Tag: archaeology

Long-Dead Bishop's Coffin is Full of Coffin Beetles

By Veronique Greenwood | July 31, 2012 3:55 pm

beetles

Archaeoentomology is a strange little corner of archaeology. Its practitioners search for signs of ancient bug life—fossilized eggs, old fly pupae, the like—in dig sites to tell, for instance, whether a body lay exposed before burial. One area they’d really like to know more about is what moves into coffins with bodies once they’ve, ah, started to go to earth. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout, to be sure, but which worms?

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Burn Your Corsets? Women Wore Bras 600 Years Ago

By Sophie Bushwick | July 19, 2012 11:32 am

medieval bra
This 15th century brassiere (right) looked remarkably similar
to a long-line bra from the 1950s

Until the modern invention of the brassiere with cups, women had to bolster their busts with either unsupportive bands of cloth or constricting corsets—so the common knowledge went. But hidden away in an Austrian castle, long lost to the sands of time, a few scraps of linen waited for their chance to rewrite undergarment history. Excavations at Lengberg Castle in 2008 revealed a vault that architects had crammed with filler during a 15th-century renovation. Among the twigs and straw, the scrap material also contained the remains of discarded shoes and clothing. The more than 2,700 textile fragments included linen shirt scraps, underwear—and what looked like modern bras, complete with distinct cups and decorative lace.

At first, archaeologists were skeptical because there was no other proof that bras with cups existed before the 1800s. However, the undergarments were discovered amongst typical medieval clothing, and eventually, carbon dating confirmed that the brassieres dated back 600 years.

medieval underwear
A pair of underwear also discovered at Lengberg Castle

So did medieval ladies really wear lacy bras and underwear like this skimpy pair? Well, that’s only half right: the sexy panties belonged to a man. The bras, on the other hand, prove that even during the medieval era, women did not have to rely solely on breast-bands. In the words of Meister Reuauß, a satirical 15th century poem, “Many a woman makes two bags for the breasts with / it she roams the streets.” The full poem, and more details about medieval lingerie, are available at the page dedicated to this finding at the University of Innsbruck website.

[via io9]

Images and translation courtesy of Beatrix Nutz / University of Innsbruck

Thick, 1,000-Year-Old Dental Plaque Is Gross, Useful to Archaeologists

By Sarah Zhang | May 8, 2012 2:46 pm

dental plaque
What big plaque deposits you have!

A dentist will tell you to floss everyday, but an archeologist might, well, have different priorities. Turns out the nitrogen and carbon isotopes in dental plaque can give archeologists a look at 1,000-year-old diets.

The buildup of plaque on this set of teeth is, um, impressive. (Cut the skull some slack though, this was before we had dentists to chide us about daily flossing.) Without the benefit of modern dental hygiene, the plaque built up over a lifetime, layer upon layer like a stalagmite. In a paper recently published in the Journal of Archeological Science researchers exhumed 58 medieval Spanish skeletons and scraped off their dental plaque to test carbon and nitrogen isotopes. When they compared the isotope profiles of the Spaniards to that of plaque from an Alaskan Inuit, the scientists found the ratio of nitrogen-15 to be quite different. That makes sense, as the Intuit ate a predominantly marine diet, and there is more nitrogen-15 in the protein molecules of organisms living in sea than on land.

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3,500-Year-Old Jokes Have Something to Say About Yo Mama

By Veronique Greenwood | January 27, 2012 2:14 pm

sargon“That’s what SHE said!”

The study of jokes and riddles written in ancient languages we barely understand is, well, a little tricky. But in a recent paper in the journal Iraq, Middle East scholars Michael Streck and Nathan Wasserman describe and interpret some thigh-slappers scrawled on a badly damaged tablet from Babylon, circa 1500 BC. The scribe’s cuneiform is on the sloppy side. The translations are uncertain, too—but no doubt the humor will still shine through. Here’s one riddle for your pleasure:

The deflowered (girl) did not become pregnant
The undeflowered (girl) became pregnant (-What is it?)

The answer is, of course, is “auxiliary forces.” That was your guess too, right? No? If it makes you feel better, Wasserman and Streck didn’t really get it, either.

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Archaeologists Trade in Their Primitive Tools for a Kinect

By Joseph Castro | August 4, 2011 3:58 pm

spacing is important

Is there any limit to the cool things you can do with Microsoft’s Kinect? Just last month we told you about students in Switzerland that used the device to create a gesture-controlled quadrocopter; now, students in California are looking to employ the Kinect in archaeological digs in Jordan.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Newsflash: Civilization Was Built on Llama Dung

By Valerie Ross | May 24, 2011 8:48 am

Far before the looming pyramids and the learned librarians at Alexandria, Egyptian civilization sprung up from the fertile banks of the Nile. Long predating the Inca empire and the sprawling structures of Macchu Picchu, Andean civilization emerged from a whole bunch of llama poop.

For civilizations to take root, people need to have enough food on hand to put time and energy into activities like waging war, building stuff, and composing epic poetry. In the high and rugged Andes, growing that much maize—the staple crop of ancient South America—isn’t easy. That’s what llama droppings are for, a new study suggests.

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When the World Was Young, and Human Cannibalism Wasn't Such a Big Deal

By Joseph Calamia | September 1, 2010 1:26 pm

hotdogNo dessert, caveman child, until you finish eating your human. Digging around in a Spanish cave called Gran Dolina, archaeologists have found butchered humans’ fossilized bones. Researchers say the bones show that cave dwellers skinned, decapitated, and enjoyed other early humans, before throwing their remains into a heap with animals bones from other meals.

The study, which appeared this month in Current Anthropology, says the 800,000-year-old Homo antecessor bones could indicate the most “ancient cultural cannibalism … known until now.” Adding to the nightmare: National Geographic reports that the hungry cavemen had a penchant for kids, since the 11 cannibalized humans uncovered were all youngsters. They speculate that the kiddos were easier to catch, and eating them was a good way to stop competitors from building their families.

Study coauthor José María Bermúdez de Castro, of the National Research Center on Human Evolution, told National Geographic that marks near the base of some skulls hint that the diners decapitated humans to get the brain goodness inside.

“Probably then they cut the skull for extracting the brain…. The brain is good for food.”

The researchers believe that eating other humans wasn’t a big deal back then, and probably wasn’t linked to religious rituals or marked by elaborate ceremonies. They draw that conclusion from the fact that butchered human bones were tossed in the scrap heap along with animal remains.

There is some debate as to how frequently human was on the menu, but these researchers note that the Sierra de Atapuerca region had a great climate and that cannibalism didn’t likely result from a lack of alternatives. I guess our ancestors were just that tasty.

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Image: flickr / joanna8555

Bronze Age Brain Surgeon: Volcanic Glass Scalpel, Please

By Joseph Calamia | August 31, 2010 11:44 am

brainMove over, Dr. Quinn. Sure, the fictional television doctor could perform surgeries in the Old West using nothing more than a spoon–but one researcher now argues that inhabitants of a small village in Turkey sliced skulls over 4,000 years ago, using shards of volcanic glass.

Working in a Bronze Age graveyard in Ikiztepe, Turkey, archaeologist Önder Bilgi has uncovered 14 skulls with rectangular cut marks. He believes the Ikiztepe people used obsidian “scalpels,” found elsewhere on the site, to treat brain tumors and fight-related head injuries, and to relieve pressure from hemorrhaging.

Bilgi also told New Scientist, which has a complete interview, that the skulls’ healing indicates that some patients survived at least two years after their surgeries. Though this isn’t the oldest evidence of brain surgery (researchers have found a hole drilled into a Neolithic skull), Bilgi argues that the Ikiztepe rectangular skull openings are much more “sophisticated.”

Bilgi, who in an earlier study analyzed arsenic absorption in Ikiztepe bones to determine their metalworking skills, told New Scientist that the tools themselves aren’t too worse for multiple millennial wear:

“The blades are double-sided, about 4 centimetres [1.6 inches] long, and very, very sharp. They would still cut you today.”

Related content:
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Image: flickr / Mykl Roventine

Study: Was Ötzi the Iceman Buried With Pomp and Circumstance?

By Joseph Calamia | August 26, 2010 1:13 pm

tombIn 1991, German hikers found a surprise on an Alpine trail: a dead body. It turned out the man had died some time ago–around 5,000 years earlier. Researchers guessed from his scattered belongings that the iceman had died a lonely death from the cold and an arrow wound in his shoulder. But now, based on the way his belongings were scattered and the timing of his last meal, some archaeologists think the iceman named Ötzi may have had a proper funeral.

Though many previous studies have looked at the body itself, ScienceNOW reports that archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti and his team looked at all of the iceman’s gear. They used a modeling technique called spatial point pattern analysis to make a map of how Ötzi’s goods–including axe, dagger, quiver, backpack, and unfinished bow–got to their final resting places. Specifically, the analysis determines how Ötzi’s surroundings froze and thawed over time. The researchers say the scattering is consistent with a ceremonial burial and that Ötzi’s tribe may have placed his possessions around him on a nearby stone platform. The study, which ScienceNOW calls “provocative,” appears in Antiquity Journal.

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Trade Center Construction Workers Stumble on a 1700s Sailing Ship

By Joseph Calamia | July 15, 2010 10:53 am

newamsterdamWorld Trade Center construction workers dug up something unexpected this week: an 18th century sailing ship.

Plans for the new Trade Center require workers to unearth parts of lower Manhattan left undisturbed during construction of the original buildings. During part of this dig, in an area between Liberty and Cedar Streets, beams of wood rose from the mud. Yesterday, archaeologists confirmed that 20 to 30 feet below street level, a 30-foot ship chunk has rested for more than 200 years.

It’s not unusual for such artifacts to hide under large coastal cities. As a young city’s population grows, inhabitants look for any way possible to extend the city’s borders, transforming dirt and trash poured into the water into prime real estate. As The New York Times reports, this isn’t the first ship uncovered in Manhattan. In 1982, New Yorkers discovered a 1700s sailing vessel that had been hiding under 175 Water Street.

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