Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year For All Archaeologist and My Great Visitors

Skeletons give insight into ancient Roman healthcare

The skeletons of twin children found in Pompeii have revealed that even poor Roman families were able to provide basic healthcare for their sick children.

Archaeologists also discovered that the twins may have suffered from the first recorded case of congenital syphilis in ancient Rome. Syphilis was not thought to have existed in Europe until 1400 years later.

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Kanata Beaver Pond supporters see hope in 10,000-year-old tools

Opponents of development in the Beaver Pond forest of Kanata say they have found new tools for the fight -- stone tools carved about 10,000 years ago and found in an archeology survey.

The area's councillor isn't so sure these artifacts will help them, but she's going to do some legal checking.

The newest wrinkle is based on a 2005 survey of nearby land -- not the Beaver Pond forest itself, but a neighbouring site at the same elevation.

After the last ice age, when most of Ottawa was under the Champlain Sea, the South March Highlands formed a rocky island. Early hunters are believed to have lived there, possibly hunting seals and whales in the shallow sea.

Urbandale Corp. and Richcraft Homes, which own the land as a partnership called KNL, did an archeological survey that concluded there was nothing special about the site. KNL filed that with the provincial government, and got permission to build homes there.

Not so fast, says Steve Hulaj, president of the Kanata Lakes Community Association. He says the thousands of sharpened stones found on the nearby Broughton Lands show the Beaver Pond's archeological significance was dismissed too quickly. And he points to a written opinion this year from prominent archeologist Robert Mc-Ghee, which concludes that "the rocky upland areas of the proposed development ... should be considered to be of high potential" as a site of early human settlement.

"Archeology 101 class would have told (the developers) that it's above the Champlain Sea level, and you need to look," he said. The Broughton Lands survey shows more than 16,000 artifacts "only a few hundred yards away."

Those artifacts are classed as cutting tools, scraping tools, adzes and also thousands of fragments left from shaping the sharp edges.

Now Hulaj says it's the city's obligation to approach the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Culture and suggest that the original archeological survey was incomplete, and the site should be surveyed again before any trees are cut.

"It will only be dealt with if the city asks for it to be dealt with," he said. "The city has the ability to say: 'Sorry, new information has come to light, let's have another look at this.' "

The city can ask for another survey, "but it won't save the land," said Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, who represents the area. "They (the landowners) are required to do an archaeological survey prior to developing, but once they've got it and it's approved, they can develop.

"If they (opponents of development) want to buy the land, somebody's got to get the money, because I know I'm not going to get it from council," she added

Wilkinson said she has asked the city's planning and legal departments for their opinions.

The developer says another survey is not necessary.

KNL completed a "very detailed" survey that found nothing significant, though it is still responsible for reporting artifacts if it finds something major, said Mary Jarvis, Urbandale's director of planning, land development.

"The standard practice for the archeologist is to walk the site in a very detailed and controlled manner. They're looking for stuff, so they wouldn't walk as you and I would, just sauntering through a field."

She said the author of that survey will return to the site -- although the conditions in winter are not good -- and have another look.

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Archaeology: 8000 year-old Sun temple found in Bulgaria

The oldest temple of the Sun has been discovered in northwest Bulgaria, near the town of Vratsa, aged at more then 8000 years, the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported on December 15 2010.

The Bulgarian 'Stonehenge' is hence about 3000 years older than its illustrious English counterpart. But unlike its more renowned English cousin, the Bulgarian sun temple was not on the surface, rather it was dug out from under tons of earth and is shaped in the form of a horse shoe, the report said.

The temple was found near the village of Ohoden. According to archaeologists, the prehistoric people used the celestial facility to calculate the seasons and to determine the best times for sowing and harvest. The site was also used for rituals, offering gifts to the Sun for fertility as BNT reported.

This area of Bulgaria was previously made famous because remnants of the oldest people who lived in this part of Europe were found.

Archaeologists also found dozens of clay and stone disks in the area of the temple.

"The semantics of the disks symbolise the disk of the Sun itself, which means that this is the earliest ever temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun God, discovered on our lands," archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski told the BNT.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Archaeologists to probe Sherwood Forest's 'Thing'

A 'Thing', or open-air meeting place where Vikings gathered to discuss the law, was discovered in the Birklands, Sherwood Forest, five years ago.

In January 2011 experts plan to survey the hill and see if they can detect signs of buried archaeology and the extent of the site.

The site was found by three local historians after a treasure hunt.

It started after husband and wife team Lynda Mallett and Stuart Reddish, along with their friend John Wood, came into possession of a 200 year old document.

It described a walk around part of Sherwood Forest which marked an ancient boundary.

They searched for the boundary on the landscape and found a place called Hanger Hill on which stood three stones.

The historians, from Rainworth, researched further and found that the same place was called Thynghowe on a 1609 map.

This was significant.

"A 'thyng' is the name of a Viking assembly site while a 'howe' is possibly a Bronze Age burial ground," said Lynda.

Lynda and Stuart then formed The Friends of Thynghowe and invited members from the three local historical societies to join them.

Over the last five years they have researched the site, establishing its importance.

References to Nottinghamshire's Thynghowe have been found in an ancient Forest Book dating back to the 1200s.

The site is also thought to be a bronze age burial mound.

It is thought that Thynghowe may have marked the boundary between the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumberland.

However, it may date back much further, as 'howe' is a term often used to indicate a prehistoric burial place.

"It's a very exciting find," said Stuart. "We're talking about 4,000 years of history in the heart of Sherwood Forest."

This and other Viking meeting place locations were chosen for their acoustics.

Stuart said a voice spoken at the meeting place in the Birklands can be heard from hundreds of yards away.

Research has found that the site was used for centuries.

"We've got documentary evidence that people met there right up to the 1800s. Local people were still meeting up there and raising each others spirits 200 years ago," said Stuart.

The site has now been recognised as a national rarity by English Heritage and added to their National Monument Record.

Funded by local donations The Friends of Thynghowe have been working hard to increase public awareness of the site's history.

"We've put a marked trail in, we've produced leaflets and booklets," said Lynda. "We've done a lot of work to promote this."

Every April they also host an annual walk around Thynghowe, explaining all the history of the site. In 2011 it will be held on 16 April.

And they are now putting in an application for Heritage Lottery funding to develop 'trail tales' for school children.

"So they can start to connect these exciting stories with the real history of Sherwood Forest," said Lynda.

"This is our real cultural heritage," added Stuart. "We love Robin Hood, we love the Major Oak but this is real history. This represents families that have lived in the area and it belongs to the people of the area."

A topographical survey using total station and GPS will take place from 17 to 22 January 2011.

Archaeologists from University College London will also be present using magnetometry to reveal the extent of the site and what may be beneath the ground.

Friends of Thynghowe and interested members of the public are invited to come along and help on Thursday, 20 and Saturday, 22, 9.30am - 12.30pm and / or 1.30pm - 4.30pm. Booking is essential.

If you are interested in attending on either or both of these dates please contact Alex Price, the Local Improvement Schemes Project Officer on 07753625571.

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World's Oldest Optical Illusion Found?

The paper's author, Duncan Caldwell has surveyed the Paleolithic art of several caves in France and discovered a recurring theme that he says can't be simply accidental. Throughout the cave of Font-de-Gaume, and in examples from other sites as well, drawings and engravings of woolly mammoths and bison often share certain lines or other features, creating overlapping images that can be read first as one animal, then the other. Rarely, if ever, do they do the same with other animals.

While images of horses, deer, extinct cattle, and even rhinos often appear in such caves, and often partially or entirely overlap each other, it is only the mammoth-bison pair that Caldwell found regularly appearing superimposed so exactly. For example in the modern drawing below of an image from Font-de-Gaume, one main body shape, underbelly, and set of legs is adorned with signs of both mammoth and bison heads at both ends. These two large, bulbous, "armor-headed herbivores" which share many physical similarities in life, seem to have had some connection for people in this region in art as well.

In a particularly striking example, a small figurine has been given the details of a bison on one side and those of a mammoth on the other. The Paleolithic artist was clearly playing with the similar contours of the two animals and creating a single object that could be flipped to represent one species or the other.

Nice Trick, But Is It an Illusion?

There's a big difference between overlapping images or ambiguous profiles and a proper optical illusion however. Nigel Warburton is a senior lecturer of philosophy at The Open University and co-host of the podcast "Philosophy Bites," which uses the duck-rabbit as its logo. For him, knowing the original context of the image is key. Speaking of the classic version, he said "If somebody had been illustrating a children's book about rabbits, nobody would have seen it as a duck." As he put it, "the fact that a figure can be read in two ways isn't conclusive proof that it was intended to be read both ways."

The duck-rabbit is different because we know that it was created not just to show both animals individually, but to call attention to the strange sensation of one replacing the other. It's to some degree a "reflection on the nature of perception." The mammoth-bison images clearly make use of ambiguous shapes and similarities between the animals, but that doesn't guarantee they were intended as optical illusions.

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Mosaics found in SE Turkey lead to unearthing of ancient Roman city

The ancient city of Germenicia, which has been underground for 1,500 years, is being unearthed thanks to mosaics found during an illegal excavation in 2007 under a house in Southeast Turkey.Archaeology Excavations are ongoing in the area, with authorities aiming to completely reveal the mosaics and the city, and then turn the site into an open-air museum.

Mosaics found during an illegal archaeology excavation in the southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş have led to the unearthing of an ancient city called Germenicia, which remained underground for 1,500 years. The mosaics, found under a house in the Dulkadiroğulları neighborhood, are expected to shed light on the history of the city.

The Roman-era city of Germenicia was unearthed by chance during an illegal excavation in the basement of a house. Preliminary examinations showed that the mosaics were high-quality contemporaries of those unearthed in the ancient cities of Zeugma and Yamaçevler. The first steps have been taken to completely unearth Germenicia and its mosaics, with houses in the area expropriated by the Culture Ministry.

Speaking to Anatolia news agency, Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Seydi Küçükdağlı said the location of Germenicia was shown as Kahramanmaraş on ancient maps, but archaeologists had been unable to determine its exact location because no architectural remnants of the city had been found.

He said the accidentally found mosaics, first stumbled upon during the illegal excavation in 2007, were the reason for finding the 1,500-year-old city. “Although the city was very important and magnificent – it even printed its own money at the time – it remained underground as a result of invasions and fires,” he said.

Küçükdağlı said excavations were initiated under the coordination of the Kahramanmaraş Museum Directorate at the end of November. “After the first mosaic was found, we examined the region and registered 19 parcels of land that could be important. We have expropriated five parcels and excavations have started on three. The houses where the mosaics were found have been torn down and a protective cover installed at the site.”

Open-air museum

Küçükdağlı said excavations would continue, and when completed the area would become an open-air museum to be visited by tourists.

He said seven archaeologists were participating in the excavation. “The mosaics have changed the future of the buried city. They are on the ground level of two-story magnificent villas built in the late-Roman period around 400 A.D. and will give us clues about the daily social life at the time.”

Küçükdağlı said the Culture Ministry also decided to carry out academic excavations in the region, adding that they sent invitations to 44 universities with archaeology departments and expected their response.

He said the fifth International Mosaics Corpus would be held in June in Kahramanmaraş and that the symposium would provide information about the history of the mosaics.

Ancient city of Germenicia

Archaeologists believe there are more remnants of the ancient city of Germenicia, which is named after the father of Roman Emperor Caligula, in the Namık Kemal neighborhood in the foothills of Ahir Mountain. They believe the city was buried by landslides and avalanches caused by a severe earthquake.

Research has shown the region likely featured as many as 100 villas with 15-20 rooms each. Excavation work on the newly unearthed mosaics so far has suggested they were likely floor decorations in one of those villas.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011 Society for Historical Archaeology Student Paper Competition Guidelines

Below are the guidelines for the 2011 SHA Student Paper you can see, the deadline is nearing (November 15th) you are currently an SHA student member, who IS ALREADY GIVING A PAPER AT THE 2011 SHA MEETING in Austin, Texas.then you might consider getting us the "AS READ" version (10 PAGES OR LESS) of your paper by the deadline.who knows. you might be the next winner of the book prize.

2011 Society for Historical Archaeology

Student Paper Competition Guidelines

The 10th Society for Historical Archaeology Student Paper Prize will be
awarded at the 44rd Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, to be held in Austin, Texas, in January 5-9, 2011. The prize will be awarded to a student, or students, whose written version of a conference paper is judged superior in the areas of originality, research merit, clarity of presentation, professionalism, and of potential relevance to a considerable segment of the archaeological community. One prize will be awarded: The winning author(s) will receive a book prize consisting of titles donated by the many presses and organizations exhibiting in the SHA Conference Book Room (totaling over $900 worth of items in 2010) and a letter of recognition from the SHA President. The winning author (s) will be encouraged to submit his or her paper to be reviewed for possible publication in Historical Archaeology. The results of the competition will be communicated to the entrants prior to the meeting and the winner will be announced at the annual business meeting.


1) Entrants must be student members of the SHA prior to submission of papers and registered for the 2011 annual meeting by December 2010.

2) The paper must be prepared according to current Historical
Archaeology guidelines (see the SHA website for these details) and be
submitted by November 15, 2010. Submissions are strongly encouraged to be made electronically (MS Word or PDF) to Jamie Brandon, chair of the Student Paper Prize Subcommittee at If it is necessary to submit in printed form please send 7 copies to Dr. Jamie Brandon, Arkansas Archeological Survey, P.O. Box 9381, Magnolia, AR 71754.

3) The paper must be presented by one of the student authors at the
annual meeting.

4) There may be a maximum of two authors on the paper. All of the
authors must be students and members of SHA. In the event of a winning co-authored paper, the authors will split the available cash and book

5) Papers are to be limited to no more than 10 pages of text using
standard fonts, margins and line spacing (e.g. double spaced). The intent is that the length of the paper submitted must be in line with what can reasonably be presented in 15 minutes. Papers which are deemed by the committee to be impossible to deliver in a standard 15 minute format will be eliminated from the competition.

6) Any additional questions may be addressed to Jamie Brandon via email (listed above).

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'Mummies of the World' Exclusive Sneak Peek

MILWAUKEE - You probably think 'Egypt' when you hear "mummy," but the 'Mummies Of The World' exhibit opening Friday at the Milwaukee Public Museum started with an unexpected discovery in Germany.

"My colleague accidentally found about 20 mummies in the basement of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum," said researcher Heather Gill-Frerking.

Gill-Frerking used a CT scanner to date them, determine genders and look under the wrapping. The mummies were misplaced decades ago.

"They were considered lost," she told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. "We had some documentation that suggested they should exist, but they were thought to be lost during World War II, Mannheim was a heavily bombed area."

Since that first chance museum vault discovery, others gave mummies for this exhibit, including a 17th-century German nobleman buried with his boots on.

"After they were discovered, there was a lot guessing about what is the cause of mummification," said Manfred Baron von Crailsheim, who loaned his mummified ancestors for research and display.

A mummy is a preserved body, animal or human, with skin, muscle or hair still intact. It could be intentional, like the unwrapped body on display of a man who was likely wealthy. Flakes of gold are still visible on his hand.

There is also natural mummification, like a white fish in the exhibit that was found on a beach along the salty Red Sea.

"Any time it's warm and dry or cold and dry or, in the case of bog mummies, if it's wet, but very acidic, we can often get well preserved bodies," Gill-Frerking explained.

This exhibition seeks to shake the stereotype that mummies come only from Egypt. There's an 18th century Hungarian family found in a church vault, a well-preserved South American woman and a Peruvian child believed to be more than 6,000 years old.

"This exhibit is really great because it has brought together mummies from around the world, which is something that's never happened before," said Ellen Censky, the Milwaukee Public Museum's academic dean.

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Neighborhoods at Mesoamerican Hilltop Cities

How does Calixtlahuaca compare to other Mesoamerican hilltop cities? We have written about this in a couple of places. In a paper from the SAA meetings in 2010, I compared Calixtlahuaca, Xochicalco, and a few other examples Smith (2010). If you want a copy of the paper, email me. One interesting difference is in the configuration of the terraces, and houses on terraces. This schematic diagram is from that paper:

(This drawing is by Miriam Cox, ASU student)

* Smith, Michael E.
2010 Xochicalco and Calixtlahuaca as Mesoamerican Hilltop Political Capitals. Paper presented at the 75th Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, St. Louis.

Julie and I have also make a very brief comparison of Calixtlahuaca to other hilltop cities in terms of their neighborhood organization. The passage below is from our book chapter, now under review:

* Smith, Michael E. and Juliana Novic
* n.d. Neighborhoods and Districts in Ancient Mesoamerica. In Neighborhoods in Mesoamerican Archaeology: The Assessment of Intermediate Units of Spatial and Social Analysis, edited by Linda Manzanilla and Charlotte Arnauld, (book in preparation).

"The hilltop capital city was a common urban form in ancient Mesoamerica, and researchers have investigated neighborhoods and districts at several of these settlements. In one of the first studies of residential zones at a Mesoamerican city, Richard Blanton (1978:66-93) analyzed districts for both early and late periods at Monte Alban. In early Monte Alban three zones had subtle differences in the ceramic assemblage suggesting that neighborhoods or districts may have had distinctive patterns of shared material culture, possibly signaling some form of spatially based identity. Later periods saw an increase in urban division to fifteen architecturally visible districts. These areas were of mixed social class, with elite and commoners living near one another. Few craft activities were identified at the level of the district, although, Blanton (1978:95) did identify zones of obsidian and groundstone production. In a more recent study, González Licón (2009) discusses inequality among households at Monte Albán, with a consideration of the role of neighborhoods.
At the Oaxaca site of El Palmillo in the Classic period, residential zones were topographically distinguished and shared some economic and ritual activities (Feinman and Nicholas, chapter 7). Residents of nearby houses most likely engaged in joint work activities on common facilities such as terraces and stairs, which Feinman and Nicholas interpret in terms of collective action.
On the basis of a program of intensive surface collection and mapping at the Epiclassic period (AD 600-800) hilltop city of Xochicalco, Kenneth Hirth (2000:234-239) identified fourteen residential zones that he calls “wards” and “ward subdivisions” (figure 3). These were identified on the basis of features of the natural and built environments that impeded movement within the city, such as ravines, ditches, defensive walls, walled causeways, and steep terrace walls. When Hirth plotted the distribution of civic architecture outside of the hilltop epicenter, he found that all but one of his fourteen zones contained one or more temples or civic structures. These units correspond to districts as defined in this paper. In a recent paper, Hirth (2009) compared the distribution of obsidian tool workshops to his map of districts, and found a lack of spatial association between the two. This suggests to him that “(1) artisans did not collaborate in corporate craft activities outside the household, and (2) a craft guild did not exist at the barrio [ward or district] level” (Hirth 2009:58). In both of these works, Hirth compares the Xochicalco data to the Aztec calpolli as described in documentary sources.
Fieldwork by the authors at the hilltop city of Calixtlahuaca (Smith et al. 2009) suggests a division of the city into two districts based on topological considerations. On the basis of surface artifact densities, Novic identified twenty-four smaller zones—most likely neighborhoods—at Calixtlahuaca. The nature and dynamics of these spatial units is the focus of ongoing research (Novic 2008)."

Blanton, Richard E.
1978 Monte Alban: Settlement Patterns at the Ancient Zapotec Capitol. Academic Press, New York.
González Licón, Ernesto
2009 Ritual and Social Stratification at Monte Albán, Oaxaca: Strategies from a Household Perspective. In Domestic Life in Prehispanic Capitals: A Study of Specialization, Hierarchy, and Ethnicity, edited by Linda Manzanilla and Claude Chapdelaine, pp. 7-20. Memoirs, vol. 46. University of Michigan, Museum of Anthropology, Ann Arbor.
Hirth, Kenneth G.
2000 Public Architecture, Site Planning, and Urban community Organization. In Archaeological Research at Xochicalco. Volume 1, Ancient Urbanism at Xochicalco: The Evolution and Organization of a Pre-Hispanic Society, edited by Kenneth G. Hirth, pp. 210-243. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
2009 Household, Workshop, Guild, and Barrio: The Organization of Obsidian Craft Production in a Prehispanic Urban Center. In Domestic Life in Prehispanic Capitals: A Study of Specialization, Hierarchy, and Ethnicity, edited by Linda Manzanilla and Claude Chapdelaine, pp. 43-66. Memoirs, vol. 46. University of Michigan, Museum of Anthropology, Ann Arbor.
Novic, Juliana
2008 Reaching the City Limits: Identifying Settlement Boundaries at Calixtlahuaca, Toluca, Mexico. Paper presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver.
Smith, Michael E., Juliana Novic, Angela Huster, and Peter C. Kroefges
2009 Reconocimiento Superficial y Mapeo en Calixtlahuaca. Expresión Antropológica 36:39-55.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Second Neolithic 'Venus' Unearthed at Orkney, Scotland

The Venus of Orkney, a 4,500-year-old Neolithic sandstone figurine hailed as Scotland's earliest depiction of a human face, has been a darling of British archaeology since it was excavated last year on the remote island of Westray. Now, the Venus, which earned a nomination at the recent British Archaeology Awards, will have to share the limelight – archaeologists at the Links of Noltland site on Westray have uncovered a second remarkable Neolithic figurine, less than 100 feet from where the Venus was discovered.

Like the Venus, the recently excavated figurine is a tiny, delicate pendant-like figurine. Standing less than two inches high – it lost its head sometime during the five millennia or so it spent underground – the fired-clay figure is delicately carved and covered with geometric incisions probably fashioned with a sharp bone point. Whereas the Venus’s carvings display attributes of a woman – long hair, two round dots representing breasts – the recent figurine bears no anatomical marker to suggest that it is male or female. The excavation team at Historic Scotland, however, believe the intricately carved rectangular panel on its front represents a female’s tunic.

It is difficult to know what these mysterious figurines meant to the ancient people who carved them. For all we know, said Peter Yeoman, Head of Cultural Resources for Historic Scotland, “they could be children’s toys.” The Orkney figurines, however, bear striking resemblance to other prehistoric figurines found all over Europe, especially of ample-hipped female figures – the Paleolithic Venus of Hohle Fels and the Neolithic cult figures of Catalhoyuk in Turkey come to mind. Such figurines, said Yeoman, are typically “recognised as images of deities… and fertility objects.”

Understood as deities or objects of ritual, the tiny pendants from Orkney hold implications that have archaeologists buzzing. “The figurines,” said Yeoman, “start to allow us to consider the spiritual life of the Noltland families more than 4000 years ago, possibly with the earliest evidence we have of worship being channelled through physical representations of spirits or gods.”

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Until the pendants on Orkney were brought to light, says Yeoman, it appeared that early inhabitants of Scotland had only worshipped deities at major monuments, such as Orkney’s recently discovered Neolithic “cathedral” or the Ring of Brogdar. "[The figurines] suggest that perhaps they did not just represent their belief system on the grand scale, but also they had them in the home," he said. To say the least, an exciting glimpse into the complexity of this obscure culture.

The archipelago of Orkney continues to be one of Scotland’s richest archaeological areas. For local archaeologist Julie Gibson, the excavated pendants are further proof that “Orkney is the best place in Scotland for encountering archaeology. From tiny objects to well-preserved Neolithic villages, temples, and grand ceremonial sites, this is the place to study the past in three dimensions."

The area’s most famous site may be the remarkably well-preserved Neolithic village of Skara Brae, but look for Links of Noltland, which, in addition to the Venus and her clay companion, has yielded complex bone tool kits, stone beads and elaborately decorated stones, to gain prominence in Scottish archaeology.

Until the pendants on Orkney were brought to light, says Yeoman, it appeared that early inhabitants of Scotland had only worshipped deities at major monuments, such as Orkney’s recently discovered Neolithic “cathedral” or the Ring of Brogdar. "[The figurines] suggest that perhaps they did not just represent their belief system on the grand scale, but also they had them in the home," he said. To say the least, an exciting glimpse into the complexity of this obscure culture.

The archipelago of Orkney continues to be one of Scotland’s richest archaeological areas. For local archaeologist Julie Gibson, the excavated pendants are further proof that “Orkney is the best place in Scotland for encountering archaeology. From tiny objects to well-preserved Neolithic villages, temples, and grand ceremonial sites, this is the place to study the past in three dimensions."

The area’s most famous site may be the remarkably well-preserved Neolithic village of Skara Brae, but look for Links of Noltland, which, in addition to the Venus and her clay companion, has yielded complex bone tool kits, stone beads and elaborately decorated stones, to gain prominence in Scottish archaeology.

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6,000-year-old jade workshop found in China

Achill Archaeological Field School Academic Credit NUIGalway, Ireland

Beijing, Dec 27 (IANS) Chinese archaeologists have discovered the ruins of an ancient workshop dating back 6,000 years that processed jade and stone objects.

The ruins are located in Tonglu county in Zhejiang province, Xinhua reported.

It is for the first time that a workshop for jade and stone processing has been found in China, experts with the Zhejiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said.

Inside the ruins, piles of stone slices and many primitive tools were found. Twenty jade rings each with an external diameter of three to four centimetres were also found.

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USC archaeologists locate wreck of Confederate gunboat

A University of South Carolina archaeologist has found the wreck of C.S.S. Peedee, a Confederate gunboat that was destroyed by Confederate forces so it would not be captured by Union forces, in the Pee Dee River.

The discovery comes 18 months after underwater archaeologist Chris Amer confirmed the presence of two of three cannon from the gunboat in the river: a Confederate Brooke rifled cannon and a Union Dahlgren smooth-bore, 9-inch shell cannon near the Confederate Mars Bluff Navy Yard.

"This isn't a boat resting neatly on the river bottom," Amer said. "The remains are as messy as the history that put it there. Together, the wreck and cannon tell a story about the little known but very important role that inland Confederate naval yards played in the Civil War. Hidden along interior rivers, the naval yards let Confederate forces build and protect gunboats and support vessels."

Amer said that after an unsuccessful three-week search in July to determine whether the elusive third cannon was hidden under the Dahlgren or under a handful of artillery shells on the river's bottom, he returned in September to follow up on clues about the Peedee's location.

The clues included some data from downstream that he gathered in 2009 and a personal account by a man who claimed that he witnessed a salvage operation of the Peedee in 1954.

"Michael Hartley, an archaeologist in North Carolina, said he was 12 years old when he watched a group of men salvage a boiler and parts of C.S.S Peedee at Mars Bluff," said Amer. "He said the water was low and that he made a detailed map of its location."

Hartley, once on staff at USC's South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA), gave Amer a file that he had created on C.S.S. Peedee.

"I was able to go right to the spot," said Amer. "Hartley's account matched up with magnetic readings that I took of a 25,000-square-foot area."

In November, Amer used sonar to search for the debris and found evidence of the wreck: ripples on the sand where sediment had built up over debris, magnetic "hits" in straight lines depicting the iron bolts along bedding timbers and a tree stuck on something substantial on the river's bottom, possibly ship timbers.

"It's in pieces and buried, although I'm not sure just how deep," Amer said.

The condition of the wreck doesn't surprise him. After all, he said, the Confederate commanders set the 170-foot gunboat ablaze and blew it up in 1865 so it wouldn't fall into the hands of Gen. William T. Sherman's northward advancing Union troops.

He said in the early 1900s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers further damaged the wreck while clearing the river channel for boat traffic.

Disruptions to the wreck occurred in 1925, Amer said, when propellers were salvaged, and again in 1954, when Hartley witnessed the salvaging of two engines, a boiler, propeller shafts and a 30-foot section of the stern.

With the mystery of the wreck solved, Amer will resume efforts to locate the third cannon.

Amer said he will ask local loggers in the spring to move the logs holding the Brooke in preparation for raising the two cannon. He said he also wants to determine whether a field of logs carpeting the river bed close to where the other two cannon were found, is covering the missing cannon.

The logs are a remnant of the Mars Bluff Navy Yard, one of seven inland Confederate naval yards and the one where C.S.S. Peedee was built and later used for logging activities.

While Amer has worked to locate the cannon and gunboat, his colleague, Dr. Jon Leader, a SCIAA research associate professor, is searching for the naval yard.

Like the third cannon, the land portion of the Mars Bluff Navy Yard remains elusive.

Leader's initial search, using ground-penetrating radar and remote-sensing technologies with students from USC and East Carolina University's Program in Maritime Studies field school, uncovered early occupations by Native Americans, but no evidence of the naval yard. He said he believes it may be on adjacent property along the river, which he will investigate this spring.

The entire SCIAA project is funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence. Once the cannon are raised, plans call for them to be preserved at a conservation laboratory at Francis Marion University under Leader's supervision.

SCIAA, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, was established in 1963 as a University of South Carolina research institute and a cultural resource management agency for the state of South Carolina.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

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19 New Objects from King Tutankhamun's Tomb Discovered in New York

Researchers have discovered that 19 objects in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are from King Tut’s tomb, and an agreement has been struck that will see them be returned to Egypt.

The research indicates that Howard Carter kept a few pieces which were bequeathed to the Met after his death in 1939. The artefacts are quite small and at the time it was not known that they were from the tomb itself.

“Fifteen of the 19 pieces have the status of bits or samples,” read a Supreme Council of Antiquities Press release.

“The remaining four are of more significant art-historical interest and include a small bronze dog less than three-quarters of an inch in height and a small sphinx bracelet-element, acquired from Howard Carter’s niece, after they had been probated with his estate.” They also include “part of a handle and a broad collar accompanied by additional beads.”

Going on display

If you’re in New York City you’ll have an opportunity to see the objects first hand before they are returned to Egypt.

Dr. Zahi Hawass said in the press release that:

“The objects will now go on display with the “Tutankhamun” exhibition at Times Square, where they will stay until January, 2011. They will then travel back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they will be shown for six months in the context of the Metropolitan Museum’s renowned Egyptian collection," he said.

"Upon their return to Egypt in June 2011, they will be given a special place in the Tutankhamun galleries at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and then will move, with the rest of the Tut collection, to the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza, scheduled to open in 2012.”

Although it was part of the paid archaeological digging concession and customary for the people who discovered tombs in Egypt to be allowed to take some of the artefacts back to their home country, Carnarvon and Carter were not allowed to take anything from the glorious Tutankhamun treasures. The French administrators of Egyptian heritage at the time cited a loophole that this clause only applied to tombs that had not been previously discovered--and the anteroom of KV62 had been robbed in antiquity.

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Russian archaeologists discover ancient city in Socotra Island

After four-year archaeological excavations, a Russian team has discovered an ancient city in Socotra Island.

The state-run reported that the team unearthed an ancient city called "Khajlah" located near Hidibu city, the main city in the island.

The city is dated back to the second century AD, according to the team's expectation.

The team said that the remains of the exposed ancient houses, roads, alleys and squares indicated that the city had been an administrative, religious and cultural area for the entire island, reports SABA NET.

In a related context, the Tourist office in the island said that about 2,590 tourists visited Socotra last November.

Socotra is an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean. The largest island, also called Socotra, is about 95 pcof the landmass of the archipelago.

The island is very isolated and through the process of speciation, a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth.

Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants - part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh - indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37 pc) plant species on Socotra are endemic i.e. they are found nowhere else on Earth.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye.(ANI)

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

How December 25 Became Christmas archaeology history

On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.

The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is equally spare: There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.

This stands in sharp contrast to the very early traditions surrounding Jesus’ last days. Each of the Four Gospels provides detailed information about the time of Jesus’ death. According to John, Jesus is crucified just as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed. This would have occurred on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, just before the Jewish holiday began at sundown (considered the beginning of the 15th day because in the Hebrew calendar, days begin at sundown). In Matthew, Mark and Luke, however, the Last Supper is held after sundown, on the beginning of the 15th. Jesus is crucified the next morning—still, the 15th.a

Easter, a much earlier development than Christmas, was simply the gradual Christian reinterpretation of Passover in terms of Jesus’ Passion. Its observance could even be implied in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7–8: “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival...”); it was certainly a distinctively Christian feast by the mid-second century C.E., when the apocryphal text known as the Epistle to the Apostles has Jesus instruct his disciples to “make commemoration of [his] death, that is, the Passover.”

Jesus’ ministry, miracles, Passion and Resurrection were often of most interest to first- and early-second-century C.E. Christian writers. But over time, Jesus’ origins would become of increasing concern. We can begin to see this shift already in the New Testament. The earliest writings—Paul and Mark—make no mention of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide well-known but quite different accounts of the event—although neither specifies a date. In the second century C.E., further details of Jesus’ birth and childhood are related in apocryphal writings such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Proto-Gospel of James.b These texts provide everything from the names of Jesus’ grandparents to the details of his education—but not the date of his birth.

Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar]...And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”2

Clearly there was great uncertainty, but also a considerable amount of interest, in dating Jesus’ birth in the late second century. By the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor). The modern Armenian church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6; for most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6 eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas.

The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.

In the East, January 6 was at first not associated with the magi alone, but with the Christmas story as a whole.

Click to view a slide show of larger images and captions.

So, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, we finally find people observing his birth in midwinter. But how had they settled on the dates December 25 and January 6?

There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient).4

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.5 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.6 They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.

More recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into northern and western Europe. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druidic practices. This has only encouraged modern audiences to assume that the date, too, must be pagan.

There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character.

Granted, Christian belief and practice were not formed in isolation. Many early elements of Christian worship—including eucharistic meals, meals honoring martyrs and much early Christian funerary art—would have been quite comprehensible to pagan observers. Yet, in the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E.

This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312—before Constantine and his conversion, at least. As we have seen, the Donatist Christians in North Africa seem to have know it from before that time. Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6.7

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years.8 But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9 March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”11 Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus’ conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.”13 Even today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Annunciation in early April (on the 7th, not the 6th) and Christmas on January 6.e

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus’ birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day (March 25 or April 6) and coming up with two close but different results (December 25 and January 6).

Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together. One of the most poignant expressions of this belief is found in Christian art. In numerous paintings of the angel’s Annunciation to Mary—the moment of Jesus’ conception—the baby Jesus is shown gliding down from heaven on or with a small cross (see photo of detail from Master Bertram’s Annunciation scene); a visual reminder that the conception brings the promise of salvation through Jesus’ death.

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born...and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)14 Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.

In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of God’s redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own too.

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The Christmas Tree Point

The Stanly projectile point type was described by Joffre Lanning Coe in 1964 in his definitive work The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont. Coe characterized it as having “a typical Christmas tree shape”. He found it within a deeply buried context at the Doerschuk site located in North Carolina and dated it to the Middle Archaic period at about 7000 years old.

The Stanly type is not particularly distinctive in that it is simply a straight stemmed point with a slight notch in the base (not to be confused with the sort of basal treatment indicative of the bifurcate point). Sometimes it is serrated but it does not have a ground base like many Early Archaic point types. As noted by Coe, Stanly points can be confused with points from later periods that have been re-sharpened. Coe felt that the point type had morphological parallels with the earlier Archaic Kirk type, thus suggesting a period of cultural continuity spanning two millennia.

Although not particularly common, the Stanly type is found at stratified sites as far west as the Ice House Bottom site in Tennessee and as far north as the Neville site in New Hampshire. It is stratigraphically found above bifurcate points but below Morrow Mountain/Stark points, both broad bladed stemmed points. The Neville site was excavated by Dena Dincauze who felt that the projectile points found there were slightly different from Coe’s definition for the Stanly type and named them Neville points. At the Neville site the point type was associated with atlatl weights and full-grooved axes. Using carbon 14 dating of charcoal, she was able to bracket the component to between 7015 and 7740 years ago.

The largest stratified Stanly site in Pennsylvania presently known, is the West Water Street site (36Cn175) in Lock Haven along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. This was excavated by Dr. Jay Custer of the University of Delaware. He recovered a total of 47 Neville/Stanly points which represents over 80% of the Middle Archaic points from the site. The occupation at West Water Street was dated at 7390 + 110 years ago (Beta-63528). The makers of these points where not especially discriminating when selecting lithic materials and instead used whatever was locally available. This is in clear contrast to what was the norm for Early Archaic people who frequently traveled great distances to acquire better quality lithics for making projectile points. As well, based on lithic utilization, their territories were smaller, perhaps half the size of Early Archaic territories. Other stratified sites producing Stanly/Neville points in Pennsylvania include, the Memorial Park site also in Clinton County, and the Treichlers Bridge site located in the Lehigh drainage of Northampton County.

One would have to agree that the name “Christmas Tree”, whether it be a formal designation for a projectile point type or a Yule tide symbol, has been around for a very, very long time.

A Summary of Phase III Data Recovery Excavations at the West Water Street Site (36Cn175) Pennsylvania Archaeologist Volume 66 Number 1 (1996)
Custer Jay F.
Classification Guide for Arrowheads and Spearpoints of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Central Middle Atlantic Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (2001)
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ancient Egyptian 'Avenue of Sphinxes' gets twelve Sphinxes longer

Archaeologists have unearthed twelve ancient sphinx statues at Luxor, Egypt.

The sculptures were found at a newly discovered part of the Avenue of Sphinxes, an ancient road stretching from the temple at Karnak to the temple of the goddess Mut at Luxor.

The discovery, made as part of archaeology excavation and restoration works at the site by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), was announced by Egypt's Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni.

The statues of the mythical creatures, inscribed with the name of Pharaoh Nectanebo I, were found in the last sector of the Avenue of Sphinxes, a part of the sacred pathway that – although its existence was known to historians from ancient texts – was never precisely located.

Mansour Boraik, Supervisor of Luxor Antiquities, indicated this is the first time a new road that runs from east to west – towards the Nile – has been found.

The total length of the road to the Nile is estimated to be about 600 metres, with 20 metres excavated so far.

These 20 metres were built from sandstone, brought in from the quarries at Gebel Silsila, north of Aswan.

“The discovery is not located within the known road of the Avenue of the Sphinxes between Karnak and Luxor Temples, but instead at the end of the newly discovered road of Nectanebo I,” explained Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA.

Dr. Hawass added that along this way the sacred boat of Amun, king of the gods, traveled on the god’s annual trip to visit his wife, Mut, at Luxor temple.

The Avenue of Sphinxes is about 2,700 meters long and 76 meters wide. Although the path was already in use during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, it was the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectenabo I (380 to 362 BC) who constructed the avenue itself. He lined it with 1350 sphinxes, all inscribed with his name.

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Unique Crown suggests Arsinoë II ruled as King of Lower Egypt

A unique queen’s crown with ancient symbols combined with a new method of studying status in Egyptian reliefs forms the basis for a re-interpretation of historical developments in Egypt in the period following the death of Alexander the Great.

In the thesis 'The Crown of Arsinoë II', Maria Nilsson shows that Cleopatra VII was not the only Ptolemaic female pharaoh – Queen Arsinoë II came first, 200 years earlier. Nilsson argues that Arsinoë (316-270 BC) should be included in the official pharaonic king list as Ptolemy II's co-regent; her royal authority should be considered equivalent to Hatshepsut, Tawosret and Amenirdis II, as one of the most important royal women in Egyptian history.

Researchers largely agree on Queen Arsinoë II’s importance from the day that she was deified. The queen was put on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, and was still respected and honoured 200 years after her death when her better-known descendant Cleopatra wore the same crown. But the reasons behind Arsinoë’s huge influence have been explained in many different ways.

Maria Nilsson, from the University of Gotenburg in Sweden, has studied her historical importance by interpreting the Macedonian queen's personal crown and its ancient symbols. The crown, which has never been found but is depicted on statues and Egyptian reliefs, was created with the help of the Egyptian priesthood to symbolise the qualities of the queen. In her thesis 'The crown of Arsinoe II. The creation and development of an imagery of authority' (available online here), Nilsson questions the traditional royal line which excludes female regents, and defies some researchers’ attempts to minimise Arsinoë’s importance while she was still alive.

“My conclusion instead is that Arsinoe was a female pharaoh and high priestess who was equal to and ruled jointly with her brother and husband, and that she was deified during her actual lifetime,” says Nilsson. “It was this combination of religion and politics that was behind her long-lived influence.”

As early as Predynastic times, ancient Egyptian rulers depicted themselves, in line with their gods, wearing different crowns. Six main forms are documented from at least the early dynastic period, and still regularly depicted – although elaborated upon – in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods; the khepresh (or blue crown), the white crown, the red crown, the double crown, the double feather plume and the atef (or ostrich feather) crown. So far archaeologists have not found any physical royal crowns, and Egyptologists have to make do with studying depictions of the various crowns on tomb paintings and reliefs.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WUSTL professor excavates 'gold mine of archeology' in China

An anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis is helping to reveal for the first time a snapshot of rural life in China during the Han Dynasty.

The rural farming village of Sanyangzhuang was flooded by silt-heavy water from the Yellow River around 2,000 years ago.

Working with Chinese colleagues, T.R. Kidder, PhD, professor and chair of anthropology in Arts & Sciences, is working to excavate the site, which offers a exceptionally well-preserved view of daily life in Western China more than 2,000 years ago.

The research was presented at the Society for American Archeology meeting in St. Louis in April and highlighted this month in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“It’s an amazing find,” Kidder says of the site, which was discovered in 2003. “We are literally sitting on a gold mine of archeology that is untapped.”

What researchers find fascinating and surprising, says Kidder, is that the town, though located in a remote section of the Han Dynasty kingdom, appears quite well off.

Exploration has revealed tiled roofs, compounds with brick foundations, eight-meter deep wells lined with bricks, toilets, cart and human foot tracks, roads and trees.

An abundance of metal tools, including plow shares, have been found, as well as grinding stones and coins. Also found are fossilized impressions of mulberry leaves, which researchers see as a sign of silk cultivation.

“One could make the argument that this is where the Silk Road began,” Kidder says.

Kidder believes the site could be substantially larger than currently is known. The flood of sediment that buried the town also covered an area of more than 1,800 square kilometers.

Archaeology Excavation has revealed two more buried communities beneath Sanyangzhuang. “This sedimentary archive goes to all the way back to the Pleistocene Era,” says Kidder, who has experience digging in silt-laden sites near the Mississippi River.

“We have a text written in dirt of environmental change through time that’s associated with the flooding of the Yellow River and its environmental relationships. We have an opportunity to examine an entire landscape dating from the Han and periods before,” he says.

Excavated remains of a wall near the site could reveal a walled town, which still is buried in the silt.

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Oman archaeologists unearth Iron Age settlement

Archaeologists in Oman have unearthed evidence of human settlement dating back to the Iron Age during archaeology excavation there, a news report has said.

The settlement was unearthed during archaeology excavation in the Sohar Port area of the country at as many as 57 burial sites, Biubwa Ali Al Sabri, director of Excavation and Archaeological Studies at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture said.

"The findings include remains of human bones, beads and other archaeological objects," Al Sabri was quoted by Gulf News as saying.

The excavation work was conducted by five specialists from the national team of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture with the help from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) technicians, specialised in lifting and drawing archaeological evidence.

Al Sabri said the findings would help archaeologist in understanding more about the cultural history.

"These sites dated back to the intervening period of the second millennium BC and the first millennium BC, also known as Wadi Suq era between 2000 BC and 300 BC," she said.

"As the site of those cemeteries spread over the hills and the valleys, the Ministry divided the site into five sections," she added.

Keeping in view the importance of maintaining the cultural heritage, the Ministry paid special attention to preserving archaeological sites, without hampering the ongoing development projects.

The archaeologist also found bones and teeth of horse in a grave, which was characterised by the existence of two rooms, one for the man's burial and other for the horse.

"We've had several meetings between the Heritage Sector in the Ministry and the management of Sohar Port and decided to have rescue excavations in some sections of those 57 graves," she said, adding that this excavation was funded by the management of Sohar Port, she said.

"A specialist in the study of bones was flown from Sweden by the management of Sohar Port," Al Sabri said.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Mysterious horse found at Pompeii is in fact an ass

Ever since the remains of a seemingly unknown breed of horse were excavated at the ancient city of Pompeii, scientists have been puzzled over this find. Now, the riddle is solved: what was thought to be a horse, is actually an ass.

After DNA tests were done on a skeleton discovered amongst the ruins of an ancient Roman house in Pompeii in 2004, Italian scientists concluded they had discovered a new breed. Yet, after taking a closer look at the data, researchers from Cambridge and Munster say that in this study, a mistake was made. Their arguments – the donkey DNA was contaminated with horse DNA, leading to an artificial hybrid DNA being formed – are published in a letter to the editor of the Journal of of Cellular Biochemistry.

An ancient equine from Pompeii?

For the original study, five skeletons from the family of Equidae – which includes horses, donkeys and zebras – were analyzed. These skeletons had been unearthed at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii – from the stables of the "Casa dei Casti Amanti", the House of the Chaste Lovers. They were found well preserved, covered by the layer of volcanic ash that buried Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum when the Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

The research team that conducted the original study looked at the 2,000-year-old mitochondrial DNA of the horses – DNA that does not belong to the nucleus, but to the "energy plants" (mitochondria) of cells. Four of the DNA types were easily assigned, they were consistent with typical mitochondrial horse genome. The fifth horse, however, seemed to be a horse-like indeed, but it possessed unknown DNA.

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