Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 22

Researchers Study Sixth-Century Volcanoes with Climate Model

KIEL, GERMANY—Climate change in the sixth century A.D. may have contributed to the circumstances that brought on the Dark Ages, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. The lack of sunlight from a “mystery cloud” in A.D. 536 was recorded by historians in Rome and China, and the poor growing conditions in the Northern Hemisphere have also been noted in tree rings from the period. Matthew Toohey of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research and an international team of scientists developed climate model simulations to reconstruct the possible effects of two volcanoes in the mid-sixth century A.D., whose ash has been detected in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The team estimated the magnitude of the eruptions, their approximate locations, and the spread of sulfur and ash that may have lowered the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere up to two degrees Celsius. Where do they think the volcanoes erupted? “Several candidates are being discussed, including volcanoes in Central America, Indonesia, and North America. Future studies will be necessary to show the exact source of the aerosol clouds of 536/540,” Toohey said. To read about the excavation of a site dating to the early medieval period, go to "The Kings of Kent."

“Skeleton Mosaic” Unearthed in Turkey

HATAY, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a mosaic floor was uncovered in a dining room during construction work near the ancient city of Antioch, located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. The mosaic is divided into three scenes, one of which depicts a seated skeleton and a slogan, written in Greek. The skeleton, positioned on a field of black glass tiles, is shown with wine and bread and a drinking cup in hand. The other images are scenes about a young man’s visit to the baths and being late for dinner. “Two things are very important among the elite class in the Roman period in terms of social activities: The first is the bath and the second is dinner,” explained archaeologist Demet Kara of the Hatay Archaeology Museum. To read more about mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Alpine Cheesemaking May Date Back 3,000 Years

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND—Analysis of the residues on ancient pottery fragments from six archaeological sites in the Swiss Alps detected compounds produced when animal milk is heated, according to a report in Quartz. This suggests that herders were making cheeses at higher altitudes some 3,000 years ago. “Prehistoric herders would have had to have detailed knowledge of the location of alpine pastures, be able to cope with unpredictable weather and have the technological knowledge to transform milk into a nutritious and storable product,” said archaeologist Francesco Carrer of Newcastle University. Herders may have moved into the mountains as the population in the lowlands grew. To read about a recent archaeology discovery in Switzerland, go to "Switzerland Everlasting."

Thursday, April 21

Woman’s 4,500-Year-Old Burial Unearthed in Peru

LIMA, PERU—ANDINA News Service reports that archaeologist Ruth Shady and her team have unearthed the grave of a high-status woman at Aspero, an archaeological site located on the Peruvian coast, near the site of the large ancient city of Caral. The woman is estimated to have been 40 years old at the time of death, some 4,500 years ago. She had been buried with a pot containing traces of vegetables and seeds, a necklace made of shell beads, a pendant made from a Spondylus shell, and four tupus, or bone broaches featuring bird and monkey motifs. “The find shows evidence of gender equality, that is, both women and men were able to play leading roles and attain high social status more than 1,000 years ago,” Shady said. To read about another prehistoric site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

3-D Replicas of Ötzi the Iceman Made From CT Scans

BOLZANO, ITALY—The Local, Austria reports that three replicas of Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps 25 years ago, have been created with a 3-D printer using CT scans of the frozen remains. American artist Gary Staab then sculpted and hand-painted the resin replicas. “The reconstruction of the hands was a challenge, since they could not be captured on CT scans,” according to a statement from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where the Ötzi is housed. One of the replicas will be part of a travelling exhibition that will tour the United States. The other two will be used for educational purposes at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center in New York. To read about the world's oldest tattoos, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi, the Iceman." 

Wednesday, April 20

Message in a Bottle is More Than 100 Years Old

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Marine biologist George Parker Bidder threw some 1,000 bottles into the North Sea in batches more than 100 years ago as part of his research into the patterns of currents. Now, 108 years later, one of those bottles has washed up in Germany, where it was found by a retired postal worker. She and her husband removed the note from the bottle and followed its instructions to fill in the date and where it was found, and then put it in an envelope and mailed it back to the Marine Biological Association. The card promised a one-shilling reward. “We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay. We sent it to her with a letter saying thank you,” Guy Baker, communications officer for the Marine Biological Association, told The Guardian. Bidder’s bottles helped him to show that the deep sea current in the North Sea flowed from east to west. To read about the discovery of a WWII-era military courier pigeon, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War." 

2,000-Year-Old Royal Coffin Opened in China

NANCHANG, CHINA—According to China Daily, scientists have opened the 2,000-year-old coffin thought to belong to Liu He, the Marquis of Haihun, in a laboratory. They found another seal bearing the characters for his name, and “a large number of teeth” thought to belong to the deposed emperor. Characters for the name Liu He were also found on a seal, gold coins, and bamboo slips in the tomb, located in a royal cemetery. Yang Jun of the Archaeological Research Institute of Jiangxi Province said that testing of the remains could provide more information about his cause of death. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

New Thoughts on Maya Human Sacrifice

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—According to a report in Science News, many of the nearly 10,000 human bones, bone fragments, and teeth discovered in Belize’s Midnight Terror Cave are thought to be the remains of children. Bioarchaeologist Michael Prout of California State University, Northridge, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists that the ancient Maya may have considered cave areas near water to be sacred spaces, suggesting that the children might have been sacrificed to Chaac—a rain, water, and lighting god. Radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests that bodies were deposited in the cave over a 1,500-year period, beginning some 3,000 years ago. It had been thought that human sacrifices in the region were largely limited to adults, but another site of possible large-scale child-sacrifice by the Maya has been found in an underground cave at Chichén Itzá. “Taken together, however, finds at Chichén Itzá and Midnight Terror Cave suggest that about half of all Maya sacrificial victims were children,” Prout said. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Found at Boston Home of Malcolm X

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—An excavation at the one-time home of civil rights activist Malcolm X has yielded broken dishes, pieces of jewelry, toys, and a record from the 1940s that may have been thrown into the yard when the house was vandalized in the 1970s. Built in 1874, the house was occupied by an Irish immigrant family in the years before it was owned by Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s half-sister. She took teenaged Malcolm Little in after his father’s death and mother’s hospitalization. Bagley and his team had thought the site had been used as farmland before 1874, but eighteenth-century artifacts suggest that there may have been a house on or near the site during the colonial era. “We’ve come onto a whole layer, roughly two feet down and across the whole site, that’s absolutely filled with stuff from the period,” Boston city archaeologist Joseph Bagley said in an Associated Press report. The excavation will continue next month. To read more about urban archaeology on the East Coast, go to "Letter From Philadelphia: City Garden."