Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 04

New Thoughts on Egyptian Pot Burials

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Ronika Power and Egyptologist Yann Tristant of Macquarie University reviewed studies of burials in ceramic pots at 46 archaeological sites, most of which were found near the Nile River and dated to between 3300 and 1650 B.C. It had been thought that such pot burials were a make-do effort for poor children, but the researchers found that more than half of the sites in the study contained adult remains in pot burials. And of 746 children’s burials in the study, 338 employed wooden coffins, while 329 used pots. The rest of the children were buried in baskets or limestone containers. One pot held an infant along with beads covered in gold foil. Other pots held offerings of gold, ivory, clothing, and ceramics. Power and Tristant suggest that rather than a necessity, a pot may have been chosen as a burial vessel to represent the womb, and symbolize rebirth into the afterlife. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Scientists Look For New Sources of Ancient DNA

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—NPR reports that Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology led a team of scientists searching for new sources of ancient human DNA for study. Since the fossil record is limited, the researchers have begun to analyze the dirt from floors of caves to look for the dust of degraded bones. Those samples could yield tiny DNA fragments, once DNA from recent cave visitors has been excluded. These additional DNA samples could help scientists learn about the lives of Neanderthals over time, and how often they may have interbred with modern humans. “Can we understand what happened to them in the end?” asked Janet Kelso, also of the Max Planck Institute. “That may not be something you can tell from the sequence, but it would be interesting to try.” For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Colonial-Era Cannon Recovered in North Carolina

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA—According to a report in Port City Daily, a Colonial-era cannon was recovered from the Cape Fear River near the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site by a dredging company. The 93-inch-long cannon has been wrapped in burlap and is under a light spray of water to keep it wet until conservation can begin at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson. Site Manager Jim McKee said that the cannon has no visible markings, but it appears to have burst, perhaps as the result of a casting flaw. McKee added that he thinks the cannon was in use before 1756, and that it was found empty. For more on archaeology in the vicinity of North Carolina, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”

900-Year-Old Murals Discovered in Northern China

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that a 900-year-old tomb adorned with murals has been found in northern China. The tomb was robbed, and lacks any artifacts or human remains, but archaeologists suspect that the tomb was constructed for aristocrats. The upper part of the murals, which are painted on a white background, depict acts of filial piety, according to Zhang Guanghui of the Shanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. Images of people working and cooking make up the lower parts of the murals. Pictures of herdsmen and cattle were found at the gate of the tomb. Zhang added that all of the murals also have floral, animal, and cloud motifs. “We have seen several tombs with murals from the Jin Dynasty [A.D. 1115–1234], but such well-preserved ones are a rarity,” he said. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Tuesday, January 03

19th-Century Potato Blight Analyzed

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that scientists from North Carolina State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Museum have conducted a genetic study of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight that wiped out potato crops in Ireland and Europe in the 1840s. The team of researchers analyzed nuclear genomes and mitochondrial genomes of 183 modern and historic potato blight samples from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States, and found that the strain that caused the devastating blight probably originated in South America, and then through potato shipments and the seed trade, traveled to the United States and then on to Europe. The strain, known as FAM-1, remained the dominant strain of potato blight into the early twentieth century. To read about archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Crushed Murex Shells Unearthed at Ancient Paphos

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—The Famagusta Gazette reports that a team of researchers from the University of Cyprus has unearthed an ancient rampart with two staircases and watchtowers at the ancient city of Paphos. The sixth-century B.C. rampart was found on the plateau of Hadjiabdoulla, where a palace and storage and industrial facilities were in use until the end of the fourth century B.C. Traces of olives, grapes, and wheat have been found in the complex. Additional samples have been taken for micro-morphological studies and the possible identification of additional crops. The team also found a thick layer of crushed murex shells on the floor of one of the storage rooms. Team leader Maria Iacovou noted that this is the first time that archaeological evidence for the production of the highly valued purple dye from murex shells has been found in Cyprus. To read about another archaeological discovery on Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!

Rock Art Discovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a group of recreational cavers discovered rock art carved into the limestone walls of an ancient cistern near an unnamed archaeological site located in south-central Israel. The images include a three-footed menorah with seven branches, a cross, and a key. Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the patina-covered engravings and thinks the menorah was carved sometime during the Second Temple period, between 530 B.C. and A.D. 70. Niches, carved into walls alongside the cistern, may have been used for raising doves for temple use at this time. The cross is thought to date to the fourth century A.D. Ganor explained that the settlement near the cistern dates to the late Roman and Byzantine periods. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Friday, December 30

“Ancient” Standing Stones May Commemorate Medieval Victory

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that archaeologist Murray Cook obtained radiocarbon dates for the foundation of one of two stones that stand near the entrance to the Police Scotland Central Division headquarters. It had been thought that the stones were erected some 3,000 years ago and served as a landmark during the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. “The date that came up is contemporary with the battle,” Cook said. He now thinks the stones might have been erected to mark the spot where Sir Thomas Randolph, a commander in Robert the Bruce’s army, defeated 300 English cavalry on the first day of the battle for Scottish independence. Randolph’s victory prevented Edward II’s attempt to relieve the siege of English forces holding Stirling Castle. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."

New Thoughts on Japan’s Inariyama Burial Mound

GYODA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Motoyuki Sato of Tohoku University and researchers from the Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds used radar technology to study the round section of the key-hole shaped Inariyama burial mound. An excavation at the late-fifth-century site in 1968 uncovered a sword blade bearing an inscription that refers to King Wakatakeru in a chamber made of small rocks in the center of the mound. A bronze mirror, military artifacts, and pieces of horse harnesses were also found, but no human remains were recovered. It had been thought that King Wakatakeru, who is mentioned in Japanese histories, owned the sword, and that he had been buried in one of the small chambers found near the weapon. But the new study has detected another chamber, deeper underground, which may be an earlier burial site. The scholars suggest that the individual who had been buried in the newly found chamber may have owned the sword, while the smaller chambers may have been added for later generations. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Kublai Khan Fleet."