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Moche Ceremonial Rooms Unearthed in Peru

January 11, 2018

LIMA, PERU—Reuters reports that two chambers thought to have been used for elite Moche political ceremonies some 1,500 years ago have been found at the Limon archaeological complex in Lambayeque. Archaeologist Walter Alva said similar rooms have only been seen in illustrations made by the Moche. In one room, thought to have been used for feasting, Alva and his team uncovered two thrones. A circular podium, perhaps used for making announcements, was found in the second room. The walls were decorated with pictures of fish and sea lions. “These scenes had been depicted in the iconography of the Moche world but we had never been lucky enough to physically find where they took place,” Alva said. “It’s a very important finding.” To read in-depth about the Moche, go to “Painted Worlds.”

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Genomes of Early Scandinavians Analyzed

January 11, 2018

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a report in the Copenhagen Post, a new genetic study supports the idea that Scandinavia was settled by hunter-gatherers from central Europe and what is now Russia. Geneticist Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University and an international team of researchers sequenced the genomes of seven hunter-gatherers who lived in Scandinavia between 6,000 and 9,500 years ago. They found evidence of a migration from central Europe, and a later migration from what is now Russia. These hunter-gathers from the east are thought to have brought advanced hunting tools to Scandinavia. The data suggests when the two groups mixed, they produced a population whose genetic variants could have helped them adapt to limited sunlight and cold weather. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Two Shipwrecks Discovered Off the Coast of Mexico

January 11, 2018

SISAL, MEXICO—Two shipwrecks, a total of 12 cannons, and a sunken nineteenth-century lighthouse have been discovered off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, according to a report in the Live Science. Helena Barba Meinecke of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the first ship is a Dutch warship dating to the eighteenth century. A letter written in 1722 by Antonio de Cortaire, who was then Yucatan governor, blames north winds for the sinking of two Dutch ships in 1722. The newly discovered shipwreck may be one of these two lost vessels. The lighthouse is thought to have been destroyed by a tropical storm. The second newly discovered shipwreck is a nineteenth-century British steamboat, thought to have been built sometime between 1807 and 1870. Porcelain, stoneware, and cutlery have been recovered from the wreck site. To read about another recent discovery in the Yucatan, go to “Where There’s Coal…

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18th-Century Kitchen Features Uncovered at Monticello

January 11, 2018

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Live Science reports that the clean-out areas for four brick stoves in a cellar at Monticello’s South Pavilion have been linked to James Hemings, an enslaved chef who cooked for Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and his wife, Martha, lived on the upper floors of the South Pavilion while the main house was under construction. In the early nineteenth century, the cellar was converted into a washhouse, and in the twentieth century, it was repurposed as visitor bathrooms. It has only recently been investigated by archaeologists, who recovered animal bones, toothbrushes, ceramics, glass bottles, and beads in the fill. Field research manager Crystal Ptacek said that in the eighteenth century, the stoves would have stood about waist high, and could have accommodated multiple pans cooking over low heat. Hemings is thought to have learned to use such stoves in France, in order to cook the multicourse meals favored by the wealthy, while Jefferson was U.S. minister to France from 1784 to 1789. The kitchen is one of the “really rare instances where we can associate a workspace and artifact with a particular enslaved individual whose name we know,” explained Fraser Neiman, director of archaeology at Monticello. For more on archaeology at Monticello, go to “Close Quarters.”

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1,000-Year-Old Summer Palace Uncovered in China

January 10, 2018

DUOLUN COUNTY, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a 1,000-year-old palace has been found in the mountains of northern China. Ge Zhiyong of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Institute of Archaeology said the foundations of 12 buildings have been found at the site, which is thought to have been a summer residence for the imperial family during the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 916–1125). Archaeologists excavated one of the buildings, which covered an area of 2,500 square feet, and recovered glazed tiles, pottery, copper nails, and iron building components. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

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Headless Statue of Sacred Bull Found in Java

January 10, 2018

SUKOHARJO, INDONESIA—A village resident in Central Java province uncovered a statue of a bull while digging holes to plant banana trees, according to a Jakarta Post report. The statue, which is missing its head, is thought to date to the Mataram Kingdom, or from the late sixteenth century to the early eighteenth century. It is thought to depict Lembu Andini, a sacred animal said to have carried the Hindu god Shiva. Bimo Kokor Wijanarko, Sukoharjo cultural heritage analyst, suspects the statue’s head was stolen and the rest of it reburied by looters. “A lot of animal-shaped ancient relics were found headless,” he said. “Maybe this is because the heads of statues are very valuable.” To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to “The First Artists.”

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Ancient Musical Instruments Discovered in Siberia

January 10, 2018

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that mouth harps made between 1,580 and 1,740 years ago from splintered cow or horse ribs have been unearthed at two archaeological sites in the Altai Republic by Andrey Borodovsky of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Three of the musical instruments were unfinished. The other two were complete, and one of them is still able to produce a tune. It measures about four inches long and three inches wide. Borodovsky said mouth harps made from long animal bones, rather than splintered portions of ribs, have been found in the Tuva region of Siberia and in Mongolia. To read about another recent discovery in Siberia, go to “Arctic Ice Maiden.”

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Painted Tombstone Unearthed in Egypt

January 10, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a team of archaeologists has uncovered several Hellenistic tombs, offering vessels, lamps, and an unusual tombstone at the Al-Abd archaeological site, located within the eastern cemetery of the ancient city of Alexandria. The tombstone is thought to have been installed as a false tomb door in order to mislead thieves, according to Ayman Ashmawy of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The outer surface of the tombstone was decorated to look like the façade of an Egyptian temple, complete with a staircase and a set of double doors. The poorly preserved stone will be restored. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

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Fragment of 18th-Dynasty Statue Found in Egypt

January 9, 2018

SOHAG, EGYPT—According to an Egypt Independent report, a fragment of an ancient statue was discovered during construction work in Sohag, a city located on the west bank of the Nile River. Carved from black granite, the fragment shows a pharaoh’s left foot stepping forward and includes hieroglyphs recording the coronation and birth names of Amenhotep III near his right foot. The sculpture was moved to Sohag Museum for restoration. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

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Storm Eleanor Damages Iron Age Fort in Ireland

January 9, 2018

COUNTY KERRY, IRELAND—According to a report in the Irish Examiner, a 2,500-year-old stone fort on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula has partially collapsed and fallen into Dingle Bay as result of damage inflicted by rough weather last week. A stone doorway and a 30-foot section of a rampart of the Dún Beag fort were lost. The fort is one of 17 dry stone structures on the peninsula. It enjoyed spectacular views of Dingle Bay, which would have made it extremely useful in its time, explained archaeologist Micheál O’Coileáin. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

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Medieval Site May Mark Lost Monastery

January 9, 2018

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists have uncovered traces of what may have been a circular building as well as medieval pottery, a stone hearth, and charcoal while looking for the site of the monastery where the Book of Deer is thought to have been written in the tenth century. “The date for the charcoal is 1147 to 1260 and is extremely exciting because it is potentially the monastic period, so it is dating to the early medieval period when we know the monastery was in the area,” said archaeologist Alison Cameron. The site is located in a field near the ruins of Deer Abbey, which was founded in A.D. 1219. Later notes written in Scots Gaelic in the margins of the Book of Deer, which is thought to be the oldest surviving Scottish manuscript, suggest the monks of Deer Abbey had a view of the abandoned monastery. The Book of Deer is now housed at the University of Cambridge. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “A Dangerous Island.”

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Prehistoric Hand Axes Recovered in Israel

January 9, 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The Guardian reports that hundreds of well-preserved Acheulian axes and other artifacts have been discovered at a site in central Israel that dates back around 500,000 years. Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University noted that the site had been located near a stream, offered a ready supply of flint, and had plenty of vegetation and animals, making it an ideal seasonal camp for Homo erectus hunter-gatherers. For more, go to “Homo erectus Stands Alone.”

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Ancient Wooden Board Game Identified in Slovakia

January 6, 2018

POPRAD, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a wooden game board and green and white playing pieces has been recovered from the 1,600-year-old tomb of a Germanic prince. “It's the best preserved ancient wooden board game that has been found to the north of the Mediterranean Sea,” said Ulrich Schädler of the Museum of Games in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists have determined the glass playing pieces were made in the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps in Syria. Karol Pieta of the Archaeological Institute in Nitra thinks the Germanic prince who owned the game may have served in the Roman army and brought it home to the Tatras Mountain region from the Roman Empire. Schädler is trying to figure out how the game was played. For more, go to “The Video Game Graveyard.”

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Ancient Irrigation System Found in Northwest China

January 6, 2018

 

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—Newsweek reports that a team of archaeologists led by Yuqi Li of Washington University in St. Louis has discovered an irrigation system dating to the third or fourth century A.D. in the foothills of northwestern China’s Tian Shan Mountains. The researchers spotted the canals, cisterns, and check dams with drones and satellite imagery, and created a 3-D model of the site with aerial photographs and photogrammetry software. “The systems built by the local agropastoralists were oriented towards conservation and efficiency,” Li explained. “They were built in an energetically conservative way and they emphasized water storage rather than constant supply of water.” The region where the irrigation system was found lies along the central corridor of the Silk Road. Li suggests knowledge of irrigation technology may have spread along the trade route, with staple crops like wheat and millet. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Categories: Blog

Sixteenth-Century Child Diagnosed With Hepatitis B

January 6, 2018

HAMILTON, CANADA—Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University and Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney led an international team of scientists who have sequenced the complete genome of a strain of hepatitis B dating back hundreds of years, according to a report in The Star. They obtained the sample of the virus from the naturally mummified body of a two-year-old girl kept in the sacristy of the Basilica of Saint Domenico Maggiore in Naples, Italy. It had been thought the child had died of smallpox, due to the rash-like scars on her face and body. When the researchers failed to find any genetic evidence of smallpox in the samples of the child’s skin and bone, they looked for a genetic match with other disease-causing organisms. The test results suggest she may have suffered from Gianotti-Crosti syndrome, a rare childhood disease that can follow hepatitis B infection. “That’s a rash that breaks out extensively on children and it can cause death,” Poinar said. The scientists also found that the sixteenth-century strain of hepatitis B virus differed very little from modern-day iterations of the virus. For more, go to “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”

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Paper Fragments Recovered From Blackbeard’s Cannon

January 6, 2018

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—The Salisbury Post reports that 16 tiny scraps of paper have been recovered from a mass of sludge found in a breech-loading cannon on Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, by the conservators at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab. Printed text was discerned on a few of the scraps, the largest of which measures about the size of a quarter. Researchers determined the paper came from a 1712 first edition of the book A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711, written by Captain Edward Cooke. Such voyage narratives were popular reading at the time. In the book, Cooke described his trip on an expedition on the Duke and the Dutchess, two ships that sailed from Bristol, England, in 1708 under the command of Captain Woodes Rogers. Scholars have found references in the historical record to the fact that there were books aboard the vessels in Blackbeard’s fleet, but no specific titles were mentioned. The newly discovered paper fragments offer the first-known clue to the pirates' reading habits. To read about another discovery on the Queen Anne's Revenge, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”

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Possible Aztec Shrine Commemorating Creation Found

January 5, 2018

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—International Business Times reports that National Institute of Anthropology and History archaeologists have identified a possible Aztec stone shrine in a pond near the dormant Iztaccihuatl volcano, at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet. They say the tetzacualco, or sanctuary, may have been built to depict the Aztec universe. The stones are said to appear to float on the surface of the water, recalling a Mesoamerican creation myth featuring Cipactli, the monster of the earth. In the story, the sky and the earth were made from Cipactli’s body, which floated on primitive waters. Archaeologist Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista explained that the flow of water to the pond could have been controlled through nearby springs in order to control its visual effects. Excavation of the site has revealed that a rectangular-shaped temple made of stacked stones once stood around the main part of the pond. Artifacts associated with the rain god Tlaloc, including ceramic tripod bowls, blades, and pieces of gray and pink shale, were found near springs located to the southeast of the main pond. For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.

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Mummified Body Parts Will Be Repatriated

January 4, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Newsweek reports that American authorities will hand over the head and hands of an ancient mummy to the Egyptian consulate. Egypt passed laws against the sale and export of ancient artifacts in 1912. The head and hands are thought to have been purchased illegally some 90 years ago by an American from a worker on a dig in Luxor before they were documented by archaeologists. The items recently came to light when a dealer in the United States attempted to sell the remains to a buyer in Manhattan. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”

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New Technique Uses Teeth to Determine Age

January 4, 2018

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to a Radio New Zealand report, Christine Cave of Australian National University has developed a technique to determine how old people were when they died, based upon the wear and tear on their teeth. She said that it is difficult to determine a person’s age after 50 based upon an examination of skeletal remains. “You could have two old people who are the same age, and one is crippled with arthritis and can’t move, while the other runs a marathon every week—so there’s a great variation,” she explained. Cave examined the teeth of more than 300 people who had been buried in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in England between A.D. 475 and 625. She found several who may have lived to be at least 75 years of age, and she suggests that most people who lived so-called traditional lives may have reached the age of 70. The new technique could help scientists better understand what life was like for the elderly in antiquity. For more, go to “The Case of the Missing Incisors.”

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Scientists Scan Ancient Egyptian Cartonnage

January 4, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—A team led by Adam Gibson of University College London has developed a non-destructive scanning technique to read what was written on pieces of papyrus some 2,000 years ago, before it was recycled and made into funeral masks and mummy cases, according to a BBC News report. In the past, objects made of cartonnage would have been taken apart in order to read what had been obscured by paint, plaster, and paste. “They are finite resources and we now have a technology to both preserve those beautiful objects and also look inside them to understand the way Egyptians lived through their documentary evidence—and the things they wrote down and the things that were important to them,” explained Kathryn Piquette of University College London. The new technique revealed the name “Irethorru,” which is translated as “the eye of Horus is against my enemies,” on the footplate of a mummy case housed at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent. The name had previously been invisible to the naked eye. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

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