Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 07

Nineteenth-Century Chinese Warship Excavated

BEIJING, CHINA—Underwater archaeologists have returned to the Yellow Sea and the wreckage of the Zhiyuan, a Chinese warship of the Beiyang Fleet that was sunk in 1894 by the Japanese navy during the first Sino-Japanese War. The team recovered an armor-piercing shell and a porthole, in addition to the remains of seven of the more than 250 people, including the captain, Deng Shichang, thought to have died on board the ship. More than 100 other artifacts have been recovered, including a second china plate bearing the ship’s name. Other items on board the ship have helped to confirm the identification. “The machine gun’s data plate indicates its date of production, model and manufacturer. And all of this information coincides with the historical record of the Zhiyuan’s arms,” Chen Yue, a historian of the Navy History Study Society, told The People’s Daily Online. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Experiential Archaeology Class Recreates Ancient Ceramics

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—Johns Hopkins University has released Mysteries of the Kylix, a film that follows 13 undergraduate students who worked with a conservator and two potters to recreate the red-figure pottery drinking bowls crafted by Greek artisans between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. The students practiced throwing pots, decorated them with images and slip, and fired the clay in a kiln that they constructed. They then examined their pottery under a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument. “The idea is to be thoughtful at every stage. To look at clay, make shapes, to choose images and paint, to go through the fire and kiln process, and to consider the final product. This leads to a deeper understanding of both the art and the object, because when you go through the process, you get a visceral sense of how things got there,” Sanchita Balachandran, curator/conservator of the Johns Hopkins University Archaeological Museum, said in a press release. To read more about experimental archaeology, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

New Thoughts on Human & Chimpanzee Locomotion

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Modern humans and chimpanzees use their upper bodies in similar ways while walking, according to a study led by researchers from Stony Brook University. It had been thought that while walking on two legs, the chimpanzee torso—the area of the ribcage, belly, and pelvis—remained rigid. Humans, on the other hand, have flexible torsos that can rotate in the opposite direction of the lower body while walking. Using high-speed cameras, the team recorded chimps and humans walking and studied those movements with 3-D kinematic analyses and computer-generated comparisons. “During walking, we actually observed as much rotation within the torsos of chimpanzees as in humans. This means that the widely accepted assumptions in the scientific community about how the chimpanzee torso works based on the skeleton alone are incorrect. Our results also point to the notion that a limitation to upright walking that we thought affected Lucy and other early human ancestors probably was not a limitation at all,” Nathan Thompson said in a press release. So Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis, may have had a torso that functioned much like that of a modern human. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, go to "No Changeups on the Savannah."


More Headlines
Tuesday, October 06

World War II Spitfire Wreckage Excavated

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—A team made up of researchers from Oxford Archaeology East, the Defense Archaeology Group, Operation Nightingale, and Historic England is recovering a World War II-era aircraft that crashed into what is now the Great Fen Nature Reserve. Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh was killed in 1940 when the Spitfire X4593 crashed during a training flight. According to a report in Cambridge News, witnesses said the aircraft broke formation with two other planes and went into a dive. It seemed to make a partial recovery at about 2,000 feet before reentering the dive and hitting the ground. It is thought that the oxygen system may have failed, causing Penketh to lose consciousness, since he did not attempt to use his parachute. So far, the team has found oxygen tubes, ammunition, and fragments of aluminum. Major components of the plane, including the engine, are expected to be recovered as well. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."

Neolithic Earthwork Uncovered in England

  OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—A Neolithic earthwork consisting of three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thame has been discovered by archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology. Called a causewayed enclosure, such structures were made with short ditches and banks of earth separated by areas of undug ground, and are the earliest-known kinds of enclosures of open spaces. A small henge monument and a smaller ring-ditch were added later in the Neolithic period. This causewayed enclosure is thought to have been a place where people gathered periodically for rituals and other activities. To read about more newly discovered Neolithic sites, go to "Under Stonehenge." 

Homo naledi May Have Been Able to Walk, Climb, and Use Tools

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A study of the Homo naledi foot and hand suggests that this early human relative, discovered by the Rising Star Expedition team in a cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, may have been able to climb trees, walk upright, and manipulate tools. Based upon the examination of more than 100 foot bones, including a well-preserved adult right foot, William Harcourt-Smith of the University of the Witwatersrand and colleagues say that the H. naledi foot shares many characteristics with the modern human foot, making H. naledi capable of standing and walking. But its toe bones are curved, indicating that H. naledi could also climb well. In addition, Tracey Kivell and colleagues studied some 150 H. naledi hand bones, including a nearly complete adult right hand. The structure of the wrist and thumb suggest that, like Neanderthals and modern humans, H. naledi had a powerful grasp and could have manipulated stone tools. Its finger bones, however, are curved and may have also been good for climbing trees. “The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa,” Kivell said in a press release.  For more on recent discoveries related to human evolution, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Monday, October 05

Turtle-Shaped Tomb Discovered in China

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua News Service reports that a rare turtle-shaped tomb was discovered in north China’s Shanxi Province during the construction of a new house in Shangzhuang Village. The 800-year-old tomb has an octagonal burial chamber and five small rooms resembling a turtle’s legs and head. The inside of the chamber is decorated with brick carvings that could help researchers learn about funeral customs during the Great Jin Dynasty. Human remains within the tomb suggest it had been shared by several generations. For more on ancient burials in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Men in 9th-C. Mass Grave May Have Been a Raiding Party

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—The remains of seven men, discovered in a mass grave at a construction site outside San Francisco in 2012, have been studied by a team led by Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. All of the men, who were between the ages of 18 and 40 at the time of death some 1,150 years ago, had suffered physical trauma. The bones showed signs of head wounds and broken limbs, and weapons made of stone and obsidian were discovered among the skeletons. Eerkens’s study revealed that all of the men had died around the year A.D. 850, a time when hunter-gatherer groups in central California were on the move. “Such resettlement may have brought them into conflict with groups that were already living there,” Eerkens told Western Digs. Analysis of the men’s teeth showed that they had all grown up in an area where they ate freshwater fish, probably in the San Joaquin Valley. And mitochondrial DNA from the bones suggests that men were not brothers or maternal cousins. “This suggests to us that warfare or raiding was conducted by people who lived in the same or nearby villages, but who were drawn from different households and families,” he said. To read about a later discovery in California, go to "A New Look at the Donner Party." 

2,400-Year-Old Temple Found in Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists discovered the remains of a limestone colonnade and a well-preserved ceiling in Cairo’s modern district of Mataria. The 2,400-year-old building is thought to have been a shrine that was surrounded by a mud brick wall and located in the ancient capital city of Heliopolis, or Iunu. “The shrine belonged to the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectanebo I (379 B.C. – 360 B.C.),” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference reported in The Cairo Post. Nectanebo I founded the 30th Dynasty, which was the last Egyptian royal family to rule Egypt before it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The team also uncovered a bust of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Merenptah (1580 B.C. – 1080 B.C.). To read about the discovery of another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Butchered Mammoth Bones Unearthed in Michigan

  ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—About 20 percent of an adult male mammoth that lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan from a farmer’s field in southern Michigan. The skull, tusks, numerous vertebrae and ribs, and parts of the pelvis and shoulder blades were recovered, along with a small stone flake that may have been used for cutting, and three basketball-sized boulders that may have been used to anchor the carcass pieces in a pond. “We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” paleontologist Daniel Fisher explained in a press release. In addition, the vertebrae were found arrayed in their correct anatomical sequence, and not scattered randomly as they would have been if the mammoth had died of natural causes. As Fisher said, it was as if someone had “chopped a big chunk out of the body and placed it in the pond for storage.” The team will look for cut marks on the bones and date them. To read more about who would have hunted mammoth 11,700 years ago, go to "America, in the Beginning."