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From the Trenches

We Are Family

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, April 09, 2018

Trenches Egypt Mummy Half Brothers

 

Nakht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht were brothers. Or so say the inscriptions on their coffins, which claim that they had the same mother. The roughly 4,000-year-old mummies were found in 1907 by Egyptologists Sir William Flinders Petrie and Ernest Mackay in an undisturbed tomb in Middle Egypt’s Deir Rifeh cemetery. But ever since they were taken back to England and unwrapped a year later, their true familial relationship has been debated. Now, using a next-generation DNA sequencing technique on samples extracted from the mummies’ teeth, the men’s true bond has been revealed. This first-ever successful typing of both mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA in Egyptian mummies has proved that Nakht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht were, in fact, half brothers who had different fathers. “I had actually suspected that one or the other of the brothers was adopted, as their skeletons seem so different, and there are contemporary texts asserting that elite families such as theirs adopted orphans,” says Campbell Price, curator of Egypt and Sudan at the University of Manchester Museum, where the mummies have always been displayed as the “Two Brothers.” Continues Price, “Some had suggested half brothers before, and the DNA test allowed us an answer.”

 

Trenches Egypt Mummy Unwrapping

Time’s Arrow

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, April 09, 2018

Trenches Yukon Arrow Point Sillo

 

Trenches Yukon Arrow PointWhile surveying ice patches in Canada’s southern Yukon, researchers have come across a barbed arrow point made of antler, with a copper end blade, sticking out of the ice, where it likely landed after having been shot from a hunter’s bow. “It was completely embedded in the ice,” says Christian Thomas, an archaeologist with the Yukon government. “We think that when we found it was the first time it had been exposed in about 900 years.”

 

The arrow point would have taken around two weeks to fashion, says Thomas, so it is unlikely that it was left behind deliberately. The end blade, made with copper retrieved from a local stream, would have made it particularly valuable. The artifact, which was found in the overlapping traditional territories of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, dates to shortly after the area’s hunters, who targeted caribou and thinhorn sheep, shifted from throwing darts to using bows and arrows. The find was particularly serendipitous: When one of Thomas’ colleagues returned to the ice patch just a few weeks later, he found it had completely melted away.

Early Buddhism in India

By GURVINDER SINGH

Monday, April 09, 2018

Trenches India Stone Pedestal

 

Recent excavations have unearthed a site resembling a Buddhist monastery in India’s Odisha state. The sculptural and architectural findings at the village of Jharhiamba in the Angul district suggest that a Buddhist monastery flourished during the reign of the Shunga-Kushan Dynasty, which governed the region between 150 B.C. and the first century A.D. Though a Buddhist presence is well known in the state, the discovery, archaeologists say, is important because this is the only monastery in Odisha where they have found evidence of monks and nuns cohabiting.

 

Trenches India Stone Capital Male Figure BlockA copper plate that was recovered by British archaeologists in the nineteenth century, around six miles from the spot, bore an inscription about the monastery being present in the area and monks and nuns living together. “We believe that around 200 people lived in the monastery, which is scattered in an area of about a half mile square. We have found fragments of molded brick, sculptures, stupas, and a sandstone pillar from the spot,” says Dibishada B. Garnayak, superintending archaeologist of the Bhubaneswar branch of the Archaeological Survey of India. However, he also notes that much of the site has been damaged due to encroachment by local residents, coupled with a lack of interest in conserving its heritage.

A Bronze Age Landmark

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, April 09, 2018

Trenches Greece Keros AerialIn the third millennium B.C., a sanctuary on the island of Keros in the Aegean Sea was an important ritual center and destination for Bronze Age pilgrims. Today it is renowned for the discovery of Cycladic figurines, abstract marble figures whose dramatic shapes influenced artists in the early twentieth century. Now, new excavations on a promontory that was once connected to the island by a narrow causeway, before the sea level rose, have uncovered the remains of an unusually sophisticated settlement that flourished at the same time as the sanctuary. A team led by University of Cambridge archaeologists Michael Boyd and Colin Renfrew has shown that the island’s inhabitants built a series of terrace walls that enhanced the promontory’s natural pyramid-like shape. An estimated 1,000 tons of white stone covered the walls and would have made the site dazzling in the Aegean sunlight. The team also discovered a network of drainage tunnels, as well as copious evidence of metalworking. “What we are seeing here are the beginnings of urbanization,” says Boyd, who notes that the settlement probably grew to such an extent that it surpassed the nearby sanctuary in importance.

 

Trenches Greece Bronze Age Ceramic Storage Jars

A Mark of Distinction

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, April 09, 2018

Trenches Peru Collagua Modified SkullThe Collagua, who lived in the upper reaches of southern Peru’s Colca Valley, were described by sixteenth-century Spanish conquerors as shaping their heads into a distinctive, elongated form. A new study led by Matthew Velasco of Cornell University finds that these head-modification practices changed dramatically in the centuries preceding the arrival of the Spanish.

 

The team looked at 213 skulls from two elite Collagua burial sites and found that the rate of modification increased greatly over time—from 39.2 percent of skulls from 1150 to 1300, to 73.7 percent from 1300 to 1450. Greater diversity of modification styles was found in the early period, whereas the long, slender shape noted by the Spanish became dominant in the later period, with 64.3 percent of the modified heads hewing to this style. It is unclear why the elite Collagua converged on this style of head modification, but Velasco suggests it may have had to do with a need to develop a group identity—perhaps to contrast with the Inca, who took over the area in the fifteenth century. “There were likely to have been social pressures,” he says, “possibly in the context of war or encroachment by outsiders, that led to a firmer definition of regional identity.”

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