Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Ugly Sweater-wearing idiot steals thumb of terracotta warrior

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

An individual who can only be described as a complete dumbass has been busted by the FBI for breaking the thumb off a Terracotta Warrior on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and hiding it in his desk drawer. It’s incalculably sad that this 24-year-old loser who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy was at the museum on the evening of December 21st just to attend an Ugly Sweater Party. He was able to access the room where 10 priceless terracotta warriors, among them the Cavalryman standing next to a horse, were on display simply by walking through a door carelessly left unlocked by (Keystone) rent-a-cops and stepping over the black rope capable of cordoning off nothing and nobody.

He got a couple of his friends to join him, but they quickly left because they’re not complete dumbasses. He lingered a bit, looking at the statues with light from his cell, putting his arm around the Cavalryman and taking a selfie like an idiot. Then he deliberately with malice aforethought snapped off one of the statue’s thumbs and slipped it in his pocket before decamping.

We know all this now because the FBI’s crack Art Crime squad reviewed security tape footage and saw it all go down. The museum staff only noticed the damage to the Cavalryman on January 8th, more than two weeks after it was looted. That’s when the FBI stepped in. FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer compared the surveillance footage to credit card receipts for the night and identified the thief as Michael Rohana of Bear, Delaware.

When the agent showed up at the Rohana household, Michael folded like an origami crane.

In front of his father, Rohana admitted it that he had stashed the thumb in his desk drawer.

A U.S. attorney has decided to charge him with theft of a major artwork from a museum, concealment of major artwork stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

He was arrested and released on a 15,000-USD bail, on the condition that he hand over his passport, consent to drug testing, and refrain from leaving the country before trail.

Meanwhile, the museum has reviewed its security systems and procedures in the wake of this debacle.

The actions of one jackhole and the failure to follow any number of responsible security protocols shouldn’t irredeemably taint the exhibition. This particular group of warriors and artifacts have only been shown in two museums in the US. The first was the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, from which they all survived unscathed. The Franklin is the second and therefore the only one on the East Coast. It’s the first time in 30 years that the City of Brotherly Love has had any Terracotta Warriors come stay for a while and given the colossal miscarriage of stewardship, it may be more than 30 years before they come back. Plus, they’ve created a nifty Augmented Reality app that allows visitors the chance to see the warriors in virtual close-up and to view them with digital versions of the original weapons and accessories that have long since been destroyed or lost. The Cavalryman would likely have held his horse’s reins in one hand and a spear in the other. The digital view includes those long-gone accoutrements.

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor runs through March 4th of this year.

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Baby cradled in mother’s arm is oldest infant burial in the Netherlands

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Dutch archaeologists have discovered a 6,000-year-old Stone Age burial of a woman with a baby cradled in her arm in the central Netherlands city of Nieuwegein. It is the oldest infant burial ever found in the Netherlands.

Nieuwegein is rich with archaeological material from the Swifterbant culture, a Neolithic-era culture who transitioned from hunter-gathering to cattle farming in settlements along the riverbanks and wetlands of what are today the Netherlands between 5300 and 3400 B.C.

An abundance of Swifterbant artifacts and remains, about 136,000 of them (far more than were discovered at the type site in Swifterbant, Flevoland province), have been found under six and a half feet of clay and peat at Nieuwegein’s Het Klooster business park. Artifacts include hundreds of pieces of flint, a grindstone worn to a smooth surface by the second grinding stone used the mill grains and cereals, a striking jet pendant, animal bone chisels and earthenware pottery. The clay and peat have kept the objects and remains in an unusually good state of preservation for thousands of years. One of the pottery vessels still had a layer of food in it.

Mother and infant burial from the Neolithic Swifterbant Culture, ca. 6,000 years ago. Photo courtesy RAAP.They also discovered four skeletons which they cut out of the clay en bloc and transported to the Leiden laboratory of RAAP Archaeological Consultancy for careful excavation. One of them was the skeleton of a young adult woman who was 20-30 years old at time of death. When the remains were first unearthed, archaeologists didn’t realize they’d just found the oldest infant burial in the Netherlands. They didn’t realize it was an infant burial period. There was no osteological material immediately visible pointing to the presence of a baby buried with the young woman. It was the woman’s right arm bent at a 90 degree angle with her elbow out that suggested to archaeologists there was something anomalous in that spot. The Swifterbant culture buried their dead with their legs outstretched and arms straight by their sides.

When the remains were excavated in the lab, archaeologists discovered small bone fragments in the crook of the woman’s right arm: pieces of the clavicles, skull, a leg bone, a mandible complete with milk teeth. The teeth were so small they could have belonged to a newborn (there are teethlets in their wee jaws, they just haven’t erupted yet) or a baby up to six months old.

“It really makes an impression when you find little baby teeth buried in clay for 6,000 years and see how similar they are to all those milk teeth that are kept in matchboxes by parents everywhere!” [Dutch broadcaster] NOS quotes [project leader Helle] Molthof as saying.

This is an exceptionally rare discovery. Infants have such soft bones that they disintegrate within months of burial. The waterlogged conditions of this burial, the thick alluvial clay deposits and the peat, preserved these fragile remains for 6,000 years.

The archaeological team hopes to determine whether the adult woman and the baby she was laid to rest cradling are, as one would suspect, mother and child, using DNA analysis.

DNA testing will have to determine whether the woman is the baby’s mother, although there seems to be little doubt that she is, and the sex of the baby. The archaeologists hope the find will tell them more about the burial ceremonies of the Swifterbant people. “We know how they lived, what sort of food they ate, what their houses were like but we don’t know very much yet about how they buried their dead and what happened to the children,” Molthof told the broadcaster.

Isotope analysis will have to show if the woman was born in the area or whether she travelled there at a later date.

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Trail of mammoth footprints found in Oregon

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

A team of scientists have unearthed a Pleistocene-era Columbian mammoth trackway at Fossil Lake, Oregon. The fossilized footprints are about 43,000 years old and include tracks left in the volcanic soil by adult, juvenile and infant mammoths. There are 117 footprints, a large enough number and wide enough range of ages that studying the track will lend new insight into how mammoths interacted with each other as a herd.

The first footprints were discovered in 2014 by paleontologist Greg Retallack of the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History during a field trip with UO students to study fossil plants. The site is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so last year BLM researchers partnered with researchers from the University of Oregon (including Retallack) and University of Louisiana researchers to explore the trackway.

Initially, the UO-led team, which included Adrian Broz, now a doctoral student of Retallack’s who had been in the fossil class, quickly zeroed in on a 20-footprint track exhibiting some intriguing features.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left — as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” said Retallack, who also is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.

The limping animal wasn’t alone, the six-member research team reported in a study published online ahead of print in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Two sets of smaller footprints appeared to be approaching and retreating from the limper’s trackway.

“These juveniles may have been interacting with a limping adult female, returning to her repeatedly throughout the journey, possibly out of concern for her slow progress,” said Retallack, the study’s lead author. “Such behavior has been observed with wounded adults in modern, matriarchal herds of African elephants.”

Trace fossils such as those found in trackways can provide unique insights into natural history, Retallack said.

“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”

The team also studied the soil layers at the trackway site. It appears the climate and plants in the Fossil Lakes area in the Ice Age were not dissimilar to its modern counterpart, although the lakes were larger, it was drier in the summer and precipitation was higher in the winter. There was also more lowland grassland, one of the Columbian mammoth’s preferred foods. The mammoths and other grass-eaters (a prehistoric horse print was also found at the trackway) were essential to the grassland ecosystem. They fertilized it with their dung and suppressed other plants by trampling and uprooting them during grazing. It’s likely that the fertile grassland of the Ice Age succumbed to desertification after the extinction of the mammoths and other large native grass-eaters 11,500 years ago. Hence the dry lake beds and their precious cargo of fossils.

There are some killer drone’s eye views of the trackway and the wild dessert beauty of the Fossil Lake area in this video:

The study, still in the corrected proof stage, is available for purchase here.

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Digging the Carnoustie Bronze Age Hoard

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

If you’re at a loss on how to fritter away some time this weekend, I have a solution for you. Watch a couple of videos about the hoard of Bronze Age weapons discovered at the former Newton Farm in Carnoustie, eastern Scotland.

The first video captures the excavation in GUARD Archaeology’s Glasgow laboratory of the soil block containing the hoard. When I first wrote about this story last February, the only video available of the painstaking excavation of the 175-pound block of soil was a continuous scene a few seconds long of archaeologists scratching at the soil in minute movements. This video, uploaded to YouTube in December, summarizes the excavation and finds. There’s still minute scratching, which is awesome, but there’s so much more, plus descriptions of what you’re seeing.

In addition to the sensational weapons hoard, postholes and pits from two Neolithic rectilinear timber halls, one the largest Neolithic structure ever discovered in the British Isles, and gulleys and hearth remains from at least 12 Bronze Age roundhouses were found at the site. There wasn’t a great deal of information about these finds in February 2017, but in May, GUARD Archaeology Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair delivered a lecture packed with details, photographs and diagrams of the structures. That lecture is now available on YouTube.

He also covers the discovery of the hoard, its excavation in the lab and includes great pictures of the organic remains like the pouch the spearhead was found in and the fragment of strap still attached to the pommel of the sword. That part begins around the 15:45 mark.

I should warn you that he speaks very quickly, which is both a blessing and a curse. The former because it keeps the video nice and short at about 20 minutes; the latter because he zooms through it without looking up from his paper so delivery is a little dry and rushed. The information is fascinating, however, and the visual aids illuminating so it’s well worth watching.

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Getty acquires 5th c. B.C. Etruscan sun god appliqué

Friday, February 9th, 2018

The J. Paul Getty Museum is the proud new owner of an exceptional Etruscan bronze appliqué depicting the sun god Usil. Dating to the early 5th century B.C. (500-475 B.C.), the striking piece is eight inches high and features Usil standing with arms at his sides, fingers splayed, a nimbus of solar rays adorns his head and large wings spread from his shoulders. He wears a mantle draped over both shoulders and a diadem.

As with the Greek and Roman sun deities, Usil drove the sun from the eastern sea west across the sky on his chariot, and it’s likely this piece was used to decorate just such a vehicle, albeit a more terrestrial iteration. The back of the bronze is unworked and flat and there are four places for attachment pins (two pins have survived) in the center and base which were used to mount it to something made of wood. Etruscan nobles were often buried with their chariots, and ornaments like the bronze appliqué of Usil would be attached to them to link them to the mythological motif of the sun being driven through the sky.

A very similar fitting was discovered in excavations between 1760 and 1775 at the Roma Vecchia estate on the Appia Antica by gemstone carver Antonio Pazzaglia. This was the first conscious discovery of an archaic chariot, although people at the time thought it was Roman, not Etruscan, and Pazzaglia put the extant pieces back together in something of a fanciful manner with interpolations from other locations and time periods, a commonplace practice at the time. Engraver Francesco Piranesi, eldest son on the famous documenter of antiquities Giovanni Battista Piranesi, indulged in a fancy of his own when he depicted it as a triumphal chariot from the Augustan era in a 1778 he co-authored with his father. It looks nothing like that today — now in the Vatican Museums, it was restored to our best knowledge of historical accuracy in the 1990s — but the print clearly shows the Usil plaque, the first of its kind ever discovered.

This plaque was one of four similar ones unearthed in 1845 in the Tomb with the Quadriga in Vulci, a spectacular chariot burial that included the skeletal remains of horses along with the chariot they would have pulled in life. Each of the appliqués are slightly different, with variations in plate form, size, rivet position and facial features, but the evidence suggests they were all made by the same bronze-casting shop in Vulci, a prominent Etruscan city that was known for its outstanding metal work.

Two of the plaques from the Quadriga Tomb are in the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome and one in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. This was the only one of the group in private hands, and is the best preserved of all of them. It sold at a Christie’s auction in December 2017 for £296,750 ($410,400). Now we know the buyer was the Getty Museum.

“This bronze appliqué that probably decorated an Etruscan chariot or funeral cart is of exceptional quality, representing the peak period of an artistic milieu in which Greek and Italic aesthetics merged to create a distinctively Etruscan style,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Bronze statuettes and reliefs are a particular strength of the Getty’s collection of Etruscan art and the Usil appliqué’s rarity and quality will assure it a significant presence in the newly reinstalled gallery at the Villa dedicated to this fascinating culture.” […]

This newest acquisition will go on display in the reinstalled Getty Villa when it opens in April 2018, and will join several related Etruscan bronzes, including a vessel foot depicting Usil in winged boots running over the crests of waves; and a lion head attachment with glass paste eyes, which likely capped the end of a chariot pole. A pair of candelabra with finials of a youth dancing and playing castanets is also attributed to a Vulcian workshop, which produced fine metalware for an international Mediterranean clientele.

The appliqué was acquired in the 1920s in Monte Carlo by Sylvie Bonneau-Arfa (b. about 1907), née Fatma-Enayet Arfa, the daughter of the Persian ambassador to the Russian court. In 1970 the appliqué went up for auction but failed to sell and was returned to the family. It had been brought to the attention of the Swiss archaeologist Hans Jucker in 1968, and was subsequently on loan to the Historisches Museum in Bern, Switzerland during the 1970s. The Getty acquired it at auction from the descendants of Ms. Bonneau-Arfa.

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Warwick high school scores a Roman villa

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

King’s High School in Warwick is going to have the coolest (in the history nerd sense of the word) campus in the county, possibly in the country, after the remains of large Roman villa were unearthed at its new location on Banbury Road. Archaeologists discovered the villa during a preventative excavation before the construction of the new school building. The wall foundations indicate the villa was more than 28 meters (92 feet) long and 14.5 meters (48 feet) wide making it the largest building seen in the region up until that point. It’s the size of a medieval church.

It was built of local sandstone in the 2nd century A.D. and remained in use into the 4th century. It was not purely residential. Archaeologists found corn drying ovens inside and outside the walls, which suggests the villa performed agricultural duties. On the other side of the structure there are wall divisions that were likely living quarters, so the villa served as both dwelling and workspace. The building was likely part of a larger estate that stretched to the Avon river and the Roman roads.

Caroline Rann, who has been leading the winter-long excavation, added: “Very rarely do archaeologists discover a new villa, and this fantastic building could never have been predicted.

“Thanks to the Warwick Independent Schools Foundation and their construction team, Speller Metcalfe, who have gone out of their way to assist us, we can now start to build a better picture of Roman Warwick.”

Simon Jones, secretary for Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, which runs King’s High and Warwick School, said: “This is an exciting find and an invaluable experience for the schools, with pupils and staff having had opportunities to see the excavations at first hand.

“The county archaeologist’s team have been only too happy to share their enthusiasm and worked with us to ensure the find has not had undue impact on POC progress.

“The find will become part of the history of the new school building and of the foundation as a whole and will, we hope, inspire budding archaeologists for generations to come.”

The school plans to preserve the remains of walls in situ as the campus goes up around it. I hope they do one of those transparent floor things because that would be awesome. As of now, they’re planning to create exhibitions and a portfolio of educational materials for the public and, of course, the lucky, lucky students. There will also be a formal archaeological report released. The first phase of the construction is scheduled to be completed in September 2019.

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Remains of 19th c. Chinese immigrants found in Lima

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

They weren’t found buried in a huaca this time. The remains of three 19th century Chinese immigrants were discovered by work crews from Calidda, a natural gas company in Lima, Peru. The bodies, buried in plain wooden coffins, were found less than a meter under the surface in Lima’s Carabayllo neighborhood where the Calidda crew was installing new pipelines.

Archaeologist Cecilia Camargo excavated the remains after which they were transported to her laboratory for study and conservation. She believes based on their clothing that the three individuals were adult men, but that is educated guesswork at the moment. Osteological analysis will have to be performed to confirm, and whether any conclusion can be drawn will depend on the condition of the bones. There were grave goods found inside the coffins — opium pipes and lighters, mainly — but they don’t provide much information about the people interred.

Zelaya examines another of the immigrants' bodies. Photo by Guadalupe Pardo, Reuters.After the final abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century, Peru was desperate for cheap labour to work their most terrible jobs: the sugar and cotton plantations in the foothills of the Andes. Chinese immigrants stepped into the breach. They were woefully mistreated and were not allowed to be buried in municiple and church cemeteries because they were not Catholic. As a result, they were inhumed wherever a surreptitious spot could be found. Camargo thinks more such human remains will be unearthed in the Carabayllo area.

In other news from Peru that you probably read about elsewhere because it made headlines around the globe, the trucker who drove over the Nazca Lines, leaving tire marks on the delicate geoglyphs, has been arrested and charged with damaging an archaeological monument. There are signs warning drivers that they’re on the boundary with a forbidden zone and to keep out of the area of the Nazca Lines, signs he either deliberately ignored or didn’t see. Security personnel in the Pampas de Nazca caught him in flagrante, as it were, and reported him to the National Police of Peru. A judge released him on his own recognicance. Should he see trial and be convicted, he could receive up to six years in prison.

The good news is the damaged Lines are repairable, the Ministry of Culture’s manager in Nasca, Johny Isla Cuadrado, announced Wednesday.

“The truck left an affectation of medium grade, that is, repairable. We have people trained to restore the surface of the land and make traces of damaged geoglyphs,” Isla said in conversation with El Comercio.

The archaeologist added that the Nasca Lines have been affected for decades, including by the construction of the Panamericana Sur. “In the era of terrorism, a military camp was established in an area of ​​geoglyphs next to the road,” Isla recalled.

Ana María Ortiz de Zevallos, head of the Decentralized Culture Directorate of Ica, said that since 2015 they have funds from the US Embassy for the conservation of the Nasca geoglyphs. With this money, figures of historical value have been repaired in recent years.

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Tomb of high-ranking 5th Dynasty priestess found in Giza

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the beautifully painted tomb of a high-ranking priestess of the 5th Dynasty (2465-2323 B.C.) in the shadow of the Great Pyramid in Giza. An inscription on the purification basin identifies her as Hetpet and lists her many titles, among them Priestess of Hathor.

The tomb was found in the Western Cemetery (so named because it is west of the Great Pyramid of Khufu), highly desirable eternal real estate reserved for high officials of the Old Kingdom. No funerary artifacts remain in situ, but the dry dessert climate has preserved the wall paintings in excellent condition and they provide a rare and important view of ritual, activities (hunting), work (blacksmithing) and social interaction in 5th Dynasty Egypt.

The newly discovered tomb of “Hetpet” has the architectural style and the decorative elements of the fifth Dynasty with an entrance leading to an L-shape shrine with a purification basin.
On its western rare end there is a rectangular arcade lined with incense and offering holders. There is also a naos with a yet missing statue of the tomb’s owner.

The tomb has very distinguished wall paintings in a very good conservation condition depicting Hetpet standing in different hunting and fishing scenes or sitting before a large offering table receiving offerings from her children.

Scenes of reaping fruits, melting metals and the fabrication of leather and papyri boats as well as musical and dancing performances are also shown on walls.

Among the most distinguished paintings in the tomb are those depicting two monkeys in two different positions. Monkeys were domestic animals at the time. The first scene shows a monkey reaping fruits while the second displays a monkey dancing in front of an orchestra.

This is not the first time Hetpet’s name has come up. A collection of 5th Dynasty objects bearing the name “Hetpet” was found by a German expedition in 1909 and shipped to Berlin. This could potentially be the contents of her tomb.

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LiDAR reveals hitherto unknown vastness of Maya civlization

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Researchers using LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology to explore the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala have found evidence of large public buildings, homes, royal palaces, roads and other structures far more extensive than anyone had any idea existed. More than 60,000 man-made features invisible to the naked eye under the thick jungle canopy have been identified. The scans were done from helicopters. Researchers took aerial shots of the tree tops and then digitally removed the trees, thus peeling back nature’s reclamation of land that the Maya had developed and populated to an astonishingly advanced degree.

The reserve covers an enormous area of 8,341 square miles, almost three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Within it lie the visible archaeological remains of great Maya cities like Tikal and Holmul. Researchers scanned 10 sections of the reserve totaling more than 800 square miles, a fraction of the Maya Biosphere Reserve but big enough to generate the largest amount of LiDAR data ever collected for an archaeological study.

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images show raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.

The ancient Maya never used the wheel or beasts of burden, yet “this was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,” said Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who participated in the project.

Tulane University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Maya expert who has made some extraordinary finds on the ground as well as participating in the aerial study, calls the LiDAR data “revolutionary” and expects it will take a century to thoroughly examine and fully understand the sheer masses of information discovered by the scanning technology. The conclusions that can be derived from the material that has been sifted through are exploding what we thought we know about Maya civilization.

Already, though, the survey has yielded surprising insights into settlement patterns, inter-urban connectivity, and militarization in the Maya Lowlands. At its peak in the Maya classic period (approximately A.D. 250–900), the civilization covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, but it was far more densely populated.

“Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs.

Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. “Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,” said Garrison. “It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.”

This is only the beginning of the project. Over the next three years, the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative will scan 5,000 square miles of the Guatemalan lowlands, spreading north to the Gulf of Mexico where Maya city states rivalling the ones to the south engaged in some of those centuries of conflict and alliance shifts that necessitated the construction of so many defensive structures.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, February 6th, the National Geographic Channel will premiere a special on the LiDAR research entitled Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings which is a bit of an eye-roller, but there you have it. The Snake Dynasty of Calakmul (which is in Mexico, not Guatemala and so was not scanned in this phase of the project) is undeniably cool, and their influence extended well into the Petén region of modern-day Guatemala, so I get the impulse to put them in the center frame.

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2,500-year-old grave mutliple burial found in Mexico

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Archaeologists with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have discovered a 2,500-year-old grave containing the skeletal remains of at least 10 people during a salvage excavation in Tlalpan, a borough in the Federal District of Mexico City. The grave was found five feet below the surface under property belonging to the Pontifical University of Mexico. It is the first burial with so many individuals from the Preclassic period found in the Valley of Mexico. Previous finds have had two, at most three, individuals buried together.

The burial pit is modest in size, about 6.5 feet in diameter, considering how many bodies it contains. The skeletons found there were all buried at the same time. So far 10 individual skeletons have been identified. The sex of three of them has been determined — two female, one male — and archaeologists are working to identify the rest. Most of them were children at the time of death. There is one confirmed adult, one child between three and five years of age and the remains of an infant who died just one month old. Osteological analysis has found individuals with deliberate cranial deformation and some dental modifications as well. There are also evidence of wear on the teeth and bone spurs on the vertebrae, today more common in people older than 50.

The grave goods include earthenware bowls, pots and gourds of various sizes from large to tiny. There also stones and ceramic spheres placed in the hands of some of the deceased.

Investigations into the cause of death are ongoing. There is no immediate evidence of them being related to each other or affiliated in any other way, but there is likely a ritual significance to their deaths because their remains were carefully arranged, the arms of one placed under the spine of the other in a sort of windmill pattern that is particularly pronounced in the center. They’re not in the same positions, however. Some are on their sides, others on their back or with their knees pulled up to their chest or their lower limbs hyperextended towards the hips. Their intricate placement is how the team knew they were buried together in a single event.

The area was first settled around 1200-1000 BC as a small farming community. It was one of the first settlements south of modern-day Mexico City. The civic center that developed is known as Cuicuilco and the archaeological site contains the remains of a conical pyramid on oval base, built around 800–600 B.C., likely modeled after one of several active volcanoes in the Valley of Mexico. The attempt to appease the local Pele was successful for centuries. Until it wasn’t. Cuicuilco was obliterated in the eruption of the Xitle volcano around 100-200 A.D. Subsequent eruptions buried the city and the valley in lava.

The village of Tlalpan was settled just east of Cuicuilco between the Zacatenco phases (700-400 B.C.) and Ticoman (400-200 B.C.) of the Middle and Late Formative period. It had come to some prominence, apparently, until the eruption depopulation the valley. There may have been a brief Post-Classic period resettlement (archaeologists are still debating this point) but by then the area was dominated by the nearby urban center of Teotihuacan which didn’t exist yet as a single community when Xitle destroyed Cuicuilco.

When archaeologists first came across the remains of basalt stone walls, they weren’t sure at first what period they came from. They thought they might be Post-Classic, but closer examination found that they were built using river stones, which is marker of Pre-Classic construction. INAH experts believe Tlalpan had areas used for residential, ritual or burial purposes, pieces of which have been found in this excavation and others over the past dozen years. The stone walls were from a private dwelling, archaeologists believe.

This Spanish language video released by INAH shows the burial pit once it’s fully excavated and includes commentary from the researchers on the arrangement of the bodies. Turn on the closed captioning if your Spanish is shaky or non-existent and use the auto-translator to get a hint of what they’re saying through the autogenerated weirdnesses.

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