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From the Trenches

Spain's Lead-Lined Lakes

Friday, June 07, 2013

SpainLakeResearchers from the University of Granada collected mountain lake sediments from Laguna de Río Seco in southern Spain that had accumulated over 10,000 years, trapping deposits from the atmosphere. In these stacks of mud, they found fine layers of lead that reveal millennia of metalworking and migration, and may be the oldest evidence of air pollution in southern Europe. “[The mud] has been capturing the evolution of air pollution from the Neolithic to present times and giving us an idea of the activity of each of the populations that have passed through southern Iberia,” says team leader José Antonio Lozano, “such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and more.”

 

 

The team dates the first man-made uptick in pollution to between 3,900 and 3,500 years ago, which matches the appearance at nearby sites of coins, weapons, and decorations that, when made, left behind lead by-products. The lead records also attest to a quiet period, when mining moved elsewhere in Iberia, and to a spike corresponding with a period of Roman mining. But all those signals are dwarfed by a more modern surge, which the team attributes to the leaded gasoline in heavy use from the 1950s to the 1970s. The good news, the researchers report, is that present-day lead levels are already below those of the worst Roman deposits.

Afterlife of a Dignitary

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, June 10, 2013

Afterlife-of-a-Dignitary2On the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga, at the northern edge of the necropolis of ancient Thebes, a team of Spanish archaeologists led by José Manuel Galán of the Institute of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures has uncovered the grave of a high-level ancient Egyptian official named Ahhotep. Accompanying Ahhotep to the afterlife were three small clay figurines called shabtis. Two of the shabtis were inscribed with his name and were found inside small clay sarcophagi, while the third was wrapped in nine layers of linen, “as if it were a real mummy,” says Galán. Each layer had traces of black ink, which, under ultraviolet light, revealed the inscription: “The dignitary, spokesman of Nekhen, Ahhotep, justified.” Ahhotep was an official of the 17th Dynasty, a fascinating period of Egyptian history when the capital of the ancient kingdom was moved to Thebes and the empire extended its control over Nubia to the south and Palestine and Syria to the north.

Did the “Father of History” Get It Wrong?

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, June 10, 2013

HerodotusPerhaps no ancient historian is more respected than Herodotus. However, a recent study has raised questions about his reliability. Herodotus provides the best-known passage on ancient Egyptian mummification techniques, recording how the brains of elites were removed through the nose, and their viscera through an incision in the abdomen. For the lower classes, the less costly route was to flush the corpse’s entrails with a turpentine-like cedar-oil enema. But Andrew Wade and Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario examined 150 recent reports on Egyptian mummies and seven CT scans—and found that Herodotus was a bit off. Their findings indicate that abdominal incisions were the most common means of removing the inner organs, and not reserved just for the upper classes. And the researchers identified almost no evidence of the eviscerating oil. Furthermore, only 25 percent of the mummies studied retained the heart in situ—a surprising number, considering the ancient sources emphasize that this organ was almost always left intact.

Apollo Returns from the Abyss

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Monday, June 10, 2013

ApolloEngineBetween 1968 and 1972, NASA successfully launched 11 manned Apollo missions, six of which landed on the surface of the moon. Each time, the F-1 rocket engines used to power them into orbit were jettisoned into the Atlantic at 5,000 miles per hour, minutes after liftoff. Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon.com, recently funded a deep-water mission to recover some of these relics of the space race.

 

 

In late March 2013, Bezos, who credits the Apollo program with inspiring his technological ambitions, revealed that his team’s three-week expedition recovered enough parts to reassemble two engines from “an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines” sitting three miles underwater. The parts, which are the property of NASA, are undergoing restoration that will hopefully reveal serial numbers that could tie them to specific missions.

France’s Wealthy Warriors

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, June 10, 2013

LaTenestitchA necropolis recently discovered in northern France is providing remarkable new evidence of the La Tène Culture, enigmatic warriors who once dominated most of Iron Age Europe. The 15 richly adorned graves, 14 of which have been excavated thus far, were found near the town of Buchères and date to the fourth and third centuries B.C. The La Tène, named after a village in Switzerland where evidence of it was first found, was a Celtic culture that developed north of the Alps in the middle of the first millennium B.C. From there, its people migrated and spread their influence from Romania to Britain.

 

The 640 acres on which the La Tène necropolis is located are scheduled for commercial and economic development. The excavations are being conducted by L’Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP), an organization that specializes in salvage archaeology. The most impressive burials belong to five warriors who were furnished in death with the full military panoply of the day. Bestowed upon the warriors were lances, shields, and swords, including one spectacular 28-inch example still in its scabbard.

 


Not far from these men, women were interred with a lavish assortment of bronze jewelry. Several women wore high-quality torques around their necks. Although their clothing has long disappeared, the remains of exquisite pins and coral-inlay brooches speak to the one-time splendor of their dress. There is no evidence of children’s graves, which the researchers say is not unusual for a La Tène cemetery.

 

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