The Lost Golden City

News of an interesting archaeological find from National Geographic:

‘Lost golden city of Luxor’ discovered by archaeologists in Egypt

The 3,400-year-old royal city was built by Amenhotep III, abandoned by his heretic son, Akhenaten, and contains stunningly preserved remains.

Three thousand four hundred years ago, a contentious ancient Egyptian king abandoned his name, his religion, and his capital in Thebes (modern Luxor). Archaeologists know what happened next: The pharaoh Akhenaten built the short-lived city of Akhetaten, where he ruled alongside his wife, Nefertiti and worshipped the sun. After his death, his young son Tutankhamun became ruler of Egypt—and turned his back on his father’s controversial legacy.But why did Akhenaten abandon Thebes, which had been the capital of ancient Egypt for more than 150 years? Answers may lie in the discovery of an industrial royal metropolis within Thebes that Akhenaten inherited from his father, Amenhotep III. The find, which has been dubbed the “lost golden city of Luxor” in an announcement released today, will generate as much enthusiasm, speculation, and controversy as the renegade pharaoh who left it.

Because the city was initially discovered just in September of last year, archaeologists have only scratched the surface of the sprawling site, and understanding where this discovery ranks in Egyptological importance is hard to say at this time. The level of preservation found so far, however, has impressed researchers.

“There’s no doubt about it; it really is a phenomenal find,” says Salima Ikram, an archaeologist who leads the American University in Cairo’s Egyptology unit. “It’s very much a snapshot in time—an Egyptian version of Pompeii.”

The site dates from the era of 18th-dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled between around 1386 and 1353 B.C. and presided over an era of extraordinary wealth, power and luxury. In Amenhotep III’s final years, he is thought to have briefly reigned alongside his son, Akhenaten.

But a few years after his father’s death, Akhenaten, who ruled from around 1353–1336, broke with everything the late ruler stood for. During his 17-year reign, he upended Egyptian culture, abandoning all of the traditional Egyptian pantheon but one, the sun god Aten. He even changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, which means “devoted to Aten.”  

More at the link.

Blue Beads in Alaska

From Gizmodo (hat tip: Robert Black):

Found in Alaska, These Blue Beads Could Be the Oldest Evidence of European Goods in North America

 
European-crafted glass beads found at three different indigenous sites in northern Alaska date back to the pre-colonial period of North America, in what is an intriguing archaeological discovery.

Somehow, these blueberry-sized beads made their way from what is now Venice, Italy, to the Brooks Range mountains of Alaska at some point during the mid-to-late 15th century, according to new research published in American Antiquity.

The authors of the paper, archaeologists Michael Kunz from the University of Alaska Museum of the North and Robin Mills from the Bureau of Land Management, suspect the beads were trade goods that, after passing through China’s Silk Road, eventually made their way through Siberia and eventually into Alaska via the Bering Strait. If confirmed, it would be “the first documented instance of the presence of indubitable European materials in prehistoric sites in the Western Hemisphere as the result of overland transport across the Eurasian continent,” the authors wrote in their study.

No biggie, right? In other words, indigenous North Americans had their hands on Renaissance jewelry prior to the arrival of European colonists, if this interpretation is correct. Mind blown.

These glass beads, with regional names like “Early Blue” and “Ichtucknee Plain” and scientifically known as the “IIa40” variety, have been found in North America before, including the Caribbean, the eastern coast of Central and North America, and the eastern Great Lakes region, but those finds date back to between 1550 and 1750. In case you flunked grade 2 history, Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492. Dating these beads to the pre-colonial era is thus very significant.

Read the whole thing

Presumably the “Dung Gate”

From Newsweek (hat tip: Tim Furnish):

Toilet Found in 3,000-Year-Old Shrine Verifies Bible Stories Against Idol Worship

Archaeologists have discovered a symbolic toilet from the eighth century B.C. in Jerusalem that could be a clue to religious reforms in the Kingdom of Judah. Religious reforms, in this case, is a euphemism for quite literally defecating on the holy places one wishes to drive out of business.

The stone toilet sits in Tel Lachish, a sprawling Iron Age city and the Kingdom of Judah’s most important one after the capitol, Jerusalem. It was found in what the archaeologists believe to be a gate-shrine within Israel’s largest ancient city gate. The ruler at that time, King Hezekiah, enacted campaigns of religious worship and reform that made their way into the Hebrew Bible on multiple occasions.

In one corner of the shrine sits a stone seat with a hole in the center. The archaeologists believe that not only is it definitely a toilet, it’s a toilet that was installed for the express purpose of literally desecrating the shrine. Hezekiah, it seems, was just following instructions against idol worship in the scriptures:

“Then they demolished the pillar of Baal, and destroyed the temple of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day” (2 Kings 10:27).

Sa’ar Ganor and Igor Kreimerman, the archaeologists who conducted the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), described their work in the article “Going to the Bathroom at Lachish” in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

More at the link.

Bronze Age Cash

From UPI (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds):

Objects suggest Europeans used standardized money 4,000 years ago

New research suggests groups of farmers living in Central Europe were exchanging standardized money — in the form of bronze rings and ribs — during the early Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago.

According to the latest archaeological analysis, described Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, the use of standardized money in Central Europe may have developed independently from money systems that emerged in the Far East and Mediterranean.

Throughout the 20th century, hoards of rings, ribs and axe blades made of bronze have been recovered from early Bronze Age archaeological sites in Europe.

Most have been found in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Poland, but also in France in Denmark.

Researchers have previously surmised that these bronze objects, of similar size, shape and weight, constituted a primitive money supply.

However, proving as much has proven difficult.

“It’s an idea that has been around for some time. There’s a paper by a German professor, Majolie Lenerz-de Wilde, from the nineties who had a first go at trying to show this using histograms,” study author Maikel Kuijpers told UPI in an email.

“The problem is that such a method does not work very well. So, it remained a plausible but poorly evidence suggestion,” said Kuijpers, an assistant professor of European prehistory at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Instead of relying on histograms — the visualization of numerical data — Kuijpers and Leiden colleague Catalin Popa used a psychology principle called the Weber fraction to analyze more than 5,000 bronze objects.

“We went back to this data, added a lot more and — importantly — developed a novel method to calculate standardization from the perspective that people in the past were not weighing with the use of scales, but with their hands,” Kuijpers said.

The Weber fraction describes differences in weight that are imperceptible to human hands – when two objects are similar enough in weight, they feel the same in a person’s hands.

Researchers determined 70 percent of the bronze rings were within the Weber fraction. Smaller but significant portions of the ribs and axes also fell within the Weber fraction.

More (including pictures) at the link.

News from Pompeii

From Reuters:

Archaeologists uncover ancient street food shop in Pompeii

ROME (Reuters) – Archaeologists in Pompeii, the city buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, have made the extraordinary find of a frescoed hot food and drinks shop that served up the ancient equivalent of street food to Roman passersby.

Known as a termopolium, Latin for hot drinks counter, the shop was discovered in the archaeological park’s Regio V site, which is not yet open the public, and unveiled on Saturday.

Traces of nearly 2,000-year-old food were found in some of the deep terra cotta jars containing hot food which the shop keeper lowered into a counter with circular holes.

The front of the counter was decorated with brightly coloured frescoes, some depicting animals that were part of the ingredients in the food sold, such as a chicken and two ducks hanging upside down.

“This is an extraordinary find. It’s the first time we are excavating an entire termopolium,” said Massimo Ossana, director of the Pompeii archaeological park.

Archaeologists also found a decorated bronze drinking bowl known as a patera, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups, wine flasks and amphora.

More (including photos) at the link

Mayan Plumbing

From Smithsonian Magazine (hat tip: Dan Franke):

Researchers Uncover 2,000-Year-Old Maya Water Filtration System

The city of Tikal purified one of its reservoirs with technology comparable to modern systems

More than 2,000 years ago, the Maya built a complex water filtration system out of materials collected miles away. Now, reports Michelle Starr for Science Alert, researchers conducting excavations at the ancient city of Tikal in northern Guatemala have discovered traces of this millennia-old engineering marvel.

As detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, the study’s authors found that the Maya built the Corriental reservoir filtration system as early as 2,185 years ago, not long after settlement of Tikal began around 300 B.C.

The system—which relied on crystalline quartz and zeolite, a compound of silicon and aluminum, to create what the researchers call a “molecular sieve” capable of removing harmful microbes, heavy metals and other pollutants—remained in use until the city’s abandonment around 1100. Today, the same minerals are used in modern water filtration systems.

More at the link

An Age of Plunder

From the New York Times (hat tip: Dan Franke): a review of Toby Wilkinson, A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology

No civilization has visited itself upon the Western imagination as powerfully as that of ancient Egypt. With its fathomless mystery, its architectural majesty, its artistic inspiration, civic order and sheer volume of wealth, ancient Egypt has captivated us and compelled us not just to understand it but to possess it — to literally grab our shovels, dig up its stuff and haul it home with us.

Who’s “us”? By all accounts just about everybody in history who found himself in Egypt while the digging was easy, and even long after Egyptian law made it difficult. The idea was that possession of a nice piece of ancient Egyptian art would lend a stamp of legitimacy — a greater greatness, let’s say — to any empire or, indeed, any private back garden in Dorset. The Greeks pondered it, the Romans started it and various Europeans got awfully good at it. But, as the Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson demonstrates in his excellent new book, “A World Beneath the Sands,” nobody in history succumbed more feverishly to the compulsion to take hold of ancient Egypt nor succeeded at it more thoroughly than the British and the French.

Wilkinson’s ambitious focus is the hundred years of Egyptology between Jean-Francois Champollion’s groundbreaking deciphering of the Rosetta stone in 1822 and Howard Carter’s sensational discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. During that century of exploration and excavation the science of Egyptology was shaped as much by benevolent curiosity and genuine scholarly interest as by the cutthroat imperialist rivalry between Britain and France.

Both nations had a burning desire to best the other in the struggle to gain control of Egypt politically and archaeologically, and both used the Egyptian collections in their national museums — the Louvre and the British Museum — as the measure and symbol of their success. Whoever seized the biggest statues and tallest obelisks, whoever got the best and the most of Egyptian antiquity and lugged it home and filled their museum with it would be the de facto winner. Winner of what exactly isn’t Wilkinson’s present concern, but his evidence suggests it meant more than just colonial expansion or the crucial access to India that Egypt offered. The bitter contest was, it seems, as much pathological as it was practical.

Read the whole thing, and also Brian Fagan, The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt (2004). 

The Gjellestad Longship

News from Norway (hat tip: David Winter):

Norway excavates a Viking longship fit for a king

Pyramids, castles, palaces: symbols of power and status have taken many forms down the ages, and for the Vikings what really counted was the longship.

This month Norwegian archaeologists hope to complete their excavation of a rare, buried longship at Gjellestad, an ancient site south-east of Oslo. It is the first such excavation in Norway for about a century.

Most of the ocean-going ship has rotted away over the centuries, but archaeologist Dr Knut Paasche believes the layout of the iron nails will still enable a replica to be built eventually.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) revealed it to be about 19m (62ft) long and 5m (16ft) wide – putting it on a par with the well-preserved Oseberg and Gokstad Viking ships on display in Oslo.

Those ships were found on the western side of the wide Oslo Fjord.

In the 9th Century the Vikings started using sails, but they still needed strong rowers too for their epic voyages.

In their longships they travelled all around the British Isles, raiding coastal communities, then settling and leaving a legacy of fine craftsmanship, as well as Norse words and names.

The Norse Vikings ventured to Iceland and some then settled in Greenland and Vinland in North America – what later became Newfoundland.

The Gjellestad warrior longship dates from the pre-Christian Viking period 750-850 AD, Mr Paasche of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (Niku) told the BBC.

“We don’t yet know if this was a rowing or sailing ship. Others, like the Gokstad and Tune ships, combined rowing and sailing,” he said.

Study of the keel will be crucial and, he said, “the keel looks very different from the others, which is really exciting”.

More at the link

The Dismal Swamp

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom

The Great Dismal Swamp was once a thriving refuge for runaways

The worse it gets, as I wade and stumble through the Great Dismal Swamp, the better I understand its history as a place of refuge. Each ripping thorn and sucking mudhole makes it clearer. It was the dense, tangled hostility of the swamp and its enormous size that enabled hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of escaped slaves to live here in freedom.

We don’t know much about them, but thanks to the archaeologist hacking through the mire ahead of me, we know they were out here, subsisting in hidden communities, and using almost nothing from the outside world until the 19th century. The Dismal Swamp covered great tracts of southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, and its vegetation was far too thick for horses or canoes. In the early 1600s, Native Americans fleeing the colonial frontier took refuge here, and they were soon joined by fugitive slaves, and probably some whites escaping indentured servitude or hiding from the law. From about 1680 to the Civil War, it appears that the swamp communities were dominated by Africans and African-Americans.

Read the whole thing.

In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history

From Business Insider:

The origin story of Stonehenge has baffled archaeologists for centuries.

The mysterious monument, erected in two waves of flurried construction 5,000 and 4,500 years ago, on the UK’s Salisbury Plain features two distinct types of stone slabs in half circles.

Researchers traced one stone type, the smaller bluestones, to a site in Wales. But the origin of Stonehenge’s 30-foot (9-meter) sandstone boulders, called sarsens, remained an unsolved puzzle until now. 

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, Stonehenge’s builders dragged most of these 50,000-pound (22,700-kilogram) sarsens from a woodland area in Wiltshire.

The area, called West Woods, is more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the monument — “which is insane really if you think about it,” David Nash, the lead author of the study, told Business Insider.

He added, “Our results suggest that most of the sarsens at Stonehenge share a common chemistry, which is why we’re saying they come from the same area.”

The findings could help archaeologists figure out how the builders transported the giant stones south.

More at the link.