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From the Trenches

Disposable Gods

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trenches Lebanon Porphyreon Ceramic Heads

 

While excavating a refuse pit containing a mélange of burned animal bones, grape seeds, olive pits, and chickpeas, archaeologists working in the ancient Phoenician town of Porphyreon in present-day Lebanon also retrieved fragments of several ceramic female heads dating to around 2,400 years ago. The researchers, from the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, reassembled the fragments and found that the heads measured around nine inches tall and six inches wide. Small holes near the top of the most complete specimen indicate it may have been hung on a wall.

 

Mariusz Gwiazda, who led the team, also notes that the objects incorporate a combination of Greek, Phoenician, and Egyptian traits. “From the beginning, Phoenician art borrows different ideas from different cultures,” says Gwiazda, “mixing them together and creating its own hybrid material language.” He believes the pieces were meant to depict deities, though in the absence of written evidence it is difficult to say which ones.

Reading Invisible Messages

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trenches Israel Sherd Infrared Text

 

Researchers in Israel are using a technology called multispectral imaging to reveal biblical-era texts that are invisible to the naked eye. The team studied a collection of pottery sherds with ink inscriptions from the fortress at Tel Arad about 40 miles south of Jerusalem in the former kingdom of Judah. The sherds date to the period just before Judah was conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Using a modified consumer digital SLR camera, they photographed both sides of each sherd at 10 different wavelengths of light covering the infrared and visual parts of the spectrum. The images captured traces of the deteriorated ink, helping to fill in letters and words. Writing on pottery sherds was used to send informal messages and conduct business, so it provides a glimpse of what daily life was like in ancient Judah. One sherd contained a message from the fortress’s quartermaster requesting oil, silver, and wine from a colleague at Beersheba. Says Anat Mendel-Geberovich of Tel Aviv University, “The system that we developed offers a new, highly accessible method for multispectral photography that can be used by archaeologists in the field.”

Last Stand of the Blue Brigade

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trenches Lutzen Germany Battle Remains

 

The Thirty Years’ War raged from 1618 through 1648, and at its outset pitted Protestant states against Catholic ones within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1630, Sweden’s king Gustavus Adolphus joined the side of the Protestants and led his troops to a number of victories before dying in the November 1632 Battle of Lützen. Around 9,000 others also perished in the fight, which took place in present-day Germany. In 2011, archaeologists discovered a mass grave containing 47 of these soldiers in an area where an elite Swedish unit called the Blue Brigade was reportedly cut down in a surprise attack by a Catholic cavalry unit.

 

The researchers, led by Nicole Nicklisch of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, removed the remains in a 55-ton slab of soil and brought it to the lab for study. They have now found that, by seventeenth-century standards, an unusually high number of the soldiers had been shot. “More than half of the men were struck by gunfire,” says Nicklisch, “which caused injuries that would have resulted in their deaths.” The bullet fragments found in the grave came from pistols, muskets, and carbines, the sorts of weapons used by cavalry at close range. While some of the soldiers in the grave were likely from the Catholic cavalry unit, most appear to have been their victims from the Swedish Blue Brigade.

Where There’s Coal…

By OCTAVIO DEL RIO

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trenches Mexico Yucatan Ancestors Chamber

 

The record of human occupation in the Yucatán Peninsula has been helped greatly by the discovery and documentation of human fossils and bones found in cenotes, or sinkholes, and flooded caves. Among these sites is the Ancestors Chamber of the Cenote Aktun Ha cave system. Intriguingly, 14 concentrations of coal were identified in the Ancestors Chamber, distributed in an area of approximately 200 square feet. But without proof that the coal had been ignited there, scholars have long speculated as to whether it was brought there by humans or if it had been deposited there by natural processes.

 

Now, however, through geological analysis of thermal alterations in the rock, researchers think they have evidence confirming the existence of bonfires in situ. This would date the occupation of the cave to around 10,500 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age when the cave was still dry. Archaeologists believe that the cave was used as a shelter providing protection from both the extreme weather conditions of the epoch and large predators, and that ceremonial activities might taken place there as well.

Freeze Frame

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trenches Watercolor Tree CreeperA conservator for the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has uncovered, hidden among a stack of papers caked with mold and penguin excrement, a well-preserved 118-year-old watercolor depicting a deceased tree creeper. It was painted by the English artist and physician Dr. Edward Wilson, who perished alongside Captain Robert Falcon Scott and three others while returning from the South Pole in 1912. The stack of papers was collected, along with 1,500 other artifacts, from the team’s base camp at Cape Adare, a group of huts first built by a Norwegian expedition in 1899, which the Trust has begun to restore. A polymath, Wilson joined the Scott party as a doctor whose artistic talents aided his avocation as a naturalist. What remains a mystery is how his painting of a bird native to the northern hemisphere ended up in Antarctica. “My theory is that it was completely accidental,” says Lizzie Meek, the Trust’s program manager. “It seems he was very prolific and prone to leaving his drawings all kinds of places. It’s entirely possible that the painting had been stored in amongst other drawing paper and the whole stack was picked up and taken to Antarctica.”

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