Stories tagged archaeology

Here’s an opportunity to participate in an archaeological excavation right here in the Twin Cities! The Elliot Park Neighborhood Archaeology Project is a five-day community event starting today centered on excavation of a local, historic archaeological site. For the fourth year in a row, archaeologists, students and community members will work together on exploring the history that lies buried in Minneapolis. Anyone can participate. Download a flier to learn more about this opportunity.

Jun
07
2007

Does everyone remember Otzi the Iceman? The little frozen mummy they found in the Alps, back in the early Nineties? Of course you do. How could you forget something like that?

Otzi, at about 5300 years old, bears the distinction of being one of the oldest natural mummies in the world. Also, a five feet, five inches, and eighty-four pounds, he is one of the smallest people I am afraid of. And not just because he’s dead.
And the award for "most hardcore death" goes to...: That's right, to Otzi the Iceman for dying high on a mountain, covered in tattoos and the blood of his enemies, and shot though the shoulder with an arrow. We envy you, but only slightly.
And the award for "most hardcore death" goes to...: That's right, to Otzi the Iceman for dying high on a mountain, covered in tattoos and the blood of his enemies, and shot though the shoulder with an arrow. We envy you, but only slightly.

New research has finally put to rest (as it were) the question of Otzi’a death. It turns out that Otzi died as he lived: on a mountain, and totally hardcore. I will now list the evidence for this conclusion, in order of increasing bad-assness.

1) Otzi dressed all in leather. His cloak was made of woven grass, but his belt, vest, leggings, loincloth, and shoes were all leather. We know that’s what tough people wear.
2) Otzi wore a bearskin hat. I would never mess with anyone in a bearskin hat. Bears don’t give up their skin easily.
3) Otzi carried around a prehistoric medicine kit. Maybe this isn’t that hardcore, but it seems like a good idea. He had a string of two kinds of polypore mushrooms, which have antibacterial properties. Way to think ahead, Otzi!
4) Otzi had 57 tattoos. No elaboration needed.
5) Otzi carried an axe, a knife, a quiver of bone-tipped arrows, and a longbow. For comparison, I usually carry around my house keys, and sometimes a pen. John Rambo and Otzi probably shopped at the same stores, come to think of it.
5) The blood of four non-Otzi people was found on Otzi’s cloak. Whoa! After DNA analysis revealed this, some people began to speculate that Otzi may have been part of a raiding party. After baby showers, these are the roughest, toughest kind of parties around.
6) A recently constructed 3D model of Otzi’s body shows that he died of blood loss after getting shot with an arrow under his left collar bone. Previous examinations had revealed a wound beneath a matching tear in Otzi’s (leather) vest, inside of which was lodged an arrowhead, but the new CT scans clearly show that the arrow had torn an artery, which would have caused severe bleeding, shock, and eventually death by heart attack. A large haematoma, or a collection of blood from internal bleeding, was also revealed, which might suggest that the arrow was pulled out of the wound, shortly before death. The chances of surviving this sort of wound, even today, would be around 40%.

Wow. My hat goes off to you, little iceman.

There have been some cool shows about the iceman, but even wikipedia’s article is pretty interesting.

And here’s an article about the recent research on Otzi’s body.

Jun
05
2007

Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus.  Photo from Flickr.com by 2-Dog-Farm.
Chickens discover America: New evidence indicates that Pacific Islanders brought chickens to Chile 100 years before Columbus. Photo from Flickr.com by 2-Dog-Farm.

American Indians were the first people on this continent, having arrived here from Asia no later than about 10,000 BC. But over the years, they had some visitors. We all know the poem:

In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

And visitors to The Science Museum of Minnesota know that Vikings reached America some 500 years before that.

But now comes word of another possible visitor. Archaeologists digging along the southern coast of Chile have uncovered a chicken bone. No big deal, you might think. Except :

  1. chickens aren’t native to the Americas;
  2. chickens don’t swim, and they can’t fly very far. This bird did not get to Chile on its own—someone had to bring it; and
  3. the bone dates to the 1300s or early 1400s, well before Europeans started colonizing the New World.

What’s more startling, DNA recovered from the bone is more similar to that of chickens from Pacific islands than to those from Europe. The scientists who uncovered this bone consider this to be evidence that Polynesians visited America perhaps 200 years before Columbus did.

The Polynesians were the greatest seafaring people in history, colonizing virtually every inhabitable island from Madagascar to Hawaii. It’s entirely possible that they could have made the final leap to South America at the far eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. However, scientists aren’t certain how long they stayed. While there is some evidence of cultural influence – Polynesian and Chilean fish hooks show some similarities – there is yet no evidence of Polynesians living permanently in South America.

May
15
2007

Israeli archaeologists think they've discovered King Herod's tomb. (The original article has video and a map.)

Herod, elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate, was a prolific builder. He expanded the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem. But he's also, according to the New Testament, the king who ordered the slaying of all infants in Bethlehem.

No skeletons or other remains have been found, but the archaeologists did uncover a sarcophagus--smashed to pieces by ancient vandals. The scientists think that Jewish rebels--in an act of symbolic vengeance against the Roman rulers they came to hate--probably destroyed the tomb some 70 years after Herod's death.

Check out the May "Object of the Month"--it's a Roman glass bottle found in Caesarea Maritimas, in Israel. (You can see photos of the ruins, and a map.) Caesaria was one of several cities built by King Herod

Mar
08
2007

This artifact was the first of the about 50 found near Walker, Minnesota.: Photo courtesy Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program.
This artifact was the first of the about 50 found near Walker, Minnesota.: Photo courtesy Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program.
During a routine survey of a road construction site near Walker, Minnesota in 2005, archeologists discovered a flake of stone that appeared to have been intentionally chipped from a larger rock. Over the next couple of months digging continued at the site, and some 50 artifacts, thought to possibly be crude stone tools used for chopping, cutting, or scraping, were found.

Initial studies on the stones indicate they are between 13,000 and 15,000 years old. This is potentially significant, as humans are not thought to have populated the Americas until 9,000 years ago.

(Listen to an MPR story on the discovery from January.)

Could humans have lived in Minnesota 13,000 years ago?

If the artifacts are 13,000 year old stone tools, it would be the first indication that humans lived in North America during the Pleistocene – from 1.8 million years ago to 11,500 years ago. Some researchers have suggested that the part of Minnesota where these artifacts were found may have been an "oasis" at the time—an area free of ice cover, with an access route to the southeast making human habitation possible.

Features of this stone might suggest that it could have been a crude knife.: Photo courtesy Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program.
Features of this stone might suggest that it could have been a crude knife.: Photo courtesy Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program.
Not everyone agrees

Not everyone who has had a chance to study the artifacts agrees that they are ancient stone tools. Several Minnesota state archeologists argue the stones are the result of natural causes such as glacial movement and flowing water. They argue that Minnesota 13,000 years would have been extremely cold and covered by glaciers and therefore too inhospitable a location for humans to live, and that insufficient time has been spent accurately dating the artifacts.

This has not changed the minds of the archaeologists who originally made the finds. They argue that the analysis of the artifacts is still in too early of a stage to make a definitive decision on their authenticity. They plan further excavation at the site this summer and hope to uncover more artifacts to further solidify their claim.

(Listen to an MPR story from February on whether the artifacts are in fact stone tools.)

Archaeologist have discovered the remains of an ancient marketplace in southern Athens. The ruins date from 300 to 500 BC.

Feb
27
2007

Family tomb of Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth?
Jesus of Nazareth?

If you think the Da Vinci Code was controversial, wait until you learn about "The Lost Tomb of Jesus". Combining the popularity of CSI and NUMB3RS, Academy Award winner James Cameron has put together a documentary about a family crypt possibly containing the bones of Jesus. Ten ossuaries (stone boxes) were labeled with the names of Jesus and those believed to refer to his mother, father, brothers, wife, and son. Amos Kloner estimated that the tomb contained 35 bodies. (Antiquot,Jerusalem, Vol. 29, pp. 22)

Put on your thinking caps

Faith does not require evidence. If you wish to review the evidence, though, you can start by going to http://www.discovery.com/tomb. Discovery also has a web site with flash navigation to maps, family trees, videos, etc. Be sure to click on "Download Documents" found by choosing "explore tomb" then "enter the tomb". The link is the middle one at the bottom (pdf). There is a discussion forum, too.

How scientific is the evidence?

Please use our comments box to discuss this event as it unfolds. I find I can learn about critical thinking and scientific methods by listening in.

Timeline of events

March 28, 1980

Talpiot, Jerusalem Construction work uncovers untouched tomb.

March 28- April 14

Israeli Antiquities Authority excavate tomb. Site survey and mapmade by Shimon Gibson

1996

"A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in the East Talpiot" published by Amos Kloner

2002

Simcha Jacobovici researches "James son of Joseph, broher of Jesus" ossuary

2003

Jacobovici meets Kloner and learns of "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary

June 18, 2003

"James" ossuary declared a forgery by Israel Antiquities Authority

2004

Jacobovici discovers futher information about other ossuaries related to New Testament

March 21, 2005

James Cameron discusses financing a film

September 15-16, 2006

Robotic cameras lowered down "breathing pipes" capture images of a different tomb - one that has not been excavated and still holds numerous ossuaries.

Archaeologists have discovered several new tombs near the pyramids of Saqqara. The tombs -- of doctors, dentists, scribes, and even a butler -- give a fuller picture of life in ancient Egypt.