June 24, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:59 am

New Technique Sheds Light On Maya History

There are elaborate hieroglyphs, burial objects and other clues.

But the recent application of a geological technique to an archaeological problem may offer a unique tool for gleaning seemingly unknowable facts about the ancient Maya – based only on excavated bones and teeth.

University of Florida geology Professor David Hodell and Associate Professor Mark Brenner did an elaborate review of the technique, which combines elements of geology, anthropology and forensic science, in the Central American region that was home to the classic Maya civilization. Their conclusion: The method can help determine where long-dead leaders and ordinary residents of such grand settlements as Tikal were born and raised, building on – and sometimes contradicting – history that until recently had been gleaned only from hieroglyphics and other archaeological evidence.

“We were able to demonstrate that you can distinguish between the different parts of the Maya area,” Hodell said of the research, described in a May article in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “You can tell whether an individual was raised in Tikal or whether they came from somewhere else.”

Note that this technique has been used in recent stories involving the Welshmen Who Built Stonehenge making recent headlines.

Update: The original JAS article can be found here (subscribers only, or through university networks). A free abstract might be here.

Islamic Cairo grapples with restoring its treasures

The recently laid white marble floor is almost blinding in the summer sun at the heart of Cairo’s 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar mosque, a landmark in a city with Islamic architectural riches that few can rival.

“The noble Al-Azhar mosque was restored to its original condition in the era of President Hosni Mubarak in 1998 AD,” reads a plaque in the mosque, which dates back to about 970 AD in the era of the Fatimids who founded Egypt’s capital.

But not everyone agrees with the sentiments inscribed over the old portico that surrounds the main courtyard.

To critics, the restoration of Al-Azhar — one of the oldest seats of learning in the Islamic world — is an example of what has gone wrong as Egypt races to save its wealth of Islamic treasures in the chaotic, polluted city of at least 16 million.

Another example of the pitfalls and controversies surrounding conservation/restoration.

Artifacts expected to rewrite NH Native American history

Careful study of the Sargent Museum’s archaeology collection will “essentially rewrite the Indian history of New Hampshire,” predicted Sargent Museum Executive Director Wesley Stinson.

Stinson said items recovered from the Smyth site, excavated in 1968 when the Amoskeag Bridge was built, will prove “almost indisputably” that it was Chief Passaconaway’s village site and the Indian capital of New Hampshire.

The excavation was at the site of the Smyth mansion, which was torn down to make way for the eastern approach to the bridge.

Sadly, this story doesn’t go into any detail on exactly how whatever artifacts there are show it. But hey, there it is. It does bring up the point we have made often, that there are great heaping gobs of stuff stored in museums the world over that have never been properly analyzed.

Urns proof of ancient pot burial

Evidence of a prehistoric burial custom of interring dead people in pots has again surfaced in Tamil Nadu with the chance discovery of six “burial urns” in Tirunelveli district.

The urns, known in Tamil as “mudhumakkal thaazhi (large pots for the old)”, were found about a week ago in a farm near Kuvalakarai village when the “land was being dug”, official sources at Sankarankovil said.

The villagers were taken by surprise as one urn brought to the surface contained, among other things, some smaller earthen pots and “very fragile skeletal bone pieces”, a source said over telephone.

The urn is being examined, the sources said. “The local revenue authorities have sent a report on the discovery to the Tirunelveli district collector,” a source added.

We’re not sure of the importance of this discovery. It’s not like put burials are unknown or particularly rare. Perhaps there is some local chronological or religious significance of which we are unaware. It does usually indicate that the body was allowed to decompose to bones before interment which may be significant (exceptions are instances where either the pot is really BIG or the body is really small, such as a child).

What a stud Genghis Khan: Father to Millions?

Genghis Khan left a legacy shared by 16 million people alive today, according to a book by a Oxford geneticist who identified the Mongol emperor as the most successful alpha male in human history.

Regarded by the Mongolians as the father of their nation, Genghis Khan was born around 1162. A military and political genius, he united the tribes of Mongolia and conquered half of the known world with a cavalry riding on grass-fed ponies.

Good show Ancient hair gives up its DNA secrets

Analysing DNA from ancient strands of hair is a new tool for learning about the past, molecular archaeologists say, including whether hair samples belonged to Sir Isaac Newton.

Until now, scientists had thought analysing the hair shaft was of relatively little use as it contained so little DNA.

Dr Tom Gilbert of the University of Arizona led an international team that reported its work in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology.

The researchers said they had extracted and sequenced mitochondrial DNA from 12 hair samples, 60 to 64,800 years old, from ancient bison, horses and humans.


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