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How one society rebounded from ‘the worst year to be alive’

It was the worst time to be alive, according to some scientists. From 536 C.E. to 541 C.E., a series of volcanic eruptions in North and Central America sent tons of ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight, chilling the globe, and destroying crops worldwide. Societies everywhere struggled to survive. But for the Ancestral Pueblo people living in what today is the U.S. Southwest, this climate catastrophe planted the seeds for a more cohesive, technologically sophisticated society, a new study suggests.

Tim Kohler
Kohler

“This story makes sense to me,” says Tim Kohler, an archaeologist at Washington State University, Pullman, who has studied climate impacts on the Pueblo people of different eras but was not involved in the new work. He says the disturbance and subsequent reorganization of the Ancestral Puebloans provide clues to what makes societies resilient in the face of dramatic climate change.

Climate data from tree rings from northern Arizona suggest the region suffered abnormally cold temperatures and drought between the years 534 and 569. So the Ancestral Puebloans, like people around the globe, endured the harsh weather conditions of the time. Yet within a few decades, they had bounced back and reorganized into a larger, more cohesive civilization, the team reported last week in Antiquity.

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Science 

Honorary doctoral degree awarded to Professor Emeritus William D. Lipe

William Lipe.
Lipe

Washington State University has selected Emeritus Professor William D. Lipe, an internationally recognized leader in the field of archaeology, to receive its highest honor: an honorary doctoral degree. In a career spanning six decades, Lipe has significantly shaped the way archaeological resources are managed and how archaeology is conducted today.

The university will grant the degree to Lipe at the fall Commencement ceremony next Saturday, Dec. 11.

In the 1990s Lipe was president of the Society for American Archaeology, a professional society that he helped to transform into an authoritative resource for archaeological practice and professional ethics. The Society has recognized him with the Distinguished Service Award, its highest honor.

He has sat on the boards of a number of professional societies and is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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WSU Insider

The Ancient Art of Raising Turkeys

Across America, families are likely squirreling away turkeys into chest freezers for Thanksgiving. But earlier this month, Butterball CEO Jay Jandrain warned of a potential shortage of small birds during the holiday season. This threatens the long tradition of Thanksgiving turkey, which has nebulous origins in early colonial New England. Yet Indigenous people’s relationship with the ubiquitous bird goes back more than two thousand years.

William Lipe.
Lipe

“I can visualize the blanket-maker calming a familiar household-raised turkey so it could be held in that person’s lap while some of its mature body feathers were carefully and painlessly removed for use in the blanket,” William Lipe, a Southwestern archaeologist and professor emeritus at Washington State University, says.

After the great migration, the Pueblo people relied less on turkeys for sustenance. Their new territory once again offered plentiful big game to hunt. Still, some traditions lived on. Today, you can hear turkey gobbles in many New Mexican Pueblos.

What could you eat 400 years ago in the Pacific Northwest?

Today it’s all about Cosmic Crisp apples, winter wheat and wine grapes, but 400 years ago Washington state’s food environment looked a lot different.

The mechanized system of food production has churned over recent centuries, but when the land was occupied only by Indigenous people whose ties to the land had deep roots, the Pacific Northwest served an abundance of helpful herbs, fragrant flowers, fat-rich fish and vital vegetables that could easily make a feast.

Shannon Tushingham.
Tushingham

Other fish like sturgeon, lamprey eels, suckers and various species of traits also helped sustain these communities. Diets for people in the Northwest also included a fat-rich fish called eulachon, found in the rivers, Washington State University anthropology researcher Shannon Tushingham told WSU Insider earlier this year.

Molly Carney.
Carney

WSU archaeology researcher Molly Carney studied how often Indigenous tribes used camas root and found the onionlike bulbs were a critical part of the cuisine, according to a WSU News article this year.

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Seattle Times

Ask Dr. Universe: Why do we find bones in rock?

When humans want to look into the past, they often dig into the ground. Under the soil, archeologists can find all kinds of things that help us learn about life long ago.

Rachel Horowitz.
Horowitz

That’s what I found out from my friend Rachel Horowitz, an archaeologist at Washington State University who is very curious about the lives of our human ancestors.

Let’s say a human ancestor passed away and was buried at the edge of a lake. Layer after layer, the soil, pebbles, sand and other earth materials start piling up on top of the burial site.

Some of the fossils that have taught us about the past were bones belonging to a human ancestor that archeologists named Ardipithecus ramiduOr Ardi, for short

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Ask Dr. Universe