Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 21

Australian Museum Repatriates Ancient Egyptian Carving

CAIRO, EGYPT—One of four fragments of a relief thought to have been smuggled out of Egypt in the 1990s has been found in Australia’s Macquarie Museum, according to an Ahram Online report. The relief, which belonged to an official named Seshen Nefertum, was unearthed in the El-Assasif necropolis on Luxor’s West Bank by an Italian archaeological mission sometime between 1976 and 1988. An inventory of an antiquities storehouse revealed it was missing in 1995, explained Shanan Abdel-Gawad of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department. The other three pieces of the carved stone were recovered in Switzerland in 2017. To read in-depth about excavations at Heliopolis, once the most sacred site on the Nile, go to “Egypt's Eternal City.”

Scientists Revisit Woman Warrior’s Remains

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Live Science reports that a new study conducted by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Uppsala University and her colleagues reaffirms the conclusion that the remains of the person discovered in what is thought to be a Viking grave in east-central Sweden was a woman carrying XX chromosomes, rather than male XY chromosomes. The wood-lined tomb was discovered in the late nineteenth century at Birka, a medieval hill fort settlement, next to other graves containing weapons. The body was dressed in clothing typical of the Eurasian steppe, and was assumed to have belonged to a man because the artifacts in the tomb are usually associated with males. These include gaming pieces, the remains of a mare and a stallion, and weapons including a sheathed sword, an ax, a fighting knife, two spears, two shields, a quiver of armor-piercing arrows, and a small iron knife. The researchers reviewed the notes and diagrams made in the nineteenth century, during the original excavation, to be sure that the warrior’s carefully labeled bones had not been mixed with bones from another burial, and tested DNA from an arm bone and a tooth, concluding they were female and came from the same person. She is thought to have died between the ages of 30 and 40. For more on Viking warriors, go to “The Viking Great Army.”

Dental Plaque Hints at Diet in Ancient Mongolia

JENA, GERMANY—According to a Science News report, adults who lived in what is now Mongolia some 3,000 years ago drank the milk of cows, yaks, and sheep, even though they did not possess genes for digesting lactose. Christina Warinner of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and her colleagues found milk proteins in dental plaque obtained from skeletons recovered from 22 burial mounds left by the Deer Stone people of Mongolia’s eastern steppes. The Deer Stone people may have been able to digest milk due to bacteria in the gut, just as present-day Mongolians are, Warinner explained. To read in-depth about Warinner's research on ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Wednesday, February 20

Scientists Examine Stab Wounds in Medieval Skeleton from Sicily

PALERMO, SICILY—A team of researchers has attempted to determine the cause of death for a man who was buried facedown in a shallow grave in central Sicily in the eleventh century, according to a Live Science report. Roberto Miccichè of the University of Palermo and his colleagues examined the bones with CT scans and created 3-D reconstructions of the skeleton. They found six cuts on the man’s sternum that were probably inflicted with a knife or dagger through his back. A twisting motion with the weapon is thought to be responsible for a piece of bone missing from the right side of the sternum. When inflicted, the cuts probably pierced the man’s lungs and heart, killing him quickly, Miccichè explained. He added that the angles of the cuts in the bone suggest the man was in a kneeling position when he was killed, and may have been bound, since the cuts were smooth and precise, suggesting he was not able to fight back. In fact, the man’s feet were so close together in the grave they may have still been bound when he was buried. To read about a warrior buried in northern Italy who appears to have work a prosthetic weapon, go to “Late Antique TLC.”

Possible African-American Cemetery Mapped in Delaware

FRANKFORD, DELAWARE—According to a Delaware Public Media report, local citizens alerted county officials to the presence of a possible historic African-American cemetery on 37 acres of private land slated for development in southern Delaware. Archaeologist Ed Otter and his colleagues have so far confirmed traces of 11 burials at the site. One headstone, which is no longer correlated with a specific grave, records the name of C.S. Hall, an African-American veteran of the Civil War. Otter explained that the site will be mapped and preserved. Tim Slavin, director of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said state officials will also search property records, deeds, church records, and cemetery records to try to identify the people who were buried in the cemetery. It is unclear whether any of those buried at the site had been enslaved. To read about evidence of surgery carried out during a Civil War battle in Virginia, go to “Do No Harm.”

Archaeologists Excavate Looted Inca Tomb in Peru

LAMBAYEQUE, PERU—According to an AFP report, a tomb containing a collection of spondylus shells, items usually reserved for the Inca elite, has been discovered in northern Peru. Archaeologist Luis Chero said the tomb was looted more than once, but still contains artifacts such as the shells and pottery. The tomb walls were outfitted with niches for holding sculptures, he added. To read about another recent discovery in Peru, go to “All Bundled Up.”

New Dates Obtained for Ink Stones Unearthed in Japan

ITOSHIMA, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that Yasuo Yanagida of Kokugakuin University suggests ink stones may have been manufactured in southwestern Japan as early as the second century B.C. This is based upon his study of stone artifacts from the site of the Uruujitokyu ruins in Itoshima, the Nakabaru ruins in Karatsu, and the Higashi Oda Mine ruins in Chikuzen. It had been previously thought that writing emerged in Japan around the third century A.D., based upon the discovery of pottery decorated with written characters. Ink stones, which are generally thin, flat, fan-shaped, and polished on one side, are thought to have originated in China in the third century B.C. Ink stones dating to the first century have been previously unearthed in southwestern Japan, but they were believed to have been imported. Some of the possible ink stones recently identified by Yanagida had been broken before they were completed. Artifacts from the sites also include unfinished stone files for making ink from the ink stones, and stone saws. “There was a demand for the written word,” Yanagida explained, “and that’s why [the ink stones] were being made. I suspect [Japanese producers] copied Chinese stones and began making them domestically.” For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Tuesday, February 19

Metropolitan Museum Repatriates Gilded Coffin to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Ahram Online report, New York City's Metropolitan Museum handed over an ancient gilded coffin to the Antiquities Repatriation Department at Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities after an investigation conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office concluded it had left Egypt illegally and should be returned. The museum purchased the coffin, which belonged to Nedjemankh, a priest of the ram-god Heryshef of Herakleopolis, from an antiquities dealer who held a 1971 export license. (Egypt allowed the export of some antiquities prior to the passage of the Antiquities Protection Law of 1983.) However, the Egyptian government produced evidence showing that the dealer’s export license had been forged in this case. To read in-depth about excavations at Heliopolis, go to “Egypt's Eternal City.”

Sri Lanka’s Early Human Hunters

JENA, GERMANY—Cosmos reports that evidence of sophisticated hunting strategies employed some 45,000 years ago by modern humans has been found among thousands of bone fragments in Sri Lanka’s Fa-Hien Lena Cave by an international team of researchers. Many of the bones came from large adult monkeys and squirrels, according to Michelle Langley of Griffith University, and pointed tools had been made from some of the animals' limb bones. In the area's rainforest environment, these animals would have been hard to find and kill, Langley said, unlike on the savannah, where large herbivores roamed in herds. The researchers are now trying to figure out whether the sharpened bone tools were used as blow darts, arrows, spears, or as parts of traps. For more on evidence of early hunting, go to “The First Spears.”

Study Suggests Neanderthals Ate Fresh Meat

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Cosmos Magazine reports that a new analysis of nitrogen and carbon isotopes in the amino acids found in Neanderthal collagen conducted by Klervia Jaouen of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology indicates the extinct human relatives ate a diet based on fresh meat from large mammals. The collagen samples were obtained from Neanderthal remains uncovered at Les Cottés and Grotte du Renne, which are both located in France. The individual whose remains were recovered at Les Cottés ate mostly reindeer and horses, Jaouen said, while the one found at Grotte du Renne—an infant—nursed from a meat-eating mother. It had been previously suggested that the nitrogen isotope ratios found in Neanderthal remains could indicate a diet of fish, mushrooms, putrid carrion, or fermentation arising from rotting meat. The new tests, however, point to a monotonous diet of herbivores, although Neanderthal individuals may have occasionally eaten other types of food. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Neolithic Monolith Quarries Investigated in Wales

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, an excavation led by Mike Parker Pearson of University College London has investigated two Neolithic quarries in Wales at Carn Goedog, a crag where spotted dolerite rock rests in pillar-shaped slabs on the northern side of the Preseli Hills. Charcoal discovered between the slabs of rock was radiocarbon dated to the fourth millennium B.C. Wedge-shaped stone tools made of imported mudstone or sandstone had been hammered into V-shaped gaps cut into the rock between the naturally formed slabs. A platform paved with stones found at the base of the outcrop may have served as a loading dock for the pillars. It had been previously suggested that the bluestone pillars at Stonehenge were carved from rock in the southern Preseli Hills, and perhaps transported to Wiltshire by raft some 143 miles along the Severn Estuary and the River Avon to the Salisbury Plain. Team member Rob Ixer of University College London thinks it is unlikely that if the Stonehenge bluestones had been quarried at Carn Goedog, they were then dragged over the Preseli Hills in order to transport them by water. He suggests it is more likely the monoliths were transported overland from Carn Goedog to Wiltshire. In addition, Ixer said the quarries’ carbon dates are old enough to make it possible that the stones had been erected in a circle in Wales before being transported to Stonehenge. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”