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From the Trenches

Queen of the Old Kingdom

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Egypt Saqqara Wooden Statue HeadQueen Ankhnespepy II was among the most powerful female leaders of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. She was married to two kings of the Sixth Dynasty—Pepy I and Merenre—and served as regent when her son Pepy II became king at the age of six. New discoveries by the Swiss-French archaeological mission at the Saqqara necropolis are providing further evidence of her importance. The team has found what appear to be the top portions of the two obelisks that would have stood at the entrance to the queen’s funerary temple. Both measure 3.5 feet on a side, and the larger is around eight feet tall, making it the largest Old Kingdom obelisk fragment yet discovered and indicating that the full obelisk would have stood more than 16 feet tall. Notably, the obelisks were made of granite, which was usually reserved for kings.

 

The team, led by Philippe Collombert of the University of Geneva, also found a wooden statue head whose stylistic features—thin cheeks, large circular earrings—suggest it dates to the New Kingdom, though there are no wealthy graves from that period in the area. There is a very slight chance the head could represent Queen Ankhnespepy II, says Collombert. Radiocarbon dating will, he hopes, help find the answer.

Masked Man

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Guatemala Waka Maya Jade MaskWhile tunneling beneath a ceremonial platform in the palace complex of the ancient Maya site of Waka’, a team of archaeologists led by David Freidel of Washington University in St. Louis uncovered the tomb of one of the city’s early rulers. The burial chamber contained a set of ceramic cups and a spouted vessel that may have been used to serve a powerful hallucinogenic drink. Pottery styles suggest that the grave dates to between A.D. 300 and 350. Archaeologists also found a small jade mask covered with cinnabar, a bright red pigment, with the skeleton. The mask may have been worn on a belt as an ornament that portrayed a royal ancestor. A rectangular symbol on the mask’s forehead seems to link the ruler to the Kaanul kingdom, a powerful nation that fought for centuries against the kingdom of Tikal, just 45 miles away from Waka’.

Spotting the Sun

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Oman Esmeralda Astrolabe Block Horizontal

 

Over the past several years, divers have retrieved thousands of objects from the wreck site of the Portuguese ship Esmeralda off the coast of Oman. The ship was originally part of an armada led by Vasco de Gama, but sank in a storm in 1503. One of the artifacts, a bronze disc measuring around seven inches in diameter, was recently confirmed to be a rare astrolabe, a type of navigational instrument. When the object was first brought to the surface it was unclear what it might be, since all lines and nautical markings had disappeared. Only two symbols remained visible—the Portuguese coat of arms and the personal emblem of King Dom Manuel I. However, 3-D laser scanning undertaken by the University of Warwick revealed 18 etched lines radiating from the disc’s center, each separated by five-degree increments. Sailors used these markings to measure the sun’s height above the horizon at noon, which helped them determine their location.

Bronze Beauty

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Greece Antikythera Block

 

The ship that sank in 65 B.C. off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera and that once held the famous mechanism that ancient Greeks used to plot the motion of celestial bodies has yielded intriguing new discoveries thanks to a customized metal detector put to use in the 2017 field season. The team turned up a bronze plate decorated with a bull, and an arm from a previously unknown bronze statue, which joins seven to nine other statues previously found at the underwater site. According to the project’s codirector Brendan Foley of Lund University in Sweden, who is working in cooperation with Angeliki Simosi, director of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the new finds hint that there may be even more ancient Greek artwork lying beneath the sand.

Hot Property

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trenches Saudi Arabia Google Earth View

 

Archaeologists working with aerial and satellite technology have discovered nearly 400 stone structures in a sparsely populated region of Saudi Arabia called Harrat Khaybar, dominated by now-inactive lava mounds. They estimate that the structures, which they call gates, date to the Middle Neolithic period, roughly 7,000 years ago. David Kennedy of the University of Western Australia explains that while the landscape now appears forbidding, the area has supported human communities in periods between eruptions. “The most recent eruption, as visible from the lava flow, was quite limited in its direct impact,” he says. “People lived there before recent times.” Kennedy has not been able to determine the function of the structures from satellite images alone. “I usually look for a simple solution,” he says. “In this case I would prefer an explanation related to everyday concerns such as food and water.”

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