search
Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

archaeology
subscribe
Special Introductory Offer!

From The Trenches

Taking a Dive

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, June 09, 2014

Hellenistic-Wrestlers-ContractProof that ancient wrestling wasn’t always on the level has been found among 500,000 fragments of papyri discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, more than a century ago. One fragment, recently scrutinized by historian Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London, concerns a wrestling match between two teenagers, Nicantinous and Demetrius, in A.D. 267. The contract, agreed upon by Nicantinous’ father and Demetrius’ trainers, stipulates that Demetrius must “fall three times and yield.” For his intentional submission, the loser would be paid 3,800 drachmas. Although match fixing is alluded to by some ancient Greek writers, according to Rathbone, “This is the first known papyrological evidence for bribery in an athletic competition.” The agreement also specifies that should the boy renege on the deal, Demetrius’ party would owe a penalty equal to 18,000 drachmas.

Childhood Rediscovered

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, June 09, 2014

Rhode-Island-Toys 

Thousands of artifacts lie buried just out of students’ sight at Rhode Island College (RIC) in Providence. Researchers from the Rhode Island State Home and School Project have been piecing together the story of the previous, and less fortunate, young people who inhabited the grounds on which the campus stands. Between 1885 and 1979, more than 10,000 dependent and neglected children left their lasting imprint on the landscape as residents of the state’s first public orphanage, still partially visible on the campus’ eastern end. According to RIC anthropologist E. Pierre Morenon, “The Progressive Era women who lobbied for the creation of this place viewed it as a temporary home, or an alternative to the almshouses, poor farms, and asylums of the late 1800s.” The project has spent much of the past decade documenting, preserving, and honoring the childrens’ experiences. Toys were the most common artifacts uncovered, among them marbles, jacks, toy trucks, soldiers, and roller skates. The objects are a sign that, despite their unfortunate circumstances, this young population might still have been able to experience childhood.

Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Monday, June 09, 2014

Egypt-Canaan-Coffin-FaceConstruction of a natural gas pipeline near Tel Shadud, Israel, led to the discovery of a rare 3,300-year-old clay coffin surrounded by pots, bronze artifacts, and animal bones. The finds suggest Egyptian burial rites: The coffin’s sculpted lid is Egyptian in style, the vessels would have held offerings for the gods, and a gold scarab ring in the coffin bears the name of the pharaoh Seti I, who conquered the region in the thirteenth century B.C. Perhaps the remains belonged to an Egyptian living in Canaan, but the pottery was locally produced. This raises the possibility that the interred was a Canaanite either employed by the Egyptian government or wealthy enough to want to emulate one of their burials. The ruling Egyptians exerted a strong influence over the Canaanite upper class at the time.

Neanderthal Epigenome

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, June 09, 2014

Neanderthal-Epigenome-DNAModern humans share some 99.7 percent of our DNA with Neanderthals. They are our closest evolutionary cousins, but the differences between us run deeper than that 0.3 percent. Much of what distinguishes the two groups is actually the result of how and when genes are expressed and regulated—essentially, turned on and off. Similar, or even identical, stretches of DNA can produce vastly different traits, such as longer limbs or smaller brains, depending on how and when certain genes are actively producing protein. The study of these processes is known as epigenetics.

 

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology sequenced Neanderthal DNA in 2010, and now researchers there and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are beginning to understand some of the epigenetic differences between humans and Neanderthals. “Studying this is of equal importance to studying the genetic differences,” says Liran Carmel of the Hebrew University.

 

By looking at the way that Neanderthal DNA chemically degraded over millennia in the ground, the researchers were able to reconstruct how certain molecules, called methyl groups, were attached to the DNA. Methyl groups can help determine how much of a particular protein a gene creates. The research showed that certain Neanderthal genes had different patterns of attached methyl groups, compared with corresponding portions of the modern human genome. As a result, strikingly similar stretches of DNA could produce two very different hominins.

 

For example, two genes involved in limb development have different patterns of methyl groups, which may be why we have longer arms and legs than Neanderthals did. Similar differences were observed in genes associated with brain development and susceptibility to certain diseases. Carmel believes that as more Neanderthal DNA is analyzed, we will begin to understand the evolutionary changes that created the modern human. “There is a huge potential,” he says. “Studying epigenetic characteristics could be of great importance for zooming in on the properties that have shaped what we are today.”

Ancient Oncology

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 09, 2014

Sudan-Ancient-CancerIn a tomb in northern Sudan, archaeologists have discovered the earliest complete skeleton of a human who suffered from metastatic cancer—cancer that has spread throughout the body. The skeleton, which belonged to a young man who died around 1200 B.C., was riddled with lesions caused by cancer of an unknown organ. A team led by Michaela Binder of Durham University analyzed the lesions using X-rays and digital and scanning electron microscopy, and ruled out alternative causes, such as fungal infection or postmortem changes.

 

Cancer has been thought to be a largely modern disease that results in part from longer life spans, exposure to pollutants and unhealthy food, and lack of physical activity. Also, few ancient skeletons bear evidence of cancer, but this may be because the victims died rapidly, before the disease could leave a mark on their bones. The new find adds to evidence that the disease existed, and may even have been common, in antiquity. The site, called Amara West, has been studied since 2008, with excavations in the ancient town and cemeteries. Researchers hope that an understanding of the surrounding community will offer a window into the causes of cancer in ancient populations.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement


Advertisement