Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 01

New Technique Provides Thorough Look at Mummy

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA—A lifelike model of the mummy of a girl thought to have died of dysentery during Egypt’s Roman era has been created by combining computer tomography (CT) scans and 3-D scans of the mummy’s surface, according to a report in Live Science. The CT scans, taken in 2005, provide a look beneath the mummy’s wrappings, while the new surface scans, completed with a handheld 3-D scanner, captured details of its surface in color. The scans were then combined using software developed by the company Volume Graphics. The virtual model will become part of the exhibit at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, where the mummy is housed. Christof Reinhart of Volume Graphics explained that the new technique could help scientists link the features on the surface of an object to associated features on the inside of an object. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

New Thoughts on the Extinction of Neanderthals

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary biologist Oren Kolodny of Stanford University and his colleague Marc Feldman built a computer model to test how hominin population sizes and migration patterns could have affected the survival of Neanderthals in Europe. “It’s the simplest model that we can build without assuming any hard-to-prove claims, like selection or environmental change,” Kolodny said. The researchers ran the simulation hundreds of thousands of times, and in each one, a species had to go extinct, since two species cannot occupy the same environmental niche at the same time. In most of the simulations, Neanderthals died out within 12,000 years of the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Kolodny thinks that humans' gradual migration could have been enough to wipe out the Neanderthals. For more, go to “Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Roman-Era Tombs Unearthed in Greece

CORINTH, GREECE—A team of scientists led by Elena Korka of the Greek Ministry of Culture has recovered jewels, coins, and other artifacts from tombs dating to the first through fourth centuries A.D. near the ancient settlement of Tenea, according to a report in Newsweek. Fourteen of the Roman graves had been organized in circles. These burials yielded gold and silver coins, vases, and lamps featuring depictions of the goddess Venus and two cupids. Roman-period builders also repurposed the limestone foundations of earlier, Hellenic structures to build the tombs for wealthy, Roman-era occupants, Korka said. These people were buried with artifacts such as gilded bronze leaves, a golden ring, precious stones, and perfumes, glassware, and pottery. For more, go to “Greece's Biggest Tomb.”

Horse Bones and Chariots Excavated in China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that 90 horse skeletons and four chariots have been recovered from a 2,400-year-old pit in central China. The pit was found in a cemetery of more than 3,000 tombs and 18 pits containing chariots and the remains of horses, near a tomb thought to have belonged to a lord of the Zheng State, who lived during the late Spring and Autumn Period, or sometime between 770 and 476 B.C. “As the main tomb has been looted and no written records have been found yet, it is difficult to identify the tomb owner,” said Ma Juncai of the Henan Province cultural heritage and archaeology institute. The largest of the chariots in this pit was equipped with rain and sun protection for the passenger, and was decorated with bronze and bone artifacts. The horses are thought to have been killed, then placed in the pit, and then covered with pieces of a dismantled chariot. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

Tuesday, October 31

Coptic Icon Confiscated at Egyptian Airport

HURGHADA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that antiquities officials confiscated a Coptic icon protected by a 1983 antiquities law at Hurghada International Airport. Naglaa El-Kobrosly, director of the Antiquities Units in Egyptian Airports, said a passenger attempted to smuggle the Christian triptych out of the country in some luggage. Crafted from copper in the eighteenth century, the icon’s three panels are said to reflect the Byzantine style. To read about a similar Byzantine artifact that was recently unearthed, go to "Iconic Discovery."

X-Rays Reveal Sketch of Mary Queen of Scots

LONDON, ENGLAND—X-ray imaging has revealed a rare portrait of Mary Queen of Scots underneath a painting of a Scottish nobleman, according to a report in The Independent. The unfinished image is thought to have been started in 1586 by Dutch artist Adrian Vanson in Scotland, while Mary was a prisoner in England, and may have been abandoned when she was executed for her complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I later that year. The sketch of Mary’s face, hat, and neck were eventually covered with the image of Sir John Maitland, the Scottish king’s Chancellor, in 1588. Part of Mary’s dress was turned into his doublet, and her right hand was modified to form Maitland’s right hand. “Now that we know from the X-ray images what was going on, it explains why the portrait of the Scottish Chancellor was so awkwardly painted,” said Caroline Rae of the Courtauld Institute of Art. To read about similar work being done on ancient Roman frescoes in Herculaneum, go to "Putting on a New Face."

Pieces of Silver Thracian Wreath Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an excavation team from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History has uncovered parts of an ancient silver wreath in a burial mound located near Bulgaria’s Dyadovo Settlement Mound. The region, located in southeast Bulgaria, was inhabited from the end of the seventh millennium B.C. through the twelfth century A.D., and was the site of a Thracian fortress during the Bronze Age. The wreath is thought to have been crafted by the Thracians sometime between the late first century and beginning of the third century A.D., after the region was conquered by the Romans. The pieces, engraved with images of plant leaves and fruit, show signs of having been melted, perhaps because its owner had been cremated. To read more about Thracian grave goods, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Face of Eighteenth-Century “Witch” Reconstructed

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in BBC News, forensic artist Christopher Rynn of Dundee University’s Center for Anatomy and Human Identification used twentieth-century photographs of a now missing skull to create a 3-D digital reconstruction of Lilias Adie, a Scottish woman who died in 1704 while imprisoned for the crime of witchcraft. In the nineteenth century, her remains were exhumed from a grave on the Fife coast that had been covered with a large stone, presumably to keep her from rising from the grave. Adie was tortured and interrogated in prison in an effort to get her to name other women as witches. But she only pointed the finger at those who had already been named. Adie is thought to have taken her own life. To read about archaeological evidence for witchcraft in the British Isles, go to "The Witches of Cornwall." 

Paleolithic Beads Discovered in China

YINCHUAN, CHINA—According to a Xinhua News Agency report, archaeologists have found a total of four tiny beads estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000 years old by sifting and washing tens of thousands of cubic feet of dirt removed from a site in northwest China. The smallest bead, crafted from eggshell, measures just 0.05 inches in diameter. “It is incredible that it can be so well processed with such a small diameter,” said Wang Huimin of the Ningxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and the Qingtongxia’s Cultural Relics Administration, also participated in the project. To read more about Paleolithic beadwork, go to "In Style in the Stone Age." 

Monday, October 30

Isla de Mona’s Treasure Trove of Taino Artwork

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Thousands of Taino drawings and paintings have been discovered on the remote, uninhabited Caribbean island of Mona, according to a report in The St. Kitts & Nevis Observer. Archaeologists from the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico, the University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge, and the British Museum found the drawings spread over 30 of the island’s caves, and there are more than 100 caves still to be investigated. Initial tests suggest most of the rock art, which depicts combinations of animal and human faces, and geometric and curvilinear patterns, dates to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some of the images were painted with bat guano that had absorbed naturally occurring yellow, brown, and red mineral pigments from the caves’ floors. Plant resin was sometimes added to the mixture to help it adhere to cave walls. Most of the images were created by dragging bare fingers across the layer of corroded calcite on the cave walls to expose the lighter-colored solid rock beneath it. Scholars think the island may have been the site of ceremonial rituals that were perhaps fueled by hallucinogens, as described by a sixteenth-century Spanish observer. To read more about the artwork on Mona Island, go to "Spiritual Meeting Ground."

Pilgrims’ Homes Excavated in Massachusetts

PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS—The Patriot Ledger reports that archaeologists led by David Landon of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, have uncovered traces of Pilgrim life between the remains of two buildings located within the palisade wall discovered last year. In one pit, they found the bones of a butchered calf that had not been completely processed. Landon thinks hot weather may have been the reason. “We’re filleting it out and it’s laying around for a little while,” he speculated. “Time to get rid of the rest of this into a pit on the side of the house,” he said. The alleyway also yielded samples from a trash pit that will be tested for pollen and parasites, and fish bones in a planting hole, reflecting the Wampanoag practice of fertilizing plants with fish. Other seventeenth-century artifacts uncovered during the excavation include European pottery and stoneware, straight pins, trader’s beads, and a lead seal marked with an image of a thistle, which may have come on a bolt of cloth from England. “It was very emblematic of the time and emblematic of the trade routes,” Landon said. To read more about historical archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker's Revenge."

Historians Challenge “Earliest Zero” Claim

EDMONTON, CANADA—According to a report in The International Business Times, an international group of historians of Indian mathematics disagrees with a study conducted by Oxford University researchers, which claimed the Bakhshali manuscript dated to 200 B.C., and recorded the earliest-known use of the number zero. The critics argue that the text of the Bakhshali manuscript is a unified treatise on arithmetic that was written all at once, by the same scribe, on birch bark leaves dating to different time periods. They suggest the text therefore dates to the time of the youngest birch bark leaves, in the eighth century A.D., but stress that it does contain important calculations using the concept of zero. To read about the original claim, go to "New Dates Push Back Use of Zero."