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From the Trenches

Bronze Age Palace Surfaces

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trenches Iraq Bronze Age PalaceThe waters of the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan have receded and revealed the ruins of a 3,400-year-old palace. A team led by Hasan Ahmed Qasim of the Kurdish Archaeology Organization and researcher Ivana Puljiz of the University of Tubingen has now excavated the site and found that the palace’s six-foot-wide interior walls were painted in places with bright red and blue murals. They also uncovered a cuneiform tablet that suggests the site was the city of Zahiku, part of the Mitanni Empire, which occupied northern Syria and Mesopotamia from 1500 to 1350 B.C. That cuneiform tablet and nine others are still being translated.

 

Trenches Iraq Painted Murals CROPPEDTablets related to the Mitanni excavated at other sites show that while the empire’s rulers used a native language known as Hurrian, they might have been descended from people who spoke a version of Old Indic. Old Indic is the language of the Rigveda, the ancient Hindu text that was first written on the Indian subcontinent sometime before 1000 B.C. The Mitanni kings had Old Indic names and worshipped gods that are mentioned in the Rigveda. A tablet containing a manual on horse training even shows the Mitanni used Old Indic terms related to charioteering. This raises the possibility that the Mitanni aristocracy might have originally been Old Indic–speaking mercenaries who drove chariots and usurped a native Hurrian dynasty, but quickly adopted its language and customs.

Herding Genes in Africa

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trenches Africa Animal HerdersAnimal herding, which has been a way of life in northeastern Africa for about 8,000 years, had spread to southern Africa by 2,000 years ago. Whether this pastoral lifestyle was brought south by immigrants or adopted by hunter-gatherers who were already living in the region has long been an open question. In an attempt to find an answer, a multinational team of scientists studied 41 genomes from people who lived in Africa between 4,000 and 300 years ago. The results revealed that pastoralists who migrated from northeastern Africa into eastern Africa around 5,000 years ago had ancient roots in southwestern Asia, northern Africa, or both. At first, they interbred with local foragers, but about 3,300 years ago, once the herding lifestyle had become established, this interbreeding ceased. According to lead researcher Mary Prendergast of Saint Louis University in Madrid, why pastoralists and foragers stopped interbreeding remains unknown. 

A God Goes Shopping

By MARCO MEROLA

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trenches Italy Rome Dionysus HeadDuring a construction project to reconnect the market and forum of the emperor Trajan (r. A.D. 98–117) in the heart of Rome, archaeologists have been clearing what remains of the Renaissance neighborhood of Via Alessandrina, which separated the two grand imperial spaces. While dismantling a sixteenth-century wall, they found a large, ancient marble head that had been reused as construction material. “We think the sculpture represents the god Dionysus and dates to the first or second century A.D.,” says Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of Archaeological and Art Historical Museums of the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome. “The shape of the mouth, tilt of the head, and now-empty eye sockets, which were once filled with glass paste or gemstones, suggest this sculpture was produced by a very fine Greek-style workshop.” The head has since been brought to the superintendency’s restoration lab, where, says Presicce, it will be cleaned, and the remaining red, yellow, and ochre pigments that once covered it will be conserved, allowing all to see how it really looked nearly 2,000 years ago.  

 

Trenches Italy Rome Trajan Forum

Half in the Bag

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trenches Bolivia Drug BundleA 1,000-year-old bundle of drug paraphernalia discovered in southwest Bolivia has been found to contain a truly impressive array of psychotropic substances. On the items in the bundle, researchers have identified traces of tobacco, coca, the raw materials of a psychoactive snuff called vilca or cebil, and Banisteriopsis caapi, which is used to prepare the concoction known as ayahuasca. The bundle, which was retrieved from a cave in 2010, included an anthropomorphic snuff tube with attached braids of human hair, a large leather bag holding two carved wooden snuff tablets, camelid-bone spatulas, and a pouch made of three stitched-together fox snouts. The leather bag has been radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 905 and 1170. During this time, the Tiwanaku culture, which dominated much of the southern and central Andes from the fifth through eleventh centuries, declined and eventually collapsed. “We know that during the Tiwanaku period, the consumption of hallucinogens was an important component of the religious system,” says Penn State University archaeologist José Capriles. Plant material identified on the objects came from a variety of ecosystems, Capriles says, and was likely gathered by shamans who traveled long distances and tapped into far-reaching exchange networks to access specialized plant species and accumulate knowledge of varied preparations. 

Off the Grid

Hopedale, Canada

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trenches Canada Hopedale MissionAlong the rocky shoreline of Hopedale, in Labrador’s autonomous Inuit region of Nunatsiavut, a community is working to document and preserve more than 500 years of its past. Hopedale, which is home to a population of roughly 600, is celebrated for its postcardworthy complex of wooden buildings constructed by Moravian missionaries who arrived in the 1780s. It was once the site of a major Inuit settlement called Agvituk—“place to find whales”—a large whaling center and nexus for Inuit-European coastal trade from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. “Moravian missionaries considered Agvituk to be the Inuit equivalent of Paris or London,” says archaeologist Laura Kelvin of Memorial University of Newfoundland, who is documenting artifacts uncovered at the site and conducting interviews with longtime Hopedale residents.

 

The Avertok Archaeology Project is led by Lisa Rankin, also of Memorial University, in partnership with the Nunatsiavut government. Its researchers are searching for archaeological evidence of Agvituk. Digging in Hopedale’s historic core, they have uncovered a mix of indigenous and European artifacts dating back to the sixteenth century. To spread word of their findings, some of the younger volunteers have established a robust social media presence for the project. This, Kelvin explains, will serve as a digital community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of Agvituk and the surrounding area. “The Nunatsiavummiut youth are the heart of this project,” she says. “Their hard work and dedication to sharing and learning more about their culture is the driving force.”

 

THE SITE

Hopedale can be reached from the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, some 200 miles to the south. There visitors can book travel via regional airline or coastal ferry. Kelvin recommends beginning at the Hopedale Mission Complex and Interpretation Center, where tours of the mission buildings are offered, and artifacts uncovered by the Avertok Archaeology Project are on display. As the legislative capital of the Nunatsiavut government, Hopedale is also home to its assembly building. The building’s facade is constructed to look like an igloo, and its interior features tiling finished with local labradorite stone. After a day taking in the sites, unwind on the patio of Hopedale’s Amaguk Inn for striking ocean views and possible whale sightings.

 

Trenches Canada Hopedale MapWHILE YOU’RE THERE

Anglers can enjoy ice fishing in the winter and rod fishing in the summer, and are encouraged to hire local guides, who possess deep knowledge of Hopedale’s diverse marine landscape. In July, the town celebrates the height of its relatively short summer growing season with a rhubarb festival, and, come winter, community members build igloos on the sea ice. When you go, make sure to save room in your luggage for expert carvings and beadwork made by master craftspeople. 

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