Archaeology Research

The diverse interests of the Archaeology faculty and staff result in a wide variety of research areas. Included are studies of dietary choices of prehistoric and early historic populations of the central Great Plains, the peopling of the New World, early prehistory of the Great Plains, the prehistory of the Eurasian steppes and the Arabian Peninsula, material culture analyses, especially lithics, ceramics, and bone artifacts, human ecology and the rise of complex Central American societies.

Arabian Rock Art Heritage Project

Gigapan of petroglyph with camels overlying older Neolithic figures at Shuwaymis, Saudi Arabia.  Photo by Richard T. Bryant.

The Arabian Peninsula is seen by much of the world as terra incognita, particularly concerning its ancient history. Yet, as research begins to penetrate deeper and the archaeological record is more fully documented, it is clear that this region has an extremely rich cultural heritage.  In 2010, the Arabian Rock Art Heritage team, led by Senior Curator Sandra Olsen, initiated the documentation of petroglyphs in Saudi Arabia.
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The Early Horse Herders of Botai

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Kazakh horses on the steppe near Botai.

Investigations of the Copper Age Botai culture (3700–3100 BCE) of north-central Kazakhstan reveal an unusual economy focused primarily on horses. The large, permanent settlements have yielded enormous collections of horse remains. Excavations at the eponymous site have produced an astonishing 300,000 or more bone fragments, over 90% of which were derived from horses.
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The Human-Animal Relationship

Horse skull

Horse cranium and neck vertebrae in sacrificial pit outside a house at Krasni Yar.

Investigations of the Botai sites in the past two decades reveal that the ancient people were sedentary pastoralists who raised herds of domesticated horses. They also had domesticated dogs, but no additional livestock.  The same wild species were hunted as in the Neolithic, but much less frequently.  Based on the large numbers of cut marks and chop marks on the horse bones, the Botai were clearly eating horsemeat.  The chopping methods reflect the routine division of horse carcasses into smaller portions and marrow extraction.  For sufficient fat intake, marrow and bone grease would have been an essential part of the diet.
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North American central Plains Woodland

Points

Plains Woodland point

This project is a collaborative effort of several colleagues and students to research and document the temporal, social, political and settlement-subsistence parameters of the various Middle Woodland groups who occupied the central Plains in prehistory. From approximately 500BC to AD900, the central region of the North American Great Plains was home to groups who adopted pottery manufacture and were becoming increasingly sedentary as farm crops became more important in their diets. Our current research focuses on the Kansas City Hopewell and another Middle Woodland group who resided about 150 miles west of the Hopewell.
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Pawnee Research Project

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This project, initiated in 2007, focuses on the contextual arrangement of material culture remains and the depositional characteristics associated with a Pawnee occupation at a site located in northcentral Kansas.  The Kansas Monument site (14RP1) represents the remains of a late eighteenth – early nineteenth century village occupied by the Kitkahahki band of the Pawnee tribe.  The original village may have once consisted of about 75 lodges, although today only 26 lodges are protected within 6 acres owned by the State of Kansas. Remnants of a fortification ditch are also visible, suggesting that some level of protection was necessary.
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Ancient Great Plains Farming

Squash

As a continuation of archaeology curator Mary Adair's dissertation research, the goals of this project are: to recover and identity both indigenous domesticates and introduced farm crops in the prehistoric central Plains; chart the spatial and temporal distribution of each domesticate; document the contextual relationship of domesticates to other cultural data; and record the relative contribution of each domesticate to the overall diet and general health of cultures through time.
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