Posts Tagged With: Archaeology

Hidden Face Under Nefertiti Bust?!

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Mystery Pyramid Built by Newfound Ancient Culture?

Several stone sculptures recently found in central Mexico point to a previously unknown culture that likely built a mysterious pyramid in the region, archaeologists say.

Archaeologists first found the objects about 15 years ago in the valley of Tulancingo, a major canyon that drops off into Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Most of the 41 artifacts “do not fit into any of the known cultures of the Valley of Tulancingo, or the highlands of central Mexico,” said Carlos Hernández, an archaeologist at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History in the central state of Hidalgo.

Many of the figures are depicted in a sitting position, with their hands placed on their knees.

Some have headdresses or conical hats with snakes at the base, which could represent Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl, the Aztec god of the wind. One figure shows a man emerging from the jaws of a jaguar.

The sculptures are also made of flat stucco—a combination of fine sand, lime, and water—and painted blue or green to the give the appearance of jade.

All of the artifacts date to the Epiclassic period between A.D. 600 to 900.

Some Mexican and foreign archaeologists have said the sculptures weren’t ancient and thus false, Hernández said.

“But by linking all the characteristics that make them different, [such as their location in Tulancingo and time period], allows us to say that they should be considered as a product of a different culture [called Huajomulco].”

The culture is named after an area in Hidalgo.

Baffling Pyramid

Some of the artifacts were also found near the mysterious Huapalcalco pyramid in Hidalgo, whose origin has been a source of debate among archaeologists.

The pyramid’s proportions, along with smaller structures that were painted black and white, do not correspond to the Toltec or Teotihuacan cultures of the same area and time period.

The Teotihuacan people, who lived from 400 B.C. to A.D. 700, constructed one of the largest pyramid complexes in the pre-Hispanic Americas, which refers to cultures that lived on the continent before the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemipshere.

The Toltecs, who came afterward, were made up of several groups of South Americans that together formed an empire famous for its artists and builders in the Teotihuacan capital of Tula from A.D. 900 until the 1100s.

The pottery found at the site—rough, cylindrical vessels that are gray and reddish-brown in color—is also not familiar to experts.

Based on the artifacts’ discovery near the pyramid,”it is likely that the Huapalcalco pyramid has been built by people from this new culture,” Hernández said.

Thomas Charlton, an archaeologist at University of Iowa, has worked in the state of Hidalgo.

He said that ample evidence—including the new artifacts—links a new pre-Hispanic culture to the Huapalcalco pyramid.

“It’s a reasonable hypothesis [that] near the Valley of Tulancingo, there is a site that looks like it existed between the fall of the Teotihuacan and the beginning of the Tula [Toltec],” Charlton added.

“We know that there’s an occupation [from this time] near Tulancingo.

“After the Teotihuacan, there were all sorts of smaller states throughout Mexico. It’s part of the cycle after the fall of an empire.”

Creative Era

Michael Smith, an archaeologist at Arizona State University, agreed.

“The notion that there would be an independent culture in [the Epiclassic] period is not surprising at all,” he said.

“It was a very creative period, with rich development.”

Future excavations of Huapalcalco should solidify the link to a new pre-Hispanic culture, and help archaeologists glean clues about this lost time, Hernández said.

“The [Epiclassic] period is considered a time of dynamic development—new trade, cities, and development,” said Arizona State’s Smith, “but one we don’t know much about.”

Alexis Okeowo in México City
for National Geographic News
December 8, 2008


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Phoenician Blood Endures 3,000 Years, DNA Study Shows

Ancient maritime traders of the Mediterranean may have left behind a large genetic footprint in the region, where 1 in 17 men still harbors Phoenician DNA, according to a new study.

The findings could fill a gap in the history of the Phoenician civilization, which originated two to three thousand years ago in the eastern Mediterranean—in what is now Lebanon and Syria—and included prominent traders, according to Chris Tyler-Smith, lead author and associate researcher at National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

“By the time of the Romans they more or less disappeared from history, and little has been known about them since,” Tyler-Smith added. “Our motivation was to really identify their genetic traces.”

The new research could also help scientists understand the genetic impact of other human migrations, such as military campaigns by the Greeks and the Mongols, Tyler-Smith said.

DNA Markers

Tyler-Smith and colleagues used historic and archeological records, along with information from DNA samples.

The research team analyzed the Y chromosome of 1,330 men from historic Phoenician trading centers in the Mediterranean regions of Syria, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Cyprus, and Malta.

Unlike mitochondrial DNA—which is passed down from mothers—the Y chromosome, passed down by fathers, is thought to provide more detailed genetic information.

Analyses of the Y chromosomal data revealed the presence of at least seven related genetic lineages from places around the Mediterranean Sea where Phoenicians had lived.

These lineages suggest that the Phoenicians contributed their genes to at least six percent of the modern populations of historic Phoenician trading outposts.

“Our findings suggest that the Phoenicians left behind a genetic legacy that persists till modern times,” Tyler-Smith said.


Conservative Findings?

Colin Groves is a biological anthropologist at Australia National University in Canberra who was not associated with the study.

“I think this is a very neat finding,” said Groves, adding that the study provides enough evidence for a clear genetic link between ancient Phoenician traders and persons now living in some of these historic trading towns.

However, he notes that the researchers looked only at Y chromosomes, indicating a line of descent from a male ancestor.

“This means that you will find such genetic traces only if there has been an unbroken male line in that area,” Groves explained. “If a man has only daughters, his Y chromosome lineage dies out.”

Groves also cautions that one should not interpret the findings as suggesting the Phoenicians were restricted to a certain place.

“It means only that Phoenicians were there, and presumably in sufficient numbers that chance events have not eliminated the Y chromosome traces.”

Amitabh Avasthi
October 30, 2008
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Ancient Mass Graves of Soldiers, Babies Found in Italy

More than 10,000 graves containing ancient amphorae, “baby bottles,” and the bodies of soldiers who fought the Carthaginians were found near the ancient Greek colony of Himera, in Italy, archaeologists announced recently.

“It’s probably the largest Greek necropolis in Sicily,” said Stefano Vassallo, the lead archaeologist of the team that made the discoveries, in September.

Mass grave

The ancient burial ground was uncovered during the construction of a railway extension.

“The remains of Himera’s buildings had been known and studied for a long time, and we knew there should be some graves. We didn’t expect so many graves”, said Vassallo, who works for the Italian province of Palermo’s government.

“Each [mass grave] contains from 15 to 25 skeletons. They were all young healthy men and they all died a violent death. Some of the skeletons have broken skulls and in some cases we found the tips of the arrows that killed them,” Vassallo said.

He thinks the human remains are from soldiers who died fighting the Carthaginians in a famous 480 B.C. battle described by Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

He adds that they still don’t know the extent of the necropolis or how many graves it contains.

A Rich Town and Two Bloody Battles

Founded in 648 B.C. by Greek settlers, Himera was a rich seaport trading colony. The city was situated on the northern coast of Sicily, a few miles from the Phoenician outpost of Solunto.

“Himera had a privileged role in commercial exchanges between Phoenicians, Greeks, and Etruscans,” said Clemente Marconi, professor of Greek art and archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

In 480 B.C. Carthage, or present-day Tunisia, sent an army against Himera. “Greeks and Carthaginians fought a bloody battle in the plain under the town walls, right on the burial ground,” Vassallo said. “People from Himera won.”

In 409 B.C., Carthage waged a new war against Himera, conquered, and razed the town. “All the people were slaughtered or deported and the colony never rose again,” Vassallo said.

Remains of Adults and Babies

Archaeologists at Himera also unearthed the skeletons of many newborn babies in some of the mass graves.

“Infant mortality was very high at the times,” Vassallo said. “We found the tiny skeletons placed inside funerary amphorae, like in a womb, alongside small terracotta vases called guttus, with spouts like present-day feeding bottles.”

Researchers will examine the skeletons in an effort to gather information about the population’s health, lifestyle, and eating habits.

“People from Himera were very tall, about 175 centimeters [69 inches],” Vassallo said. “Unusual for the times.”

New York University’s Marconi said he thinks the discovery is extremely important.

“Thanks to the big number of burials, we will gather precious information about funerary rituals in Himera: the way they took care of the bodies, preserved the remains, and perpetuated the memory of the dead. Such rituals reflect social structure,” Marconi said.

Finds will be restored and put on display in a new museum to be built in the nearby town of Termini Imerese. The Palermo government is working out a plan to create a national archaeological park to protect the area, Vassallo said.

Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome
National Geographic News
December 17, 2008

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