Category Archive 'Archaeology'
24 Oct 2018

The Peaceful Maya Sacrificed Jaguars

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The Atlantic headline says it’s been discovered that the Maya had a zoo, but the real news in this story is the discovery that they were using jaguars in their ritual sacrifices. But the Atlantic wouldn’t want to come down hard on that little detail. That could make the worthy and magnificent Maya just about as bad as that dentist who shot Cecil the lion.

In the Mayan city of Copán, at the base of a 30-meter-tall pyramid, there’s a beautiful stone slab known as Altar Q. The altar is square, and each of its meter-wide faces preserves carvings of four of the city’s 16 rulers, including its final king, Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat, who commissioned the structure in 776. It was as much propaganda as historical record. Though Yax Pasaj wasn’t part of a dynastic bloodline himself, the altar shows him receiving the scepter of kingship from Copán’s founding ruler, thus proving that he was worthy of ruling. The altar was a statement of his legitimacy.

The jaguars probably helped.

There’s a crypt immediately in front of the altar, which contained the bones of several birds, and 16 big cats—jaguars and pumas (cougars) packed so tightly that the people who first excavated them referred to them as “jaguar stew.” It’s likely that these animals were sacrificed on the altar as emblems of power, one cat for each king.

“It’s hard to imagine this very elaborate ritual in one of the hardest times for the Copán dynasty,” says Nawa Sugiyama, an archaeologist at George Mason University. Yax Pasaj was the last person to rule the city before it collapsed, and his reign was one of political turmoil and environmental degradation. Amid that turmoil, he somehow managed to acquire 16 big cats, even though the surrounding valley was too small to house more than five jaguars, and even though these beasts are hard to find, much less to capture.

Sugiyama thinks she knows how he did it. By analyzing the chemicals within the buried cat bones, she and her colleagues showed that jaguars and pumas likely came to Copán from distant regions and were kept in captivity for most of their lives. The city effectively had its own zoo, which was part of a wide trade network that sucked in wildlife from a larger area. For three centuries, wild animals—including the most formidable carnivores around—were brought in, housed, fed, and eventually used in ritual ceremonies.

RTWT

25 Sep 2018

Rørby Sword

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natus.dk:In 1952 Thorvald Nielsen was dredging a ditch in a small bog at Rørby in western Zealand. He found an ornamented curved sword of bronze that had been stuck diagonally into the turf. The sword was from the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 1600 BC, and was the first of its kind to be found in Denmark. It was handed in as treasure trove to the National Museum, but the story does not end there. In 1957, when Thorvald Jensen was digging up potatoes around the same place, he uncovered yet another curved sword. The second curved sword was ornamented like the first, but it was also decorated with a picture of a ship. This is the oldest example of a ship image from Denmark.

Combat Archaeology:

A peculiar class of swords emerge in the earliest periods of the Danish Bronze Age, namely the curved sword. The specimens from Rørby Mose, western Zealand, are amongst some of the most impressive armament finds from the Early Bronze Age.

The first of these swords was found by chance in 1952. Five years later, again by chance, the second was found, only a few meters away from the location of the first. The two swords are nearly identical and both intensively decorated with geometric patterns which reveal a date of c. 1600-1500 BC .

The second of the swords found at Rørby, however, features a distinctive depiction of a boat on its blade and is the earliest known of its kind in the history of Denmark The depiction is strikingly similar to the boats contained in the many Bronze Age rock art panels of Scandinavia as well as the Hjortspring boat from around 350 BC. In a certain sense, the morphology of the Rørby swords, with their curved extremes, also bear some resemblances to these boats.

Although impressive, there is little to suggest that these curved swords had any combative function. They are massive and unwieldy and their morphology does simply not allow for any functional interpretation in combative terms. Being made of expensive bronze and so intensely decorated with fine geometric patterns, the swords can more appropriately be assigned to a symbolic role.

02 Sep 2018

The Guttman Gladius

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A POMPEII-TYPE GLADIUS (SHORT SWORD), TINNED BRONZE SCABBARD AND IRON SPEAR HEAD

MID/LATE 1ST CENTURY A.D.

The gladius with parallel double-edged blade of piled construction, of flattened diamond section with raised rib at the point, and long tang, the forte with dot-punched inscription on both sides reading: “C. Valer(i) Pr[imi]/C.Valeri(i) Pri(mi)” and: “C. Valeri(i) P[rimi] C. Raniu(s)/C. Vale[ri] Primi”, mounted, 25 in. (63.6 cm.) long; the scabbard consisting of bronze mounts with remains of tinning, with cut-away and engraved motifs, comprising the locket with two pierced and engraved panels decorated with two helmeted figures, the upper with a warrior moving towards the right, his head turned back, holding spear and shield, and wearing muscled cuirass and crested helmet, two shields resting at his feet, the lower panel with figure of winged Victory writing on a shield hanging from palm tree, wearing drapery around her lower body, the chape with figure of winged Victory holding palm leaf, a separate palmette with scrolling pattern above, with modern collar attachment, mounted, 5¾ in. (14.5 cm.) long max.; and an iron spear blade decorated with circular and wavy line motif on both sides, with faint inscription on the shaft, 17¼ in. (44 cm.) long; and a modern replica of the gladius and scabbard, 26½ in. (67.3 cm.) long max. (4)

Provenance:

Found in Wiesbaden in 1971-1972 by Wolfgang Johe.

Read more: here

23 May 2018

2000-Year-Old Barbarian War Memorial Discovered in Danish Swamp

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Adult leg bones were gathered from the battlefield and arranged in the wetlands along with non-local stones.

National Geographic:

Archaeologists excavated 2,095 human bones and bone fragments—comprising the remains of at least 82 people—across 185 acres of wetland at the site of Alken Enge, on the shore of Lake Mossø on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. Scientific studies indicate that most of the individuals were young male adults, and they all died in a single event in the early first century A.D. Unhealed trauma wounds on the remains, as well as finds of weapons, suggest that the individuals died in battle.

The team didn’t dig up the entire 185 acres, but the researchers extrapolated that more than 380 people may have been interred in boggy waters along the lakeshore some 2,000 years ago, based on the distribution of the remains that were excavated. ….

An army of several hundred people far exceeds the population scale of Iron Age villages in the region, the new paper notes, suggesting that a war band of this many men required the right kinds of organization and leadership skills to recruit fighters from far distances. …

Here’s where it gets really interesting: Many of the human remains show animal gnaw marks consistent with bodies left exposed somewhere else for six months to a year before being submerged in the wetland. Others bones are deliberately arranged in bundles with stones brought in from other areas, and in one case, fragments of hip bones from four different individuals were threaded on a tree branch.

This leads researchers to suspect that after a period of time, the remains were collected from an yet-to-be discovered battlefield and ritually deposited in the marsh. However, the southern areas of the site also revealed many very small bones, which could easily be overlooked when gathering skeletonized remains. This may indicate archaeologists “could actually be very close to the actual battle site,” says study coauthor Mads Kähler Holst, an archaeologist at Aarhus University and executive director of the Mosegaard Museum.

Noting the millennia-long ceremonial and ritual importance of bogs and shallow lakes across northern Europe, Bogucki believes the removal of bodies from the battlefield after a period of time and their interment in the marsh may likely be the action of the victors trying to memorialize their triumph. …

Although they battled Germanic tribes across much of Europe in the first century A.D., Roman armies never made it as far north as southern Scandinavia, and the team didn’t find evidence for direct Roman involvement in this battle.

“The trauma [on the bodies] is also consistent with what we would expect from an encounter with a well-equipped Germanic army,” adds Holst.

Bogucki agrees: “This was barbarian-on-barbarian.”

RTWT

19 Apr 2018

Oldest American Domestic Dogs

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Science News reports recent analysis proves dogs have lived with humans in North America longer than previously supposed and that the genetics of some dogs kept by early inhabitants of North America have not survived to the present day.

A trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in Illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said April 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. Until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

Ancient dogs at the Midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said Perri, of Durham University in England. A dog buried at Germany’s Bonn-Oberkassel site around 14,000 years ago was included in a two-person grave. Placement of the Americas dogs in their own graves indicates that these animals were held in high regard by ancient people.

An absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried, Perri said. …

She and her colleagues studied two of three dogs excavated at the Koster site in the 1970s and a dog unearthed at Stilwell II in 1960. These sites lie about 30 kilometers apart in west-central Illinois.

Perri’s team found that the lower jaws and teeth of the Stilwell II dog and one Koster dog displayed some similarities to those of modern wolves. Another Koster dog’s jaw shared some traits with present-day coyotes, possibly reflecting some ancient interbreeding.

A new genetic analysis positions the 10,000-year-old Illinois dogs in a single lineage that initially populated North America. Dog origins are controversial, but may date to more than 20,000 years ago (SN Online: 7/18/17). Ancient American dogs, including the Koster and Stilwell II animals, shared a common genetic ancestor, cell biologist Kelsey Witt Dillon of the University of California, Merced reported April 13 at the SAA meeting. That ancestor originated roughly 15,000 years ago after diverging from a closely related Siberian dog population about 1,000 years earlier, she said.

Dillon’s team, which includes Perri, studied 71 complete mitochondrial genomes and seven nuclear genomes of dogs from more than 20 North American sites, ranging in age from 10,000 to 800 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA is typically inherited from the mother, whereas nuclear DNA comes from both parents.

Much of the genetic blueprint of those ancient dogs is absent in present-day canines, Dillon said. Only a small number of U.S. and Asian dogs share maternal ancestry with ancient American dogs, suggesting the arrival of European breeds starting at least several hundred years ago reshaped dog DNA in the Americas, she proposed.

RTWT

23 Dec 2017

Mellgren Coin: Real Evidence of Vikings in Maine?

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Atlas Obscura:

The story that Guy Mellgren told about the curious silver coin began on the shores of Maine, where he met a stranger named Goddard. In the fall of 1956, Mellgren and Ed Runge, a pair of amateur archaeologists, had come in search of the most basic of coastal dig sites—a shell midden—when they happened onto a more unusual discovery.

Goddard had invited them to explore his shoreline property, and there, on a natural terrace about eight feet above the high tide line, they found stone chips, knives, and fire pits, along with an abundance of other unexpected artifacts. Each summer for many years, Mellgren and Runge returned to excavate the “Goddard Site,” with little help from professional archaeologists. In the second summer, they produced the coin.

For two decades, based on an analysis by a friend in a numismatics club, Mellgren described it as a coin minted in 12th-century England, and no one questioned that identification. The discovery should have been noteworthy—there’s no good explanation for how a medieval English coin could have crossed the Atlantic—but Mellgren never sought wider attention for the find. It was a curiosity to show off to friends and his son’s classmates, until, in 1978, a scrappy regional bulletin published a picture of the coin and an article titled, “Were the English the First to Discover America?”

That picture found its way to a well-known London dealer, who recognized at once that the coin could not have come from England. Two weeks after Mellgren died, the coin’s reidentification swept into the news. It was a Norse penny, made between 1065 and 1093—evidence for Viking contact with North America centuries before Columbus.

All of sudden, experts from around the world began taking a careful look at the details of Mellgren’s story. Of many objects purported to prove a Viking presence in North America, only the artifacts painstakingly excavated at L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, have stood up to investigation. The rest—the Beardmore relics, the Vinland Map, the notorious Kensington Rune Stone—are all considered hoaxes.

Since 1978, no one has questioned that the Mellgren coin is an authentic Norse penny, made in medieval Scandinavia. But 60 years after Mellgren’s find, archaeologists and numismatic experts are still asking how in the world this small, worn coin got to Maine.

RTWT

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

03 Dec 2017

First Archaelogical Evidence of Caesar’s Invasion of Britain

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View of the University of Leicester excavations at Ebbsfleet in 2016 showing Pegwell Bay and the cliffs at Ramsgate.

Telegraph:

The first Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55BC is a historical fact, with vivid accounts passed down by Tacitus, Cicero and Caesar himself.

Yet, despite a huge landing force of legionaries from 800 ships, no archaeological evidence for the attack or any physical remains of encampments have ever been found.

But now a chance excavation carried out ahead of a road building project in Kent has uncovered what is thought to be the first solid proof for the invasion.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester and Kent County Council have found a defensive ditch and javelin spear at Ebbsfleet, a hamlet on the Isle of Thanet.

RTWT

26 Nov 2017

Gold Richard III Half Angel Found Not Far From Bosworth Field

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Leicester Mercury:

A metal detectorist has tracked down a rare gold coin from Richard III’s reign near to the site of the Battle of Bosworth.

The Half Angel is one of just a handful of such coins that have survived from the king’s two-year reign.

It was discovered by Michelle Vall while she was taking part in a charity detecting rally in September at Monks Kirby, near the Bosworth Field. News of the discovery has just come to light.

The coin will be auctioned international coins, medals and jewellery specialist Dix Noonan Webb in London on December 13. It is expected to fetch up to £15,000.

Christopher Webb, head of the coins department at Dix Noonan Webb, said: “This is a very rare discovery that has miraculously survived in a field for more than five centuries.

“Its importance as a coin is enhanced by the tantalising possibility that it may have belonged to one of Richard’s army, whose defeat at Bosworth ended the Wars of the Roses and ushered in the Tudor dynasty.”

Michelle, a 51-year-old primary school teaching assistant, from Blackpool, said: “After detecting for two-and-a-half hours in a farmer’s field, I got a signal.

“The coin was deep down, about 16 inches below the surface, and the soil there is thick clay so it took a bit of digging out.

“I spotted this glint of gold in the hole, although I obviously did not know exactly what it was at first. I put it in the palm of my hand and then I went back to the organisers’ tent.

“One of them identified it and people became very excited. That was when I realised that it was a Half Angel.”

Michelle has decided to sell the coin as, she said, it is “too valuable to keep”.

She added: “I did not want to keep it in a locked cupboard.

“I feel very privileged that I have found something so precious and historic.

“The memory of that day, the excitement not just of myself but also of other detectorists, when I found that beautiful, tiny, piece of historic gold will live with me forever.”

The Half Angel gold coin was first introduced in 1472 and was half the value of the Angel coin.
The rare gold coin was discovered near the site of the Battle of Bosworth

Richard III issues of the coin are rare because his reign was so brief and there has always been a big interest in items from the controversial king’s rein particularly since his remains were discovered in Leicester in 2012.

It is possible that the coin might have belonged to one of Richard’s soldiers fleeing from the battle that changed the course of English history.

24 Aug 2017

In Sweden, Officials Are Simply Recycling Bronze and Iron Age Artifacts

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One of the amulet rings from the Iron Age that archaeologists are recycling. Previously, this type of object was saved, says archaeologist Johan Runer.

Rough translation from Swedish language article in Svenska Dagbladet:

While the debate about burning books is raging in the media, Swedish archaeologists throw away amulet rings and other ancient discoveries. It feels wrong and sad to destroy thousands of years of ritual arts and crafts, and I’m not alone in feeling so.

“What you do is destroy our history! Says Johan Runer, archaeologist at Stockholm County Museum.

Amulet rings from the Iron Age, like Viking weights and coins, belong to a category of objects that, as far as Runer knows, were previously always saved.

He tried to raise the alarm in an article in the journal Popular Archeology (No. 4/2016), describing how arbitrary thinning occurs. Especially in archeological studies before construction and road projects, the focus is on quickly and cheaply removing the heritage so that the machine tools can proceed.

He works himself in these kinds of excavations. Nobody working in field archeology wants to get a reputation as an uncooperative “find-fanatic” but now he cannot be quiet any longer.

“It’s quite crazy, but this field operates in the marketplace. We are doing business,” says Runer.

Often, especially in the case of minor excavations, there is a standing order from the county administrative boards that as few discoveries as possible should be taken.

If you think it seems unlikely, I recommend reading the National Archives Office’s open archive, such as report 2016: 38. An archaeological preamble of settlement of bronze and iron age before reconstruction by Flädie on the E6 outside Lund.

In the finds catalog, coins, knives, a tin ornament, a ring and a weight from the Viking Age or early Middle Ages have been placed in the column “Weeded Out”.

Current research about weights and measures focusing on the Viking era is underway, “says Lena Holmquist, archaeologist at Stockholm University.

But one puzzle piece is gone.

At another dig in the millennial culture village Molnby in Vallentuna, several amulet rings from the Iron Age were found. Amulet rings were ritual items used during the Vendel and Viking times.

Johan Anund, Regional Director of the Archaeology Staff at the State Historical Museums who made the thinning, says that archaeologists at all times have to make priorities in order to avoid drowning in objects.

It is the county boards that hire archaeology staffs to carry out archaeological investigations. An easy way to lower the cost is to reduce the number of items to be preserved.

Ceramics require no preservation and are usually saved. However, iron and metal must be treated after perhaps a thousand years in the ground. So if the staff puts funds for conserving two metal objects in its bid but finds twelve then they have to discard ten. To metal recycling.

The historical museum now only deals with objects that have been preserved.

Weeding out typically occurs in the field, usually by an individual who must quickly decide: save or throw away? As a result, familiar objects are preserved.

Last year a sensational little dragon was found in Birka. It looked the more like a lump of rust when it was picked up, but the archaeologists in Birka are among the few who have the time and capabilities to investigate. On a commissioned archaeological dig, the dragon would probably have been thrown away.

Archaeologists do not give away or sell finds because they do not want to create a market for antiquities and encourage robbers with metal detectors, says Runer. Thus: the bin.

“It is troubling when in other countries everything is done to preserve their heritage …,” says archaeologist Lena Holmquist.

Conclusion: If society no longer believes it can afford to take responsibility for Sweden’s history, county councils should stop builders and developers from excavating ancient sites. One alternative is to stop outsourcing the cultural heritage to the lowest bidder with the largest waste bin.

Now the question is what the National Antiquarian Lars Amréus, or the cultural minister, are thinking? They are responsible for the cultural heritage of Sweden and the destruction of history takes place during their shift.

Isn’t it typical of academics and state bureaucrats that they’d rather throw artifacts in the recycling bin than release them into the hands of private collectors? God forbid, some private citizen with a metal detector, lacking a badge and the right university credentials should find anything!

HT: Jean-Batave Poqueliche, at Return of Kings, who found the story and spun it in the direction of deliberate Multicultural malevolence.

15 Jul 2017

Reading University Excavating Long Barrow

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Telegraph:

A “House of the Dead” dating back more than 5,000 years could contain the remains of the ancestors of people who built Stonehenge, archaeologists believe.

A Neolithic long barrow burial mound at Cat’s Brain, in Pewsey Vale, Wiltshire, is being excavated by the University of Reading in the first full investigation of such a monument in the county for half a century.

The long barrow, lies in the middle of a farmer’s field halfway between the two major stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge, and its existence has been known for decades after a geological survey found the evidence of deep trenches.

The inner building, however, was thought to have been ploughed flat, and it was not until a drone was sent up recently that anyone knew part of it still survives.

The barrrow would have originally consisted of of two ditches flanking a central burial chamber which was probably covered with a mound made of the earth dug from the ditches.

Experts said it was surprising to find lasting evidence of the building and believe it may contain human remains buried there in around 3,600 BC.

It is hoped the Reading University Archaeology Field School investigation will provide crucial evidence from the early Neolithic period, which saw Britain’s first agricultural communities and monument builders.

RTWT

08 Jul 2017

Copper of Iceman’s Axe Came From Hundreds of Miles Away From the Tyrol

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Telegraph:

New research has shown that a copper axe carried by a Neolithic hunter known as Ötzi the Iceman came from southern Tuscany.

The find has surprised experts because hundreds of miles separate Tuscany from the Alpine pass where the mummified body of Ötzi was discovered 25 years ago.

It is known that copper was mined in the Alps so it is a mystery why the Iceman’s blade should have come from so far away.

Nor do scientists know whether the copper was acquired as a raw ingot, which then had to be fashioned into an axe, or as a ready-made blade.

The hunter-gatherer, nicknamed Ötzi after the Otztal mountains where he was found, died 5,300 years ago on what is now the border between Italy and Austria.

He perished after being shot in the back with an arrow by an unknown assailant, in one of the world’s oldest murder mysteries.

His body was frozen forever in the snow and ice of the mountains.

“Our results unambiguously indicate that the source of the metal is the ore-rich area of southern Tuscany, despite ample evidence that Alpine copper ore sources were known and exploited at the time,” scientists said in a report published in the research journal Plos One.

The fact that copper was being traded between central Italy and the remote Alps was “surprising”, said the experts, who are from Padua University and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where the mummified body of the Iceman is on permanent display.

RTWT

23 May 2017

Shrapnel From Monmouth Battlefield Tests Positive for Human Blood

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Asbury Park Press:

It’s a hexagonal piece of lead, maybe the size of a fingertip. Canister shot, it was called, and the Continental Army used it to shred British lines at the Battle of Monmouth in June of 1778.

When his team of volunteer archaeologists found this and other pieces of ordnance in the ground at Monmouth Battlefield State Park last summer, Dan Sivilich suspected they were not your typical artifacts.

“Two appeared to have fabric impressions on them which suggested they might have hit a uniform,” Sivilich said.

He sent them to PaleoResarch Inc. in Colorado for testing. Nine months later his hunch was proven correct — and then some. One of the pieces tested positive for human blood protein.

“In other words, it hit a soldier,” Sivilich said. “This is the only piece of Revolutionary War canister shot ever found that’s been positively tested for human blood.”

That’s not all. Based on where they were discovered, Sivilich believes the pieces probably were fired by Proctor’s Pennsylvania artillery. One of its cannon is associated with the legendary heroine Molly Pitcher, whose real name likely was Mary Hays.

“It could have been a round that Molly Pitcher handled,” Sivilich said. “We can’t say for sure, but it makes for interesting speculation.”

RTWT

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