Friday, March 3, 2023

Archaeology of Health and Disease, Part II


Indiana Bones” visits ancient Pompeii.

VIDEOS: YouTube video on Day in the Life of an Egyptiandoctor.

 Curator’s Corner movie, British Museum, on recent mummy analyses

 A Humorous Medical video on Galen.

SHORT STORY: “Death on Display” by Sarah Wisseman

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Archaeology of Health and Disease, Part I

 Recently I taught this course at our local Osher Lifelong Learning center. Here are some of the links I promised for more information or deeper dives:

An amputation in the Stone Age.


Very good summary by Prof. Nancy Demand

Online article by Laura Zucconi, author of an excellent "deep dive" book, Ancient Medicine from Mesopotamia to Rome (2019)

More on Mesopotamian health and medicine.


Egyptian leg brace


Evidence for spinal tuberculosis at Pompeii.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Cosmic Places and Sacred Landscapes

 Weeks 3 and 4 of my "Discover the Ancient Sky" class covered wandering planets, key stars and constellations, and huge sites that represented sacred landscapes that are far more than solar and lunar observatories.

Links to Key Sites and Monuments:



Links to cultural stuff:

How to read the Maya Calendar

Inca astronomy in South America. Also here.

Videos seen in class:





Additional Bibliography:

Aubrey Burl (2005)  Prehistoric Astronomy and Ritual

J. L. Heilbron (2001) The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories

University of Maryland Archaeoastronomy center

UNESCO portal: Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy

Astronomical links: 

Stanford University Solar Center

Monday, February 14, 2022

Our Wonky Moon and Lunar Alignments

 Last week we continued with solar alignments at sites like Chankillo, Peru (see this wonderful video) and spent some time on the lunar orbit. Because the moon's orbital cycle is 18.6 years to repeat its tilting pattern, it is very hard to visualize. The best explanation I have found is here, at the University of Massachusetts Sunwheel website (a sort of mini-Stonehenge created by Prof. Judith Young).

            Thirteen towers at Chankillo. Source: photo by David Edgar, Wikipedia

Another wonderful reference is "Ancient Observatories," by Deborah Scherrer at the Solar Center at Stanford University.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Why study ancient stargazers?

 During the month of February 2022, I'm teaching an Olli course on Discovering the Ancient Sky: The Archaeology of Astronomy.

Why study ancient stargazers? Because people discovered thousands of years ago that being able to predict celestial events such as eclipses of the sun or the flooding of major rivers gave them control over human resources and human behavior. How much of early astrology and astronomy is based on observation vs. mathematics? We owe a considerable debt to ancient Babylonia and Egypt for their accurate observations and timekeeping and to Greek philosophers for their views of the cosmos. However, what people were able to observe depends on several things: time of year and season (controlled by the earth’s movement around the sun and the earth’s tilt), and latitude. How ancient sites were oriented depended on what various cultures considered important (e.g. direction of Nile flow and rising of the sun in Egypt vs. Cahokia’s lunar and Milky Way alignments).

I consulted many books and websites to prepare for this class. Here are some of my favorites: 

 *Taylor, Ken. Celestial Geometry: Understanding the Meanings of Ancient Sites (2012).

*Hadingham, Evan. Early Man and the Cosmos (1984).

*Cornell, James. The First Stargazers: An Introduction to the Origins of Astronomy (1981).

*Aveni, Anthony. People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos (2008).

Aveni, Anthony. Stairways to the Stars: Skywatching in Three Great Ancient Cultures (1997).

Moche, Dinah L. Astronomy: A Self-teaching Guide, 8th Edition (2015).

Marshak, Stephen and Robert Rauber. Earth Science: The Earth, the Atmosphere, and Space, especially Part 5: “Our Solar System and Beyond” (2020 edition).

For a video on the earth's tilt and how that affects the seasons, go here.

For the video on New Grange, Ireland that I showed during the first class, go here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mapping sites from above and Cahokia

In our last lecture for "Overlooked Archaeology," we discussed LiDAR and satellite photography as well as older remote-sensing techniques for discovering and mapping archaeological sites.


Good summary of LiDAR technique with examples from around the world.


Great Ted talk by archaeologist Sarah Parcak

Wonderful book (available on Amazon):


Best website, hands-down. Called "Re-envisioning Greater Cahokia," it is an interactive map with tons of information on recent discoveries.

Videos: Hour-long lecture by archaeologist Timothy Pauketat
Shorter introduction to a longer PBS video

YouTube channel for ISAS. includes hour-long lecture on Cahokia's red goddesses by Tom Emerson and a short clip on current use of drones as well as other interesting clips.

Articles and book excerpts on Cahokia:

  Tim Pauketat on Cahokia causeway and cosmology

An excerpt from Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos by Sally A. Kitt Chappell

Grossmann celts and Nick Wisseman discovery 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Health and Disease in ancient times...

 This topic is from the third lecture of "Overlooked Archaeology." We covered heart disease and many other ailments in overstudied mummies such as the Italian Iceman and the Chinese noblewoman Lady Dai. We also discussed DNA studies of teeth, which reveal diet, disease, and migration patterns, ancient surgery and medicine, evidence of tooth decay in skeletal remains, and early dental remedies.


Carolyn Freiwald on Tales from Teeth

A humorous medical clip about Galen, ancient Rome's most notorious doctor


The Iceman's poor health

Lady Dai, Chinese mummy

Woman the Hunter 

The Beaded burial at Cahokia

The death of Pliny from going too near an erupting volcano