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Hollywood Exodus


Monday, December 15, 2014



If there’s one thing that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt had in common with legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, it was an eye for spectacle. Remains of the pharaohs’ grand ambitions have stood in the Egyptian desert for thousands of years. Now, some remains of DeMille’s vision have emerged from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes on the central California coast.


For the 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments (remade by DeMille himself in 1956 with both sound and Charlton Heston), DeMille had workers create a massive set in the dunes, including a 120-foot-tall gate flanked by four statues of Ramesses II and 21 sphinxes. Legend has it that the set was destroyed, but over the years archaeologists—amateur and professional—have uncovered remains from the production and hints that the hollow plaster sphinx statues still lie in situ.


Trenches-Ten-Commandments-ExcavationIn 2012, the head of one sphinx was excavated, and recently archaeologists from Allied Earthworks, working with the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, have excavated the crumbling, weather-beaten body of another. Using the original silent epic to guide their work, the excavators delicately exposed and stabilized the crumbling plaster, which will now be reconstructed for display. “If 1,000 years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe,” wrote DeMille in his 1959 autobiography, “I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the Valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America.”

Symbolic Neanderthals


Monday, December 15, 2014

Trenches-Neanderthal-HashtagAn artistic design made up of overlapping lines carved on a cave wall was discovered buried under sediment containing Neanderthal artifacts in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar. Paleolithic art expert Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux analyzed the engraving and reproduced the process of making it. His analysis shows that a stone tool was used, and that each line was carved precisely, indicating that it was made by an experienced artist. The design at Gorham’s Cave is the clearest evidence yet that Neanderthals made artwork, but whatever meaning it carried has been lost in time. “They had the cognitive ability to develop symbolic behavior,” says d’Errico, “but it was in a form which was different from what we see later on in history.”

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trenches-RichardIII-AnalysisThe skeleton of Richard III, discovered in 2012, is continuing an active afterlife as it makes its way from the ground beneath a parking lot to an elaborate new tomb in Leicester Cathedral. Recently published isotope analysis of two teeth, a femur, and a rib from the skeleton is revealing the diet of the much-maligned late-medieval monarch throughout his life. Results indicate that he likely moved during childhood and later enjoyed an aristocratic diet that grew notably richer (with fresh fish and wildfowl, including swans) upon his ascension to the throne. In particular, researchers from the British Geological Survey inferred from oxygen isotope data that, once he became king, Richard drank a truly prodigious quantity of imported wine—a quarter of his total fluid intake. As the course of his life is established, so too are the gruesome events of his death. It was clear upon his exhumation that he died a violent death, but detailed examination of his remains shows just how violent. He suffered at least 11 major wounds, nine of them to the skull, including a dagger wound to the cheek, a penetrating injury to the top of the head, and two potentially fatal slices at the base of the skull. According to study author Sarah Hainsworth of the University of Leicester, the injuries suggest a sustained attack, perhaps by several assailants, and that the king was not wearing a helmet.

Cults of the Bronze Age


Monday, December 15, 2014



Despite its location at the heart of the Shephelah, one of Israel’s most intensively researched regions, the site of Tel Burna had never been excavated. Scholars assumed that there was little there to uncover. But a team led by Itzhaq Shai from Ariel University has discovered, only a few inches below the surface, an abundance of objects, including dozens of beads, a cylinder seal and scarab, goblets, zoomorphic figurines, chalices, and ceramic masks, all within the remains of a large public building.


Trenches-Tel-Burna-CylinderShai believes that the presence of so many ceremonial items indicates that the structure, which dates to the thirteenth century B.C. and measures more than 5,000 square feet, was an important public space where cultic activities, including feasting, burning incense or other aromatics, offering of votives, and religious processions employing the masks took place. The team also found two very large ceramic pithoi (storage vessels) that were imported from Cyprus, and were likely used to safeguard the religious complex’s tithes or, perhaps, store food for use in cultic activities. The complex at Tel Burna may also have had administrative functions for the larger settlement in the Late Bronze Age, when it covered about 15 acres on the border between the ancient territories of Judah and Philistia.

Fancy Footwear


Monday, December 15, 2014


A team of archaeologists from the Naju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in South Korea’s South Jeolla Province has uncovered a remarkable pair of shoes in a tomb. The gilt-bronze shoes date to the fifth century A.D. and are the best preserved of only 17 similar pairs found in the country. They are also the most elaborately decorated, with images of lotus flowers and goblin-like creatures covering the surface, and a dragon leaping from each toe. Because they are oversized and not very sturdy, archaeologists believe the shoes weren’t for daily wear, but rather for a burial ritual, perhaps reflecting the hope that the dead’s spirit would rise to a better place. In addition to the shoes, the team also uncovered gold jewelry, jade, weapons, a harness, and pottery, suggesting that the tomb’s occupant was likely one of the rulers of Mahan, a confederacy of statelets that existed beginning in the first century B.C. at the southern end of the peninsula, alongside the more famous Three Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje. The shoes, which are Baekje-style, were likely a gift to the Mahan ruler.