Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, October 05

Turtle-Shaped Tomb Discovered in China

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua News Service reports that a rare turtle-shaped tomb was discovered in north China’s Shanxi Province during the construction of a new house in Shangzhuang Village. The 800-year-old tomb has an octagonal burial chamber and five small rooms resembling a turtle’s legs and head. The inside of the chamber is decorated with brick carvings that could help researchers learn about funeral customs during the Great Jin Dynasty. Human remains within the tomb suggest it had been shared by several generations. For more on ancient burials in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Men in 9th-C. Mass Grave May Have Been a Raiding Party

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—The remains of seven men, discovered in a mass grave at a construction site outside San Francisco in 2012, have been studied by a team led by Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. All of the men, who were between the ages of 18 and 40 at the time of death some 1,150 years ago, had suffered physical trauma. The bones showed signs of head wounds and broken limbs, and weapons made of stone and obsidian were discovered among the skeletons. Eerkens’s study revealed that all of the men had died around the year A.D. 850, a time when hunter-gatherer groups in central California were on the move. “Such resettlement may have brought them into conflict with groups that were already living there,” Eerkens told Western Digs. Analysis of the men’s teeth showed that they had all grown up in an area where they ate freshwater fish, probably in the San Joaquin Valley. And mitochondrial DNA from the bones suggests that men were not brothers or maternal cousins. “This suggests to us that warfare or raiding was conducted by people who lived in the same or nearby villages, but who were drawn from different households and families,” he said. To read about a later discovery in California, go to "A New Look at the Donner Party." 

2,400-Year-Old Temple Found in Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists discovered the remains of a limestone colonnade and a well-preserved ceiling in Cairo’s modern district of Mataria. The 2,400-year-old building is thought to have been a shrine that was surrounded by a mud brick wall and located in the ancient capital city of Heliopolis, or Iunu. “The shrine belonged to the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectanebo I (379 B.C. – 360 B.C.),” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference reported in The Cairo Post. Nectanebo I founded the 30th Dynasty, which was the last Egyptian royal family to rule Egypt before it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The team also uncovered a bust of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Merenptah (1580 B.C. – 1080 B.C.). To read about the discovery of another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Butchered Mammoth Bones Unearthed in Michigan

  ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—About 20 percent of an adult male mammoth that lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan from a farmer’s field in southern Michigan. The skull, tusks, numerous vertebrae and ribs, and parts of the pelvis and shoulder blades were recovered, along with a small stone flake that may have been used for cutting, and three basketball-sized boulders that may have been used to anchor the carcass pieces in a pond. “We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” paleontologist Daniel Fisher explained in a press release. In addition, the vertebrae were found arrayed in their correct anatomical sequence, and not scattered randomly as they would have been if the mammoth had died of natural causes. As Fisher said, it was as if someone had “chopped a big chunk out of the body and placed it in the pond for storage.” The team will look for cut marks on the bones and date them. To read more about who would have hunted mammoth 11,700 years ago, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Friday, October 02

Native American Remains Unearthed in Alaska

HAINES, ALASKA—A delivery of dirt for constructing new aviaries at the American Bald Eagle Foundation contained part of a human skull, according to a report from Alaska Public Media. At first, the volunteers who discovered the bone did not recognize what they had found. “Everyone was pretty much just in shock—eyes wide, jaws dropped. This doesn’t happen to real people, this is something that you’d only see in a movie or something,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson. Haines police responded to the call, and brought in anthropologist Anastasia Wiley, who determined that the remains are those of a Native American woman who was at least 40 years old at the time of death, most likely sometime before 1700. “If it’s truly an antiquity, and we believe it is based on our limited knowledge of it, then the medical examiner will simply turn it back over to us to release to the family and in this case the family would be the descendants, which in this case would be the local Native organizations,” explained Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths. The site where the dirt originated will also be examined. To read more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

1,500-Year-Old Skeletons Represent Family Members

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The remains of nine people unearthed in 1975 in Cramond, Scotland, during the excavation of a Roman bath house and fort have been re-examined with modern scientific techniques. It had been thought that the dead were victims of a medieval bubonic plague, but the new test results show that the bones belong to more than one generation of a single family and date to the sixth century A.D. Two of the men had multiple healed wounds and may have been warriors, and one of the women died from violent blows to the head. Researchers now think that the family may lived in a royal stronghold at Cramond Fort. “The study has provided important evidence of life during this time of political turmoil and has helped us answer questions about the Dark Ages, but it has also opened up a whole new world of questions. Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the Dark Ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial?” John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, asked in a press release. To read more about the Dark Ages in Britain, go to "The Kings of Kent."

4,000-Year-Old Sauna Found in Scotland

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A rare, almost complete underground building dating to the Bronze Age has been discovered on the periphery of the prehistoric Links of Noltland, an archaeological site on the island of Westray. The building may have been used as a sweat house or sauna and for ritual activities. It may also have served as a place where women could give birth, and the sick and elderly could come to die. “We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam—which could have been used to create a sauna effect,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said in a press release. Heated stones would have been placed in the tank to heat the water. “What this would have been used for we don’t know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking,” McCullagh explained. To read more about archaeology on Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Thursday, October 01

Why Was the Tomb at Amphipolis Built?

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Archaeologist Katerina Peristeri claimed in a press conference yesterday that the vaulted tomb excavated last year in Amphipolis “was a funerary monument for Hephaestion,” Alexander the Great’s closest friend and general. At least five skeletons were found in the tomb, which featured twin statues of sphinxes and young women, a painted frieze, and a mosaic floor. Peristeri said that fragments of Hephaestion’s monogram have also been found inscribed in the tomb. According to a report by the Associated Press, Peristeri explained that there is no evidence that Hephaestion was buried at the site, but that it might be one of a series of monuments Alexander erected to his memory in 324 B.C. Panayiotis Faklaris of the University of Thessaloniki disagrees. “There is no historic or scientific basis,” for the claims he said. “Hephaestion had no connection with Amphipolis.” To read more about the Amphipolis tomb, one of last year's Top 10 Discoveries, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb."

Hunter-Gatherer Artifacts Discovered in Scotland

STAFFIN, SKYE—A fragment of burned and worked bone and several hundred flints were discovered near Staffin Bay by a team of archaeologists and volunteers from the University of Highlands and Islands, the Staffin Community Trust, and local primary schools. The piece of 8,000-year-old bone, which appears to have been shaped at one end and perhaps drilled on the other, may have been used as a toggle to fasten clothing or bead in a necklace. The team also uncovered the remains of a circular building. “Although the structure did not turn out to be prehistoric, it has protected significant evidence for Mesolithic activity below it,” outreach archaeologist Dan Lee of the University of Highlands and Islands said in a Staffin Community Trust press release. “Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates and further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site,” he added. To read about a prehistoric musical instrument found on the Isle of Skye, go to "A Little Scottish Ditty."

Machu Picchu DNA Study Planned

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Machu Picchu was built in the Andes Mountains some 8,000 feet above sea level by the Inca in the fifteenth century, and abandoned in the early sixteenth century. “There is a longstanding debate about what the function of Machu Picchu was because it is so unique and unusual as an Inca site. It is too big to be a local settlement. And it’s too small and not the right structure to have been an administrative center for the Inca Empire,” Brenda Bradley of the George Washington University said in GW Today. Many think Machu Picchu served as a royal retreat and diplomatic space for Emperor Pachacuti. Now, Bradley and a team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Yale University will analyze nuclear, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome DNA samples obtained from the skeletal remains of more than 170 individuals unearthed at Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century to learn about the population. “They were probably very skilled people who came from far and wide to play very specific roles. That’s what we predict,” Bradley said. To read about Machu Picchu's amazing hydraulic systems, go to "Machu Picchu's Stairway of Fountains."

Study Suggests Bronze Age Britons Practiced Mummification

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—While at the University of Sheffield, Tom Booth and colleagues from the University of Manchester and University College London conducted a microscopic analysis of skeletons from Bronze Age burial sites across the United Kingdom. “We know from previous research that bones from bodies that have decomposed naturally are usually severely degraded by putrefactive bacteria, whereas mummified bones demonstrate immaculate levels of histological preservation and are not affected by putrefactive bioerosion,” he said in a press release. The researchers then compared the results to a mummy found in northern Yemen and a bog body from Ireland. Both of these bodies showed limited levels of bacterial bioerosion within the bone. Some of the Bronze Age skeletons from Britain show similar low levels of bioerosion, unlike the badly damaged skeletons from other prehistoric and historic periods. “The idea that British and potentially European Bronze Age communities invested resources in mummifying and curating a proportion of their dead fundamentally alters our perceptions of funerary ritual and belief in this period,” he said. To read about the earliest known evidence of intentional mummification in Egypt, one of last year's Top 10 Discoveries, go to "Mummification Before the Pharaohs."