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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, October 20

Rock Art Panels May Be Linked to Hallucinogenic Plants

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—Archaeologist Lawrence Loendorf of Sacred Sites Research was documenting rock art sites in southern New Mexico when he realized that hallucinogenic plants were growing beneath panels painted with series of triangles in red, yellow, and black. One of the plants, known as coyote tobacco, contains up to three times the amount of nicotine as conventional tobacco. It can bring on a trance-like state if smoked continuously for six to eight hours. The other plant, datura, is a potentially deadly psychedelic drug. He’s also found 1,000-year-old pottery at the 24 sites. “Every one of the sites where we find the tobacco, we also find El Paso ceramics, or we find other kinds of pots…that date generally in that same range,” Loendorf told Western Digs. The painted triangle motifs are recognized as a symbol of water and water-carrying vessels, so Loendorf speculates that shamans may have brought the plants to the sites for use in ceremonies and ended up seeding the plants accidentally. “I think that probably the ultimate reason for going through this trance is to intervene with spirits to make it rain,” he explained. The rock art will be dated with plasma oxidation technology. For more on rock art in New Mexico, see "Searching for the Comanche Empire."

Mastodon May Have Been Butchered at Ohio Site

BELLVILLE, OHIO—Volunteers are assisting Nigel Brush of Ashland University with the excavation of a mastodon skeleton discovered by a farmer in his soybean field. Among the pieces of tusk, leg, rib, and ankle bone the diggers have uncovered bits of flint and lines of charcoal that could show the animal had been butchered and cooked by Ice Age hunters. Further analysis will look for traces of blood on the flint flakes and cut marks on the bones. “It has the potential to be special,” Brush told The Columbus Dispatch. For more on Ice Age people of the Americas, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "America, in the Beginning."

CT Scans of Pharaohs Lead to Arthritis Rediagnosis

CAIRO, EGYPT—The mummies of 13 Egyptian pharaohs and queens who lived between 1492 and 1153 B.C. were x-rayed in the 1980s. The images indicated that Amenhotep III and three other pharaohs suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a disabling form of arthritis characterized by the erosion of the sacroiliac joints or fused facet joints. New CT scans of those mummies have given researchers led by radiologist Sahar N. Saleem and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass a better look at their ancient bones, according to a report in Science. The team found that all four pharaohs, whose average age at the time of death was 63, probably had diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, a form of arthritis that can be asymptomatic. In particular, Amenhotep III was 50 years old when he died, and his skeleton showed no signs of spinal deformity. He may have experienced mild back stiffness when he got up in the morning. To read about the role of animal mummies in ancient Egypt, see ARCHAEOLOGY’s "Messengers to the Gods."  

Possible Witch Bottle Found in England

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—An intact green bottle has been unearthed at the site of the Old Magnus Buildings, constructed during the Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian periods for use as a free school. “Finding this very fragile bottle in one piece supports the idea that it was carefully placed in the ground. Perhaps it was buried during the Georgian part of the Old Magnus Building, but we can’t be certain,” archaeologist Will Munford of Pre-construct Archaeological Services of Lincoln told BBC News. The bottle may have been filled with fingernail clippings, hair, and urine, or pins as a protection from witches. “It’s a fascinating object and part of the history of Newark. If it is a witching bottle, it tells us a great deal about how people once viewed the world,” project manager Bryony Robins added. The building is being remodeled as part of England’s new National Civil War Centre. For more on the archaeology of witchcraft in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Witches of Cornwall."

Friday, October 17

Neolithic Village Discovered in a Lake in Northern Poland

TORUŃ, POLAND—A team of archaeologists led by Andrzej Pydyn of Nicolaus Copernicus University has discovered a Neolithic settlement in the waters of Lake Gil Wielki. “In shallow water in the reservoir we found a large amount of animal bones, remains of tools made of antler and numerous fragments of pottery, used at various times by ancient communities. Among them, the fragments that caught our attention relate to the tradition of late Neolithic, probably associated with the so-called Corded Ware culture,” he told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team mapped the site with side-scan sonar and are now waiting for the results of tests to date the village. To read about the suprisingly sophisticated technology of this era, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Early 20th C. Sphinx Recovered in California

GUADALUPE, CALIFORNIA—The body of a giant sphinx from the set of the 1923 silent movie “The Ten Commandments” has been carefully removed from the sand in Guadalupe, California. The 15-foot-tall plaster sphinx is one of 21 that lined the path featured in the three-hour film, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. “[The 1923 film] was one of the largest movie sets ever made, because they didn’t have special effects. So anything that they wanted to look large, they had to build large,” Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, explained to Live Science. The hollow sphinxes eventually collapsed under the wind and rain and were covered by the shifting sand dunes. “The site is basically being destroyed through erosion. It’s become more critical to try to salvage some materials before they disappear,” said historical archaeologist M. Colleen Hamilton of Applied EarthWorks.

Egyptian Mummy Receives New Diagnosis

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA—A team of radiologists from St. Mary’s Medical Center examined the 2,100-year-old mummy of a child from the “Tombs & Treasures of Ancient Egypt” exhibit at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium. Based upon X-rays taken more than 40 years ago, it had been thought that the child was between the ages of four and nine at the time of death, and that she had succumbed to tuberculosis, which can wear away bone. That diagnosis relied upon what appeared to be missing vertebrae in the lower spine. (Braided hair under her gilded mask suggest the child was a girl.) Views of the girl’s teeth from the new scans indicate that she was no more than three and one-half years old at the time of death, and the missing vertebrae were found lodged in her chest. They were probably displaced during the mummification process. The doctors think that the girl died of appendicitis—a “small, bright spot” in her central abdomen is thought to be a calcified deposit that blocked the organ and caused it to rupture. “Thanks to medical science, technology, and brilliant engineering we are unlocking secrets today that can inform history more than 2,000 years old,” Lew Crampton, CEO of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, told The Sun-Sentinel. To read about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Messengers to the Gods."

Egypt’s Meidum Pyramid Will Be Restored

BENI SUEF, EGYPT—Mamdouh El-Damaty, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, announced that the Meidum Pyramid will be restored and the site will be made tourist friendly with a visitor’s center and an informational sound and light show. The Meidum Pyramid is thought to have been built for Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, from several mud-brick mastabas. In the fifteenth century, the Arab historian Al-Maqrizi described the pyramid as having five steps, but in 1788, during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, only three mastabas were observed by French explorers. “The unusual appearance of Meidum pyramid led Beni Suef inhabitants to call it ‘Al-Haram Al-Kadam (Pseudo Pyramid), Youssef Khalifa, head of the ancient Egyptian section, told Ahram Online. To read about the construction of pyramids, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "How to Build a Pyramid."

Thursday, October 16

Prehistoric Camps Found in the High Tetons

JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING—Matt Stirn and Rebecca Sgouros of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum have found 30 previously unrecorded camps on the west slope of the Teton Range. They think families may have spent the summer, and perhaps the spring and fall, on the mountain, beginning as early as 11,000 years ago. They found stone points, tools, soapstone fragments, and one complete soapstone bowl—its lip was visible above the ground surface. Biomolecular testing may reveal how old the bowl is and what it was used for. “What we consider steep and difficult terrain probably was nothing for them. It would be interesting to ask: Did the severity of the topography on the Jackson side of the Tetons cause problems? Or maybe not. Both answers would be interesting,” Stirn told The Jackson Hole News & Guide. Further research will explore the east side of the Tetons and melting ice patches that may hold preserved artifacts. Stirn and Sgouros will also work with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a protection and preservation plan for the newly discovered archaeological sites. To read about Stirn's previous high altitude discoveries, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Villages in Wyoming Challenge Migration Map."

Persephone Revealed in Amphipolis Mosaic

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—The Greek Ministry of Culture has released additional images that show the completely uncovered mosaic floor in the Macedonian tomb at Amphipolis. Persephone can now be seen riding in the chariot, wearing a white robe fastened with a red ribbon, as she is abducted and taken to the underworld by Hades. The Greek Reporter states that protective layers have been placed over the mosaic as archaeologists continue with their work. To read about the rescue of ancient mosaic floors in Turkey, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Mosaic Masters."

MRI Shows ‘Princess Ukok’ Suffered From Breast Cancer

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—MRI scans of ‘Princess Ukok,’ the mummified remains of a Pazyryk woman who was buried in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains 2,500 years ago, show that she suffered from breast cancer. It had been thought that her fractured skull and dislocated joints, perhaps from a fall from a horse, had been the cause of her death. “During the imaging of the mammary glands, we paid attention to their asymmetric structure and the varying asymmetry of the MR signal. We are dealing with a primary tumor in the right breast and right axial lymph nodes with metastases,” Andrey Letyagin of the Russian Academy of Medical Science told The Siberian Times. Letyagin and his colleague Andrey Savelov think that in her weakened state, the princess may have fallen from her horse while traveling to winter camp. To read about body decoration on other Pazyryk mummies, see ARCHAEOLOGY's special package "Ancient Tattoos."