Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 29

2,200-Year Old Department of Music Found in China

XI’AN, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a Qin-Dynasty office building has been uncovered in northwest China. The building’s four rooms had clay walls measuring nearly ten feet thick, possibly made from tiles and bricks. According to Xu Weihong of the Shaanxi Province Research Institute of Archaeology, 23 pieces of chime debris inscribed with the word “beigongyuefu,” which translates to “musical department of the north palace,” have been recovered. Evidence of fire was also found in the structure, but two of the building’s rooms were empty, possibly suggesting that the building was looted and then burned during the uprising that ended the Qin Dynasty in 207 B.C. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Medieval Chess Piece Unearthed in Southern Norway

TØNSBERG, NORWAY—According to a Live Science report, a game piece recovered from a thirteenth-century house in southern Norway is believed to be a knight from a shatranj, or ancient chess set, since it is carved with circles on the bottom, sides, and top, and a protruding snout bearing dotted circles, causing it to resemble a horse. Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research suspect some lead inside the thimble-shaped piece of carved antler helps it to stand upright. Lars Haugesten, project manager of the excavation, says similar game pieces are found in Arabia, where chess was first played in the seventh century. In addition, a twelfth-century chess piece has been found in Lund, Sweden. For more, go to “The Church that Transformed Norway.”

Two Well-Preserved Shipwrecks Discovered in Baltic Sea

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, two wooden shipwrecks have been found in the Baltic Sea, near Sweden. One of the vessels is thought to be a single-masted cog dating to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The other ship, thought to date to the sixteenth century, was carrying 20 barrels of osmond iron, a type of wrought iron, and tar when it sank. Maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson said he had never seen such well-preserved shipwrecks. They will be featured in a new maritime museum in Stockholm. To read in-depth about discoveries on the Swedish island of Gotland, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Fourth-Century B.C. Crown Repatriated to Turkey

ANKARA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that an ancient gold crown, stolen from the Aegean site of Milas, has been returned to Turkey. The 2,400-year-old crown is said to have been taken from the burial chamber of Hecatomnus in 2008. It was found in Edinburgh, Scotland, two years later, when Scottish police pursued a lead from auction house officials. In addition, a sixteenth-century Quran is in the process of being recovered. “We will not stop pursuing the artifacts that belong to our country,” said Numan Kurtulmuş, Turkey’s culture and tourism minister. The crown will be put on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. To read about a discovery in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

Friday, January 26

Modern Human Fossil in Israel Pushes Back Migration Dates

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a New York Times report, a fossilized portion of a modern human upper jaw, complete with seven intact teeth, has been found in Israel’s Misliya Cave by a team led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. The maxilla has been dated to between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, which suggests that modern humans were present in the Levant at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought. Paleoanthropologist Gerhard W. Weber of the University of Vienna and his team used high-resolution micro-CT scanning equipment to create a 3-D replica of the jaw, examine its features, and compare them with fossils of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and other hominins from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. “It’s not a little bit modern, or on the border of being modern,” Weber said. “It is really modern human.” The fossil is said to be the oldest-known evidence of modern humans living outside of Africa, and it could push back the evolution of Homo sapiens by 100,000 to 200,000 years, suggesting they originated in Africa some 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Stone-Age Woman’s Likeness Recreated

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Live Science reports that Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson has recreated the face of an 18-year-old woman who lived some 9,000 years ago in central Greece. The young woman’s remains were discovered in Theopetra Cave, where footprints, fireplace ashes, stone tools, and bones have also been found. Evidence of human occupation of the cave spans a period of about 45,000 years, from the Middle Paleolithic to the Neolithic period. Nilsson based his recreation on 3-D printed reproductions of the skeletal remains and scientists’ estimations of the woman’s age, ethnicity, and weight at the time of her death. He added muscles and flesh to a replica of her skull in the form of sculpted layers of clay topped with silicone skin. “When you reconstruct a face, it’s very important not to project a face from your inner fantasy,” Nilsson explained. “You must let the face grow from the technique, from the skull.” Nilsson’s sculpture is on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. To read about a recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

10,000-Year-Old Ochre “Crayon” Discovered in England

YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that researchers from the University of York have studied two pieces of ochre recovered in North Yorkshire, in an area near the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, where more than 30 red deer antler headdresses and a pendant were found in 2015. The first piece of ochre, described as a crayon by archaeologist Andy Needham, measures less than one inch long, and is rounded on one end and pointed at the other. The second piece of ochre is shaped like a pebble. Its surface is heavily striated, suggesting it had been scraped to produce red pigment powder. Needham suggests the ochre may have been used by Mesolithic artists to apply color to decorative works or animal skins. To read about another discovery at Star Carr, go to “Mesolithic Markings.”

Thursday, January 25

Social Network Theory Applied to Medieval Irish Text

COVENTRY, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that researchers from Coventry, Oxford, and Sheffield Universities have used the mathematical techniques of social network theory to analyze a nineteenth-century translation of Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, a medieval Irish text describing warfare between an army led by Irish king Brian Boru, regional Irish kingdoms, and Viking invaders. Boru succeeded in unifying Ireland by 1011, but rebellion in Leinster and Viking-controlled Dublin led to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Boru’s army was victorious, although the king was killed during the battle. Recent scholarship has suggested that most of the fighting during this period could be characterized as civil war among the Irish. Yet statistical analysis of the contacts between the hundreds of Irish and Viking characters, and the more than 1,000 connections between them in Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, indicates that overall, the conflict was between the Irish and Vikings. Ralph Kenna of Coventry University said the network was complex, however, and Irish-on-Irish conflict did exist. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

New Thoughts on Human Brain Evolution

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Simon Neubauer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues say rounded heads rising above the forehead and globe-shaped brains appeared in modern humans between 100,000 and 35,000 years ago, according to a Science News report. The researchers used micro-CT scans of the inner surfaces of the skulls in the test sample to create digital approximations of the size and shape of the individuals’ brains. The sample included 20 ancient Homo sapiens skulls, the oldest of which date to 315,000 years ago. Four of the skulls date to between 120,000 and 115,000 years ago, and the remainder between 36,000 and 8,000 years ago. The ancient brains were compared with 89 present-day modern-human brains, and the brains of 10 members of other ancient Homo species ranging in age from 1.78 million years to 200,000 years. Eight Neanderthal brains, dating to between 75,000 and 40,000 years ago, were also used for comparison. The study suggests that over a period of about 250,000 years, the human brain remained the same size, but transitioned from a flatter, elongated shape to a rounder one, due to changes in the parietal and cerebellar areas. Those parts of the brain are involved in orientation, attention, imagery, self-awareness, memory, numerical processing, language, balance, spatial processing, and tool use. For more on the evolution of the human brain, go to “Hungry Minds.”

Cairo's Colossal Moving Project

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the 91-ton statue of Ramesses II was moved some 1,300 feet, from a storage area to the atrium of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open fully in 2022. The statue is said to have been moved four times: the first trip, from the Aswan quarry where it was carved to the Memphis necropolis, where it was part of the façade of Ptah’s temple, took place some 3,000 years ago. In 1955, the statue was moved to Cairo, and placed in what is now known as Ramesses Square. It was moved to the headquarters of the new Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau in 2006 to protect it from pollution. Since then, it has been studied and reinforced in preparation for the most recent journey over a specially treated road. Egypt’s Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces and the Arab Contractors Company created an iron cage in which the colossus was hung for the trip, so that it would be able to move freely. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”