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From the Trenches

Let Them Eat Soup

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trenches Egypt Giza PlateauA large number of livestock bones found in a mound of settlement debris on Egypt’s Giza Plateau are offering possible insights into the diet of workers who toiled there some 4,500 years ago. Amid the debris, archaeologists from Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) have unearthed sealings dating to the reign of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khafre (r. ca. 2520–2494 B.C.), along with chunks of painted plaster suggesting the material is from wealthy settlements.

 

Trenches Egypt Livestock BonesThey also found a concentration of long, meat-bearing sheep and goat bones, many of whose ends had been snapped off. Two Egyptian archaeologists taking part in a field school at the site immediately recognized that the snapped-off ends were likely used to make gelatin soup, a cheap source of protein enjoyed to this day in Egypt. AERA director Mark Lehner suggests the meat from the bones was likely reserved for the area’s elites, while workers—quite possibly those who built Khafre’s pyramid, the second largest in Giza—were allotted the bone ends to make a protein-rich stew.

Beauty Endures

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trenches Germany Zulpich Artifacts BlockIt was common in antiquity for deceased individuals to be sent on their journey to the afterlife with a collection of their cherished objects. Nevertheless, archaeologists in Germany were surprised by the burial assemblage of a wealthy Roman woman who was entombed with her jewelry, her makeup kit, and other finely crafted beauty items. “Cosmetic utensils and jewelry as gifts in women’s graves are not uncommon, but the variety and quality of the offerings is particularly interesting,” says Susanne Willer of the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn.

 

The discovery was made during the installation of sewer and drainage systems near Zülpich. The 25-to-30-year-old woman died around the fourth century A.D. and was interred in a massive stone sarcophagus. When researchers finally lifted and opened the 4.5-ton casket, they discovered a wealth of well-preserved cosmetic artifacts, including glass perfume vials, a bronze oil jar, a silver hand mirror, and a slate makeup palette, with application tools, hairpins, and even a finely carved folding knife with a Hercules figurine as its handle. One glass jar contained the Latin phrase Utere Felix, meaning “use (this) and be happy.” The unknown woman was buried along what would have been the main road connecting the important Roman towns of Trier and Cologne. “These burial offerings,” says Willer, “highlight the life of the rural upper classes in the Rhineland 1,700 years ago, their everyday culture, and their luxury.”

Iron Age Teenagers

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trenches Kazakhstan Iron Age Burial Trenches Kazakhstan Iron Age Burial Mound II In a valley in eastern Kazakhstan’s remote Tarbagatai Mountains, archaeologists recently excavated a kurgan, or burial mound, holding the remains of two Iron Age teenagers who lived roughly 2,700 years ago. The two belonged to the Saka, a nomadic Iranian-speaking people closely related to the Scythians, who occupied much of Central Asia from the eighth to the second century B.C. Led by Zainolla Samashev, director of the Margulan Institute of Archaeology, the team identified the scant remains of a young woman of about 16 whose grave had been looted and the undisturbed skeleton of a man no older than 19. The man wore a golden torc around his neck, held a gold and bronze dagger, and was equipped with a gold-plated wooden quiver holding arrows with bronze tips. Both teenagers were buried in finery once covered with gold beads and gold appliqués of miniature deer heads with oversized antlers.

Trenches Kazakhstan Iron Age Jewelry

Hand of God

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trenches England Vindolanda Bronze HandArchaeologists believe that a bronze hand from the Roman fort of Vindolanda was associated with the cult worship of Jupiter Dolichenus at the site. The palm of the four-inch hand may have once held a small effigy of the god, who was often depicted riding a bull and grasping an ax and a lightning bolt, says Vindolanda director of excavations, archaeologist Andrew Birley. The hand was originally attached to a staff that was likely used to bless worshippers. Although much is still unknown about the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, it is believed that its origins lie in the Near East. “What little we do know is that the cult was open to both men and women, and to different social strata in Roman society, which would make it appealing to a broad audience,” says Birley. Both the hand and the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus in Vindolanda date to the early third century A.D., a tumultuous period in Roman Britain, fraught with war, rebellion, and bloodshed.

Aztec Fishing

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trenches Mexico Aztec Sawfish BladeMexican archaeologists have discovered a 39-inch-long sawfish blade at the bottom of a stone box packed with thousands of other ceremonial objects at the Aztec religious complex in Mexico City known as the Templo Mayor. This isn’t the first sawfish blade excavated there—archaeologists have found 77 so far—but it is possibly the largest, says the project’s director, Leonardo López Luján. Sawfish, a type of ray, had deep spiritual significance for the Aztecs because the fish was considered a hybrid of earth and sea, says archaeologist Alejandra Aguirre. The blade, its sharp teeth intact, was the last object to be excavated from a deposit containing some 11,800 artifacts, including the carcass of a wolf dressed in gold armor (“Aztec Warrior Wolf,” Top 10, January/February 2018), birds, and thousands of snails. Known as Offering 174, the box was interred under a floor during the reign of the emperor Ahuitzotl (1486–1502) and, according to Aguirre, may be a kind of tribute to the expansion of the Aztec realm under his rule.

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