Archaeology Spring 2018

world's oldest bridge.jpg

1. LONDON.- The world’s oldest bridge is to be saved for future generations thanks to a pioneering project as part of the British Museum’s Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme. The bridge at Tello, in the south of Iraq, was built in the third millennium BC and will be preserved by British Museum archaeologists and Iraqi heritage professionals who are being trained to protect ancient sites that have suffered damage at the hands of Daesh (or the so-called Islamic State). Working with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, it is hoped that restoring the 4,000-year-old bridge will be a potent symbol of a nation emerging from decades of war and could one day lead to the site welcoming tourists from around the globe to learn about Iraq’s rich heritage.
The bridge will be restored in the latest phase of the successful Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, or simply ‘Iraq Scheme’, created by the British Museum. The Scheme sees the British Museum provide state of the art training to Iraqi archaeologists, so that they can stabilise, and potentially rebuild, heritage sites that were damaged or destroyed by Daesh as they come back under Government control. The work to conserve the bridge will be part of the fourth phase of the Scheme, with field training of two groups of trainees beginning in the autumn. These latest trainees are the first female archaeologists to be trained as part of the Scheme.
The project will also see the creation of a visitor centre at the site, which it is hoped will lead to the return of international tourists to the region, who stayed away during the war with Daesh. With the new visitor centre, which will explain in both English and Arabic how the bridge has contributed to world history, it is thought tour groups from outside Iraq could begin to visit the site by 2020.
Sebastien Rey, Lead Archaeologist, Iraq Scheme says: “This is a hugely important project to ensure the long-term sustainability of the world’s oldest bridge, which is an incredibly clever piece of ancient engineering on a grand scale. The full conservation programme will not only provide access to the site for the local community and tourists, but it is hoped that it could yield unprecedented finds that may lead to a new cultural centre of interest in the region – one of the poorest provinces of Iraq. It is also an important emblem of Iraq’s heritage and restoring the bridge is a symbol of a brighter future for the Iraqi people.”
Built for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, the bridge was only rediscovered in 1929. Described at the time as an ‘enigmatic construction’, it has been variously interpreted as a temple, dam, and water regulator. Recent studies using 1930s photographs as well as recently declassified satellite imagery from the 1960s, alongside new research at the site, have led to the confirmation that it was a bridge over an ancient waterway and it is, to date, the earliest-known bridge in the world. Since the excavations nearly 90 years ago, the bridge has remained open and exposed, with no identifiable conservation work to address its long-term stability or issues of erosion, and no plans to manage the site or tell its story to the wider world.
The need to protect the bridge arose from preliminary work by the first two Iraq Scheme excavation seasons. The preliminary assessment stressed the urgency of carrying out a larger and more ambitious conservation programme, including emergency excavations. Even during this early phase, two trenches were uncovered, containing well-preserved deposits of the prehistoric Ubaid period dating to the fifth millennium BC. These contain a wealth of information on the origins of Girsu and, consequently, the birth of urban centres in Mesopotamia, one of the earliest known civilisations. This would improve international recognition of the rich and important heritage of Iraq.
The next group of Iraq Scheme participants that will carry out this vital work are eight female heritage professionals from the Mosul region. They will arrive in London in April 2018 to train at the British Museum in all aspects of archaeological fieldwork and emergency archaeology. It is hoped they will go on to continue the success of the Scheme so far, such as one graduate who was appointed by the Iraqi State Board to lead the assessment of the site of Nimrud.


earth quake damage to Monte Alban.jpg

2.  More than $1 million for earthquake-damaged Monte Alban
NEW YORK, NY.- World Monuments Fund announced today more than $1 million in funding to support disaster response and restoration efforts at Monte Albán Archaeological Site in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The new project is the latest in WMF’s long history of supporting cultural heritage sites damaged or destroyed at the hands of natural disaster – beginning with the floods of Venice in 1966. Fifteen structures within Monte Albán and the northern section of Atzompa were affected by a devastating September 2017 earthquake, with five showing severe damage that required emergency structural shoring to prevent collapse. The site was included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch as part of the Disaster Sites of the Caribbean, the Gulf, and Mexico, with the goal of mobilizing heritage conservation efforts in the aftermath of a string of hurricanes and earthquakes.
WMF will launch a partnership with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to address the long-term stability of Monte Albán, including physical conservation, documentation, and geological assessment. The program will also emphasize training and capacity building, giving local technicians the skills they need to effectively repair and prepare Monte Albán for future natural disasters. Local architecture and engineering students in their last semester will carry out research and documentation in the first phase of work.
Leadership gifts from American Express, Roberto Hernández Ramírez and Claudia Madrazo de Hernández, and The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, and additional generous donations from Charities Aid Foundation of Canada and Fundación Mary Street Jenkins, will make the program possible.
“For more than fifty years, World Monuments Fund has been helping people restore the buildings and places that define their values following natural disasters,” said Joshua David, President and CEO, World Monuments Fund. “Now we have the opportunity to safeguard one of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites while empowering its community. We are thankful for the support of leadership donors American Express, Roberto Hernández Ramírez and Claudia Madrazo de Hernández, and The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, as well as all of the project’s other donors, who are collectively making this effort possible.”
“For more than two decades, American Express has been a proud advocate of the World Monuments Fund,” said Timothy J. McClimon, President, American Express Foundation. “Preserving the prolific Monte Alban is a critical step in rebuilding the Oaxaca community. We are honored to serve as a lead donor for this project.”
“The cultural sites that were damaged during this tragedy don't belong only to the Mexican people; they belong to humankind,” said Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering, Consul General of Mexico in New York. “Out of great loss and devastation, we have a chance to restore hope and optimism to the people of Oaxaca and those for whom Monte Albán is a source of great pride. We are grateful for the support to make it stronger and accessible for future generations.”
The ancient Zapotec metropolis of Monte Albán was founded in the sixth century B.C. and became a World Heritage Site in 1987. Its impressive architectural remains—terraces, pyramids, and canals—extend over some four miles, and include hieroglyphic inscriptions that provide insight into the ancient Zapotec civilization. It was previously included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch to assure the sustainability of the archaeological zone in the face of threats including looting, vandalism, unchecked tourism, and forest fires.

14th century village in New Zealand.jpg

3.  Remains of 14th-Century Village in New Zealand Tells Tales of Maori History
The excavation, which unearthed moa bones and stone tools, helps fill a gap for researchers
By Julissa Treviño
June 1, 2018
The Polynesian people who came to New Zealand some 1000 years ago, first established themselves as the tangata whenua, which in the Maori language, means people of the land. Today, the indigenous Maori people make up about 14 percent of New Zealand’s population, and the culture’s past and present remain an integral part of the island nation’s identity.
But while much of their early history is documented through songs and stories—from tales of Kupe, who the Maori consider to be the first adventurer to navigate to the landmass, to the deep roots of the pohutukawa tree in Maori mythology—archaeological digs have also helped to piece together details of early Maori life in the land they first called Aotearoa.
Such is the case with a recently discovered 14th-century Maori village along the country’s South Pacific coastline. As The Gisborne Herald reports, the remains of the village were found in the present-day city of Gisborne, via an 8-foot-deep excavation on the edge of an old riverbed.
At the excavation site, University of Otago archaeologists uncovered bones of a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand called the moa, fish hooks fashioned from those bones, as well as stone tools made of obsidian and chert rocks that date back to the early 1300s.
In a press release, the team says the discoveries help to fill in the gaps about where the Maori people first settled in this area.
“We don’t know as much about early occupation around this part of the coastline as we do in other parts of the country,” University of Otago professor of archaeology Richard Walter says.
The archaeological work was conducted with the permission of Heritage New Zealand, which under the authority of the Pouhere Taonga Act, regulates the modification or destruction of the nation’s archaeological sites.
The area is of historical importance because it’s believed to be the first landing place of canoes which carried Maori to the district in 1350. It’s also where the first contact between Maori and British explorer James Cook took place in 1769.
As the Herald reports, the excavation took place in anticipation of the development of a wharfside log yard. “Given the port’s location, we take the protection of these significant sites within operational areas very seriously,” Andrew Gaddum, general manager of Eastland Port Limited, which is constructing and operating the new log yard, tells the paper.
The Herald reports that the found artifacts are currently undergoing analysis in university labs.

Read more:
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter


child sacrifice in Peru.jpg

4.  Evidence of world's biggest child sacrifice found by archaeologists in Peru
LIMA (PERU).- Archaeologists in Peru have found evidence of the biggest-ever sacrifice of children, uncovering the remains of more than 140 youngsters who were slain alongside 200 llamas as part of a ritual offering some 550 years ago, National Geographic announced on Thursday.
The site was located on top of a cliff facing the Pacific Ocean in La Libertad, a northern region where the Chimu civilization arose, an ancient pre-Columbian people who worshipped the moon.
The cliff is located just outside the northwestern coastal city of Trujillo, Peru's third largest city which today has 800,000 inhabitants.
"While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimu civilization is unprecedented in the Americas -- if not in the entire world," National Geographic said.
The investigations were carried out by an international team led by National Geographic's Peruvian explorer Gabriel Prieto, of the National University of Trujillo, and John Verano, a physical anthropologist from Tulane University in New Orleans.
The team uncovered evidence of "the largest single incident of mass child sacrifice in the Americas -- and likely in world history."
"I, for one, never expected it," Verano told the magazine of the sacrifice site, known to the researchers as "Las Llamas."
"And I don't think anyone else would have, either," he added.
The excavations began in 2011 when the team uncovered the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas at a 3,500-year-old temple nearby.
By the time the excavations had finished five years later, they had uncovered more than 140 sets of child remains and 200 juvenile llamas, as well as rope and textiles dating to between 1400 and 1450.
Located about 300 meters above sea level, the site is in the middle of a cluster of residential compounds in Huanchaco, a neighborhood bordering Trujillo.
Hearts removed?
"The skeletal remains of both children and animals show evidence of cuts to the sternum as well as rib dislocations, which suggest that the victims' chests were cut open and pulled apart, perhaps to facilitate the removal of the heart," the magazine said.
Researchers determined that the children were between the ages of five and 14, although most were between eight and 12 when they died, with their bodies buried facing west -- out to sea.
The llamas were all less than 18 months and they were buried facing east, toward the Andes, they said.
"It is ritual killing, and it's very systematic," Verano said.
The Chimu civilization extended along the Peruvian coast to where Ecuador begins, with its empire brought down by the Incas in around 1475, just a few decades after the sacrifice at Las Llamas.
"Until now, the largest mass child sacrifice event for which we have physical evidence is the ritual murder and interment of 42 children at Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan," National Geographic said, referring to what is modern-day Mexico City.
© Agence France-Presse