Paphos UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Ten years ago I participated in the Athienou Archaeological Project in Cyprus as my introduction to archaeological fieldwork, particularly excavation.  Part of the field school was traveling throughout Cyprus to gain a better understanding of the prehistory and history of the island.  On one of the field visits, we explored Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  Kato Pafos, or Paphos, is a beautiful archaeological park that includes beautiful mosaic floors from four different Roman villas.    There are a number of monuments in the archaeological park (a whole other blog post to be), such as a huge necropolis.  But back to the mosaics.  The mosaics are the following: The House of Dionysus, Theseus, Aion, Orpheus, and Four Seasons.  They date between the second century AD and fourth century AD.

The necropolis at Kato Paphos is a fantastic combination of completely creepy tombs and unique history.  The use of the tombs has varied, from a necropolis to a home for squatters.  The Tomb of the Kings (Tafoi ton Vasileon)—named for it’s impressive structure although there isn’t any evidence of a king being buried there—was built during the Hellenistic period, sometime during the 3rd century BC.  It was used as a burial area through the Roman era until the Medieval period, when the necropolis was used as a quarry and home for squatters.  All that is left are the niches and rooms for human remains.

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Lovely Lorsch: The Abbey of Lorsch, Germany

My brother is a medievalist professor, which can be a dangerous thing if he spots his favorite Carolingian abbey while zipping along the autobahn in Germany.  He yelled, “LORSCH!” and swerved towards the exit—I gripped my seat in terror.  At least The Abbey of Lorsch and the town are absolutely lovely.  The Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most important pre-Romanesque-Carolingian style buildings in Germany.  The Abbey was founded in 764 AD and consecrated in 774 AD—Charlemagne was there! The library and scriptorium made Lorsch one of the cultural centers of Germany during the ninth century.  The entrance to the abbey (what you see in the photographs) is considered one of the best examples of Carolingian architecture.  It is a truly a beautifully preserved monument to the past.

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Colorful Rock Art and Cliff Dwellings: Palatki Heritage Site

Situated in the beautiful canyons of Sedona, AZ, Palatki Heritage Site is an archaeological site with cliff dwellings and beautiful rock art.  These Sinagua cliff dwellings date between 1150-1350 AD.  The rock art includes pictographs in a variety of symbols and shades.  The rock art is amazingly well preserved; I have rarely seen such a variety of colors incorporated.  The cliff dwelling is a little difficult to properly explore (you see it from a distance), but the rock art is highly visible.

*As ever, be respectful when visiting these fragile archaeological sites.  Never touch rock art, as that can destroy the images.  Be careful not to disturb the architecture and remember it is illegal to take artifacts.

Learn more about Palatki:

Picts, and Vikings, and Scots, Oh My: Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven/Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Sitting atop craggy cliffs overlooking the churning ocean lie the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, which are impressive and haunting.  The site of the castle—and the castle itself—has an incredibly rich and varied history.  Here we go . . .According to the website provided below, the area was first inhabited by Picts; during the 5th Century a saint chose Dunnottar as a site for a church; the Vikings came along and attacked/destroyed the castle during the 9th century; the castle then became a Catholic settlement in the 12th century; a 15th century poet wrote that William Wallace (Braveheart) set the castle chapel on fire with a garrison of English soldiers inside; the castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland starting during the 14th century; kings and queens stayed at the castle; the Honours of Scotland were hidden at the castle; the castle was the site of major battles during the ‘rule’ of Oliver Cromwell; in 1685, 165 people were imprisoned in the Whig Vault at Dunnottar for refusing to acknowledge the King’s supremacy over religion; the last Earl that owed Dunnottar Castle was convicted for treason in 1715 for his role in the Jacobite  rising and the government seized the castle; the castle was neglected until purchased in 1925, had some repair and was opened to visitors.  Phew!  So, that’s it in a nutshell.

I loved wandering around the ruins of Dunnotttar.  It is hardly a moldering heap, but a beautiful collection of structures and features.  To get to the ruins, you have to descend many stone steps and pass through a tunnel—I was completely enchanted.  There were few visitors the day I visited, making the site particularly eerie; I couldn’t stand to be in the vaults/dungeons for very long.

To learn more about this impressive castle, check out:


Rock Art Adventures: The Procession Panel in Bears Ears National Monument

The archaeology of Comb Ridge, a vast swath of land in Utah (it is currently part of Bears Ears National Monument), is absolutely amazing, with hundreds of rock art panels, dispersed habitation sites, granaries, and so on.  However, hiking Comb Ridge in June is a terrible idea and a bunch of friends and I decided to venture out regardless.  It was boiling hot, exposed, sandy–ugh.  At least there’s rock art.  A ridiculous amount of rock art.  Viewing the Procession Panel definitely made up for any discomfort!  It is thought that the 179 petroglyph figures may depict some kind of ceremonial gathering or migration story.  But, as with most rock art, the interpretation is a bit up in the air.  I had some trouble finding information about this specific panel; one website notes that it may date to the Late Basket Maker period (ca 450-750 AD), but it doesn’t provide any evidence to support that particular date.

*Please note: rock art is incredibly fragile.  Do not touch rock art, spray-paint it, or vandalize it in any way.  Not only is it ethically wrong, it is illegal (see blog post on ARPA).

Favorites in Archaeology: Salamis, Cyprus

I had the opportunity to explore the extensive Roman ruins of Salamis, which is considered one of the best archaeological sites on Cyprus, while traveling around North of the UN Buffer Zone. While wandering around the ruins, it is easy to imagine the bustling city it once was. Salamis became the ancient capital of Cyprus as far back as 11 BC by the Greeks and was subsequently occupied by a number of civilizations (i.e. Egyptians to Romans). Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian commissioned some of the buildings; construction was conducted primarily after an earthquake in 76 AD. There are Romans baths, mosaics, an amphitheater etc. The city was destroyed by an invasion around 674 AD, forcing the occupants to the area around Famagusta/the southern half of Cyprus.

The site was looted constantly until 1952, when excavations by the Department of Antiquities began. Excavations were halted in the summer of 1974, when Turkish forces invaded Cyprus and subsequently occupied the area. Government officials of the Republic of Cyprus have long been concerned about the treatment of this archaeological site, since it is located in the Turkish Republic of Cyprus. Hopefully, UNESCO can declare Salamis a World Heritage Site someday. Archaeological sites tend not to fare well when it comes to war and politics.


Favorites in Archaeology: Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Check out the ARCH365 episode! You can listen to the episode on the Archaeology Podcast Network or download it from iTunes.

It’s a quiet and remote place in northwest New Mexico, surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Wind whistles through the canyon at high speeds, churning up the sandy soil. While wandering around the high desert landscape of Chaco canyon, it’s hard to imagine that this area was once a major cultural center about a thousand years ago, where thousands of prehistoric people gathered. There is marginal rainfall, little vegetation, and so on, but something about this area was special to the Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants. Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico contains a staggering number of pueblos, absolutely spectacular archaeological sites with hundreds of thousands of artifacts, which were created by the Ancient Puebloan peoples, also known as the Anasazi.

The Prehistory of Chaco Canyon

During the mid-1000s AD, the ancestral Puebloan people built ‘great houses,’ buildings containing hundreds of rooms, multiple stories, all with unique masonry, creating an easily recognizable Chacoan type of architecture. These buildings were typically constructed to face specific solar, lunar, and cardinal directions, and specifically placed in a spot surrounded by sacred features, like mountains or mesas. Evidence shows that some of these great houses took decades to centuries to construct, which isn’t too surprising considering how much went into each building. Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses, would have covered 3 acres, contained more than 600 rooms, and was 4 to 5 stories tall! It also contained dozens of kivas, circular ceremonial rooms, and two large plazas. That’s a lot of planning and building!

Chaco Canyon developed further into a major ceremonial, administrative, and economic center in the Puebloan world by 1050 AD and it had far reaching influence, from building styles to pottery types. The Ancestral Puebloans built canals to direct water to farm fields to grow corn, beans and squash for an ever growing population. They created over 200 miles of roads, a sort of prehistory super highway, that connected not only the great houses of Chaco, but to over 150 pueblos throughout the region. The great houses of chaco were likely major hubs of ceremonial and commercial activities, with far reaching influence outside their social-cultural sphere. Chacoan influence can be seen at Mesa Verde National Park, a series huge cliff dwellings in Colorado. Also, Archaeologists have found macaw feathers and copper bells—indicating a complex trading network all over the southwest into Northern Mexico.

And then something happened. Was it drought? Was it conflict? During 11 and 1200s AD, building slowed down and influence waned. People began to leave Chaco Canyon migrating to different areas in the southwest, possibly due 50 years of drought conditions. Whatever the reason, the great houses were abandoned. Modern Southwest Puebloan tribes are the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans and many the groups consider the creation and abandonment of Chaco as part of their migration story. Consequently, many Native Americans consider Chaco Canyon a spiritual place to be respected.

The Archaeological History of Chaco Canyon

Archaeologists, even after 100 years of studying Chaco Canyon, are still scratching their heads as to why did these people build in such a desolate place? Why were the buildings constructed where they were? Why was the area abandoned? And most of all, who WERE these people? Archaeologists have been carefully piecing together a story for Chaco Canyon, but there is still so much to discover and learn. The ruins were first documented by Euro-Americans during the early 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1890s that excavations were conducted by the American Museum of Natural History from New York. This was known as the Hyde Exploring expedition. Fred and Talbot Hyde were tipped off to the area by Richard Wetherill, a self-taught archaeologist who discovered the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde—Wetherill hoped the brothers would finance an expedition and they ended up doing a 5 year excavation at Pueblo Bonito. The Wetherills actually moved to Chaco Canyon, building a house next to the west wall of Pueblo Bonito! Wetherill and the Hyde brothers excavated enough artifacts, and human remains, to fill an entire freight car at the end of just one season.

So, the scientific excavations weren’t what we would consider today as ‘best practices.’ Also, there was a lot of controversy that all of the artifacts were being shipped to the East, as opposed to staying in New Mexico. Rumors that artifacts were being sold to the highest bidder also were circulating. With the creation of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the establishment of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in 1907, Chacoan sites were better protected from will-nilly excavation. Other excavations, surveys and studies have taken place by the National Geographic Society, the University of New Mexico, and a number of multi-disciplinary research projects through the Chaco Center. Recent surveys have identified more than 2400 archaeological sites in the park boundary!

Fun facts and finds at Chaco Canyon:

  • In the first season of excavations, the Hyde Expedition uncovered from one room at Pueblo Bonito, 114 ceramic jars, 22 ceramic bowls, and 21 jar lids. And this type of pottery is stunning, with painted geometric designs.
  • Chaco Canyon is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site!
  • Thousands of exquisite turquoise necklaces, earrings and beads have been observed. One necklace contained 2500 beads! The turquoise likely came from a mine over 100 miles away.
  • A dam was excavated in 1967 that emptied into a canal that directed water to 24 acres of farmland. If there was 1 ¼ inches of rain in one storm, this canal could have carried 540,00 gallons of water to the farmlands of one of the great houses. This type of building allowed the Chacoans to live in such an arid area!
  • The black on white pottery made at Chaco was painted with a mineral paint created by grinding up red or brown stones with iron minerals and then mixed with water.
  • Cylinder jars excavated from Pueblo Bonito were found to have a residue for Cacao, the beanlike seeds from which chocolate is made. Chaco is now the first place known North of the Mexican border to use Cacao to make a specialized drink. Consequently, the people of Chaco were trading with cultivators in Mesoamerica.

When visiting Chaco Canyon, keep in mind that its far more than a tourist destination. For archaeologists, it is a place rich in prehistory and mystery. For the descendents of the Ancestral Puebloans, it is a place to be honored. Think of each great house, every archaeological site, as one giant museum that deserves careful consideration and respect.

Learn more about Chaco Culture National Historic Park: on the National Park Service or Unesco world heritage sites webpages.


Further Reading:

  • In Search of Chaco edited by David Grant Noble
  • Clay, Copper, and Turquoise: The Museum Collection of Chaco Culture National Historic Park by Western Natl Parks Assoc
  • The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon: An Eleventh-century Pueblo Regional Center by School of American Research Press
  • There are also numerous scholarly articles on this topic