About Monty Dobson

Monty Dobson

Monty Dobson is an American archaeologist, historian and filmmaker, whose curiosity and passion for the human story has led him to travel the world. In addition to excavating Iron Age and medieval archaeological sites in Britain, Monty is an avid adventurer: he has scuba dived with sharks in the Arabian Gulf and with Barracudas off the coast of Cuba. An enthusiastic equestrian, he has trekked across the Egyptian desert and the mountains of the American West.

Whether hiking the length of Hadrian's Wall or exploring for petroglyphs in New Mexico, history and adventure are Monty's passion.

Latest Posts by Monty Dobson

A Look at Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Michigan’s Ziibiwing Center Museum

September 3, 2012 by  

Next time you’re in Michigan, check out The Ziibiwing Center at The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Center in Mt. Pleasant. The Ziibiwing Center is a museum and cultural center of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan which aims to preserve and promote appreciation of Anishinabek culture.
The galleries weren’t all open as they were changing out a couple of their temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition is focused on the story of the Anishinabek, from the begging to today.
The animated film of the Anishinabek creation story is a must see. I particularly liked the style of the animation as it captures and communicates the wonder of how the Anishinabek came to be.  The photo above is from the film, apologies for the graininess.
The route you take through the museum walks you through time.  Begining with the Anishinabek creation story and ending with discussion of local support for the actions of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee.  The photo to the left depicts trade, communications routes and transport in Early America.
Other vignettes in the main gallery depict scenes of Anishinabek daily life.
 The center hosts a number of cultural evants such as dances and story telling.
 All photos were taken inside the museum. They should not be used for any commercial purpose.

Archaeologists in Cahokia Discover Native American Black Drink Used in Rituals

August 18, 2012 by  



Painting by Lloyd K. Townsend. c. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Illinois
Archaeologists working at Cahokia, America’s first true mega-city, have discovered that many of the city’s 50,000 inhabitants drank a highly
caffeinated beverage called ‘Black Drink.’ Black Drink is a dark colored tea made by roasting the leaves of the Yaupon holly.
  Yaupon holly, and the Black Drink, contains very high levels of caffeine- as much as six times that of a modern cup of coffee.
The discovery pushes back the date of first use of Black Drink by over 500 years.  It also speaks to the widespread trade network maintained by the Cahokians as the closest source for the ilex vomitoria is the Gulf Coast, hundreds of miles south of modern St Louis, which is 20 miles from Cahokia. 
 According to the Illinois News Bureau story, Black Drink was used for many purposes, many of which were rituals.  It often served as a key component of a purification ritual before battle or other important events. Because of the strong caffeine content rapid consumption of large quantities of the hot drink led to vomiting, which was often an important part of purification rituals.
The Illinois News Bureau story notes that scientists “found key biochemical markers of the drink – theobromine, caffeine and ursolic acid –in the right proportions to each other in each of the eight beakers they tested. The beakers date from A.D. 1050 to 1250 and were collected at ritual sites in and around Cahokia.”
 The discovery lends credence to the theory that Cahokia was not an isolated city, but part of a broader web of economic and cultural connections in the area of what is now the Southeast and Midwest of the United States. According to Thomas Emerson, the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey: “[Cahokia] was the first pan-Indian city in North America, because there are both widespread contacts and emigrants…” Emerson also went on to suggest that Cahokia had attained “… a level of population density, a level of political organization that has not been seen before in North America.”
 I have to say I am thrilled by what we are learning about Cahokia. However, the article quotes Emerson as follows. “Cahokia was ultimately a failed experiment. The carving of figurines and the mound building there came to an abrupt end, and the population dwindled to zero. But its influence carried on. Cahokian influences in art, religion and architecture are seen as far away as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin… .” My main
problem with this is the description of Cahokia as a failed experiment. 
Let’s celebrate the fantastic discovery, the achievement of the Mississippian “civilization,” but lose the negative connotations of ‘failed experiment.’ 

Archaeologists Discover Tomb of a Mayan Prince

August 5, 2012 by  



Decorated Ceramic Vessel
© Kai Delvendahl, Uxul Archaeological Project/University of

Art Daily and ScienceDaily among others are reporting that a team of archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn and Mexican antiquity authorities have discovered the tomb of a young prince in a palace in the Mayan city of Uxul in Campeche, Mexico which is near the border with Guatemala.  

According to ScienceDaily the palace complex was built around AD650 and consisted of eleven buildings arranged around five courtyards.

Archaeologists were excavating an area under one of the southern rooms of Structure K2, when they discovered what was described as a richly furnished tomb. 

The tomb walls are made of brick and “covered with a corbel vault, typical for the Mayan culture.” Inside the tomb, the body of a young prince was discovered. 

According to ScienceDaily, the prince was laid out “on his back with his arms folded over his stomach.

Around him were the remains of lavish burial offerings such as four ceramic plates and five ceramic cups in an exceptionally preserved state, some

of which were decorated with spectacular paintings and reliefs.

A unique plate with the painting in the codex-style was lying on the skull of the deceased.” 

Photo: Carnegie Institute, Washington DC – map of site uxul.
The preservation of the ceramics alone would make this a very important Mayan site.  

Is Is True That Archaeologists Are Excavating Mona Lisa’s Tomb?

July 21, 2012 by  

Archaeologists Excavate Mona Lisa’s Tomb… Again … Maybe. Italian researchers, led by Silvano Vinceti, chairman of the Italian national committee for cultural heritage are at it again. This time they are jumping up and down and celebrating the discovery of some bones in the former Convent of Saint Ursula. Wow. So we got some bones, that aren’t really but might be related to the skull and bones they excavated last year.
Read on for the full story, but chalk this up to their need to hype an otherwise ordinary excavation because the rich guy they got to fund the project might be a descendant of the person who was probably not the model for the painting… Daily Mail article here.  

From my earlier post: Archaeologists have claimed that they found the tomb of the Mona Lisa. The main source for the story is the UK Telegraph  newspaper and in the Daily Mail. Before this goes flying around the Internet, let’s take a look at it more closely. 

First they haven’t found much of anything yet:  “So far we have found some beautiful bits of pottery and old bones but the real discovery is still to be made – when we reach the crypt and open it to see if there are any remains.”   So the telegraph is running a story about something the dig might find, if they have the right tomb, but it hasn’t been found yet . 
Second, questions remain about who was painted in the picture? According to the Telegraph it was: “Lisa Gheradini, who died in 1542, was the wife of a rich silk merchant named  Lisa Gheradini . In Italy the Mona Lisa is known as “La Gioconda”.   The aim of the dig is to find Mona Lisa’s remains, compare her DNA with that of two her children buried in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata church, then reconstruct her face and compare it to Leonardo’s painting.”  
Interesting no? But it is curious that as recently as February Vinceti confidently pronounced that the model for the painting was DaVinci’s male apprentice and possible lover Salai.
The lesson for today kids is this: it is always better to wait than to rush to conclusions. Especially when they are published in the Telegraph… 

It seems that the Italian archaeologists have found a skeleton. Read the ANSA.IT article here. Apparently the plan is to link the individual in the grave to the Mona Lisa by using facial reconstruction and DNA. However, the poor state of preservation evident in the photograph, and the somewhat unreliable nature of facial reconstruction in general, would make any identification tenuous at best.  Besides, it wouldn’t be surprising to find someone with Del Giocondo DNA given that the researchers are digging in the family’s crypt.

Science Solves Mystery Behind Marks on Trees in Norway

July 16, 2012 by  



 Scientists in Norway have solved a mystery that has perplexed them for many years. Researchers working in the Øvre Dividalen National Park in Northern Norway were at a loss to explain the mysterious markings on pine trees in the Park. The marks were the scars where bark had been removed from a patch on the tree. The marks, or scars were always on the Northern side of the tree.

Theories included way-finding marks of reindeer herders and the work of settlers who started farms in the Dividalen valley in 1850, but none of these provided a satisfactory answer to the researchers questions. The marks were too random to be useful for way-finding. Using tree-ring data the researchers discovered that the marks date from the 17th and 18th centuries, before the settlers reached the valley.

The solution to the puzzle was reached when the researchers studied lifeways of the Sami people. Speaking with ScienceNordic: Arve Elvebakk of the University of Tromsø (UiT)
Department of Natural Sciences explains that: “It turned out that this came from the ancient Sami practice of harvesting pine bark for food… In a laborious process the bark was converted into flour that could be used in cooking.”

Elverbaak theorizes that the marks were always placed on the Northern side of the tree in deference to the Sami sun-god who lived in the South.

Elvebaak notes that the pine bark was wrapped in birch bark, buried and and a bonfire built above it. This was kept lit for several days, after which the bark had lost it’s bitterness and was edible. The roasted bark was then ground into a flour and “mixed with other food, such as porridge or a stew with
animal fat.”

Science solves the mystery! 

 Photo credit: Arve Elvebakk poses next to one of the marked pines at Dividalen. (Photo: UiT)

Unique Anglo-Saxon Cow and Burial Excavated

June 27, 2012 by  



Photo: BBC News

Students from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire working in an archaeological field school have found one of the most unique burials from Anglo-Saxon England.

The burial contains an elite female buried with a cow. While Horse Burials are sometimes
found, they typically contain elite males, but female burials with a cow are
otherwise unknown in early medieval Europe.

According to the BBC interview with Co-director of the excavation, Dr Duncan Sayer, from the University of Central Lancashire: “Animal burials are extremely rare, anyway. There are only 31 horse burials in Britain and they are all with men.

“This is the first animal to be discovered with a woman from this period – the late fifth Century – and it’s really interesting that it’s a cow, a symbol of economic and domestic wealth and power.



The woman was also buried with other grave goods indicative of high-status including “a complete chatelaine [keychain] set, which is an iron