Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 11

Section of Roman Road Uncovered in Northern England

LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND—An archaeological investigation ahead of a construction project uncovered a section of Roman road in northwestern England, according to a report in The Lancashire Evening Post. “People have been trying to find the line of that road since the 1850s,” said David Hunt of the South Ribble Museum. Made of rounded cobbles and gravel, the road was wide enough to accommodate the Roman military, and stretched about 17 miles to connect the towns of Wigan and Walton-le-Dale. Ian Miller of the University of Salford said he was surprised to find a well-preserved section of the road that had not been plowed up by 2,000 years of farming in the area. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

Bones Hint at Life in Bronze-Age Mongolia

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, an international team of scientists led by Sarah Karstens of the University of Auckland examined 25 sets of remains of people who lived in Mongolia between about 3,500 and 2,700 years ago for signs of health. The researchers found very little evidence of inflammation or infection in the bones, or signs of diseases brought on by malnutrition, such as rickets or scurvy. Injuries commonly inflicted through fights or falls from horseback, such as broken noses, ribs, and legs, were detected in the bones, however. Wear and tear associated with horseback riding was also seen in the people’s spines. Karstens and her colleagues concluded that Bronze-Age Mongolians probably lived in small nomadic groups that enjoyed plenty of exercise and avoided living near accumulations of their own waste. For more, go to “In Search of History's Great Rulers: Genghis Khan, Founder of the Mongol Empire.”

1,500-Year-Old Tombs Discovered in Northern China

XI’AN, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a cluster of 12 tombs estimated to be more than 1,500 years old has been discovered in northern China. The tombs are thought to date to the Sixteen Kingdoms period, from A.D. 304 to 439. Liu Daiyun of the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology said the tombs were arranged in two rows and may have belonged to a single family. Each tomb has a passage, a door, and a path leading to the coffin chamber. “Some new burial customs, such as placing stones in a small pit at the corner of the tomb and the feet of some of the bodies in the tombs being held down by square stones, have been discovered for the first time,” Liu said. Figurines of warriors, servants, and animals made of pottery, and mirrors, stamps, hair clasps, pins, bracelets, bells, and coins made of bronze were also found in the tombs. Two of the burials contained piglet skulls and millet shells. DNA tests could reveal whether the occupants of the tombs were members of the same family, Liu added. For more on burial practices in China, go to “Tomb from a Lost Tribe.”

Thursday, January 10

Copper-Age Axes Unearthed in Bulgaria

POLKOVNIK TALASKOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a hoard of 6,500-year-old tools was discovered on the edge of an ancient settlement in northeastern Bulgaria by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Dimitar Chernakov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History. The hoard contains 18 flat axes and four ax hammers crafted from a copper alloy. Together, the implements weigh more than 25 pounds. Chernakov said the axes are thought to have been made in one of the metal processing centers on the western coast of the Black Sea and shipped to the rest of the Balkan Peninsula. The items in the hoard bear few signs of wear, and may have been created as prestige items, or as a means of exchange, he added. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Little Foot’s Inner Ears Analyzed

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Live Science reports that the 3.67-million-year-old female Australopithecus individual known as “Little Foot” is likely to have walked more like a chimpanzee than a modern human, according to a new study led by Amélie Beaudet and Ronald Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand. The researchers scanned the interior of Little Foot's fossil skull and constructed a virtual 3-D model of the tiny structures in its inner ear. They then compared Little Foot’s anatomy to the inner ears of 17 early hominin species, 10 modern humans, and 10 chimpanzees. The study concluded that Little Foot’s ear canals are ape-like, and most closely resemble those of chimpanzees. Since the structures of the inner ear are linked to balance, Australopithecus may have moved in a way similar to chimpanzees as well. For more, go to “Cosmic Rays and Australopithecines.”

Possible Maya Steam Bath Found in Guatemala

KRAKÓW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, a team of researchers led by Wiesław Koszkul and Jarosław Źrałka of the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University have uncovered a stone structure at Guatemala’s Maya site of Nakum that may have served as the foundation of a steam bath as early as 700 B.C. The excavators first discovered the entrance to a tunnel carved out of rock in an area of the site surrounded by temples, pyramids, and palaces. The tunnel leads to a set of stairs, and then a second tunnel, which ends in a rectangular room with rock-cut benches. An oval hearth in the wall opposite the entrance to the room is thought to have been used to heat large stones. Water would then have been poured over them to create steam. Koszkul and Źrałka suggest the excess water would have flowed into a hollow in the middle of the bath’s rock floor, and out of the structure through a drain channel in the tunnels. The researchers also found pottery and obsidian tools in the tunnels, which may have been used during rituals held in the steam bath. The structure was completely sealed with mortar and rubble around 300 B.C., Koszkul said, perhaps as result of social and religious changes in Maya society. To read in-depth about the burial of a Maya king in Guatemala, go to “Tomb of the Vulture Lord.”

Wednesday, January 9

Medieval German Woman May Have Helped Produce Manuscripts

JENA, GERMANY—Particles of ultramarine have been detected in dental calculus on the lower jaw of a woman who was buried near a women’s monastery in western Germany some 1,000 years ago, according to a Live Science report. The woman was between the ages of 45 and 60 when she died, and her skeleton showed no signs of prolonged physical labor. Ultramarine, a rare and expensive pigment made from lapis lazuli mined in Afghanistan, was only used to color the finest illuminated manuscripts during the medieval period, explained historian Alison Beach of Ohio State University. In addition, Monica Tromp of the Max Planck Institute for Science of Human History said the presence of the pigment on the woman’s remains could indicate that she worked as a scribe. Perhaps she licked her brush to draw it into a point, or maybe she prepared the pigment for a scribe or artist, and inhaled the blue dust while grinding lapis lazuli into powder. For more on the uses of blue pigments in the past, go to “Hidden Blues.”

CT Scans Reveal Egyptian Mummy’s Possible Profession

MADRID, SPAIN—According to an El País report, researchers at Spain’s National Archaeology Museum have analyzed the results of computed tomography scans conducted on three Egyptian mummies several years ago, and determined that one of the mummies belonged to Nespamedu, a high-ranking priest who lived between 300 and 200 B.C. The nearly 3,000 images of Nespamedu’s mummy revealed a range of charms and plaques tucked in its wrappings. The iconography of these items suggests he worked as an eye doctor in a chapel in Saqqara, and was Ptolemy II’s personal eye physician, which may have required him to travel to Alexandria. This conclusion is based on the presence of two plaques that feature the god Thoth and the Eye of Horus. Thoth was known in Egyptian mythology for replacing Horus’ eye after it was lost in a battle with Set, the god of chaos. For this reason, Thoth is seen as the god of ophthalmologists. On his head, Nespamedu wore a headband adorned with a winged scarab charm with a solar disc that featured an image of the god Khepri, who was linked to resurrection and rebirth. Nespamedu also wore a Usekh collar, an item reserved for the Egyptian elite. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Mummy Workshop.”

Unusual Joint Grave Found Near Ancient City in India

HARYANA, INDIA—BBC News reports that a 4,500-year-old grave containing the remains of a man and a woman who are estimated to have been in their 30s at their time of death was discovered in a cemetery located outside a large Harappan city site in northern India. “The man and the woman were facing each other in a very intimate way,” said archaeologist Vasant Shinde of Deccan College. “We believe they were a couple.” Joint burials are unusual in this cemetery, Shinde added, so he thinks the man and woman may have died at the same time. However, no lesions or marks on their bones, which would indicate wounds or diseases, have been found. Pottery and semi-precious stone-bead jewelry were also found in the grave. To read about another recent discovery in India, go to “India's Anonymous Artists.”

Carved Cartouche Returned to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—CNBC reports that a tablet carved with the cartouche of Amenhotep I has been returned to Egypt. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities said the ministry’s antiquities repatriation department spotted the artifact, which was once on display at the Karnak Open Air Museum, for sale on the website of a London auction house. British and Egyptian authorities cooperated to secure its recovery. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Mummy Workshop.”