Archive for November, 2008

5,500-year-old settlement found in Peru

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Archaeologists excavating near Nazca, Peru, have discovered a cluster of homes and graves that date back 5,500 years.

One of the project researchers said that the excavations made at the site since last October enabled the team to find the remains of eight small oval-shaped and circular homes made by digging deep pits in the ground.

Also found were up to 19 graves of children and adults interred individually inside the homes, which would seem to indicate that they were buried there after the homes were abandoned.

In some of the graves, archaeologists found carved bones and snail-shells, deer horns, necklaces and bracelets made from shells, but there was no concrete evidence of offerings to the dead or to dieties.

This is the first human remains found in Peru from the late archaic period. The circular plaza found last February dates to the same time, and it’s thought to be the oldest urban structure in the Americas.

There’s a large lacuna in Peruvian archaeology between prehistory and the 16th c. Inca civilization, so this find is a big step in filling in some of the blanks, as was the Wari mummy discovery earlier this year in Lima.

Still looking for pics, darnitall.

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Ancient wooden boat found in Black Sea

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Fishermen trailing nets 15 miles off the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea uncovered a wooden dugout canoe, most likely dating to prehistoric times.

“The dugout is 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) long and 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) wide, and it is made most probably of oak,” Nedkov told The Associated Press.

Bulgarian explorers have found four ancient vessels in remarkably good condition in the Black Sea, whose oxygen-depleted deep water preserves wrecks without the worm damage and deterioration that normally affects wooden vessels.

Finding a wooden ship older than 300 years is pretty much unheard of anywhere but in the Black Sea. This one looks neat, too. Oak ages handsomely even under water for thousands of years.

Slap a coat of poly on it and flip it upside down and you could sell it to Pier One as a coffee table.

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Cleveland coughs up

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Following in the hallowed footsteps of institutional receivers of stolen goods like the Getty and the Metropolitan, the Cleveland Museum of Art is returning 14 antiques to Italy.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has agreed to hand over 13 ancient artifacts and an early Renaissance cross to Italy after long negotiations, the museum and Italian officials announced here on Wednesday. [...]

The processional cross, dating from around 1350, was not excavated but apparently was kept at a church near Siena, Italy, until the 1970s. The museum purchased it in 1977 from a German dealer, Cleveland officials said. [...]

For the most part the objects claimed from the Cleveland museum — including a fourth-century B.C. Apulian volute krater by the so-called Darius Painter and a ninth-to-sixth-century B.C. bronze of a warrior from Sardinia — were acquired in the 1970s and 1980s. Several were donations.

It’s the usual deal. In exchange for getting the stuff back, the Italians promise not to prosecute any of the employees who had a hand in buying the stolen objects and loan equivalent pieces to fill in the blanks on the gallery floor.

There are still a couple of artifacts under negotiation: a winged victory from a 1st c. chariot, and a bronze Apollo thought to have been made by Praxiteles purchased from a pair of ubershady dealers with a long track record of falsifying provenance and laundering looted antiquities for major dealers like Robert Hecht, currently on trial in Italy for conspiracy to traffic in illegal antiquities.

David Gill has a complete list of all the antiquities the Cleveland Museum of Art is returning to Italy.

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Wreck of slave ship found off Turks & Caicos

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

The slave trade was illegal on the British islands of Turks and Caicos in 1841, so when 192 Africans survived the wreck of the Trouvadore, they settled on the islands.

Many of the current population are descended from the survivors, which makes the find of the wreck particularly important.

The team was able to determine that authorities on the islands apprenticed the Africans to trades for a year and then allowed them to settle on the islands, many on Grand Turk. The Spanish crew was arrested and turned over to authorities in Cuba, then a Spanish colony.

An 1878 letter refers to the Trouvadore Africans as making up the pith — meaning an essential part — of the laboring population on the islands.

As important as this ship was to the history of Turks and Caicos, its existence was forgotten over time, until in 1993 researchers stumbled on that letter in the Smithsonian.

From the 1878 letter:

Two African idols, found on board the last Spanish slaver, of wood with glass eyes [schr "Esperenza"] wrecked in the year 1841 at Breezy Point on the Caicos Islands. The slaves from this vessel were taken possession of by the Government and brought to the Grand Turk Island. – The captain of the slaver, escaped the penalty, (by being a Spaniard), of being hung according to the British laws. The slaves were apprenticed for the space of one year and they and their descendants form at the present time, viz the year 1878 the pith of our present labouring population.

Many years of research ensued after the discovery of the letter, and in 2004 marine archaeologists set off to find the wreckage off the coast of East Caicos. When they located a likely wreck, they couldn’t find the name of the ship on any of the remnants.

The age and dimensions — carefully measured and compared to every ship known to have gone down in the area — of the wreck are what finally persuaded scholars that it is in fact the Trouvadore.

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Update: “Revolutionary” Basque find a fake

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Way back when the earth was new and I first began to blog, I wrote this entry about a “potentially revolutionary find” of 3rd c. Christian and Basque language inscriptions.

They would have been the earliest representation of Calvary and the earliest recorded instance of Euskera, the Basque language.

Well, not only are the inscriptions modern fakes, but they’re so fake it’s embarrassing.

Now experts who have studied the pieces in depth say the fakes, some of which used modern glue, should have rung warning bells immediately. References were found to non-existent gods, 19th-century names and even to the 17th-century philosopher Descartes.

Words in Euskara used impossible spellings. The hieroglyphs included references to Queen Nefertiti which would have been almost impossible to make prior to the 19th century.

The Calvary scene, meanwhile, included the inscription “RIP”. “It is a formula that can only be applied to people who are dead,” Almagro told El Correo newspaper. “To say that Jesus Christ is dead would be a heresy. I haven’t seen anything quite so funny in the whole history of Christianity.”

The forger either had fragments of third century pottery which he buried on site, or he had access to the lab where the fragments were examined and planted the forgeries there.

I feel sheepish as hell just for having relayed the story. I can’t imagine what the archaeologists on site were thinking. I mean, dig director Eliseo Gil called the find on a par with Pompeii and Rome itself.

Dude, srlsy. You have a degree. I mean, Decartes? :facepalm:

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Lapis Niger uncovered by rain

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

The Lapis Niger is a slab of black marble said to memorialize the spot where the co-founder and first king of Rome, Romulus, was torn to pieces by pissed off senators. (The alternate story is he was assumed whole body into heaven and deified as Quirinus, the spirit of the city itself, but Plutarch and Livy smelled a regicidal rat with that story.)

It was discovered in 1899 and covered with cement for its own protection in the 50s. Now that cement covering has been damaged by rain, so for the first time in 50 years, people will get a chance to see the Lapis Niger while archaeologists restore it.

A canopy would be erected over the exposed “murder site” – first discovered in 1899 – so that archeologists could work on it while visitors to the Forum watched.

Tourists don’t often get to see archaeologists at work in the city, so that’s a big thing.

For a rivetingly detailed description of the Lapis Niger site from 1906, see Lacus Curtius’ transcription of The Roman Forum by Christian Hülsen.

The awesome bit about all the different things ancient Romans thought the Lapis Niger commemorated is worth reading through the second paragraph at least.

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Buddha relic found in mini pagoda

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Or so archaeologists in Nanjing think.

The four-storey pagoda, which is almost four feet high and one-and-a-half feet wide, is thought by archaeologists to be one of the 84,000 pagodas commissioned by Ashoka the Great in the second century BC to house the remains of the Buddha. [...]

The pagoda found in Nanjing is crafted from wood, gilded with silver and inlaid with gold, coloured glass and amber. It matches a description of another of Ashoka’s pagodas which used to be housed underneath the Changgan Buddhist temple in Nanjing.

A description of the contents of the pagoda was also found: a gold coffin bearing part of Buddha’s skull inside a silver box. Although scans have confirmed that there are two small metal boxes inside the pagoda, experts have not yet peered inside.

The pagoda was found in August on the site of a temple, encased in an iron box. They’ve removed the pagoda from the box and put it on display in the Nanjing Museum, but they haven’t opened the little metal boxes which are expected to contain the piece of Siddhartha Gautama’s skull.

It’s not like the many, many pieces of the “true cross” floating about out there. This is the only known pagoda to have contained remains of the Buddha’s skull, so there’s of excitement, and I would imagine, trepidation.

If there’s nothing in there, it’ll be a massive disappointment and blow to the huge potential pilgrim tourism. If they open it wrong and damage such a unique, religiously important relic, it would be a horrid black eye.

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Confirmed: Copernicus is dead

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Also, he looked just like James Cromwell. Seriously. They could be twins.

Polish archaeologists found what they thought were Copernicus’ remains in 2005. A facial reconstruction of the skull matched contemporary portraits of the astronomer (and of James Cromwell), but they didn’t know for sure until they compared the DNA from the skeleton with DNA from two hairs found in a book Copernicus owned.

Swedish genetics expert Marie Allen analyzed DNA from a vertebrae, a tooth and femur bone and matched and compared it to that taken from two hairs retrieved from a book that the 16th-century Polish astronomer owned, which is kept at a library of Sweden’s Uppsala University where Allen works.

“We collected four hairs and two of them are from the same individual as the bones,” Allen said.

That was the easy part. It took archaeologists 2 years to locate Copernicus’ grave, and they already knew which church it was in.

Copernicus was known to have been buried in the 14th-century Frombork Cathedral where he served as a canon, but his grave was not marked. The bones found by Gassowski were located under floor tiles near one of the side altars.

Gassowski’s team started his search in 2004, on request from regional Catholic bishop, Jacek Jezierski.

“In the two years of work, under extremely difficult conditions — amid thousands of visitors, with earth shifting under the heavy pounding of the organ music — we managed to locate the grave, which was badly damaged,” Gassowski said.

So organ music literally moves the earth. The more you know.

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Another Bulgarian Chariot

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Bulgaria lands another excellently-preserved ancient chariot.

The latest find is an 1,800-year-old Thracian chariot uncovered in the village of Karanovo, south of Sofia.

The bronze-plated wooden chariot is decorated with scenes from Thracian mythology, including figures of a jumping panther and the carving of a mythological animal with the body of a panther and the tail of a dolphin, Ignatov said.

He said the chariot, with wheels measuring 1.2 meters (four feet) across, was found during excavations in a funerary mound that archaeologists believe was the grave of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat, as he was buried along with his belongings.

The team also unearthed well-preserved wooden and leather objects, some of which the archaeologists believe were horse harnesses. The remains of horses were uncovered nearby.

There are an estimated 10,000 Thracian tombs spread all over Bulgaria, but (surprise, surprise) looting has destroyed 90% of them. Until this August, the only chariots archaeologists found were in pieces because looters got to the site first.

Oh, and check this: Veselin Ignatov, the head of the Karanov dig, got a whopping $12,500 from the Bulgarian Culture Ministry for the entire excavation. :angry:

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The 10 million dollar mammoth

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Scientists at Penn State think all it would take to cook up a woolly mammoth in the lab is a little genome decoding and 10 million bucks. Cheap! Steve Austin was way smaller than a mammoth and it cost 60% that price to make him better, stronger, faster.

There is no present way to synthesize a genome-size chunk of mammoth DNA, let alone to develop it into a whole animal. But Dr. Schuster said a shortcut would be to modify the genome of an elephant’s cell at the 400,000 or more sites necessary to make it resemble a mammoth’s genome. The cell could be converted into an embryo and brought to term by an elephant, a project he estimated would cost some $10 million. “This is something that could work, though it will be tedious and expensive,” he said.

“Could” being the operative word. There are many ifs involved in resurrecting the mammoth. Ancient DNA is usually damaged and/or contaminated beyond recovery, although the DNA in hair, protected by keratin, tends to be in much better condition.

Also, the DNA of living cells takes ages to modify one site at a time, but there too our Penn State Frankensteins have an ace in a hole: Dr. George Church, a genome technologist who claims he has a new method that can modify 50,000 genomic sites at once.

Yes, yes, but they can make a pig-sized woolly mammoth for the designer pet market? They’d make that 10 mill back in a week, guaranteed.

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