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From the Trenches

Irish Vikings

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Ireland Cork Weaver SwordTrenches Ireland Cork Viking HousesRecent excavations in Cork, Ireland, conducted ahead of construction at the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in the city’s historic center have uncovered the remains of 19 eleventh- and twelfth-century Viking houses and more than 50 wooden artifacts. The objects, found among the house foundations, are carved in Ireland’s Viking Age Ringerike style, a fusion of Norse and native Irish cultural elements. They include a 12-inch-long weaver’s “sword” used for hammering threads and making patterns on textiles woven on a loom, as well as a decorated wooden thread winder. According to Maurice Hurley, lead archaeologist on the project, a roughly 1,000-square-foot section of the site revealed nearly 100 years’ worth of Viking-style house-building on the same lot, exposing the Scandinavian influence at the city’s core. “The Norse origins of Dublin and Waterford are better attested and better proved archaeologically than those of Cork to date,” Hurley explains. “But now I think we have a much stronger body of evidence showing that the cultural sphere of all three cities is very similar.”

Front Row Seats

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Israel Roman Theater

 

Excavations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem led by Joe Uziel and Avi Solomon of the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered a Roman-era building that may have been used to host performances or political assemblies. The building may date to the mid-second century A.D. when the emperor Hadrian was having the city rebuilt after the Roman army destroyed it and the Second Temple in A.D. 70. The newly discovered building probably seated about 200 people and was located under what is now called Wilson’s Arch, after the nineteenth-century explorer who identified it. The arch was part of a causeway that led into the temple and may have had acoustic properties that made it an attractive location for public speaking or singing.

Assyrian Archivists

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Iraq Assyrian CityTrenches Iraq Assyrian Cuneiform TabletsArchaeologists excavating a Bronze Age Assyrian city in Iraqi Kurdistan have unearthed a cache of almost 100 cuneiform tablets. Led by the University of Tübingen’s Peter Pfälzner, the team discovered the archive under the remains of a large public building that had been deliberately destroyed in antiquity, most likely during an enemy attack. Dating to about 1250 B.C., most of the tablets were in a ceramic pot that had been buried in a thick layer of clay, probably after the city was sacked. “We think the tablets were originally stored in that building, and that they remained in their original position after the structure was destroyed,” says Pfälzner. “They could have protected them somewhere else, so there must have been some importance behind keeping the archive there.” Most of the tablets are badly worn and have not yet been deciphered, but one fragment that has been translated mentions the temple of Gula, a Mesopotamian goddess of healing, a hint that the building may have been that deity’s sanctuary.

Unknown Elites

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Peru Huanchaco Viru Salinar Burials2

 

Gabriel Prieto originally planned to excavate next to a church in Huanchaco, on Peru’s north coast. Three days before he was to begin, he was notified that it was no longer possible—Pope Francis would be visiting in January 2018 and preparations needed to be made. After first digging in the middle of a street, where he found mostly looted burials, eventually Prieto secured a new site in a nearby schoolyard. There, in layers undisturbed by either looters or modern activity, he excavated a cemetery more than 10 feet deep in which he found evidence of some of the least-known periods of ancient Peruvian history. “This unplanned discovery proved to be the best discovery I have made in the last five years,” says Prieto.

 

Trenches Peru Huanchaco Artifacts2Some burials date to the Gallinazo or Viru period (200 B.C.–A.D. 550), a time when locals competed with the Moche for territory and resources, explains Prieto. The richest deposits date to the Salinar period (400–200 B.C.). These contain gold artifacts, ritual paraphernalia, and a stone mace head, as well as skeletons exhibiting severe injuries. “Salinar was a period of violence and social conflict,” says Prieto, “but this unusual concentration of high-status burials suggests that even at fishing settlements like Huanchaco, social differentiation was evident.”

Underground Party

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches China Song TombTrenches China Song TilesA villager in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi was renovating a house when he was shocked to discover it was built over an ancient tomb. Archaeologists called in to excavate the site dated it to the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1127) and found that the burial chamber had been decorated with tile carvings depicting horses and flying deer, as well as an elaborate fresco of a lavish family feast. “It’s a glimpse of real life during the Song Dynasty,” says Zhong Longgang of the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, who supervised the dig. “We think the party fresco depicts the people who were actually buried in the tomb, and it gives us a look at the clothing, diet, and etiquette of the period.” Many of the tiles recovered from the tomb have impressions of palm prints, which may have served as the signatures of the artisans who made them.

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