Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 27

New Techniques for Finding Hidden Texts in Egyptian Coffins

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Wired reports that Mike Toth, an expert in imaging techniques, is working with archaeologists, physicists, and engineers to develop ways to find and read the texts written on the layers of ancient papyri in cartonnage, coffins made for middle-class Egyptians. In the past, researchers dismantled the ancient coffins and funerary masks, and washed the paint, plaster, and gesso off the papyri to look for rare texts in the layers. “Apart from destroying a mummy, washing away is a reckless way to deal with something where the littlest thing can be really interesting,” said Derin McLeod of the University of California, Berkeley's Tebtunis Center. Multi-spectral imaging, X-ray phase contrast, and fluorescence offer new ways to look for signs of ink, and possibly even read the texts. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”

Byzantine-Era Inn Found in Anatolia

ÇANAKKALE PROVINCE, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports than an inn dating to the Byzantine period has been unearthed behind the western gate of the ancient harbor city of Assos, known for its Temple of Athena and large theater overlooking the Aegean Sea. “The existence of this complex is mentioned in ancient sources but it has never been unearthed,” said Nurettin Arslan of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. “Ancient resources from the Byzantine era provide information about the inn but none of them defined this structure and its location.” The team will look for additional sections of the inn, which may include a bakery, kitchens, cisterns, guest rooms, and a chapel. The excavation conducted by Arslan’s team is part of a larger restoration project to make the site more visitor friendly. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Air Raid Shelter Found Under English Driveway

LUTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a man in eastern England was backing out of his driveway when his wheel got stuck in a hole that opened up in the paving stones. At first Simon Marks thought it was a sinkhole, but he could see parts of a ladder, so he used a camera and a selfie stick to get a better look. He found what could be an air raid shelter dating to World War II that had been filled in with dirt and garbage. At the time of the war, the land was an empty plot. “It was so well structured with the concrete roof and the walls, it was quite clear what it was going to be,” Marks said. If found to be structurally sound, the family plans to keep the shelter under the driveway. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

Wednesday, October 26

Geneticists Develop New Model for Ancient Human Relationships

VANCOUVER, CANADA—ABC News Australia reports that statistical geneticist Ryan Bohlender of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and his team developed a new computer model to evaluate the possible relationships among the ancestors of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The tool varied estimations of population size and dates for when the populations stopped interbreeding, and accounted for inconsistencies in previous studies of genomes of modern and archaic humans. The analysis suggests that interbreeding occurred both within and outside of Africa, that the early population in Africa was 50 percent larger than had been thought, and that modern humans diverged from the family tree some 440,000 years ago. The study also suggests that the different populations may have interbred less frequently than previously thought, and in similar numbers in Europe and in East Asia. (It had been suggested that interbreeding occurred more frequently in East Asia.) And, according to Bohlender, Melanesians may carry a small amount of DNA from an unidentified, extinct human species. Future computer simulations will add additional populations into the mix to see how they affect the results. For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Ritual Use of Cave Lions May Have Contributed to Their Extinction

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cosmos reports that human hunters may have contributed to the extinction of Panthera spelaea, the Eurasian cave lion, some 14,000 years ago. Marian Cueto of the Universidad de Cantabria and her team examined nine lion claws, or phalanxes, recovered in La Garma, a cave in northern Spain associated with human rituals during the Upper Paleolithic period. They found cut marks and signs of scraping on the bones similar to the ones made by modern hunters when they skin an animal in a way that keeps the claws attached to the pelt. The researchers add that the locations of the bones on the cave floor suggest that the pelt may have been used as a floor covering. For more on the relationship between ancient people and cats, go to “Baby Bobcat,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Ancient Beverage Brewed in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—NPR reports that archaeologist Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her research team worked with Lakefront Brewery to try to re-create an alcoholic beverage that had been placed in a bronze cauldron and buried in a grave sometime between 400 and 450 B.C. in what is now Germany. The recipe was based upon the research of paleobotanist Manfred Rösch, who analyzed the residues in the Iron Age cauldron. He found evidence of honey, meadowsweet, barley, and mint—ingredients in a type of beverage known as a braggot. The experimental mixture took seven hours to make. It was then left to ferment for two weeks, producing a smooth drink with an herbal, minty taste. “I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink,” commented Chris Ranson of Lakefront Brewery. To read about another find from the same time period, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Tuesday, October 25

What Motivated the Violent Burials of the Sonoran Desert?

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that James Watson and Danielle Phelps of the University of Arizona examined unusual burials dating to the beginning of the agricultural period in the Sonoran Desert, around 2100 B.C. When a body was buried on its side, with its arms crossed and knees bent, the person is thought to have been buried with the respect of the community. But sometimes, bodies were tumbled headfirst into graves, with bones broken and limbs splayed. Watson and Phelps suggest that as people moved into settled communities and attempted to establish control over farming territories, tensions between different groups may have turned into feuds lasting generations. These tensions may be reflected in the violent deaths and disrespectful burials. Watson speculates that desecrating the corpse of an enemy may have been a way to gain prestige, but it also could have increased the risk of retaliation. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Sixth-Century Swords Discovered in Japan

EBINO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two swords have been recovered from a sixth-century A.D. tomb on the island of Kyushu. One of the weapons, which has a wooden pommel, would have measured about 60 inches long and is said to be the longest sword ever found in an ancient tomb in Japan. The opening of its scabbard was covered with a valuable textile. The hilt of the other sword, which has a pommel decorated with silver, is covered with ray skin. It is said to be the oldest such item found in East Asia, and may have been made in the Paekche kingdom, on the Korean Peninsula. “The swords suggest there was a powerful person in southern Kyushu, who would have directly served someone in the upper rank close to the Yamato king, and would have gone overseas in charge of foreign politics,” said researcher Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum. The tomb has also yielded armor, horse harnesses, and human remains. To read about the discovery of another sword, go to “Viking Trading or Raiding?

Photogrammetric Models Made of Black Sea Shipwrecks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND— reports that the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project found more than 40 Byzantine and Ottoman shipwrecks during geophysical surveys of the Black Sea seabed along the Bulgarian coast. Many of the hulls, masts, tillers, and other features of the ships are well preserved, due to the low oxygen levels in the deep waters. Principal investigator and University of Southampton marine archaeologist Jon Adams and his team of researchers recorded information about the ships with laser scanners, and they took thousands of high-resolution photographs and videos of the shipwrecks with remotely operated vehicles. The images were then assembled with photogrammetry to build 3-D models of the shipwrecks. To read about another archaeological project involving photogrammetry, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”