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From the Trenches

From Yacht to Trawler to Wreck

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Monday, December 07, 2015

Ituna began its life as a luxury steam yacht in Scotland in 1886. It went down as a fishing trawler off the California coast in 1920. In between, Ituna lived several other lives.

 

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently discovered the historic wreck 200 feet down, 24 miles from San Francisco, where it sank in a storm. As a luxury craft, with a hull designed by famed yacht designer George Lennox Watson, Ituna saw several owners before it was purchased by Allison V. Armour, a wealthy patron of the sciences. She sent the ship on a three-month research expedition to Mexico in 1894, which resulted in Archaeological Studies among the Ancient Cities of Mexico, an early and influential text on Mesoamerican archaeology. Twenty-two years later the ship was refitted as a first-class passenger cargo steamer, and then again two years later as a steam trawler with a crew of 14. The ship sank while transporting a cargo of fish-processing machinery and concrete. Images from the recent wreck discovery show the ship’s distinctive elliptical stern, trawl machinery, and triple-expansion steam engine.

 

Trenches California Ituna Wreck

Under a Haitian Palace

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Haiti Sans Souci Palace

 

Archaeological digs have been rare in Haiti because of its political and civil instability. But last summer, a team led by J. Cameron Monroe of the University of California, Santa Cruz, began excavation at the Sans-Souci Palace in the town of Milot. The palace was built in the early nineteenth century by Henri Christophe, who took control of the northern part of the country in a civil war that broke out after independence from France.

 

The team located a major structure below the palace complex that they believe is an early phase of construction. Under it, they found a midden filled with domestic objects from the mid- to late eighteenth century, including ceramics imported from France and England, locally made tobacco pipes, and Afro-Caribbean potsherds.

 

Monroe believes the midden was most likely a trash dump from the colonial-era Milot Plantation, whose precise location has eluded researchers, and that its presence suggests that Christophe may have chosen to build his palace directly over the plantation. “The Haitian revolutionaries absolutely detested the French colonial presence,” he says. “So one could argue that building on top of the thing is a way of erasing that legacy from the landscape.”

Hidden Blues

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Egypt Mummy PortraitResearchers unexpectedly found evidence of Egyptian blue, the earliest known artificial pigment, in sections of paintings from Egypt’s Roman era that lack even a hint of visible blue coloring. These areas include swaths of gray background, a white tunic and mantle, and an under-drawing outlining a face. The paintings are part of a collection of mummy portraits and panel fragments housed at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and are thought to date to the second century A.D.

 

Using an array of technologies, including near-infrared luminescence and X-ray diffraction, the researchers were able to detect Egyptian blue, technically known as calcium copper tetrasilicate. The pigment may have been used to subtly modulate colors or add a shiny quality. It is also possible that Egyptian blue, used at least as early as 3100 B.C., was no longer a scarce commodity by the Roman era. “We have perceived it as a pigment that was rare and expensive,” says Jane Williams, a conservator at the Hearst Museum, “but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just part of what was available in the mix.”

Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Virginia Chemical HearthRenovations in the rotunda at the University of Virginia have led to the discovery of a nineteenth-century chemistry laboratory hidden in the building’s walls. The iconic Thomas Jefferson–designed rotunda was constructed in the 1820s as the centerpiece of the university he founded. Recently, while exploring a mysterious void within the walls on the bottom floor, workers found a chemical hearth, which apparently was used by Professor John Emmet during the university’s early years. According to Jefferson’s letters, he and Emmet discussed the location of the chemistry classroom. “For the Professor of Chemistry, such experiments as require the use of furnaces, cannot be exhibited in his ordinary lecturing room,” he wrote. “We therefore prepare the rooms under the oval rooms of the ground floor of the Rotunda for furnaces, stoves, etc.” It was also necessary to locate the chemistry lab on the lower floors so that water for the experiments would not have to be pumped upstairs. The semicircular niche was connected to a sophisticated ventilation system through a series of brick tunnels. The hearth was likely walled up in the 1840s when the chemistry department moved to a different location.

An Opportunity for Early Humans in China

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches China TeethFuyan Cave in southern China does not contain any artifacts, but it did have 47 teeth that came from the mouths of Homo sapiens at least 80,000 years ago. The find shows that our species had reached China more than 30,000 years before entering Europe, and is changing ideas about how Homo sapiens settled the world beyond Africa.

 

According to Maria Martinon-Torres, a paleoanthropologist at University College London, Neanderthals and other archaic hominins such as the Denisovans may have kept Homo sapiens out of Europe and northern Asia for at least 40,000 years. Homo sapiens then could have moved into those areas after the populations of Neanderthals and Denisovans began to collapse. “We should leave behind the idea of hominins dispersing as if they were tourists or a troop marching, in a lineal fashion,” says Martinon-Torres. Instead of settling lands closest to Africa first, our species might have traveled the unoccupied coast of South Asia into what is now China.

 

The teeth came from at least 13 individuals. There is no evidence that people ever lived in the cave, and Martinon-Torres suspects the teeth were washed in by a flood. The 47 teeth all have characteristics of Homo sapiens dentition: They are relatively small and lack the complex convolutions on the chewing surfaces of other hominin teeth. They were found among the bones and teeth of other Pleistocene mammals, including hyena, giant tapir, an extinct species of elephant, and a possible ancestor of the panda. Martinon-Torres hopes that genetic analysis and further archaeological investigation will reveal how the people of Fuyan Cave are related to modern-day people.

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