Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 05

Project Aims to Catalog Prehistoric Hand Paintings

A team of archaeologists is attempting to catalog all of the prehistoric hand paintings in European caves, according to a report in Seeker. The team, led by Hipolito Collado, head of archaeology for the government of Extremadura, Spain, is taking scans and high-resolution photos of the hand paintings and then posting them in a 3-D format in an online database where researchers around the world can access them. “It’s about making inaccessible art accessible,” said Collado. Among the questions he hopes to answer are: Why did early people paint hands in caves? Were they trying to mark territory? Do the paintings have anything to say about the role of Paleolithic women? Why are fingers missing from the hands in some of the paintings? According to Collado, painted hands have been found in 36 caves in Europe—all in France, Spain, and Italy. To read more about hand stencils found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

Chinese Mural Tomb Unearthed

XINZHOU, CHINA—Live Science reports that a team from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology has excavated a large tomb dating to ca. A.D. 600. A long corridor in the tomb was decorated with an unusual array of murals, including depictions of fantastical creatures, such as a winged horse carrying a tiger in its mouth, a blue monster-like figure that appears to be leaping or falling, and a nearly naked god known as the Master of the Wind running in the direction of the burial chamber. In additional to fantastical themes, the murals depict scenes from everyday life, such as horse trading and hunting. Though the tomb had been looted recently, the murals were undamaged. To read more about how Chinese archaeologists are dealing with looting, go to “Tomb Raider Chronicles.” 

Thursday, May 04

Nomad Tombs Excavated in Central China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 90 burials have been excavated to date at the Yinxu archaeological site in central China. Most of the graves are thought to date to the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.). Another 18 brick tombs are thought to be about 1,800 years old. Grave goods from these burials include two-handled bronze and iron pots, iron short swords, and strings of agate beads, which resemble objects used by nomads from the north who settled in central China, according to Shen Wenxi of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Anyang Station. The skeleton of a man, recovered from one of the graves, could shed additional light on these people's origins. For more on archaeology in China, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Rock Art Discovered in Costa Rica

GUANACASTE, COSTA RICA—The Tico Times reports that a petroglyph was discovered on the banks of the Blanco River by a crew from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. The engraving is thought to depict a hummingbird, a symbol of fertility, and two compound parallel spirals in opposite directions, which are thought to represent the flow of the river at the site. The engraving has been dated to between A.D. 300 and 800. The site may have been part of a cemetery complex, but it has been heavily looted. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Diquis Delta, Costa Rica.”

18th-Century Garden Walls Uncovered at Scottish Castle

AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The National, traces of an eighteenth-century walled kitchen garden were found below the manicured grass of the Fountain Court at Culzean Castle during work to improve the drainage at the site. The garden is thought to have been built on the east side of the castle by Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, second Baronet, in 1733. It appears on a map of the castle, drawn in 1755, which records rows of planted beds and fruit trees. The fruits and vegetables are thought to have been moved to the southeast of the castle in order to open up the views to the picturesque landscape by Scottish architect Robert Adam, who began a 15-year renovation of the castle in 1777. About six courses of the stone wall remain. Most of the stone was probably reused to reconstruct the garden walls in the new location. To read about another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Wednesday, May 03

Archaeologists Search for Civil War Earthworks

FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE—The Tennessean reports that archaeologists are looking for a missing piece of the Union Army’s front line earthworks in land recently acquired for Carter Hill Battlefield Park. On November 30, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood attacked fortified positions held by Union troops led by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield in what is known as the Battle of Franklin. Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson said that archaeologists recovered fired bullets from an area of disturbed soil, including traditional Minie balls and Williams Patent “cleaner” bullets, which were used by Federal troops to clean musket barrels. “If you’re finding a fired Williams cleaner, that means they were so desperate they were using them and then it was hitting something: a Confederate,” Jacobson said. The Confederates “busted through this line and that’s why the fighting is so awful here.” The Confederates suffered heavy losses in both men and leadership at Franklin. The Union Army retreated to Nashville, where another battle wiped out Hood’s army about two weeks later. For more, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”

Middle-Kingdom Garden Discovered in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a 4,000-year-old funerary garden has been found in the Dra Abul Naga necropolis by a team of Spanish archaeologists. The garden was placed in the open courtyard of a rock-cut tomb. Measuring about ten feet long by six and one-half feet wide, the garden was separated into sections about one foot square. Each square is thought to have contained different kinds of plants and flowers. An elevated area in the middle of the garden may have supported a small tree or bush. A corner of the garden contained the roots and trunk of a small tree, and a bowl of dried dates and other fruit. “The discovery of the garden may shed light on the environment and gardening in ancient Thebes during the Middle Kingdom, around 2000 B.C.,” said Jose Galan of the Spanish National Research Council. Galan added that this is the first time that a funerary garden has been uncovered in ancient Thebes. His team also unearthed a small mudbrick chapel holding three 13th-Dynasty steles at the site of the rock-cut tomb. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Early 19th-Century Canal Boat Found in New York Lake

OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK— reports that scuba divers assisted by maritime archaeologist Ben Ford of Indiana University of Pennsylvania investigated the wreckage of an early nineteenth-century canal boat in Oneida Lake. Known as a Durham boat, the vessel measured about 60 feet long and ten feet wide, and could carry about 20 tons of cargo in shallow waters. The vessel’s frame and bottom planks were made of white oak, while the siding was made of eastern white pine. A mallet, a wooden scoop, and a stoneware jug were found in the boat’s cabin. The cargo consisted of more than five tons of small stones from the south shore of Oneida Lake. The research team suspects the vessel sank in a storm while crossing the lake. To read about maritime archaeology in the Great Lakes, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”