New Thoughts on the Death of the Iceman

Archaeology News - April 26, 2017

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—It has been suggested that Ötzi, the man whose frozen remains were found in a melting glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, was murdered some 5,300 years ago. Examination of the body has revealed an arrow wound to the left shoulder and depressions and fractures in the skull. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich thinks these wounds were not fatal, however, according to a report in Science News. The new analysis suggests that the arrow wound caused just a half-cup loss of blood. Rühli thinks fur headgear found with the remains probably offered Ötzi some protection from injury after an accidental fall on the rocks. “Freezing to death is quite likely the main cause of death in this classic cold case,” he said. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

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World War I Training Tunnels Studied in England

Archaeology News - April 26, 2017

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that tunnels and trenches used to train Australian troops for the First World War have been investigated ahead of a construction project at Larkhill, an army base located about two miles from Stonehenge. Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology explained that more than 200 grenades were carefully recovered, and half of them were still live. The researchers also found food cans, combs, toothbrushes, cigarette and tobacco tins and pipes, candlesticks and stubs of candles, Australian toffee tins, scorch marks from fires, and a bucket adapted into a brazier. Graffiti on the chalk walls of the tunnels has been linked to soldiers’ service records. More than 140 men died in training at the site, many of them from illnesses contracted on the journey to England. Later artifacts, thought to have been deposited in the tunnels by soldiers stationed at the army base, have also been recovered, including a 1930s red MG sports car, and a 1950s motorbike. The tunnels will be sealed and filled before housing for military service personnel is built over the site. To read more about archaeology of World War I, go to “Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

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Who Was Australopithecus sediba?

Archaeology News - April 26, 2017

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in Science Magazine, Bill Kimbel of Arizona State University and Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University have analyzed the skull of a juvenile Australopithecus sediba individual, discovered in Malapa, South Africa, in 2008 by Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand. Berger suggested that the Australopithecus sediba fossils, which have been dated to 1.98 million years ago, could represent an ancestor to Homo erectus and, thus, to modern humans. Kimbel and Rak examined the facial features and cheekbones of other australopithecines, apes, and Homo fossils in order to try to predict how the young Australopithecus sediba individual would have matured. They concluded that Australopithecus sediba could be a “sister species” to Australopithecus africanus, and, therefore, not a direct human ancestor. “The ultimate resolution of the question must await the long-hoped-for recovery of the adult cranium of Australopithecus sediba,” commented Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University. For more, go to “The Human Mosaic.”

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Townspeople May Have Fled 15th-Century Inca Invasion

Archaeology News - April 25, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—Elizabeth Arkush of the University of Pittsburgh suggests that the Colla people fled their homes in Ayawiri, a hillfort in Peru’s southern central Andes, when the Incas attacked around A.D. 1450, according to a report in The International Business Times. Arkush and her team uncovered valuable bronze jewelry, metal tools, and intact pottery in the round, stone houses at the site. She argues that the metal items, tools, and pots are things that the Colla would have taken with them if they had had time to pack their belongings. “Even if a metal object is broken, you can melt or hammer it into something else,” she explained. “You can always recycle metal.” Some of the high-status residents may have known the Inca invasion was coming, since fewer objects were found in their homes. The people are thought to have lived in smaller settlements in the countryside after they fled from their town. “But exactly where the people of Ayawiri went, we don’t know,” she said. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Atahualpa, Last Inca Emperor.”

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New Thoughts on England’s White Horse Geoglyph

Archaeology News - April 25, 2017

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in the International Business Times, archaeologist Joshua Pollard of the University of Southampton thinks the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric geoglyph, is not a symbol of ownership, as has been suggested, but a representation of a mythical horse pulling the sun across the sky. Pollard says the horse’s body is positioned as if it is running up a slope, from a site known as Dragon Hill, toward a long mound, a round barrow, and Uffington Castle, which dates to the Iron Age. “If you follow the horse’s position and its track of movement, then that corresponds with the arc of the midwinter sun,” Pollard explained. He added that in Indo-European mythologies and cosmologies, the sun is pulled across the sky by a horse or a horse-drawn chariot during the day, and carried through the underworld at night by boat or chariot. If so, the Uffington White Horse could link Britain’s religious tradition to that of Europe. “It may have acted as a regional or even inter-regional focus for ceremonial activity,” Pollard said. To read more about Indo-European myths involving horses, go to “Horses and the Heavens.”

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DNA Obtained From Franklin Expedition Crew

Archaeology News - April 25, 2017

NUNAVUT, CANADA—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by Douglas Stenton of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage obtained DNA samples from at least 24 members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which attempted to find a Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1845. All were lost when Sir John Franklin’s ships were trapped in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and the sailors abandoned their ships in 1848. The tests revealed that the bones of one individual were found at two different sites about a mile apart. Stenton suggests that an 1879 search party may have moved some of the bones and reburied them. The tests also suggest that four of the samples came from women, but this may be the result of an insufficient amplification of Y chromosomes in the samples. And, although it would have been unusual to have so many women on one voyage, women may have served surreptitiously or been smuggled on board disguised as men. Finally, the researchers may eventually be able to identify the remains of the crew members. “We have been in touch with several descendants who have expressed interest in participating in further research,” Stenton said. To read in-depth about the discovery of one of the expedition's ships, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

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Gold Jewelry Repatriated to Cambodia

Archaeology News - April 25, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Cambodia Daily reports that ten gold artifacts were handed over to Cambodian authorities by a private collector in London. The jewelry pieces, made of gold and other metals, are thought to have once decorated Khmer statues. Experts in Europe noticed the artifacts in publicity for a sale in a London-based gallery by a private collector, and contacted Cambodia’s Culture Minister, Phoeung Sakona. She explained that it is not known how the artifacts left the country, but authorities expect is was during Cambodia's long civil war. “This artistic style is Khmer—there are no other countries that made items like this,” she said. To read more about archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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The Knight’s Tombstone Conserved in Jamestown

Archaeology News - April 22, 2017

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that Preservation Virginia conservators are working with large-stone specialist Jonathan Appell to preserve the so-called Knight’s Tombstone, which has lain on the floor of the church at Historic Jamestowne for some 400 years. The stone is carved with an image of a knight and was once adorned with monumental brasses. Nearly half of the 1,200 pound stone is in one piece; the lower section has cracked into several large pieces. “Each of the pieces were light enough for one or two people to lift it onto the cart, except that last part took about five,” said field supervisor Mary Anna Hartley. The largest piece was propped against the church wall, and then lowered onto a wooden platform that had been built beneath it. The platform was then moved up a wooden ramp to a work station on a cart. The team is now carefully removing concrete applied to the stone in the early twentieth century. “It’s very hard to reverse,” Appell said. The pieces will eventually be reassembled with a softer, pigmented mortar. Researchers will try to identify the grave’s occupant. For more, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

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Peru’s Logosyllabic Khipus Record 3-D Texts

Archaeology News - April 22, 2017

FIFE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Courier, Sabine Hyland of the University of St. Andrews has deciphered two lineage names from two eighteenth-century logosyllabic khipus found in the village of San Juan de Collata in the Peruvian Andes. Khipus, made by the Inca from cotton or fibers obtained from alpacas, llamas, or deer, were used to record and transport information. It was previously understood that the Incas used khipus to record numbers, but evidence that they were used to record narratives has only come to light recently, Hyland noted. Her analysis of the special khipus held at San Juan de Collata revealed 95 different symbols of a writing system in which each pendant cord represents a phonetic syllable. At the end of each khipu, three-cord sequences used colors, types of fibers, and the direction of the ply to represent lineage names, she explained, noting that it is often necessary to feel the cords in order to determine what sort of fiber the texts were made with. For more, go to “Reading an Inca Archive.”

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New Thoughts on the Origin of “The Hobbits”

Archaeology News - April 21, 2017

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that researchers led by Debbie Argue of Australian National University compared the bones of Homo floresiensis, also known as “The Hobbit,” to cranial, postcranial, mandibular, and dental samples of early hominids from several countries. It had been suggested that hobbits evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, which lived in the region, while isolated on the Indonesian island of Flores. But statistical analysis of the remains concluded that Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis had completely different bone structures. The new findings support the idea that the hobbits may have shared a common ancestor in Africa with Homo habilis. If this is the case, then perhaps Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and then migrated, or perhaps the common ancestor migrated and evolved elsewhere. “Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree,” explained Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum. “We can be ninety-nine percent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly one-hundred percent it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens.” For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

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1,100-Year-Old Inscription Found in India

Archaeology News - April 21, 2017

TAMIL NADU, INDIA—The Times of India reports that a 1,125-year-old inscription has been discovered on the floor of the Arunachaleswarar Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in India. This inscription is thought to be just a few years younger than one discovered in the nineteenth century. “The inscription strengthens the theory that the temple was renovated a few centuries ago,” said Raj Panneerselvam of the Tiruvannamalai Heritage Foundation. This is because inscriptions are usually found on the walls of the temple, placed in chronological order. “The inscription was dismantled and discarded due to poor renovation work,” he explained. The seven-line inscription mentions “Tiruvanna Naattu,” the name of the city at the time, and states that 20 gold coins had been given for the maintenance of a water body. The name of the donor has been lost. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

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16th-Century English Garrison Walls Traced in Irish Town

Archaeology News - April 21, 2017

PORTLAOISE, IRELAND—A survey of Portlaoise, the capital of County Laois, has identified English sixteenth-century garrison walls in many of the town’s buildings, according to a report in the Leinster Express. “It’s surprisingly intact,” said Laois Heritage Officer Catherine Casey. “Seventy-five percent of the walls are still there. They form the front of the vocational school, they run down the back of Main Street, as some backyard walls, and some are inside O’Loughlin’s Hotel.” A school sits on top of the original main garrison building. The team of researchers is laser scanning the garrison’s stone walls and taking high-resolution photographs of them in order to create a digital model for the new Portlaoise library. To read about a surprising discovery in Ireland, go to “Irish Roots.”

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Ramesses II Colossus Restored to Luxor Temple

Archaeology News - April 21, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a colossal black granite statue of King Ramesses II has been restored and re-erected at Luxor Temple’s first pylon. The statue, damaged in an earthquake in the fourth century A.D., was discovered in 57 pieces in 1958. “These blocks were removed and placed [in the interim period] in wooden shelters on the first pylon’s western side,” said Mostafa Waziri, head of Luxor Antiquities. The restored sculpture stands 36 feet tall, and shows Ramesses II wearing a double crown and standing with his left leg slightly forward. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

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Pemmican-Production Camp Found in the Northern Plains

Archaeology News - April 20, 2017

TUCSON, ARIZONA—According to a report in Western Digs, a camp where pemmican was made by ancestors of the Blackfoot people some 500 years ago has been found at Kutoyis, a large bison-hunting site in north-central Montana. “A single bison may produce a few hundred pounds of meat, so a large kill site like Kutoyis would have produced thousands of pounds of meat at one time,” said researcher Brandi Bethke. Maria Nieves Zedeño of the University of Arizona explained the process of making pemmican, which involves drying the meat in strips, pounding it into tiny pieces with stones, and mixing it with animal fat rendered from boiled bones, in order to produce a calorie-dense product that lasts for years and is easy to transport. The team members used magnetometers to search the floodplain near the Kutoyis bison-kill site and found five potential fire pits. Subsequent excavation revealed three potential production areas, including a wide boiling pit, stone chopping tools, and fragments of bison bones at one spot, and fire-cracked rocks, stone tools, and cracked bison bones at a pit lined with sandstone at another. For more, go to “a href="http://www.archaeology.org/issues/155-1411/letter-from/2587-letter-from-montana-buffalo-jumps">Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

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Model Looms Discovered in 2,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

Archaeology News - April 20, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—Live Science reports that miniature silk looms have been found in a 2,100-year-old tomb in southwestern China. “We are very sure that the loom models from Chengdu are the earliest pattern looms around the world,” said Feng Zhao, of Donghua University and the China National Silk Museum. Such machines are thought to have produced the Shu jin silks of the Han Dynasty, which were traded along the Silk Road routes across Eurasia. The tomb was probably looted in antiquity, but the four model looms, which measure about one-sixth the size of a regular loom, had been left in one of four small compartments beneath the tomb’s main chamber. The compartment also contained devices for warping, rewinding, and weft winding. Figurines of four male weavers and nine female weaving assistants were also found. Names had been written on the ten-inch-tall figurines, suggesting that they represented a team of real-life weavers. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

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Neolithic Skeleton Unearthed in Malaysia

Archaeology News - April 20, 2017

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—According to a report in the New Straits Times, a human skull, femur, and ribcage thought to be at least 5,000 years old were discovered during the construction of a museum at the Guar Kepah Neolithic site in northwestern Malaysia. The site is known for its shell middens, discovered in 1860, when more than 30 skeletons, now housed at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland, were also recovered. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng added that the state of Penang is working to have those Neolithic remains repatriated and placed in the new museum. Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science, Malaysia, expects to find additional bones at the site. To read more about Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”

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Ohio Museum Will Return Sculpture to Italy

Archaeology News - April 19, 2017

CLEVELAND, OHIO—The Plain Dealer reports that The Cleveland Museum of Art will hand over a marble portrait head of Drusus Minor, the son of Emperor Tiberius, to Italy. Museum officials learned that the sculpture, acquired in 2012, was excavated and photographed at the town of Sessa Aurunca in the 1920s, and taken from a museum there in 1944, during World War II. They had thought it had been part of an Algerian collection since the late nineteenth century. “It is disappointing, even devastating, to lose a great object,” said museum director William Griswold. “On the other hand, the transfer of this object to Italy is so clearly the appropriate outcome that, disappointed though I may be, one can hardly question whether this is the right thing to do.” To read more about ancient Roman sculpture, go to "Artifact: Eagle Carrying a Snake."

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Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed at Thornton Abbey

Archaeology News - April 19, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Today reports that the remains of a medieval priest have been found near a hospital chapel altar at Thornton Abbey in the east of England by a team from the University of Sheffield. A gravestone identified him as Richard de W’Peton, who died on April 17, 1317. “After taking Richard’s skeleton back to the laboratory, despite poor preservation, we were able to establish Richard was around 35-45 years old at the time of his death and that he had stood around 5 feet, 4 inches tall,” said Emma Hook. Examination of his skeleton revealed that he had performed strenuous physical labor, and marks on his teeth suggest that he had experienced a period of malnutrition or illness during childhood. The research team also produced a 3-D scan of the priest’s skull, which detected a slight depression that may represent a well-healed wound from blunt-force trauma. Hugh Willmott added that the priest may have died of hunger during the Great Famine, which struck Europe between 1315 and 1317, after a period of heavy rains that caused widespread crop failures. To read more about medieval English archaeology, go to "Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

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Archbishops’ Remains Discovered in London

Archaeology News - April 19, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Telegraph reports that 30 lead coffins were found in a hidden chamber beneath the altar of the deconsecrated church located next to Lambeth Palace, the thirteenth-century London residence of the leader of the Church of England. It had been thought that all of the burials under the 1,000-year-old church were removed in the nineteenth century when the structure was refurbished, but scholars now know that the remains of the archbishops were not disturbed. A gilded funerary miter found resting on a coffin was the first clue to the identity of the deceased. Metal name plates on two of the coffins revealed that they indeed held the remains of former Archbishops of Canterbury: Richard Bancroft, who served as archbishop from 1604 to 1610 and oversaw the publication of the King James Bible; and John Moore, who served from 1783 to 1805. Church records have revealed that three additional Archbishops of Canterbury were probably buried in the vault during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the coffins will be left undisturbed, a glazed, manhole-sized panel has placed over the entrance to the tomb in the chancel so that museum visitors can see the steps leading to the vault. To read more about the archaeology of English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

Categories: Blog

3,500-Year-Old Tomb Opened in Luxor

Archaeology News - April 19, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Mostafa Waziry, Director General of Luxor Antiquities, announced that a t-shaped tomb dating to the 18th Dynasty has been opened in the Zeraa Abu El-Nagaa necropolis, according to a report in Ahram Online. Egyptian archaeologists recently found the entrance to the tomb, which was discovered in the early twentieth century. The tomb is thought to have been built for New Kingdom city magistrate Ou Sarhat, and then reused during the 21st Dynasty, so that it contains dozens of well-preserved wooden coffins, wooden funerary masks, and nearly 1,000 ushabti figurines made of faience, terra-cotta, and wood.  To read more about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

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