Articles tagged as: archaeology
One thing Texas A&M University anthropology professor Mike Waters has learned through the years is this: if you have a good story to tell, the world will want to hear about it.
That nugget of advice comes from someone who should know. When the media needs to dig up a story, so to speak, Waters is often the man for the job. In the past several years, he has become the focus of hundreds of media interviews for his quite literal groundbreaking work on when the first settlers arrived in Texas. By uncovering artifacts from a remote area near Austin known as the Friedkin site, Waters learned that the first settlers came about 2,500 years earlier than previously believed – meaning they came at least 15,000 years ago, and his work was detailed in a major Science magazine article.
Several months later, Waters’ research confirmed evidence that hunters were present in Washington State at least 800 years earlier than Clovis people, who were previously believed to be the first to populate North America. In addition, he is actively involved in restoring Camp Hearne, which was the largest World War II prisoner-of-war camp in Texas and one of the largest in the country, and his book Lone Star Stalag is considered the most complete history of the site located outside the nearby city of Hearne.
For these and other efforts, Waters has been named the 2012 recipient of Texas A&M’s Newsmaker Image Award, presented annually by the Division of Marketing and Communications.
The award goes to a faculty member who has “gone the extra mile” in assisting Texas A&M with its media efforts and for helping to promote a positive image of the university by demonstrating the highest ideals and goals of the institution.
Previous winners of the Texas A&M Newsmaker Image Award include John Moroney, professor of economics; Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine; and Dean Bresciani, former vice president for Student Affairs. Also, group awards were presented to members of the College of Architecture’s Hazard Recovery and Reduction Center and to five entities (Department of Oceanography, Texas Sea Grant College Program, Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG), The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University at Galveston) for their efforts in responding to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
Last year’s winner was John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences and State Climatologist, who handled hundreds of media requests during the historic 2011 Texas drought.
“Dr. Waters has received national and international media coverage in the past year for his discoveries, and he is always accommodating to the media and never says no to a media request,” says Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communication, in presenting the Newsmaker Award to Waters.
“He’s always sees to it that students are involved at research sites as much as possible because he knows this can be a great learning experience for them. He’s a great asset to Texas A&M and is certainly very deserving of this award.”
Waters says he’s more than happy to help the media for several reasons.
“First, I believe we as faculty have an obligation to share what we have learned in our research,” he says.
“After all, the public is usually funding our projects through such groups as the National Science Foundation and others. So the taxpayers are providing us with lab space and the time and materials we need.
“And also, we are in the knowledge business and we should try to convey what we have discovered, either in the classroom or to the general public. If people want to know about my research, I think it is my duty to tell them about it. And too, I think news stories get young people excited about discovery and science. News stories about what we do might inspire a young person.”
Waters says that during the past year, he has been interviewed by all the major news outlets, such as CNN, FOX News, the New York Times, MSNBC, the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle and numerous others. “Any time you get an interview request from the New York Times, that is a big deal,” he confirms.
“I also enjoyed doing some of the radio interviews, such as with the BBC folks, and NPR (National Public Radio) and even German Public Radio. All of those have a huge worldwide audience to help get the message out.”
Any tips for other faculty members who might get besieged by media requests?
“I think the trick is to try to tell your story in a way that is as clear and concise as possible,” he notes. “You want to tell what you have done in a way that people can understand, as if you were talking directly to a freshman in an introductory class. At least that has worked for me.”
Several hundred news clips proves he is right on target.
Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 945-4664
Many Texans may not know it, but the state was home to more than 50,000 prisoners of war — more than any other state — in about 70 POW sites during World War II, and Camp Hearne was among the largest, housing almost 5,000 POWS in its brief tenure. A Texas A&M University researcher is helping to preserve the memory of the camp and its colorful history.
Mike Waters, professor of anthropology who has conducted research at Camp Hearne over the past 15 years, has helped to archive documents and preserve artifacts related to the camp, located in the city of Hearne, about 20 miles north of the Texas A&M campus. His book Lone Star Stalag details life at the camp and its unique place in Texas history.
Waters says Hearne city leaders petitioned the government to build the camp as a means of boosting the local economy, which it did. The Army bought 720 acres outside of town and construction started in 1942. The camp opened in early 1943 and was equipped to handle 4,800 prisoners.
“Most of the POWS there were non-commissioned officers, and according to the Geneva Convention, non-coms were not required to work,” Waters says of the facility.
“So only a few hundred prisoners did any actual work while the rest spent the day reading, listening to music, woodworking or playing recreational sports. For them, it was almost a country-club type existence, and many of them later said their time at Camp Hearne was one of the best times of their lives. The local citizens often referred to the camp as the ‘Fritz Ritz.’”
The camp may have been one of the most cultured in the U.S. Some of Camp Hearne’s residents were musicians and part of the famed Afrika Korps under the command of legendary German general Erwin Rommel, known as the “Desert Fox.” Not considered military threats, the musicians were allowed to keep their instruments when captured and frequently gave concerts at Camp Hearne, playing for fellow camp inmates or anyone who would listen.
In fact, quite a few of the camp’s prisoners were part of Rommel’s elite Afrika Korps captured in Tunisia. Rommel himself was later involved in a failed plot to kill Hitler and was allowed to commit suicide.
“Camp Hearne is considered a good representation of a typical POW camp in the U.S.,” Waters notes.
“It was a central post office for all of the other POW camps in the country then, and at one time, there were more than 400,000 POWS scattered all over the U.S. in various camps. The Camp Hearne inmates were taught skills, many learned how to speak English and they were healthy and well-fed, and when they returned home when the war was over, they were in much better shape than most people in Germany.”
Waters says that in early 1943, there was a struggle for power between the Nazi and anti-Nazi elements at the camp that culminated with a murder in December of that year.
“After that, the Nazi element was in charge, and while this created a tense atmosphere, most of the prisoners tried to steer clear of trouble and spent their day reading or engaging in other activities,” he says. “By 1945, the camp had a very nice library of several thousand books.”
The number of prisoners at the camp — reaching between 4,800 and 5,000 before it was closed — far outnumbered the population of the town at the time, which was about 3,500, Waters says.
When Germany surrendered in 1945, the prisoners were gradually shipped out and the camp was dismantled, with many of its buildings sold to local businesses for warehouses, offices and even a home for a local pastor.
Waters says it is important to keep Camp Hearne’s memory alive, especially “for students today, so they can see what a real POW camp was like. Camp Hearne now has museum built on the site and it gets quite a few visitors every year. We are trying to do preservation work, and there is a walking tour of the site which is quite interesting.
“I think anyone who likes Texas or World War II history would enjoy a visit to Camp Hearne.”
For more information, go to http://camphearne.com/
Did climate change or humans cause the extinctions of the large-bodied Ice Age mammals (commonly called megafauna) such as the woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth? Scientists have for years debated the reasons behind the Ice Age mass extinctions, which caused the loss of a third of the large mammals in Eurasia and two thirds of the large mammals in North America, and now, an inter-disciplinary team from more than 40 universities around the world led by Professor Eske Willerslev and his group from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, have tried to answer the contentious question in one of the biggest studies of its kind ever.
The study by the team, which includes two Texas A&M University professors, is published online today in the journal Nature and reveals dramatically different responses of Ice Age species to climate change and human impact. Using ancient DNA, species distribution models and the human fossil record, the findings indicate that neither climate nor humans alone can account for the Ice Age mass extinctions.
“Our findings put a final end to the single-cause theories of these extinctions,” says Willserslev. “Our data suggest care should be taken in making generalizations regarding past and present species extinctions; the relative impacts of climate change and human encroachment on species extinctions really depend on which species we’re looking at.”
The study reports that climate alone caused extinctions of woolly rhinoceros and musk ox in Eurasia, but a combination of climate and humans played a part in the loss of bison in Siberia and wild horse. While the reindeer remain relatively unaffected by any of these factors, the reasons causes of the extinction of the mammoth remain unresolved.
The study also reports that climate change has been intrinsically linked with major population size changes over the past 50,000 years, supporting the view that populations of many species will decline in the future owing to climate change and habitat loss. Finally, the authors find no clear pattern in their data distinguishing species that went extinct from species that survived.
Eline Lorenzen, professor at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study, said, “The fact that we couldn’t pinpoint what patterns characterize extinct species — despite the large and varying amount of data analyzed — suggests that it will be challenging for experts to predict how existing mammals will respond to future global climate change. Which species will go extinct and which will survive?
“The bottom line is that we really don’t know why some of these ancient species became extinct,” adds Ted Goebel, researcher in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M and affiliated with the Center for the Study of First Americans.
“Now we can better predict what might happen to animals in the future as climate change occurs. What happens to species when their ranges are significantly diminished, and why do some animals adapt successfully while others become extinct? We now have a genetic roadmap to follow in our efforts to protect sensitive animal populations – especially in drastically impacted regions like the Arctic.”
About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $630 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.
Copenhagen Contacts: Prof. Director Eske Willerslev, Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen. Øster Voldgade 5-7DK-1350, Denmark; Phone: +45 35321309/ +45 28751309; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, http://geogenetics.ku.dk/
Dr. Eline Lorenzen Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Oester Voldgade 5-7 DK-1350; Denmark Office: +45 35 321225 Mobile: +45 26 701024; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The tip of a bone point fragment found embedded in a mastodon rib from an archaeological site in Washington state shows that hunters were present in North America at least 800 years before Clovis, confirming that the first inhabitants arrived earlier to North America than previously thought, says a team of researchers led by a Texas A&M University archaeologist.
Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, and colleagues from Colorado, Washington and Denmark believe the find at the Manis site in Washington demonstrates that humans were in the area around 13,800 years ago, or 800 years earlier than was believed. Their work is published in the current issue of Science magazine.
In the late 1970s, an adult male mastodon was excavated from a pond at the Manis site. The distribution of the bones and the discovery that some of the bones were broken suggested that the elephant had been killed and butchered by human hunters, Waters explains. However, no stone tools or weapons were found at the site. The key artifact from the site was what appeared to be a bone point sticking out of one of the ribs, but the artifact and the age of the site were disputed.
Waters contacted team member and original excavator, Carl Gustafson, about performing new tests on the rib with the bone point. New radiocarbon dates confirmed that the site was 13,800 years old. High resolution CT scanning and three-dimensional modeling confirmed that the embedded bone was a spear point, and DNA and bone protein analysis showed that the bone point was made of mastodon bone.
“The Manis site is an early kill site” Waters says.
“The evidence from the Manis site shows that people were hunting mastodons with bone weapons before the Clovis stone spear point.”
The new evidence from Manis supports extinction theories of large mammals at the end of the last Ice Age, Waters says. During the last cold period, herds of mammoth, mastodon, camels, horses and other animals roamed Texas and North America. At the end of the Ice Age, these animals became extinct.
“While these animals were stressed by the changing climate and vegetation patterns at the end of the Ice Age, it is now clear from sites like Manis that humans were also hunting these animals and may have been a factor in their demise,” Waters adds. He also notes that “there are at least two other pre-Clovis kill sites in Wisconsin where hunters killed mammoths.”
‘Clovis’ is the name given to the distinctive tools made by people starting around 13,000 years ago. The Clovis people invented the ‘Clovis point’, a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and the rest of the United States and northern Mexico. These weapons were used to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,700 years ago.
Waters says that “the evidence from the Manis site is helping to reshape our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the last continent to be occupied by modern humans.”
The study was funded by the North Star Archaeological Research Program at Texas A&M University.
Remains of a Revolutionary War-era ship discovered during excavation at New York’s new World Trade Center site are being studied and stored at a world-renowned archaeological conservation facility at Texas A&M University.
With the 10th anniversary of the infamous “9/11″ terrorist attack nearing and a solemn but extensive observance planned at the site of the original World Trade Center, scientists 1,500 miles away will be quietly working to piece together parts of the vessel found at the site of the new WTC. They hope to help answer questions about the ship — its origin, its use and, perhaps, derive the definitive answer about how it ended up where it did.
The remaining portions of the ship were brought to the Conservation Research Laboratory of Texas A&M’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation in light of its extensive work over the past 30 years in handling shipwreck remains from areas throughout the world. It is conducting the WTC preservation work under contract with AKRF, an engineering consulting firm representing the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, noted ship conservator Peter Fix.
Best current estimates are that the ship was built in the 1770s or 80s and was a work vessel, perhaps carrying cargo between the colonies before the Revolutionary War — or during the fight for American independence or perhaps right after the country gained its freedom.
The artifacts have been meticulously documented — photographed from all angles and analyzed digitally — by a Cornell classical archaeology Ph.D. student, Carrie Fulton, who earned her anthropology masters’ degree specializing in nautical archaeology at Texas A&M.
“Documentation is very important for us,” Fix emphasized, noting that a key element of the preservation and restoration process is gaining a better understanding of the ship’s architecture and purpose. “With each discovery a new question can be posed, or pieces of evidence uncovered that can help fill-in lesser known gaps in our collective history. That is why a find like this one is so significant. Additionally, if the timbers are to be reconstructed and exhibited, they could provide future generations with a tangible connection to their maritime past.”
One of the unusual aspects of the ship is that its hull was built primarily with iron nails. The typical vessel of the 1770s was built with wooden pegs, noted Fulton, who made a quick trip back to Aggieland specifically to inspect the relics and make documentations that she will use in her doctoral research.
How the wooden hull ended up at the World Trade Center site has been a matter of considerable conjecture since it was discovered last year more than 20 feet below street level. Some romantics wondered if it was wrecked during a deadly storm or if foul play was involved — perhaps with pirates having had a role in the vessel’s demise.
The prevailing theory is much less romantic. The most likely scenario is that the ship was deliberately sunk at what was then part of the Hudson River as a means of expanding lower Manhattan. Fulton refers to it as a “derelict ship.” The theory is that its wood served as junk to catch and hold dirt in targeted areas of the river — for what might centuries later be considered an urban-development project.
The ship’s likely less glamorous end and resting place was in a sense fortunate, note New York authorities who were first on the scene. They point out the “oxygen-less” Hudson preserved the artifacts to a degree that would not have been possible in a less-polluted environment.
With the ship’s original name never likely to be known, it has been dubbed the “SS Adrian” in honor of the superintendent of the construction crew who assisted with the excavation of the structure. Excavation work was diverted away from the area when the ship’s remains were uncovered and did not resume until archaeologists completed their on-site recovery and analysis work.
The remains were initially sent to a lab in Maryland, but the decision was subsequently made to ship them to Texas A&M because of its experience in handling and preserving shipwreck artifacts from sites around the world, and staff from the Conservation Research Lab continue to act as conservation consultants to the archaeologists working at Ground Zero.
Waterlogged, degraded wood must undergo treatment in vats of preservative fluids before moving to the actual restoration stage — a step that could include a freeze-drying process to maintain the artifacts’ size and shape. Fix explained that without the special handling the centuries-old fragile wood could disintegrate or significantly shrink in size when exposed to air.
Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, (979) 845-4662