Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 21

Ancient Shipwrecks Discovered in Alexandria’s Harbor

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that three Roman shipwrecks and an ancient Egyptian barque dedicated to Osiris were discovered in ancient Alexandria’s eastern harbor in the Mediterranean Sea. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the joint team of researchers, made up of scientists from the ministry’s department of underwater archaeology and the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, recovered a crystal head thought to represent Marc Antony, and gold coins dating to the reign of Emperor Augustus. Wooden beams and pottery may represent the site of a fourth shipwreck. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Port.”

Viking King’s Bones Recreated With 3-D Printer

JELLING, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that the heavily damaged bones of a Danish Viking king, Gorm the Old, have been 3-D printed by a team led by archaeologist Adam Bak of the National Museum of Denmark. Gorm the Old died in A.D. 958, and he is thought to have been buried in at least one other location before his remains were deposited under the floor of Jelling Church, where they were recovered in 1978. Computer tomography scans were made of the bones before they were reburied in 2000. The new 3-D model has been adjusted to correct the pressure damage that occurred during the long period of the burial, according to Marie Louise Jørkov of the University of Copenhagen. “We can then re-analyze the skeleton and study the bones to look for any signs of disease, which can’t be seen at the surface,” she said. The reconstruction of the flattened skull revealed a lump on the back of the king’s head, which may have been caused by a load on the muscles and ligaments connected to the protuberance. “It can best be compared to a bunion,” concluded Carsten Reidies Bjarkam of Aarhus University. For more on the Vikings of Denmark, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Neanderthals Appear to Have Lasted Longer in Southern Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have survived in parts of Spain for 3,000 years longer than they did in the rest of Western Europe, according to a Newsweek report. An international team of researchers working at three newly discovered Neanderthal sites in southern Iberia recovered stone tools thought to have been used about 37,000 years ago. João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona said Neanderthals are thought to have gone extinct in northern Spain and southern France between 40,000 and 42,000 years ago. He suggests the Ebro River acted as an effective barrier to the migration of modern humans into the region. For more on Neanderthals in Spain, go to “Neanderthal Medicine Chest.”

Monday, November 20

What Did Virginia's James Fort Colonists Eat?

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists are analyzing food waste left behind by the James Fort colonists and recovered in 2006 from a ground water well. The bones are thought to reflect the period after the Starving Time, the winter of 1609-1610, until 1617, when the governor’s residence was built on the site. “We know a lot about 1607 through 1610, we know a lot about the 1620s on, but this has been a period that has been largely absent from our record to date,” explained assistant curator Hayden Bassett of Jamestown Rediscovery. A “rough sort” of the tens of thousands of bones suggests the colonists ate horses, rats, and venomous snakes during the Starving Time. Cattle bones were scarce in the years before 1610, when meat was shipped from England in barrels, but became more common after live cattle arrived in Virginia in 1610 or 1611. The fact that the team has found few remains of wild deer could reflect the pressure Native Americans put on the colonists, and their reluctance to leave the safety of the fort. To read more, go to "Jamestown's VIPs."

Southern Song Dynasty Tombs Excavated in China

ZHEJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, two 800-year-old tombs have been unearthed at a construction site in eastern China. Inscriptions identify the tomb occupants as Lord Hu Hong of the Southern Song dynasty, and his wife, née Wu, who was known as the Lady of Virtue. Jianming Zheng of the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said that Hu Hong’s tomb had been robbed, but his wife’s tomb was intact, although the inscription in her tomb was illegible. Hu Hong was remembered as a self-educated man who rose through the ranks of government service. In 1193, he was named the “best county magistrate of the year, and later was described as the “Investigating Censor prosecuting the treacherous and the heretical, with awe-inspiring justice,” at a time when the government cracked down on a religious group who criticized Chinese officials for consuming alcohol and having multiple wives. Hu Hong retired from service in 1200, and died in 1203. His wife died in 1206. In the Lady’s tomb, the excavators found gold jewelry, gold combs, gold and silver hairpins, a crystal disc, and a large amount of mercury which may have been intended to preserve her body. Both tombs contained porcelain jars decorated with elephant designs. To read more about the Song Dynasty, go to "Pirates of the Marine Silk Road."

Smuggled Egyptian Artifacts Recovered in Cyprus

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that 14 artifacts illegally smuggled out of Egypt were seized in Cyprus by Interpol agents. The items, thought to have arrived in Cyprus in 1986, include ushabti figurines, an alabaster vase inscribed with the cartouche of Ramses II, and 13 amulets depicting the goddesses Sekhmet, Neith, and Isis, and the Udjat and Djed symbols. The artifacts will be handed over to an antiquities official at the Egyptian Embassy in Cyprus. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."

Male Skeletons Unearthed at Qumran

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Science News reports that 33 skeletons recently unearthed at Qumran could offer clues to the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 11 nearby caves between 1947 and 1956. Anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the bones were radiocarbon dated to 2,200 years ago, or about the same time that the texts were written. Thirty of the newly excavated skeletons have been identified as males, based upon body size and pelvic shape. A sex has not been assigned to the remaining three skeletons, due to lack of evidence. The men were found to be between the ages of 20 and 50 at the time of death, and none of them bore any signs of war-related injuries. Nagar said the information supports the theory that a sect of celibate men, perhaps the Essenes, lived at Qumran. Small samples of bone were taken before the skeletons were reburied. Scientists may try to obtain DNA from the samples. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Qumran, go to "Scroll Search."

Friday, November 17

Chopin’s Cause of Death Determined

WARSAW, POLAND—In 2014, scientists led by Michal Witt of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Polish Academy of Sciences were given access to Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s heart, which had been removed from his body after his death in Paris in 1849 and taken to Warsaw, where it has remained. According to a report in Live Science, the records of Chopin’s original autopsy have been lost, but the researchers briefly examined the organ, and photographed it, in an effort to determine the cause of his death at age 39. The heart, preserved in a liquid thought to be cognac, was “enlarged and floppy.” Witt said the team concluded Chopin’s immediate cause of death was pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart, a likely complication of tuberculosis. To read about investigations of ancient cardiovascular health, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

Economists Develop Model to Look for Ancient Cities

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a Washington Post report, historian Gojko Barjamovic and an international team of economists created an algorithm to process quantitative trade data recorded on more than 12,000 cuneiform texts written by Assyrian merchants some 4,000 years ago. The texts contained prices, population sizes, and data on cargo shipments among 26 ancient cities. Only the locations of 15 of those cities are known. The other 11 remain lost. Assuming that traders sent goods more often to cities that were closer to home, the researchers were able to estimate the distances between trade partners, and therefore estimate the locations of the 11 lost cities. They then checked their guesses against those of other historians, who had based their work upon descriptions of the landscape, or records of distances and directions. In most of the cases, the researchers concluded, their quantitative estimates were close to the sites suggested by historians. When historians disagreed on a possible location, the researchers found that the mathematical model could offer additional evidence. The team also checked their estimates against the locations of three known ancient cities, and found they were correct just twice. The third city was farther from the center of the Assyrian trade network, making the tool less precise, they explained. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Wooden Shoes May Have Harmed Dutch Farmers’ Feet

LONDON, CANADA—According to a report in The London Free Press, bioarchaeologist Andrea Waters-Rist of the University of Western Ontario led a team of researchers who examined 500 skeletons of nineteenth-century dairy farmers who lived in the village of Middenbeemster in The Netherlands. The scientists found obvious bone lesions called osteochondritis dissecans on 13 percent of the farmers’ feet. Most populations have an occurrence of less than one percent. The lesions resemble craters in the bones, at the joints, as if chunks of bone have just been chiseled away, Waters-Rist explained. Wearing wooden clogs, which are poor shock absorbers, were probably to blame. Waters-Rist thinks people may have used the hard shoes, known as klompen, as hammers or to kick objects into place, injuring their feet. Wearing the clogs during hard physical labor could have also caused micro-injuries, she surmised. To read about a discovery in The Netherlands, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”