Category: archaeology


Bronze strap union (part of a chariot) from Nant-y-cafn in southern Wales (mid 1st century CE). This replica, based on an archaeological find, approximates what it would initially have looked like before it spent nearly 2,000 years in the dirt.

Big Boat Find in Sweden

Two ship burials have been discovered on a construction site near Sweden’s eastern coast, and one appears to be intact! In the intact tomb have been discovered the remains of a man, a horse, and a dog, who had all been placed in the vessel’s stern. Artifacts found included horse equipment, an ornate comb, a sword, a spear, and a shield.

The boat in the second tomb is thought to have measured about 23 feet long, and been slightly larger than the boat in the other burial, but it was damaged by previous construction at the site. Such high-status burials are thought to date to the Vendel Period (550–800 CE) or the Viking Age (800–1050 CE).

Bronze Age Palace Uncovered By Iraqi Drought

Drought has revealed the remains of a 3,400-year-old palace in the Mosul Dam reservoir, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The palace, at a site known as Kemune, once stood on an elevated terrace on the eastern banks of the Tigris River. It appears to be from the Mittanni Empire. For those (like me) whose history classes did not mention the Mittanni, it was a Bronze Age, Hurrian-speaking empire, which ruled parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria in the 1400s and 1300s BCE.

There are a number of notable finds from archaeological examinations of Kemune. Ten cuneiform tablets were uncovered, which have been sent for translation. The palace’s mudbrick walls are 6 feet thick and 6 feet high in some places. Suggesting when they were originally built, the walls were even taller and more impressive. There are also traces of rare red and blue wall-paint still detectable. That makes Kemune only the second site in the region where Mittanni wall paintings have been found.

Unfortunately, the palace has been overtaken by the dam’s water since the archaeological investigation took place. And no emergency archaeological efforts are planned – just a wait until the next drought.

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Unusual Chinese Artifact Found in Japanese Riv…

A bronze ring artifact from Japan has been identified as a weight for measuring commodities. The ring was found a while ago, in 1999, at the bottom of a dry riverbed which flowed during the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 BCE – 300 CE). The artifact is estimated to date to the second half of the 100s CE. The ring measures 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) across, is 0.7 cm (0.27 in) thick and weighs 89.30 grams (3.14 oz).

What makes the find special is that weight rings have previously been found only in China and Korea, as burial accessories. It has been known that Japan during this period had connections with China, as other Chinese-made artifacts from the the Early Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 8 CE) have been found in Japanese tombs. This ring weight suggests that Chinese trading practices, such as a semi-standardized weight system, were also making their way to Japan.

Gender Imbalance in Neolithic Iberia

Archaeologists from the University of Seville recently completed a review of more than 500 Neolithic burials at 21 archaeological sites on the Iberian Peninsula. They found that at the 198 graves where the sex of the deceased could be determined, there were 1.5 male graves for every female grave. The researchers said that children’s graves were also underrepresented in the sample. “The quantity of males cannot be natural,” Cintas-Peña said. The study indicates that men were more likely to be buried with arrowheads and other projectiles, and more likely to have signs of injury or violent death, while women were more likely to be buried with ceramics.

However, the researchers added, the most elaborate graves in the cemeteries did not necessarily belong to men. They suggest gender differences, and male predominance in terms of violence, arose along with social inequalities as people accumulated private property. “If we can say that gender inequality began in the Neolithic, or in the Copper Age or in any period, it means that it’s something cultural, it’s not something biologically determined,” Cintas-Peña explained.

Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needle…

Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.

If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.

The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing.

Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members’ tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.

Earliest Evidence of Smoked Cannabis Found in …

Central Asians were smoking cannabis by 500 BCE! Archaeologists have found traces of cannabinol, an oxidative metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) in incense burners recovered from the ancient Jirzankal Cemetery on the Pamir Plateau in western China. It appears that cannabis plants were placed in the incense burners, then hot stones placed on top, to create a mind-bending smoke.

There is archaeological evidence that cannabis has been grown and cultivated since around 4000 BCE, but because those plants had very low THC content, they were likely being grown for their fiber and oil.

The new discovery at Pamir Plateau is the first clear evidence of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties. Especially interesting: the charred remains had higher THC concentrations than are found in wild plants, suggesting they had deliberately been cultivated to enhance their psychoactive properties, or that the Jirzankal people sought out wild plants with especially high THC content.

Mayan Cave of Untouched Offerings Found

After a villager notified authorities about a cave hidden beneath the Maya site of Chichen Itza, archaeologists crawled hundreds of feet through passages that were only 16 inches high in places. In the cave, they encountered hundreds of undisturbed ritual artifacts, including incense burners depicting the rain god Tlaloc.

Here’s the funny part – this was actually the second time this cave was discovered! The cave was first discovered by locals about 50 years ago. At the time, they alerted archaeologist Víctor Segovia Pinto to the find. He ordered the cavern sealed and issued a brief report, which was soon forgotten. Last year, locals once again pointed out the location to archaeologists, and this time they decided to actually investigate it.

This sounds like a bungled opportunity by Pinto but today’s archaeologists say it was a boon. Because everything was left in situ, and they plan to leave the artifacts in the cave now, it will remain an intact time capsule that can be studied with the most modern of techniques. Cutting edge 3-D mapping and paleobotany examinations are in the works. And who knows what scientists will come up with in the future? The current plan is that the cave, intact and preserved, will be waiting to be examined by each new generation of techniques.

Tracing Wine’s Family Tree

An international team of archaeologists and geneticists have compared the genomes obtained from 28 grape pips, discovered at nine archaeological sites in France, the oldest pip dating to some 2,500 years ago. These genomes were then compared to a modern grape DNA database. One grape seed, unearthed at a medieval site in the center of France and dated to around 1100 CE, was found to have DNA identical to Savagnin Blanc. That’s the grape used to produce a wine known in France as Vin Jaune, and in Central Europe as Traminer. The lineage of this one grape has been maintained for 900 years!

The study also found that humagne blanche, a white grape grown in the Swiss Alps, is related to grapes grown by the Romans in southern France. It confirms stories of the Romans bringing grapes and wine into Switzerland.