Musings on and Maxims for Maintaining Liberty on Extraterrestrial Colonies

Still from Star Trek episode Pattterns of Force

Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, & Dr. McCoy Disguised as Nazis in “Patterns of Force” (1968)

A while back a friend shared a link to an article regarding a group devising a bill of rights for the future colonization of the planet Mars ( Thinking of this entertained and distracted me much when I began this essay on a wintry morning in the former British colony of Georgia while watching the free-flying birds at the feeders outside my windows.   And while there are definite comparisons to be made to the concepts of freedom on some of the more interesting colonies depicted in the Star Trek universe, I will attempt to limit myself primarily to more mundane terrestrial and historical musings at first.


Southeastern North America, 1732 (cartographer unknown)

While individual freedoms are the key to any post-1776 civilization (and many that came before), and I strongly admire the way the folks at the 2nd International Extraterrestrial Liberty Conference (ELC) are thinking about such things at the outset, it is clear from a reading of American history alone that personal liberty is NOT what initially made colonies successful in the past.  In fact, Spanish Florida, French Louisiana, and British Virginia, Carolina, & Georgia – as well as most other successful colonies in North America – had decidedly military, and some might say totalitarian, aspects to them. In fact, all colonists had very specific duties to perform if there was to be any hope of initial survival and later success. “No work, no food” was how John Smith was supposed to have phrased his expectations of the earliest Virginia colonists.


“A Map of Virginia With a Description of the Country, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion” by John Smith, 1624

Exploration has followed the same disrespect for individual freedoms. The Kingdom of Spain, the British Admiralty, the U.S. space program NASA, and Hollywood’s “The Company” all had a chain of command when Hernando de Soto was exploring the American South for Spain, when Sir John Franklin was seeking the Northwest Passage for Britain, when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the other American astronauts were exploring the Moon, and when Captain Dallas and the crew of the Nostromo went to investigate the distress signal on Acheron (LV-426) in the original Alien movie.


Kane (played by John Hurt) discovers a new life form on Acheron in Alien (1979)

But since ELC 2 is considering freedom, liberty, and colonization together, I will share the initial thoughts of an historical archaeologist who studies colonies, their impacts on indigenous peoples, and the traces both groups have left behind in the dirty old earth and in dusty old archives.  First of all, I am pleased that they are using the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a starting point.  I can think of no better place to begin.  However, it is clear from American history that Americans themselves have had varying ideas of liberty over time. It is also clear that checks and balances on all branches of government down to the lowest of local levels are a necessity for liberty to continue after it is initially won and/or established. Lord Acton’s historical axiom as laid out in his famous Letter to Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887 clearly supports such suspicion towards authority: “If there is any presumption it is…against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


Lord John Dahlberg Acton (1834-1902)

Because of the manner in which the onerous taxes that gave rise to the American proclamation of independence were instituted, and also because of the way the British government chose to prosecute the subsequent war against self-determination and against American independence, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America simply did not trust any government instituted by men.  And this wisely included their own government as instituted by themselves!  They had read deeply in Greek, Roman, European, British, and Irish history, and had learned from the past how short-lived republics can be.  The American Constitution of 1789 may have been a very imperfect 18th century political compromise between competing regions, but it was amazingly farsighted and gleamed of eruditic statesmanship when we consider how ignorantly shortsighted and poorly-read practically all modern party politicians across the planet appear to be in the 21st century.


George Washington (1732-1799) by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1850

For some reason endemic to humans and other animals, tribes and factions develop in all times and in all places – even in nations designed ro eschew them, like the U. S. For this reason the ELC should acknowledge that since human beings are human, factions will develop even on extraterrestrial colonies, and will devolve into established political parties if and when they gain enough followers. Subsequent American history bears out George Washington’s fears concerning factionalism, as explained in his Farewell Address. Standing political parties are much more dangerous than standing armies, since they wield much more power, even if it is only indirectly based on force. In fact, I would assert that political parties are probably the most dangerous threats to human liberty since the Sumerians created the concept of ama-gi, or freedom, in the 2300s BC. If “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” as von Clauswitz stated whilst attempting to explain the rise and fall of Napoleon, then political factionalism has been the primary if not sole factor behind every major war on Earth since at least the early 18th century’s War of the Spanish Succession.

Unfortunately, few listened to Washington in 1796, and even fewer heed him now. Humans seem to have a natural instinct to choose sides based on emotion and self interest, and only a very few make decisions based on reason, philosophy, and what is best for the commonweal as opposed to their own narrow interests. And of those who are capable of putting the commonwealth first, some of these “general secretaries” and “leaders” and “chairmen” have coldly and cruelly put into operation their “final solutions” to forever silence millions of their political opponents or their nation’s “undesirables” – as defined by themselves and their faction, of course. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao are only the most well-known of many heinous examples from Earth’s sordid history, and all are examples of the top-down approach of trusting in governments to solve our problems for us.

Of course, everything can and will go wrong in even the most well-thought-out colony – just look at all the numerous failed European attempts during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in the Americas. I will point to the Scottish colony at Darien in Central America as the perfect example. But even successful colonies like the English colony at Jamestowne (1607) had times when all was lost until the mother country sent assistance. In fact, the few survivors among the initial wave of colonists were once in the process of abandoning Virginia and heading home to England when supply ships suddenly arrived with necessities and more settlers. So the first maxim I would lay down for any extraterrestrial colony is routine shipments of supplies multiple times per year, and the continual replenishment of the population with young colonists in their child-bearing years.

Next, colonial planners on Earth and potential colonists must study Earth’s prehistoric and historic settlers and colonizers, from Neanderthal and other hunter-gatherer migrations, as well as the European colonization of the New World, Australasia, & Africa. It is vital that they grasp how migrations and emigrations have played out in Earth’s past, but this must not be mere book knowledge. As potential astronauts train for years before they even get the chance to be chosen for space missions, potential colonists need to go through several years of psychological and emotional vetting and practical training in basic medical techniques, primitive skills, agriculture, and animal husbandry to name but a few. Humans have constantly moved into new and unfamiliar environments throughout the prehistoric and historic eras, and studying and understanding the traces and records they left behind are crucial to successful colonists of tomorrow.


Successful colonists need to learn every primitive skill they can – especially flint-knapping to make their own stone tools, making cordage from plants and plant fibers in order to bind things together, and making pottery for cooking and storage purposes in case things go badly wrong and fresh supplies are late or not forthcoming.  They should also be experienced in the care and raising of livestock – especially chickens and cows, since they not only provide protein when harvested, but also provide eggs and milk. Successful colonists need to be omnivores who are able to eat anything, so I will add that I don’t see food snobs, vegetarians, vegans, or anyone with any kind of food hang-up at all surviving long in an extraterrestrial landscape. For example, European settlers in America had to learn from the Native Americans how to eat plants and animals they had never even heard of or seen before, and if they hadn’t learned to hunt and gather them, they would not have survived, pure and simple.

This is of course one of the best reasons not to colonize or settle a place, land, continent, or planet: if there is no water, no plants to gather, and no animal life to hunt and harvest. If there are no other life forms living there already, there might be a good reason for this, so I would also encourage our planners to  consider the difficulties of planting colonies on barren worlds like Mars, and to look for “Class M” planets instead.  Despite the utopian ideas of some space enthusiasts for inhabiting barren worlds and until we develop an actual Genesis Device as seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, abundant natural resources and breathable air must remain the most important variables for establishing extraterrestrial colonies just as they have been for all terrestrial ones.  Eadem sunt omnia semper.


The Genesis Cave, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

True liberty must begin in the hearts and minds of individuals habituated to thinking and living independently of others, while giving of themselves and partaking of the mutual benefits of the social contract binding us together with our families, neighbors, bands, clans, tribes, chiefdoms, nations, and yes, our future extra-terrestrial colonies.  Even at lunar bases, on starships exploring the galaxy, and on frontier outposts on different worlds as well as on Earth’s farthest flung colonies, we must constantly be on guard against both factionalism as well as “the man on the white horse” seeking to rescue us from those factions and the upheavals they always generate.  Furthermore, colonial Martians, Venusians, Europaeans, etc. should be prepared to fight for their freedom and independence just like the former European colonies all over the world have done since 1776.  And they must never forget the “tyranny of the majority,” as Alexis de Tocqueville so aptly described the concept of simple majority rule and the bullying of minority populations in his brilliant 1835 classic Democracy in America.  


Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

There will be many challenges, failures, celebrations, tragedies,  wrongs, and beautiful success stories as the peoples of Earth spread themselves and their progeny across the universe.  The history of our own past colonial endeavors shows us this truth, and we would do well to learn these lessons well and never begin to think that we are wiser, stronger, smarter, or harder-working than our own frontier forebears.  In a word, we are not.  Anyone who believes that future human societies will evolve to be more morally advanced, more peaceful, and more generous, and less selfish, less rapacious, and less acquisitive has an exceedingly thin grasp on human history over the last 15,000 years, and practical examples from the past should be used to educate them out of their extreme idealistic ignorance.

If humans over the last 15 millennia have not changed their modus operandi – approaching every situation first and foremost from a position of self-interest – then they are not going to magically evolve into some kind of superior being in the next 15 millennia, either.  There are always willing fools who assist would-be dictators either actively, by marching in line with whatever might be the politically correct ideology of the day, whether it comes from the right or the left, while even more allow terrible events to transpire by passively sitting on their hands and doing nothing.  We must be constantly vigilant of our hard-won freedoms and cognizant of how they were won and lost and won again – whether our society is of this world or another.  Most importantly, our children must be historically-minded and educated in the principles of extreme skepticism towards every new faction and party that arises and promises to solve our problems if only we will trust them and be  willing to give up just a little bit more of our precious freedoms.

“These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by studying and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it.”

Etienne de la Boetie (1530-1563), The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 1577

Categories: Archaeology, Colonization, Exploration, History, Liberty, Primitive Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Dine like a Gentleman or a Lady on your Remote Archaeological Expedition

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen's.  Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen’s. Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

In late 2014 a colleague and I went to a lecture at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England on what can only be called “How to live like a gentleman whilst exploring the remotest corners of the world.” The talk was by the archivist from Fortnum and Mason’s, the elite London store catering to the culinary needs and wishes of aristocrats, gentlemen, and ladies the world over. F & M is especially known for its gift hampers full of chocolates, teas, wines, and jams, and it is definitely a thrilling experience to be on the receiving end of one of these hampers! Lord Carnarvon had crates of food and wines routinely delivered via ship from F & M while he and Carter were in Egypt searching for King Tut’s tomb. Today archaeologists and explorers can still get this kind of delivery on their expeditions no matter where they are in the world. One day I shall have to partake of this excellent service, though it would help immensely if I had a patron of that ilk!

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

“In the 1920s, Fortnum and Mason was the only store (oddly enough) to have a department that functioned solely to service ‘Expeditions’. This way, true English gentlemen could make their great discoveries in the far corners of the earth whilst never relinquishing the essentials of butter knives and foie gras. Fortnum and Mason not only supplied hampers to Howard Carter’s 1922 expedition, but thereafter empty wine boxes were employed to store and catalogue the finds. The intrepid amongst us will be happy to know that Fortnum and Mason still sponser expeditions, ensuring that no matter how far into the unknown one ventures, marmalade and fudge are not far behind. Unfortunately it would appear that the more recently catered adventures are those instigated by the children of the board.” Quoted from…/underthevaults/…/25/week4/

Categories: Archaeology, England, Exploration, Food & Drink, Museums | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Imaginative Camping, Indian Trails, and British Traders

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

I definitely have greater respect for British classically-trained actors who cut their teeth on Shakespeare and Sophocles, whilst breaking a leg on stage, than I do for Hollywood method actors who feel the need to “live the role” for their latest blockbuster movie. This is precisely the difference between the performances of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in the thriller “Marathon Man.” However, there is still something to be said for attempting to get into the mindset of the characters we wish to understand by comprehensively researching them, immersing ourselves into similar conditions, and then using our imaginations. This can even be a useful tool for archaeologists attempting to comprehend the lives of the peoples they study. For instance, I study the Creek Indians and the British traders with whom they interacted. And though I can never truly understand all the myriad “primitive” experiences of the Creek or the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English traders who traveled the Southeast 300 years ago, sometimes camping out in the woods for a few days helps spark the imagination in ways that can lead to tiny epiphanies.

For example, knowing what camping gear I usually take into the woods does help clarify the kinds of things these traders might have packed on their horses for survival in the deep woods as they crisscrossed the South on ancient Indian trails, and forded or traveled up and down our beautiful rivers. On these sylvan peregrinations, whether by land via foot or pack horse, or by water via pole boat, they visited the towns of the Yamasee, Shawnee, Apalachicola, Cherokee, the Creek Confederation (including towns belonging to the Hitchiti, Muscogee, Yuchi, Chehaw, Westo, etc), and others. But this also means that they spent a great deal of time in between Indian towns, camping in the woods or along rivers or creeks near the preexisting Indian trails connecting them to humanity. Some of these trails still exist today, if you know both the history and where to look for them. There are numerous examples around Middle Georgia, for instance, including those with the poetic-sounding names of Okfuskenene – the “Path to Okfuskee” – and Chelucconeneauhassee – literally the “Old Horse Path.” The former became known to the traders as the Upper Trading Path, while the latter they called the Lower Creek Trading Path.

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Since these traders adopted many of the ways and material culture of the Indians amongst whom they lived, I would not be surprised if they learned how to construct and organize their camping spots from the same source. Perhaps they constructed their camps similar to the Indian camp depicted by the Salzburger emigrant Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, who arrived in Georgia from England in 1734, kept an important journal, and used his considerable artistic talents to document the Indians and natural history of his new home.

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

Sitting in my own camp before a fire in the woods one morning after eating some fried bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, I listened to the sounds of the waking woods, drank some strong black coffee, and seemed to be able to imagine human beings not so different from myself camping under similar conditions while listening to the same sounds I could still hear hundreds of years later. What did they think about though, these traders who had left “civilization” behind and come to the forests of Southeastern North America to begin again? Upon arriving in Charleston or Savannah, what made them choose to leave other Europeans behind and strike out as explorers and traders across a landscape completely outside of their own experience? The trails were like arteries, carrying them away from the heart of the European coastal settlements, but then changing into veins carrying them toward the heart of the Indian towns.

And what of their hearts? Did they see only money, only personal advantage in their dealings with their trading partners? We know that by 1715 the Yamasee and the Creek felt mistreated and abused by many of these traders, and this led to the greatest and most dangerous Indian war that occurred in the colonial South – the Yamasee War. But the traders also seemed to prefer living amongst the Indians, adopting their buckskin clothes and more easy-going lifestyle. So these foreigners truly felt an affinity for the natives, though each trader lived a double life. He would have to bring new trade goods in and take the results of his trade back out. And what did the British want that the Indians had? Deerskins and Indian slaves. Deerskins were turned into European leather goods, book covers, hats, and other items of apparel, and Indian slaves were sent to to work on Caribbean plantations where nearly all of them quickly died from diseases.

In fact, the currency of the backwoods, and for the Southern colonies during their earliest decades, was usually deerskin. According to the “Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade,” the prices for trade goods in 1716 were established as follows: Guns (30 buckskins each); Pistols (20 each), a Cutlass (8 each); Duffield blankets (14 each); Hatchets (2 each); and 1 buckskin each for rum mixed with 1/3 water per bottle, or fifty bullets, or three strings of beads, or eighteen flints, or a pair of scissors.

Did the traders, who usually worked for wealthier men, merely inventory their goods and chuckle as they ruminated on their portion of the profits as they made their trips back and forth from the coastal cities to the interior Indian towns? Did they feel relieved to be away from the cities? Were they happy to see old friends in the woods and towns, and did they enjoy making new ones? Did they feel apprehension for some unseen and unknown foe while on the trails? Did they have remedies for keeping away ticks and mosquitoes, were they worried about alligators, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, and did they study the ways of the possum, the raccoon, the bear, the panther, and the deer? Did they keep journals, now lost to time, documenting their lives amongst the Ochisee, Okmulgee, Kawita, and Kasita?

Many of these things we shall never know. But it is a very enjoyable experience to camp in the woods away from the sights and sounds of modernity, and to imagine for a few moments – at dawn or dusk when all the world is quiet – that the year is A. D. 1700, and that the people, plants, birds, woods, and animals are all yet to be classified and studied. And all of them are a wonder to behold!

The Woods of Natural Wonder

The Woods of Natural Wonder

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Indian Trails | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Exploring the Woods and Rivers of Middle Georgia

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Flint Rivers of Middle Georgia is not for the faint of heart, but for the adventurer!  Whether by kayak, canoe, or motor boat, by hiking on trails or along deeply wooded ridgetops with no paths, or in the sky by helicopter, there are many ways of looking for the long lost traces of Native American mounds and towns, and for those of the American soldiers and early settlers who followed in their wake hundreds and sometimes thousands of years later.

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

The most important aspect is being fortunate enough to know someone on the ground in any given locale.  This person is the key to the success of any exploring archaeologist, and it is they who serve as escort and guide through the snares and tangles not just of briars and brambles, but of local indifference or misapprehension.  When it becomes clear that knowledge and the subsequent enrichment of the community are the ONLY goals, then most folks are interested helping sooner or later.

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790

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Georgia Spear Points in an English Museum

Georgia Prehistoric Projectile Points in England

Georgia Prehistoric Projectile Points in England

I was simply delighted the first time I noticed these four projectile points from Georgia on display in the Weapons section of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford in England. They are incorrectly identified, of course, since not one of the four are “arrowheads.” This is a common mistake even in America, though, since only the smallest triangular points identified by Whatley (2002) as Late Woodland Triangulars and Mississippian Triangulars are thought to have actually been shot from bows and to have been actually used as arrow “heads.” Furthermore, the bow and arrow are thought to have come into use amongst North American Indians around 1500 years ago, though this date may get pushed back a little further at some point based on future archaeological discoveries.

The four points at the Pitt Rivers are actually all spear points from Southeastern North America’s Prehistoric Period, and would have been hafted to spears, or to shafts for re-loading into the ends of spears, or used as knives. All of them would have been projected simply with the arm or with the atlatl, the North American version of the spear-thrower, a tool once in use all over the world. I would identify them, from left to right on the top row, as 1) an Hernando, 2) a Lost Lake, and 3) another Hernando point. All three of these appear to be made of Coastal Plain chert, which is naturally occurring below Georgia’s Fall Line, running across the center of the state from Columbus to Macon to Augusta. Hernando points are from the Middle Woodland sub-period, and date from about 2500 to 2000 years ago (Whatley 2002:51). Lost Lake points are from the Early Archaic sub-period, and date from around 9250 to 9000 years ago (Whatley 2002:73). The quartz spear point on the bottom row appears to be a Yadkin. This type straddles the Early to Middle Woodland sub-periods, and dates from about 2500 to 1500 years ago (Whatley 2002:127).

There are actually other Georgia spear points held in the collections of the Pitt Rivers, as well as points from adjacent Southern states. Although the four discussed here are the only ones currently on display, perhaps I will have time to analyze and discuss the other Georgia specimen in the future.

Work Cited:

Whatley, John S.
2002 “An Overview of Georgia Projectile Points and Selected Cutting Tools.” Early Georgia 30 (1).

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stonehenge vs. Stonehenge: Two Pilgrimages Compared and Contrasted

Storm Over Stonehenge

Storm Over Stonehenge

My most recent visit to Stonehenge was quite different from my first one. Judging by their accents and license plates, thousands of tourists from all over Europe and North America were on hand the second time. Despite the mob, which did become a bit tedious after a while for this sometime studious archaeologist, I was able to look carefully at most of the artifacts and displays. The new museum had unfortunately been closed on my first pilgrimage to this important site, which is located in the rolling hills of Wiltshire in south-central England.

This Burial is on display in the new museum

This Burial is on display in the new museum

Artifacts on display in the Museum

Artifacts on display in the Museum

My feeling at the time was that the vast majority of tourists that afternoon were just checking something off their list. Most of them rushed through the museum, lingered much longer in the crammed gift shop, and then packed onto the buses to be driven over to the site itself. There a few were thoughtful, engaging in conversation about various aspects of the stone configuration. However, most were just posing for selfies and were soon on their way back to the buses that would take them to their cars (or back to the outrageously expensive gift shop).

My first pilgrimage to Stonehenge was quite different! A dear French friend and I left at midnight from where we were staying in the New Forest in order to arrive well before dawn, since we both wanted to experience the legendary summer solstice event involving a very different type of visitor – or perhaps communicant is the better word. As a picture is commonly supposed to be able to “paint a thousand words,” here is my painting of that visit.

Stonehenge at Dawn on the Summer Solstice, photographed from inside the Stone Circle

Stonehenge at Dawn on the Summer Solstice, photographed from inside the Stone Circle

Revelers at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice

Revelers at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice

Morning Breaks on Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice

Morning Breaks on Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice

Interviewing a Stonehenge “Druid”

Morning at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice, as the crowd was breaking up

Morning at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice, as the crowd was breaking up

I must draw attention to the wide contrast between the management of this World Heritage Site on the summer and winter solstices versus every other day of the year. Almost every imaginable kind of bacchanalian behavior is allowed on those two days, including but not limited to permitting crowds of more than 35,000 people (I was told about 10,000 of these packed themselves into the small space between the stones) to gather, party, chant, sing, dance, bellow, blow horns, etc. For these two days only, visitors are allowed to touch and even sit on the stones! By morning’s end some had clandestinely even drawn graffiti on some stones, and the scattered trash, rubbish, beer cans, cigarette butts, and paper and plastic bags left for others to clean up was both astounding and disgraceful. While there was a police presence, the general English attitude at present is not to intervene no matter how rowdy a crowd becomes unless someone is flagrantly breaking the law. This more enlightened view has evidently evolved since the 1985 Battle of the Beanfield, though(

Comparing and contrasting my two visits, I must admit that I find it incongruous, and even somewhat illogical and self-defeating, for English Heritage to have such strict rules governing the behavior of Stonehenge’s visitors for all the rest of the year, but to allow virtually any behavior on the two solstices. For instance, on my second visit there was a rope encircling the entire site and preventing any of the tourists from getting within 50 yards of the stone circle. And next to the rope there were even signs saying “No Smoking” even though the site is in a giant open field in a rural area. I would imagine that generations of the Neolithic people who built and lived at Stonehenge could smoke pipes if they had them and wanted to, the same as generations of local English farmers and tourists must have done up until this non-sensical rule was created. But perhaps I am just annoyed that I was not allowed to join with them in spirit, and smoke mine!

No Smoking at Stonehenge!

No Smoking at Stonehenge!

As an archaeologist involved in the theory and practice of site preservation and interpretation, I must admit to having grave doubts that allowing such a massive, fun-loving but largely uncontrollable crowd to descend on the site twice a year, while forbidding anyone from touching or even approaching (much less smoking their pipe around) the stones for the other 360+ days a year is really the best way to allow for the fullest possible experience for visitors, or to preserve Stonehenge down through the wide vistas of the future. My understanding, from asking some of the veteran New Age revelers around me, and from discussing it later with some well-informed English archaeologists, is that the current situation is a temporary compromise come up with by English Heritage, the organization that runs the site. Most of those archaeologists have little sympathy for the neo-pagans who visit in such large numbers twice a year, and find them comically ignorant of the site’s actual nature. The “Druids,” on the other hand, are very proud of what they perceive as a partial victory in their struggle to gain access to the site, and remain defiant towards anyone or anything that would seek to limit their hard-fought gains. It is certainly in interesting situation, I warrant you!

I definitely enjoyed my visit to Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice, despite almost being crushed to death on a sarsen stone on several occasions by the sheer volume of human beings each time someone decided to push their way through the crowd. That would have made an interesting epitaph for an archaeologist! However, having survived, it was priceless on my second visit with a veritable English rose (see below) to see my sons so excited about visiting Stonehenge and learning about the prehistory of this part of England. Travelling of this kind, especially in a foreign country, is truly an education in and of itself, and nothing learned in any school, college, or university, however illustrious, can ever hope to equal it.


Example of the Beautiful Local Flora & Fauna at Stonehenge


American Boys at Stonehenge - Oh My!

American Boys at Stonehenge – Oh My!

Afternoon at Stonehenge

Afternoon at Stonehenge

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Making Asi, Or How to Drink Tea the Southeastern Indian Way

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

About 350 years ago a refugee group of Muscogee-speaking Indians arrived in what later became Georgia, and began a protracted struggle for dominance with the native Hitchiti-speaking Indians. The Hitchitis “made them Black Drink as a token of friendship” and took away the Muscogees’ tomahawk and buried it under a house as part of a peace ceremony. Then they adopted them as one people with their own, and gave them white feathers. This is told in the Kasita Migration Legend, as recounted in Savannah in 1735, and describes an event that probably took place sometime just prior to A.D. 1662.

The Carolina traders, who mostly translated such speeches, called it the Black Drink because of its dark black hue, but since white was the color of peace and friendship to the Southeastern Indians, for them it was always the White Drink regardless of its color. In Hitchiti the word for this drink is asi (leaves). The Apalachee Indians of northern Florida, who spoke a related language, also had this custom, but called it cassina, in which you can see “assi.” And the Catawba Indians of North Carolina called it yaupon, the common name of the plant today. Botanists call the plant Ilex vomitoria, since the Indians drank this tea before any important decisions were made, and then to symbolize ritual purification, they regurgitated it on the ground at will. At other times tea made from “the leaves” were merely drunk for social reasons, but only ever by the male leaders and warriors of a village or their honored male guests, whether from other towns or tribes or from the European colonies on the American seaboard.

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Although Ilex vomitoria (the horrible scientific name botanists gave the plant) is native to the coastal South from Virginia to Texas, it can still be found throughout the places where Southeastern Indians lived within the last 500 years or so, including numerous river and creek valleys hundreds of miles into the interior coastal plain and piedmont. So having decided to try my hand at making asi and advice from my friend Jim Preston on where to find some, I gathered my yaupon leaves, and let them dry out for about a week. Then I parched them in the oven in a stainless steel pan until they were brown and crunchy. Thirdly, I let them cool a bit, and crushed them as much as possible with the bottom of a coffee mug. Next I put “the leaves” in a stainless steel pot and filled it with water and boiled them on medium for about 20 minutes. Finally, I strained the leaves out and poured a mug of this dark black tea for my very first taste.

Delicious! Americans have no need to import tea from China or India (or Great Britain for that matter)! We have a source of caffeine in the native yaupon plant, and it makes a lovely spot of tea! Although some may like to add sugar (and/or milk – yuck) to their Black Drink, I prefer it au naturel, without any additives. It is definitely a jolt of caffeine, and the literature all says it’s a natural diuretic, although I can’t claim to know this from my experience. It does give a whole new meaning to drinking tea down South however, and puts us back in touch both with nature and our Native American forbears.

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Food & Drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Continental Divide Over Displaying the Dead: Celtic and American Indian Burial Exhibits

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle was a Celtic Iron Age earthen enclosure and fort begun about 600 B.C. and expanded in the following several centuries.  It was attacked and taken by Legio II Augusta (the second Augustan legion), which was commanded by Roman general Vespasian, who later became emperor.  The photo above shows the Romano-British temple on the hilltop, and the surrounding landscape of Dorset – a truly beautiful county on the south coast of England.  Excavations recovered locally-produced pottery, projectile points, and skeletons of Celtic warriors killed in the battle, including one (below, left) with a Roman ballista bolt in his vertebrae.  Artifacts from the excavations, including several burials, are on display today in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.


Celtic Warriors Buried at Maiden Castle, Dorset, and now on display at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester

It is interesting to note the relaxed manner British museums in general have toward exhibiting the remains of what are seen as the ancestors of modern-day Britons.  This can be compared and contrasted in an interesting fashion to American museums, which rarely exhibit burials or grave goods anymore due to a relatively new-found sensitivity over displaying the remains of Native Americans.  Such is the case partly because the indigenous peoples of North America are not normally seen as being the ancestors of the average American, and partly due to reaction against the complete and utter lack of such sympathy in the past.  Interestingly, many Americans today might be surprised to learn that their DNA exhibits some amount of admixture of Native American ancestry – particularly if one is from the American South where contact between Europeans and American Indians began almost 500 years ago.  Additionally, the DNA of most modern American Indians – no matter where they live – contains quite a bit of European ancestry.  More information on DNA studies of Southeastern Native Americans can be found in articles by Bolnick and Smith (2003) and Bolnick, Bolnick, and Smith (2006). Another highly interesting study into British DNA, showing that Celtic bloodlines are quite prevalent in today’s Brit, was recently performed by professors at the University of Oxford –

“But thou shalt not die unknown…my bards are many, O Carthon! their songs descend to future times. The children of years to come shall hear the fame of Carthon, when they sit round the burning oak, and the night is spent in songs of old.  The hunter, sitting in the heath, shall hear the rustling blast, and raising his eyes, behold the rock where Carthon fell….Three days they mourned above Carthon; on the fourth his father died. In the narrow plain of the rock they lie; a dim ghost defends their tomb.  There lovely Moina is often seen when the sunbeam darts on the rock and all around is dark. There she is seen, Malvina; but not like the daughters of the hill.  Her robes are from the stranger’s land, and she is still alone!

James Macpherson, excerpted from Carthon in The Works of Ossian, 1765

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late Mississippian Lamar Pottery from Georgia, ca. 1600-1650

Lamar to Creek transitional pottery from Shinholser Mound site

This large piece of Lamar pottery exemplifies the transition from Lamar to Historic Creek, which occurred during the 17th century in Middle Georgia. It’s potter, presumably a female living at what is thought to have been the mound site known to Spanish explorers as Tama, was just not as skilled as her predecessors. Lamar Bold Incised pottery (AD 1350-1650) was executed flawlessly only a generation or two before 1650, with crisp, straight lines generally 2 or more millimeters thick. However, her descendants could still have learned much from her, since they were making the even more poorly executed Ocmulgee Fields Incised pottery. This type, which has been dated to the Historic Creek period (AD 1660-1716), has incised lines that were executed even more poorly and that were 1 millimeter or less in thickness.

Did these potters just lose pride in their craftsmanship, or were they merely concentrating on surviving the onslaught of European pandemics and the British slave trade in captured Southeastern Indians? Maybe the two go hand in glove. It’s hard to care about crafts when you and your whole family and tribe are just trying to survive.

Categories: Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Archaeological Exploration of Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

Exploring Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

Last summer I took a trip to visit a friend on one of Georgia’s Golden Isles to record archaeological sites. Little Cumberland Island (LCI) is a private island owned by an association of homeowners, so it was a wonderful privilege to be invited there at all. The purpose was to record the coordinates of a few surface scatters of artifacts that had become exposed by wave and wind action on the beach and in the sand dunes.

After crossing over from Jekyll Island by boat one afternoon, and spending a lovely evening with my hosts, we started bright and early the following morning on our peregrinations, as we knew the day would be hot. There was still no way to imagine just how hot! It felt like 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, with 100% humidity, by eleven o’clock in the morning! But we pushed on through, and visited and recorded several sites including a couple Archaic period shell middens, a prehistoric ceramic-making site, as well as a Union sailor’s relocated grave, and the lovely tabby lighthouse.

An Archaic Shell-Midden on LCI

An Archaic Shell-Midden on LCI

LCI Lighthouse

LCI Lighthouse

It was a unique experience that I hope to repeat some day, and I am indebted to my hosts for their hospitality and the opportunity to visit a special place that even most Georgians never see. And we even got to see the wild horses on the beach!

LCI's Wild Horses

LCI’s Wild Horses

“The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright….”

Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter, 1872

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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