Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 15

Remains of First Australians Repatriated

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that the 40,000-year-old remains of “Mungo Man” and more than 100 other early Australians have been handed over to traditional owners for reburial in southeast Australia. “Mungo Man” was discovered in 1974 at Lake Mungo, now a dry lake bed, by geomorphologist Jim Bowler of Australian National University. Since their discovery, the remains have been in the custody of Australian National University and then the National Museum of Australia. “It is an amazing day and a privilege to be part of,” said Bowler, who is now 88 years old. To read about another recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Copper Detected in Ancient Egyptian Ink

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Tests of ancient Egyptian papyri suggest that metal-filled black ink was used across Egypt from roughly 200 B.C. to A.D. 100, according to a report in Cosmos. It had been thought that most writing had been completed with carbon-based ink until the fourth or fifth century A.D. Thomas Christiansen of the University of Copenhagen and his team analyzed inks from papyri printed before 88 B.C., and a second group of papyri dated up to the second century A.D., with radiation-based X-ray microscopy at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. All four varieties of ink identified on the papyri contained copper, in the form of the minerals cuprite, azurite, and malachite. The researchers think soot and charcoal created during the process of removing copper from ores may have been used in the ink. Christiansen notes the blue pigment used by the ancient Egyptians was produced with copper scraps from the metal workshops attached to temples. For more on the use of Egyptian blue, go to “Hidden Blues.”

1,400-Year-Old Loom Discovered in Northern Iraq

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—According to a report in Seeker, recent excavations in northern Iraq led by Dirk Wicke of Goethe University uncovered traces of a loom dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D., and pieces of clay imprinted with images of griffins and horses that may have been seals placed on rolls of fabric. The loom, placed in the corner of a room, would have supported vertical hanging threads pulled straight by clay loom weights. A bench of six mudbricks had been situated in front of the loom, presumably so the weaver could insert the horizontal threads. Below the loom, the excavators found a cylinder seal dated to the Assyrian period, between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. Two winged genies with a cone and a bucket of liquid thought to have been used during a purifying ritual appear on the seal. “It is difficult to pinpoint an exact meaning to it, but this image was very often depicted in the royal palaces and appears to act as a beneficiary motif used to magically protect the king and inhabitants of the palace or palaces,” Wicke said. The team also uncovered a stone wall dating to the Assyrian period that may have been part of a watchtower. To read about an excavation in Iraqi Kurdistan, go to “Erbil Revealed.”

Silver and Gold Coins Unearthed at France’s Cluny Abbey

LYON, FRANCE—The Local reports that a medieval treasure trove has been found near the Cluny Abbey in eastern France. The excavation team, made up of researchers from the University of Lyon II and France’s National Center for Scientific Research, discovered the cache of twelfth-century coins while looking for the corner of the abbey’s infirmary. Most of the 2,200 silver coins were issued by Cluny Abbey. The 21 gold coins, which had been stored in a canvas bag, originated in the Middle East. Additional gold items include a gold signet ring engraved with the word “Avete,” a Latin greeting, and a folded piece of gold leaf. Team member Vincent Borrel said that in their time, the items discovered would have been able to purchase a six-day supply of bread and wine for the abbey. For more, go to “France’s Roman Heritage.”

Tuesday, November 14

Buddhist Monastery Site Uncovered in China

JINGCHUAN COUNTY, CHINA—An excavation in northwest China has uncovered a 1,000-year-old ceramic box containing cremated human remains said to have belonged to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, according to a report in Live Science. An inscription on the box explains that two monks, named Yunjiang and Zhiming, of the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery collected the more than 2,000 pieces of cremated remains, including teeth and bones, over a period of 20 years, and buried them in the temple on June 22, 1013, as a way to practice and promote Buddhism. More than 260 Buddhist statues, and the remains of a building that may have been part of the monastery complex, were also found. Hong Wu of the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said it was not clear whether the statues, which had been made as early as the fourth century A.D., had been buried at the same time as the cremated remains. Some of the statues, which depict the Buddha, bodhisattvas, arhats, and deities, stood more than six feet tall. Few of the statues had been inscribed, but carved steles were also recovered. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Volunteers Find Bronze Age Site in England

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists and volunteers from the Duddon Valley Local History Group were excavating two tenth-century Norse longhouses in northwest England when they discovered a Bronze Age settlement radiocarbon dated to 1300 B.C. They also identified fireplaces dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth century at the site. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

2,000-Year-Old Ink Stone Identified in Japan

CHIKUZEN, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, researchers have detected traces of carbide, thought to have been used as ink, on a piece of sandy shale recovered in 2003 at the Yakushinoue ruins in northern Kyushu. The stone, now broken in two, has the classic shape of a suzuri, or ink stone. It measures about six inches long, two inches wide, and less than one-half inch thick. Writing is thought to have been introduced along the coasts of Japan, where people had contact with other cultures. Scholars use ink stones to track how writing spread. “This is the first finding unearthed inland to be confirmed as an ink stone,” said Yasuo Yanagida of Kokugakuin University. The identification of this stone suggests that writing was practiced by the people of the Yayoi Pottery Culture over a wider area than had been previously thought. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Mummy Discovered in Egypt’s Faiyum Oasis

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a mummy has been discovered at the Deir Al-Banat archaeological site in the Faiyum Oasis by a joint Russian-Egyptian team of researchers. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the mummy is well preserved, although the Greco-Roman period, wooden sarcophagus in which it was found is cracked and in poor condition. The linen-wrapped mummy wears a blue and gold cartonnage mask decorated with images of Kabir, the sky god. An image of the goddess Isis adorns the mummy’s chest area. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Monday, November 13

8,000-Year-Old Grape Wine Detected on Pots From Georgia

TORONTO, CANADA—The Guardian reports that evidence of winemaking dating back some 8,000 years has been discovered by an international team of archaeologists and botanists, who analyzed fragments of fired clay pots and soil samples from two Neolithic villages in the South Caucasus region. The fragments from one of the jars, which had been decorated with “blobs” that the researchers say could have been intended to represent grapes, may have once held more than 80 gallons of the fermented liquid. The tests revealed tartaric acid, a substance found in grapes, on eight of the fragments. Tartaric acid, and three other acids linked to grapes and wine, were detected in the soil samples. Grape pollen, grape starch particles, and the remains of a fruit fly were also found. This is “certainly the example of the oldest pure grape wine in the world,” said Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida. Traces of 7,000-year-old wine made from grapes have been detected on jars found in the Zagros Mountains of northern Iran, and 9,000-year-old wine made from a mixture of grapes, honey, and other ingredients has been discovered in China’s Henan Province. For more, go to “Recreating Nordic Grog.”

Fire Damages Pre-Inca Site in Peru

CHICLAYO, PERU—BBC News reports that as much as 95 percent of Ventarron, a 4,500-year-old site located on Peru’s Lambayeque region on the northern coast, has been damaged by a fire thought to have been started in a nearby sugar cane field and spread by strong winds. The site is known for its murals, including an image of a deer trapped in a net, which is said to be among the oldest-known murals in the Americas. “We are losing an exceptional monument unique to its generation,” said archaeologist Walter Alva, who discovered the mural in 2007. To read about another set of murals in Peru, go to “Painted Worlds.”

5,000-Year-Old Mound Surveyed in Turkey

NEVŞEHIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—According to an Anadolu Agency report, a team of archaeologists led by Yalçin Kamiş of Nevşehir Haci Bektaş Veli University are mapping a 5,000-year-old mound in an area near Cappadocia. The oldest layer is thought to include a defensive fortress and settlement dating to the early Bronze Age. “The site contains a multilayered mound with remains of different periods, the oldest dating from the third to second millennium B.C. It is understood that there are Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine settlements in the area,” Kamiş explained. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

Scientists Evaluate Acoustics of Ancient Greek Theaters

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS—According to a report in Live Science, Eindhoven University of Technology researchers mapped the acoustic qualities of ancient Greek theaters to see if descriptions of sound quality targeted to modern-day tourists have been exaggerated. For example, a whisper was said to be heard in the last of 55 rows of seats in the theater at Epidaurus, or 194 feet away from the stage. Using speedy, wireless measuring devices of their own making, the researchers, led by acoustician Constant Hak, took more than 10,000 measurements at different times during the day in the theater at Epidaurus, which dates to 400 B.C.; the theater of Argos, which dates to 200 B.C.; and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which dates to A.D. 200. The scientists found that loudly projected voices were intelligible in the seats in the last rows, but words spoken at a normal volume were not. The sounds of ripping paper and a dropped coin could be heard about halfway up the rows of seats, and a whisper and the strike of a match could be heard only by those sitting in the front row. So while the sound quality is good, according to the researcher, it is not as impressive as travel guides claim. To read about a recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.