Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!

From the Trenches

Japan’s Early Anglers


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trenches Okinawa shell fishhook


Artifacts unearthed at Sakitari Cave in Okinawa, Japan, show that humans had successfully adapted to living in small island environments by 35,000 years ago—thousands of years earlier than previously thought. Among the finds were two of the world’s oldest fishhooks, dating to 23,000 years ago, and the skeleton of a child. Except for some quartz flakes, most of the artifacts at the site, including beads and scrapers, were made from shells. Humans at that time had been taking long ocean voyages for tens of thousands of years, but learning to adapt to life on a small island was more challenging than living on the coast of a larger landmass, as the people at Sakitari could not count on inland food sources. Other Paleolithic sites on nearby islands indicate that by 30,000 years ago people had a well-established maritime lifestyle, which set the stage for moving out to more remote islands in the Pacific.


Trenches Okinawa Sakitari Cave

Guide to the Afterlife


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trenches Korea Silla block


The Korean government recently designated as state treasures a group of sixth-century A.D. artifacts unearthed from a tomb dating to Korea’s Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.–A.D. 935). The tomb, which is located in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, was first discovered during an archaeological exploration in 1990. Inside, archaeologists found the artifacts that gave it its name—Geumjocheong, “Gold Bird Tomb.” The relics include two extraordinary gold accessories shaped like bird’s claws, the first artifacts of this kind to be found in Korea. They are small, just over an inch long. The sharp claw tips, each a quarter-inch long, spread outward, as they would if a bird were about to take flight.


Researchers believe the claws were once connected to a figure of a bird’s body through three holes at the end of each one. The body, it is thought, was probably made of wood and decayed. Some ancient records indicate that people were buried with bird’s wings in their tombs, symbolic of the connection between this world and the next. Other relics from the tomb include a silver belt decorated with patterns of saw-toothed wheels, gold earrings with tortoiseshell designs etched on the surface, and a bronze pot used to boil or warm liquor, soup, or medicinal herbs.

Discovering Terror


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trenches Canada HMS Terror Wheel


In 1845, Sir John Franklin led an expedition that sailed from England in search of the Northwest Passage. The next year, both of its ships were abandoned in Arctic ice, and the entire 129-member crew perished. For nearly 170 years, efforts to find the missing ships—HMS Erebus and Terror—fell short. Then, in 2014, Erebus was discovered in Canadian waters by a team from Parks Canada (“Franklin’s Last Voyage,” July/August 2016), and now Terror has been found as well—around 60 miles north of its sister ship in the coincidentally named Terror Bay.


Terror was located in September 2016 by an Arctic Research Foundation vessel that detoured to the wreck’s location based on a report from an Inuit crewmember who recalled seeing a piece of wood that looked like a mast sticking out of the ice covering Terror Bay six years earlier. Divers found the ship 80 feet underwater and in extremely good shape. Two weeks later, Parks Canada confirmed the identification, opening a new chapter in the story.

Hungry Minds


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trenches human skullsBrain size has traditionally been seen as the best way of comparing the intelligence levels of human ancestors. Now a team of researchers believes it has found a more accurate gauge: cerebral metabolic rate, or the amount of energy consumed by the cerebrum, which can be estimated based on the amount of blood delivered to it. As a proxy for cerebral blood flow, they measured the size of openings in the base of the skull through which the internal carotid arteries pass.


The team studied 35 skulls from 12 hominin species, including Australopithecus africanus, Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and modern humans. They found that, over more than three million years of evolution, hominin brain size has increased 350 percent—while cerebral blood flow has increased 600 percent. “This suggests that brain metabolism was being very heavily selected for throughout our evolution,” says Vanya Bosiocic of the University of Adelaide, “and has probably played a very important role in contributing to our intelligence.” The researchers believe that the brain’s growing demand for energy is most likely due to increased synaptic activity and interconnection among neurons.

The Curse of a Medieval English Well


Monday, December 12, 2016

Trenches England St Annes Well


Archaeologists working near Liverpool, England, recently rediscovered a legendary medieval well. The shallow well was for centuries a popular destination for religious pilgrims, owing to its purported ability to cleanse one of sins and heal certain ailments. It was likely associated with St. Anne, whose cult became popular in England around 1400. By the late nineteenth century, the well was no longer in use and was gradually buried by plowing and other agricultural activity. Although archaeologists were aware of its general whereabouts, its exact location was unknown until recently.


The 6.5-by-6.5-foot well was constructed from local sandstone blocks, with three steps leading down to the water. In the sixteenth century, the structure was also at the center of a mysterious event. The well’s many visitors made it lucrative, and it became the subject of a contentious ownership dispute between a local priest and an agent of a neighboring landowner. The priest ended up putting a curse on the well, only to have it backfire—he died three hours later. Things didn’t go much better for the agent. A few months later, after some serious financial losses and the passing of his only son, he was found dead beside the well with his skull crushed in.