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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, May 29

Weak Muscles May Be the Price of Human Cognitive Powers

SHANGHAI, CHINA—A new study of metabolites—small molecules such as sugars, vitamins, amino acids, and neurotransmitters that represent key elements of our physiological functions—suggests that human muscle may be as unique as the human brain. Scientists from the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology and teams from the Max Planck Institutes found that the metabolome of the human brain has evolved four times faster than that of the chimpanzee, and human muscle accumulated metabolic changes ten times faster than chimpanzees. “For a long time we were confused by metabolic changes in human muscle, until we realized that what other primates have in common, in contrast to humans, is their enormous muscle strength,” Josep Call of the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Leipzig told Science Daily. The team thinks that humans may have evolved a special energy management system that powers the brain at the expense of muscle strength.

Ireland’s Lia Fail Vandalized

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—Vandals poured red and green paint over the Lia Fail, a 5,000-year-old standing stone on top of the Hill of Tara. Tradition holds that the stone would “roar” when touched by the rightful king of Tara. “This act of mindless vandalism, on one of our premier archaeological sites, is truly shameful,” Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts and the Gaeltacht, told The Irish Mirror. Police are investigating the crime. The stone was damaged with an ax in 2012.

World War I Training Trenches Found at Camp Dodge

JOHNSTON, IOWA—Trenches dug by American soldiers under the instruction of French military officers at Camp Dodge have been found with aerial photographs, historic maps, and geographic information systems technology. Zig-zag trenches that were used at the front of World War I combat areas, and trenches for communications, supplies, and other purposes were located. Artifacts such as ammunition casings, a practice hand grenade, a suppressor for a machine gun, barbed wire, and a glass medicine bottle were also unearthed. “This is a snapshot of time of what we were doing then as a nation. This is our legacy. You have to understand where you have been to know where you are going. This is a piece of where we have been,” Col. Gregory Hapgood Jr., public affairs officer for the Iowa National Guard, told The Des Moines Register.  

Fisherman Catches Bronze Age Figurine

KEMEROVO, RUSSIA—Nikolay Tarasov was fishing with a net in a river near his home in Tisul, Russia, when he recovered what he thought was an unusual stone, but he realized it was carved with almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious expression before he threw it back into the water. “On the reverse side on the head the carver etched plaited hair with wave like lines. Below the plait there are lines looking like fish scales,” he told The Siberian Times. He donated the figurine to the Tisul History Museum, where it was dated to the early Bronze Age. The 4,000-year-old figure was carved in horn that had fossilized. “Quite likely, it shows a pagan god. The only things we have dated approximately to the same age are a stone necklace and two charms in the shapes of a bear and a bird,” said Marina Banschikova, director of the museum. 

Wednesday, May 28

Enhanced Images Reveal Paintings at Angkor Wat

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—Colors that are too faint to be seen with the naked eye have been revealed with digitally enhanced photographs taken of the walls of Angkor Wat, according to a study published in Antiquity. Researchers photographed traces of red and black pigments on the walls with bright flash, and then employed decorrelation stretch analysis, which has also been used to study rock art and images of the Martian landscape. Science Shot reports that the team, consisting of Noel Hidalgo Tan of Australian National University, and Im Sokrithy, Heng Than, and Khieu Chan of the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, found more than 200 paintings of boats, deities, buildings, and animals drawn on the temple’s walls. Most of the drawings seem to be graffiti left after Angkor Wat was abandoned in 1431, but a group of scenes in one of the temple’s towers may have been painted as part of a restoration program in the sixteenth century, when the complex was converted from a Hindu temple into a Buddhist shrine.    

Rock Art Defaced in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—A rock art panel in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon has been defaced with the initials “JMN” and the date, May 25, 2014. The writing appears in the dark patina next to the prehistoric image known as the Pregnant Buffalo. Two local property owners spotted the graffiti and witnessed two people leaving the scene shortly after the panel was inspected by Jerry D. Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance. “Each act of vandalism is a selfish disregard of the aesthetic, spiritual and scientific values that constitute our collective past. These sites are non-renewable resources, and damage done can never be completely repaired,” Spangler explained to Deseret News

Possible False Tooth Found in Celtic Woman’s Grave

LE CHENE, FRANCE—A timber burial chamber dating to the third century B.C. has yielded the remains of a woman who had an iron pin in place of an upper incisor tooth. “The skeleton was very badly preserved. But the teeth were in an anatomical position, with the molars, pre-molars, canines and incisors. Then there was this piece of metal. My first reaction was: what is this?” archaeologist Guillaume Seguin said to BBC News. The piece of metal has the same dimensions and shape as the woman’s 31 teeth, and may have been intended as a false tooth. Iron, however, would have corroded inside the body, and the implant may have caused a deadly infection. Seguin and researchers from the University of Bordeaux note in the journal Antiquity that the Celtic Gauls had contact with the Etruscans, who were known for crafting partial dentures, in the third century B.C.

London’s International Fish Trade

LONDON, ENGLAND—Cod bones recovered from excavations around London have been analyzed by David Orton of University College London and James Barrett of the University of Cambridge. They report in the journal Antiquity that the more than 3,000 bones span a period of 800 years. Local fisherman traditionally decapitated cod as part of the preservation process for long-range transport, so head bones were understood to represent fresh fish from local waters. Fish vertebrae, however, could indicate that the fish was caught locally or imported. A sudden change “from head to tails” in the early thirteenth century suggests that much of the fish was imported, and further testing indicates that the fish may have come from Arctic Norway. “What did this mean for the local fishing industry? Until we’ve looked at other fish species and other towns we can’t be sure, but the start of this long-range trade may well be an important message about changes in supply and demand,” Orton told Phys.org.

Tuesday, May 27

Richard III to be Reburied in Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND—The High Court has ruled that the remains identified as those of Richard III should be buried in the city of Leicester, where the bones were found in 2012, according to the plans made by the archaeological team from the University of Leicester that conducted the excavation. A group called the Plantagenet Alliance, whose members claim to be distant relatives of the deceased, wanted the bones to be interred in York, where Richard III grew up. “It is time for King Richard III to be given a dignified reburial and finally laid to rest,” the judges said in their statement, reported by Phys.org

Egyptian Pot Excavated by Petrie Found in a Garage

LONDON, ENGLAND—When he discovered a labeled black and red pot in his garage, Guy Funnell of Cornwall contacted Alice Stevenson, curator of the Petrie Museum. The pot is thought to have been one of two pots given to Joseph Grafton Milne, a curator at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, by late nineteenth-century Egyptologist Flinders Petrie. Funnell’s grandfather received the pot as payment for several unpaid taxi fares. Stevenson has been able to use the label in the pot, which identifies the object as “Libyan Pottery” from 3,000 B.C., to link it to Petrie’s meticulous excavation records. “There were obviously many such cards, but I have never seen or heard of one before—there must be more out there, which would help us trace the distribution of this material through museums and private collections,” she told The Guardian. In fact, the pot was shown to be Egyptian and 600 years older than Petrie had thought by a French scholar. “It was one of the few occasions when Petrie was not only wrong, but admitted in publicly, a very unusual occurrence,” she added. 

Egyptian Mummy Identified in Italy

PISA, ITALY—A skeleton discovered in a cardboard box at a fourteenth-century monastery near Pisa may be the remains of Qenamun, the chief steward and foster brother of Amenhotep II. Writing on the skull identified it as one of the 11 mummies brought from Egypt by nineteenth-century archaeologist Ippolito Rosellini. He had written a letter, recently found in the National Archives in Prague, indicating that the mummy and its black varnished coffin may have been intended for the collections of Grand Duke Leopold II. “Most likely, when the boxes were opened in Livorno, the mummy was no longer in condition to be brought to the grand duke. Rosellini possibly gave the mummy to his friend Paolo Savi, the director of Pisa’s natural history museum, so that it could be useful to science at least,” Marilina Betrò of Pisa University told Discovery News. Wires on the bones suggest they may have been hung in the museum, and the badly damaged coffin, which had not been recorded in the museum’s inventory, was found in a museum store room. Its hieroglyphs identified its owner as the “God’s Father Qenamun.” “The very important title confirmed it belonged to Amenhotep II’s foster brother,” Betrò explained.

Crusader-Era Seal Unearthed at a Farm Site in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A medieval lead seal stamped by the Monastery of Saint Sabas has been unearthed at the archaeological remains of a farmstead in Jerusalem. The seal features Greek inscriptions and a bearded figure, identified as Saint Sabas, or Mar Saba in Syriac, wearing a cloak and holding a cross in his right and what is possibly a Gospel in his left hand. St. Sabas is known for establishing a monastery on a cliff in the Judean Desert that has been continuously inhabited to the present era. “The Mar Saba monastery apparently played an important role in the affairs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusader period maintaining a close relationship with the ruling royal family. The monastery had numerous properties and this farm may have been part of the monastery’s assets during the Crusader period,” Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Jerusalem Post