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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, May 05

Replica Lighthouse to be Built in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Mostafa Min, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has reportedly approved an old project to build a replica of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The new lighthouse will be erected near the location of the original, which was damaged by a series of earthquakes, on the island of Pharos. “A severe earthquake in 1303 caused a huge destruction of the monument before the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay in 1480 reused the monument’s ruins to construct a fortress (currently standing and bearing his name) on the original location of the Pharos northwest of Alexandria,” archaeologist Fathy Khourshid told The Cairo Post. He described the building as having three stages: a lower square section with a central core, a middle octagonal section, and a circular section at the top with a mirror to reflect sunlight during the day. At night, sailors entering the harbor at Alexandria would have been guided by a fire at the top of the tower. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's tomb, see "Alexander the Great: King of Macedon."

Bones From La Quemada Tell a Tale of Violence

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Ben Nelson and Debra Martin of Arizona State University have found evidence that the people who lived at Mexico’s La Quemada archaeological site some 1,500 years ago treated the bones of the dead differently, depending upon whether or not they had been enemies in life. The bones date from A.D. 500 to 900, a period of great upheaval due to rapid change after the collapse of Teotihuacan. Bones found outside the site’s fortress show signs of violence, including cut marks, splintering, and burning, all signs of abuse and cannibalism, according to a report in Phys.org. Some of the skulls even had holes bored in them, which seems to suggest that they were hung for enemies to see. Bones found inside the compound also bear cut marks, but they are shallow indentations usually attributed to defleshing and desiccation, both signs of veneration of the dead. These individuals may have been loved ones or ancestors, rather than enemies. Isotope and DNA analysis of the bones could shed more light on the conflict between the groups of people that lived across the Northern Frontier. For more on Teotihuacan, see "Big Data, Big Cities."

Archaeologists Return to Tomb of China’s First Emperor

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Chinese archaeologists are excavating “Pit No. 2” at the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, located in the ancient capital of Xi’an. Based upon previous discoveries in the area, archaeologist Yuan Zhongyi anticipates uncovering 1,400 more terracotta warriors and archers, and 90 horse-drawn chariots. In previous excavations, Pit No. 2 has yielded terracotta warrior statues still bearing traces of paint. “Their colorful paint is also relatively well preserved,” he told News.com.au. The excavation team will now use digital scanning to collect information from the site. For more on terracotta warriors from the archive, see "Warriors of Clay."

Flooding May Have Contributed to Cahokia’s Decline

MADISON, WISCONSIN—Sediment cores from Horseshoe Lake, located in the Mississippi floodplain near the center of Cahokia, and Grassy Lake, roughly 120 miles downstream, provide clues to the rise and fall of the ancient city, according to geographers Samuel Munoz and Jack Williams of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Radiocarbon dating of plant remains and charcoal within the sediment cores helped to create a timeline that includes evidence of frequent floods in the Mississippi River valley between A.D. 300 and 600. Archaeological evidence shows that people moved into the floodplain and began to farm during the arid period after A.D. 600, when Cahokia rose to prominence. But after a major flood event in A.D. 1200, the city began to decline. “We are not arguing against the role of drought in Cahokia’s decline but this presents another piece of information,” Munoz said in a press release. Major flooding after A.D. 1200 could have inundated crops and created agricultural shortfalls. “We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia. There are shifts in craft production, house size and shape, and other signals in material production that indicate political, social, and economic changes that may be associated with social unrest,” explained research team member Sissel Schroeder.

More Headlines
Monday, May 04

Utah Utility Crew Unearths Pit House

SANDY CITY, UTAH—An archaeological technician working with a utilities crew in suburban Salt Lake City recognized an ancient pit house while the crew was replacing a gas line. The site, located in Dimple Dell Canyon, yielded the bones of rabbit, deer, and possibly elk; obsidian cutting tools; and a fire pit. The recovered projectile points suggest that the dwelling is between 500 and 1,500 years old, but further testing is needed. The gas company crews rerouted the pipeline to protect the prehistoric dwelling. “They could have gone straight through. But they jogged this way and that way to avoid it,” Terry Wood, president of the Dimple Dell Advisory Board, told The Salt Lake Tribune. Lori Hunsaker, deputy state historic preservation officer, said that the house faced the winter sun and was probably used during the cold months. The creek would have provided water and attracted game. To read more about prehistoric discoveries in the American West, see "The Buffalo Chasers."

New Research Sheds Light on Peru’s Nazca Lines

YAMAGATA, JAPAN—Researchers from Yamagata University think that the Nazca Lines may have been created by two separate groups of people living in Peru’s desert who may have changed their usage of the images over time. The team, led by Masato Sakai, has uncovered 100 images and analyzed their location, style, and method of construction. Four different styles of geoglyphs that tended to be grouped together along different routes that led to the Cahuachi temple complex were identified. Some of the images were made by removing rocks from the interior of the shapes, and others were made by removing the border. The glyphs found along a route that started near the Ingenio River may have been created by people who lived in the Ingenio Valley. Other images depicting supernatural beings and trophy heads were concentrated near the road to Cahuachi in the Nazca Valley and were probably made by a group of people from that region. A third group of images, perhaps made by both groups, was found on the Nazca Plateau, between the two cultures. Glyphs made up until A.D. 200 were probably intended to be seen from the ritual pathways. After A.D. 450, people may have smashed pots on the ground where lines intersect as part of a ritual. “Even after the collapse of the Cahuachi temple, trapezoids and straight lines continued to be made and used,” Sakai told Live Science. In addition, Kiyohito Koyama, the president of Yamagata University, recently met with Diana Alvarez Calderon, Peru’s Minister of Culture, to sign an agreement on academic cooperation and preservation of the Nazca Lines. To read more about archaeology in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

“Shiny” Maya City Was Laid Out on a Grid

QUEENS, NEW YORK—At the Maya site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, archaeologist Timothy Pugh of Queens College has found evidence that the city’s ceremonial and residential areas were laid out on a grid pattern. “It’s a top-down organization. Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together,” he told Live Science. The early city was in use from 600 B.C. to 300 B.C., a time when the first Maya cities were under construction. Nixtun-Ch’ich’ had a main route that stretched east-west, along a line that is only three degrees off true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line—that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. At the eastern end of the route, there is a group of pyramids and buildings facing each other on a platform, similar to structures found in other early Maya cities. Many of the buildings face east, perhaps to follow the movement of the sun, and many of the buildings were decorated with shiny white plaster. “Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” Pugh explained. To read more about high-tech mapping of Maya cities, see "Lasers in the Jungle."

Gate Discovered at Egypt’s Tharu Fortress

SINAI, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minster of Antiquities, Mamdouh El Damaty, announced the discovery of the eastern gate to Tharu Fortress, the headquarters of the Egyptian army during the New Kingdom period, at Tell Habwa on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Luxor Times reports that three limestone blocks from the huge gate are inscribed with the name of King Ramses II. The fort was one of a series of forts that sat on the Horus Military Route, which protected Egypt’s eastern front. The Egyptian Mission working at the site also uncovered royal warehouses made of mud brick that belonged to Thutmosis III and Ramses II, and some seals bearing the name of Thutmosis III. A cemetery dating the 26th Dynasty was also found. Its tombs contained bodies marked with battle injuries. To read about ancient Egyptian animal mummies, see "Messengers to the Gods."

Friday, May 01

Polynesians Spread Rapidly Across the Tongan Archipelago

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—People first arrived on the Tongan island of Tongatapu around 2,800 years ago, according to a study by Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and David Burley of Simon Fraser University. In a new study, Weisler and his colleagues obtained dates for coral abraders, animal bones, shell tools, and charcoal from ovens from 20 Lapita sites across the Tongan archipelago using uranium- and radiocarbon-dating techniques. “We now have a precise chronology for the settlement of Tonga and the radiating out and occupying the islands of Tonga,” he told ABC Science. “Within one human generation or so the first settlers explored the rest of the archipelago and put down additional daughter communities.” The depletion of resources at the original site, the love of seafaring, and even sibling rivalry could have fueled the rapid settlement, he added. To read more about the colonization of the Pacific, see "Letter From Hawaii."

Neolithic Fishing Spear Retains Its Bone Point

LOLLAND, DENMARK—A pronged spear with a center bone point was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. “It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic,” Line Marie Olesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster told Discovery News. Known as a leister, this Stone Age spear is the first to have been found with the lateral prongs and the bone point still in place. “It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much,” Olesen said. Radiocarbon dates for the leister are in the works. To read in-depth about Neolithic technology in Europe, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Were Neolithic Societies Egalitarian?

VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of the Basque Country suggests that late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were starting to become hierarchized, based upon data obtained from five megalithic graves in La Rioja and two in Araba-Álava, which together contained the remains of 248 individuals. “We propose that the people buried were intentionally selected,” she said in a press release. “The demographic composition of the megaliths displays significant anomalies with respect to a natural population of an ancient type. The bias identified, which almost systematically affects children under five, but certain adults as well, above all female ones, could be indicating that access to graves was restricted to those people who enjoyed certain rights and privileges only, against what is usually maintained in the traditional archaeological literature,” she said. Isotope analysis of the remains could shed more light on who was buried in the dolmens. Fernández-Crespo and her colleague, Concepción de la Rua, think that people of lower social status may have been buried in as-yet undiscovered natural caves, sheltered spaces under rocks, or pits. To read about similar structures in India, see "India's Village of the Dead."

13th-Century Rune Stick Unearthed in Denmark

ODENSE, DENMARK—A rune stick dating to the thirteenth century has been unearthed among market stalls buried beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense. “The stick itself had the consistency of cold butter before it was conserved, and some little devil of a root has gouged its way along the inscription on one side, which is a bit upsetting,” Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark said in a press release reported in Science Nordic. The fragile, round stick was found in three pieces that had been carved with the words “good health” and “Tomme his servant,” thought to refer to the owner of the stick as a servant of God. The stick may have been worn as a talisman. For more on runes, see "Viking Code Cracked."