Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, June 08

Circular Temple and Ball Court Discovered in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Reuters reports that the foundations of a circular Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been unearthed in Mexico City, near Zocalo Plaza. The modern capital was built over the Aztec capital, known as Tenochtitlan, which was captured by the Spanish is 1521. The stucco-covered temple, dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl, was erected during the reign of Emperor Ahuizotl, between 1486 and 1502. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) said the top of the temple probably resembled a coiled snake. Priests would have entered the building through a doorway that looked like the snake’s nose. Archaeologist Raul Barrera, also of INAH, said that 32 severed neck vertebrae were found in a pile near the ball court. “It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” he said. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.” For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”

Green-Glass Spearhead Found on Australia’s Prison Island

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Students from the University of Western Australia have uncovered a spearhead made of bright green glass on Rottnest Island, according to a report from ABC News. Nearly 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned on the island, also known as Wadjemup, between 1838 and 1931. The prisoners are thought to have made such spearheads from scrap pieces of glass for use in trade, building relationships, and for hunting small nocturnal marsupials called quokkas. The spearhead, which has been estimated to be at least 100 years old, has been reburied on the island. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Wooden Palisades at Avebury Dated to 5,300 Years Ago

AVEBURY, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a monument in Avebury, England, located about 23 miles away from Stonehenge, may be 800 years older than had been previously thought. The monument, which resembled a pair of eyeglasses outlined with tall, wooden posts, was first dated to 2500 B.C., or about the time that Stonehenge was built. Researchers recently employed new radiocarbon-dating techniques on pottery, animal bones, and charred remains of posts found in the monument’s post holes to arrive at the new, older date. “It’s much too large to be a stock enclosure; it’s got to be a ceremonial enclosure,” explained statistical archaeologist Alex Bayliss of Historic England. He thinks one enclosure may have been for men, and the other for women. Both were burned to the ground in what Bayliss called an “amazing spectacle.” Few remains of human occupation from the time have been found in the area, but later, Neolithic housing has been uncovered, suggesting that people returned to the site after the fire. They may even have been involved with the construction of the nearby chalk mound known as Silbury Hill. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Wednesday, June 07

Human Tooth Recovered From Civil War Submarine

CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The Post and Courier reports that a human tooth was recovered from a concretion in a crank handle on the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. Named for her inventor, the 40-foot submarine was lost in Charleston Bay on February 17, 1864, after it rammed a Union blockade ship with a black powder charge. The vessel was discovered in 1995 and raised from the bottom in 2000. The remains of the eight sailors who manned the iron vessel were removed by conservators at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center and reburied in 2004. The tooth was found at crank handle position Number 3, where crewman Frank Collins sat. Archaeologist Michael Scafuri thinks the tooth was lost after Collins died. Bits of cloth and a loose metal sleeve have also been found at some of the crank positions. The coverings may have been intended to reduce blistering and chaffing of the sailors’ hands. To read more about this ship and another Civil War ship, go to “History's Greatest Wrecks: USS Monitor and H.L. Hunley.”

300,000-Year-Old Fossils Resemble Homo sapiens

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that hominin remains resembling Homo sapiens have been discovered at a site known as Jebel Irhoud in Morocco and dated to 300,000 years ago, making them 100,000 years older than the oldest known Homo sapiens remains from East Africa. The fossils were found in a limestone cave whose roof had been damaged by mining operations, among flint tools, gazelle bones, and lumps of charcoal. The fossils include a partial skull, a jawbone, teeth, and limb bones from three adults, a juvenile, and a child of about eight years old. The lower jaw is similar to that of modern humans, but larger, and the braincase is more elongated. “The face of the specimen we found is the face of someone you could meet on the tube in London,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The researchers also note that the tools had been made with flint obtained about 30 miles to the south, and had been resharpened several times. They think the hominins may have traveled to the area to hunt gazelles, and carried their tools with them. For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Open-Air Neanderthal Site Discovered in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Times of Israel, a Neanderthal upper molar and Neanderthal lower limb bones have been found at a 60,000-year-old open-air site in northern Israel by an international team of scientists led by Ella Been of Ono Academic College and Erella Hovers of Hebrew University. The lower limb bones were found in a layer that also contained flint tools, animal bones, marine shells, pigments, and deer antlers. It had been previously thought that Neanderthals lived primarily in caves, since that is where their remains are usually recovered. But the study suggests that Neanderthals repeatedly visited the open-air site, known as Ein Qashish, and thus had adapted to living in diverse environments by the time Homo sapiens arrived in the Near East. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Tuesday, June 06

Adolescents’ Cemetery Unearthed in Amarna

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of researchers led by Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University examined the skeletons of 105 individuals whose remains were recovered from the North Tombs Cemetery at Amarna, the short-lived city built by the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, who died in 1332 B.C. The entire cemetery, which is located near an ancient stone quarry, could contain thousands of burials. The analysis revealed that more than 90 percent of the deceased in the sample had been between the ages of seven and 25, with most under the age of 15. Adolescents usually experience robust health, but the majority of the teens in the sample showed signs of traumatic injuries and degenerative conditions associated with heavy workloads. The researchers also note that the young people may not been buried by their families, since the graves lacked grave goods, and multiple bodies had been stacked in many of them. The young workers may have been the children of slaves, or captured for the purpose of building the pharaoh’s city. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt.”

Paleocoastal Deposits Discovered on Santa Rosa Island

SANTA ROSA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA—The Ventura County Star reports that artifacts estimated to be between 8,000 and 13,000 years old have been uncovered in Channel Islands National Park. The site, found under a 150-year-old ranch house that has been lifted up off the ground in order to install a new foundation, has yielded a Channel Islands barbed point and a crescent, both of which are thought to have been used by ancestors of the Chumash people to hunt and fish. “Usually, when we find the two of them together, the site is at least 10,000 years old and could be 12,000 years old or older,” said Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon. For more on early occupants of the West Coast, go to “Coast over Corridor.”

3,000-Year-Old Copper Mask Found in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA—A 3,000-year-old mask has been discovered in an ancient cemetery in northwestern Argentina, according to a report in Live Science. The mask rested on a pile of the bones of an estimated 14 people that was exposed in the southern Andes during the rainy season. Made of a piece of rectangular-shaped copper measuring about seven inches long and six inches wide, the mask has holes marking the positions of eyes, nose, and mouth. Small openings at the edges of the mask may have been used to fasten it to a person’s face or to another object. A copper pendant and a stone bead were also found nearby in the burial of a single child. The researchers, led by M. Cristina Scattolin of the Juan B. Ambrosetti Museum of Ethnography, said that deposits of copper have been found within 44 miles of the burial site, which suggests that the copper items could have been produced locally. It had been thought that metalworking in South America at this time was a skill limited to people living in Peru. To read about a mask discovered in a different part of the world, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”