkshire held the distinction but researchers from the University of Buckingham are certain we need to look 40 miles west, to the parish of Amesbury, in Wiltshire, which also includes Stonehenge.

Carbon dating of bones of aurochs – the giant cattle that were twice the size of today’s bulls – at the Blick Mead dig site, has shown that Amesbury has been continually occupied for each millennium since 8,820BC. Older than Thatcham, occupied since 7,700BC, it is in effect where British history began.

David Jacques, research fellow in archaeology at the University of Buckingham, led the dig. He said: “The site blows the lid off the Neolithic revolution in a number of ways. It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building and presumably worshipping monuments.

“The area was clearly a hub point for people to come to from many miles away and in many ways was a forerunner for what later went on at Stonehenge itself. The first monuments at Stonehenge were built by these people.

“For years people have been asking ‘why is Stonehenge where it is?’ Now, at last, we have found the answers.”

It was the same dig, at Blick Mead, which last year led to the discovery that Mesolithic Britons were enjoying eating frogs legs about eight millennia before the French.

At the time, Jaques expressed confidence that evidence would prove it was Britain’s oldest settlement. That has now been confirmed and on Thursday it was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

The dig also unearthed the largest number of Mesolithic worked flints ever found; 31,000 were discovered in just over 40 days, all in a 16-sq-metre (172-sq-ft) area.

The discoveries put a date to the activities of those who built the first monuments at the Stonehenge site, using enormous pine posts. It shows their communities lived in the area for a further 3,000 years, close to the dawn of the Neolithic era when Stonehenge itself was built.

Archaeologists say the results provide something of a missing link between the erection of the posts, between 8,820 and 6,590BC, and of Stonehenge, in 3,000BC. The findings provide evidence which suggests that Stonehenge, rather than a Neolithic new-build sitting, at first, in an empty landscape should be viewed as a response to long-term use of the area by indigenous hunters and home-makers.

Bill Dunn, spokesman for the Amesbury History Centre, said: “We are naturally delighted at the confirmation of Amesbury’s longevity as the oldest continuously inhabited place in England. We have always known Amesbury as somewhere special and this confirms it. All the visitors to the museum are amazed at what they find, and we hope even more people will now visit.”

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What is Anthropology?

By Owen Jarus

Anthropology is the study of humans, early hominids and primates, such as chimpanzees.

Anthropologists study human language, culture, societies, biological and material remains, the biology and behavior of primates, and even our own buying habits. It’s a broad discipline that constantly incorporates new technologies and ideas. As technologies are developed that allow exoplanets to be detected and studied in greater detail, anthropology may eventually expand to include the study of non-human civilizations.

“Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics,” writes the American Anthropological Association on its website. “Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.”

To an anthropologist, “anything is available to inspection, including the most ordinary, mundane items and events such as a McDonald’s hamburger, a pair of blue jeans, a cell phone, a birthday or New Year’s Eve, and so forth,” writes Carol Delaney, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, in her book “An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). “Each of them provides a window into a much larger set of beliefs, power relations, and values,” she writes.

In thinking about ordinary things from our culture, we can help understand those of others. “For example what would you make of a community that celebrates death days rather than birthdays? How might that fact relate to other facets of that society? What other kinds of questions would you need to ask to begin to understand not just that practice but also the culture in which it occurs?”

Sociocultural anthropology

“Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning,” writes the American Anthropological Association.

It’s a broad discipline that explores human behavior in all its diversity, from hunter-gatherer societies to the habits of shopping mall visitors.

For instance, Richard Lee, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, is known for his studies of the !Kung people that live in several countries in southern Africa (the ! represents a sound). The !Kung are one of a small number of modern-day societies that live as hunter-gatherers, providing a window into how ancient hunter-gatherers lived.

On the other side of the coin is the growing field of business anthropology where anthropologists study consumer behavior, including how people act in shopping malls. It’s something that can help companies produce and market products to meet their needs and desires.

“Business anthropologists have influenced market research by pointing out that, to be successful, marketers must understand people — what they do and how they live,” writes Shirley Fedorak, of the University of Saskatchewan, in her book “Anthropology Matters” (University of Toronto Press, 2013).


Archaeology is the study of humanity through the materials — the stuff — we leave behind. This can be in the distant past, such as the pyramids at Giza, or very recent times, such as a 21st-century marriage proposal carved near a closed quarantine station.

Many archaeologists do not call themselves anthropologists, and archaeology’s relationship to anthropology is a matter of debate. Archaeologists examine past societies using some of the methods and theories that sociocultural anthropologists work with. Additionally, physical anthropologists work closely with archaeologists to investigate human remains.

Physical anthropology

Physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of human beings and hominids using a variety of techniques to investigate human disease, diet, genetics and lifestyle.

Some, such as Jane Goodall, specialize in the study of primates, such as chimpanzees. By studying these creatures, which are closely related to us, we can learn much about ourselves and how we came to be.

Another important sub-branch is forensic anthropology, which tends to focus on helping authorities solve crimes and identify human remains found at crime and disaster scenes.

A 2008 article published in the magazine Chico Statements tells the story of Ben Figura, who “worked in the foul waters of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in Thailand in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami that killed some 230,000 people.” He also led “a small team of experts from New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner working to put names to the thousands of human remains still being found at Ground Zero. Most of the remains at this stage are bone fragments, some very small.”

It’s a tough field to work in. “Working at the site of a historic tragedy and in such intimate contact with its victims, as well as its survivors — Figura often calls family members when his team identifies remains — can be emotionally wrenching,” the article notes.

Linguistic anthropology

In some ways, linguistic anthropology can be the hardest branch of anthropology to identify.

The American Anthropological Association states that it “is the comparative study of ways in which language reflects and influences social life. It explores the many ways in which language practices define patterns of communication, formulate categories of social identity and group membership, organize large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and, in conjunction with other forms of meaning-making, equip people with common cultural representations of their natural and social worlds.”

Linguistic anthropologists can be found analyzing languages, both verbal and non-verbal, around the world. They do things like study American presidential debates to determine how candidates use non-verbal hand gestures to communicate with voters. They can also be found analyzing the books and movies read by young teenagers (the “Twilight” series, for instance) to determine how they affect the teenage mind.

By studying the usage of language, these anthropologists can determine what cultures value.

“The everyday language of North Americans, for example, includes a number of slang words, such as dough, greenback, dust, loot, cash, bucks, change and bread, to identify what an indigenous native of Papua-New Guinea would recognize only as money,” writes William Haviland, a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, in his book “Anthropology” (Harcourt College Publishers, 2000).

“Such phenomena help identify things that are considered of special importance to a culture.”

How do you become an anthropologist?

Anthropologists tend to have either a master’s or doctoral degree. There are many universities in the United States, Canada and Europe that teach the discipline. Often those studying anthropology will specialize in a specific area.  Fieldwork is often required to complete a degree.

Where do anthropologists work?

Anthropologists can be found working for a wide variety of employers. These include museums, police departments, marketing companies, cultural resource management firms, government agencies and research institutes.

How much do anthropologists earn?

It is hard to give a salary range for anthropologists. A junior anthropologist doing fieldwork on contract may earn a low amount of money, perhaps not much more than minimum wage. On the higher end, a tenured professor at a large university may earn over $100,000, while those in senior positions at large private companies may earn considerably more.

How did anthropology get its start?

In some ways anthropology is in itself an ancient discipline. Writers in the ancient world often analyzed the cultures of various peoples in an attempt to understand their practices.

For instance, in A.D. 43, the writer, Pomponius Mela, examined the Druid religious beliefs of the Gauls and noted how it prepared them for the many wars they fought. “And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids. These men claim to know the size and shape of the Earth and of the universe, the movements of the sky and of the stars, and what the gods intend…” he wrote. “One of the precepts they teach — obviously to make them better for war — has [become] common knowledge, namely that their souls are eternal and there is a second life for the dead.” (Translation by E.F Romer)

As the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution spawned new technologies and ideas, anthropology grew as a discipline. For example, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution paved the way for the skeletal remains of hominids to be better understood, allowing for a new understanding of how humans came into existence.

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