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From the Trenches

Mirror, Mirror


Friday, June 08, 2018

Trenches Bulgaria Mirror FramesFive lead mirror frames dating to the turn of the third century A.D. have been found in a square building at a Roman villa outside the town of Pavlikeni in northern Bulgaria. Three of the frames are decorated with the image of a large wine vessel and bear an inscription that means a “good soul.” The villa belonged to a Roman military veteran and was built around the turn of the second century A.D. The building where the frames were found was thought to have housed villa workers. But, says excavation leader Karin Chakarov of the Pavlikeni Museum of History, the presence of the mirror frames suggests it may instead have been a temple.


Trenches Bulgaria Roman Villa

Honoring Osiris


Friday, June 08, 2018

Trenches Egypt Karnak Relief Column RemainsArchaeologists working near the temple complex of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, are making sense of an out-of-the-way chapel devoted to the god Osiris. The remains of the Chapel of Osiris-Ptah Neb-ankh lie south of Karnak’s Tenth Pylon and east of the famed avenue of ram-headed sphinxes. The structure is believed to have been built by the 25th Dynasty Kushite pharaohs Taharqa and Tantamani—who are represented on reliefs within the chapel—in the seventh century B.C., and was originally discovered by locals in the nineteenth century. Researchers have now mapped the building’s entrance and foundations, and have uncovered a collection of clay pots and statue fragments. “Every king wanted the honor of making a mark on the great religious complex of Karnak,” explains project director Essam Nagy of the Egypt Exploration Society. “The cult of Osiris had grown in importance, so the Kushite-period rulers built shrines and chapels at the site to reflect that.”


Trenches Egypt Karnak Osiris Chapel

Sun Storm


Friday, June 08, 2018

A massive disk of intricately carved stone looms over a gallery in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. The stone has long been an emblem of Mexican identity. Commissioned by the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II (r. 1502–1520), the nearly 12-foot-wide stone was completed during his reign, in about 1511. Eight years later, when Spanish conquistadores saw it atop a platform in the Aztecs’ central temple, the Templo Mayor, in the capital city of Tenochtitlan, one described it as “round, like a figure of the sun.” When the Spaniards leveled the capital, the stone disappeared, only to be rediscovered in 1790 beneath the city’s main plaza, the Zócalo, a block from where the conquistadores had seen it.


Trenches Mexico Aztec StoneThe meaning of this 22-ton disk of volcanic basalt has been subject to a variety of interpretations. The first article written about it in 1792 suggested that it functioned as a clock or sundial. Most researchers have concluded that the figure at the stone’s center represents an Aztec deity, possibly the sun god Tonatiuh—and most still do. But now archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin has a provocative new theory about the central figure. He presented it in the magazine Arqueología Mexicana, and his reading of the famous artifact has set off debate among scholars of ancient Mexico in the magazine’s pages and beyond.


Citing iconic messages on the stone and comparisons to other monuments, Stuart suggests the figure is Moctezuma II himself, represented as the sun god. “People would have seen it as a depiction of the ruler, with the face of the king and the face of the sun being one and the same. The overlap between kings and gods was very important to the Aztecs,” says Stuart. He notes that a glyph above the face reads “One Flint,” the name for the year in which the god Huitzilopochtli was believed to have migrated from his mythic homeland to the central valley of Mexico at the dawn of the Aztec state. Another glyph, slightly to the left, represents a xiuhhuitzolli, a diadem or headdress, worn by the Aztec ruler himself. Stuart believes the two glyphs, taken together, send a clear message of royal power and identity. “It’s a portrait of the deified king. Aztec commoners would have read ‘This is the king. The king is a god.’ Seeing the central figure as a portrait makes it a very historical and political monument.”


Other Mesoamerican experts, however, disagree. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, former director of the Templo Mayor excavations, has argued that Stuart’s interpretation is groundless. He writes in Arqueología Mexicana that Stuart has misread the glyph that he believes represents the royal headdress, which, he says, is, instead, part of a longer glyph with no direct relation to the ruler. Moreover, the man in the center of the stone has a tongue-like sacrificial knife hanging out of his mouth. According to Matos, no other portrait of an Aztec ruler has such an attribute.


Patrick Hajovsky, a Southwestern University archaeologist, also disputes Stuart’s theory, saying that although the glyph to the left of the figure might indeed be that of Moctezuma, that would not mean the figure depicted is the king. “By that logic, then, the central figure could just as well be Huitzilopochtli, the god whose name appears in the innermost circle,” he says. He observes that in other works featuring Moctezuma, he never appears in the center of the sun, “but rather to its side, making offerings.”


Stuart admits that by arguing that the stone depicts an actual person—not a god—he is, in a way, demystifying it. “They would have seen it as a person, and I guess that brings it down to earth,” he says. Yet the face is more than just a portrait of Moctezuma. “It plays off multiple identities that revolved around kings and deities,” he says. “The face is several things at once.”

Off the Grid

Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, Maine


Friday, June 08, 2018

Trenches Pemaquid Fort William HenryThe remains of an early and tenacious English outpost in North America can be found on the Pemaquid Peninsula of Maine’s south-central coast. Colonial Pemaquid began as a seasonal fishing community on the islands of Monhegan and Damariscove in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Settlers representing wealthy Bristol merchants built a village on the site by the late 1620s and began trading with French colonists to the north and members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, whose ancestors had lived in the area for millennia. Wabanaki war parties destroyed Pemaquid’s main village in 1676 and again in 1698, along with two forts built successively to protect the settlement.


The village ruins lie at the center of a site where archaeologists have been working since the 1960s. Finds uncovered, including a German bellarmine stoneware jug, a Venetian trade bead, Caribbean coral fragments, and a Yoruba divination tapper made of elephant ivory, suggest that Pemaquid was not merely a site of conflict, but also a nexus for goods and people from around the maritime world. “It was a small settlement on the fringes of New England that was isolated in one sense,” explains Neill De Paoli, Colonial Pemaquid park manager, “but at the same time it was part of a large international network that extended well beyond the coast of Maine to the Caribbean, West Africa, and Europe.”


Trenches Pemaquid Bellarmine JugTHE SITE

Visitors will first encounter a partial reconstruction of the 1692 Fort William Henry, which houses exhibits on the lives of soldiers posted at Pemaquid and parleys held among the Wabanaki, the French, and the English. Continue on to the museum to watch a video overview of Pemaquid’s history and the archaeological research conducted at the site. The museum displays many prehistoric and colonial artifacts discovered in the area, as well as a wealth of information about the region’s Native American heritage, the seventeenth-century fishing industry, and the business of tavern-keeping. Daily tours include a visit to a reconstructed wattle-and-daub cottage, where, on weekends, interpreters ply trades such as blacksmithing and carpentry.



Drive just south to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, commissioned by President John Quincy Adams in 1827, to learn about the local economy at the Fishermen’s Museum, or head back inland to the town of Damariscotta to see the Whaleback Shell Midden, evidence of thousands of years of indigenous communities sustained by the sea. Hungry travelers in search of their own seafood lunch should head to nearby New Harbor for a lobster roll and spectacular views that were shared by sailors returning from Monhegan in the 1620s.