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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 01

Tattoos Detected on 5,000-Year-Old Egyptian Mummies

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, tattoos have been found on two 5,000-year-old bodies naturally preserved in shallow graves by desert conditions at the site of Gebelein in Upper Egypt. Daniel Antoine of the British Museum said the images push back the evidence of tattooing in Africa by about 1,000 years. It had been thought that only the women of ancient Egyptian society wore tattoos, but infrared scans of the male mummy revealed that dark smudges on his upper arm were actually images of a wild bull with a long tail and a Barbary sheep. Similar tests revealed four small S-shaped motifs on the female mummy’s shoulder. The tattoos may have conveyed status, bravery, and magical knowledge, and are thought to have been created by placing soot under the skin. “Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkable preserved individuals,” Antoine said. To read in-depth about body art in the archaeological record, go to “Ancient Tattoos.”

Islamic City’s Port Structures Uncovered

AMMAN, JORDAN—According to an ANSA report, the ancient port of Ayla has been found in the Red Sea, off the coast of the modern city of Aqaba. One thousand years ago, Ayla connected cities on overland trade routes to ports in India, Asia, and Africa. Ehab Eid of the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan said that, in addition to the port structures, the excavators found a pottery kiln and workshops for the maintenance and manufacture of ships and sails. For more on archaeology in Jordan, go to “Desert Life.”

15th-Century Coin Cache Found in the Netherlands

VIANEN, NETHERLANDS—The Netherlands Times reports that a cache of fifteenth-century coins was discovered during construction work in the central Netherlands. The collection of 12 gold and hundreds of silver coins was found in a glazed earthenware cooking pot. Fabric in the pot suggests the coins had been placed in textile bags or wrapped in cloth. The coins bear images of King Henry VI of England, Bishop of Utrecht David of Burgundy, and Pope Paul II. For more on archaeology in the Netherlands, go to “Letter From Rotterdam: The City and the Sea.”

Burials Discovered Under 17th-Century Church in Poland

RZESZÓW, POLAND—Traces of an older wooden church and human remains were found underneath the floor of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rzeszów during renovation and restoration work, according to a report in Science in Poland. Archaeologist Dariusz Bobak of the Rzeszów Archaeological Center Foundation said the current church had been built on a cemetery in the early seventeenth century. The older of two crypts found at the site predates the current church. It held the remains of four adults and a small child who had been placed in upright coffins within two rooms. Some elements of their clothing and a set of Rosary beads were also recovered. The second crypt, on the opposite side of the church’s transept, held several coffins, the contents of which have not yet been examined by anthropologist Joanna Rogóż. This crypt was built as part of the current church and so dates to the seventeenth century. Further research could help the archaeologists identify the distinguished occupants of the two crypts. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Wednesday, February 28

Rain Reveals Ancient Artifacts in Iraq

BAGDAD, IRAQ—Asharq Al-Awsat reports that heavy rains have uncovered pottery, coins, and pieces of metal in the region of ancient Babylon. The artifacts date back to the Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–A.D. 224) through the Islamic period. “Last year, 1,000 pieces were discovered this way, which proves that the ruins may be close to the surface and not always buried deep in the ground,” said Hussein Fleih, Babylon’s director of antiquities. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets from Babylon and other areas of ancient Mesopotamia, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Native American Burial Site Found in Gulf of Mexico

VENICE, FLORIDA—According to a WTSP News report, a 7,000-year-old Native American burial site has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Manasota Key. The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research investigated the site with magnetometry, sub-bottom profiling, and side-scan sonar, and found peat, wooden stakes, and human remains. At the time of burial, the site is thought to have been a peat-bottomed freshwater pond about nine feet above sea level. “As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” said Timothy Parsons, director of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. “The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people.” For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

Traces of Nicotine Detected in Ancient Dental Plaque

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—The International Business Times reports that a team led by Shannon Tushingham of Washington State University, working in cooperation with members of the Ohlone tribe in the San Francisco Bay Area, used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to look for evidence of nicotine, caffeine, and atropine in plaque obtained from the teeth of eight people buried between 6,000 and 300 years ago in what is now California. In the past, archaeologists have relied upon the presence of pipes, charred tobacco seeds, and analysis of hair and fecal matter to trace the spread of tobacco in the ancient Americas. Two of the samples, collected from a man who had been buried with a pipe and an older women, tested positive for nicotine. Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis, said the woman’s age supports the idea that younger women may have avoided intoxicants in order to protect infants, while older women used the substances. The team plans to additional tests to look for other intoxicating chemicals in dental plaque. To read in-depth about research on ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

New Thoughts on Possible Hominin Communication

YORK, ENGLAND—Chimpanzees and bonobos both have repertoires of gestures that convey meaning to other members of their species. According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers led by Kirsty Graham of the University of York have concluded that about 90 percent of these gestures overlap between species and therefore were probably inherited. It is possible the apes developed the gestures independently, but the high correspondence suggests this is unlikely. Graham speculates that when humans see these gestures, many of them will also understand the meaning conveyed, suggesting the signals may have been passed down from the apes’ last common ancestor with modern humans. Further research will test how the gestures develop over an ape’s lifetime, and see whether people share any of the gestures. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”

Tuesday, February 27

Churchyard Burials Revealed in England

WARGRAVE, ENGLAND—The Henley Standard reports that construction work for a new church annex in a village in southeastern England has revealed human remains that appear to date from the early medieval period through the Victorian Age. As many as 90 individuals could be represented among the bones. “We can see many intercutting burials which cut through to the burial plot next to them,” said archaeologist Stephanie Duensing of John Moore Heritage. Remains of coffins and a shroud are helping the archaeologists date the remains, which are being cleaned in a shed at the site. Bone specialist Ceri Boston said she’s found evidence of scurvy, syphilis, arthritis, and poor dental health among the population. One man is thought to have been a bare-knuckle boxer due to a broken nose and rib fractures, though his unusual toe fractures also suggest he may have been a naval conscript. “They used to round up troublemakers and people in jail and shove them off to the navy,” Boston explained. To read about another recent discovery in southeastern England, go to “Caesar’s English Beachhead.”

Cannons Unearthed at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Star reports that two cannons were unearthed in an excavation of the moat and outer defensive structures at Fort Cornwallis that is part of a project to reconstruct the moat. The fort was built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century, and the cannons bear a symbol of King George III, who ruled Britain from 1760 to 1820. The weapons are thought to have been at the fort for at least 200 years. “One of the interpretations was that the fort was not involved in any war,” said Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science Malaysia. “However, with the discovery of the cannons and cannonballs at the end of last year, we might have to take another look at the fort’s history.” Mokhtar notes that there is no mention of cannons at the star-shaped fort on a map of the site dating to 1877. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter From Singapore: The Lion City's Glorious Past.”

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