Who, Where, What and Why…The Hohokam

May 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm (Anthropology, Art, Hohokam, Petroglyph)

Who were the Hohokam? The Hohokam were a group of people that occupied the southern Arizona area from about A.D. 1 to 1450. With no form of writing, they are not technically considered a civilization by archeologist, but you can still find evidence of their social makeup throughout the area.

            Demonstrating their complex social structure are the hundreds of miles of canals that they built in order to irrigate their crops. These canals, unrivaled in North America, would have taken an amazing amount of group organization. Leaders were needed to plan and make decisions; communities had to coordinate workers and maintenance of the canals. Although this may sound like a simple feat now, with our extensive communication network, in the days of the Hohokam, it was an impressive achievement.

Another prevalent remnant of the Hohokam people is the rock art, or petroglyphs, they left behind. A petroglyph was a design made by pecking, scraping, and rubbing away the dark surface of a rock in order to leave an impression. Common images are simple shapes such as spirals, concentric circles, wavy and zigzag lines; also seen are figures such as human forms, lizards, and four legged animals. All of these images had a symbolic message that they conveyed to the Hohokam people; unfortunately, we can now only guess at their true meanings.


 There are a few myths about these rock designs that must be cleared for full understanding. Many people believe that these types of rock art are a written language; however, they are not symbols for sounds or specific words, but general connotations. Also, they do not tell a story; their proximity to one another is probably just due to the fact that there was little space for the drawings, not to group in a specific order.

            These symbols are more similar to our modern day stoplight. They convey a clear, definite meaning: red means stop, yellow means slow, green means go. However, if someone from another culture and time were to look at a stoplight, they would have no understanding of these interpretations. We can view the petroglyphs of the Hohokam, but without someone from the culture itself to interpret; we will probably never know what they actually mean.


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The Number Conundrum

April 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm (Uncategorized)

            Counting is a skill that has been so integrated into our society that it is almost unconscious. But where did it all start? Who were the first people to develop the idea of counting and a number system? The answer is not an easy one. Many cultures all over the world were developing number system around the same time thousands of years ago. Over history, their distinct numeric structure has faded, but hints of the original versions can still be seen today.

            In Egypt, records from 3000 B.C. have been discovered that show their counting system. They counted with bases of 1 and 10, very similar to the way we group things today. On the records found, “one” was represented by a vertical line and “ten” was shown by a symbol such as “^”. Therefore a number such as 33 would be written lll^^^. This is very similar to the Roman numerals that we still use today (where 33 is XXXIII). This system is one that is most reminiscent of our current structure, however; other cultures counted differently.

            The Babylonians created a unique system that, although first seemingly foreign is still used today. Their base number, instead of ten like the Egyptians, was 60. Numbers below 60 were expressed in groups of ten. Today, we can see this structure in our measurements of time: there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. One more aspect of our current numeric structure was being created by both the Babylonians and the Mayans around the same time.

            The idea of place value explains that depending on the position of a number in a series, the values differ. This simply means that the number two in 200 and 0.2 mean very different things. Although this seems obvious to the modern person, this was quite a foreign concept for these cultures to develop and grasp.

            Numbers, counting, 1, 2, 50, 500. Concepts that are so natural were once completely original and inventive creations. Even the most basic of concepts were once new, and can be traced back to their origins. Sometimes the best way to understand our modern actions and ideas is to look at the past.

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Discovery World

March 28, 2011 at 10:15 pm (Uncategorized)

This past Saturday, I took my first trip to Discovery World as a visitor. Although I have been going there every week since the end of January, it was never during operating hours. The first thing you notice as you walk out of the elevator from the underground parking garage is pure energy. With kids running and talking all around you, it’s impossible not to be infected by their excitement as you wait in line to buy your ticket. Once you have your wristband, there is a decision to make: you can either go to the technology exhibits or the water related ones. On my trip, I went to the technology exhibits first.

When you walk through the doors you are greeted by an overwhelming amount of information. Interactive displays exploring cars, motors, archeology, energy, and music are yours to choose from. To get the most out of your visit, you must go slow, and read a lot. The exhibits include a lot of information that most people don’t know, so in order to understand what all the buttons you are pushing mean you need to read all of the signs. After learning about new types of cars, archeological techniques, and Les Paul, I headed over to the water area.

The water exhibits are across the building from the technology area and are divided into three floors. The bottom floor, where I started, is the aquarium. This includes fish from the Great Lakes, North Atlantic, and Caribbean. With interactive computers helping you identify the fish you are seeing, it’s an easy place to immerse yourself in the underwater world. If seeing aquatic animals through a glass wall isn’t enough to satisfy you; in the center of the exhibit is a tank that allows you to touch creatures such as stingrays, sea urchin, and sturgeons. Once you’ve satisfied your curiosity about the underwater world, you can walk up to the first floor and get a bird’s eye view of the Great Lakes

 Taking up the entirety of the middle floor of the World of Water exhibits is a model of the Great Lakes, complete with real water, fish, and a rainstorm. As you walk around the model, you’ll learn about the native animals in the area today and thousands of years ago. Also, the small scale lock allows you to control the water level yourself in order to learn how boats get from one lake to another. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a rainstorm complete with thunder, lightening, and darkened skies. Next, a floor above, The Challenge shows you how to stay afloat on the lakes.

A recreation of an 1852 schooner, The Challenge floats in the air at Discover World, where you can climb aboard and learn the functions of all the mechanics and well and see how the captain and crew lived. This colorful boat is very kid friendly, allowing them to get some energy out by climbing up and down ladders and through different rooms, all in a safe environment, meanwhile learning about how life on a boat really was. Around The Challenge is information on various shipwrecks that happened on the Great Lakes, as well as a water exhibit that shows how water flows through your house, the city, and the rivers as it is being used.

Overall, Discovery World is the place you go if you want a day of learning, fun, and unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. And, if one visit wasn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, there are classes for all ages of kids as well as adults, or just come back for another visit, there’s always something new to learn!

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Definition: Art

March 17, 2011 at 12:23 am (Art)

Art has always been a part of society. It is variable, beautiful, and sometimes revolutionary. But how do we define art? Dictionary.com will give you a grand total of sixteen separate definitions, all slightly different from each other. Adding to the complexity, every person you ask will have a distinct view of what should or should not be considered art. So how do you decide?

            Most people agree that forms of poetry, dance, sculpture, and painting are all art. However, these various expressions are all created through certain materials such as words and paint. These tools are also used to make other creations that the general population agrees to be inartistic such as a letter and the paint on your dinning room wall. So what separates these categories?


    There are two generally acknowledged definitions for art. The first states that if something is created with the intention of being aesthetically pleasing (another ambiguous term that I will not explore at this time), then it can be considered art. The complication with this definition is that many people create paintings, sculptures, dances, and poetry everyday, and nobody would consider all of them true art. This definition seems to deal more with the idea that as long as the intention is there, that is enough.

            The second definition of art explains that all art is really a form of communication. The artist wants to convey some specific idea or thought and thus puts it on paper or in a dance. This definition, however, also avoids the supposed “quality” of the art in question.

            What may be concluded from these short explanations is that the definition of art is impossibly ambiguous. Although not what many people want to think, there really is no way to determine what is art and what is not. Everyone has an opinion based on their previous experience and preferences, and everyone will think that their definition of art is correct. The truth of the matter is, art is beyond definition.

Information from “The Anthropology of Art” by Robert Layton, Second Edition, 1991

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The Roots of Democracy

February 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm (democracy)

            As I type this, thousands of state employed workers swarm Wisconsin’s state capitol in Madison. They bear signs, chant slogans, beat drums, and sing songs. They are there demonstrating their right to voice theirs opinions. That is what democracy looks like; citizens speaking their minds and peacefully debating their ideas in a public manner. But where does democracy come from? Most people trace it back to ancient Greece, when the city-state prevailed. When looking at the origins of democracy the spotlight falls on Athens which had the most prominent democracy of the time.

            Democracy in Athens began in 594 BC when Solon (the ruler of Athens) made every citizen responsible for electing their future leaders. However, a citizen in ancient Greece was not the same as the modern day classification of a citizen. Athenian citizens were males over 18 whose mother and father were both from Athens. Excluded from voting were women, children, merchants, and slaves. This left about 20% of the population to discuss, debate, and vote.

            The ideals of Athenian democracy were very similar to some of the ideals we have today in American democracy. Equal opportunity (for all “citizens”) and justice were the values held most high to these people. Justice was upheld by a jury system which guaranteed that slaves could be represented through their patrons. Officials were not chosen by wealth, thus ensuring equal opportunity. Although the perception of these ideals has changed over the past 2000 years, the basic morals behind them have not. This is the reason we can look back at Athenian society and see the echoes of American society.

            One main difference between American politics and those of Athens is the method of voting. Here in the United States we elect representatives who then vote on political issues on our behalf, or a representative democracy. Athens had a direct democracy. This means that every citizen voted for everything. In order to maintain this type of government, there must be few enough citizens so that it is practical to have them all come and debate issues. Also, they must have the time to participate, meaning that slaves do most of the work in their masters’ absence. Obviously this kind of government would be unreasonable for a country the size of America, hence our representative form of democracy.

            Although many things have changed since the first cornerstone of democracy was laid in 594 BC, the main infrastructure of this type of government has remained intact. Just as citizens gathered to debate local issues of the time, so do the citizens of Wisconsin come to the capitol to voice their opinions.

Information provided by The International Center for Peace and Developement and HistoryWorld

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Anthropology, a Definition

February 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm (Anthropology)

            When I tell people that I am interested in anthropology, I often get the same question: What is anthropology? To be vague, I usually reply that it is one of the approaches to studying society. To be more specific, anthropology studies almost every aspects of humanity: past, present, future, culture, biology, and language. It is difficult to determine where one facet of this area of study begins and the other ends.

            These facets include the four subfields of general anthropology: cultural, biological, archeological, and linguistic anthropology. The names of these subfields are, for the most part, self explanatory.

            Cultural anthropologists describe, analyze, interpret, and explain the society and culture of different civilizations and then use that information to compare and contrast them. There are two dimensions to this subfield: ethnography and ethnology. Ethnographers participate in field work during which they gather information to build an account of the particular culture. Ethnology uses the data collected by researchers to compare and contrast cross-culturally. Cultural anthropologist usually work with less developed societies that are relatively poor and powerless since these people make up the majority of our world today. 


Archeology uses the materials that a civilization leaves behind to describe and interpret past human’s behavioral patterns. Common artifacts found are items like tools, weapons, and buildings. Less obvious objects are garbage and plant and animal remains. These can help archeologist determine if the society domesticated any plants or animals (both of which have different characteristics than wild plants and animals) as well as if, or when, they consumed them. This is just one example of how archeologists attempt to piece together the workings of cultures that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago by analyzing the objects they left behind.

 Biological (or physical) anthropologists study the diversity of human biology across different areas and over periods of time. There are five more specific areas of study within biological anthropology: Paleoanthropology (using the fossil record to study human evolution), Human genetics, Human growth and development, Human biological plasticity (the body’s ability to change), and the biology of primates. All of these studies combine to create a pieced together picture of human biology over time and space.

                        As you can see, anthropology is a very all-encompassing field of study, not easily defined in one or two sentences and only touched on in three paragraphs. All of the information read here is from the eleventh edition of “Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity” by Conrad Phillip Kottak.

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My First Day

February 6, 2011 at 12:16 am (Mesa Verde, Pottery, Uncategorized)

On January 24th I had my first day at Discovery World. I spent most of the morning photographing artifacts from the Mesa Verde area in Colorado and then organizing them into the computer. The artifacts are on loan from the Anasazi Heritage Center to Discovery World for their Distant Mirror exhibit. I thought I’d post some of the photos and, with help from my mentor, explain what exactly they are.

This is a sherd of a jar from 1375-1450 AD. It provides evidence that there was trade from northern Arizona into Montezuma CO.

This next artifact is a part of some corrugated (describing the furrows and ridges) pottery. It dates to 900-1000 AD which was somewhere around the Late Pueblo I-Early Pueblo II period. During this time, there was a decrease in population throughout the Mesa Verde region, probably due to climate change.

The pattern on this piece of pottery was made by pressing a basket around the outside. Dating back to 500-900 AD, or the Basketmaker III-Early Pueblo I period, this piece of pottery was created when the technique was still relatively new to the people of Mesa Verde, who discovered pottery during this time along with the bow and arrow and domesticate beans.

This side notched projectile point dates from 5000-1000 BC which was the Archaic period. During this time, the population in the Mesa Verde increased, creating more clearly defined territories for people who then created unique traditions. These separate groups can now be differentiated between by using the different styles of projectiles (such as the one above).

This corn cob dates to the Pueblo III period (1150-1300 AD). Looking at the measurements from the picture above, you can tell that this corn was much smaller than the size we are familiar with today. That is due to the fact that, over recent years, we have begun genetically modifying crops like corn, hence the dramatic difference in size.

This turkey bone has been sharpened to a point and was used to pierce small holes into materials like leather or to weave together textiles.

This is an example of a mug that has been pieced together from the Pueblo III period. Almost complete, it came from a time when many people of the Mesa Verde region moved from farmsteads to community centers, creating large villages. However after the population peaked during 1200-1250 AD, the people quickly moved south and were gone from Mesa Verde by 1285 AD. This creates the great mystique of the area. Although there are reasonable theories, no one has been able to quite figure out the exact reason for this sudden departure.

Some information from the Crow Canyon Archeological Center

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Fill in the Space

January 31, 2011 at 10:59 pm (Uncategorized)

The reason I have called this blog Fill in the Space is that I am not entirely sure what exaclty I will write about. I am a high school senior and I have gotten the opportunity to do a small internship at Discovery World, on the lake front in Milwaukee. I signed up for a “mentorship program” through my school and told the coordinator that I was interested in Journalism and Anthropology. After a little searching, he found me this position and I will be regularely updating this blog throughout my internship; telling the world what I’m up to, anything I’m researching, and my new experirences.

In short, this is what I hope to discuss on this blog: my experiences here at Discovery World and what I’m learning in relation to my interest in Anthropology and Journalism.

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