Discovery of Lindow Man (1984)

Friday, December 28, 2012

In 1984 the body of a man preserved in peat was discovered in Cheshire, England. Conserved in his entirety, the body of Lindow man provided archaeologists with a wide range of information about his life and death more than 2,000 years ago.

Approximately seven hundred hundred human bodies have been discovered in the peat bogs of northern Europe, but few survive intact, primarily because of the circumstances of their discovery, usually as the result of peatcutting machinery. Peat bogs provide waterlogged, anaerobic, and antibacterial conditions that preserve human soft tissue. Bodies of men and women have been found, but no children's bodies have yet been found. Many have been dated to medieval times by their clothing and accompanying artifacts, but the most interesting and best-preserved bodies date between from 2,800 years ago (ca. 800 BC) to AD 200, from the period of the European Iron Age until the Roman Empire. The most famous of these intact bodies are the Tollund, Grauballe, and Lindow men, named after the peat bogs from which they were recovered. While some of the bog bodies were the result of accidental deaths, some are wetland burials, some are murder victims hidden in bogs, and some would have been suicide burials excluded from Christian graveyards. A few are thought to have been ritual burials and/or executions.

The conservation and analysis of these bog bodies was pioneered by Danish archaeologist Hans Helbaek, who worked on both the Tollund and Graubolle men, who were found in peat bogs in central Jutland in Denmark. Tollund man, discovered in 1950, died 2,100 years ago (ca. 100 BC). Based on the account of the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about the practices of the Germanic tribes of the north in his Germania, we know that "cowards, shirkers and sodomites are pressed down under a wicker hurdle into the slimy mud of a bog," while "traitors and deserters," he also noted, "are hanged on trees."

It is possible that Tollund man was a criminal or a victim of ritual sacrifice. He was naked except for a pointy leather cap, and he had been strangled by the noose around his neck before being thrown into the bog. His last meal was a gruel of barley, linseed, knotweed, dock, and camomile seeds. Graubolle man was discovered in 1952. His throat had been cut, and he had been hit on the head as well. His stomach contents comprised sixty-three varieties of seeds, such as rye, buttercup, nightshade, clover, and spelt, and he had died 2,070 years ago (ca. 70 BC).

Helbaek's analysis of food residues laid the foundations for their continued use and refinement by archaeologists. Unfortunately, techniques of preservation were not so successful in the 1950s, and only the heads of the Tollund and Graubolle men survive in museums today.

Lindow man was luckier to be unearthed later in the twentieth century- when techniques of freeze-drying had improved, and he survives as he was found, because of the work of the conservation staff of the British Museum. Lindow man, however, had one leg missing-probably because of peat-cutting machines, which destroyed another two to three bog bodies lying near his before they were turned off.

Lindow man was approximately twenty-five years old when he died from being struck on the back of the head twice, garroted, and his throat cut. Perhaps he too was a ritual sacrifice. He lived during the first and second centuries AD. He was found naked except for a fur armband. As with the other bog bodies, everything was analyzed, from the species of fur on the band and the leather of the garrotte down to his blood group, the insects and pollen in the peat surrounding his body, and the contents of his last meal. His stomach contents comprised the remains of cereals, such as emmer, wheat, barley, and oats.

The decline in wetland areas across northern Europe, and the wide use of peat-cutting machinery mean that there will be even fewer bog bodies to analyze in the future.

Further Reading Greig, J. 2001. Palynology in archaeological research. In Encyclopedia of archaeology: History and discoveries, ed. T. Murray, 988-991. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Stead, I., J. Bourke, and D. Brothwell, eds. 1986. Lindow man, the body in the bog. London: British Museum. Turner, R., and R. G. Scaife. 1995. Bog bodies: New discoveries and new perspectives. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Press.

Publication of A Forest of Kings (1990)

In 1990 Mayanists Linda Schele and David Freidel published AForest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. Combining archaeological evidence with history deciphered from Maya inscriptions and glyphs, this popular book made the mysterious Maya more accessible to twentieth-century readers.

Linda Schele (1942-1998) had been deeply involved in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing and, by the 1980s, had developed a way of interpreting the essence of Maya society through the integration of studies of its art, archaeology, and hieroglyphic writing. This approach was exemplified in A Forest of Kings, which she cowrote with Freidel. Their story was one of war, territorial expansion, and the very great impact of ritual-particularly ritual associated with the passage of time. A Forest of Kings was structured around detailed discussions of each of the Maya centers that allowed Schele and Freidel to weave inscriptions, art, architecture, and archaeology into a persuasive tapestry of life among the classic Maya. Significantly, Schele and Freidel sought to maximize the impact of the deciphered inscriptions in the sense that they could "go beyond" the translated text and empirical evidence to produce plausible interpretations of Maya life.

Further Reading Coe, M. 2000. Breaking the Maya code: The last great decipherment of an ancient script. Rev. ed. London: Penguin. Proskouriakoff, T. 1960. Historical implications of a pattern of dates at Piedras Negras, Guatemala. American Antiquity 25 (4): 454-475. Schele, L., and D. Freidel. 1990. A forest of kings: The untold story of the ancient Maya. New York: Morrow. Solomon, C. 2003. Tatiana Proskouriakoff, interpreting the Ancient Maya. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Europe's oldest prehistoric town found in Bulgaria

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Archaeologists in eastern Bulgaria have unearthed the oldest prehistoric town ever found in Europe and an ancient salt production site that may explain massive riches discovered in the region.

Excavations at the site near the modern-day town of Provadia have so far uncovered the remains of a settlement of two-storey houses, a series of pits used for rituals, as well as parts of a gate, bastion structures and three later fortification walls - all carbon dated between the middle and late Chalcolithic age from 4,700 to 4,200 BC.

"We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC," said Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology, after announcing the findings earlier this month.

Dr Nikolov and his team have worked since 2005 to excavate the Provadia-Solnitsata settlement, located near the Black Sea resort of Varna.

A small necropolis, or burial ground, was also found this year, but has yet to be studied more extensively and could keep archaeologists busy for generations.

Archaeologist Krum Bachvarov from the National Institute of Archaeology described the latest find as "extremely interesting" due to the peculiar burial positions and objects found in the graves, which differed from other neolithic graves found in Bulgaria.

"The huge walls around the settlement, which were built very tall and with stone blocks... are also something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in south-east Europe so far," Dr Bachvarov added.

Well fortified, a religious centre and most importantly, a major production centre for a specialised commodity that was traded far and wide, the settlement of about 350 people met all the conditions to be considered the oldest known "prehistoric town" in Europe.

"At a time when people did not know the wheel and cart, these people hauled huge rocks and built massive walls. Why? What did they hide behind them? [It was for one reason] - salt," Dr Nikolov said.

'As precious as gold'

Dr Nikolov says the area is home to huge rock-salt deposits, some of the largest in south-east Europe and the only ones to be exploited as early as the sixth millennium BC.

These deposits were key to Provadia-Solnitsata's success and survival.

Nowadays, salt is still mined there but 7,500 years ago it had a completely different significance.

"Salt was an extremely valued commodity in ancient times, as it was both necessary for people's lives and was used as a method of trade and currency starting from the sixth millennium BC up to 600 BC," the researcher explained.

Salt extraction at the site first began in about 5,500 BC when people started boiling brine from the nearby salty springs in dome kilns found inside the settlement, Dr Nikolov said, citing carbon dating results from a British laboratory in Glasgow.

"This is the first time in south-east Europe and western Anatolia that archaeologists have come upon traces of salt production at such an early age, the end of the sixth millennium BC, and managed to prove it with both archaeological and scientific data," Dr Bachvarov confirmed.

Salt production was moved outside the settlement towards the end of the sixth millennium and productivity gradually increased. After being boiled, the salt was baked to make small bricks.

Dr Nikolov said production increased steadily from 5,500 BC, when one load from the kilns in Provadia-Solnitsata yielded about 25 kilogrammes of dry salt. By 4,700-4,500 BC, that amount had increased to 4,000 to 5,000 kilos of salt.

"At a time when salt was as precious as gold you can imagine what this meant," he said.

The salt trade gave the local population huge economic power, which could explain the gold riches found in graves at the Varna Necropolis and dating back to around 4,300 BC.

The 3,000 jewellery pieces and ritual objects have been internationally recognised as the oldest gold treasure in the world, raising questions as to how a culture of farmers and stock-breeders from a region otherwise poor in natural resources could acquire such wealth.

The excavations have however suffered from a chronic lack of state funding, which Dr Nikolov has replaced with private donations.

A British anthropologist, a Japanese ceramics expert and a team of radiocarbon specialists from Germany have worked on the site for free this season.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Charles Gates, Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey

atrium In a Roman house, an unroofed room with a basin below.
ostrakon A fragment of pottery or stone on which something has been written or drawn.
peristyle court In Greek and Roman architecture, a courtyard surrounded by a colonnaded portico.
stele (pl. stelai, stelae) A stone slab, usually thin in section, placed vertically; often decorated with inscriptions, relief sculptures, and/or paintings.
tell An artificial mound consisting of the remains of settlements, especially the air-dried mud brick favored as a building material. Arabic tell ¼ Persian tepe, Turkish ho" yu" k.

Ancient Cities Defined
Cities arose fairly recently in the long history of humankind. Changes in climate c. 12 000 years ago led to the end of the Ice Ages, to a warmer, moister climate that in certain parts of the world favored the development of controlled agriculture and animal husbandry. No longer were people dependent on the collecting or hunting of wild food sources. Thanks to agriculture, in particular, permanent, year-round settlements developed. As farmers settled together in small villages, as food surpluses were registered, certain people were freed for other tasks - crafts, religious activities, etc. Increase in population eventually resulted in cities, with such features as monumental public architecture, figural art, writing, and social stratification.

These changes, and the rise of cities, occurred at different times in different parts of the world, with many regions never having cities at all. The earliest cities appeared in the Near East. Here, the changes described above began to take place in the eleventh to tenth millennia BC. By the fourth millennium BC, developed cities had appeared. This article focuses on cities in this region - the Near East, Egypt, and the Mediterranean basin - with a concluding section on Teotihuacan (Mexico), as a New World comparison.

Daily Life Defined
`Daily life' in ancient cities comprises many elements. The polarity between private and public is one basic way to structure any study. Private life centers on the house. The architecture and objects (furniture, decorations, utensils, and tools) suggest family relationships and activities happening in the house. Gender and age relationships are important: male and female, and children, mature adults, and the elderly. The life cycle with its rites of passage can serve as a focus: birth, marriage, old age, death. Household functions include food preparation and eating (or dining), hygiene, sleeping, socializing, etc.

The public arena centers on social relationships, political organization, and the maintenance of order, economic matters (making a living, commerce and trade), and religion. Within a social hierarchy, different ranks in society, from rulers to slaves, have their various occupations. Other functions of city life were also public: religious practices, for one, and certain entertainments, such as the Roman bath. But like private life, public life takes place in a physical setting: buildings, monuments, streets, open spaces, perhaps in connection with certain natural features (rivers, hills, mountains, the sea, harbors).What these elements look like, individually and in relation with others, is an essential part of recreating daily life in ancient cities.

The Archaeology of Daily Life in Cities
Archaeology as a Source of Information
The possibility of stepping into vanished worlds has a great appeal. Archaeology, by exposing ruined cities, their buildings and their artifacts, is an important vehicle for making this possible. For many, a visit to an archaeological site is more exciting if one gets the sense of what living there in a past time period was like. But for historic periods, ancient texts have also been a prime source of information about ancient life. The Hebrew Bible and Greek and Latin literature contain infinite details, combined with the names of people and places. Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Mayan texts, now readable thanks to decipherments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also offer much. For some, the written word is supreme; the reality of place and object, the discipline of archaeology, are supplementary to the texts. These preferences can be reflected in the structures of academic study in universities, museums, and research centers. 

We who wish to enter ancient worlds should not feel forced to choose, for each source of information makes a valuable contribution. We might well ask, though, what do archaeological excavations contribute that literary sources cannot? Archaeology, the study of material culture, makes clear the visual and the tactile. Ancient sounds (music), ancient smells (perfumes, cooked foods, fuels), ancient tastes (foods, wines, other drinks) are lost to us. Actions of all sorts and communications between people are recorded in texts, and we can perhaps visualize them taking place. But archaeology gives us the physical environment in which we can place the people and events we read about: the natural setting, the built environment (the city, its plan, its architecture), and the objects that ancient peoples created.

The Preservations of Material Remains
The material remains from ancient times are never preserved in their entirety. Climatic, geological, and cultural conditions all play a part in preserving and destroying. A dry climate, such as that of Egypt, preserves organic materials well. In contrast, in a wet, damp climate, the human body and products from animals' bodies (leather, hair), wood and other plant products, and even metal objects rot, rust, corrode, disintegrate. The state of preservation affects our understanding of particular cultures. Textiles, for example, were an important product of daily life and commercial exchange, but they never survive with the completeness of a stone sculpture.

Geological factors also have impact. Earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, erosion, and the repeated flooding of silt-bearing rivers (such as the Nile) all have the potential to change the urban landscape. Human agency also has contributed to the alterations in the material record. In cities occupied for centuries, the building materials of structures collapsed or destroyed might be recycled into new constructions. At the very least, foundations of buildings typically remain. Another standard remnant of ancient city life is broken pottery, for ceramics, products of a technology first developed in the mid-Neolithic period (eighth millennium BC), do not disintegrate. Other cultural habits that have preserved artifacts include the placing of objects in tombs and the depositing of offerings in religious centers.

Variations of Research Design: Effects on Understanding Ancient Daily Life
The questions that archaeologists seek to answer are hugely varied. They can be shaped by the state of research in a particular region or time period, its pasttraditions and current problems, and by the academic training of the individual researcher. In the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Near East, approaches have included antiquarianism, the historical-descriptive, and the anthropological. These should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but overlap and complement each other, depending on the interests of the particular researcher.

Antiquarianism refers to an interest in an object by itself, a thing of beauty or curiosity. Compiling collections was often its goal. Today this term is negative, for it suggests that the interest in the object is shallow, divorced from any scientific study of the object's value in understanding the past.

A historical-descriptive approach has dominated the archaeology of our region in the past two centuries. Archaeologists seek to understand the material record by creating a framework for its study: by describing buildings and artifacts carefully, then by arranging them in chronological (or historical) order, and by seeing developments through time (diachronical): `what', `when', `where'. With such classifications in hand, scholars can then compare and contrast developments between sites, between regions, between time periods. In our region, such comparisons are generally made within a particular civilization (Egyptian, Greek, Roman). For the study of the material evidence of daily life, this approach has been essential.

Anthropological approaches, applied especially to prehistoric cities, seek to understand the material record as a reflection of human behavior. While historical-descriptive analyses are not ignored but valued as helpful tools, the archaeologist focuses on larger questions, such as `how' and `why'. In addition, the anthropologist is interested in comparing situations between different civilizations, to extract larger lessons about the nature of human societies.

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