ARCHAEOLOGY Spring/Summer 2017

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1. GLASGOW.- GUARD Archaeologists have recently recovered a very rare and internationally significant hoard of metalwork that is a major addition to Scottish Late Bronze Age archaeology.
A bronze spearhead decorated with gold was found alongside a bronze sword, pin and scabbard fittings in a pit close to a Bronze Age settlement excavated by a team of GUARD Archaeologists led by Alan Hunter Blair, on behalf of Angus Council in advance of their development of two football pitches at Carnoustie.
Each individual object in the hoard is significant but the presence of gold ornament on the spearhead makes this an exceptional group. Within Britain and Ireland, only a handful of such spearheads are known - among them a weapon hoard found in 1963 at Pyotdykes Farm to the west of Dundee. These two weapon hoards from Angus - found only a few kilometres apart - hint at the wealth of the local warrior society during the centuries around 1000-800 BC.
There are two more aspects that elevate the Carnoustie discovery to international significance. The first aspect is the extremely rare survival of organic remains. A leather and wooden scabbard encased the Carnoustie sword and is probably the best preserved Late Bronze Age sword scabbard ever found in Britain. Fur skin survives around the spearhead, and textile around the pin and scabbard. Such organic remains rarely survive on dryland sites.
The second aspect is that the hoard is not an isolated find but was buried within a Late Bronze Age settlement, which means that once the excavation has been completed it will be possible to study the archaeological context of the hoard, revealing new insights into the local Bronze Age community that buried it. Not least of which was the longevity of settlement here. For the excavation has also revealed the largest Neolithic hall so far found in Scotland, a building dating to around 4000 BC and that may have been as old to the people who buried the weapon hoard, as they are to us.
‘It is very unusual to recover such artefacts in a modern archaeological excavation, which can reveal so much about the context of its burial. Owing to the fragile nature of these remains when we first discovered them, our team removed the entire pit, and the surrounding subsoil which it was cut into, as a single 80 kg block of soil,' said GUARD Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair. 'This was then delivered to our Finds Lab where it was assessed by a specialist Finds Conservator to plan how it could be carefully excavated and the artefacts conserved.’
'Organic evidence like Bronze Age wooden scabbards rarely survive so this just underlines how extraordinary these finds are,' said GUARD Project Officer, Beth Spence, who undertook the excavation of the hoard in GUARD Archaeology’s Finds Lab along with Conservator Will Murray from the Scottish Conservation Studio.
Along with the hoard, the GUARD Archaeology team have discovered around 1000 archaeological features, among them the remains of up to 12 sub-circular houses that probably date to the Bronze Age along with the remains of 2 rectilinear halls that likely date to the Neolithic period. Some of the other archaeology on site consists of clusters of large pits containing discarded, broken pots and lithic artefacts. It is unclear yet if the archaeological remains comprise a settlement that lasted from the Neolithic until the Late Bronze Age or if it comprises several settlements built upon the same site but separated in time by many centuries.
Claire Herbert of ACAS, Archaeological advisers to Angus Council, said ‘The archaeology uncovered at Carnoustie is undoubtedly of national and international significance, and will certainly further enhance our knowledge of the prehistory of this area, providing an invaluable opportunity to learn more about how people in Angus lived in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.’
Angus Council communities convener Donald Morrison added: ‘It is clear that Carnoustie was as much a hive of activity in Neolithic and Bronze Age times as it is now. The discoveries made on land destined for sporting development have given us a fascinating insight into our Angus forebears and I look forward to learning more about our local prehistory.’
Vice convener Jeanette Gaul said: ‘To make such a find while preparing to create sports facilities for Carnoustie came as a huge surprise to us all. We’ve since learned it is of national and, indeed, international importance. But I am pleased that the archaeologists have involved local young people in the excavation project and are offering us all an insight into Angus’ distant past.’
In tandem with the excavation, GUARD Archaeology have brought community benefits and added value to the work by providing tours and presentations for local schools, including Carnoustie High School and Monifieth High School. Work experience for two students (from Carnoustie High School and Brechin High School) was also provided. Each of the students were trained in core skills in archaeology and were provided with a bespoke training plan and an archaeology skills passport for potential future careers in archaeology. In addition, GUARD Archaeology provided employment throughout the contract for a recently graduated archaeologist from Dundee. Throughout the project GUARD Archaeology have strived to use local suppliers and resources so that as much of the contract value as possible goes back into the local economy. 

2. Today, as Iraqi forces backed by an international coalition inch forward in their fight to recover Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group, historians are looking at how to save, repair or retrieve precious heritage after the jihadists' three-year reign.
At a meeting in Paris last week, Iraqi officials and dozens of experts from around the world agreed to coordinate efforts to restore Iraq's cultural treasure.
But, they admitted, the road ahead will be hard and long.
"The main challenge is for Iraqis to deal with this task by themselves. It is important to empower the people," said Stefan Simon, director of global cultural heritage initiatives at Yale university.
"It is a heart-breaking situation," he added. "(...) Rehabilitation will take a very long time. They need patience. "
In 2014, at the zenith of IS' self-declared "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq, more than 4,000 Iraqi archaeological sites were under the heel of the Sunni fanatics.
In the Mosul region alone in northern Iraq, "at least 66 sites were destroyed, some were turned into parking lots, Muslim and Christian places of worship suffered massive destruction and thousands of manuscripts disappeared," Iraq's deputy minister for culture, Qais Rashid, said at the conference, hosted by Unesco.
The most grievous blow has been suffered by the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, believed to be named after the biblical hunter Nimrod.
Eighty percent of the site has been destroyed, by jihadists driving bulldozers and detonating explosives.
Nineveh, once the largest city in the world, has been 70-percent destroyed.
As for Mosul itself, historians are quailing at the likely fate of the city's museum, the second largest in Iraq and a treasure house of ancient artefacts.
After suffering looting during the 2003 Iraq War, the museum was on the point of reopening in 2014 when IS took over.
The jihadists immediately set about destroying objects from the Assyrian and Greek period, which they claimed promoted "idolatry."
Grim discoveries by the Iraqi army in its advance towards the jihadists' bastion of west Mosul have prompted some specialists to fear the worst.
In mid-January, Iraqi troops in Neneveh liberated the reputed tomb of the Prophet Yunus -- known to Jews and Christians as the Prophet Jonah.
"(It is) far more damaged than we expected," Culture Minister Salim Khalaf said.
The site could collapse, because the jihadists dug tunnels underneath, both to hide from attack and to dig for artefacts, he explained.
More than 700 items have been looted from the site to be sale on the black market, he estimated.
Iraq is turning to Interpol and other world agencies to track down the lost treasures. Under UN Security Council resolution 2199, all trade in cultural artefacts from Iraq and Syria is illegal.
"Daesh tried but will never erase our culture, identity, diversity, history and the pillars of civilisation," Iraqi Education Minister Mohammad Iqbal Omar said, referring to another name for IS, also called ISIS or ISIL.
France Desmarais, of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a professional museum group, said there was a long and tragic history of trafficking in cultural objects from northern Iraq.
However, "successive wars in Iraq since 2003 have created additional opportunities" for the trade, Desmarais said.
Universal values
The long-term needs of preserving Iraq's ancient history are many. They start with securing and monitoring sites, drawing up an inventory of items that are safe or missing, restoring and digitising manuscripts -- a task that is dozens of years in the making, and with a bill to match.
But culture embodies universal values, and there is a deep well of goodwill for this venture.
"Culture implies more than just monuments and stones -– culture defines who we are," says Unesco chief Irina Bokova.
That's a point of view shared by Najeeb Michaeel, an Iraqi Dominican monk who saved hundreds of manuscripts from the 13th to 18th century, spiriting them to safety in Kurdistan just before IS began its destructive grip on the plain of Nineveh.
"We have to save both man and culture," Michaeel said. "You cannot save the tree without saving its roots."

© Agence France-Presse

3.  CAIRO (AFP).- Archaeologists in a muddy pit in a Cairo suburb on Thursday uncovered two pharaonic statues dating back more than 3,000 years.
The relics were found in Mattarya district, site of the ancient Pharaonic capital of Heliopolis and today a sprawl of working and middle class districts in northeastern Cairo.
The statues, discovered on wasteland between crumbling apartment blocks, are thought to represent Pharaohs from the 19th dynasty, which ruled from 1314 to 1200 BC.
One statue stands eight meters (26 feet) tall and is carved out of quartzite, a tough stone composed mostly of quartz grains.
It could not be identified from its engravings but it was found at the entrance to the temple of King Ramses II -- also known as Ramses the Great -- suggesting it represents him.
The other relic is a limestone statue of 12th century BC ruler King Seti II.
They were discovered by a joint German-Egyptian archaeological mission.
"The discovery of the two statues shows the importance of the city of Heliopolis, which was dedicated to the worship of Ra," the sun god, said Aymen Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian team on the dig.
He said the discovery was "very important" because it indicated the Oun Sun temple was a "magnificent structure".
Dietrich Raue, head of the German team, said the archaeologists were working hard to lift the statues so they can be transported to another site for restoration.
© Agence France-Presse
4. MALTA mithsonian Subscribe SmartNews History Science Innovation Arts & Culture Travel At the Smithsonian
This month, one of the world’s best preserved prehistoric sites — a 6,000-year-old underground burial chamber on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta — reopened to the public. Last June, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, one of Europe’s only known neolithic necropolises, closed for a series of improvements to its environmental management system. Its reopening brings updates that will enhance conservation and ongoing data collection while improving visitor access and experience.

Archaeological evidence suggests that around 4,000 BCE, the people of Malta and Gozo began building with the purpose of ritualizing life and death. The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, one of the first and most famous of such complexes, is an underground network of alcoves and corridors carved into soft Globigerina limestone just three miles from what is now the capital city of Valletta. The builders expanded existing caves and over the centuries excavated deeper, creating a temple, cemetery and funeral hall that would be used throughout the Zebbug, Ggantija and Tarxien periods. Over the next 1,500 years, known as the Temple Period, above-ground megalith structures cropped up throughout the archipelago, many with features that mirror their subterranean counterparts.

Whatever remained of the above-ground megalithic enclosure that once marked the Hypogeum’s entrance was destroyed by industrialization during the late 1800s. Now, visitors enter through a modernized lobby, then descend a railed walkway and move chronologically through two of the site’s three tiers, glimpsing along the way evidence of the structure's dual role as worship and burial place.
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5. MEXICO CITY The tzompantli were once believed to only contain the skulls of conquered male warriors
Archaeologists digging in Mexico City have uncovered what they believe to be a legendary tower of skulls, Reuters reports. Over the last two years, the team has dug up more than 675 skulls, including many skull fragments. The find is located near the ruins of Templo Mayor, one of the most important temples in the area during the reign of the Aztecs.
The tzompantli were ceremonial racks that display severed heads of victims in Mesoamerica, the Associated Press reports. While it was previously believed that such a tower would only include the skulls or male warriors conquered in battle, the archaeologists uncovered skulls of women and children as well during the excavation, challenging what the researchers know about these skull racks, Reuters reports.
The tower in question is suspected to be part of the Huey Tzompantli, which was located on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun, war and human sacrifice. According to accounts by Spanish conquistadors Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Andrés de Tapia?—who both viewed the Huey Tzompantli in the early 16th century, upon on their arrival in Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs, now Mexico City—the Huey Tzompantli was massive. Both claimed the structure could have contained over 100,000 skulls, though contemporary scholars believe that count was significantly exaggerated.
Rossella Lorenzi at Seeker reports that the researchers believe the partially unearthed skull rack was built between 1485 and 1502, and ran 112 feet in length and stretched 40 feet wide. Parts of the skull rack were constructed by cementing skulls together to support the platform. The researchers believe that structure may have once contained up to 60,000 skulls.
The skull rack is not the only recent find in Mexico City. Last month, researchers unveiled an Aztec temple and ball court discovered under a hotel. The team also found 32 severed neck vertebrae from individuals who had been sacrificed inside the temple.
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6. MEXICO CITY (AFP).- A giant temple to the Aztec god of the wind and a court where the Aztecs played a deadly ball game have been discovered in the heart of Mexico City.
Archaeologists unveiled the rare finds Wednesday after extensive excavations, giving journalists a tour of the semi-circular temple of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and nearby ball court.
Records indicate that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes first watched the ritual Aztec ball game at the court in 1528, invited by the last Aztec emperor, Montezuma -- the man whose empire he went on to conquer.
Historians believe the game involved players using their hips to keep a ball in play -- as well as ritual human sacrifices.
Archaeologists uncovered 32 sets of human neck bones at the site, which they said were likely the remains of people who were decapitated as part of the ritual.
Only part of the structure remains -- a staircase and a portion of the stands. Archaeologists estimate the original court was about 50 meters (165 feet) long.
The temple, meanwhile, is a giant semi-circle perched atop an even larger rectangular base. The whole thing once measured some 34 meters across and four meters high, archaeologists said.
The ancient structures stand in startling contrast with the sprawling mega-city that now surrounds them, which was built atop the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
They are just the latest ancient vestiges to be discovered in the historic city center, at what is known as the Great Temple site.
"The discovery we are looking at is a new chance to immerse ourselves in the splendor of the pre-Hispanic city of Tenochtitlan," Culture Minister Maria Cristina Garcia said.
A hotel formerly stood on the site of the newly discovered ruins until 1985, when it collapsed in a catastrophic earthquake that killed thousands of people.
The hotel's owners then noticed the ancient remains and alerted the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Archaeologists believe the temple celebrated the god of the wind and was built between 1486 and 1502.
Officials said they plan to open the site to the public, although no date has been set.