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From the Trenches

Spring Boards

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Netherlands fugger stampA modern shipping accident off the coast of the Netherlands led to the discovery of a sixteenth-century shipwreck that may provide insight into a transitional period in the history of global exploration and commerce. Salvagers attempting to retrieve 300 shipping containers that had fallen into the North Sea from the merchant ship MSC Zoe during a storm in January 2019 also recovered three wooden planks and 12 timbers from a much older ship’s frame, as well as a cargo of copper plates. Upon examination, the plates were found to bear the crest of the German Fugger family, one of early modern Europe’s wealthiest banking families. Analysis of the wood has established that the ship was built in the late 1530s. The vessel sank sometime before 1545.

 

Trenches Netherlands PlanksUnderwater archaeologist Martijn Manders of Leiden University and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands says the wreck represents a pivotal moment in Dutch shipbuilding. It is a very early example of the carvel method of building hulls, in which planks are laid flush from edge to edge. This is distinct from the traditional lapstrake method, in which hull planks overlap. According to Manders, this development went on to allow for construction of sturdier three-masted boats with much larger crew and cargo capacities. “It’s a very important ship because 100 years later we’re in the middle of the Dutch Golden Age,” he says, “when three-masted vessels carrying hundreds of people are traveling regularly to the East Indies and the West Indies and circumnavigating the globe.”

Neanderthal Fashion Statement

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Eagle LandingTrenches Eagle Talons CROPPEDThe size and power of golden eagles have made these raptors potent symbols in modern human cultures around the world, but a new analysis of eagle bones found at sites across Europe and Asia shows they played an important role for Neanderthals as well. Researchers compiled data on bird bones found at 154 Neanderthal sites dating to as early as 130,000 years ago. The results show that, before they made contact with Homo sapiens, Neanderthals across Eurasia were hunting golden eagles and using parts of their carcasses, mainly the talons, as jewelry or other kinds of symbolic artifacts.

 

The findings run counter to the widely accepted idea that Neanderthals were big-game hunters who couldn’t adapt to hunting smaller, faster prey, such as eagles, when bigger, slower species, such as elk and bison, were dying out. They also suggest that, independent of modern humans, Neanderthals were developing symbolic thinking alongside new techniques for exploiting a wider variety of resources, including birds. According to Stewart Finlayson, director of natural history at the Gibraltar National Museum, the findings show just how sophisticated Neanderthals were.

Animal Archaeology

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches California OtterSeveral of the sea otters that frequent Bennett Slough Culverts at Moss Landing in central California are in the habit of smashing mussels on waterside boulders to extract their meat. An interdisciplinary team of researchers has identified telltale evidence of this behavior, including visible patches of wear on points and ridges of the rocks facing the water, as well as a distinctive breakage pattern in the shells, with the left side intact and the right side broken in half diagonally. Underwater middens at the site are estimated to contain tens to hundreds of thousands of similarly smashed shells. Natalie Uomini, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, says this type of research shows a new way to apply archaeological methodology to animal behavior. “Archaeology is a set of tools that allow us to study past behavior,” she says. “But there’s nothing inherent about it that says it has to be used on humans.” 

The Unseen Mummy Chamber

By JESS ROMEO

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Egypt Aswan CoffinNear the end of the dig season at a necropolis on the western bank of the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, a team led by Antonio Mozas-Calvache of the University of Jaen discovered a tomb with an unopened coffin visible inside. The approximately two-by-eight-foot chamber was largely closed off and its entrance far too narrow for the archaeologists to squeeze through. These limitations forced Mozas-Calvache and his team to improvise. They mounted a remote-controlled camera at the end of a 12-foot-long pole, pushed it inside the chamber, and used it to photograph the contents.

 

Trenches Egypt Aswan TombThe team used the images to generate 3-D models of the tomb, including a detailed representation of the 3,800-year-old coffin. They were able to read hieroglyphs on the coffin, which revealed the mummy’s identity to be Shemai, a previously unknown brother of late 12th Dynasty (ca. 1981–1802 B.C.) governor Sarenput II. Given advances in technology, says Mozas-Calvache, “I think that our work would have been impossible to carry out 10 years ago.”

 

Click below to see a 3-D model of the coffin

Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches North Carolina PrisonTrenches North Carolina Bottles REVISED 2Remnants of the foundation of a former cotton mill that later served as the main barracks for a Confederate prison in Salisbury, North Carolina, were unearthed during a recent excavation. The prison, which opened in late 1861, was known as a relatively pleasant spot in its early years, with recreational activities including baseball games that may have matched prisoners against guards. By late 1864, however, its prisoner population had swelled to 10,000—four times the number the entire complex was designed to hold. Many prisoners took up residence in the yard, where they dug sleeping holes and, in some cases, escape tunnels. Thousands died of disease or were gunned down by guards in response to uprisings. The prison was abandoned near the end of the Civil War, and Union troops destroyed its buildings, whose bricks were later harvested, sold, and used to construct many of the structures that now line Salisbury’s Main Street.

 

In an empty lot owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation, archaeologists led by Timothy Roberts, project director for Cultural Resource Analysts, found bits of rubble, mortar, and brick left behind by these harvesters. “We’re seeing almost the ghost of the building,” says Roberts. Nevertheless, he was still able to trace the outline of its foundation. The team found a range of artifacts, mostly dating to after the war, including glass medicine bottles from a local drugstore known as Kluttz’s, and glass liquor bottles. One item that may have belonged to a prisoner is a piece of bone with a copper pin in it. Roberts believes it was part of the case of the type of folding knife prisoners used to dig their sleeping holes and escape tunnels.

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