Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 01

Divers Find Missing Military Tanker in Hawaii

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII—A U.S. Naval tanker that served in both World War II and the Korean War has been found in the protected waters of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. “This is a ship that wasn’t a glamourous part of World War II history, but was an important part,” Kelly Keogh, Maritime Heritage Coordinator for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, told Hawaii News Now. The USNS Mission San Miguel transported fuel for military vessels, and was traveling from Guam to Seattle in 1957 when it hit a reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and sank. The crew survived the incident, but the wreckage, hidden by the reef, was lost. To read more about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

More on Artifacts From Jamestown Graves

ITHACA, NEW YORK—Two artifacts recovered from the graves of high-status people buried in the chancel of Virginia’s James Fort church were scanned by Mark Riccio, director of the Cornell Biotechnology Resource Center’s computed tomography scanning facilities. Jamestown Rediscovery senior conservator Michael Lavin and senior staff archaeologist David Givens took a small, sealed silver box and a block of earth containing silver threads to Riccio, who developed protocols to scan the objects. Together, the scientists were able to establish that the block of earth contained silver and silk threads and silver spangles that came from a captain’s sash, leading to the identification of Captain William West. “If you had given me the object, I could interpret the X-ray dataset but I wouldn’t have known enough about the object. But sitting with archaeologists, they could ask specific questions, and working together, we could answer those questions,” Riccio said in a press release. The silver box was examined and sent on to General Electric for even higher energy CT scans, which revealed small bones and a lead ampulla traditionally used for holding blood in a Roman Catholic reliquary. This item is thought to have belonged to Captain Gabriel Archer, whose Catholic parents had refused to join the Anglican Church. Finer scans may reveal an insignia on the ampulla. “But it’s still not clear that it was a Catholic artifact,” Lavin said. For more, go to "Burials of High-Status Leaders Indentified at Jamestown."

Scientists See Four Main Stages of Human Evolution

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—The human body has gone through four main stages of evolution, according to an international team of scientists who studied fossils from the Sima de los Huesos in Spain’s Sierra de Atapuerca. The site of Sima de los Huesos, or “Pit of Bones,” dates back some 430,000 years and contains more human fossils than have been found anywhere else in the world. The researchers then compared the Atapuerca individuals to the rest of the human fossil record and found that they fit into the third stage of evolution, and shared many anatomical features with later Neanderthals. They were relatively tall, with wide, muscular bodies and less brain mass relative to body mass compared to Neanderthals. “This is really interesting since it suggests that the evolutionary process in our genus is largely characterized by stasis (i.e. little to no evolutionary change) in body form for most of our evolutionary history,” Rolf Quam of Binghamton University said in a press release. Such tall, wide, robust walkers seem to have been present in the genus Homo for more than a million years. Taller, lighter, narrower bodies emerged later with modern humans. To read more about Sima de los Huesos, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."

2,500-Year-Old Reused Tomb Discovered in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—The 26th Dynasty tomb of Padibastet, the vizier of Upper Egypt, has been discovered within the tomb of Karabasken, who was ruler of Thebes and the fourth priest of Amun during the 25th Dynasty. The tomb contained paintings and architectural features that had been made especially for Padibastet. The members of the South Assassif Conservation Project expect to learn more as the survey continues and the tomb is excavated and cleaned. “Padibastet could be buried in a shaft inside the court or in a main burial chamber of Karabasken tomb,” Elena Pischikova, head of the mission, told Ahram Online. To read more about a recently discovered Egyptian burial, see "Tomb of the Chantress."

Monday, August 31

Roman Mosaic Conserved

STARA ZAGORA, BULGARIA—Conservators have completed work on a fourth-century A.D. mosaic that was discovered in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana in 2011, reports Archaeology in Bulgaria. The mosaic was discovered during rescue excavations, and once decorated a triclinium, or formal dining room. It depicts followers of the god Dionysus during a celebratory procession. On the right is Silenus, the tutor and companion of the god, who leads two dancing women. Local archaeologists describe the work as skillfully done, pointing to the subtle use of color and the depiction of shading in the clothing of the dancing women.The work likely dates to the reign of Emperor Julian Apostate who ruled from A.D. 360 to 363. To read more about Roman-era mosaics, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.” 

Philistines Revolutionized Agriculture in Israel

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—When the Philistines arrived in Israel, they ushered in an “agricultural revolution,” introducing several new plant species and cultivating a number of native species for the first time, according to a press release from Bar-Ilan University. The Philistines are one of the so-called Sea Peoples mentioned in the Bible and other ancient sources. Analysis of plant remains from Bronze Age and Iron Age sites from the southern Levant has revealed that when the Philistines arrived in Israel in the 12th century B.C., early in the Iron Age, they brought the sycamore tree and cumin, both from the eastern Mediterranean, and the opium poppy, from western Europe. The researchers also found that the Philistines were the first to take advantage of more than 70 species of plants that were already growing in Israel when they arrived, including purslane, wild radish, and saltwort. To read about figurines found at an Iron Age temple near Jerusalem, go to "Artifact."

Siberian Idol is 11,000 Years Old

SVERDLOVSK, RUSSIA—New radiocarbon dates show that a wooden statue discovered in a peat bog in the Ural Mountains in 1894 was made around 11,000 years ago. A German team conducted the testing of the artifact, known as the Shigir Idol, and discovered it is some 1,500 years older than scholars had supposed. “This is extremely important data for the international scientific community,” Thomas Terberger of the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony told the Siberian Times. “It is important for understanding the development of civilization and the art of Eurasia and humanity as a whole.” Carved with a human face, the Shigir Idol stands ten feet tall, and is covered with intricate geometrical symbols, the meaning of which is unknown. To read about another masterpiece of prehistoric art, go to “New Life for Lion Man.” 

Submerged Bronze Age Village Discovered

ATHENS, GREECE—Last year, underwater archaeologists conducting training off a beach near Athens in anticipation of searching for Neolithic sites were surprised to discover the well-preserved remains of a Bronze Age Greek village. Spero News reports that this summer a Greco-Swiss team returned to the settlement and made a thorough survey of the site. Dating to the third millennium B.C., the remains include stone defensive structures that University of Geneva archaeologist Julien Beck says are of a “massive nature, unknown in Greece until now.” The team also recorded paved surfaces that could be streets and three structures that could be the remains of towers. More than 6,000 artifacts have been recovered, including red ceramics and obsidian blades of a type that dates to between 3200 and 2050 B.C. Future work at the site is expected to give researchers a new look at how coastal settlements interacted with one another during the Bronze Age. To read about a massive Minoan site dating this time, go to “The Minoans of Crete.” 

Friday, August 28

Mummified Head & Lungs Show Signs of Heart Disease

FLORENCE, ITALY—The 3,500-year-old mummified remains of Nebiri, an Egyptian “Chief of Stables,” are an example of the oldest case of acute decompensated heart failure, according to research presented by Raffaella Bianucci of the University Turin at an international congress of Egyptology. Nebiri’s head and internal organs, preserved in canopic jars, were discovered in a plundered tomb in Luxor in 1904. “The head is almost completely unwrapped, but in a good state of preservation. Since the canopic jar inscribed for Hapy, the guardian of the lungs, is partially broken, we were allowed direct access for sampling,” Bianucci told Discovery News. The international research team created a 3-D reconstruction of Nebiri’s skull and found that he suffered from severe periodontal disease, abscesses, and mild atherosclerosis in the right internal carotid artery. The head also contained dehydrated brain tissue. The lung tissue revealed fluid in the air sacs. “When the heart is not able to pump efficiently, blood can back up into the veins that take it through the lungs. As the pressure increases, fluid is pushed into the air spaces in the lungs,” Bianucci explained. To read about Egypt's animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Artifact Update from Virginia's James Fort

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—A sturgeon’s bone plate or scute and other food remains have been found in an area just outside of the original James Fort that is thought to have served as a cellar. The cellar has also yielded a piece of German stoneware bearing a coat of arms depicting two rampant lions that may have been a vessel for drinking ale. “We can safely say that this jug was made either in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, but knowing the meaning of that symbol will give us an even tighter date. We have yet to trace this particular one, but when we do we will learn when the jug was made,” senior archaeologist Danny Schmidt of Jamestown Rediscovery explained to The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily. The Jamestown team has also found pieces of an iron breastplate that had been cut up and reused. “When they started using armor that was lighter and easier to move in, they began reusing and recycling iron from these plates,” said conservator Dan Gamble of Historic Jamestown. For more, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

Rethinking the Form and Structure of Hominid Fossils

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh argues in the latest issue of Science that the current system of categorizing the human fossil record into genus and species is too narrow for understanding our complex evolutionary history. He said in a press release that “the boundaries of both the species and the genus remain as fuzzy as ever, new fossils having been haphazardly assigned to species of Homo, with minimal attention to morphology.” Schwartz suggests that anthropologists begin again. “If we want to be objective, we shall almost certainly have to scrap the iconic list of (genus and species) names in which hominid fossil specimens have historically been trapped and start from the beginning,” he said. For more on hominid evolution, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Scientists Think Most of Those Sacrificed at Cahokia Were Locals

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—Phil Slater and Kristin Hedman of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, and Andrew Thompson of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, analyzed 203 teeth from 109 bodies found in Cahokia’s Mound 72. The mound, excavated in the 1960s, contained three large pits that held human remains laid out in neat rows. Most of the dead were young women who had been killed, perhaps by strangulation or blood-letting. However, a separate deposit held the bones of 39 men and women who had suffered fractures, had been shot with points, and even decapitated, then dumped into the burial site. “The initial interpretation of the burials of young women suggested they represented ‘tribute’ from outlying communities. Our analysis provides evidence that suggests the young women may have come from within the region, if not from Cahokia itself,” Slater told Western Digs. Those who suffered violent deaths were also locals, but their biology was more similar to each other than the other dead from the mound. “With the development of strontium analysis, there became a way to actually test the immigration hypothesis by looking at the bodies of the people buried at Cahokia,” explained Thomas Emerson, director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. To read more about Cahokia, go to "Mississippian Burning."