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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, January 18

Rock-Hewn Tombs Uncovered in Northern Egypt

NEW ALAMEIN CITY, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a first- or second-century tomb containing several burial cavities has been discovered at the site of Al-Alamein on Egypt’s northern coast. Naema Sanad, director of the site, said there is a rock-cut staircase leading to the tomb’s main chamber. Its southern wall had been decorated with a Greek “welfare horn” adorned with flowers and leaves. Coins, pottery, and lamps have also been found. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Ancient Cliff Tombs Discovered in Southwest China

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 200 burial sites have been found in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, on cliffs overlooking the Jinjiang River. The tombs date from 206 B.C. to A.D. 420. Pan Shaochi of the Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute said some of the tombs have as many as seven chambers, and tunnels measuring up to 65 feet long. Evidence suggests some of the tombs have been looted, but as many as 1,000 gold, silver, and bronze artifacts have nonetheless been recovered. “The discovery of the tomb cluster has provided rich materials for archaeological research on the Han and Wei-Jin dynasties,” Pan said. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Dried Flower May Be Linked to President Lincoln

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—The Illinois News Network reports that a dried rose discovered in a box of artifacts at the Will County Historical Society may have adorned the funeral bier of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in April 1865. Sandy Vasko, director of the historical society, said she thinks the flower had been given to General Isham Haynie of Illinois, who was a friend of Lincoln’s and may have been by his bedside when he died of a gunshot wound. General Haynie is thought to have given the rose to Mrs. James G. Elwood, whose husband was mayor of Joliet, Illinois. Elwood’s possessions were given to the historical society and stored away after it moved to its current building in 1971. The delicate dried flower will be put on limited display. Vasko added that the only other known flowers from Lincoln’s funeral are held in the Library of Congress. For more, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”

Early Bronze Age Architecture and Technology Studied in Greece

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, an international team of researchers has uncovered drainage tunnels and metal workshops on the small island of Dhaskalio, which was first modified by people more than 4,000 years ago. Back then, the island was a heavily populated promontory connected to the Cycladic island of Keros—and its prehistoric sanctuary—by a narrow causeway. A network of terraces and stairways was carved into the surface of the pyramid-shaped promontory, which was then covered with white stone imported from Naxos. “What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanization,” explained Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge. Colin Renfrew, also of the University of Cambridge, suggests the development of the site may have been spurred by its expansive views of the Aegean Sea and by the fact that it had the best harbor on Keros. Traces of grains, grapes, olives, figs, almonds, and pulses have been found in the soil on Dhaskalio. Much of the food is thought to have been imported. The drainage system may have been used to pipe in fresh water or to carry away sewage. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

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Wednesday, January 17

Stele Fragment Unearthed in Northern Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a section of a 19th-Dynasty stele has been discovered at the San Al-Hagar archaeological site in northern Egypt. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the red-granite stele is carved with images of King Ramesses II presenting offerings to an as-yet-unidentified Egyptian deity. San Al-Hagar is known for its temples dedicated to the goddess Mut and the gods Horus and Amun, as well as for its monumental sculptures. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Norway’s Stone Age Houses Studied

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Silje Fretheim of Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed the excavation of 150 well-preserved Stone Age dwellings in Norway and found that some Mesolithic hunter-gatherers built pit houses that were maintained for 1,000 years. According to a report in Science Nordic, the earliest traces of homes are small rings of stones that secured tent flaps made of animal skins, and cleared surfaces with areas of debris from stone tool construction. Fretheim thinks hunter-gatherers traveled with these small tents. Then, some 9,500 years ago, as the ice retreated and sea levels along the coast stabilized, people began to build pit houses with frameworks of wood and turf that were slightly larger than the tents. These larger dwellings may have been shared by larger family groups. Some of the pit houses were abandoned for a time and then reused over a period of more than 1,000 years. Fretheim suggests people placed the houses in areas supported by good fishing and hunting conditions because they recognized good places to live. To read about another archaeological project in Norway, focusing on much more recent history, go to “The Secrets of Sabotage.”

Explorers Find Underwater Route Connecting Maya Cenotes

TULUM, MEXICO—Telesur reports that researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses have been found in the tunnel-like caves, which range in width from 400 feet to just three feet. “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world,” said Guillermo de Anda, director of the study. It is not yet clear how the Maya artifacts came to rest in the caves. To read about another recent discovery in Mexico's cenotes, go to “Where There’s Coal….”

Tuesday, January 16

DNA Analysis Reveals Mummies’ Familial Relationship

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—According to a Science News report, a study of mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA obtained from two ancient Egyptian mummies known as the Two Brothers has revealed that they shared a mother, but had different fathers. The 12th-Dynasty mummies were found next to each other in the same tomb in 1907. Inscriptions on their coffins mention Khnum-Aa as the mother of both of the men. The inscriptions also list an unnamed local governor as their father, but it was unclear whether the men were supposed to be full brothers. An earlier analysis of the mummies’ mitochondrial DNA, obtained from liver and intestinal samples, suggested one or both of them did not have Khnum-Aa as a mother. Scholars also noted differences in the mens' features that could indicate that they were not biologically related. So, archaeogeneticist Konstantina Drosou of the University of Manchester and her colleagues obtained more reliable samples from the mummies’ teeth for the new study. The researchers note that the results reflect the importance of the maternal line of descent to the Egyptians. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Traces of Medieval Castle Uncovered in Ireland

GALWAY, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that limestone walls uncovered in Galway during the restoration of a fifteenth-century manor house may be part of a castle built in 1232. Called the castle of Bungalvy, the structure was built on the banks of the Corrib River by the De Burgos, an Anglo-Norman family credited with founding the port city. Charcoal deposits at the site could mark the fires that damaged the castle in 1233 and 1247. In the late thirteenth century, stone from the castle is thought to have been used to construct the nearby Red Earl’s house, which acted as a courthouse and was used by the De Burgos to collect taxes and host banquets. The De Burgos are thought to have constructed the castle at the site of a wooden defensive structure that had been built by the Gaelic O’Flaherty clan in 1124. For more, go to “Irish Vikings.”

Possible Cause of Aztec Illness Identified

JENA, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have detected evidence of a typhoid-like illness in the remains of Aztecs who died in epidemics between 1545 and 1550, after the arrival of Europeans in the New World. According to the historical record, those who suffered from the illness known as “cocoliztli” in the Aztec Nahuatl language had high fevers, headaches, and bleeding from the eyes, mouth, and nose, and usually died within three or four days. The scientists used a new computational program to screen fragments of bacterial DNA extracted from 29 skeletons unearthed at a cemetery site in Oaxaca, Mexico, and found the Salmonella enterica bacterium, which today causes high fevers, dehydration, and gastro-intestinal complications. This is the first time that S. enterica has been identified in ancient New World remains, they said. The microbe is known to have been present in medieval Europe, and may have traveled to the New World in domesticated animals. “We cannot say with certainty that S. enterica was the cause of the cocoliztli epidemic,” said Kirsten Bos of the Max Planck Institute. “We do believe that it should be considered a strong candidate.” For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf.”

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