Friday, May 30, 2008

Cyprus researches millenia-old wine jars in wreck
Archaeologists have started research into what they believe may be the oldest known ancient shipwreck off Cyprus which sank with hundreds of jars of wine on board 2,350 years ago.

In what could be described as a super-tanker of ancient times, Cypriot marine archaeologists say it appears to be one of the best preserved wrecks in the region, carrying hundreds of jars of wine dating from the mid-fourth century BC.

"We have very few wrecks so well preserved in the eastern Mediterranean dating from the classical period," said Dr Stella Demesticha, visiting lecturer of underwater archaeology at the University of Cyprus.
! ! ! ! Footprints in the ash
Footprints left in volcanic ash that fell in central Mexico’s Valsequillo Basin about 40,000 years ago are evidence that humans have inhabited the Americas far longer than previously confirmed, a new study suggests.

Analyses of three-dimensional laser scans of the imprints (example at right) confirm their human origin, says Silvia Gonzalez, a geoarchaeologist at Liverpool John Moores University in England.

Previous finds of human remains elsewhere in the region couldn’t be precisely dated because they were found in layers of mixed gravels that probably incorporated materials of many different ages.

I remember (I think) posting something about this a couple of years ago. Then, the dating of the ash layer was controversial, some having the stuff as 1+ millions years old. And the human nature of the footprints was also in question. We at ArchaeoBlog remain dubious.
Mummy update

Egypt planning DNA test for 3,500-year-old mummy
Egypt plans to conduct a DNA test on a 3,500-year-old mummy to determine if it is King Thutmose I, one of the most important pharaohs, the country's chief archaeologist said Thursday.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said the DNA test and an X-ray will be carried out on a mummy found at the site of ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile, what is today Luxor's Valley of the Kings, the Middle East News Agency reported.

Hawass said a mummy on display in the Egyptian Museum that was purported for many years to be Thutmose I was not actually the ancient ruler's remains.

With their new lab up and running there ought to be a whole slough of data coming in the near future. A lot of people have been pushing for extensive DNA testing of extant mummies for quite a while in order to sort out the various lineages and identities of the mummies.
Rewriting Greenland's immigration history
This time, focus is on Greenland, and the scientific evidence is DNA analyses of hair from the Disco Bay ice fjord area in north-west Greenland, which are well-preserved after 4,000 years in permafrost soil. The team’s discovery makes it necessary to review Greenland’s immigration history. Until now, science regarded it as a possibility that the earliest people in Greenland were direct ancestors of the present-day Greenlandic population.

It now turns out that the original immigrants on the maternal side, which is reflected in the mitochondrial DNA, instead came from a Siberian population whose closest present-day descendants come from the Aleutian Islands on the boundary between the Northern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea and the Seriniki Yuit in north-east Siberia. Discovered in more recent times by the Dane Vitus Bering in 1741, the Aleutian Islands today include some 300 islands spanning 1,900 km from Alaska in the USA to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia.
Thank you and goodbye
My name is Andrew Exum, and for the past year and a half, I have had the great pleasure of editing this blog under the ridiculous pseudonym “Abu Muqawama.”

I started this blog as a joke – hence the tongue-in-cheek name – and have been shocked to discover that a year and a half on, we have a dedicated readership whose numbers have been growing exponentially. . . .Unrelated to reader harassment, this is my last post for the blog.

Not as a hint or anything. To be honest, I've never even read that particular blog until today and probably won't ever go back. BUT. I've often contemplated getting a co-blogger or two. Kinda makes one wonder why one blogs in the first place. Mainly I do so because I love archaeology and I feel compelled to throw myself out there. Partly this is due to my own innate exhibitionism in which I may freely indulge in the relative anonymity of the Interwebs. Besides, I've participated in various national/international online fora over the years so I am used to tossing my opinion out there for all to see and rip on me about (note: argue against a conspiracy theory at your peril). I feel comfortable expounding on whatever strikes my fancy as long as there is some vague and barely supportable thread connecting it to archaeology. (Or not. Though I can usually force one if need be)

Academiblogs can prosper in a multi-poster format, such as VOlokh's lawblog. OTOH, as posted about here on various occasions, archy bloggers aren't all that common. I'd like to bring in someone else with different areas of expertise, but most who would blog are already doing so elsewhere and those who aren't probably think it's a waste of time. Or something. I, of course, have argued long and often that blogging really ought to be a part of nearly every academic's life.

Although I look down the side of the page there and find that Andie is still a contributor. But, as I say, she already blogs elsewhere.

I can sympathize with Mr. Exum on the whole time issue. If you really want to make a nifty site with ads and affiliate links and multiple posters and comments and what-not, it takes a bit of time. Every now and then I've made a half-hearted attempt to go to a new service, make a new site, etc., but then I remember that I've got excavation profiles to trace and scan, unit descriptions to write, etc., and isn't that what doing archaeology is all about? And I don't even have a Ph.D. dissertation to write!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Preservationists say gas drilling imperils ancient carvings
Along Utah's Nine Mile Canyon lies what some call the longest art gallery in the world - thousands of prehistoric rock carvings and paintings of bighorn sheep and other wildlife, hunters wielding spears, and warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

But now, a dramatic increase in natural gas drilling is proposed on the plateau above the canyon, and preservationists fear trucks will kick up dust that will cover over the images. And they worry that one possible solution - a chemical dust suppressant - could make things worse by corroding the rock.

I like this: Company spokesman Jim Felton defended the project, saying if drilling does not go forward, the implications will be "immediate, dire and drastic" . . .

Followed by: "The threat is real and imminent and frightening," Moe said in a statement.

Let's just ratchet up the rhetoric some more!
Thousand-year-old Lombard warrior skeleton discovered buried with horse in Italy
The skeleton, which was found in a park at Testona, near Turin, is of a 25-year-old Lombard who died of a fever. Unusually, his horse was buried alongside him.

"This is a very rare find," said Gabriella Pantò, the archaeologist leading the dig. "We have not seen many precedents in Italy. We have seen horses' heads buried with warriors, but this find shows the area is vitally important," she added.
Will Judean Desert find shed light on Shroud of Turin?
Can a 6,000-year-old shroud uncovered in the Judean Desert in 1993 help illuminate the centuries-old debate over the Shroud of Turin?

That is the question posed by Olga Negnevitsky, a conservator at the Israel Museum who was involved in the conservation of the lesser-known shroud for the Antiquities Authority after it was discovered inside a small cave near Jericho.

The idea to use the older shroud to learn more about the famous one came to Negnevitsky this week after she listened to an address on the Shroud of Turin at the International Art Conference in Jerusalem on the conservation of cultural and environmental heritage.

Y'know, this is he first I've heard of this thing. It could be pretty informative, at least for comparative purposes.
Ancient Egyptian Temple Entrance Found in Nile River
Archaeologists have discovered a portico, or covered entryway, of an ancient Egyptian temple beneath the surface of the Nile River.

The entryway once led to the temple of the ram-headed fertility god Khnum, experts say.

A team of Egyptian archaeologist-divers found the portico in Aswan while conducting the first-ever underwater surveys of the Nile, which began earlier this year.

"The Nile has shifted, and this part of the temple began to be a part of [the river]," said Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Iraq's Ancient Tablets to Get New, Virtual Life
A technology normally used in reconstructive surgery to create prosthetic limbs is now being applied to create reproductions of Iraq's precious and fragile cuneiform clay tablets, according to an Italian team of researchers.

. . .

Called "Duplication and Rebirth," the project consist of an electronic catalogue with bibliographical references, photographs, and when possible, 3D images of the tablets. These three-dimensional models can then produce exact replicas of the original relics.

Everybody should be doing this.
Stonehenge may have been royal cemetery
Stonehenge may have been a burial ground for an ancient royal family, British researchers said on Thursday.

New radiocarbon dates of human remains excavated from the ancient stone monument in southwest England suggest it was used as a cemetery from its inception just after 3000 BC until well after the larger circle of stones went up around 2500 BC.

Previously, archaeologists had believed people were buried at Stonehenge between 2700 and 2600 B.C.

Is there anything it wasn't?
Researchers retrieve authentic Viking DNA from 1,000-year-old skeletons
Although “Viking” literally means “pirate,” recent research has indicated that the Vikings were also traders to the fishmongers of Europe. Stereotypically, these Norsemen are usually pictured wearing a horned helmet but in a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE this week, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, investigated what went under the helmet; the scientists were able to extract authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers.

This is how they avoided contamination:
Wearing protective suits, the researchers removed the teeth from the jaw at the moment the skeletons were unearthed when they had been untouched for 1,000 years. The subsequent laboratory procedures were also carefully controlled in order to avoid contamination.

This will probably end up being far more common at excavations, since DNA analysis is getting a far more prominent role. I can imagine part of the archaeological toolkit at any excavation site will be something like hazmat suits and sealed plastic bags for collecting human remains.

UPDATE: Original paper here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Archaeologists are Horndogs

No, I didn't say it, she did:
Sure, as a professor, Indy wears a bowtie and acts mild-mannered, but if you're looking for a lifetime of monogamy, don't marry someone who spends months on end at remote sites with a gaggle of worshipful students. Marion shoulda known.

Like most academics, archy profs have a nasty tendency to divorce their wives and marry their graduate students. Or undergraduates. I know of one guy personally who ended up dating and marrying an undergrad, though he did NOT make the first move. Total no-no these days, as it should be. Not a bad little Q&A.
Egypt archaeologists find ancient army HQ
Egyptian archaeologists have discovered the headquarters of a pharaonic army that guarded the strategic eastern border, the supreme council of antiquities said.

The site, which dates back to the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC), was discovered in the Sinai peninsula at the start of Horus Road, the vital commercial and military road linking Egypt to Asia, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said.

"Studies show that the fort was the headquarters of the Egyptian army from the time of the New Kingdom until the Ptolemaic period," the council said.
Recent archaeology Anxiety followed by relief to find long-lost uncle
TIM WHITFORD has been to Pheasant's Wood, the tiny wooden copse in the wheat fields below the French village of Fromelles, many times.

But yesterday, as archaeologists embarked on the second day of their meticulous dig into the German-built mass grave, his breath caught and thoughts of his long-lost great uncle, Private Harry Willis, brought tears to his eyes.

Accompanied by his wife, Liz, and daughter Alexandra, 8, Mr Whitford, the burly security manager from Tallarook, Victoria, has spent years searching for Uncle Harry, one of his nan's 14 children who died in the ferocious battle of Fromelles on July 19, 1916.
Archaeologists discover statues of Cleopatra, Aphrodite
An alabaster head of Cleopatra and a mask thought to belong to her lover Mark Antony have been found near Egypt's Mediterranean city of Alexandria, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said on Monday.

The two treasures, a bronze statue of Goddess Aphrodite and a headless royal statue from the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt between 323 and 30 BC, were discovered by a joint Egyptian-Dominican Republic team of archeologists in the Tapsiris Magna temple, Hawass said.
Ilya Somin over at at Volokh links to this WaPo op-ed on the Indiana Jones phenomenon:
I know that the Indiana Jones series is just a campy tribute to the Saturday afternoon serials of the 1930s and the B-movies of the 1950s, but believe me, it totally misrepresents who archaeologists are and what goals we pursue.

Well, duh. Like anyone would make a movie about a guy sitting in a lab measuring debitage.

(Via Insty)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The hat issue Way back in this post I offered the Converse All Star high top as perhaps the ultimate excavation shoe. The theory behind those shoes is that a softer sole without much tread will do less damage to exposed surfaces and artifacts than big knobby boots, besides keeping dirt out of your socks.

Having just seen the latest Indiana Jones installment, we must visit the hat issue. Probably the most famous piece of archaeological clothing ever:

Not a bad choice really. It's got brim all around so it's pretty good at keeping the sun off and good in the rain, too. I thought the original was a Stetson, but I could be mistaken. Matter of fact, my first project in Egypt I took my disreputable old dark blue canvas fedora that I'd had since undergraduate days in Wisconsin for warding off the rain:

And in a perhaps more realistic setting:

It eventually got too rancid to wear anymore. I bought another brown fedora, much more Indiana Jonesish, to ward off the rain of Seattle, but I don't think I ever took it to Egypt. I used to make fun of the Egyptology people who would go to Egypt in their khaki Safari outfits -- complete with pith helmet! -- so I thought it might be a tad bit incongruent for me to go looking all Indy. Besides, on a survey in Idaho I'd discovered the utility of the hard hat. Especially handy when going through dense woodland; just put your head down and plow ahead. Plus in the sun it allows for air circulation and in the rain, well, it's plastic so ideal. And you can fill it with water, if need be. I started to understand the affection many veterans felt for their trusty helmets. Not much brim is one of the only drawbacks. And they're pretty cheap and darn near indestructible. I have a standard yellow one and a white one with Wisconsin stickers on it. Both safety rated for those times students let their picks fly across the trench. . . . .

IIRC, Mark Lehner had a fedora, much like Zahi Hawass. The other big one, in Egypt at least, is a certain type of wide-brimmed hat. The brand name I remember is Tilley, but I'm not sure what the overall type is called. Most are more or less like this one:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones update: Movie review Well, I went against my usual and went to see Crystal Skull on opening weekend.

Non-spoiler section: Overall I liked it. I'd probably agree with most reviewers and give it something like 3.5 out of 5. In the Indy pantheon, I'd rank it below Last Crusade and above Temple of Doom. The main things cutting into its appeal for me were kind of a goofy main plot combined with some really lame scenes. None of the characters was really goofy and irritating, even Shia LaBeouf who I expected to hate.

I never really got into the aliens angle, but it didn't detract that much from the whole thing. It seemed far more suited to Lara Croft though. The actual crystal skull was kind of cheesy. It looked a plastic skull filled with Saran Wrap. And it didn't look anything like the "real" ones and that seemed to surprise no one. It was really near the end where the whole premise got kind of silly. They did an excellent job with the characters; they (both the actors and the writers) really captured the original characters, aged somewhat. That is, they weren't just there for nostalgia and to act all goofy and make people smile just by seeing them again. It worked for me. Jon Rhys-Davies (Sallah) wasn't in it which was a bit of a disappointment, and of course, Denholm Elliot (Marcus) had died several years ago. I didn't think (most of, see below) the action scenes were too overwrought and most of it was fairly believable. Only one major creepy-crawlie, the ants, which was, eh, kind of anticlimactic.

There wasn't a whole lot of archaeology in it, save for nearer the end. That part wasn't too bad really; it's the usual fantasizing stuff, but nothing over the top "Huh???"-inducing.


Okay, the following parts really annoyed me. First, Mutt swinging through the vines in the jungle. That was kind of juvenile and we don't believe it would either be possible physically or, given that the other vehicles were speeding away, distance-wise. You.Just.Can't.Do.It.

Second, note to filmmakers: Please, please, PLEASE, try to show at least a GRUDGING RESPECT FOR THE FRICKIN' LAWS OF PHYSICS. Why the heck would they have a lead-lined REFRIGERATOR in the blast zone (though I might be able to think of some reasons)? And you would simply not survive being in a fridge that was thrown a mile or so into the air. Just because you're in a box doesn't mean you're not feeling everything the outside of the box is going through. Next thing you'll have an action hero in a free-falling elevator jumping up at the last second to save himself. Arrgh. Not as bad as being surrounded by lakes of lava and ignoring radiant heat, but still. Yeah, I'm talking to YOU Spielberg and Lucas.

And no, we also don't think anyone wold survive going over the waterfalls, let alone stay in the amphibious vehicle.

That and the flying saucer at the end really detracted. Ergh. I suppose it's not any weirder than an Ark vaporizing people, but it was kind of cheesy. And why would skeletons still be animate? Huh?

Those are the bad bits. There were some touches I really liked. They had Mutt play off Indiana really well. The former wasn't a total namby-pamby but he wasn't helpless either. I liked how he started off thinking Indy was just some old teacher but then when they got into the field he (Indy) showed him a few things. The blow gun bit was classic and comes out of left field. I also liked the library scene where one of his students asked him a question after they'd barreled in on the motorcycle. Can't remember what Indy told him to read, but I recognized it as actual anthropological theory. Oh yeah, it was Childe.

The end was pretty well done as well. In the last scene Indy's fedora is blown over to Mutt who picks it up, looks at it kind of reverently and is about to put it on, ala young Indy in Last Crusade and possibly making abundantly clear the filmmakers decision to pass the torch on to new action-adventure hero. . . . .when Indy grabs it from him and puts it on himself. Well done, lads, well done.

Go see it. More than once.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Archaeologists explore Peruvian mystery
Dr Nick Saunders from Bristol University and Professor Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester are locating and measuring the lines with high-precision GPS, photographing the distribution of 1,500-year old pottery, and painstakingly working out the chronological sequence of overlying lines and designs.

Funded by the Anglo-Peruvian Cultural Association in Lima, their research hopes to unlock the purpose of the dazzling but confusing array of desert drawings.
Jerks Vandals in attack on Stonehenge
Suspected souvenir hunters broke into Stonehenge and vandalised the ancient monument, English Heritage has said.

A hammer and screwdriver were used to take a small chip the size of a 10p piece from the side of the Heel Stone.

English Heritage said further damage was prevented by security guards who spotted the two men at the 5,000-year-old site in Wiltshire.

Good for the guard for catching them quickly.
Prehistoric cave uncovered in Western Galilee
While carrying out development work connected with the construction of a sewage line in a forest of the Jewish National Fund, a large stalactite cave was accidentally breached inside of which an abundance of prehistoric artifacts were discovered.

Immediately upon exposing the cave personnel were summoned there from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Center for Cave Exploration and the Western Galilee Rescue Unit.

According to Dr. Ofer Marder, head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority who examined the cave, “It seems that during the past 40-50 years no cave has been found with such a wealth of prehistoric finds and certainly not inside such a lovely stalactite cave.

Preliminary dating has it as 40-20kBP. Really good if it goes back even further as you're then getting into the initial early modern human migrations.
Newfoundland Viking site remarkable
The most famous Viking ruins can be seen at the former "Eastern Settlement" on the southwest tip of Greenland, near the present-day towns of Narsaq and Qassiarsuk. Here is found Brattahlid, the farm Eric the Red established in 986, as well as reconstructions of the bishop's residence at Gardar and Hvalsey Church.

Though these towns were not ports of call on our voyage, we did sail down the coast of Labrador, where Norse sagas report that Leif Ericson and other Viking explorers landed to harvest wood. But the main attraction for Viking buffs -- and a much more accessible one for Canadians -- is at the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

Nothing new; it's a bit of travel writing.
Slavery archaeology update Map from 1830s aids research, excavation
With the help of an early-19th-century insurance map, archaeologists are having an easier time than usual in excavating an important historical site near Montpelier.

The researchers, including 17 students from James Madison University, are unearthing the South Yard, a residential complex where President James Madison's domestic slaves lived and worked.

The insurance map, which came to light in 2002, is proving invaluable.
Tower found under mound
WORK to repair Oxford Castle's mound has revealed a ten-sided tower that has been hidden for more than two centuries.

The foundations of a 13th-century tower that once stood on top of the mound were discovered during work to deal with land slippage.

Excavation work at the Oxford landmark on New Road has led to a section of the tower seeing the light of day for the first time since the 1790s.
The Space Archaeologists
If it weren’t for the landmines, Lingapura would be a great place to dig. For part of the 10th century, this pocket of northwestern Cambodia was the capital of the famed Angkorian empire, a sprawling city studded with homes, irrigation channels, and more than 1,000 temples crowned with stone lingam, or phalluses. But ever since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge dotted Cambodia with millions of landmines in the 1970s, Lingapura’s ruins have sat mostly untouched.

Long article. The photo gallery is also informative.
Archaeologist: Remains about 2,500 years old
Skeletons of people who lived on Guam about 2,500 years ago were discovered when a swimming pool was removed to renovate the Guam Hotel Okura in Tumon Bay.

Archeologist David DeFant yesterday described the discovery's significance in both the age and number of human remains found.

"This discovery represents one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved prehistoric burial populations ever uncovered in the Western Pacific Region," DeFant said. "The results of this research will make a significant contribution to our understanding of how these early people lived and perhaps where they came from."
Orkney Islanders have Siberian relatives
Although it provides relative genetic contributions of one group to another, rather than timings, it confirms how the first modern humans came out of Africa 50,000 years ago, mostly from a group in southern Africa called the San.

But the subsequent movements around the world, via the near east, central Asia and then Europe, turned up some surprises including a strong similarity between the Sindih, a people who once lived in Pakistan, and Orkney Islanders, or Orcadians.

In turn, the Orcadians are closely related to the people who first colonised Siberia.

UPDATE: More genetic work here on SE Asia.

Friday, May 23, 2008

More Indy-blogging 10 Awesome Indiana Jones Facts.

I knew #2 (the Selleck part anyway), #3, and #5. I'm going to have to watch some of Temple of Doom again to get some of the stuff in there. Happily, I have the DVD so I can just skip to the right scenes.
Blogging update No, I didn't post anything yesterday. I was dead tired and then I had to investigate a lack of brake lights on my Mustang. Probably the brake switch rather than the lights themselves. Posting will resume today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones update Well, I guess it opened in some cities today, but tomorrow is the big day. I've not linked to any reviews, but here is one that seems to sum up most of the reactions (and provide more of the storyline):
A lost ancient city in the jungle, Soviet spies, Stone Age warriors, man-eating ants, a flying saucer, a pit of sucking sand, river rapids, waterfalls, and an atom-bomb blast are all part of the thrills in a film that moves, moves, moves without letup. And if the many subplots sometimes collide and threaten to pull the movie in several directions at once, Ford paves the way with Indiana’s wry quips and fast moves that snap the action back on course.

Most of the reviews seem kind of negative. I was reading one blog post that extolled the virtues of the original and its relative lack of effects, something that I can relate to. The original didn't have all that much in it and most of the best scenes were simple: Indy running away from a rolling sphere, Indy fighting with a big bald guy around a cool airplane (same actor that played the Big Baddy in the second film, btw), Indy jumping on a horse and riding off after the Ark. So I hope the effects in this one aren't terribly gratuitous.

I doubt I'll see it this weekend though because I hate movie crowds. Feel free to post comments on it, or head over to ArchaeoForum and post on it.
We do that Archaeologists unearth artefacts
A team of archeologists working at Cemex UK’s Kingsmead Quarry in Horton, have revealed the first batch of artefacts they have unearthed while carrying out their ongoing excavation of the quarry.

Finds - including arrowheads and tools - have brought to light a secret history dating back to the last ice age over 10,000 years ago.
It is billed as the film of the summer, if not the year, but Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is unlikely to topple Exeter's very own Screaming Skull of Sowton.

That's Dennis 'Indiana' Price, the city's archaeologist and adventurer who, with his own skull, bull whip and sidekick, Anette Viberg, has done it all long before the Hollywood version opens at cinemas next Thursday.Mr Price, who lives in Sowton village, became a raider of the lost king, when he battled his way back from the bowels of the earth deep beneath Britain's only official pyramid, also known as a ziggurat.

Interesting chap, no doubt about it.
Did Humans Colonize the World by Boat?
Concerned that evidence of human settlement and migration may be lost under the sea, researchers are finding new ways of tracking ancient mariners. By combining archaeological studies on remote islands with computer simulations of founding populations and detailed examinations of seafloor topography and ancient sea level, they are amassing crucial new data on voyages from northeast Asia to the Americas 15,000 years ago, from Japan to the remote island of Okinawa 30,000 years ago, and from Southeast Asia to Australia 50,000 years ago. New evidence even raises the possibility that our modern human ancestors may have journeyed by raft or simple boat out of Africa 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, crossing the mouth of the Red Sea. “If they could travel from Southeast Asia to Australia 50,000 years ago, the question now is, how much farther back in time could they have been doing it?” Bailey asks. “Why not the Red Sea?”

Long article, though nothing really new is in it. I found some of the stuff on Japanese islands interesting though, which I hadn't known of before.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Found: the dustbin of history
Our collective memory of the past is mostly confined to grand figures and epic events, while the vast majority of humanity ends up in the wastelands of oblivion.

Thanks to nearly half a million papyrus fragments uncovered in Hellenic Egyptian rubbish dumps which are being gradually decoded, however, we are, quite literally, salvaging fragments of ordinary people's lives from the dustbin of history.

It's about the Oxyrhynchus papyri project.
Grave goods: How to reconcile archaeology with suburban growth
Under Utah law developers are under no obligation to preserve, or even reveal the existence of, archaeological remains. Work is supposed to stop if human remains are discovered, but only for a few days. Even this modest law may be widely flouted. Kevin Jones, the state archaeologist, says many developers believe the discovery of bones will lead to the state or an Indian tribe seizing private land. Fearing that, some will probably order the bulldozers quietly to bury what they unearth.

Yet this is beginning to change.
Pre-Clovis update Beringia: humans were here
Beringia is thought by a handful of renegade scientists to be a prehistoric homeland for aboriginal people who later spread across the Americas and the key to one of archeology's greatest Holy Grails - figuring out how humans first got to this continent.

This July, Jacques Cinq-Mars, a renowned archeologist living in Longueuil, is heading to Beringia - a vast territory that once spanned the Yukon, Alaska and Siberia - in hopes of resolving a controversy he unleashed nearly 20 years ago when he chanced upon a curious-looking cave in the Yukon's Keele Mountain Range, perched on a ridge high above the Bluefish River.

It's always been a controversial site because of the dating, or rather, the association of the dated remains with the events they are trying to date (see here for e.g.).

Monday, May 19, 2008

University of Chicago archaeology students dig close to home
For this dig, University of Chicago archeologists don't have to spend hours on planes like they do when they head off for the farthest reaches of the planet to unearth treasures. They can walk.

The site is right down the street from campus in Jackson Park. And as they dig, the archeologists may be uncovering artifacts from one of the most exciting events in the city's history, a time when the entire world was watching what went on here: The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Archaeologist Rebecca Graff and 20 undergraduate students have pulled pieces of glass bottles, broken crockery, rusty nails and other items from the grounds of the World's Fair, the fabled "White City."
Digging for clues to Maryland's past
He'll face down Soviet spies, penetrate jungles and wrangle giant ants in his quest for a skull possessed of strange magical powers.

When Harrison Ford hits movie theaters next week in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - his fourth turn as America's favorite globe-trotting archaeologist - his character's exploits will quicken a few million more pulses than the day-to-day work of his brethren in the real world.

But a lack of derring-do is no reason, professionals say, that Marylanders should miss out on the many opportunities they'll have to take part in archaeological excavations this summer.
Indiana Jones update Two programs were on last night thattried to capitalize on the Indy mania: Indiana Jones and the Ultimate Quest on History Channel and Mystery of the Crystal Skulls on SciFi. This isn't really a review, since I only watched one of them. Why? Well, I started out with the former (it started an hour earlier) and then during a commercial break popped over to the latter and was really disappointed. I will readily admit that the little bit I saw may not have been representative and I invite anyone who saw more than that to post a comment, but what I saw was all Erick von Daniken type stuff. Previously unknown "experts" telling us how sticking a skull in some sort of electrically charged chamber makes the eyes all glowy and this is supposed to be significant for some reason. OOOOOOooooooo.

So anyway, the other one was much better. It went through most of the characteristics of the Indy movies such as the physical dangers involved in fieldwork, relations with the locals, whether or not old-time archaeologists were really glorified relic hunters, etc. Most (actually all from what I could tell) of the archys were pretty positive about the series. Not that it reflected any sort of reality, but that it was fun enough to get people interested in archaeology and want to learn more. I've argued this before on other topics related to science fiction; many if not most scientists are initially turned onto science by science fiction. Not that anyone seriously expects to go an Indiana Jonesish once they start studying archaeology -- or if they do, it doesn't last more than a few minutes listening to a professor drone on and on about C14 dating and carbon reservoirs and such -- but it gets them interested enough to learn more. And you still often do capture that spirit of adventure and wonder at stuff that's been preserved for thousands of years and you're the first one to see it.

It's worth watching by professionals just for some of the field stories. And Demerest is a hoot talking about snakes. Funny though, nobody mentioned the one great danger of archaeology to life and limb, which is third-world traffic. I swear, the only times my life seriously flashed before my eyes was while either in a car in Egypt or watching one bearing down on me. Or a horse. I almost got run over by a horse once, too.

I give it a thumbs-up and recommend watching it if it's on again.

They also had on a special Geico cavemen "commercial". It's kind of a typical Geico commercial, but it lasts for 2-3 minutes and has nothing to do with insurance. I'll try to find a link to the video.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Paper blogging Just finished up reading the following: Jessica C. Thompson, Nawa Sugiyama and Gary S. Morgan, Taphonomic analysis of the mammalian fauna from Sandia Cave, New Mexico, and the "Sandia man" controversy. American Antiquity 73.2 (April 2008): p337(24). Here's the abstract:
Sandia Cave in New Mexico was excavated in the late 1930s by Frank Hibben, who described a unique type of chipped stone artifact--the "Sandia point"--in association with a faunal assemblage that included extinct Pleistocene species. The site was interpreted as a late Pleistocene Paleoindian hunting station, making it the earliest human occupation known in America at the time. Despite the pivotal role the faunal assemblage has played in interpretations of the site, there was never a confirmed behavioral association between the artifacts and the fossils. A subsequent series of controversies about the age of the site and the integrity of the stratigraphy has since pushed Sandia Cave into obscurity. Results from a recent taphonomic study of the large and small mammal assemblages from the original excavations are reported here. These show that the majority of the fauna were accumulated by nonhuman agents (carnivores, raptors, and rodents), but that a small proportion of large mammal fragments retain human modification. The three major points of controversy are discussed in light of these and other findings, and it is shown that Sandia Cave remains an important datapoint in archaeological, paleontological, and paleoecological studies of the region.

Excellent little paper. Very well written as well. The cave has been controversial as a site of pre-Holocene humans almost ever since work on it was first published and has largely languished in recent decades, usually only brought up in lectures regarding the demonstration of pre-Clovis sites and how most of them haven't been accepted. That's all well and good and I'll get to some of the conclusions relating to that, but what really interested me about the paper was its use of previously-excavated materials. I've posted on this before (though I still haven't done a complete post on the Mayo Site like I've been promising) but this paper demonstrates the possibilities, dangers, and detective work that goes into using older curated material.

First, a disturbing statement: Only 44 percent of the bags retained provenience information by stratigraphic layer. That's the bad news. Sadly, this is probably typical even apart from the preservation of the remains and as we all know, context is nearly everything in archaeology. Especially when stratigraphy and the association of remains and artifacts (and dated material) is of primary importance.

Nevertheless Thompson et al. were able to use the material pretty effectively in no small part due to the excavation techniques employed by Hibben and the fact that the material had preserved so well. They hadn't been washed before being stored so much of the original matrix was still clinging to the fossils. In addition, the excavators had saved some bags that hadn't been screened and thus contained all of the included faunal materials. Using these samples and an analysis of the size ranges of the screened material, they determined that 1/4" screen was probably used. This was important in assessing what sorts of systematic bias due to the excavation techniques was present within the samples.

They used a variety of analytical techniques to attack two basic questions: Was the stratigraphy compromised due to mixing, and what were the most likely agents that acted to accumulate and modify bones present in the cave? The former was one of the major controversies about the site and many had commented on the presence of abundant bioturbation in the form of rodent burrowing. They looked at the level of fossilization in aggregate to see if the assemblages from higher and lower levels followed a pattern indicating time: Those lower down should have a greater proportion fossilized than those higher up. What they found was that the upper (Recent) and lower (Sandia) layers were statistically indistinguishable from one another on the degree of fossilization. That suggests that mixing between the two layers had occurred.

The latter question they examined mostly taphonomically in terms of species and element distribution and modifications to individual bones that would indicate human or animal agency. This is what they found:
It is likely that larger carnivores were the main accumulators of the large mammals, although these fragments may have been later modified by small carnivores in the role of scavengers. Large carnivores identified from the Sandia Cave assemblage include the gray wolf (Canis lupus), a bear (Ursus sp.), and the mountain lion (Puma concolor). Small carnivores include the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), ermine (Mustela erminea), spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius), and bobcat (Lynx rufus). . .

Only two percent of the [small mammal] assemblage displays possible traces of human modification, and none were determined to be of high confidence. Those that were identified as possible cut or percussion marks could easily be cut mark mimics from trampling or very tiny rodent gnaw marks. In the instance that some marks were the result of human activity, the proportion is small enough to rule out humans asa major accumulator of the small mammals at the site.

Hence, little evidence that humans had modified the material. In general they conclude:

On the whole, most of the fossil fauna, including extinct species, were accumulated by carnivores and deposited in the cave when it was in a nutritive state. In doing so, they left large quantities of tooth marks and gastrically etched fragments, and also consumed most of the spongy bone present in long bone ends and axial elements. Resident rodents then further modified the bones by gnawing. There are some infrequent traces of human involvement with the fauna, including two bone tools. However, no human modification was discovered on any fragments that could be positively identified as an extinct or extralimital species.

Plus some judos kudos for the original excavators:
Although Hibben's recovery techniques were not gentle, they were relatively thorough for his time. Similarly, the majority of the fauna lacked precise provenience information but a thorough taphonomic analysis was still possible and extremely fruitful. Despite any previous controversies, the fossil assemblage from Sandia Cave remains an important paleontological sample with a small archaeological component that has been recovered with sufficient diligence to make it amenable to modern analyses. Apart from the findings of the study that are specific to Sandia Cave, it also demonstrates that there may be many old, forgotten faunal assemblages that could benefit from being revisited with modern techniques.

It seems unlikely that humans played a major role, if any, in the Pleistocene assemblages on Sandia. The iffy stratigraphy, evidence of bioturbation, and lack of any conclusive taphonomic evidence attributable to humans in the lower levels strongly suggests that the controversy surrounding the site was well-founded. Nevertheless, this paper shows what can be done with material collected even decades ago and demonstrates once again the importance of proper attention being paid to long-term preservation of excavated materials, both the objects themselves and the documentation associated with them.

UPDATE: Rather humorous typo above fixed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

ArchaeoBlog review: Indiana Jones. . . cereal! We here at ArchaeoBlog like to keep our dear readers abreast of every new development in the world of archaeology, be it large or small. Thus, with the impending theatrical release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull we realize that there may be some often confusing and conflicting claims out there about what is real and what is fantasy in the world of Indiana Jones and archaeology generally. We also care deeply about the health and welfare of our faithful readership and consequently will render whatever assistance we can in helping our reading public make informed and healthy choices in their comestibles.

With that in mind, we now proceed with a review of the latest Indy offering, Kellogg's Indiana Jones cereal. First noted here, I have recently opened the one on the right and had a taste. Here is what comes in the box:

Full image here.

The main kibble (if I may use that term) is a little chocolate puff similar to a Kix or Coco Puffs (different company though). Yummy dry, but one must take care in the eating of it: it's like Cap'n Crunch in that if you don't chew it on the sides of your mouth it will tear up the roof of your mouth.

Mixed in are marshmallow treats, not unlike Lucky Charms. In truth, I only was able to dig out three, but there are actually four. From left to right they are: Indy's hat, the Temple of Akator, and a crystal skull. Missing is a torch, which looks kinda like the hat and the temple stuck together. I have a feeling most of them settle to the bottom of the box.

Like Coco Puffs or any other chocolate cereal, I suspect that when eaten with milk it will leave a delicious bowl of chocolate milk when you're done. I have only consumed it dry, however. Sadly there is no toy associated with it. I have a box of Frosted Flakes with an Adventure Spoon and as soon as I can convince myself to open the box (I don't eat that stuff) I will dig (heh) it out and post that as well.

I'll give this stuff a thumbs up and recommend it for snacking.
Crime ruled out after Renton body found
Renton police believe that a set of human remains discovered at a construction site this week are from someone who was legally buried in a coffin on the site up to 100 years ago.

Police spent much of Thursday excavating the site at 2211 Edmonds Ave. N.E. after a developer reported finding a human jaw bone on Tuesday, said police spokeswoman Penny Bartley. Police have since found other bones, likely belonging to the same person, she said.
Archaeologist to share discoveries from the bottom of Lake Okeechobee
With the discovery of human bone fragments on the lake bottom in March 2007, Davenport was drawn to the Belle Glade region and expanses of mucky land at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee.

Three prehistoric sites — Ritta Island, Kreamer Island and Pelican Bay — were already known from the south side of Lake Okeechobee, yet approximately 30 additional sites were recorded in this vicinity ranging from isolated shipwrecks to large ceramic scatters. Additional testing at certain sites revealed unique and disparate artifact assemblages. At the Kreamer Island site, particularly noteworthy was an abundance of shell ornaments, hammers/adzes, and celts while the Ritta Island site contained limited shell tools but considerable chert and human bone fragments. Davenport's presentation will address these finds and their implications for trade routes in southern Florida.
An archaeological 'headache'
As of the beginning of next semester, the anthropology department will no longer be accepting master's students interested in specializing in archaeology - not for a lack of interest, but because of what the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) calls "off course" instructing from professors.

According to CLA Associate Dean Mark Wiley, no classes have been cut from the archaeology (sic) and the only changes that have taken place have been a temporary halt to admitting students interested in archaeology on a master's level. There are talks about archaeology moving to the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics or partnering with other departments.

I admit I'm a bit confused as to what the controversy is. Sounds like there is no real archaeology "program" but a set of classes that can be used for a MA in anthropology with an archaeological focus?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Radiocarbon Dating of Malibu Artifacts Confirms Importance of Farpoint Site
Archaeologist Gary Stickel announced at a recent lecture at the Malibu Public Library that a stone spearhead, or point, found at a local construction site by a Native American project monitor in 2005 has been established as an artifact from the oldest archaeological find in the City of Malibu.
Radiocarbon dating of mussel shell fragments from the site that was provided gratis by the National Science Foundation at the Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Laboratory at the University of Arizona dates them to 9074 BP (Be­fore Present).
Al Goodyear and the Secrets of the Ancient Americans
It was the summer of 1998, and University of South Carolina archaeologist Al Goodyear had a problem on his hands.

Fourteen years of digging at an ancient chert quarry outside Allendale had begun to bear fruit: At a site called Big Pine Tree, Goodyear was well on his way to establishing that a substantial Clovis population lived here. If you’ll recall your history lessons from high school, the Clovis people — named such because the first evidence of them was found at a site near Clovis, N.M. — were believed to be the first Americans who came into the North American continent across the Bering Sea land bridge from Asia some 13,000 years ago.

I still don't like the whole 'Clovis as Gospel' or 'Clovis as Dogma' idea. Nearly everyone was well aware that pre-Clovis was possible and it was just a matter of finding an appropriate site. Trouble was there were a lot of pretty dubious claims floating around so the bar got pretty high (though not unreasonably so, IMO). Good article though, so read it all.
Solitaire-y Confinement
Though on its face it might seem trivial, pointless, a terrible way to waste a beautiful afternoon, etc., solitaire has unquestionably transformed the way we live and work. Computer solitaire propelled the revolution of personal computing, augured Microsoft's monopolistic tendencies, and forever changed office culture. It has also helped the human race survive innumerable conference calls and airplane trips. If solitaire is not the most important computer program of all time, it is at least in the top two, along with Minesweeper.

[Via CG at TPW]

I include this because it's interesting. And I played numerous games on one trip to Egypt when I had innumerable downtime days. Never got into Minesweeper or Freecell, but the Chinese tile game (name escapes me at the moment) I really got into. The latter needed something exciting to happen at the end like Solitaire's dancing cards; it's kind of anticlimactic to win and then everything just sits there.

It is a good way for newbies to learn basic computer skills though, because it uses a familiar concept that's easy to pick up. Before you know it, you're moving on-screen items around without even thinking about it.

Best use of it on screen was an episode of Millennium: Spooky music plays as the camera shows Frank Black in a darkened room staring intently at his computer. Is he looking at crime scene photos? As the camera pans over behind him and the spooky music builds to a crescendo, we see he's just playing Solitaire.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Archaeologist Uses Satellite Imagery to Explore Ancient Mexico; Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Bill Middleton Uses Novel Approach to Study Zapotec Culture
Satellite imagery obtained from NASA will help archeologist Bill Middleton peer into the ancient Mexican past. In a novel archeological application, multi- and hyperspectral data will help build the most accurate and most detailed landscape map that exists of the southern state of Oaxaca, where the Zapotec people formed the first state-level and urban society in Mexico.

"If you ask someone off the street about Mexican archeology, they'll say Aztec, Maya. Sometimes they'll also say Inca, which is the wrong continent, but you'll almost never hear anyone talk about the Zapotecs," says Middleton, acting chair of the Department of Material Culture Sciences and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rochester Institute of Technology. "They had the first writing system, the first state society, the first cities. And they controlled a fairly large territory at their zenith - 250 B.C. to 750 A.D."
Indiana Jones update 'Indiana Jones': Real archaeologists don't have whips (Well not all of us. . . .)
Though he preaches research and good science in the classroom, the world's most famous archaeologist often is an acquisitive tomb raider in the field with a scorched-earth policy about what he leaves behind. While actual archaeologists like the guy and his movies, they wouldn't necessarily want to work alongside him on a dig.

Indy's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to archaeology will be on display again May 22 with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," in which he's sure to rain destruction down on more historic sites and priceless artifacts.

Pretty good article. Not just a bunch of people saying how Indy doesn't do real archeology and oh, what a horrible thing it is.
More on the Inca trepanation finds from Nat Geo.
Pi, Phi and the Great Pyramid

It does seem that whenever an ancient Egyptian artist sculpted or painted figures, his proportions were determined by a certain canon.

It is not easy, however, to persuade the Egyptology community that the ancient Egyptians knowingly used the Golden Ratio. The mere existence of the numbers in art and architecture is not necessarily proof that the artisan was aware of the ratio inherent in those numbers, but the vast number of incidents they match cannot be down to coincidence alone.

Long article.
Nice bust Divers find Caesar bust that may date to 46 B.C.
Divers trained in archaeology discovered a marble bust of an aging Caesar in the Rhone River that France's Culture Ministry said Tuesday could be the oldest known.

The life-sized bust showing the Roman ruler with wrinkles and hollows in his face is tentatively dated to 46 B.C. Divers uncovered the Caesar bust and a collection of other finds in the Rhone near the town of Arles — founded by Caesar.

Among other items in the treasure trove of ancient objects is a 5.9 foot marble statue of Neptune, dated to the first decade of the third century after Christ.

Photo at the link. Very nice work.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

This note came over the EEF lists and I thought it warranted posting here (in its entirety with permission of the author, of course). It's from Birgit Schoer:

I would like to draw your attention to recent developments
concerning the Egyptology collection at Manchester Museum
in the UK.

Following a conference held at Manchester Museum/Manchester
University in conjunction with Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD,
an organisation representing British Pagans and their concerns vis
a vis ancient BRITISH human remains) in November 2006 entitled
Respect for Ancient British Human Remains: Philosophy and Practice,
the management of the museum seem to have been inspired/persuaded
to make at least some of the Egyptian mummies on display in the
Manchester collection less visible/accessible to the visiting public.

News items appearing on the BBC website on 15.02.08 entitled
"Doubt over museum displays" and related videos reported that
museum managers, concerned about critical comments made by
the Bishop of Manchester about the arrival of a totally unrelated
exhibition (Gunther von Hagen's Body Worlds 4) in the city, were
considering removing all human remains from display. However, at
the time a museum spokesperson was quoted saying that "We are
starting a public consultation to find out what people think about the
display of human remains ..." . Even though the great majority of
Manchester consultees appear to have strongly favoured the
continued display of the Manchester mummies, the museum
management have now completely covered at least some of
these mummies with shrouds, so that no parts of their bodies, not
even their faces, can be seen by museum visitors. This was
done BEFORE the consultation process has been officially
completed, which has left many Mancunians who took part and
expected additional meetings and events to aid decision-making
feeling very disappointed and frustrated with the process.

I attach a link to the museum's blog site, where the majority of
comments to date appear to be critical of the museum's decision.

Personally I am extremely concerned about such developments,
for a number of reasons:

1) It appears that HAD, an organisation representing British
Pagans, appears to have been able to exert a disproportionate
amount of influence over the fate of ancient Egyptian mummies
in a world-famous Egyptology collection. In my opinion, this
cannot be justified.

2) In my opinion the fact that a mummy is on display does NOT
automatically signify disrespect for the culture it represents. On
the contrary, mummies in sensitive modern museum displays
are not shown to make score sensationalist points but to
enhance our understanding of an ancient culture with a rich
spiritual life and great sophistication.

3) I am concerned that the role of museums in the presevering
of heritage and educating the public may be jeopardised by such
misguided decisions in the long run, whatever the intention of the
decision makers. The management of Manchester Museum have
a responsibility towards this world class collection and its credibility
as a resource of both academic study and popular education, which
may be compromised by a loss of credibility arising from this decision.

4) In my opinion, covering mummies or removing them from display
IN ITSELF does noting to improve our respect for the ancient culture.
Respect can only arise from a greater understanding and appreciation,
which is not likely to be fostered by covering things up and hiding
them from view. The covering up of some of the Manchester Mummies
strikes me as a misguided reaction to pressure exerted by articulate
minorities whose views must be balanced against other, wider and
long-term considerations, and I fear that the decision represents the
retreat of a reasoned, rational approach to heritage in favour of a
return to something akin to the intellectual dark ages.

Make sure you go to the linked blog and go over some of the comments. Quite the kettle of worms, this subject. The most salient point made by both Brigit and, in the comments, Jasmine Day, is the definition of "respect". This seems to me the key, since one person's respect is another person's outrage. The notion of what constitutes "respect for the dead" isn't in any way a cultural universal (though I suppose most people could probably agree on a few no-no's), so to argue that X disposition of remains is somehow universally "disrespectful" is an exercise in futility. Brigit states this clearly: In my opinion the fact that a mummy is on display does NOT automatically signify disrespect for the culture it represents.

Is it the culture we're protecting from disrepect, or the individual dead person? Who decides then? The museum-going public? The "descendents" of the dead? Anthropologists?
Abu El Haj revisited Volokh's David Bernstein has a post up quoting Norman Levitt and adding a few thoughts of his own:

[Levitt] These ideas are at the least heavily tinctured with what, for want of a better term, is usually called "postmodernism." This incorporates the attitude that knowledge claims are, perforce, political claims, that "objective knowledge" is an oxymoron, and that modern science, in particular, is a repressive ideological edifice designed to bolster the hegemony of western capitalist patriarchal societies, not least by demeaning and displacing the "alternative ways of knowing" that are embedded in non-western cultures or are simply more appropriate to marginalized sub-populations. . .

And adds:
There are lots of methodologies and modes of thought that are widely acceptable within at least some circles of academia, but would strike an uninitiated outside observer as nonsensical, academically dishonest, or otherwise discreditable.

That's the rub, of course, and something non-academics and even academics from other disciplines have to watch out for. A lot of stuff in any discipline can look pretty kooky from the outside; I recall many long-winded arguments about what the proper definition of "culture" is, both in print, email, and conversation. Kind of a sticky question when you're talking about a publicly funded university.

Anyway, read the whole exerpt. The comments are worth reading as well, even though they tend, as expected, to have a lot of typical verbal flatulence in them.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Remote sensing update UCF Research Project Uses Technology to Revolutionize Archaeology
In 24 years of digging at Caracol, Belize, the Chase team has mapped 24 square kilometers in the dense rainforest, but the researchers believe the site is 177 square kilometers. The laser approach promises to enable them to gain the data necessary to produce a map of the entire area in about two months. The Chases will combine the complete landscape record with actual archeology to better define the socio-economic, cultural, political and religious systems of the ancient Maya.

Archaeologists, racing against time to date a burial mound on the cliffs at Peacehaven Heights in East Sussex before it collapses into the sea, have found activity spanning back to 8000 years BC - the time of some of the island's earliest hunter-gatherers.

The excavations, which were carried out between April 19 and May 4 2008, have uncovered tools dating back to the Mesolithic period (8000 – 4000 BC) when the area may have been wooded and people were hunting animals, foraging for nuts and berries and making their camps in the area.
'Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God' by Amos Nur with Dawn Burgess
WHAT IF Troy was destroyed by an earthquake? What really brought down the walls of Jericho or the Colossus of Rhodes? These are some of the questions Stanford University geophysicist Amos Nur raises in "Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God" (Princeton University Press: 324 pp., $26.95), a book that posits seismicity -- rather than invaders or social forces -- as the prime dynamic behind the fall of ancient civilizations.

Admittely, this isn't something I've noticed very much, a strong anti-earthquake bias going around. I haven't read the book, so perhaps Nur is taking the idea to a hitherto unknown scale of destruction. Seems like a pretty straightforward archaeological problem.
Silbury gives up its final secret
Jim Leary, the archaeological director for English Heritage throughout the work, thinks he has solved a riddle which archaeologists have fretted over for centuries: why thousands of people piled up 35 million baskets of chalk into the largest artificial hill in Europe, now part of the Stonehenge World Heritage site. It wasn't the final structure, but the staggering contribution of work which was important, he now believes, marking a site of immense but only guessable significance to the hunters and farmers of Bronze Age Wiltshire.

Read the whole thing. Kind of an amazing set of circumstances. I mean, it's kind of a boring result, but one that makes sense.
Zahi Hawass on various VoK tombs.

I'd heard about the tunnel in Seti I before. I hadn't heard much speculation on what might be back there other than "I wonder what might be back there?" The linked article says the tunnel "descended" for 100 meters which would probably put it in the underlying Esna shale like Hatchepsut's tomb (KV-20). Which would make it a pretty nasty place. Hawass doesn't seem particularly confident that it leads the the actual burial chamber; if it does go into the Esna formation they probably would have abandoned it for the reasons explained in my old post. So, FWIW, I will make my prediction: Nothing of particular interest will be found down there.

(Link via EEF)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paper blogging I linked to an article in this post on Monte Verde. I am now reading the paper in Science.

First off, I was wrong when I mentioned that the (apparent) lack of marine resource remains was not that big of a deal, if they were just going to get medicinal seaweed. They write:

Here we report the recovery of three marine, two estuarine, and one terrestrial shoreline algae species new to the site and three additional stone artifacts, one with the remains of seaweed on a worked edge, that suggest a strong reliance on coastal resources for food and medicine.

So we'll have to see what sort of comestibles they were getting.

And we see what else they had apprarently been getting:
Other coastal resources collected from beaches and transported to the site were discoidal pebbles made into stone tools, bitumen used as adhesive to attach tools to wooden shafts, and marine fossils.

The stuff they analyze came from the hearths and floors of two structures, one of which they describe as a "medicinal hut" and a residential tent. Looks as if the medicinal hut interpretation comes from the remains themselves. They interpret the medicinal nature of the seaweeds and algae because they were found in the form of chewed cuds, but some were also found scattered in the hearth structure and may have been food as well. These sorts of things have been found before; chewed coca leaves, agave, etc.

What sort of medicinal uses?
All nine seaweed species recovered at Monte Verde II are excellent sources of iodine, iron, zinc, protein, hormones, and a wide range of trace elements, particularly cobalt, copper, boron, and manganese (23–29). Secondary beneficial effects of these seaweeds include aiding cholesterol metabolism, increasing the calcium uptake of bones, antibiotic effects, and increasing the body's ability to fight infection. These species have medicinal uses that closely correspond to common contemporary health problems in the study area today.

The latter two seem about the only two that might have been recognized by the inhabitants for more or less immediate beneficial effects. Two of the seaweeds were also inedible, thus their interpretation as medicinal only.

They conclude by offering the following general subsistence strategy:

. . .these new data indicate that the people inhabiting Monte Verde II were accustomed to frequently exploiting coastal resources year round, which, coupled with interior foods, allowed them to remain in the area. Prior evidence suggests that the Monte Verdeans also regularly moved up and down the Maullín basin to exploit resources and/or to exchange them with other people living in the area. Assuming that other late Pleistocene people operated under similar subsistence and settlement practices, our data imply that if groups traveled along the Pacific coast, they may have migrated slowly and exploited the interior resources of the hundreds of river basins descending the long mountain chain from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego to the sea. Several recent archaeological findings support the idea of early coastal migration and specialized maritime sites, but this evidence also indicates contacts with interior people or transhumance between coastal and interior areas and thus broad-spectrum economies.

I guess I'm still not bothered by the lack of extensive coastal food resources. They seem to have had an extensive terrestrial subsistence base anyway, so exploiting marine resources doesn't seem to have been either necessary or efficient, especially if you have to travel 90 km just to get some chow. Obtaining a few easily curated resources -- some seaweed, rocks, bitumen -- doesn't strike me as that out of bounds.

As for the migration aspect. . . .I think it's way too early to say much of anything about how people moved. The paucity of dated sites makes such interpretations really dubious, though admittedly they realize (as does everyone else at this point) that it's all informed speculation. We still have no idea when and in what numbers people moved into the Americas.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Renée Friedman has a good update on this season's Hierakonpolis work up at Lots of good detailed photos, too.
Shift From Savannah to Sahara Was Gradual, Research Suggests
In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, the researchers, led by Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist with the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Cologne in Germany, report that the climate transition occurred gradually. In particular, the changing types of pollen that fell on the water and drifted to the bottom tell a story of how the surrounding terrain shifted from trees to shrubs to grasses to sand — “where today you don’t find a single piece of grass,” Dr. Kröpelin said.

The findings run counter to a prevailing view that the change happened abruptly, within a few centuries, about 5,500 years ago, marking the end of the “African Humid Period” when monsoon rains poured down on the region. That view arises from ocean sediment cores drilled off the coast of Africa, to the west of Mauritania. In 2000, analysis of the cores by researchers led by Peter B. deMenocal of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory showed a sudden rise in the dust blown off Africa at that time.

Dr. Kröpelin did not dispute the ocean core data, but said it had been “overinterpreted.”

It's got an Egyptian connection, what with the aridification (presumably) causing people to move out of the now-desert Sahara and into the Nile valley. It would affect models of how quickly this migration could have happened.
Mummy update

Computed Radiography System Helps Uncover Secrets From The Past
Digital medical imaging and information technology from Carestream Health, Inc., is playing a key role in helping The Field Museum of Chicago discover and analyze secrets hidden within its world-class collections.

Carestream Health has donated a computed radiography (CR) system that enables The Field Museum--for the first time--to capture, archive and share digital x-ray images from more than one million priceless specimens and artifacts in its Anthropology collection. The Field Museum is also using a picture archiving and communications system (PACS) from Carestream Health for the management, viewing and storage of the growing collection of digital images managed by the museum's staff.
Media update Egyptian elite tombs accessible for all
A number of elite tombs from Ancient Egypt are now accessible to all thanks to the launch of the Mastabase. The Mastabase is a CD-ROM containing descriptions and hieroglyphic inscriptions of scenes of daily life from 337 Mastaba tombs. This resource will make research into these elite tombs a lot easier. On 13 May 2008, Dutch Egyptologist René van Walsem will officially present the MastaBase in Leiden, Netherlands.

Very neat. But put it on the Net!

Or better yet, send me a review copy!
Monte Verde update Ancient Beachcombers May Have Travelled Slowly
Researchers envision that coastal migration would have been a rapid process, but seaweed samples and gomphothere meat (meat from an extinct elephant-like animal that was widespread in the Americas 12-1.6 million years ago) found at Monte Verde may be signs of slower migration.

Although the site is located 50 miles from the Pacific coast and 10 miles from an inland marine bay to the south, Dillehay and the research team identified nine species of seaweed and marine algae found in hearths and other areas in the settlement. The samples were directly dated between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago, 1,000 years earlier than other reliably dated human settlements in the Americas and indicate that early immigrants could have moved south along the shoreline exploiting familiar coastal resources to get much of their food.

The researchers also found a number of inland resources, including gomphothere meat. The finding suggests immigrants moved back and forth between the coast and inland areas.

This article is a bit confusing (I thought), but Nature sums it up better:
The settlers would have had to travel around 90 kilometres to reach the coast, or 15 kilometres to reach an inland bay to the south. Such journeys hint that the people may have already been familiar with marine resources, allowing them to return to beaches and estuaries at opportune times to harvest the material. And if they were familiar with the coast, perhaps this is because they had lived there while migrating to their new home.

“The easiest explanation is that the people at Monte Verde made their way to South America from Asia by the coastal route,” says archaeologist Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, the lead author of the report in this week’s Science

They quote Fiedel as a critic wondering why people would only go to the coast to get seaweed and not other resources (birds, fish, mammals); that doesn't strike me as particularly problematic, if you can assume -- as they argue in the paper (well, the article, I haven't read the paper yet) -- that it was used for medicinal purposes. After all, people don't eat everything they come across, they have particular subsistence strategies. Seems reasonable that they might go to the coast or the mountains or wherever to get one thing, but not everything possible.

Still, a must-read. I ought to get the new issue this weekend and will report on it then.

UPDATE: Here's the ref and abstract. It's up on their web site already, but I shan't read it today.

Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America
Tom D. Dillehay, C. Ramírez, M. Pino, M. B. Collins, J. Rossen, J. D. Pino-Navarro
Science 9 May 2008:
Vol. 320. no. 5877, pp. 784 - 786
DOI: 10.1126/science.1156533

The identification of human artifacts at the early archaeological site of Monte Verde in southern Chile has raised questions of when and how people reached the tip of South America without leaving much other evidence in the New World. Remains of nine species of marine algae were recovered from hearths and other features at Monte Verde II, an upper occupational layer, and were directly dated between 14,220 and 13,980 calendar years before the present (~12,310 and 12,290 carbon-14 years ago). These findings support the archaeological interpretation of the site and indicate that the site's inhabitants used seaweed from distant beaches and estuarine environments for food and medicine. These data are consistent with the ideas that an early settlement of South America was along the Pacific coast and that seaweeds were important to the diet and health of early humans in the Americas.
On blogging Blogs and Wikis and 3D, Oh My!
But even if it is unusually well-known, Volokh has the characteristics of most successful academic blogs: Its contributors are scholars and experts in a given field, and they use that expertise to provide on-the-spot analysis and running commentary on issues that matter. They interact with readers who comment on posts and build on (or push against) each other’s insights. Not unlike peer review ... except on a potentially wider scale, and in public.

“I do think it facilitates a sort of discussion, exchange of ideas, that one would hope you’d generally have in academia,” Adler said of the academic blogging world.

The column is mostly devoted to law blogs, but there's a lot of crossover, obviously. The tewo paragraphs above hit the nail on the head. With reader comments enabled -- and even with the possibility of reader email coming in -- you can get an immediate discussion on issues with both other professionals and with an interested lay public. As he says, it generates the kind of exchange of ideas that academia is supposed to be about.

Besides providing breadth, and an outlet, for scholars’ extracurricular interests, blogs can also quicken the pace at which serious questions get considered. Commentary can be instantaneous, “which certainly in legal academia,” Adler noted, is the “polar opposite of the rate at which things get published in academic journals.” And that can open the door to pursuits that scholars wouldn’t otherwise expend time and energy on, given the constraints of peer review.

Also a good thing, I think. It keeps said bloggers human and lets readers know that the blogger is not just a brain vacuum-packed inside a skull. Besides, most of us that do this sort of thing are kinda OCD anyway, so it gives us something else to pound on our keyboards about.

Yet some (or even most) in academe view blogging commitments as a distraction from scholarly work. “There is some tension between blogging and academia in certain disciplines. Many academics view blogging with suspicion,” Adler said. “It is often assumed ... that it is time that one could and should have been spending on one’s scholarship.” He disagrees, arguing that it all comes down to “free time.” Still, before he earned tenure, he blogged under a pseudonym.

Also true, which I've gone into a few times around here. Really no different than any other extracurricular pursuit that involves public writing or speaking; what you say outside the halls of academe will have some impact on what your peers think of you. Blogs are a bit more extemporaneous though, so there's more possibilities for paper trails of your thoughts. Plus, "the internet" sort of garnered a rep as a wild west sort of place, full of crackpots and losers (ahem) so there's also the general negative image you have to work against.

I think an even better function for an academiblog would be class-related. Sort of an adjunct to lectures where the prof could add anything he/she left out in a lecture and answer any student questions that come up outside of class. That way everyone could see the answers and you could do it without formal office hours.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Indiana Jones update A review here by someone who has supposedly seen the movie. Doesn't sound too promising and the reviewer wasn't thrilled. Supposed spoilers, too so beware.

Here's the official site, too. Got some behind-the-scenes stuff. Nice house. . . . .
Archaeologists uncover caveman bling
Archaeologists have uncovered shells used for finery by prehistoric man 85,000 years ago in a cave in eastern Morocco, the country's heritage institute said today.

A research team led by archaeology and heritage institute (INSAP) member Abdeljalil Bouzouggar and Nick Barton from Oxford University found the 20 perforated shells in a cave near Taforalt between March and April this year.

The Nassarius gibbosulus shells are the type prehistoric man would have worn, according to a statement from the Moroccan Ministry for Culture.
talian builders uncover 2,000-year-old tombs
ARCHAEOLOGISTS were yesterday celebrating the discovery of 27 2,000-year-old tombs in Italy's "Valley of the Dead".
The tombs, some dating back to the 7th century BC, were found by chance while builders carried out work.

The whole area was sealed off yesterday and put under police guard to prevent anyone from trying to steal artefacts inside the burial chambers.
Archaeologists find Queen of Sheba's palace at Axum, Ethiopia
Archaeologists believe they have found the Queen of Sheba's palace at Axum, Ethiopia and an altar which held the most precious treasure of ancient Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant, the University of Hamburg said Wednesday. Scientists from the German city made the startling find during their spring excavation of the site over the past three months.

The Ethiopian queen was the bride of King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century before the Christian era. The royal match is among the memorable events in the Bible.

Ethiopian tradition claims the Ark, which allegedly contained Moses' stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, was smuggled to Ethiopia by their son Menelek and is still in that country.
Taking a stab at archaeology in the Slim Buttes
Northwestern South Dakota might appear to be on the road to nowhere. That would - and would not - be true since mixed in with the miles of wide-open ranch terrain you'll find Highway 85, the "Can-Am Highway," which stretches across the U.S. into Canada.

Also, you'll find a few, scattered units of the Custer National Forest. With the consolidation of Forest Service units, this one's headquarters are clear over in Billings, Mont. Yes, it's quite a ways from anywhere. Facilities are almost non-existent with little to no usage.

Therefore, I loved the area.

Neat article. Not a while lot of archaeology there, but worth a read nonetheless.
Amateur archaeologists find minor items at Mill Race dig
Joe Brodzik might not have uncovered any dinosaur bones at historic Mill Race Village, but he wasn't disappointed.

The amateur archaeologist from Northville, led a dig on Sunday, April 20, in an area of the village where the General Store is to be erected.

The dig took place because workers had to remove some ground for the store's basement.

"They did dig down into the historical layer called the fill layer," Brodzik said.
Marine archaeologists survey Manatee River
eff Moates and Coz Cozzi went searching for Manatee River history Wednesday.

It may take a few days to measure their success.

The maritime archaeologists took a Boston whaler jammed with nautical research equipment to survey three sites as part of a multi-agency project to determine their historical value.
Plantation to house archaeology research
The Smithsonian Institution announced yesterday that it has purchased 575 acres of farmland in Anne Arundel County, including the ruins of a historic tobacco plantation, that will be turned into an archaeology research site the public can visit.

The roughly 300-year-old Contee Farm off Route 468 on the Rhode River will become part of the adjacent Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, which has been conducting studies into Chesapeake Bay ecology and other subjects for 43 years, officials said.
Rare finds from long ago
They are rare artefacts that shed light on those who lived in the Norfolk landscape centuries ago.

The stash of coins and jewellery is set to be of immense value to archaeologists looking at the history of human activity in the area.

They were unearthed by archaeologists on a site earmarked for a large housing development near Dereham.

Roman coins, Saxon halfpennies, Venetian silver soldinos and even pre-historic flint and medieval clasps, buckles and brooches have been dug up on a four-acre piece of land at Church Close in Shipdham.
N.M. BLM looks to oil and gas to fund archaeology
Oil and gas developers could end up playing a big role in an effort by federal and state archaeologists to better understand the history of early human life among the sand dunes and grasslands of southeastern New Mexico.

The Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that will give oil and gas developers an option of funding excavation work and other studies rather than paying for archaeological surveys when they propose new development.


Typically, oil and gas developers hire a contract archaeologist to survey the area when they propose a project. If a site is found, it's documented and photographed. A developer can either move the project to avoid the site or pay to have the site excavated, which can be costly. Developers usually opt to move their projects, Fosberg said.

Under the new agreement, oil and gas developers who participate in the voluntary program will not have to pay for a survey but they will be required to pay a special fee that will go toward excavation and other research. The BLM expects to raise about $1 million a year.

I take that to mean that developers will be able to basically develop wherever they want, but pay a (yearly?) fee that will go into a basic research pool. Might make sense in an area that's already been heavily surveyed as this one has. I dunno, I'll have to think about this some more.
TV archaeologist Neil Oliver wants to reintroduce real heroes
NEIL Oliver says he has never done anything brave in his life - and that the same can be said for most modern blokes. So it was with an air of awe that he wrote a book about "manly men".

. . .

But the 41-year-old insists his efforts don't even come close to the heroics he writes about in Amazing Tales For Making Men Out Of Boys.

In it, he recounts the antics of World War II's The Cockleshell Heroes and the Battle of Britain.

Another one not doing much with archaeology, but good for him anyway.
Sticks nix hicks. . . .ummmm. . . Jez Nelson on Space Is the Place by Sun Ra
Space Is the Place combines many of the elements that make Ra’s music unique. It swings like classic jazz, features supremely accomplished but off-kilter musicianship, and has a catchy melody wrapped in a futuristic and crazy soundscape. The whole thing is finished off with imagery and messages drawn from Egyptology and Saturn - the planet Ra claimed was his home.

Nothing really to do with archaeology, but I liked the headline.
Students design archaeology site, local students dig and discover
Rapt, the young students started to dig, quiet with determination. As the fourth graders began to uncover the planted "artifacts," the silence ceased gradually. Excited by their discoveries, each student announced to the group what they had unearthed. They carefully recorded what they had found and where in the pit their finds were located.

"[The fourth graders] all seemed to understand the importance of the different tools and procedures involved, and a lot of them made really insightful observations about the things they found, which was a very important goal of our lessons," Kelly said.

Neat idea. I seem to recall a museum or two burying fake dinosaur bones and letting kids dig them up like that.