Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 21

The Knight’s Tombstone Conserved in Jamestown

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that Preservation Virginia conservators are working with large-stone specialist Jonathan Appell to preserve the so-called Knight’s Tombstone, which has lain on the floor of the church at Historic Jamestowne for some 400 years. The stone is carved with an image of a knight and was once adorned with monumental brasses. Nearly half of the 1,200 pound stone is in one piece; the lower section has cracked into several large pieces. “Each of the pieces were light enough for one or two people to lift it onto the cart, except that last part took about five,” said field supervisor Mary Anna Hartley. The largest piece was propped against the church wall, and then lowered onto a wooden platform that had been built beneath it. The platform was then moved up a wooden ramp to a work station on a cart. The team is now carefully removing concrete applied to the stone in the early twentieth century. “It’s very hard to reverse,” Appell said. The pieces will eventually be reassembled with a softer, pigmented mortar. Researchers will try to identify the grave’s occupant. For more, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

Peru’s Logosyllabic Khipus Record 3-D Texts

FIFE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Courier, Sabine Hyland of the University of St. Andrews has deciphered two lineage names from two eighteenth-century logosyllabic khipus found in the village of San Juan de Collata in the Peruvian Andes. Khipus, made by the Inca from cotton or fibers obtained from alpacas, llamas, or deer, were used to record and transport information. It was previously understood that the Incas used khipus to record numbers, but evidence that they were used to record narratives has only come to light recently, Hyland noted. Her analysis of the special khipus held at San Juan de Collata revealed 95 different symbols of a writing system in which each pendant cord represents a phonetic syllable. At the end of each khipu, three-cord sequences used colors, types of fibers, and the direction of the ply to represent lineage names, she explained, noting that it is often necessary to feel the cords in order to determine what sort of fiber the texts were made with. For more, go to “Reading an Inca Archive.”

New Thoughts on the Origin of “The Hobbits”

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that researchers led by Debbie Argue of Australian National University compared the bones of Homo floresiensis, also known as “The Hobbit,” to cranial, postcranial, mandibular, and dental samples of early hominids from several countries. It had been suggested that hobbits evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, which lived in the region, while isolated on the Indonesian island of Flores. But statistical analysis of the remains concluded that Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis had completely different bone structures. The new findings support the idea that the hobbits may have shared a common ancestor in Africa with Homo habilis. If this is the case, then perhaps Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and then migrated, or perhaps the common ancestor migrated and evolved elsewhere. “Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree,” explained Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum. “We can be ninety-nine percent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly one-hundred percent it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens.” For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Thursday, April 20

1,100-Year-Old Inscription Found in India

TAMIL NADU, INDIA—The Times of India reports that a 1,125-year-old inscription has been discovered on the floor of the Arunachaleswarar Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in India. This inscription is thought to be just a few years younger than one discovered in the nineteenth century. “The inscription strengthens the theory that the temple was renovated a few centuries ago,” said Raj Panneerselvam of the Tiruvannamalai Heritage Foundation. This is because inscriptions are usually found on the walls of the temple, placed in chronological order. “The inscription was dismantled and discarded due to poor renovation work,” he explained. The seven-line inscription mentions “Tiruvanna Naattu,” the name of the city at the time, and states that 20 gold coins had been given for the maintenance of a water body. The name of the donor has been lost. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

16th-Century English Garrison Walls Traced in Irish Town

PORTLAOISE, IRELAND—A survey of Portlaoise, the capital of County Laois, has identified English sixteenth-century garrison walls in many of the town’s buildings, according to a report in the Leinster Express. “It’s surprisingly intact,” said Laois Heritage Officer Catherine Casey. “Seventy-five percent of the walls are still there. They form the front of the vocational school, they run down the back of Main Street, as some backyard walls, and some are inside O’Loughlin’s Hotel.” A school sits on top of the original main garrison building. The team of researchers is laser scanning the garrison’s stone walls and taking high-resolution photographs of them in order to create a digital model for the new Portlaoise library. To read about a surprising discovery in Ireland, go to “Irish Roots.”

Ramesses II Colossus Restored to Luxor Temple

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a colossal black granite statue of King Ramesses II has been restored and re-erected at Luxor Temple’s first pylon. The statue, damaged in an earthquake in the fourth century A.D., was discovered in 57 pieces in 1958. “These blocks were removed and placed [in the interim period] in wooden shelters on the first pylon’s western side,” said Mostafa Waziri, head of Luxor Antiquities. The restored sculpture stands 36 feet tall, and shows Ramesses II wearing a double crown and standing with his left leg slightly forward. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Wednesday, April 19

Pemmican-Production Camp Found in the Northern Plains

TUCSON, ARIZONA—According to a report in Western Digs, a camp where pemmican was made by ancestors of the Blackfoot people some 500 years ago has been found at Kutoyis, a large bison-hunting site in north-central Montana. “A single bison may produce a few hundred pounds of meat, so a large kill site like Kutoyis would have produced thousands of pounds of meat at one time,” said researcher Brandi Bethke. Maria Nieves Zedeño of the University of Arizona explained the process of making pemmican, which involves drying the meat in strips, pounding it into tiny pieces with stones, and mixing it with animal fat rendered from boiled bones, in order to produce a calorie-dense product that lasts for years and is easy to transport. The team members used magnetometers to search the floodplain near the Kutoyis bison-kill site and found five potential fire pits. Subsequent excavation revealed three potential production areas, including a wide boiling pit, stone chopping tools, and fragments of bison bones at one spot, and fire-cracked rocks, stone tools, and cracked bison bones at a pit lined with sandstone at another. For more on Zedeño's research, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

Model Looms Discovered in 2,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

CHENGDU, CHINA—Live Science reports that miniature silk looms have been found in a 2,100-year-old tomb in southwestern China. “We are very sure that the loom models from Chengdu are the earliest pattern looms around the world,” said Feng Zhao, of Donghua University and the China National Silk Museum. Such machines are thought to have produced the Shu jin silks of the Han Dynasty, which were traded along the Silk Road routes across Eurasia. The tomb was probably looted in antiquity, but the four model looms, which measure about one-sixth the size of a regular loom, had been left in one of four small compartments beneath the tomb’s main chamber. The compartment also contained devices for warping, rewinding, and weft winding. Figurines of four male weavers and nine female weaving assistants were also found. Names had been written on the ten-inch-tall figurines, suggesting that they represented a team of real-life weavers. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

Neolithic Skeleton Unearthed in Malaysia

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—According to a report in the New Straits Times, a human skull, femur, and ribcage thought to be at least 5,000 years old were discovered during the construction of a museum at the Guar Kepah Neolithic site in northwestern Malaysia. The site is known for its shell middens, discovered in 1860, when more than 30 skeletons, now housed at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland, were also recovered. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng added that the state of Penang is working to have those Neolithic remains repatriated and placed in the new museum. Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science, Malaysia, expects to find additional bones at the site. To read more about Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”