Thursday, July 28, 2005

CSI: Stonehenge Mystery Man of Stonehenge

The legs were curled in a fetal position, common in Bronze Age burials. An eroded hole in the jawbone indicated that he'd had an abscess; a missing left kneecap was evidence that he'd sustained some horrific injury that'd left him with a heavy limp and an excruciating bone infection. A man between 35 and 45 years of age, he was buried with a black stone wrist guard on his forearm of the kind used to protect archers from the snap of a bowstring. Scattered across his lower body were 16 barbed flint arrowheads (the shafts to which they presumably had been attached had long since rotted away).

The archaeologists started calling him the Amesbury Archer, and they assumed he had something to do with Stonehenge because the massive stone monument was just a few miles away.

Not a bad article. Doesn't break much new ground, but it's a good review.

Antiquities Market update U.S. Returns 10-Foot Altarpiece to Peru

A 400-year-old carved and painted altarpiece, 10 feet high and weighing about 1,000 pounds, was returned to the government of Peru on Tuesday after it was stolen from a church in Peru and put on sale in Santa Fe, N.M.

The piece, made between 1575 and 1595, comes from the town of Challapampa, near Peru's border with Bolivia. Peruvian authorities called it an important example of Spanish colonial art, carved by Pedro de Vargas and painted by Bernardo Bitti, an Italian Jesuit who worked in Latin America.

This seems to be a recent heist rather than something from an excavation, so somewhat limited in its strictly archaeological importance. But, score one for the good guys.

Ancient Iraqi harp reproduced by Liverpool engineers

Engineers from the University's Lairdside Laser Engineering Centre (LLEC) employed revolutionary laser technology to engrave authentic designs onto Gulf Shell (mother of pearl) – the original material used to decorate the body of the harp.

Dr Carmel Curran, who carried out the work at the LLEC, commented: "This is the first time we have laser processed this type of material and the results are remarkable. It is fantastic to be involved in the recreation of such a piece of history."

Fight Club, Peru, update Archaeology Magazine has an article in the July/August issue on the feud between Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer of the US and Ruth Shady of Peru. We blogged about this a while back. The problem was that Haas/Creamer did some work with Shady at Caral, then went off to other areas to excavate, published their findings, and Shady felt slighted by their apparent neglect at giving her credit:

Five thousand years later, these shicra bags have led to an intellectual fight to the death between Shady and archaeologists Jonathan Haas of Chicago's Field Museum and Winifred Creamer of Northern Illinois University, a husband-and-wife team. The hothouse world of Peruvian archaeology is notorious for its spats, but this one has taken the vitriol to unprecedented levels--public insults, a charge of plagiarism, ethics inquiries in both countries, and complaints by Peruvian officials to the U.S. government. Groundbreaking research into the origins of civilization in the Americas is being carried out by two groups that won't talk to each other or share information, regularly attack each other in public, and, in private interviews, make inflammatory charges about the other's allegedly shoddy work. Colleagues fear the dispute could make it harder for American archaeologists to gain permission to work in Peru.

Unfortunately, only an abstract of the article is online for non-subscribers. It gives a bit more background to the feud than was reported in newspapers and online at the time. The article seems to place the blame for the bad feelings more onto Shady than the American researchers, though the latter don't come off blameless either. The tone of the article leaves one with the impression that Shady is difficult to work with anyway, which, given the nature of academia, oughtn't be surprising. Haas and Creamer are also described by others as of the old mold of EuroAmerican archaeologists: Get in, do what they want, and get out. No real way to tell how accurate these descriptions are, given that they are told from people directly involved with both parties.

We have no real position on this matter (i.e., who's right and who's wrong), so we leave it to the reader to decide. It's a shame that it's come to this, but it's probably an inherent danger of doing work in other countries. In the past, when many of these areas were severely underdevloped economically, they were definitely in an inferior position. Now with more development, they are starting to assert their "native rights", if that is an appropriate term.

Archaeologists have to be far more sensitive to these issues than before. In many cases (Egypt and now Iran spring to mind) the host country is requiring local participation by native archaeologists in any project. This is a good thing, in our view. However, care must be taken not to antagonize either side; archaeology works best as a cooperative affair, and too much dictatorial control by either side will only end in not only feuds like this, but bad research as well. As some of these country's archaeological corps become more and more professional and they obtain significant funding of their own, the dynamic will change dramatically from times past.

Who knows, maybe some of them will even start coming over to dig up stuff in our own back yard. . . . .