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Digs & Discoveries

Bronze Age Keepsakes

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, October 09, 2020

Digs England Femur Instrument ROTATEDigs England SkeletonBronze Age Britons seem to have collected and kept as relics the bones of people they’d lost. The macabre keepsakes included skulls and long bones as well as bits of cremated bones. Archaeologists Thomas Booth of the Francis Crick Institute and Joanna Brück of University College Dublin radiocarbon dated some of these relics that were found in settlements or in graves, where they had been intentionally placed along with skeletons buried between 4,500 and 2,600 years ago. By comparing the age of the bone relics with that of the skeletons in the associated burials or other dateable organic material, the researchers determined that the redeposited bones belonged to individuals who had lived within memory of the deceased. “The retention of human remains was a very broad practice and it encompassed lots of different kinds of relationships,” says Booth. “This included family members and social kin, but also enemies and people who had particular skills one wanted to take advantage of.” Some skulls were damaged after death, he says, perhaps suggesting that they were the remains of captives, while others were perforated and may have been hung on display in homes. Still other types of bones were fashioned into useful objects. These include a human femur that was carved into a musical instrument and buried with a man, tying him to the previously deceased individual’s identity, occupation, or deeds in life.

To Reach the Gods

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, October 09, 2020

Digs Greece Digital ReconstructionDigs Greece Amphora Add White 2Ancient visitors to the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus in the northeastern Peloponnese traveled from all across Greece to be healed by the god. Many of these pilgrims are described in inscriptions as walking with canes and crutches or being carried on litters or wagons. By the fourth century B.C., the sanctuary had been equipped with at least 11 stone ramps that provided access to a number of its raised temples and other public spaces. Archaeologist Debby Sneed of California State University, Long Beach, has found that such ramps were installed much more frequently at sanctuaries associated with healing, and contends that the ramps were purposely built to serve these sanctuaries’ mobility-impaired visitors. In contrast to today’s disability accommodations, however, ancient Greek architects’ design choices were not motivated by progressive social reforms, but by the desire to ensure the continued success of healing sanctuaries. “It was a very practical decision for the Greeks to make sanctuaries accessible,” Sneed says. “Since their clientele was impaired, they needed infrastructure to enable these visitors to use all the spaces.”

Ship of Plenty

By DANIEL WEISS

Friday, October 09, 2020

Digs Israel ShipwreckDigs Israel Storage VesselsA well-preserved shipwreck lying in shallow water just a few hundred feet off the coast of Israel is providing new evidence of what life was like in the region when it sank, between the mid-seventh and mid-eighth century A.D. Volunteer student divers, who are part of a team led by archaeologist Deborah Cvikel of the University of Haifa, discovered almost 200 amphoras containing commodities such as olives, dates, fish, pine nuts, grapes, and raisins. This breadth of goods is surprising, as it has generally been thought that trade in the region declined greatly after the transition from Byzantine to Islamic rule in the mid-seventh century. “Here we have a large ship with cargo from all over the area,” says Cvikel. “I think we have proved that there was some large-scale maritime commerce at the time.” 

 

The team has also found indications that the ship’s crew may have included members of different faiths. Some of the amphoras bear Islamic benedictions, while others are painted with crosses, and the word “Allah” in Arabic was found burned into the ship’s wood. Says Cvikel, “Now we are wondering, Was the crew a mixture of Christians and Muslims?”

A Tale of Two Pipes

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, October 09, 2020

Digs Washington Pipe BowlDigs Washington Post Contact PipeTwo pipes unearthed at Indigenous sites in central and southeastern Washington—one dating to before contact with Europeans, and the other used after their arrival in the 1700s—have revealed the changing smoking habits of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Washington State University pioneered a process called ancient residue metabolomics, which has allowed them to extract multiple compounds from the pipes’ surfaces and interiors and to identify plants used for smoking.

 

In the precontact pipe, they detected the presence of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), which smokers likely added to tobacco to improve its flavor and to take advantage of the plant’s medicinal properties. This pipe, which was made of stone, also contains traces of Nicotiana quadrivalvis, a species of tobacco that was once cultivated locally by Native tribes. The post-contact pipe, which was made of clay and discarded in the late eighteenth century, is of a type introduced by Europeans and quickly adopted by Native Americans. The pipe contains Nicotiana rustica, a more potent tobacco species of South American origin that was grown by tribes in the eastern United States. Its presence in the pipe helps establish that it was co-opted by Europeans for use in their trade tobacco. “The presence of rustica in the post-contact pipe confirms that indigenous tobacco was an important trade commodity after contact,” says Washington State University archaeologist Shannon Tushingham. This suggests that smoke plants cultivated by Native people continued to be used alongside tobacco domesticated by Europeans .

Precision Instruments

By ERIC A. POWELL

Friday, October 09, 2020

Digs Egypt TombsDigs Egypt Tomb ScansA recent study of the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan has revealed that ancient Egyptian engineers possessed an uncanny sense of space. A team led by University of Jaen cartographer Antonio Mozas-Calvache used laser scanning and photogrammetry to create 3-D models of three tombs at the necropolis that were cut into the same rock face during the 12th Dynasty (ca. 1981–1802 B.C.). The entrances to the large tombs—which were built for local governors and their families—were separated by about 65 feet. But the models showed that the interiors of the complexes were so close together that two of the tombs were separated by only four inches in two places. “Initially, we didn’t believe these results,” says Mozas-Calvache. “We supposed that both tombs were close, but not so close.” After rechecking their data, the researchers determined that the tombs were indeed constructed to within just one hand width apart. Click on the video below to see 3-D models of the tombs. 

 

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