Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 21

Woman’s 4,500-Year-Old Burial Unearthed in Peru

LIMA, PERU—ANDINA News Service reports that archaeologist Ruth Shady and her team have unearthed the grave of a high-status woman at Aspero, an archaeological site located on the Peruvian coast, near the site of the large ancient city of Caral. The woman is estimated to have been 40 years old at the time of death, some 4,500 years ago. She had been buried with a pot containing traces of vegetables and seeds, a necklace made of shell beads, a pendant made from a Spondylus shell, and four tupus, or bone broaches featuring bird and monkey motifs. “The find shows evidence of gender equality, that is, both women and men were able to play leading roles and attain high social status more than 1,000 years ago,” Shady said. To read about another prehistoric site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

3-D Replicas of Ötzi the Iceman Made From CT Scans

BOLZANO, ITALY—The Local, Austria reports that three replicas of Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps 25 years ago, have been created with a 3-D printer using CT scans of the frozen remains. American artist Gary Staab then sculpted and hand-painted the resin replicas. “The reconstruction of the hands was a challenge, since they could not be captured on CT scans,” according to a statement from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where the Ötzi is housed. One of the replicas will be part of a travelling exhibition that will tour the United States. The other two will be used for educational purposes at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center in New York. To read about the world's oldest tattoos, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi, the Iceman." 

Wednesday, April 20

Message in a Bottle is More Than 100 Years Old

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Marine biologist George Parker Bidder threw some 1,000 bottles into the North Sea in batches more than 100 years ago as part of his research into the patterns of currents. Now, 108 years later, one of those bottles has washed up in Germany, where it was found by a retired postal worker. She and her husband removed the note from the bottle and followed its instructions to fill in the date and where it was found, and then put it in an envelope and mailed it back to the Marine Biological Association. The card promised a one-shilling reward. “We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay. We sent it to her with a letter saying thank you,” Guy Baker, communications officer for the Marine Biological Association, told The Guardian. Bidder’s bottles helped him to show that the deep sea current in the North Sea flowed from east to west. To read about the discovery of a WWII-era military courier pigeon, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War." 

2,000-Year-Old Royal Coffin Opened in China

NANCHANG, CHINA—According to China Daily, scientists have opened the 2,000-year-old coffin thought to belong to Liu He, the Marquis of Haihun, in a laboratory. They found another seal bearing the characters for his name, and “a large number of teeth” thought to belong to the deposed emperor. Characters for the name Liu He were also found on a seal, gold coins, and bamboo slips in the tomb, located in a royal cemetery. Yang Jun of the Archaeological Research Institute of Jiangxi Province said that testing of the remains could provide more information about his cause of death. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

New Thoughts on Maya Human Sacrifice

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—According to a report in Science News, many of the nearly 10,000 human bones, bone fragments, and teeth discovered in Belize’s Midnight Terror Cave are thought to be the remains of children. Bioarchaeologist Michael Prout of California State University, Northridge, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists that the ancient Maya may have considered cave areas near water to be sacred spaces, suggesting that the children might have been sacrificed to Chaac—a rain, water, and lighting god. Radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests that bodies were deposited in the cave over a 1,500-year period, beginning some 3,000 years ago. It had been thought that human sacrifices in the region were largely limited to adults, but another site of possible large-scale child-sacrifice by the Maya has been found in an underground cave at Chichén Itzá. “Taken together, however, finds at Chichén Itzá and Midnight Terror Cave suggest that about half of all Maya sacrificial victims were children,” Prout said. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Found at Boston Home of Malcolm X

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—An excavation at the one-time home of civil rights activist Malcolm X has yielded broken dishes, pieces of jewelry, toys, and a record from the 1940s that may have been thrown into the yard when the house was vandalized in the 1970s. Built in 1874, the house was occupied by an Irish immigrant family in the years before it was owned by Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s half-sister. She took teenaged Malcolm Little in after his father’s death and mother’s hospitalization. Bagley and his team had thought the site had been used as farmland before 1874, but eighteenth-century artifacts suggest that there may have been a house on or near the site during the colonial era. “We’ve come onto a whole layer, roughly two feet down and across the whole site, that’s absolutely filled with stuff from the period,” Boston city archaeologist Joseph Bagley said in an Associated Press report. The excavation will continue next month. To read more about urban archaeology on the East Coast, go to "Letter From Philadelphia: City Garden."

Tuesday, April 19

Stone Age Well Discovered in Czech Republic

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—According to a report in the Prague Monitor, a research team led by archaeologist Tomas Chlup has found a 7,000-year-old well at the site of a large Linear Pottery culture settlement. The team has been working at the site, located in the country’s Central Bohemian Region, since 2006. So far, they have uncovered traces of 19 wooden longhouses that stood on pillars. “We have a rare opportunity to study the everyday life of the first farmers in our country,” Chlup said. To read more about wells dating to this period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Eighteenth-Century Ship Studied in Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—The Flagship reports that experts from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) assisted city archaeologist Francine Bromberg with the study of timbers from an eighteenth-century ship unearthed at a construction site in Alexandria late last year. “We are recording each one of the timbers so that we can learn about the ship construction and see if there are any maker’s marks or other indications of specific construction techniques,” said UAB archaeologist George Swartz. He noted that the ship had been built by hand with thousands of trunnels, or wooden pins that connected the timbers and swelled when exposed to moisture to form a watertight seal. Schwarz thinks that parts of the ship were probably reused to make buildings and furniture, while the rest was buried in a landfill to build a port for ocean-going vessels for the growing city of Alexandria in the late eighteenth century. To read about the vessel's original discovery, go to "Ship Underground."

Stone Blocks May Date to Early Days of Hatshepsut’s Reign

CARIO, EGYPT—A joint Egyptian-German team of archaeologists has recovered an additional 30 blocks from a building on Elephantine Island that dates to the beginning of the reign of Hatshepsut. Researchers say that the images of the queen on the blocks depict her as a woman, whereas in later images, she was shown as a man. The structure was a way-station for a festival barque, or sailing vessel, dedicated to the god Khnum that was dismantled in antiquity. The reused blocks were found in the foundation of Khunum’s temple, constructed by King Nectanebo II. “Although a large amount of blocks from the barque’s way-station building were found along several archaeological seasons, the blocks found this season have clarified the meanings of the other blocks,” team leader Felix Arnold of the German Archaeological Institute told Ahram Online. To read more in-depth about a recent Egyptological discovery, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Peru’s Puquios May Have Been Part of a Nazca Water System

POTENZA, ITALY—Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis and a team of researchers used satellite images to study puquios, the spiral-shaped holes thought to have been constructed between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 750 by the same people who created the Nazca geoglyphs. The distribution of the holes across the arid region, and their positions near settlements, suggests that they were part of a sophisticated hydraulic system for retrieving water from underground aquifers. Lasaponara thinks that the spiral holes funneled wind into the Nazca aqueduct system to keep the water moving. “What is really impressive is the great efforts, organization, and cooperation required for their construction and regular maintenance,” she said in BBC News. To read in-depth about a mysterious alignment not far from the Nazca geoglyphs, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."