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From the Trenches

Angry Birds

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trenches Scarlet Macaw

 

Macaw skeletons found at Ancestral Pueblo sites in the American Southwest exhibit signs of having had their feathers removed by humans, according to a new study by zooarchaeologist Randee Fladeboe of the University of Florida. Fladeboe has examined the bones of macaws dating to between A.D. 950 and 1400 discovered at Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo Arroyo, and Pecos Pueblo, all in New Mexico. She’s finding evidence that the birds were not only plucked, but had been raised for that purpose. Macaw feathers held great ritual and political value for Puebloan people in the region, but it is doubtful these communities bred macaws from birth. “The general theory accepted by archaeologists is that the birds were bred at sites farther south and brought north as juveniles,” says Fladeboe, who explains that keeping these notoriously stress-prone tropical birds in a desert environment would have required intensive daily effort. She continues, “Human-macaw relations in this time and place involved a vast network of material and social resources that we have only just begun to investigate.”

The Grand Army Diet

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trenches Lithuania Mass Grave ExcavationIn 2001, construction in Vilnius, Lithuania, revealed a mass grave of more than 1,000 soldiers and camp followers of Napoleon’s Grand Army who perished during the emperor’s disastrous 1812 retreat from Russia. Hundreds of thousands of men—and women—froze to death or succumbed to disease and starvation on the march.

 

Now the remains, recovered by a team of French and Lithuanian archaeologists, are the subject of a study, led by anthropologist Sammantha Holder of the University of Georgia, to determine the diets of those who died both before and during the events of 1812. Using stable isotope analysis, Holder and her colleagues have found diverse diets among the 78 individuals she analyzed. The soldiers in the Grand Army came from all over Europe and were stratified by status and rank, so Holder is not surprised that individual diets varied considerably.

 

Trenches Lithuania Regimental InsigniaAs for the period at the end of their lives, there is more research to be done. “My collaborators and I are building on the findings of this study by reconstructing diet closer to death, employing additional biochemical methods, and incorporating historical evidence,” Holder says. “One of the goals of our future research is to see if we can detect inadequate protein consumption in the skeletons of these individuals.”

Afterlife on the Nile

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trenches Egypt Wood CoffinThe intact tomb of a member of a powerful Egyptian family, dating to the nineteenth century B.C., has been discovered by the Spanish Archaeological Mission at Qubbet el-Hawa, across the Nile from Aswan. The burial’s outer coffin is severely damaged, most likely by termites, but the inner coffin is in fine condition. Made of Lebanese cedar, it bears the name of the deceased—Shemai—as well as those of his mother and father. Both Shemai’s father, Khema, and his eldest brother, Sarenput II, served as regional governors during Egypt’s 12th Dynasty.

 

The tomb also contains six wooden models representing scenes of daily life and wooden boats thought to have been involved in the funerary trip of the deceased. “This kind of discovery is uncommon in Egyptian archaeology today,” says Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano of the University of Jaén. “We have been able to record and document the whole funerary structure.”

Knight Watch

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trenches Virginia Jamestown TombstoneArchaeologists and conservators from Jamestown Rediscovery have begun to analyze a tombstone that has lain within iterations of the church at Jamestown for centuries. They believe the stone, which features the silhouette of a knight, belongs to Sir George Yeardley, a three-time colonial governor of Virginia, who died in 1627. Originally found in 1901 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the tombstone was broken into multiple pieces and is missing original monumental brasses that could definitively identify the deceased. However, the claim that it is Yeardley is bolstered by evidence from the will of a relative, Adam Thorowgood, which dates to 1680. Hayden Bassett, assistant curator, says that Thorowgood’s will states that he would like to have a tombstone of marble set forth with the coat of arms of Sir George Yeardley and himself, with the same inscription as on the broken tomb. “We believe that might be a reference to this particular tomb,” adds Bassett. According to Mary Anna Richardson, staff archaeologist, and William Kelso, director of research and interpretation, efforts to analyze Yeardley’s tombstone will be followed by an archaeological survey of the church’s chancel, slated for fall 2017, in the hope of uncovering Yeardley’s actual remains. An exhibit marking the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly meeting in Virginia, which began in 1619 under Yeardley’s governorship, is planned for 2019.

Late Paleolithic Masterpieces

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trenches France Paleolithic Engraved Tablets InterleavedThe people of the Paleolithic Magdalenian period in Spain and France created great works of figurative art such as the Lascaux cave paintings, which realistically depict a rich variety of wildlife. But scholars have long believed that around 14,000 years ago, that dramatic artistic tradition came to a sudden end. People of the succeeding Azilian period were thought to have completely stopped making animal figures, and instead focused their creative energies on etching and painting abstract designs on pebbles. But the recent discovery of 45 engraved stone tablets along with Early Azilian tools at a rock shelter in Brittany has shown that, in fact, some Azilian people carried on the artistic tradition of their Magdalenian ancestors.

 

University of Nice archaeologist Nicolas Naudinot led the team that unearthed the engravings and says they resemble elaborate Magdalenian depictions of horses and a kind of wild cattle known as an aurochs. One bull is even shown with rays emanating from its head, the only such example of a “shining” animal known in prehistoric European art. Naudinot says the rays were added some time after the original head was carved, because the bull’s horns were reengraved over the lines. “The prehistoric people wanted the rays to be in the background,” says Naudinot, who speculates they could be a rendering of the sun, or perhaps they were simply symbolic abstractions, similar to the ones later Azilian people would carve on pebbles.

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