Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 13

Evidence of Egyptian Punishment Found in Skeletal Remains

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS—Wounds have been found in the shoulder blades of five men buried in Amarna’s cemetery for commoners. Amarna, a city dedicated to the sun god Aten, was built of stone some 3,300 years ago by Akhenaten. Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University thinks that the wounds may have been inflicted with a spear from behind as part of a physical punishment of 100 lashes and five wounds that is described in an ancient wall carving and other texts. The skeletons also show signs of joint disease and malnutrition. “We know that life in this place was physically taxing. This is another example of that,” she told USA Today. There is a chance that the 100 lashes and five wounds punishment was only carried out in Amarna, but Dabbs suggests that Egyptologists look for evidence of similar corporal punishment in their skeletal collections. To read about the search for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "In Search of History's Lost Rulers."

Gold Wreath Unearthed in Cyprus

ANKARA, TURKEY—A tomb complex containing three burial chambers and multiple burials has been excavated near the ancient city of Soloi in northern Cyprus. Two burial chambers in the 2,400-year-old complex were intact and contained human remains, a collection of imported symposium drinking vessels, jewelry, figurines, and weapons, while the third had been looted and was empty. One of the burial chambers also held an ivy wreath fashioned from gold that resembles wreaths usually found in Macedonian tombs. “This tomb complex surely proves that Soloi was in direct relationship with Athens, who was the naval power of the period. Soloi was supplying Athens with its rich timber and copper sources, and in return, was obtaining luxurious goods such as symposium vessels,” Hazar Kaba of Ankara University told Live Science. “A DNA project is also running on the bones to identify the degree of kinship between the deceased,” he added. To read about another recent discovery in Cyprus, go to "Artifact: Pagan Amulet."

Late Neolithic Feasts Held at Durrington Walls

YORK, ENGLAND—A new chemical analysis of the residues found in pottery and animal bones unearthed at Durrington Walls, where the Stonehenge builders are thought to have lived, suggests that residents participated in organized feasts. Pots found in residential areas were used to cook pork, beef and dairy, while pots found in ceremonial areas were mainly used to cook dairy products. “The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone,” Mike Parker Pearson of University College London said in a University of York press release. The bones show that the livestock had been walked to the site from many different locations and not brought in as butchered parts. Burn patterns indicate that some of the meat was roasted, in addition to being boiled in pots. “The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed, and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organized working community,” added Oliver Craig of the University of York. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."


More Headlines
Friday, October 09

Tools Suggest Scotland Inhabited in the Ice Age

READING, ENGLAND—A set of 12,000-year-old tools made by the Ahrensburgian culture were unearthed on the coastline of the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. Tools of this style are usually found in mainland Europe, Denmark, and Sweden. Finding such Ice Age tools in Scotland suggests that the Ahrensburgian people were coastal foragers who may have hunted sea mammals from skin boats in northern Scotland during the summer months. “The Ice Age tools provide the first unequivocal presence of people in Scotland about 3,000 years earlier than previously indicated. This moves the story of Islay into a new historical era, from the Mesolithic into the Palaeolithic,” Karen Wicks of the University of Reading said in a press release. The site was discovered when some pigs, who had been released on the island to reduce bracken, uncovered some Mesolithic artifacts. A resident alerted the team from the University of Reading. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Remains of Conquistador Convoy Found in Mexico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—In 1520, a Spanish-led supply convoy that may have consisted of as many as 550 people, including Cubans of African and Indian descent, women, and Indian allies of the Spaniards, was captured and taken to a town inhabited by the Aztec-allied Texcocanos, or Acolhuas. The town is now known as Zultepec-Tecoaque, an archaeological site east of Mexico City. Excavations have uncovered carved clay figurines of the invaders that the Texcocanos had symbolically decapitated. Human and animal bones with cut marks have also been found, indicating that the members of the convoy and their horses were actually sacrificed and eaten. The pigs, however, were killed and left whole. The townspeople hid the remains of the convoy in shallow wells and abandoned the town. “They heard that [Cortes] was coming for them, and what they did was hide everything. If they hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have found these things,” government archaeologist Enrique Martinez told the Associated Press. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs the following year. To read more, go to "Under Mexico City."

Viking Ring Fortress Will Be Excavated

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Archaeologists from the Danish Castle Center and Aarhus University are preparing to begin the excavation of a fifth ring fortress discovered last year with drone technology. “With the use of modern archaeological methods the scientists and archaeologists will investigate how the fortresses were used, how they were organized, how quickly they were built, their age and what environment, landscape, and geography they were a part of,” read a statement from the Danish Castle Center reported in The Copenhagen Post. The excavations could reveal if “Borgring” was built by the Danish king Harald Bluetooth. According to the report, “The five ring fortresses are practically identical and must have been built by the same powerful person. Despite their impressive size they lack descriptions in historic sources.” To read more, go to "The First Vikings."

Thursday, October 08

First Ancient African DNA Sequenced

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Science reports that the first prehistoric genome from Africa has been sequenced. The DNA was obtained from the inner ear bones of a 4,500-year-old skeleton discovered in Mota Cave by John and Kathryn Arthur of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Venture College's Matthew Curtis. Located in the highlands of Ethiopia, Mota Cave’s cool temperatures helped to preserve the hunter-gatherer’s rare genetic material. Andrea Manica and Marcos Gallego Llorente of the University of Cambridge found that the man, who has been dubbed “Mota,” had brown eyes, dark skin, and three gene variants associated with living at high altitudes. Mota’s genome was compared with samples from 40 populations in Africa and 81 populations in Europe and Asia. The team found that Mota was most closely related to the Ari, a group that still lives in the Ethiopian highlands. But the DNA that the Ari and many other ethnic groups carry and that Mota lacks suggests that the descendants of Middle Eastern farmers migrated deep into Africa between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago and mixed with the local populations. (Middle Eastern grains from this time period have been found in Africa.) “It must have been lots of people coming in or maybe they had new crops that were very successful,” Manica explained. To read about an excavation in Sudan, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Did Neanderthals Bury Their Dead With Flowers?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—Graeme Barker of the University of Cambridge and Marta Fiacconi and Chris Hunt of Liverpool John Moores University have studied the pollen in Iraq’s Shanidar Cave. In the 1950s, French scientist Josette Leroi-Gourhan detected pollen in a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal grave in the cave and concluded that the Neanderthals had buried the flowers, known to have medicinal qualities, with the dead. The new research suggests that pollen naturally accumulates in Shanidar Cave in clumps, similar to those found by Leroi-Gourhan, through a combination of wind and insect activity. “This might seem to be the end of a lovely story, but since Leroi-Gourhan’s work researchers have learned much more about the Neanderthals. It is known that some of our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals because their DNA is present in the modern human genome. Archaeologists have discovered that some Neanderthals seem to have used personal ornaments—a sort of prehistoric ‘bling.’ We have been excavating at Shanidar with our colleagues from the Kurdistan Antiquities Service this autumn and the project will be announcing new findings once the scientific work is completed. The story is not over!” Hunt announced in For more, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

“Princely Grave” Unearthed in Czech Republic

NEZABYLICE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Archaeologists from Poland’s University of Rzeszów have uncovered the 2,000-year-old stone-lined grave of a young man in a cemetery discovered in 2010 by metal detectorists conducting an illegal search. The young man, thought to have been a member of the Marcomanni aristocracy, had been wearing a leather belt with a buckle, and buried in a wooden coffin that may have been a hollowed tree trunk. The Germanic Marcomanni eventually had political and trade relationships with Rome. “Evidence of these contacts and the formation of elites in barbarian societies are the rich tombs with objects from the areas of the Empire,” head of excavations Agnieszka Půlpánová-Reszczyńska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Two vessels, one of clay and one of bronze, were found at the young man’s head. Similar tombs have also contained bronze vessels at the foot of the dead, but this one may have been robbed, since the foot of the tomb was empty and the stones around it were more loosely arranged. Geophysical surveys of the area suggest that the team will find additional Marcomanni tombs. To read about Rome's rise to power, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

DNA Sequenced for New Zealand’s First Dog

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Karen Greig of the University of Otago has sequenced the entire mitochondrial genome of the kurī, a now-extinct small dog whose remains have been recovered from Wairau Bar, one of New Zealand’s earliest and most important Polynesian sites. The samples of mitochondrial DNA were obtained from the teeth of 14 dogs that were found in an oven feature at the site used sometime between A.D. 1320 and 1350. The tests revealed that the animals came from five distinct maternal lineages. “This represents quite limited genetic diversity, which either suggests that the founding kurī population may have only been a few dogs or that the arriving dogs were closely related,” Greig said in a press release. The new information could help scientists determine where the breed originated. These dogs are genetically most similar to modern dogs from Indonesia. For more on the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."