Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 24

Inca Farming Terraces Restored in Peru

CUSCO, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that traces of buildings, an aqueduct, walls, and agricultural terraces built by the Inca have been found near the city of Cusco, at Chinchero Archaeological Park. Felix Vilca of the Decentralized Culture Directorate of Cusco said the aqueduct probably carried water to crops. One of three large, rectangular buildings on one of the terraces had a stone floor and is thought to date to the colonial era. The four-year project to restore the farming terraces is expected to be completed this year. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

Teotihuacan May Have Been Renamed by the Spanish

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to an Associated Press report, archaeologist Veronica Ortega of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History thinks the city known as Teotihuacan, or “city of the gods,” may have originally been called Teohuacan, or “city of the sun,” by the Aztecs. Some 700 years after the city was abandoned, Aztec rulers traveled there in an effort to legitimize their rule. Ortega says the word “Teohuacan” had been written beneath an Aztec pictogram referring to the city with the sun, temple, and ruler signs in the Xolotol Codex. Later Aztec documents drawn up after the arrival of the Spanish use the word “Teotihuacan” for the same city, however. Ortega suggests Spanish colonists changed the city’s name because the sun was used as a symbol for rulers, and they wanted to change the seat of power in the region to Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. “They wanted people to see Teotihuacan as a place of worship, but not as a place where rulers were anointed, because they wanted to keep the political center in Tenochtitlan,” Ortega explained. For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf.”

Prehistoric Artifacts Recovered From Norway’s Glaciers

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Newsweek reports that more than 2,000 artifacts dating back to as early as 4000 B.C. have been recovered from mountain passes in the glaciers of Oppland, Norway, by an international team of researchers. The artifacts include weapons and arrows, the remains of pack horses, and skis. Lars Pilø of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council said the skis are broader than modern skis, and may have been partly covered in fur. A tunic dating to the Iron Age, one Bronze-Age shoe, and the remains of sleds were also found. Pilø said that during the Late Antique Little Ice Age, a period stretching from A.D. 536 to 660, harvests failed and populations fell, but the number of artifacts from that time period suggests the survivors intensified other means of gathering food in the mountains. “This is sort of a dark archaeology, where we benefit from climate change that’s making this ice high in the mountains melt,” Pilø said. “There’s not much we can do to stop it, but at least we can be up there trying to find what we can.” For more on the relationship between archaeology and climate change, go to “Letter From Norway: The Big Melt.”

Tuesday, January 23

Sub-Saharan Glass Analyzed

HOUSTON, TEXAS—According to a report in The Independent, chemical analysis of 52 glass beads unearthed in Nigeria suggests the glass was produced locally. Abidemi Babatunde Babalola of Harvard University said it had been previously believed that glass imported from the Mediterranean and the Middle East was melted and reworked in glass workshops at the site of Igbo Olokun, which is located within Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba people of West Africa. But Babalola and his team said the composition of the glass is unique and reflects the local raw materials: some of the glass beads had high levels of lime and alumina, while a second group had low levels of lime and high levels of alumina. Babalola added that the glass was dated to between A.D. 1100 and 1500, before Europeans established trade networks in West Africa. For more about the glass workshops of Igbo Olokun and this project, go to “The Glass Economy.”

Possible Slave Ship Found in Alabama

MOBILE, ALABAMA—According to an Associated Press report, a wooden shipwreck exposed by particularly low tides in a river delta in southwestern Alabama may be the Clotilda, said to be the last ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States in 1860. The importation of slaves was outlawed in the United States in 1807, but a plantation owner who had made a bet that he could sneak African slaves into the country, past the federal troops guarding Mobile Bay, in the days leading up to the start of the Civil War, employed an Alabama steamboat captain to do so. The Clotilda’s captain, William Foster, wrote that he burned the ship after it delivered its cargo of 110 captives. “[T]he location is right, the construction seems to be right, [it's] from the proper time period, it appears to be burnt,” said archaeologist Greg Cook of the University of West Florida, who examined the wreckage. Cook and his colleagues will attempt to further verify the ship’s identity. To read in-depth about a group of enslaved people who were marooned on an Indian Ocean island, go to “Castaways.”

Scholars Translate Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Eshbal Ratson and Jonathan Ben-Dov of the University of Haifa have pieced together and deciphered 60 tiny fragments of one of the last two unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran. Notes made in the margins of the scroll by a scribe helped Ratson and Ben-Dov to read the text, which was written in code. It describes a 364-day lunar calendar, and festivals of New Wheat, New Wine, and New Oil. Today, the Jewish festival of Shavuot celebrates the festival of New Wheat. According to the newly translated text, the members of the Jewish sect that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls celebrated the festival of New Wine 50 days after Shavuot, and the festival of New Oil 50 days after that. The text also described a festival that marked the transitions between the four seasons of the year on special days known as Tekufah, a word in modern Hebrew that translates as “period.” For more, go to “Scroll Search.”

Monday, January 22

New Thoughts on Mexico’s First Domesticated Turkeys

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers suggests turkeys were not domesticated in Mexico as a food source, but to fulfill a symbolic and cultural role, according to a report in the International Business Times. Aurélie Manin of the University of York and her colleagues analyzed the remains of 55 turkeys that lived in Mesoamerica between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1500. They found that modern European domesticated turkeys are descended from Mexican ancestors. But, ancient turkey bones are rarely found amid domestic garbage at archaeological sites in Mesoamerica. Instead, the bones are usually found buried in temples and in human graves, and do not bear any marks suggesting the birds had been eaten. And, some of the bones came from birds found outside their natural range, which suggests Mesoamericans may have traded live birds. Manin also said turkeys were often depicted as gods or used as symbols in Mesoamerican iconography. A study of the carbon isotope ratios in the turkey bones suggests that one type of turkey was likely to have been domesticated and fed a diet of grains like corn from cultivated crops, while another, more ornate wild type, remained free to eat bugs and wild plants. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

4,500-Year-Old Clam Processing Site Examined in Japan

YOYOHASHI, JAPAN—According to a report in the Japan Times, archaeologists have analyzed the Sakatsuji Shell Midden, which is one of seven prehistoric shell middens in Honshu’s Aichi Prefecture. The researchers said that some 4,500 years ago, Sakatsuji Shell Midden was located along the sea coast, and was likely to have been a clam processing site. The mound currently measures about five feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 80 feet long, and has at least four layers and 55 possible furnaces made of stones. During the mid-Jomon period, people are thought to have traveled to the site to dig clams and boil them in the furnaces. After the clammers stripped the meat from the shells, the researchers suggest they leveled the piles of shells so that the site could be used again. Since so many clams were prepared at a time, the stripped meat may have been dried after cooking so that it would last longer and could perhaps be traded. The team also determined that the Sakatsuji midden is at least 700 years older than the other middens in the region. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Iron Age Skull Found in England

SOMERSET, ENGLAND—The Telegraph reports that a skull discovered last spring on a riverbank in southwest England belonged to a woman who lived sometime between 380 and 190 B.C. Cut marks suggest the 45-year-old woman had been decapitated, either before or after death, and her head deposited in the River Sowy. “We have found similar severed heads like this in other water places,” said archaeologist Richard Bunning of South West Heritage Trust, “so it seems that they were sacred places, rather than just where people were living.” The rest of the woman’s body is missing, but investigators did recover the remains of posts that had been driven deep into the riverbed and may have supported a raised walkway for ritual activity at the river. The posts are being radiocarbon dated to see if they are the same age as the skull. Bunning added that analysis of the skull indicates the woman had severe osteoarthritis in the joint of her right jaw, gum disease, and tooth loss. “We don’t know if she was a victim or a revered member of a tribe, but it was clearly an important ritual site,” Bunning concluded. To read about another site nearby, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”