Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, February 20

Roman Boxing Gloves Discovered at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that two leather boxing gloves have been unearthed at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located in northern England, just south of Hadrian’s Wall. Andrew Birley, director of excavations at Vindolanda, said Roman boxing gloves have been seen on statues and sculptures, but he thinks these gloves may be the only surviving examples from the period. The two gloves are thought to have been used for sparring, but were probably not a matched pair. They are of different sizes, and the smaller one contains a coil of hard, twisted leather, while the larger was filled with natural material that may have served as a kind of shock absorber. Gloves used in Roman boxing competitions are thought to have had metal inserts. For more on discoveries at Vindolanda, go to “Life on the Frontier.”

Scientists Recover Ancient Taino DNA

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A genetic study suggests at least one modern Caribbean population, on Puerto Rico, could be linked to the Taino, an ancient indigenous Caribbean group, according to a report in Science Magazine. Although oral history has long held that modern island populations are descended from indigenous people, it had previously been believed that all traces of the Taino were wiped out within 30 years of the arrival of Europeans in the Caribbean. Hannes Schroeder of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues were able to extract DNA for the study from a 1,000-year-old tooth recovered from a woman’s skeleton found in a cave on the hot, humid island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Pre-contact artifacts were found at the site as well. Comparison of the woman’s genome with those of other Native American groups revealed she was related to people who lived in northern South America and spoke Arawakan languages. Archaeologists have noted similarities between the ceramics and tools found at Taino sites and those in northern South America. And, the scientists say the archaeological and genetic evidence indicates the Taino traveled among the Caribbean islands frequently. “It looks like an interconnected network of people exchanging goods, services, and genes,” explained bioarchaeologist William Schaffer of Phoenix College. For more on archaeology of the Caribbean, go to “Spiritual Meeting Ground.”

Ancient Statue Fragments Uncovered in Sudan

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, additional pieces of a 2,600-year-old statue have been discovered in a temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun at the site of Dangeil, which is located along the Nile River in Sudan. Inscriptions written in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the newly uncovered pieces of sculpture have allowed archaeologists to identify the statue as depicting Aspelta, who ruled Kush between 593 and 568 B.C. The inscription describes Aspelta as beloved of the Egyptian sun god, and king of Upper and Lower Egypt, even though one of Aspelta’s predecessors had lost control of the country to the north some 100 years earlier. Julie Anderson, an assistant keeper at the British Museum, said Sudan’s kings may have kept the title of ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt “as general assertions of authority using the traditional titles, and not a claim to Egypt.” Based upon the pieces of Aspelta’s statue that have been found to date, the researchers estimate it stood approximately half life-size. The excavation is a project of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan, in cooperation with the British Museum and is sponsored by the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project. To read in-depth about the temple at Dangeil, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

Friday, February 16

Early Hominin Footprints May Reveal Children’s Activities

POOLE, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that footprints left some 700,000 years ago at Ethiopia’s site of Melka Kunture offer insight into the parenting techniques of Homo heidelbergensis. The footprints suggest a group made up of adults and children had been at the site, where stone tools and the butchered remains of a hippo were also found. “Clearly the adult members of the groups were getting on with normal activities,” said Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University. He says children tagged along with the adult hunting group, and thus learned firsthand about toolmaking, hunting, and butchering from an early age. For more, go to “Our Tangled Ancestry.”

Gas From Turkey’s Gate to the Underworld Analyzed

DUISBURG, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that volcano biologist Hardy Pfanz of the University of Duisburg-Essen and his colleagues measured the concentration of carbon dioxide emitted from the cave-like grotto at the temple dedicated to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, in Hierapolis. The visible mist still pours from deep fissures in the earth under the Plutonium into an open-air arena surrounded by raised stone seating. Pfanz and his team found that the warmth of the sun during the day dissipates the gas, but in the cool of the night, the gas, which is slightly heavier than the air, collects on the floor of the arena. At dawn, the concentration of carbon dioxide on the arena floor would have been strong enough to kill animals and people within a few minutes. Pfanz suggests the temple priests probably led bulls and other animals into “the gates of hell” for sacrifice in the morning, when their heads would not have risen above the layer of gas, while the priests themselves would have been safe. As the animals became dizzy, their heads would have dropped even lower into the carbon dioxide layer until they suffocated. For more, go to “Portals to the Underworld.”

World War I Belt Buckle Found at Scotland’s Stirling Castle

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that a belt buckle dating to World War I was unearthed at the site of an eighteenth-century footpath known as the Back Walk near Scotland’s medieval Stirling Castle. The buckle, which bears an image of the double-headed imperial eagle and the Austrian coat of arms, was the type issued to soldiers in the Austrian Army. During World War I, the castle was a working barracks and a military prison. The lost buckle may have been a souvenir collected by a Scottish soldier, or it may have belonged to a prisoner of war. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century clay tobacco pipes, a small knife, and a lead musket ball were also found in the area of the Back Walk. A midden closer to the castle yielded pottery and stoneware dating to the medieval period. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Thursday, February 15

When Were Rabbits Domesticated?

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Evan Irving-Pease is investigating the domestication of rabbits, according to a Science News report. He and his colleagues tried to trace the origins of a tale alleging that Christian monks in Southern France first tamed the creatures in A.D. 600, after Pope Gregory issued a proclamation stating that fetal rabbits, known as laurices, were fish, and could therefore be eaten during Lent, a time when meat consumption is traditionally restricted. Pease says there’s no evidence to back the story, and that DNA evidence suggests that the history of rabbit domestication does not have a distinct beginning. The scientists will turn to ancient rabbit bones for more information. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

Tomb in Japan Yields 1,500-Year-Old Breastplate

SHIBUSHI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tunnel tomb containing a stone coffin, human remains, and armor was discovered during road work in southern Kyushu. The tomb consisted of a burial chamber measuring about nine feet long, six feet wide, and three feet deep, and was connected to a nine-foot-long vertical shaft. Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum said the Kofun Period tomb is thought to have belonged to a local chieftain who received the breastplate, known as a tanko, from the Yamato imperial court. The breastplate was found standing beside the coffin. An iron arrowhead, a spear, and an iron ax were also recovered. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”