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From the Trenches

A Final Journey by Horse

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thracian-Sveshtari-horse-burialThe Thracians could not have imagined life without horses—they even took their horses and chariots into the afterlife, to carry their souls to heaven. While many chariot burials have been found in Bulgaria, a recently discovered tomb from the site of Sveshtari is a rare example in which the horses were found standing upright, positioned with their heads resting on stone “cushions,” almost to appear as if they were still moving or standing, says archaeologist Diana Gergova of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The burial dates to the end of the fourth century B.C. and likely belonged to a member of the Getae, one of the most powerful Thracian tribes.

Mississippian Burning

By ERIC A. POWELL

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trenches14-1One day around A.D. 1200, a spectacular fire raged at a walled village five miles from the ancient town of Cahokia. Before long, some 100 wooden buildings were burned to the ground. Known today as the East St. Louis site, it was probably ritually important to the Mississippian farming people who lived in and around Cahokia. “My sense is this wasn’t an ordinary community,” says University of Illinois archaeologist Timothy Pauketat. “They were not just average farmers, but special people with special buildings.” Pauketat says it is likely the fire was not an accident or an act of warfare, but a ritual commemoration, perhaps deliberately lit after the death of an important leader and intended to mark the end of the era. “It looks staged. Inside the burned buildings there were found token numbers of artifacts, the same baskets of corn and ritual items that you might find in a temple,” says Pauketat. After the fire, nothing was rebuilt at the site, and large formal architecture that carried important ritual meaning disappeared from the Cahokia area.

The Well-Dressed Dead

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Friday, December 06, 2013

Trenches12-3A well-preserved mummy identified as a government official from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)—China’s last imperial dynasty before the creation of the Republic of China—has been unearthed from a construction site in Xiangcheng City in central China’s Henan Province. Though the Chinese did not deliberately preserve their dead as the ancient Egyptians did, environmental conditions have naturally preserved many centuries- and even millennia-old bodies there in remarkable condition, often with clothing, footwear, hair, and even skin intact.

Lego Supports Slumping Mummy

By KATHERINE SHARPE

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trenches-Hor-Mummy-Lego-Supports

 

After 3,000 years, the case that had held the mummy of Hor, a vizier’s son who died in tenth-century B.C. Thebes, was in a slump. It had succumbed to years of storage in moist conditions in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, and was sagging badly at the chest and neck.

 

Trenches-Hor-Mummy-Lego-SystemThe casing is made of cartonnage, a rigid, millimeters-thick material made from layers of plaster and linen. To restore Hor’s shape, museum conservator Sophie Rowe teamed up with Dan Knowles, a 22-year-old Cambridge master’s student in engineering. Knowles constructed a special frame to suspend Hor facedown, and Rowe used an existing hole in its back to introduce moisture. After three weeks, Hor’s chest had re-expanded. Then the cartonnage needed to be held up from the inside.

 

“We considered inflatable systems and struts radiating from a central pole,” Rowe explained. Then Knowles came up with the idea of using Lego bricks. He fashioned supports that include a threaded screw system from a commercially available Lego set, adding archival foam where the toy bricks touch the ancient cartonnage.

 

The Lego supports are “an elegant solution,” says Rowe, noting that the hole in Hor’s back is small, so having a system that can be adjusted by feel is a plus. Hor is now on permanent display for museum visitors.

Tracking the Ancient Apache

By ERIC A. POWELL

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trenches-Apache-Storage-PlatformsAccording to conventional wisdom, the ancestors of today’s Apache tribes migrated to the American Southwest sometime after the Spanish initially explored the area in the sixteenth century. But now archaeologist Deni J. Seymour of the Jornada Research Institute has dated previously overlooked storage platforms left by these nomadic people in rock shelters, and found that the people first arrived in the Southwest at least 200 years earlier than originally thought. Consisting of bases made of branches, surrounded by rocks and packed with grass or yucca leaves, these platforms were probably for long-term storage of hides filled with meat and nuts. The early dates of many of the platforms suggest that the people who became the Apache appeared in the region at the same time that communities of settled Pueblo farmers were wracked by violence. “Instead of thinking about the Southwest as a world of sedentary farmers, we should think about these Pueblo communities existing in a sea of nomadic peoples,” says Seymour.

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