Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, August 16

Village in Belarus May Have Been Home to Slav Ancestors

MINSK, BELARUS—Vadim Belavec of Belarusian State University believes he has found a home of the ancestors of the Slavs in the Pripyat River Basin in southern Belarus, according to a Science in Poland report. Belavec’s excavation team uncovered two buildings and an assortment of artifacts from the settlement, which dates from the second to fifth centuries A.D. The two buildings at the site were probably used to store grain. Evidence of gold working, in the form of crucibles and casting spoons, was recovered, in addition to bronze brooches decorated with red and white enamel, and a coin bearing the image of the Roman emperor Commodus (A.D. 161-192). An unusual sword sheath that may have belonged to a Germanic warrior was also found. Belavec speculates this warrior may have taken part in an attack that led to the demise of the settlement in the fifth century. The oldest-known historical record of the Slavs dates to the sixth century A.D. To read about a recent discovery made in southwestern Russia, go to “Hellenistic Helmet Safety.”

Stern of USS Abner Read Found in Bering Sea

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—According to an Associated Press report, a 75-foot piece of USS Abner Read has been found under almost 300 feet of water in the Bering Sea, near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, by a team of scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Delaware. Abner Read struck a Japanese mine while looking for Japanese submarines during the 1943 Battle of Attu, the only World War II battle fought in North America. Seventy-one men were lost in the blast, but the remaining 250 men on the ship were able to make it watertight for the journey back to the West Coast of the United States. The ship was repaired and eventually sank after a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in 1944. To read about the discovery of the wreck of another World War II ship, go to “Finding Indianapolis, which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.”

Early Egyptian Embalming Recipe Analyzed

YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an international team of researchers including Stephen Buckley of the University of York has worked out an ancient Egyptian embalming “recipe” through the analysis of a human mummy dated to approximately 3600 B.C. It had been previously thought that this mummy had been formed through natural processes, but chemical analysis of its wrappings revealed the body was intentionally embalmed. The remains, housed in The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, and never treated by conservators, had been treated with a plant oil such as sesame oil; a “balsam-type” plant or root extract, perhaps derived from bulrushes; a plant-based gum that may have been produced from acacia; and a conifer tree resin, probably from pine trees. When combined with oil, the resin possessed antibacterial properties that helped to protect the body from decay, Buckley said. This basic recipe was used 2,000 years later to embalm the pharaohs, he added, suggesting there was an Egyptian identity long before the Egyptian nation-state was formed. To read more about research on early embalming in Egypt, go to “Mummification Before the Pharaohs,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Wednesday, August 15

Egyptian Science Texts Translated in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports than an international team of researchers is translating previously unpublished ancient Egyptian texts in the collections of the University of Copenhagen. Egyptologist Kim Ryholt said the topics of the works include medicine, botany, astronomy, and astrology, and are likely to contribute to scholars’ understanding of the history of science, since Egyptian ideas spread to Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. The kidneys, eye diseases, and pregnancy are among the topics covered in medical texts investigated by the researchers so far. One 3,500-year-old papyrus prescribes a method of determing the sex of an unborn child. “The text says that a pregnant woman should pee into a bag of barley and a bag of wheat,” explained Sofie Schiødt of the University of Copenhagen. “Depending on which bag sprouts first reveals the sex of her child. And if neither of the bags sprout then she wasn’t pregnant.” A similar pregnancy test has been found in German folklore dated to 1699. “That really puts things into perspective,” Schiødt said, “as it shows that the Egyptian ideas have left traces thousands of years later.” To read about a recently translated religious text from Egypt, go to “Divine Invitation.”

Christian Pectoral Cross Unearthed in Bulgaria

KARDZALI, BULGARIA—Excavation of a Christian bishop’s residence dating to the early fifth century A.D. continues in southern Bulgaria’s ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, according to Archaeology in Bulgaria. The residence was part of a 70-foot-long basilica. “This is one of the earliest ensembles [of religious Christian buildings] in all of early Christian Europe,” said archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov. The front piece of a bronze engolpion cross, complete with depictions of the crucified Christ figure and the four Christian saints known as the Evangelists, was found within the building. Such crosses were designed to be worn on the chest, suspended by a chain, and are now worn as a symbol of a bishop’s rank. This cross, dated from the tenth to twelfth centuries A.D., may have held relics of a saint. Ovcharov thinks the well-worn cross may have been worn for more than 100 years, since the faces of its figures are worn off. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Evolution of the Big Toe Studied

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—According to a BBC News report, Peter Fernandez of Marquette University led a team of researchers who made 3-D scans of the toe bones of living and fossil primate species and human relatives, and compared them to scans of the toes of modern humans. The study suggests early hominins, beginning with Ardipithecus ramidus some 4.4 million years ago, would have been able to walk upright while still having an opposable big toe for climbing and grasping. The scientists found that hominin feet changed slowly and were versatile, with the modern big toe—and the commitment to upright walking—emerging later than other modern foot features. “It might have been last because it was the hardest to change,” Fernandez said. To read about recent study of the oldest known hominin footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

Tuesday, August 14

Ancestral Puebloans May Have Bred Scarlet Macaws

STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Smithsonian Magazine report, a new study of scarlet macaw bones unearthed in New Mexico suggests the birds were bred in captivity and raised with a great deal of specialized care and effort at a single, small aviary in what is now the southwestern United States or northwestern Mexico by ancestral Pueblo peoples between A.D. 850 and 1150. Richard George of Penn State University and his team extracted mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 14 macaws recovered from five different sites in Chaco Canyon and the Mimbres region of New Mexico. They found that all 14 birds shared a similar heritage, and more than 70 percent of them likely shared a maternal lineage. “This is important… not only the population history of macaws and human interaction, but also what was happening between groups of people,” George explained. Images of macaw chicks on Mimbres pottery also support the idea that the fast-growing birds were raised locally. It had been previously suggested that macaws in North America had been imported from the Paquimé aviary in Mexico, which was most active between A.D. 1250 and 1450. Such a long journey from Mexico to Chaco Canyon would have taken more than a month. For more on evidence of macaws in the American Southwest, go to “Angry Birds.”

Evidence of Çatalhöyük Climate Conditions Found in Fat Residues

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that biochemists Mélanie Roffet-Salque and Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and their colleagues analyzed the residues on pottery from the site of Çatalhöyük, which is located in central Turkey, for clues to how a shift in the climate some 8,200 years ago might have affected early farmers. The scientists speculated that drought could have damaged crops and grazing lands, while cooler weather could have increased the food needs of the farmers’ sheep, goats, and cattle. A technique called gas chromatography–mass spectrometry revealed that the fat residues on the pottery dating to the time of the climate shift contained about nine percent more heavy hydrogen—an isotope that correlates with lower levels of precipitation—than sherds from other periods. The researchers also note the higher number of cut marks on animal bones beginning about 8,200 years ago, suggesting that the farmers ate every morsel of available food, and a drop in the number of cattle bones and a rise in the number of goat bones. Goats may have been better at surviving in drought conditions. To read about a figurine discovered at Çatalhöyük, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

Excavation of Artemis Temple Underway in Central Greece

EVIA, GREECE—A team of researchers led by Karl Reber of the Swiss Archaeological School in Greece and Amalia Karappaschalidou of the Evia Ephorate of Antiquities has uncovered a variety of artifacts at the sanctuary of Artemis near Amarynthos, according to The Greek Reporter. The site, discovered last year, was the end point of an annual procession from the ancient city of Eretria. The items include embossed tiles bearing the name “Artemis”; statue bases inscribed with dedications to Artemis, her brother Apollo, and their mother, Leto; and a copper and quartz object that may have been part of a larger statue. Scholars suggest the temple, which is thought to have been destroyed by a natural disaster in the first century B.C., and rebuilt in the second century A.D., helped to strengthen Eretria’s border. The excavation team also found evidence of earlier buildings at the site, dating back to the tenth century B.C. To read in-depth about study of the temple of Hera at the site of Olympia, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”