Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 06

An Update From Earthquake-Stricken Bagan

YANGON, MYANMAR—According to a report in The Irrawaddy, experts from UNESCO and Myanmar’s National Museum and Library are conducting detailed assessments of the 449 out of more than 3,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan that were damaged by a powerful earthquake in August. The temples in the ancient capital were built between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Among the damaged structures are the well-known Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda, and Dhamma Yazaka, as well as the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung. “Detailed assessment takes time,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of Bagan’s Archaeological Department. “It will assist technical experts in planning restoration works for individual damaged temples more effectively.” So far, the team has evaluated about 30 temples. UNESCO has pledged to support the restoration of the damaged temples. For more, go to “The World's First Temple.”

Police Break Up Alleged Antiquities Smuggling Ring in Greece

PATRAS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that police in western Greece broke up an alleged antiquities smuggling ring after a 14-month investigation, arresting 26 people and recovering more than 2,000 artifacts and fake provenance documents. Most of the artifacts were ancient coins, but gold jewelry, bronze figurines, glassware, and stone and marble statues were also recovered. The oldest of the objects date to the sixth century B.C. The police department says that the artifacts were looted from archaeological sites across Greece and sold to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The investigators also found metal detectors, guns, counterfeit license plates, and currency such as euros, U.S. dollars, and Kuwaiti dinars. The suspects reportedly kept extensive records that will help authorities track down artifacts that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” said police spokesperson Haralambos Sfetsos. To read more about Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Viking Rune Stone Unearthed in Sweden

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—The Local, Sweden, reports that a Viking-era rune stone has been found near the site of Hagby Church, where it had been part of a threshold leading to the church’s porch in the medieval period. The stone, which measures about six feet by four feet, was thought to have been lost when the church was torn down in the 1830s. One piece is missing from the otherwise well-preserved stone. Archaeologist Emelie Sunding of the Uppland Museum said the runestone resembles other signed stones carved by a runemaster named Fot in the mid-eleventh century. “This one isn’t signed, but we can tell from the style and the ornaments that this is Fot,” Sunding said. To read more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

Wednesday, October 05

1,600-Year-Old Roasting Pit Removed from Buffalo Jump Site

EDMONTON, CANADA—The Pincher Creek Echo reports that after a month of work, an intact roasting pit was removed from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Archaeologist Bob Dawe of the Royal Alberta Museum found the pit in 1990. “For some reason the people never came back to open this object,” he said. “They prepared this delicious meal, but they never came back and ate it.” The roasting pit was first blessed, and then encased in layers of plaster, burlap, and foil to prepare it for removal with a crane. The kitchen-table sized artifact will be carefully opened and excavated “with toothpicks and a small vacuum cleaner” in a laboratory at the Royal Alberta Museum, where it will eventually be displayed. To read in-depth about buffalo jumps, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

English 19th-Century Utopia Under Excavation

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that a team led by Marcus Brittain of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is excavating Manea Fen, the site of a nineteenth-century utopian experiment. The community, established in 1838 by businessman William Hodson, was built around a central square, had terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, a communal kitchen, a school, and a grand tower. The utopia project lasted three and one-half years, and was home to 150 people at its height. So far, the research team has uncovered garbage pits and wood and brick foundations of some of the buildings. “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design,” Brittain said. To read about a cross-shaped pectoral discovered in the same area, go to “Artifact.”

Researchers Present 3-D Reconstruction of Pompeii House

LUND, SWEDEN—According to a report in Science Alert, a team led by archaeologist Anne-Marie Leander Touati of Lund University has virtually reconstructed the home of Caecilius Iucundus, a wealthy banker who lived at the intersection of two of Pompeii’s main streets. Using handheld laser scanners and a drone, the team recorded the entire city block, including two additional estates, a tavern, a laundry, a bakery, and several gardens, one of which had a fountain that was working at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The reconstruction of Caecilius Iucundus’s home includes details collected at the site, and scholarly interpretations of what the building might have looked like 2,000 years ago. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Scientists Analyze Salts in the Soil at Chaco Canyon

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Laboratory Equipment reports that an interdisciplinary team of University of Cincinnati researchers evaluated 1,000-year-old sediments and water collection techniques at the Ancestral Puebloan site of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It had been thought that the soil in the region was polluted with chloride salts through the irrigation practices of the Ancestral Puebloans, making it impossible for them to continue to cultivate maize, their staple crop. This food shortage was thought to have contributed to the decline of Chaco Canyon in the thirteenth century. But the 1,000-year-old soil samples contained salt compounds and volcanic minerals that increased the soil’s fertility, according to anthropologist and geologist Kenneth Barnett Tankersley. The new study also indicates that the Puebloans farmed with mineral-enriched water captured from snowmelt off the mountains that surrounded the settlement, and from small canyons during the rainy season. Pottery stacked in thick-walled rooms in the Puebloan great houses suggests that water was also collected from ponds and puddles and stored for periods of drought. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Tuesday, October 04

Man Buried Face Down May Have Been a 17th-C. Merchant

THE CANTON OF BERN, SWITZERLAND—Discovery News reports that Swiss researchers have investigated an unusual burial discovered among more than 300 graves dating between the eighth and seventeenth centuries A.D. The man had been buried face down with a knife and a leather purse containing coins under his chest. The coins had corroded together, but X-ray computed tomography revealed a collection of 24 coins, almost entirely of low value. “The astonishing fact about these coins is that they belong to three different coin circulation areas, the Fribourg-Bern-Solothurn, Basel-Freiburg in Breisgau, and Luzern-Schwyz regions,” explained Christian Weiss of the Archaeological Services of Canton Bern. Weiss said there was also one worn silver coin from France of higher value. He thinks the man may have been a traveling merchant who moved through these areas. The latest coin indicates that the man was buried sometime after 1629. “It is likely they buried the man intentionally facing downward,” Weiss said. He added that there is no way to tell why they did so—perhaps as a way to humiliate him, prevent his return, or direct him toward hell. For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

2,200-Year-Old Rental Agreement Unearthed in Turkey

IZMIR, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a 2,200-year-old inscription discovered near the temple of Dionysus in the ancient city of Teos is a detailed rental agreement. Mustafa Adak of Akdeniz University said that the agreement, written on a stela measuring five feet long, describes a group of gymnasium students who inherited land, buildings, slaves, and an altar, and then rented them at an auction. “A guarantor was needed for the agreement,” Adak said. “The names of the renter and his father were written in the agreement. Six witnesses were also necessary for this agreement to be valid, three of whom were the top administrators in the city.” Adak explained that the students, called Neos, wanted to retain use of the land for three days each year, and inspect it annually. About half of the document describes punishments for the renter in case the land was damaged or the rent was not paid. Adak also noted that two legal terms in the inscription are not well understood. “Ancient writers and legal documents should be examined in order to understand [what] these words mean,” he said. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “The World's First Temple.”

New Thoughts on the Tomb of a Bronze Age Warrior

CINCINNATI, OHIO—The New York Times reports that Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker of the University of Cincinnati think that the artifacts uncovered last year in the 3,500-year-old grave of the “Griffin Warrior” were symbols of his power as a ruler of the town of Pylos, located on the southwestern coast of Greece. It had been suggested that the more than 2,000 artifacts associated with the burial, including four solid gold engraved rings, silver cups, beads of precious stones, a bronze mirror, ivory combs, weapons, pottery, and an ivory plaque engraved with a griffin, were plundered from the Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete. Davis and Stocker now say that the objects in the grave reflect the Minoan-style images engraved on the gold rings, and imply that elites living on mainland Greece understood Minoan culture and used it to establish power. “Whoever they are, they are the people introducing Minoan ways to the mainland and forging Mycenaean culture,” Davis said. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”