Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, May 06

Restoration of Sicily’s Selinunte Nearly Complete

PALERMO, SICILY—Restoration of the buildings in the ancient Greek city of Selinunte is scheduled to be finished within the next few months. The projects within the ancient city “call for interventions with innovative materials of the surfaces seen and an improvement and securing of some of the structural parts,” park director Giovanni Leto Barone told ANSA. Walkways from the Acropolis and the Malophoros Sanctuary have been improved, along with the park’s tourist signs. The museum at the site has received upgrades to its electrical, fire-prevention, and air-conditioning systems. To read about the restoration of ancient sites in Italy, see "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries." 

Precise GPS Helps Archaeologists Map Bulldozed Site

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Ruth Young of the University of Leicester and a team of researchers surveyed Hosn Niha, a second-century Roman temple and Roman-Byzantine village in Lebanon that has been heavily damaged by war. German archaeologists described the site in 1938 as “a picture of complete ransacking,” according to a report in Live Science. Military activity and looting later in the twentieth century also took a toll on the site. Even so, Young and the team were able to find enough surviving features and tomb types to learn about the settlement. “What we were trying to do is show that sites that have been quite badly damaged by conflict shouldn’t just be ignored and forgotten,” she said. The researchers used differential GPS to map architectural fragments and then dated the bulldozed piles of pottery fragments. The study suggests that a central village had been established by A.D. 200, and it diminished by the Islamic period, although it is unclear why. The researchers also think that the inhabitants may have grown grapes for wine. “This might explain why they were able to build such big temples. If they were doing wine, they could do it as a cash crop,” explained team member Paul Newson of the American University of Beirut. To read about urban archaeology in Lebanon, see "Rebuilding Beirut."

700-Year-Old Doctor’s Tomb Excavated in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—An inscribed gravestone at a tomb unearthed near the ancient capital of Xi’an identifies the occupant as Wu Jing, a high-profile Confucian doctor who was in charge of local medical services and educating other doctors. The tomb consists of a passage, a door, and a burial chamber. Iron nails, ashes, and bone residue were found, in addition to pottery, jade items, and other artifacts. “The tomb is an important discovery that will shed light on unknown aspects of medical history and social culture in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368),” Duan Yi of Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology told the Xinhua News Agency. The gravestone records the story that Wu Jing once cut flesh from his own arm to feed his sick mother in an act of filial piety. To read more about ancient burial sites in China, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

More Headlines
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 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 Complex 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 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.

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."