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Peruvian Woman of Means

Áspero, Peru


Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Peru Mummy BundleTop Ten Peru Monkey BroochThe role of women in ancient cultures has received increased attention in recent years, from that of female pharaohs in Egypt to Viking wives in northern Europe. And now, archaeologists in Peru have found signs that women there held positions of prestige at the earliest stages of civilization. At the site of Áspero, a female skeleton was found decorated with shells of the genus Spondylus, which come from hundreds of miles away in far northern Peru and were a sign of authority for centuries in Andean cultures. About 45 years old when she died, the woman had clothing accessories made of bone carved in the form of seabirds and Amazonian monkeys, also status symbols, says archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís of San Marcos University. Most striking is the burial’s age—some 4,600 years ago, near the dawn of the fishing and farming civilization that thrived on Peru’s coast. Shady Solís found sculpted female figurines dating from the same period—more proof, she believes, that women occupied prominent social positions.

10,000-Year-Old Turf War

Lake Turkana, Kenya


Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Kenya SkullOrganized aggression is typically associated with disputes over ownership of land or possessions. But the 10,000-year-old remains of 27 individuals discovered at what was once the southwestern edge of Kenya’s Lake Turkana suggest that this may not always have been the case. The unburied bodies, found at a site called Nataruk, were of hunter-gatherers and were unaccompanied by evidence of settlements or valuables. Instead, they paint a picture of pure carnage: The bones of 21 adults and six children show lesions most likely resulting from arrows and clubs. Weapons found at the site were made from obsidian sourced from afar, indicating the attackers were not local.


University of Cambridge archaeologist Marta Mirazon Lahr believes that people have always been prepared to fight for what they want, and that the formation of groups results in cultural divisions, thereby justifying warfare. These preconditions for battle “have existed for a very long time,” she says, “independent of the development of farming, material wealth, civilizations, and social hierarchies.” Within this context, the simple choice to hunt or feast on the beach at Nataruk, a plum spot on a lake almost fully encircled by mountains, where animals came for food and water, could have sealed the deceased’s fate.

Antikythera Man

Antikythera, Greece


Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Greece Antikythera Skeleton


The Antikythera shipwreck (circa 65 B.C.) is the ancient world’s largest, richest, and perhaps most famous wreck. Discovered in 1900 off the Greek island of Antikythera, the site has yielded hundreds of treasures, including bronze and marble statues, as well as the Antikythera Mechanism, often referred to as the world’s oldest computer. However, an important new discovery was made in summer 2016 when an international team recovered a human skeleton there. The remains, which include parts of the cranium, jaw, teeth, ribs, and long bones of the arms and legs, most likely belonged to a young male. Evidence of at least four other individuals had previously been found at the site, but the newly discovered remains are the first to be uncovered in almost 40 years—and during the age of DNA analysis. According to ancient DNA expert Hannes Schroeder, the discovery might provide the first opportunity to examine the genetics of an ancient mariner. “Human remains from ancient shipwrecks are extremely uncommon,” he says. “DNA analyses can potentially provide fascinating new information on the crew’s genetic ancestry and geographic origins.”


Project codirector Brendan Foley suggests that the individual may have been trapped belowdecks when the ship smashed into the rocks and sank. Parts of the skeleton discovered in 2016 remain in situ and will be further excavated this summer. Foley believes that even more human remains may survive at the site along with other precious cargo.

Spiritual Meeting Ground

Mona Island, Puerto Rico


Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Puerto Rico TainoTop Ten Puerto Rico ChristianSince at least the twelfth century, indigenous Taino people living on Mona, a small island west of Puerto Rico, ventured deep into its vast network of caves and left images of cemies, or deities, on the chambers’ soft limestone walls. Now a team led by Alice Samson of the University of Leicester and British Museum archaeologist Jago Cooper has found that one of the caves also contains markings left by sixteenth-century Spaniards. “The entrance to this cave is quite difficult to find,” says Cooper. “So the Europeans were probably, at least initially, led there by Taino.” The team has recorded more than 30 historic inscriptions, including crosses, Latin phrases from the Bible, and even the signatures of individuals, such as a sixteenth-century royal official named Francisco Alegre, who had jurisdiction over Mona at one time.


Cooper says that while the European inscriptions were placed close to the indigenous markings, they don’t overlap, leaving the impression that the Spaniards were careful not to deface the Taino rock art. “It’s as if the two traditions were in dialogue with one another,” says Cooper, noting that it is also possible that Taino who had converted to Christianity made some of the crosses. “This is tangible evidence of how people, both European and indigenous, were forging new identities in the Americas. The cave embodies the personal experience of contact between these two cultures.” 

Salem’s Lost Gallows

Salem, Massachusetts


Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Salem Proctor s Ledge


There are almost 1,000 surviving official documents and several contemporary histories from the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693. But little of this relates directly to the 19 hangings that punctuated the notorious period of hysteria and paranoia, and none of the documents record where the executions took place.


The site—long believed to have been somewhere on or near Gallows Hill—appears to have been forgotten by the early nineteenth century. In 1921, historian Sidney Perley theorized that the hangings took place at Proctor’s Ledge, a rocky outcrop at the base of Gallows Hill.


Top Ten Salem Vintage PhotoOver the last five years, a research team has reviewed Perley’s findings. They have also applied new technology to pinpoint the site.


With the help of both a piece of overlooked testimony and a geographic information system that determined what could be seen from where (known as a viewshed analysis), researchers concluded in 2016 that Perley had been right. Proctor’s Ledge is indeed the spot where the accused met their ends. The team, led by Salem State University historical archaeologist Emerson Baker, also conducted geophysical testing and found no human remains or evidence of a gallows at the site. “This finding is in keeping with oral traditions,” Baker says, “that the families of the victims came under cover of darkness to recover loved ones and rebury them in family cemeteries.”