Category Archives: Archaeology


OpenCourseWare, MOOC, and a Free Course: The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia

I’m a staunch fan and advocate of free education, including the OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement, where universities publish many course lessons and relevant materials via the Internet for free. An orbit of universities joined the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which range from the University of Notre Dame OCW to MIT OCW. The concept behind OCW is to provide free and open digital educational materials to enhance human learning worldwide.

Ten years after the OCW concept germinated and slowly bloomed in the U.S., it gave birth to a newer development: Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). OCW and MOOC hold the same free education concept with the following primary differences:

  • OCWs simply provide the outline, materials, and you’re essentially on your own; no communication with any professors or a classroom community like in college.
  • MOOCs provide a more structured formal setting with videos, readings, problems, quizzes, assignments, and it creates an interactive community with course students and professor(s). Plus, some MOOCs offer certification for your progress.

In 2012, MIT and Harvard University merged their powers to create, a monumental MOOC. Over 160,000 individuals from 190+ countries signed up for Stanford’s course ‘Introduction to AI’ (artificial intelligence), who queried the course database at over 7,500 times per second. Free education is revolutionizing the face of future education. edX has even developed a pilot program to offer verified certificates of achievement to those that seek it.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain

One particular MOOC is a personal favorite: What is unique about Coursera is that they partner with many universities and sorta hand-pick courses that are delivered through The courses are structured via weekly videos, readings, quizzes, and interaction with other course participants via discussion forums (a great place to form connections). While all this is free, what adds to the uniqueness of Coursera is that for a small fee you can earn/obtain a signed certificate from the professor that is verifiable which can be added to your CV.

While I am unsure of any employability value gained from their fee-based Signature Track option, what it might reveal to some is that the applicant is an avid learner, staying on top of their game after graduation, constantly exploring and steering their ships into new territories as opposed to staying docked in a comfortable but stagnant bay. This element alone is priceless.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -St. Augustine of Hippo

One free MOOC course that is upcoming on Coursera is The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia, taught by Egyptian archaeologist Peter Lacovara from Emory University. The course will explore the art, geography, culture, and archaeology of the dynamic Ancient Nubia, from the paleolithic through the neolithic, continuing until the onset of Christianity.

Ancient Nubians were Africans, who were a force to be reckoned with due to their skilled use of the bow and arrow. They were an advanced civilization that rivaled their northern Egypt neighbor in power, wealth, and cultural development. For nearly a century, Nubian kings even ruled over Egypt. Ancient Nubians created fascinating art, excelled at fashioning metals, produced fine ceramics, and developed their own writing that still leave scholars stumped since there isn’t a ‘Rosetta Stone’ to help decipher early writings. Ancient Nubia is a place that has 3x more pyramids than Ancient Egypt, though none as grand as the Great Pyramids. Greeks, Romans, Egyptians – all traded with the Nubians.

Aerial view of ancient Nubian pyramids.

The course will begin April 30th 2014 and last for eight weeks. Learn more and sign up here: The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia.



Geology and Archaeology – A Collaborative Example.

Nevado Coropuna

In the shadows of Nevado Coropuna—Peru’s tallest volcano—geologist Gordon Bromley quietly hacks away at glacial deposits. He is collecting samples from boulders that skated down the mountain during the last ice age. These samples will be processed by a technique called surface exposure dating. In a concerted project with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, they will isolate the tiny grains of the 2mineral pyroxene to measure its helium isotopes. This will be crucial to reconstructing the ebb and flow of ice on Nevado Coropuna since the last ice age, to understand when glaciers on Coropuna advanced and retreated, how the tropics influenced the global climate system, and agricultural impacts in the area.


The Rock Shelter

The Rock Shelter

 Kurt Rademaker, an archaeologist from the University of Maine, helps Bromley with geology work. During a five hour walk into a lava field, they discovered stones that were clearly not natural deposits. It turned out to be an ancient Andean road. At roughly 15,000 feet, they further discovered a prehistoric rock shelter – the highest ice age archaeological site known thus far. Rademaker has found evidence of human activity that reaches back to the end of the last ice age. He has found numerous artifacts that were radio carbon dated to 12,000 years ago and based on archaeological evidence, he suggests that the last event in the shelter was cooking before the inhabitants hurriedly left the site.

6Together with glacial geologic chronology, they are establishing precisely when humans occupied and unoccupied the site. This will shed understanding on why those humans left – what were they responding, a change in the local environment? So far, their research findings challenge conventional thinking that the climate was too cold for early hunter-gatherers to survive.

4The concerted project seeks to understand the past climate better, along with wanting to understand what adaptation measures may help humans survive in this hotter world. Archaeology in collaboration with geology will help answer such questions. Archaeology can provide another layer of evidence in reconstructing the ebb and flow of ice on Coropuna. While geology seeks to understand paleo-climate to understand the future and impact on humans, archaeology can yet provide supporting evidence on how climate impacted past humans.

1Coropuna has seen the dissipation of snow twice, once in the last ice age, and in modern day. Temperatures are rising due to industrious carbon dioxide in the air.  Coropuna is changing again. It has lost a quarter of its glacier mass since the 1960s. Millions of humans rely on glacial water and water in the arid region is expected to grow even scarcer. Understanding the ebb and flow of Coropuna’s glaciers in the past will be a key to understanding how a rapidly warming climate will impact water availability in the future. Research is still ongoing.

-antonio kuilan

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory – Columbia University Earth Institute. Climate in the
Peruvian Andes: From Early Humans to Modern Challenges.
June 2, 2013. Web.