Post-fall offering altar found in Mexico City

A Mexica altar with offerings left after the fall of Tenochtitlan has been discovered near Plaza Garibaldi in the historic center of Mexico City. The altar was in the interior courtyard of a private dwelling but it was richly appointed with five ceramic bowls, a plate, 13 large polychrome incense burners and a pot containing cremated human remains.

Archaeologists with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the altar 13 feet beneath the surface. It was under several layers of adobe construction of a home in what was then the Tezcatzonco neighborhood, one of the four districts of Mexica Tenochtitlán. The patio was on the earliest layer.

The excavation has revealed one room adjacent to the patio and a corridor connecting to five rooms. The rooms still contain their original stucco floors and walls. One of them was a kitchen, identified as such by the giant tlecuilli (fire pit). The pit as excavated measures 13 x 10 feet, but it was originally even bigger. Its full size can’t be determined because it extends under the surrounding property.

The architectural layers point to at least two stages of occupation, in the Late Postclassic and in the first century of the Spanish occupation between 1521 and 1610. INAH archaeologists believe the residents of the home performed religious rites out of view of the prying eyes of the Spanish authorities.

“On the other hand, the set of 13 incense burners expresses a particular symbolism, since they were arranged on two levels and in two different orientations: some in an east-west direction, and others in a north-south direction, as an evocation of the 20 thirteen that made up the tonalpohualli , the 260-day Mexican ritual calendar; Likewise, it is worth mentioning that the number 13 alluded to the levels of the sky.

“The characteristics of the incense burners also reinforce the Nahua conception of the universe, for example, the openwork cross of the incense cups represents the quincunx, symbol of the axis mundi ; while the hollow handles in red, black and blue colors —which served as a wind instrument—, and its finish with the representation of the head of a water snake, refer to the forces of the underworld “, explains the [archaeologist Mara Becerra].

All the above, coupled with the fact that the ceramic types found (Azteca Bruñida and Roja Bruñida tiles) are associated with the periods of Spanish and early viceregal contact, “allows us to interpret this archaeological context as evidence of an offering that was arranged in the first decades after the invasion of Tenochtitlan, as part of a closing ritual of the same space, an essential act for the Tenochca worldview “, concludes the archaeologist Mara Becerra Amezcua.

Roman necropolis found under Arras supermarket

A large necropolis from the late Roman empire has been discovered under the wall of a supermarket in Arras, northern France. Archaeologists surveyed the site in advance of construction of an extension to the supermarket, and in July 2020 unearthed a lead sarcophagus that can by stylistically dated to the 4th century.

Archaeologists excavated further this fall and discovered that the necropolis extends beyond their remit. Only the southern perimeter of the burial ground has been found. To the west, the graves continue under the supermarket. They continue eastward crossing into the neighboring property, and northward as well, albeit with less tomb density that suggests the northern perimeter is near.

Most of the tombs are laid out along a southwest/northeast orientation, and while they are relatively densely packed together, there is almost no overlap between the cut graves. The burials unearthed so far are inhumations and they are notably devoid of grave goods. Only two graves contained any objects at all, most strikingly an adult woman buried with a rich array of jewelry including a pearl necklace, earrings, copper and bone bangles and copper finger rings.

With the exception of one double burial containing the remains of one adult and one child, each grave held a single individual. Almost all of them were laid to rest in wood coffins, attested to by the surviving iron nails and metal brackets nailed to the corners of the grave’s wooden formwork. Even the two people buried together in one grave were each placed in their own wooden coffin.

Another lead coffin was discovered, not far from where the one was found last year, with the same stylistic features that mark its date of manufacture. In the burial plot next to it was a limestone sarcophagus, its cover still in place, intact and so effectively a seal that no water had penetrated the interior. When archaeologists raised the lid, they found no sediment or water at all, just the skeletal remains of an adult female.

The individuals buried correspond, at first glance, to a natural recruitment. We meet children, including very young children, and adults; men and women. No particular distribution was observed according to the age of the deceased, the graves of children being mixed with the graves of adults.

Founded by the Belgic Atrebates tribe in the Late Iron Age, Arras was dubbed Atrebatum by the Romans when it was conquered by Julius Caesar in 56 B.C. and made the capital of the Atrebates. It was also a castrum, a fort garrisoning Roman legions, as was targeted by Germanic tribes when they began their incursions into the territory in the late 3rd century. The city retracted to its defensive ramparts in response, but in the 4th century it remained an important military and commercial center, residence of the prefect of the Batavian mercenaries charged with the defense of northern Gaul and famed for its high-quality textiles that were exported throughout the Roman world.

It was during this prosperous period in the 350s A.D., that Atrebatum was first evangelized by Saint Martin of Tours who had himself served in the Roman cavalry since he was a teenager. Any success he may have had fell by the wayside along with Arras’s prosperity come the 5th century. The city was all but destroyed by Germanic invaders during the Crossing of the Rhine (406-407 A.D.), and again by Atilla during the Hun invasion of Gaul in 451. Between the two events, the Franks, foederati of the Roman Empire, took control of the area. Evangelization resumed targeting the new Frankish masters when the Diocese of Arras was established in 499.

Excavations in the 1980s unearthed a large early imperial cemetery containing more than a hundred cremation burials from the 1st and 2nd centuries. These graves contain a variety of goods, including the remains of food offerings, coins, jewelry, grooming tools, pottery and glassware. The newly-discovered cemetery underscores the profound shift in funerary practices from the High Empire to the Late even among non-Christians.

The biological study of the population will confirm or invalidate a natural recruitment of the buried population and supplement the observations made in the field concerning the organization of the sepulchral space according to the age and sex of the deceased.

41,500 year-old ivory pendant is oldest of its kind in Eurasia

An ivory plaque decorated with a curve of incised dots is the oldest known punctate ornament discovered in Eurasia. Advanced in radiocarbon dating have made it possible to directly date the mammoth ivory pendant to 41,500 years ago, which predates by at least 1,500 years the previous understanding of when decorated ivory pendants began to be produced by the earliest Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe.

“It is the oldest known [jewelry] of its kind in Eurasia and it establishes a new starting date for a tradition directly connected to the spread of modern Homo sapiens in Europe,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The pendant was likely worn around someone’s neck, but we can’t be certain, said study lead researcher Sahra Talamo, a chemistry professor at the University of Bologna in Italy, who specializes in human evolution and radiocarbon dating.

The researchers noted that the pendant was created at a time when anatomically modern humans were first developing jewelry and other forms of body adornment around the world. Why humans started using jewelry at this time is a mystery that researchers are trying to understand, Talamo said.

There are very few man-made pendants made from animal ivory older than this. Some simple pierced animal teeth and mammoth ivory engraved with ]geometric line patterns were produced by Homo sapiens as they began to spread over the continent. The aligned punctuations were a new type of decoration. Other examples of this type of decoration found in southern France and Germany have not been absolutely dated; their chronological attribution is based on stratigraphy as recorded in excavations from the early 1900s, which is less than precise compared to modern methodologies.

The pendant was found in the Paleolithic layers at Stajnia Cave in Poland in 2010. Broken into two pieces, it was originally a small oval just 4.5 cm high, 1.5 cm wide and 4 mm thick (1.8″ x .6″ x .16″). It is pierced through by two drilled holes and decorated with at least 50 sequential puncture marks that form an irregular curve. The dots could signify something, a calendar for example, or a headcount of hunted animals, or they could be an abstract natural pattern, like a leopard spot.

The study was published in Scientific Reports and can be read in its entirety here.

Pre-Inca mummy bound in rope found outside Lima

Archaeologists have discovered a pre-Incan mummy in excellent condition in the Cajamarquilla archaeological site about 15 miles inland from Lima, Peru. It is estimated to date to the Chaclla culture which developed in the high Andes around Lima between 1200 and 800 years ago.

The mummy of what appears to be an adult male was found in an underground chamber tomb. The body was placed in fetal position and bound with ropes that kept the mummy in a tight crouch that it still retains today. It was buried with grave goods including pottery, stone tools and gourds containing organic remains.

“The main characteristic of the mummy is that the whole body was tied up by ropes and with the hands covering the face, which would be part of the local funeral pattern,” said [archaeologists Pieter] Van Dalen Luna, from the state university of San Marcos.

The remains are of a person who lived in the high Andean region of the country, he said. “Radiocarbon dating will give a more precise chronology.”

Situated on the trade route linking the high Andes to the urban settlements on the coast, Cajamarquilla became a regionally important center of commerce in the Late Intermediate Period (1000 – 1470). Its prosperity was reflected in the sophistication of its adobe construction and complex city planning with large public buildings, boulevards and squares.

The rope binding funerary practice is typically found among the late pre-Hispanic peoples of the high Andes. The mummy is therefore evidence that Cajamarquilla was inhabited not just by coastal peoples from the immediate area, but also by people of Andean origins. The exchange of trade likely resulted in a multi-ethnic population.

9,000-year-old necklace of 2,580 beads reconstructed

A necklace discovered in the 9,000-year-old grave in Ba`ja, just north of the Red Rose City of Petra in southern Jordan, has been reconstructed from more than 2,580 beads. This is the first time researchers have been able to do an authentic reconstruction of so ancient and so elaborately crafted a piece of jewelry.

The necklace was found in 2018 in the richly furnished grave of a female child on her left side in crouch position. Dubbed by archaeologists Jamila of Ba`ja, she was between eight and ten years old when she died. A lump of red pigment was found between her legs and chest, and the outer surface of all of her bones were stained red. The lump of pigment was not the source, nor was any pigment applied directly to her bones. It seems either her skin or her clothes were stained red and when they decomposed, the stain colored her bones.

The beads from a multi-string necklace connected to a central mother-of-pearl ring spacer were found in the chest, neck and left shoulder. Most of the ca. 2,600 beads were small ring discs made of red limestone, with a few barrel-shaped and cylindrical beads of the same material. The red-dominant bead strands are interspersed with white cylindrical beads made of fossilized clam shell, five blue disc beads and two black hematite spherical beads. A larger oval double-holed hematite bead was probably the closing clasp.

The cist grave is also exceptionally rare. It consists of more than 80 sandstone slabs and fragments, with three large slabs as the main structural elements — two upright on the sides, one on top of them covering the chamber– and dozens of deliberately smashed oval slabs stacked in three layers above it.

The child’s special treatment in death strongly suggests that she was assigned a high social status from a young age, which suggests the existence of hierarchical societal structures in Neolithic Ba`ja otherwise unseen in the relatively uniform funerary architecture of the site. Because the elaborate construction and rich grave goods are so archaeologically significant, archaeologists carefully documented the structure and contents of the grave in situ, then recovered it all piece by piece for study and reconstruction at the Old Petra Museum.

An international team of researchers collaborating as part of the CARE (Cultural Heritage, Archaeological Research, Restoration and Education) project assessed and conserved the beads and worked to reconstruct the cist tomb itself in the museum. Now that the reconstruction is complete, the necklace has gone on display at the Petra Museum.