Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 09

Human Remains Will Return to Alaska Under NAGPRA

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—The remains of approximately 150 people that were removed from an eroding beach in the Kodiak Archipelago in the 1960s will be repatriated under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. After the excavation from Chirikof Island, which is federal land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the remains were held at the University of Wisconsin, and later moved to Indiana University in Bloomington. “Many tribes around the country have their ancestors and collections from their land scattered throughout the nation, and so this law was developed to help tribes and also museums to develop procedures so that there’s a process for returning funerary objects, sacred objects, and human remains to tribes,” Marnie Leist, Alutiiq Museum Curator of Collections, told The repatriation process will be completed by 2018. To read in-depth about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

Processing Food May Have Helped Humans Evolve

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A new study suggests that slicing, pounding, and eventually cooking meats and vegetables reduced the effort it took to chew them and the number of chews required per day by early humans. “Meat has a lot of nutrients, but it is also very elastic. You can think of it as being like a rubber band,” Katie Zink of Harvard University said in a press release. She gave volunteers raw, sliced, pounded, and cooked goat, and carrots, beets, yams, and other vegetables to chew until they would normally swallow, but then had the volunteers spit out the food. Zink then analyzed the food particles and found that smaller teeth are not adequate for consuming raw meat. “Eating meat and using stone tools to process food apparently made possible key reductions in the jaws, teeth, and chewing muscles that occurred during human evolution,” she explained. To read about Homo erectus, go to "Bon Voyage, Caveman."

New Technique Screens Bone Samples for Further Analysis

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A team of scientists from the University of Manchester and the College of Charleston have developed and tested a technique to determine if a bone specimen is suitable for use in radiocarbon analysis. The process of radiocarbon dating requires collagen, which may have deteriorated even in an otherwise well-preserved specimen. “Our new method has so far exhibited a 100 percent success rate with regards to successfully categorizing samples as suitable for dating or not, a figure significantly larger than the success rates achieved via previously used techniques,” Mike Buckley, creator of the technique, said in a press release. The team tested the new method, called “ZooMS,” on sub-fossil bone specimens collected from cave deposits in the tropical Cayman Islands. Collagen fingerprints were obtained for all of the sub-fossil bone specimens that yielded radiocarbon dates, while radiocarbon dates could not be obtained from samples that gave poor collagen fingerprints. ZooMS “can reduce time and expense, whilst lowering the risk of unreliable dates, preventing unnecessary sample destruction and providing additional information on species identification,” Buckley explained. To read more, go to "Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating."

Tuesday, March 08

Etruscan Tomb Yields Golden Scarab

MILAN, ITALY— reports that a tomb dating to the eighth century B.C. has been discovered at the archaeological site of Vulci in northern Lazio. It has yielded an amber necklace, a golden Egyptian scarab, and rare pottery. Scientists think that the occupant of the tomb, whose bones have been found wrapped in cloth, may have been an Etruscan princess. To read about more discoveries at Vulci, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Past Hurricanes Studied With Shipwrecks and Tree Rings

TUSCON, ARIZONA—Detailed records of Spanish shipwrecks and tree-ring data have been combined to offer new information on historic hurricanes. The growth of trees is slowed in years with hurricanes, and so the storms leave a mark on annual growth rings. Wood from shipwrecks can be dated, revealing when they had been built. Researchers checked this information against a list of ships lost in Caribbean storms between 1495 and 1825. They found a 75 percent reduction in the number of Caribbean hurricanes between 1645 and 1715, a time of cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere and little sunspot activity that is known as the Maunder Minimum. “By combining shipwreck data and tree-ring data, we are extending the Caribbean hurricane record back in time and that improves our understanding of hurricane variability,” Valerie Trouet of the University of Arizona said in a press release. This information could help scientists predict future hurricanes in the changing climate. To read in-depth about nautical archaeology, go to "Letter From Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck."

Moghalmari Buddha Statue May Have Worn Gold Crown

MOGHALMARI, INDIA—An archaeological excavation in eastern India at the site of a sixth-century Buddhist monastery, or vihara, has recovered a fragment of gold embedded in terracotta. “We were stunned to find the portion of the gold crown,"  archaeologist Prakash Maity told The Times of India. "We feel it was part of the main Buddha statue of the vihara. Gold ornaments were normally not part of Buddha statues. But the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism worshipped what was known as the Crown Buddha. It seems this gold crown was worn by a Crown Buddha.” Statuettes, pottery, bronze artifacts, and gold coins bearing the name Samachar Deva have also been found recently. “It is possible that the Moghalmari vihara received royal patronage during the pre-Pala times from Samachar Deva, a local satrap who came into prominence in south Bengal after the fall of the Guptas in A.D. 550,” Maity explained. Two seals recovered at the site suggest that the monastery was known as “Sribandaka vihara.” To read more about archaeology in India, go to "India's Village of the Dead."

Monday, March 07

Documents From the History of Egyptology Found

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that a collection of historic documents has been found in a Supreme Council of Antiquities storehouse in the Al-Abbassiya district of Cairo. The documents include maps, architectural diagrams, and letters exchanged between the historic Egyptian Antiquities Organization and early Egyptologists such as Gaston Maspero, Jacques de Morgan, Pierre Lacau, and Howard Carter. There are also papers from the Gabry and Fayyed families who were known to trade in antiquities; a file on the Egyptian Exploration Society; and a file on the French Institute for Oriental Studies. The French Institute at the time had been working at Tanis, Matariya in Heliopolis, and Karnak Temple in Luxor. A committee has been formed to study and archive the collection of documents. “These are the oldest documents found in the history of the Antiquities Ministry,” Hisham El Leithy, director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Registration Center, told Ahram Online. To read more about Egyptology, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Oyster Reefs Protected New York Harbor From Storms

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Oyster reefs in New York Harbor provided protection from floods and storm waves, according to Jon Woodruff and Christine Brandon of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While investigating sand deposits left by Hurricane Sandy, Woodruff and Brandon discovered that there was no record of storm deposits prior to the period between 1600 and 1800. “If it were just one site it would have been one thing, but at every site we saw the same: no storm deposits for thousands of years before European settlement and then after colonization, storm waves start to become more and more effective in transporting sand inland to our field sites,” Woodruff said in a press release. “We kept reaching dead ends until we considered one of the largest impacts European settlers had on New York Harbor, the decimation of its natural oyster beds,” he explained. Philip Orton at Stevens Institute of Technology tested the idea with a circulation and wave simulation model. The team also collected core sediment samples dating back about 3,000 years. They found as much as a 200 percent increase in wave energy with the loss of the oyster beds. To read in-depth about prehistoric North Americans' relationship to coastal environments, go to "The Edible Landscape."

More on Tel Kabri’s Wine Stores

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, Eric Cline of George Washington University, and Andrew Koh of Brandeis University think there may have been a winery during the Middle Bronze Age at the Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri. Analysis of residues from the jars discovered in four storerooms at the site revealed that the wine had been mixed with different flavorings, such as terebinth resin, cedar oil, honey, and other plant extracts. “It seems that some of the new storerooms were used for mixing wines with various flavorings and for storing empty jars for filling with the mixed wine. We are starting to think that the palace did not just have storerooms for finished produce, but also had a winery where wine was prepared for consumption,” Yasur-Landau said in a press release. Tel Kabri has also yielded select parts of sheep and goats, suggesting that the rulers who lived there put on luxurious banquets. “In this period it was not normal practice to mix wine beforehand. Accordingly, in order to provide guests with high-quality wines, the palace itself must have had a winery where they made prestigious wine and served it immediately to guests,” Yasur-Landau explained. To read about another major excavation in Israel, go to "Excavating Tel Kadesh."

Vessel Off NC Coast May Be Civil-War Era Blockade Runner

KURE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA—The wreckage of an iron-hulled ship has been discovered by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the Institute of International Maritime Research in the Atlantic Ocean. It was found near the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Fort Caswell, built to defend the port of Wilmington in the early nineteenth century. The vessel may be one of three Confederate blockade runners—the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie, or Georgianna McCaw—known to have been lost in the area. “A new runner is a really big deal. The state of preservation on this wreck is among the best we’ve ever had,” Billy Ray Morris, Deputy State Archaeologist-Underwater and Director of the Underwater Archaeology branch said in a press release. Union forces cut off this last Confederate supply line in January 1865. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."