Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 27

Scholars Examine Ancient Egyptian Temple at Gebelein

WARSAW, POLAND—Researchers from the University of Warsaw are studying the ancient temple at Gebelein in Upper Egypt, and they are employing new technology that will help to bring its damaged and faded decorations and inscriptions to life. The temple was dedicated to Hathor, and perhaps Amun-Ra, and it was constructed and first decorated during the reign of Hatshepsut, in the fifteenth century B.C. (Fragments of preserved inscriptions contain feminine word endings for the queen’s name.) “Perhaps, many years after her death, due to a complicated dynastic situation, Tuthmosis III was afraid that another ambitious queen might take over and push his own son away from power? This could lead to his decision to remove references to Hatshepsut as pharaoh, according to the principle—if it is not engraved in hieroglyphics, it never happened. But this is one of many theories. Why he wanted to erase her name is still a mystery,” expedition director Wojciech Ejsmond told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also plans to remove the debris from the floor of the temple and look for artifacts from the period. To read about another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Study Suggests Hunters Killed Off New World’s Large Mammals

LARAMIE, WYOMING—A team of scientists from the University of Wyoming compiled radiocarbon dates from the fossils of now-extinct animals from North and South America, and looked at how those dates correspond to the evidence of human colonization of the New World. They found that, as geoscientist Paul Martin predicted in 1973, the decline and extinction of mammoths, mastodons, camels, horses, and ground sloths can be used to map the spread of the migrating humans who hunted them for food. Large mammals began to disappear from Alaska and the areas near the Bering Strait between 13,300 and 15,000 years ago; from the contiguous United States between 12,900 and 13,200 years ago; and from South America between 12,600 and 13,900 years ago. “The north to south time-transgressive pattern is striking, and, barring significant new data, it would be difficult to reconcile this pattern with the extinction hypotheses that invoke a single climatic, ecological or catastrophic extinction mechanism across the entirety of the Americas,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported in a press release. For more, go to "New Dates Link Humans to Australia's Megafauna Extinctions."

Mitochondrial DNA Recovered From Alaska’s Ancient Infants

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—Archaeologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and geneticists Dennis O’Rourke and Justin Tackney of the University of Utah have analyzed mitochondrial DNA recovered from the remains of two infants found at the Upward Sun River site in Interior Alaska. The cremated remains of a three-year-old child were also recovered at the site, but they did not yield any genetic material. “These infants are the earliest human remains in northern North America and they carry distinctly Native American lineages. These genetic variations had not previously been known to have existed this far north and speak to the early genetic diversity of the time,” O’Rourke said in a press release. O’Rourke adds that “there had to be a period of isolation for these distinctive Native American lineages to have evolved away from their Asian ancestors. We believe that was in Beringia.” Human remains older than 8,000 years have been found at only eight sites in North America, and all five major Native American lineages have been found in them. “That indicates they were present in the early population in Beringia that gave rise to all modern Native Americans,” Tackney explained. To read more, go to "America, in the Beginning." 

Bronze Age Warrior’s Tomb Discovered in Pylos, Greece

CINCINNATI, OHIO—The tomb of a wealthy warrior who had been buried with more than 1,400 artifacts, including jewels and beads made from precious stones, ivory objects, weapons, armor, and vessels made from precious metals has been discovered in southwestern Greece by a team of archaeologists led by researchers from the University of Cincinnati. Many of the objects are in the Minoan style and may have been brought from Crete. The tomb dates to 1500 B.C. and was originally thought to be the corner of a house located in the area of the Palace of Nestor, but the excavators soon realized that they had found an undisturbed grave shaft. “This latest find is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer’s Iliad. Nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus. This find may be even more important because the warrior predates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years. That means he was likely an important figure at a time when this part of Greece was being indelibly shaped by close contact with Crete, Europe’s first advanced civilization,” team co-leader Sharon Stocker said in the University of Cincinnati Magazine. To read more about the period, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

Monday, October 26

Physician Offers Diagnoses of Oliver Cromwell

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—At this year’s meeting of the Historical Clinicopathological Conference, Dr. Sanjay Saint of the University of Michigan attempted to diagnose the illness that killed Oliver Cromwell, the controversial Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in 1658. According to Live Science, Cromwell’s symptoms included sharp bowel and back pains, insomnia, cold and hot fits, sore throat, cough, confusion, diarrhea, and vomiting. “I think that Oliver Cromwell had two diseases. I think that he had malaria, and I think that on top of that, he had typhoid fever, which ended up killing him,” said Saint. Typhoid fever, a common ailment in the seventeenth century, is transmitted through fecal matter contaminated with Salmonella typhi. Saint reviewed the records made by the examiners who embalmed Cromwell after his death. They noted his overheated brain, engorged lungs, and deposits of oil in his spleen. Saint thinks these symptoms are consistent with typhoid fever. “It makes it more challenging to understand why someone died when you cannot examine them or ask questions or perform any tests on them,” he explained. To read about the study of medieval English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

New Project Will Scan Egypt’s Pyramids

CAIRO, EGYPT—Mamdouh Eldamaty, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, announced that researchers from Cairo University, Université Laval, and Nagoya University will use radiographic muons, infrared thermography, and photogrammetry to conduct a non-invasive survey of Egypt’s pyramids. “Their goal is to probe Egypt’s largest pyramids, without touching them or drilling the slightest opening,” Eldamaty told Ahram Online. The first phase of the Scan Pyramids Project will focus on the Bent and Red pyramids at the Dahshur necropolis, and Khufu and Khafre’s pyramids on the Giza plateau. “With this mission we, perhaps, will not be able to resolve the mystery of the pyramids, but we are making progress, testing new processes, and without a doubt we will have a better understanding of what these pyramids hide within their massive walls,” explained Hany Helal, head of the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University. The technology will also be applied to the search for the possible burial of Queen Nefertiti in a hidden chamber in King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, as proposed by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves. To read about a theory concerning the construction of the pyramids, go to "How to Build a Pyramid."

Neolithic Farmers in Britain Crossed Domestic Cattle with Aurochs

DUBLIN, IRELAND—David MacHugh of University College Dublin and a team of scientists extracted nuclear DNA from the 6,750-year-old bone of a wild aurochs discovered in a cave in Derbyshire, England. They then compared the genome to the genomes of domesticated B. taurus and B. indicus cattle, two major groups of cattle known to have descended from the aurochs, and DNA marker information from more than 1,200 modern cows. “Our results show the ancestors of modern British and Irish breeds share more genetic similarities with this ancient specimen than other European cattle. This suggests that early British farmers may have restocked their domesticated herds with wild aurochs,” MacHugh told The genes also showed early farmers selected for behavioral and meat traits. To read in-depth about the Neolithic in Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart." 

The Evolution of the Human Fist

  SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—David Carrier and his colleagues and the University of Utah think the human hand evolved not only for improved manual dexterity, but as a club for fighting over females. He argues that the heavy faces and flat noses of early human ancestors evolved to resist punching, and that as humans became less violent, facial features became more delicate and noses more prominent. To test this idea, the researchers controlled the muscles in the hands of eight male cadaver arms with fishing line attached to the tendons of the forearm muscles and inserted guitar-tuner knobs to regulate the tension on the lines. Gauges measured stress on the metacarpals during punches and slaps on padded-dumbbell targets created with a pendulum-like device. “Our results suggest that humans can safely strike with 55 percent more force with a fully buttressed fist than with an unbuttressed fist, and with twofold more force with a buttressed fist than with an open hand slap,” Carrier said in a press release. “The idea that aggressive behavior played a role in the evolution of the human hand is controversial. Many skeptics suggest that the human fist is simply a coincidence of natural selection for improved manual dexterity.” To read more about Carrier's work, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Friday, October 23

Intact Pipe Factory Discovered in England

BATH, ENGLAND—The remains of a factory that produced clay pipes between 1780 and 1860 have been uncovered at the site of a casino, hotel, and restaurant complex in Bath. “It’s very rare to find a clay pipe kiln in this condition. Most were destroyed or demolished when they went out of business,” archaeologist Simon Sworn of Cotswold Archaeology told The Bath Chronicle. His team knew from historic maps of the area that a playground had been built over the factory, but they did not expect it to be so well preserved. “It’s very exciting to look at some of the history of Bath that is not Roman. It’s an industry that not a great deal is known about,” he added. The two five-and-a-half foot kilns will be preserved, and archaeologists will research the initials inscribed on the dozens of tobacco pipes that have been recovered to try to identify the factory workers. To read more about historical archaeology in England, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

Totem Pole in Hawaii Returned to Alaska

HONOLULU, HAWAII—With the assistance of Steve Langdon of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, the Honolulu Museum of Art has repatriated a totem pole to Tlingit tribal members from the village of Klawock, whose ancestors lived in the village of Tuxecan on Prince William Island, Alaska. In 1931, actor John Barrymore was traveling by yacht along the Alaska coast when he spotted the totem pole in the unoccupied village and had it removed and taken to his California estate. After his death, the totem pole was moved to the yard of actor Vincent Price, who donated it to the museum in 1981. Langdon saw a picture of Price with the pole, which was originally 40 feet tall and would have held human remains, in a museum exhibit in Alaska and contacted tribal leaders and the museum to begin the repatriation process through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Seven Tlingit tribal members traveled to Honolulu to reclaim the pole, but what happened to the human remains that had been in it is unknown. “I take some comfort in the fact that we’ve taken good care of it,” museum curator Stephan Jost told the Associated Press. To read about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

Healing Temple Excavated in Greece

CORINTHIA, GREECE—The Greek Culture Ministry announced that archaeologists have completed a first season of excavation of the asclepion, or healing temple dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine, at the site of Feneos. According to a report in the International Business Times, they found that the earliest part of the sanctuary dates to the fourth century B.C. It was reconstructed in the second century B.C., and at that time, the main hall was enlarged and decorated with larger-than-life figures of Asclepius his daughter Hygeia. The seated Asclepius and standing Hygeia had been placed on an inscribed pedestal. This room had a mosaic floor decorated with geometric shapes, meanders, and interlaced ribbons. A podium and a marble offering table were found in a second room, but the use of a third room is unclear. A ramp from a courtyard that was decorated and plastered with colorful mortar and lion-head gutters led to the sanctuary’s entrance. The sanctuary was probably destroyed in the first century A.D. by an earthquake. It was later rebuilt and used for imperial worship. To read more about Greek tombs, go to "Rediscovering Paestum."

Aboriginal Women May Have Hunted With Dingoes

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Dingoes are thought to have arrived in Australia with people traveling by boat from Southeast Asia some 4,000 years ago. Anthropological observations suggest that Aboriginal men did not usually take dingoes hunting because they tended to scare away large animals. Archaeologist Jane Balme of the University of Western Australia and archaeologist Sue O’Connor of Australia National University reviewed evidence from archaeological sites, including Tunnel Cave in south West Australia, and found that Aboriginals started to eat a wider variety of small animals after dingoes arrived in Australia. “We thought that maybe this change in fauna is the result of using dingoes as hunting dogs for small animals that are traditionally caught by women,” Balme told Science Network, Western Australia. To see a video about aboriginal rock art, go to "The Rock Art of Djulirri."