Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 06

Artifacts and Fossils Lost in Brazil’s Museum Fire

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that as many as 700 ancient Egyptian artifacts were destroyed in the fire that engulfed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro earlier this week. The 200-year-old building was constructed as a palace for the country’s ruling family. The Egyptian artifacts in the museum’s collection included objects collected by Pedro I, who became the first emperor of Brazil in 1822, and an ancient mummy given to his son, Pedro II, by Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt. The skull of a woman who lived in Brazil some 11,500 years ago, known as the Luzia fossil, and objects representing South America’s cultural heritage, such as items of feather work and masks, are also believed to have been lost to the flames. To read about excavations in Rio de Janeiro, go to “Off the Grid.”

DNA of Germany’s Early Medieval Warriors Studied

NIEDERSTOTZINGEN, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that analysis of DNA samples taken from the 1,400-year-old remains of ten Germanic, noble warriors and three children discovered in southern Germany suggests that some of them had been born locally, while others may have originated in different parts of Europe. The study, led by Niall O’Sullivan, now of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, also revealed that at least 11 of the individuals were male—the test results of the remaining two were inconclusive. Overall, five of the individuals in the sample were directly related to each other, but three people who had been buried in the same grave were unrelated. One of them had DNA associated with people from northern, eastern, and central Europe, while the other two had DNA suggesting they were related to people from southern Europe. Analysis of isotopes obtained from their teeth suggests that only one of the two individuals with southern European relatives grew up in the same area as the burial. O’Sullivan and his colleagues wonder whether the Germanic warriors may have welcomed foreigners into their households, or whether it is possible they adopted child hostages for use in intertribal negotiations. To read in-depth about a Roman settlement in Germany, go to “The Road Almost Taken.”

Cache of Gold Rush–Era Coins Uncovered in Canada

DAWSON CITY, YUKON—A crew building a recreational trail in northwest Canada discovered a cache of 23 Canadian and American coins dating to the nineteenth century, according to a CBC News report. “These are coins that would have been in common circulation during the [Klondike] Gold Rush,” said archaeologist Christian Thomas of the Yukon government. The coins were buried in what was a busy part of Dawson City where day laborers, miners, and service industry workers lived. The oldest of the coins, which have a total face value of $9.50, is dated 1864. Adjusted for inflation, the amount is equivalent to about $240 today, although prices for basic goods could be extremely high. Thomas explained that a pound of butter sold for about five dollars in Dawson City at the time. “A lot of the tax records show that a lot of these properties were foreclosed on,” Thomas said, “so people would stay, they might go visit family, intending to come back [to Dawson], but just never made it back because they didn’t make their big gold strike.” To read about a recent discovery in the Yukon dating back around 900 years, go to “Time’s Arrow.”

Elite Minoan Burials Unearthed in Crete

CRETE, GREECE—Tornos News reports that several graves dated to the Minoan period were unearthed in Petras, an ancient cemetery in northeastern Crete where elites who may have lived in a nearby palace were buried. Archaeologist Metaxia Tsipopoulou said the first grave, dated to between 2100 and 2000 B.C., contained the remains of a man who was buried with a bronze short sword, and a woman accompanied by a beads made of gold, silver, crystal, carnelian, and jasper. The second grave, dated to between 2600 and 2300 B.C., also contained hundreds of small silver and gold beads thought to have been sewn onto a garment, and gold beads decorated with spirals. A third burial held the remains of two children under the age of ten, who were buried with two bracelets made from thin sheets of gold. Their tomb was lined with stone slabs. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

Wednesday, September 05

Cemetery Discovered Near Pyramid of Senusret I

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt Independent reports that tombs have been discovered carved into the rocky edge of a mountain in Lisht, where royals and elites of the Middle Kingdom were buried. According to Adel Okasha, director of the Central Department of Antiquities of Cairo and Giza, the first section of the cemetery, found some 1,000 feet northeast of the pyramid of King Senusret I (r. ca. 1961–1917 B.C.), features an open yard leading to a vaulted corridor lined with hieroglyphic inscriptions. A hall crosses the corridor, and there is a small chamber, also decorated with inscriptions, to one side. The yard also contains a crypt equipped with a passage that leads to the first burial chamber, and an entrance to additional chambers. To read in-depth about excavations at the capital of the Hyksos, foreigners who ruled Egypt for a century, go to “The Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

Traces of Neolithic Cheese Found on Pottery in Croatia

POKROVNIK, CROATIA—BBC News reports that traces of 7,000-year-old cheese were detected on pottery unearthed in Croatia by an international team of scientists. The fermented milk fats are thought to have clung to the sieve-like objects when Neolithic farmers strained curds out of whey to make cheese, which may have been more easily digestible than milk for lactose-intolerant adults. Clayton Magill of Heriot-Watt University explained that the resulting portable, long-lasting food product could have provided early farming populations with a good source of calories, protein, and fat that may have reduced infant mortality and boosted survival rates during droughts and famines. For more on evidence of ancient tastes in food, go to “The Neolithic Palate.”

Possible Lithophones Identified in Colorado Museum

LONGMONT, COLORADO—Archaeologists Marilyn Martorano and David Killam think stone artifacts housed in the museum at Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado may have been lithophones, or percussion instruments, according to a 9 News report. Martorano said the stones had been carefully shaped, but were too big and heavy—measuring in some cases more than two feet long and weighing ten pounds—to have been used to crush and grind. When the researchers learned that similar stones, which make a sound when struck, have been found in Europe, they tested the Colorado stones. “I was so amazed because they make a real ringing sound and I couldn’t get over it,” Matorano said. Now other researchers in Colorado are checking museum collections for possible lithophones. “I have a lot of questions that remain, that we still don’t know about,” Matorano added. “Where did they get the rock to make these? And how old are they? We really don’t know a lot about that because many of these were picked up by collectors.” For more on the archaeology of music, go to “Renaissance Melody.”

Tuesday, September 04

Roman Basin Recovered From Germanic Grave in Holland

RIJNSBURG, NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that the cremated remains of three people who may have been members of a Germanic tribe, combs thought to have been made in what is now northern Germany, and a rare bronze wash basin decorated with an eagle’s head were discovered in a fourth-century A.D. grave in the western Netherlands. The basin, which was found in fragments and has been reconstructed, is thought to have been made in a Roman workshop in Italy for a high-ranking military officer stationed near the empire’s northern border some 50 years before it was placed in the grave. Zuid-Holland provincial archaeologist René Proos suggested the Roman officer may have used the basin to buy the loyalty of a Germanic tribal chief. The basin and other recent finds in the region indicate the Roman army may have occupied the Netherlands longer than previously thought. To read about evidence of a battle between the Romans and Germanic tribes uncovered in the Netherlands, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”

Bone Arrowhead Recovered in Yukon Territory

YUKON TERRITORY, CANADA—A hiker spotted a rare artifact while on a remote trail in the mountains of the Tombstone region of central Yukon, according to a CBC News report. “We were just coming down the ridge, and I found a little patch of gravel between two big blinds—kind of big snow blinds—and there was this arrowhead laying in the gravel,” said Jennifer Macgillivray, who reported the find to the government’s heritage branch. Made of caribou antler, the arrowhead is thought to have been lost by a hunter hiding behind those rocks some 1,500 years ago. Archaeologists will travel to the site, which is located in an overlap of traditional territories of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nations, to investigate. To read about a barbed arrow point that was recently discovered in southern Yukon, go to “Time’s Arrow.”

Neolithic Farming Site Found in Nile Delta

DAQAHLIYA, EGYPT—A 7,000-year-old settlement has been uncovered at the Tell el-Samara site in the Nile Delta, according to an Ahram Online report. Pottery and stone tools, in addition to storage areas containing animal bones and plant remains were found, and will be analyzed in order to study the origins of farming in Lower Egypt. The artifacts could hold clues to the transition from rain-based to irrigation-based farming along the Nile River. To read in-depth about the Hyksos, foreigners who ruled Egypt for a century, go to “The Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

Third-Century Sculpture Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—According to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report, the head of a statue thought to depict the Roman emperor Aurelian has been discovered at the site of Ulpia Oescus in northern Bulgaria. The entire figure, which probably stood about five feet tall, is thought to have been carved in a workshop in the city. “The hairstyle, the depicting of the chin, the way the eyes are depicted all speak of the fact that this statue is from the third century A.D., the period of the so-called barracks emperors, or soldier emperors of the Roman Empire (A.D. 235–284),” said Gergana Kabakchieva of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology. Aurelian is known to have visited the region, where as many as 100,000 people lived, and it was during his reign that the Macedonian Fifth Legion moved to Ulpia Oescus. The head is thought to have been damaged hundreds of years later, when someone tried to fashion it into a building block and eventually discarded it in a pit. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria dating to the Roman period, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”