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SUMMER TERM : JANUARY 2020
BOLIVIE - Cueva del Chileno - In a cave in present-day Bolivia, scientists this year found something remarkable: a cache of drug paraphernalia, stashed in a small pouch that dates back 1,000 years. The international team of archaeologists identified traces of five different psychoactive chemicals in a leather bag made from three fox snouts, which dates back to somewhere between 905 and 1170 CE. The pouch was found in an archeological site in Cueva del Chileno, a rock shelter in the Andes in present-day Bolivia. Using liquid chromatography in tandem mass spectrometry, they found that the kit contained traces of cocaine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), harmine, bufotenine, and benzoylecgonine — psychoactive chemicals that are all found in various plants native to South America. “Our results indicate that this is the largest number of psychoactive compounds found in association with a single archaeological artifact from South America,” the team of researchers commented. “The chemical residues of at least five compounds that are known to have psychotropic effects on humans, present in the fox-snout pouch, imply that multiple plants were used to induce extraordinary states of consciousness, potentially within a range of ritual and healing contexts.” The objects also included animal-skin pouches and a headband, as well as spatulas, two trays, and an intricately carved tube — which the archeologists suspect may have been used for sniffing the plant-based psychedelic drug. The new finding also showed that the plants used to produce these drugs do not grow in the same area where these artifacts were found, suggesting that there may have been an established international trade in psychedelic substances. The site is located in the mountains, at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet above sea level, while most of these plants grow in the lowland forests of the Amazon. “Because these plants are foreign to the Lípez highlands, it remains to be established whether they were acquired through trading networks or directly by the shamans themselves,” the researchers write.
CHINE - Yancun - A tomb dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was discovered in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the province's archaeology institute said Tuesday. The tomb, found in Yancun Village, Xixian New District, is believed to belong to Xue Shao, the first husband of Princess Taiping, daughter of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty. The Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology worked on the excavation of the tomb from August to December this year, and unearthed a total of 120 relics, most of which are painted pottery figures. A well-preserved 600-word epigraph was also found on a square stone with a length of 73 cm on each side, which records Xue Shao's pedigree, government post, cause of death, burial time, offspring and other information. The tomb, 23 km from the site of the ancient city of Chang'an, known as Xi'an today, faces south and is 34.68 meters long and 11.11 meters deep, said Li Ming, a researcher with the institute. The discovery fills an important gap as there is no biography for Xue Shao in the "Old Book of Tang" and the "New Book of Tang," two classic pieces recording the Tang Dynasty's history, and helps the study of the epigraphs and the tomb layouts, as well as the political culture of the period, Li said.
ISRAEL – Ashkelon - Archaeologists have discovered the well-preserved remains of a 2,000-year-old factory for making garum, the fabled fish sauce that the Romans took with them on all their journeys of conquest. The Israel Antiquities Authority came across the small cetaria, or factory for making the prized sauce, while inspecting the site of a planned sports park on the outskirts of the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel's Kan public broadcaster reports. It is one of the very few garum factories found in the eastern Mediterranean, despite the Romans' long presence in the area and the premium they put on the pungent fermented sauce. Most surviving examples are to be found in the Iberian Peninsula and southern Italy. Dr Tali Erickson-Gini told The Times of Israel, as the Romans added garum to almost all their dishes to give them a salty savoury kick. "It's said that making garum produced such a stench that cetariae were located some distance from the towns they served, and in this case the factory is about two kilometres from ancient Ashkelon," Dr Tali Erickson-Gini said, according to Kan. Although the garum factory was gradually abandoned after the Romans left, later rulers found the site was also suitable for cultivating grapes. In the fifth century CE, a local Byzantine monastery made a living from producing wine there, and the remains of three winepresses have also been discovered at the site.
GRECE – Mount Athos - Archaeologists are eagerly awaiting the results of tests to date the bones of a female found beneath the stone floor of a chapel in a monastery in Mount Athos – the monastic republic that has been a male-only preserve since the 10th Century. The mystery of the woman’s remains, found amongst the bones of possibly six males, was unearthed when architect restorer Phaidon Hadjiantoniou was conducting conservation work in the chapel of St Athanasios that is part of the Monastery of Pantokrator. “There are times during pirate raids and hostile incursions that monks are known to have opened their doors to women but it is very rare. There is the famous tale of a Serbian king who brought his wife to Athos but, throughout, she was carried and never allowed to step on Athonite soil. Carpets were placed in all monastery rooms to ensure that even there she did not touch the ground,” said Mr Hadjiantoniou. Women have not been allowed on Mount Athos since the 10th century – apart from cats, all female animals are also barred. at least seven individuals had been re-buried beneath the chapel’s stone floor. No skulls were found in the pit but seven jaw bones were discovered. “Secondary burials, like this one, are not easy because the bones have been moved from their original burial, so information has been lost. But it also tells us that these people were important enough to dig up a floor of an important church and place them there. That takes a lot of effort by the living,” said Ms Antikas-Wynn. She added that it was a mystery as to when the remains were moved in the first place and it was evident that care was taken in transferring them. Smaller bones that could easily have been overlooked – including ossified thyroid cartilage – were among the fragments found.
MEXIQUE – Villa Rica - Archaeologists have discovered two iron ship anchors off Mexico’s Gulf Coast that they say date back 500 years and could have belonged to Spaniard Hernan Cortes’ fleet, which landed in 1519 before overthrowing the Aztec empire. The anchors, found on the ocean floor near the former Spanish settlement of Villa Rica in southeastern Veracruz state, are well preserved. Their discovery, along with an anchor believed to be from the 15th century that was found last year, has reassured archaeologists that they are on track to find more artifacts documenting the European invasion of Mexico. They have identified 15 other sites that may also turn up anchors, which could help pinpoint the spot where other Spanish galleons under Cortes’ command might have sunk and increase the odds of finding wooden hulls and other remnants. Cortes famously burnt the first ships he and his crew used to sail to Mexico, forcing his small army of treasure-hunters to march inland. Archaeologists dragged magnetometers through the ocean to search for the artifacts, finally finding the two anchors at a depth of 10 to 15 meters (33-49 feet), buried beneath a thick layer of sediment. The largest anchor measures nearly 4 meters long and is about 1.6 meters wide.
GRECE – Aidonia - The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport announced on Tuesday, 17 December, the discovery of two royal tombs dating back to the Mycenaean Period (1650 to 1100BC) at Aidonia, near Nemea in the northeastern Peloponnese. The first structure, whose roof was still intact, contained two burials and the bones of 14 more people who were brought in from other sites. The second tomb, whose roof had collapsed, contained three primary burials, a ministry spokesman said.The Aidonia site was first excavated in the late 1970s and contains up to 20 tombs of the Mycenaean era. It was a major centre of that civilization situated as it is near the Bronze Age palace of Pylos which is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey as the seat of wise King Nestor. The archaeologists, who are from the University of Cincinnati, have been working on the site over the last two years. They recovered clay pots and figurines from the tombs as well as other small objects such as a gold seal ring (see below) and a golden amulet etched with an Egyptian goddess which reflects the extent of trade links in Bronze Age Greece. The ministry said the larger of the recently discovered tombs was 12 metres in diameter at floor level and the surviving stone walls rose to a height of 4.5 metres which is less than half of its original height. The second tomb which is two thirds the size of the larger structure with two metres of its wall surviving. Both were of the Tholos type of underground construction used to bury Mycenaean royals. In 2015, a grave close to the present site yielded a rich trove of gold and silver treasure, jewelry and bronze arms that had been buried with a man who is thought to have been an early ruler of Pylos.
ITALIE – x Pise - Its alarming tilt is known the world over, but the identity of the architect who designed the Leaning Tower of Pisa has remained a mystery. Italian scholars now believe they have come up with the answer, having analysed a cryptic piece of stone that was embedded in the base of the monument and found in 1838 during excavations. Until now, the stone was thought to have come from the sarcophagus of a 12th century Pisan architect called Bonanno Pisano. It bears his name in Latin. But archaeologists from the Scuola Normale Superiore, a prestigious university in Pisa, have managed to decipher a further two lines of the badly damaged inscription and think it proves that Pisano was the architect of the world famous monument. They say the lines read: “Mìrificùm qui cèrtus opùs condéns statui ùnum, Pìsanùs civìs Bonànnus nòmine dìcor” which translates as “I, who without doubt have erected this marvellous work that is above all others, am the citizen of Pisa by the name of Bonanno.” There has been speculation over the centuries as to who was behind the unique design of the tower. Among the most commonly mentioned names are the architects Gherardo di Gherardo and Giovani di Simone. Bonanno Pisano has also been mooted, most notably by Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century painter, architect and writer best known for his biographies of Renaissance artists. The latest discovery would seem to support Vasari’s theory. Bonanno was also a sculptor and is credited with creating magnificent bronze doors for the cathedral of Monreale in Sicily as well as bronze doors for Pisa’s cathedral. The building of the emblematic bell tower began in 1173 but by the time the third level was finished, it was already tilting badly due to the soft sand and clay that lies beneath its foundations. Despite the pronounced lean, work resumed and it was completed in the second half of the 14th century. Galileo took advantage of its pronounced overhang, dropping objects of different weight from the top as a way of showing the constancy of gravity.