Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 02

Students Recreate Japan’s Nintoku-ryo Kofun in Lego Bricks

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that students in Osaka University’s LEGO Users' Group (OULUG) assembled a 1:560-scale model of the keyhole-shaped Nintoku-ryo burial mound and the moat that surrounds it with more than 10,000 plastic bricks. The students examined the shape of the fourth-century mound at the Osaka Prefectural Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, and used 3-D computer images, aerial photographs, and Lego’s modeling software to plan the miniature replica. Half of it was covered with white bricks to simulate what the tomb may have looked like when it was built. The other half was covered in green bricks to represent the trees that now grow over the mound. A stone coffin, swords, and glassware were placed inside the model. “Our (model) burial mound ended up being more realistic than we had ever thought,” said engineering student Satoshi Osako, deputy head of OULUG. The project was commissioned by the local government in an effort to interest children in the bid to have Japan’s Mozu and Furuichi burial mound clusters added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. To read about a LEGO model of the Antikythera Mechanism, go to “Artifact.”

100,000-Year-Old Skulls Exhibit Mix of Features

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Live Science reports that two partial skulls dated to more than 100,000 years ago appear to share traits of modern humans, archaic humans, and Neanderthals. The bones, discovered at the Lingjing site in Xuchang, central China, exhibit a large brain size, lightly built cranial vaults, and modest brow ridges, similar to late archaic and early modern humans found across the Old World. But the braincase is low and broad, resembling that of earlier hominins from eastern Eurasia, and the inner ear bones and the rear of the skulls resemble those of western Eurasian Neanderthals. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, and Xiu-Jie Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, say that the fossils suggest that these groups were not separate lineages. “We’re seeing a general interconnectedness of all these populations across the Old World,” Trinkaus said. Traits that are usually associated with fossils from one region or another may occur have occurred there in greater frequency, he explained. The scientists are hoping to find a complete skull “so we can tell what they looked like,” Wu said. For more, go to “Homo erectus Stands Alone.”

Archaeologists Return to 19th-Century Shipwreck Survivors’ Camp

SITKA, ALASKA—The Capital City Weekly reports that an international team of archaeologists led by Dave McMahan returned to Kruzov Island, where 26 survivors of the wreck of the Russian-American Company ship Neva are thought to have awaited rescue for three weeks in the winter of 1813. The campsite yielded a large piece of a ship’s iron yard brace entwined in the roots of a tree; a fragment of a scabbard made of bronze or brass; additional scraps of copper hull sheathing remade into survival tools; cooking fires; remains of fish and deer; Russian axes; and cannon grapeshot. The team also found rows of mismatched iron nails at the edge of the camp. The nails, oriented east to west, may have held together a coffin made of salvaged wood. The burial, thought to hold the remains of one of the two survivors of the wreck who died after reaching the island, has been left in place. For more on archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

17th-Century Artifacts Found Under English Mansion’s Floor

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—The Midhurst and Petworth Observer reports that conservationists recovered artifacts dating to the late seventeenth century while repairing marble tiles in Petworth House. The tiles had been laid on a bed made up of layers of sand, gravel, and marble chippings on the floor of the formal entrance to the mansion, which was built by the sixth Duke of Somerset in the 1690s. The floor has not been disturbed since the 1920s, when a few of the tiles were moved to install electricity in the house. The artifacts include a fragment of a seventeenth-century pottery drinking vessel thought to have been imported from Germany; an oyster shell that may have been part of a worker’s lunch; and a piece of a lead window frame that may have been part of the medieval house that stood on the property before Petworth House was built. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

Wednesday, March 01

Ancient Staircase Examined in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Cambodia Daily, researchers led by Im Sokrithy of the Apsara Authority’s Angkor International Center of Research and Documentation and Jean-Baptiste Chevance of the Archaeology & Development Foundation are investigating the nearly 2,000-foot-long stone staircase known as Pleu Cere that climbs the sacred mountain Phnom Kulen. The 50-foot-wide staircase is interspersed with four flat rest areas that offer access to spring water. The archaeologists explained that the lack of carvings and artifacts along the staircase make it difficult to estimate its age, but it is thought to have been constructed sometime between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to reach the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, which has been recently mapped with Lidar technology. Little has been done until now to study the ancient route because it had been mined by Khmer Rouge forces. For more on archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Brick-Lined Tombs Unearthed in Southwest China

CHENGDU, CHINA—According to a report in, two connected brick tombs dating to the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279) have been found near a village in southwest China. Inscriptions in the tombs suggest they belonged to an official named He Tan, who had been buried with his wife and parents. The tombs also contained records of ownership of the land, and painted brick figurines. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Zinc Zone.”

Additional Ingots Recovered Off the Coast of Sicily

GELA, SICILY—Seeker reports that an additional 47 ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a 2,600-year-old shipwreck located just 1,000 feet off the coast of southern Sicily, near the ancient port of Gela. Thirty-nine bars of the alloy, made of copper, zinc, and lead, were found on the same wreck in 2015. Underwater archaeologist Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the sea, said that the ship probably sank during a storm. “The finding confirms that about a century after its foundation in 689 B.C., Gela grew to become a wealthy city with artisan workshops specialized in the production of prized artifacts,” Tusa explained. To read about another recent underwater discovery, go to “Antikythera Man.”

Image of Confucius Found in Western Han Dynasty Tomb

NANCHANG, CHINA—China Daily reports that a polished bronze mirror measuring around three feet tall has been recovered from the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun, who was deposed after a 27-day reign as emperor of China in 74 B.C. The mirror’s wooden cover bears what may be the earliest-known image of the philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 B.C., and two of his students. Head excavator Yang Jun of the Jiangxi Institute of Cultural Relics said the cover also bears nearly 2,000 Chinese characters written in ink. The text, thought to have been painted by the marquis’ teachers, tells stories of Confucius not recorded in other documents dating to the Western Han Dynasty. The mounted mirror is thought to have been used by the marquis as a folding screen. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Tuesday, February 28

Gold Torques of “International Importance” Found in Britain

STAFFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that several pieces of Iron Age gold jewelry have been found spread out, just below the surface on farmland in the West Midlands by a pair of metal detectorists. The two men handed the artifacts over to the Portable Antiquities Scheme of Birmingham Museums. Dubbed the “Leekfrith Iron Age Torques,” the hoard consists of three neck torques and a bracelet estimated to be about 2,500 years old. According to Julia Farley of the British Museum, the ornaments may have been crafted in Germany or France, and then carried to England by wealthy and powerful women who married into the local community. For more, go to “Anglo-Saxon Hoard - Staffordshire, England.”

Footprints in Wales Date to 7,000 Years Ago

CARDIFF, WALES—Radiocarbon dating indicates that footprints seen on the Gower Peninsula at low tide are 3,000 years older than previously thought, according to a report in Wales Online. The footprints, left by a group of adults and children, were discovered in 2014, and at first were thought to date to the Bronze Age. Rhiannon Philp of Cardiff University thinks the 7,000-year-old tracks were made by Mesolithic hunters, since the tracks of deer and wild boar, headed in the same direction, are also preserved at the site. For more, go to “England's Oldest Footprints.”

Cypress Wood Provides Dates for Iran’s Sasanian Empire Sites

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that paleoecologist Morteza Djamali of the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology led a team that carbon dated five fragments of cypress wood recovered from palaces, forts, and Zoroastrian fire temples dating to the Sasanian Empire, which ruled Persia from A.D. 224 to 651. All of the sites are located in Persis, in what is now southwestern Iran. The wood of the evergreen cypress tree was prized across the ancient world for its strength and scent, and was sacred to the Zoroastrians. The test results provided precise dates for the Sasanian structures, and suggest that a Zoroastrian fire temple at the Palace of Sarvistan may have been used for several hundred years after the Muslim conquest. For more, go to “Mesopotamian Accounts Receivable.”

Inscribed Jade Pendant Discovered in Belize

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—KPBS reports that a large T-shaped pendant has been discovered at the Maya frontier site of Nim Li Punit by a team of researchers led by Geoffrey Braswell of the University of California San Diego. The jade pendant is inscribed with a historical text consisting of 30 hieroglyphs, including the T-shaped glyph “ik’,” which stands for “wind and breath.” The text is still being analyzed, but it may relate to the arrival of a new royal dynasty at Nim Li Punit, which is located in southern Belize. “We speculate that this piece was given to the first king who wore it in an attempt, perhaps, to form an alliance,” Braswell said. “As other Maya kingdoms were playing out their cold wars and struggles against each other, they sought alliances with minor players in smaller regions.” The pendant was found in an intact collapsed tomb that dates to around A.D. 800, along with a pot that may depict the Maya god of wind. Braswell thinks the pendant may have been buried as an offering to the wind god, who was believed to bring the annual rains, at a time when climate change is thought to have damaged agriculture and Maya civilization. For more, go to “Letter from Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”