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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 21

Photographer’s Notebook Found in Melting Antarctic Ice

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—A notebook belonging to George Murray Levick has been recovered from the melting snow and ice at Captain Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition base at Cape Evans, Antarctica, by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust. According to The Guardian, Levick used the “Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Diary 1910” at Cape Adare in 1911 to list dates, subjects, and exposure details for his photographs. “It’s an exciting find. The notebook is a missing part of the official expedition record. After spending seven years conserving Scott’s last expedition building and collection, we are delighted to still be finding new artifacts,” said Nigel Watson, Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Executive Director. The book’s binding had dissolved, so the pages were separated, conserved, and digitized before the book was sewn back together. The entries in the notebook have been linked to photographs held by the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. For more on photographs from another Antarctic expedition, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Photographs from Shackleton’s Expedition Developed."

England’s Real-Life War Horses

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Local school children and injured service men and women participating in Operation Nightingale are assisting in an excavation on Salisbury Plain that is investigating how England’s horses and mules were cared for during World War I. Documentary evidence indicates that a veterinary hospital at the site, known as Larkhill Camp, quarantined and cared for some of the 500,000 animals that served the army by hauling weaponry, stores, and personnel to and from the front lines. No traces of the hospital buildings survived, but the test pits and metal detection survey did recover horse shoes, farrier’s nails, and other horse trappings. “This project enables researchers, young people, and those effected by the traumas of war to work together. Horses were such an important part of the legacy of World War I and ‘Digging War Horse’ helps people to understand the significance of horses during the war years at home and abroad,” said Philip Rowe in a University of Bristol press release. For more on WWI-era excavations, see "ANZAC's Next Chapter." Click here for images from the Larkhill Camp site excavation. 

17th-C. Dutch Warship Discovered Off the Coast of Tobago

AVERY POINT, CONNECTICUT—A team led by Kroum Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut has discovered the seventeenth-century Dutch ship Huis de Kreuningen, which was lost on March 3, 1677, during a battle against an invading French fleet in the southern Caribbean. The Dutch controlled the island of Tobago and were repelling French forces when the Huis de Kreuningen, the largest ship in the Dutch fleet, was sunk by the better-armed Glorieux. “To find the Huis de Kreuningen—almost by accident, as she was outside the boundaries where we expected to find her—undiscovered and untouched for over 300 years was an exciting moment,” Batchvarov told UCONN Today. Some 2,000 people were killed in the battle, including 250 Dutch women and children and 300 enslaved Africans. The Glorieux also sank during the battle, killing 370 men. “Although we have some written records of the battle itself, we possess no detailed plans of seventeenth-century warships, so our only sources of information about the ships of the day are the wrecks themselves,” Batchvarov said. For more underwater discoveries, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Bone Study Suggests Gladiators Drank Ash Tonic

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Analysis of the bones of gladiators excavated from tombs at the ancient city of Ephesus show that these warriors, who lived in the second or third century A.D., ate a mostly vegetarian diet of beans and grains, as did many other people living in the city. The amount of strontium in the gladiators’ bones, however, suggests that they had access to minerals and calcium that the rest of the population did not. Contemporary reports refer to gladiators as “hordearii,” or “barley eaters,” and mention a tonic made of ashes that scholars now think probably did exist. “Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” study leader Fabian Kanz of the Medical University of Vienna told Science Daily. “Things were similar then to what we do today—we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.” To read more about gladitorial training, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Gladiator Diet."

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."