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From the Trenches

Gimme Middle Paleolithic Shelter


Monday, August 15, 2016

Trenches France Bruiniquel Cave


In 1990, cavers in southwestern France reopened a cave that had long ago been closed off by a landslide. More than 350 yards inside the feature, which they named Bruniquel, they found strange constructions made from broken stalagmites. A new study of these structures shows they were built 176,000 years ago, a time when Neanderthals were the only hominins living in Europe. That places these among the oldest structures made by humans anywhere in the world, and the only known surviving ones made by Neanderthals. In the cave, stalagmite fragments were arranged into six structures, some vaguely oval-shaped and others more like free-standing walls. Each of them had been charred by fire. This is also the first evidence of Neanderthals living (or at least spending a lot of time) deep inside a cave, though they often lived near cave entrances. According to the researchers who studied the formations, the Neanderthals who lived at Bruniquel appear to have been more socially organized than others.

Off the Grid


Monday, August 15, 2016

Trenches New Mexico Abo mission


In 1620, Spanish Franciscan missionaries arrived in what is now known as the Salinas area of New Mexico, southeast of Albuquerque, then a Native American community and trading hub populated by the Tompiro and Tiwa Pueblo Indians. It is easy to see why the site appealed to the Spanish—both missionaries and traders—as the trade conducted there provided access to the Plains peoples, such as Apaches, and valuable bison hides. Spanish dreams of wealth in Salinas never materialized, and in the face of tribal conflict, drought, and famine, the pueblo and missions were abandoned in the 1670s. The spectacular ruins that remain today are an interesting combination of traditional Native American pueblos and Spanish mission architecture. According to Jake Ivey, a historian of Spanish architecture and former National Park Service archaeologist, they remain little visited, despite being designated a National Monument in 1909. The site has been expanded several times since.


Trenches New Mexico Gran QuiviraThe site

The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument consists of the ruins of three pueblos and two missions, divided among three locations—Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira—separated by miles of grassland. The northernmost site, Quarai, consists of a sizable red-orange sandstone church that stands about 40 feet tall. Pueblo mounds suggest that there was a significant Native American population there prior to Spanish contact. The mission also contains an unusual square kiva, or subterranean ritual room, which might have been built by the missionaries to aid in conversion. A similar, though more traditionally round, kiva is also found in the church at Abó, 12 miles to the south. The largest and most remote of the three sites is Gran Quivira, originally known as Las Humanas, which includes the remains of seven kivas, a 200-room pueblo, and two missions: an early one used for years, and the larger but unfinished Mission San Buenaventura, with walls up to 30 feet high. Unlike the warm sandstone of the other sites, Gran Quivira is built from large, angular, gray limestone chunks. All three sites are served by a centrally located visitor center in the town of Mountainair.


While you’re there

The ruins are accessible as a day trip from either Albuquerque’s chile-inflected New Mexican cuisine or Santa Fe’s wealth of galleries and shops. Outside Albuquerque is Petroglyph National Monument, home to an estimated 24,000 images carved into dark volcanic rock. And nature lovers should visit the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, which includes steppe, prairie, desert, and woodland environments, with the Rio Grande flowing right through the middle.

Piecing Together a Plan of Ancient Rome


Monday, August 15, 2016

Trenches Rome Forma UrbisFor the past several hundred years, historians and archaeologists have been doggedly working to solve one of the world’s largest jigsaw puzzles: the Forma Urbis Romae. Sometimes known as the Severan Marble Plan, the Forma was an enormous marble map of ancient Rome created between the years A.D. 203 and 211. Beginning in the fifth century, as the map fell into disuse, it was broken up into thousands of pieces, which were subsequently scattered throughout the city. Scholars have been retrieving the map’s fragments from locations around Rome and attempting to determine their original positions for the past 500 years. Reassembling the map is slow, painstaking work, further complicated by the fact that thousands of fragments are still missing. However, authorities from the Capitoline and Vatican museums in Rome recently announced the discovery and identification of an important new section of the map, perhaps offering new insights into the topography of the ancient city.


The Forma Urbis Romae was created under the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus (r. A.D. 193-211). Measuring 60 feet by 43 feet, the map was incised onto 150 marble blocks arranged in 11 rows, and represented an area of over five square miles at a scale of 1:240. An incredibly detailed plan of Rome, it reproduced every building, house, shop, and monument in the smallest detail, even including staircases. The Marble Plan was originally on display in a room in the Temple of Peace in the Imperial Fora. The wall where the map was hung survives today as part of a complex of buildings belonging to the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. A series of holes in the wall reveals where the individual marble slabs were attached with metal clamps. The Marble Plan was dismantled throughout the Middle Ages, and large chunks of it were reused in building projects throughout the city. Although around 1,200 fragments have been salvaged to date, experts estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of the original work survives. According to Stanford University professor Jennifer Trimble, even though the Marble Plan is only partially reconstructed, it provides scholars with new and unique information concerning the layout and organization of ancient Rome. “The Plan itself is vitally important because it is our only source for the urban fabric of Rome,” she says. “Standing ruins of major monuments and keyhole excavations throughout the city have given us individual details, but the modern city overlies the ancient remains and makes it impossible to see how different kinds of spaces and buildings worked together, or what particular streets and neighborhoods were like.”


Trenches Rome Cosmas DamianThe newest fragment of the Forma Urbis Romae was discovered during construction work on the Palazzo Maffei Marescotti, which is owned by the Vatican. The piece corresponds to an area west of the Roman Forum known in modern times as the Ghetto. Researchers were able to pinpoint where it belongs on the overall plan because the new marble pieces contain parts of the Theater of Marcellus and the Circus Flaminius, monuments known to have been located in that neighborhood. Not much archaeological evidence of the Circus Flaminius survives, so the fragment will help experts better understand its layout and function. Because of the Forma Urbis Romae’s resemblance to Roman cadastral plans, which are property surveys, some scholars believe that it may have been used for administrative purposes by the urban prefects. However, others suggest that it may have simply been an elaborate decorative showpiece. “The best explanation,” says Trimble, “is that it was created as a spectacular monument that showcased the imperial city and detailed cartographic knowledge about it.”