Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mystery Archaeology Picture #2

It's time for another mystery archaeology picture. Actually, this one is not much of a mystery, as it is from a fairly well-known site. Make sure you tell me your guess in the comments.

And if you can't comment on Blogspot for some reason as one reader has said, you can always do it on the Facebook page ( or Twitter (!/ancientscripts).

Once again, have fun guessing!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Answer to Mystery Archaeology Picture #1

I know that a good number of readers looked at the mystery archaeology picture but I only got two guesses. Oh well. Maybe next time I ought to post something more eye-catching.

Anyway, here is the picture from last time.

I had some good guesses actually. Serapis got it pretty close in terms of geographical location. This is a petroglyph from the American Southwest, specifically from the Petroglyphs National Monument just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As far as the petroglyphs, they are in fact macaws. The macaw in the lower left is actually in a rectangular cage or pen. This is because macaws are not native to the American Southwest. The closest natural habitat is tropical regions of Mexico and Central America. However, bones and egg shells of macaws have been found throughout the Southwest, meaning that they were traded from distant parts of Mesoamerica and then bred locally. The famous city of Paquimé (aka Casas Grandes) of the Mogollon culture in northern Chihuahua had pens where macaws were kept and bred. No doubt through them these beautiful birds were traded into the Southwest.

Macaws were imported luxury items for the people of the Southwest. Recently, chocolate has also been found in the Southwest (see Prehistoric Americans Traded Chocolate for Turquoise? ). In return they exported turquoise into Mesoamerica, whose cultures revered the blue-green color as symbolic of the nature world.

Cultural exchange likely occurred as well. Balls courts are found in Hohokam sites like Wupatki pueblo. Feathered serpents appear in some Hopi stories. On the other hand, it is less clear what cultural import Mesoamerica got from the Southwest. However, regardless of the exact types of exchange, there was nevertheless a lot of interaction between the two regions.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mystery Archaeology Picture #1

Over at the Eruptions blog they have a mystery volcano of the month and I thought it might be a good idea over here in Ancient Scripts but I decided to change it up into Mystery Archaeology Picture of the week.

The game is pretty simple. You comment on what you think is the content of the picture and where it was taken. It shouldn't be too hard since I haven't been to too many exotic locations.

Anyway, this is the inaugural post of mystery picture. What do you think it is (that should be easy) and where do you think this is located.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Last night my wife made an enchilada lasagna/casserole, essentially alternating layers of tortillas and stewed chicken and vegetables. Interestingly enough, the tortillas were made with corn and chia seeds. Yes, chia as in Chia Pet, that little 80's ornament that grew green "fur" which were in fact chia sprout. It was actually an important pre-Columbian food source and it's coming into vogue in recent times due to the world's appetite for ancient, supposedly-exotic, nearly-lost grains. Tell that to Mexicans who've been eating it for hundreds of years.

The word chia came directly from its Nahuatl equivalent, namely chian, according to an online Nahuat dictionary. Wikipedia claims it's derived from chian "oily" but according to the dictionary, chiahuac is "oily", which feel like compounds with additional suffixes on top of the chia root. As chia seeds produces 25% to 30% oil, I think words with "oily" meaning in Nahuatl were actually derived from the root meaning the chia plant.

The Nahuatl glyph for chia looks like either a brown triangle or a half circle with dots inside, no doubt representing the dark grey chia seeds. However, there is also a variant in which the dots are replaced by conventional symbols of soil, such as the name Chiapan, which corresponds to Chiapas in modern times. Chiapas in fact means "above the river of chias" ( However, a similar toponym, Teochiapan, does use the regular dotted variant (

The chia glyph can also be used as a phonetic sign to write the chi syllable. One example of this usage comes from the Codex Xolotl, a book from the Texcoco region of Central Mexico written right after the Spanish conquest. It details the history of the Aztecs and especially the city of Texcoco, one of the three "allies" that made up the Triple Alliance aka the Aztec Empire. Like most Nahuatl manuscripts it is highly pictorial but a surprising amount of texts with phonetic spelling is used. A character named Achitometl, who was the king of the Tepanecs, has his name spelled out nearly phonetically as a-chi-(to)-me-e. For some reason the to syllable is missing, possibly because it served no grammatical function.

Also, take note of the syllabic glyph e, which is the black oval with a white smaller oval inside. Here it serves as a phonetic complement to reinforce the vowel of the last syllable. However, of interest is the fact that the syllabic glyph e is also the bean glyph, as "bean" in Nahuatl is etl. In fact, my wife said that's what's for dinner tomorrow, our approximation of the Costa Rican gallo pinto. However, instead of going into the wonderful world of beans, I shall stop here, and leave the exploration of another ancient staple for another day.