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From the Trenches

Old Woman and the Sea

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Indonesia Alor Burial FishhooksIn a rock shelter on Indonesia’s Alor Island, just north of Timor, archaeologists have discovered five fishhooks buried with a person who died around 12,000 years ago. The hooks, made from sea snail shells, were placed under the chin and around the jaw. It is rare to uncover burials from this period that include grave goods of any type, and this is the oldest known instance of a burial with fishhooks to have been found anywhere in the world. The researchers believe the deceased was a woman based on the slenderness of the cranium, though they cannot be completely sure as they have not yet excavated the pelvis. “Given how rare grave goods are from the time,” says Sue O’Connor of Australian National University, “that this woman of mature age was buried with a cache of fishhooks suggests that she was a fisherperson of some renown or prestige.” Four of the five hooks are of the circular rotating style thought to have been used for deep-sea fishing, which has traditionally been seen as the province of men.

Nomadic Chic

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Russia Tuva Buckles Burial

 

On the bank of a river in Siberia’s Tuva region, archaeologists have unearthed an Iron Age cemetery that held the remains of nobles of the Xiongnu Empire, a confederation of nomads that dominated much of Central Asia in the second century B.C. Tuva would have been on the northernmost fringe of the empire, but living on the frontier evidently didn’t keep Xiongnu noblewomen from being fashionable. A team led by St. Petersburg archaeologist Marina Kulinovskaya discovered that many of the women in the cemetery were buried with extravagant jewelry and other accessories. Some graves contained buckles made from bronze or stone that depicted fantastical creatures, as well as bulls, camels, horses, and sheep. Others were studded with turquoise, jade, and other semiprecious stones. Perhaps the most fashion-forward woman was buried with flame-shaped copper pendants. “The meaning of these isn’t clear,” says Kulinovskaya. “We haven’t found anything else like them.”

 

Trenches Russia Tuva Burial Ground

Tut’s Mesopotamian Side

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Egypt Tutankhamun Artifacts Block2

 

Although the treasure of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s grave, one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time, was found nearly 100 years ago, researchers are still learning new things about ancient Egyptian society by studying the grave assemblage. In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the lavish 3,300-year-old tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Now, a German-Egyptian project has analyzed hundreds of embossed decorative gold items from the grave for the first time. The fragmented gold pieces were boxed up shortly after they had been discovered and remained in museum storage until recently.

 

Experts have painstakingly reassembled the ornamental applications, which would have been attached to objects in the pharaoh’s tomb, such as quivers, bow cases, and bridles. They were surprised to detect decorative motifs foreign to Egyptian art at the time. Scenes such as fighting animals and goats at the tree of life were typical of Mesopotamian art, and their presence on the objects from Tutankhamun’s grave demonstrates how Egyptian artists were cognizant of and influenced by outside cultural styles that had seemingly passed to Egypt through the Levant. Although chemical analyses of the gold artifacts with Egyptian motifs and those with foreign motifs showed that they had different chemical compositions and sources, it is not thought that the eastern-style objects were imported. Instead, they were likely created in workshops specializing in Mesopotamian styles.

Newtonian Whiteboard

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches England Newton Doodle Cropped

 

Using a photographic technique to survey interior surfaces of Sir Isaac Newton’s childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor, in Lincolnshire, England, conservator Chris Pickup has discovered a doodle of a windmill drawn by the scientist as a young man. The technology, called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), creates a synthesis of multiple digital images, allowing researchers to identify features invisible to the naked eye. “Each RTI requires over 24 photographs, so each small section is time consuming,” Pickup explains. “However, once applied, it allows a deep level of analysis, and the software makes it possible to share files with experts anywhere in the world.”

 

Newton was born in 1642 and grew up in the house, returning in 1665 when he left Cambridge during an outbreak of the plague. The National Trust, which manages Woolsthorpe Manor, hopes that finding more of Newton’s illustrations will provide insight into the mind of the groundbreaking thinker. “The discovery could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of drawings waiting to be uncovered,” says Jannette Warrener, operations manager at Woolsthorpe. “We know he used the walls as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him, which suggests there are more to find.”

Early Signs of Empire

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches China Liangzhu Palace Complex

 

Natural disasters were a constant threat for people living in the ancient city of Liangzhu in China’s Yangtze Delta. The annual monsoons posed a severe risk of flooding, so the city’s residents constructed an extensive network of dams and reservoirs along with an enormous levee in and around the 740-acre settlement. “The sheer scale is really phenomenal—the scale of landscape transformation, the scale of labor mobilization, and the scale of rice farming as well,” says Yijie Zhuang, one of the project’s archaeologists, based at University College London. He believes that these constructions were used to irrigate rice paddies and transport stone and timber from the nearby mountains. The hydraulic complex consists of 51 canals in and around the city and 11 dams forming two reservoirs. All of this was accomplished between 5,000 and 4,800 years ago, during the Neolithic period, about 1,000 years before state-level societies capable of these kinds of massive public works were thought to have developed.

 

Liangzhu had an estimated 22,900 to 34,000 residents. Excavations there have been ongoing for the past few decades. Previous excavations have uncovered burials containing luxury items such as exquisitely carved jade artifacts, which indicate that the city was socially stratified. Liangzhu is not the only ancient site that suggests that complex societies were developing earlier than thought. Upstream on the Yangtze River, another ancient city, Shimao, may also have had large-scale construction projects around the same time.

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