Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 12

Oldest Tea Discovered in China

BEIJING, CHINA—The world’s oldest known tea has been discovered to have been buried along with Jing Di, a Han Dynasty Chinese emperor who died in 141 B.C., according to The Independent. The find suggests that tea was a favored beverage among Chinese royalty at least 2,150 years ago. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences looked at crystals on the surface of leaves found in a wooden box buried with the emperor and used mass spectrometry to establish that they were indeed tea. Millet and rice as well as weapons, pottery figurines, ceramic animals, and several full-sized chariots were also buried with the emperor in his capital, Chang’an, which is known today as Xi’an. The site was excavated in the 1990s, but analysis of the organic finds is only being undertaken now. To read about a find in China dating back 80,000 years, go to “An Opportunity for Early Humans in China.”

Cambodia’s Other Great Capital

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—After Angkor was sacked in 1431 by the Siamese, the city of Longvek became Cambodia’s capital for 200 years. That period is traditionally thought of as a “dark age,” but recent excavations at the site are dispelling that notion, reports the Phnom Penh Post. Archaeologists digging at the city’s palace have found porcelain from China and Japan, and have also discovered sturdy earthen fortifications and a bronze workshop. The findings suggest the city, which lies on the Mekong River with access to the sea, was likely an important trading center. “Archaeologists, historians, tourists and the general public—everyone tends to focus on Angkor’s golden age, and when you go to Angkor you can see the reason why,” says Flinders University archaeologist Martin Polkinghorne, a member of the international team. “But of course Cambodian history continued and was intimately tied to international trade.” For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape.”

Nubian Artifacts Discovered in Temple Remains

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists have discovered a ritual altar, a sacred boat base, and a hieroglyphic inscription at Abu Erteila in Sudan, according to a report by the Italian news agency AGI. The discoveries were made during excavations in November and December 2015 by a team led by Eugenio Fantusati of Sapienza University of Rome and Eleonora Kormysheva of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The artifacts were found in the remains of a temple that was probably destroyed by fire and are thought to date to between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D., the “Golden Age” of Meroitic Nubian civilization. The cartouches of King Natakamani and Queen Amanitore, who ruled during this period, have been identified in the hieroglyphics. The base of the sacred boat would at times have been used to carry the representation of a Nubian deity on ritual processions. "The artifact is extremely important for a better understanding of the Meroitic world—which is still quite unknown—and its relations with the nearby Egyptian civilization," Fantusati told AGI. To read about another Nubian temple, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

Bronze Age Village Unearthed in England

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have unearthed the best-preserved Bronze Age village ever discovered in England, according to a University of Cambridge press release. Built on stilts above a river beginning around 1200 B.C., the village was destroyed in a fire some 3,000 years ago. The blaze caused the settlement's wooden dwellings to collapse into the river, where sediments preserved the remains of the houses and artifacts in situ. Thus far the team has discovered ceramic vessels with food still inside, as well as an elaborate glass bead necklace, and even textiles made from plant fibers. “Usually at a Later Bronze Age period site you get pits, post-holes and maybe one or two really exciting metal finds,” says David Gibson, archaeological manager at Cambridge Archaeological Unit. “Convincing people that such places were once thriving settlements takes some imagination. But this time so much more has been preserved—we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round.” To read about other prehistoric settlements in Britain, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Monday, January 11

Chinese Tomb Yields Prosthetic Leg

TURPAN, CHINA—Live Science reports that a 2,200-year-old prosthetic leg was discovered in a tomb located near the Silk Road in western China. Archaeologists described the leg in the journal Chinese Archaeology as “made of poplar wood; it has seven holes along the two sides with leather tapes for attaching it to the deformed leg. The lower part of the prosthetic leg is rendered into a cylindrical shape, wrapped with a scrapped ox horn and tipped with a horse hoof, which is meant to augment its adhesion and abrasion.” The man who wore the leg was between 50 and 65 years old at the time of death. Wear at the top of the device suggests that it had been used for a long time. Studies of man’s remains, published in Bridging Eurasia and Quaternary International, show that the bones of his left knee had fused together, perhaps due to inflammation in the joint caused by rheumatism or trauma. He had also been buried with ceramic cups and a jar and wooden artifacts. To read about an artificial toe from ancient Egypt, go to "Artifact."

1,500-Year-Old Amputation Wound Studied

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder of the Austrian Archaeological Institute examined the bones of a middle-aged man who died in the sixth century A.D. He had been buried in a high-ranking area close to a church with a short sword, a brooch, and a prosthetic device for his missing left foot and ankle. The wood of the device had deteriorated, but excavators recovered an iron ring that stabilized the device. The leg bones are also stained, perhaps indicating the man had been buried with leather pieces that attached the prosthesis to his leg. “Losing a foot—and especially when it’s not cut through the joint but through the bone—would have lacerated a lot of blood vessels and caused an extensive amount of bleeding,” Binder told Atlas Obscura. This injury, however, had healed, and left no sawing marks. There was a difference in the bone density of the man’s legs, suggesting that his left leg had been immobilized for some time. Binder adds that wear on his hips and knees suggest that he rode horses often, so perhaps his left foot had to be amputated after a riding accident. To read about the remains of a Roman town in Austria, go to "Off the Grid."

New Labor-Saving Software Developed for Archaeologists

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—New software has been developed by PRESIOUS, a project funded by the European Union, to help archaeologists work economically and efficiently. “We set out to address some of the challenges that archaeologists face in their everyday work,” project coordinator Theoharis Theoharis of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said in a press release from the European Commission Community Research and Development Information Service. The first tool simulates how a stone object will erode under certain conditions. The second allows archaeologists to find possible fits for fragmented objects. The third uses symmetry to predict how artifacts with missing pieces might have looked. “But in order to develop these technologies, we had to address a key bottleneck—the expense and labor-intensive nature of digitization,” Theoharis said. “We found that it took a trained operator two and a half hours to scan just one fragment. So the fourth thing we did was speed up the digitization process with our industrial partner.” The tools will be made available without cost to archaeologists this month. To read more about the role of technological tools in archaeology, go to "Peeping through the Leaves."

Medieval Fish Trap Discovered in Poland

TORUŃ, POLAND—Underwater archaeologist Krzysztof Radka of Nicolaus Copernicus University and his team were surveying the remains of one of two medieval bridges leading to the Ostrów Lednicki, an island in Lake Lednica, when they discovered a large, wicker fish trap. The oblong trap, found in the remains of the bridge to the east of the island, contained the remains of more than 4,000 fish. “Exploration required extreme caution because the wicker basket could disintegrate with every movement of water. [The] extraction operation was complicated because of the size, state of preservation, and delicacy of the object, but it seems that it was successful,” Radka told Science & Scholarship in Poland. “It is the only relic of the ninth-tenth century found during underwater research in Poland,” he explained. The bridges were destroyed in 1038 when Czech prince Bretislav invaded and captured the city of Poznań, on the western side of Lake Lednica, and sacked the city of Gniezno, on the eastern side. To read about the medieval fish trade in London, go to "Off With Their Heads."

Friday, January 08

5th Dynasty Tomb Discovered in Egypt

ABUSIR, EGYPT—Miroslav Barta of the Czech Institute of Egyptology and his team have discovered the Old Kingdom tomb of a previously unknown queen named Khentkaus III in a small cemetery to the southeast of King Neferefre’s pyramid complex. She had been buried with four copper tools and 23 limestone vessels. Inscriptions in the tomb list the queen’s titles as “Wife of the King” and “Mother of the King.” Barta thinks she may have been the wife of King Neferefre. “If we can assume that the queen was buried during the time of King Nyuserre (2445 B.C.-2421 B.C.), based on a seal that bears his name that was found on the tomb, we could say that Khentkaus III is the mother of King Menkauhore who was the successor of Nyuserre,” team member Jaromir Krejci told The Luxor Times. To read more about Egyptological discoveries, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Roman Sanitation Practices May Have Spread Parasites

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeological evidence suggests that Europeans conquered by the Roman Empire experienced a gradual increase in intestinal parasites and ectoparasites, such as lice and fleas, in spite of Roman sanitation technologies. “Modern research has shown that toilets, clean drinking water and removing feces from the streets all decrease risk of infectious disease and parasites. So we might expect the prevalence of fecal oral parasites such as whipworm and roundworm to drop in Roman times—yet we find a gradual increase. The question is why?” Piers Mitchell of Cambridge University asked in a press release. He thinks that the warm communal waters of the bathhouses, which may have been changed infrequently, could have contributed to the spread of parasitic worms. The Romans also used human excrement from the public latrines as a crop fertilizer. And the widespread use of garum, a condiment made from uncooked, fermented fish parts, may have contributed to the increase of fish tapeworm eggs during the Roman period. “It seems likely that while Roman sanitation may not have made people any healthier, they would probably have smelt better,” Mitchell said. To read about the Roman Empire's rise to power, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Scientists Recommend Naming New Geological Epoch

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—An international group of scientists known as the Anthropocene Working Group argues the Earth entered a new geological epoch characterized by the spread of novel materials in the mid-twentieth century. These materials are measurable in geological strata and are different from the signals of the Holocene Epoch of the last 11,700 years. During the Holocene, humans gradually built urban settlements and increased food production while using water, mineral, and energy resources. The proposed Anthropocene Epoch, however, is marked by increased consumption and rapid environmental change brought on by a population surge. “Humans have long affected the environment, but recently there has been a rapid global spread of novel materials including aluminum, concrete, and plastics, which are leaving their mark in sediments. Fossil-fuel combustion has dispersed fly ash particles worldwide, pretty well coincident with the peak distribution of the ‘bomb spike’ of radionuclides generated by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons,” Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey said in a University of Leicester press release. The Anthropocene Working Group will continue to gather evidence to define and characterize this proposed new epoch. To read about the archaeology of the Nuclear Age, go to "Dawn of a Thousand Suns."