A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 08

Copper Age Settlement Discovered in Central Spain

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Researchers from the University of Tübingen have discovered pottery, millstones, tools, and weights for fishing nets left behind by a previously unknown 4,000-year-old settlement in the central Spanish region of Azután, where a megalithic grave chamber is located. “With the new finds at Azután, we can confirm that there was intensive copper working and settlement also in central Spain. Until now, it was thought that such activity was mostly limited to the fertile coastal regions in the south of the Iberian Peninsula,” Felicitas Schmitt told Phys.org. Lead archaeologist Martin Bartelheim will compare geomagnetic soundings with aerial photographs to determine its size. The team will also investigate ancient paths across Spain used by shepherds and traders.  

Iran’s Hansanlu Revisited

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Archaeologist Michael Danti of Boston University has reviewed the records kept by the archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Archaeological Service of Iran who raced to excavate the Iron Age citadel known as Hasanlu between 1956 and 1977. Located in northern Iran, Hansanlu was destroyed around 800 B.C. More than 200 wounded bodies were preserved in the burn layer, including the remains of three soldiers that were found near a crushed gold bowl. Scholars have wondered if these men were defending the citadel or attacking it. “This was warfare that was designed to wipe out people’s identity and terrify people into submission,” Danti told Live Science. He thinks the three battle-ready soldiers may have been attackers from the Urartu kingdom who were climbing up a staircase when the building collapsed. “I doubt these men were rescuing a valued bowl and many other fine objects with little hope of egress as the citadel burned and its remaining occupants were slaughtered or taken captive,” he concluded. Bioarchaeological analysis of the skeletons of the soldiers and the wounded could tell researchers more about the battle, he adds.

Caryatids Uncovered in Amphipolis Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Discovery News reports that two caryatids have been found at a second sealing wall in the tomb under excavation in Amphipolis. “The right arm of the western Caryatid and the left arm of the eastern one are both outstretched, as if to symbolically prevent anyone attempting to enter the grave,” Greece’s Culture Ministry announced. The marble sculptures, which bear traces of red and blue paint, are of thick-haired women wearing sleeved tunics and earrings. The face of one of the figures survives nearly intact, and fragments of parts of the hands and fingers have been found in the soil. A rectangular marble block decorated with rosettes and blue, red, and yellow paint was also discovered at the bottom of the vault. There’s some speculation that the tomb may hold the remains of a Macedonian queen. To read about excavations at a Hellenistic-period city in Turkey, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Zeugma After the Flood."  

Elite Warrior’s Bone Armor Unearthed in Siberia

OMSK, RUSSIA—A well-preserved suit of bone armor estimated to be between 3,900 and 3,500 years old has been unearthed near the Irtysh River in western Siberia, a region where members of the Krotov culture lived. The armor, however, resembles that of the Samus-Seyminskaya culture, which is located in the Altai Mountains. The armor may have been a gift, obtained through trade, or was perhaps the spoils of war. “It is unique first of all because such armor was highly valued. It was more precious than life, because it saved life. Secondly, it was found in a settlement, and this has never happened before,” contract archaeologist Boris Konikov told The Siberian Times. Scientists are carefully extracting the bones from a block of soil in the lab. “Such armor needs constant care. At the moment we can only fantasize—who dug it into the ground and for what purpose? Was it some ritual or sacrifice? We do not know yet,” added Yury Gerasimov of the Omsk branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. To read about a mysterious Bronze Age burial unearthed in Siberia, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Case of the Missing Incisors."   

Friday, September 05

Excavations Continue at Alaska’s Yup’ik Village of Araliq

QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—Recent excavations at the 500-year-old Yup’ik village of Araliq have uncovered a labret, worn by men through piercings in their jawbones or by women over the chin; and a ul’uaq, or woman’s cutting knife, with an ivory handle carved in the shape of Palrayak, a mythical sea monster. Weapons at the site, along with a layer of ash, are evidence of the period known in Yup’ik history as “anguyagpallratni,” or “the bow and arrow wars.” “There is a piece of armor that’s derived from Asian samurai armor where there’s these overlapping plates, except it’s made of antler sewn together," lead archaeologist Rick Knecht of the University of Aberdeen told Alaska Public Radio. And here’s some more evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars,’ this is one of the burned arrow points that we found in the ruins of the house. It was fired at somebody in anger. Roof sods and stuff absolutely riddled with those kinds of points. Seventy-five percent of all the arrow points in that house were found in the upper layer.” Knecht and his team are racing to excavate the village before it erodes into the Bering Sea.  

Why Are There So Many People?

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—The stage was set for the population boom of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in antiquity, according to Aaron Stutz of Emory University’s Oxford College. His analysis of demographic and archaeological data indicates the interaction between competition and organization reached a tipping point between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. The resulting political-economic balance allowed more people to gain more control over their lives and generate capital. That small-scale success eventually led to more complex development, more resources, and better care of offspring. Then the public health improvements of the Industrial Revolution helped more people to live longer. “The increasingly complex and decentralized economic and political entities that were built up around the world from the beginning of the Common Era to 1500 CE created enough opportunities for individuals, states, and massive powers like England, France, and China to take advantage of the potential for economies of scale,” he told Phys.org. To read about earlier population booms in the Neolithic, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Impact of Early Farming on Population Growth."   

Scandinavian Settlement Studied in Poland

SUCHAŃ, POLAND—Archaeologists have returned to northern Poland to examine a site that may have been inhabited by Scandinavian settlers 1,500 years ago. In 2006, single-sided coins known as bracteates, metal pendants, and a ring, all resembling artifacts from Bornholm, Denmark, were discovered on the surface of the site. The bracteates bear an image of a rider on horseback and rune inscriptions on the rims. Recent aerial and geophysical surveys suggest that the settlement was inhabited for hundreds of years. “Findings to date suggest a very significant infiltration of Scandinavian elites from the area of southern Sweden and Bornholm to the areas of Western Pomerania in Late Antiquity, which probably were the point of origin of the later Viking influence in these areas,” Aleksander Bursche of the University of Warsaw explained to Science & Scholarship in Poland. To read about Scandinavian warriors in the early Middle Ages, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The First Vikings."   

Australia Returns Two Looted Statues to India

NEW DELHI, INDIA—IBN Live reports that Tony Abbot, Prime Minister of Australia, has handed over two statues to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a state visit. The “Nataraja Ardand,” housed at the National Gallery of Australia, and the “Ardhanarishvara,” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, were looted from temples in India and allegedly sold to the museums by Manhattan art dealer Subhash Kapoor. He has been accused of selling hundreds of artifacts with forged proveniences to museums around the world. The investigation continues as Kapoor awaits trial in Chennai.    

Thursday, September 04

Stone Age Boat Discovered Off the Coast of Denmark

ROSKILDE, DENMARK—A submerged Stone Age settlement and a boat were discovered off the coast of Denmark’s Askø Island. The vessel shows signs of repairs. “It split 6,500 years ago and they tried to fix the crack by putting a bark strip over it and drilling holes on both sides of it. The most exciting thing is that there is sealing mass in the holes. We have found sealing mass before—such as bits of resin that children have chewed on and made flexible,” Jørgen Dencker of the Viking Ship Museum told The Copenhagen Post. Dencker and his team will look for additional artifacts made of organic materials in the submerged Stone Age settlement.

Papyrus Fragment Bears Early Christian Prayers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A fragment of a 1,500-year-old papyrus charm from Egypt in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University is “the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context,” according to Roberta Mazza of the new John Rylands Research Institute. She says that the papyrus shows that early Christians had adopted the ancient Egyptian practice of writing charms on pieces of papyrus to be worn as amulets of protection against dangers. The words from the Christian Bible had been written on the reverse side of a receipt for the payment of grain tax in the village of Tertembuthis, near the city of Hermoupolis, then folded up and placed in a locket or a pendant. “We can say this is an incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people—not just priests and the elite,” she told BBC News. The document has been in the library since 1901. To read about another early Christian text, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Egyptian Text Describes Jesus Changing His Shape."  

Tiwanaku Drug Paraphernalia Found in Bolivia

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Artifacts such as “snuffing tablets,” a wooden snuffing tube, and spatulas uncovered at the site of Cueva del Chileno, located near Lake Titicaca, suggest that the people of Tiwanaku used hallucinogens. “Snuffing tablets in the Andes were primarily used by ritual specialists, such as shamans. Psychotropic substances, once extracted from plants, were spread and mixed on the tablets. Inhalation tubes were then used to introduce the substances through the nose into the system,” Juan Albarracin-Jordan of the Fundación Bartolomé de Las Casas told Discovery News. Shamans who were under the influence acted as “mediators between the natural and the supernatural. They were also conflict brokers between the living and the dead,” Albarracin-Jordan explained. Cups used for drinking the alcoholic beverage known as chicha were also found, and although drug use declined with the Tiwanaku state around A.D. 1100, the drinking of the fermented corn beverage persisted.   

Hoard of Roman Jewelry Unearthed in Colchester

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—A collection of Roman jewelry, including three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a silver armlet, four finger rings, a box containing two pairs of gold earrings, and a bag of coins, was discovered during the renovation of a department store in Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town. The cache of jewelry had been buried in the floor of a house that had been burned to the ground at the time of the Boudiccan Revolt of A.D. 61, marked by a thick red and black layer of debris over much of the modern city. “Our team removed the find undisturbed along with its surrounding soil, so that the individual items could be carefully uncovered and recorded under controlled conditions off site,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told EADT 24. In addition, a piece of a human jaw and a shin bone that had been cut with a heavy, sharp weapon were recovered. “We also discovered food that was never eaten on the floor of the room in which the jewelry was found, including dates, figs, wheat, peas, and grain,” Crummy said. The food was probably stored in the room, and was carbonized and preserved by the fire. To read about the search for the tomb of the warrior queen Boudicca, who commanded the army that destroyed Colchester, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni."