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Freshen Up With Archaeology Friday (Post IX)

Tonnes of news over the past week, here are the highlights.

Three Kingdoms' Tomb Holding Warrior Discovered:

About 1,800 years ago, at a time when China was breaking apart into three warring kingdoms, a warrior was laid to rest.

The tomb (photo from Chinese Archaeology)
Buried in a tomb with domed roofs, along with his wife, he was about 45 years old when he died. Their skeletal remains were found inside two wooden coffins that had rotted away. Archaeologists don't know their names but, based on the tomb design and grave goods, they believe he was a general who had served one or more of the country's warring lords, perhaps Cao Cao and his son Cao Pi.

His tomb was discovered in Xiangyang, a city that, in the time of the Three Kingdoms, was of great strategic importance. Rescue excavations started in October 2008 and now the discovery is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology. (The report had appeared earlier, in Chinese, in the journal Wenwu.)

Live-Science covers the issue well, here.

 Largest Ancient Dam Built by Maya in Central America:
The dam (photo from the University of Cincinnati researchers)
Recent excavations, sediment coring and mapping by a multi-university team led by the University of Cincinnati at the pre-Columbian city of Tikal, a paramount urban center of the ancient Maya, have identified new landscaping and engineering feats, including the largest ancient dam built by the Maya of Central America.

That dam -- constructed from cut stone, rubble and earth -- stretched more than 260 feet in length, stood about 33 feet high and held about 20 million gallons of water in a human-made reservoir.

These findings on ancient Maya water and land-use systems at Tikal, located in northern Guatemala, are scheduled to appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in an article titled "Water and Sustainable Land Use at the Ancient Tropical City of Tikal, Guatemala." The research sheds new light on how the Maya conserved and used their natural resources to support a populous, highly complex society for over 1,500 years despite environmental challenges, including periodic drought.

The paper is authored by Vernon Scarborough, UC professor of anthropology; Nicholas Dunning, UC professor of geography; archaeologist Kenneth Tankersley, UC assistant professor of anthropology; Christopher Carr, UC doctoral student in geography; Eric Weaver, UC doctoral student in geography; Liwy Grazioso of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala; Brian Lane, former UC master's student in anthropology now pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Hawaii; John Jones, associate professor of anthropology, Washington State University; Palma Buttles, technical staff senior member, SEI Carnegie Mellon University; Fred Valdez, professor of anthropology, University of Texas-Austin; and David Lentz, UC professor of biology.

Starting in 2009, the UC team was the first North American group permitted to work at the Tikal site core in more than 40 years.
Detailed in the latest findings by the UC-led efforts are
  • The largest ancient dam built by the ancient Maya of Central America
  • Discussion on how reservoir waters were likely released
  • Details on the construction of a cofferdam needed by the Maya to dredge one of the largest reservoirs at Tikal
  • The presence of ancient springs linked to the initial colonization of Tikal
  • Use of sand filtration to cleanse water entering reservoirs
  • A "switching station" that accommodated seasonal filling and release of water
  • Finding of the deepest, rock-cut canal segment in the Maya lowlands
 Alexander the not-so Great: History through Persian eyes:
The BBC radio launched a three-part podcast of Persian history presented by

The portraits painted on to panels that covered the heads of mummies form part of an exhibition at the city's John Rylands Library. The panels, which have rarely been shown in public, were bequeathed to Manchester Museum by cotton magnate Jesse Haworth in 1921.

The museum's Egyptology curator Campbell Price said they depicted people who looked "strikingly modern". The paintings, known as Fayum portraits after the region near Cairo where they were found, were discovered on archaeological digs in 1888 and 1911 by William Flinders Petrie.
They date back to about AD 150, when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire.

Petrie's excavations were funded by Haworth and many of his finds went on to form part of Haworth's private Egyptology collection. Mr Price said the institution was "incredibly excited" to be showing the portraits.
"What is particularly fascinating about them is that the people portrayed by the artists often look as if they are Greek and Roman, rather than traditionally Egyptian, indicating just how much of a melting pot Egypt was 2,000 years ago," he said.
The panels were found by Victorian archaeologist William Flinders Petrie
"The portraits can often be dated by their hairstyles or jewellery - showing how quickly fashions changed almost two millennia ago. They appear strikingly modern and grab your attention in ways traditional Egyptian mummy masks do not."
The University of Manchester's Dr Roberta Mazza, who has helped curate the exhibition, said the artefacts offered "a rare window into people's lives at a key point in Egyptian history, when Egypt was part of a wider Mediterranean world dominated by the Roman Empire".

Papyri containing extracts of the apocryphal Gospel of Mary, the original of which has been credited by some to Mary Magdalene, and census documents are also on show.
The papyri were collected by John Rylands Library founder Enriqueta Rylands in the early years of the 20th Century.
Exhibition co-curator Professor Kate Cooper said the papers showed "a forgotten side of history".
"For example, the Gospel of Mary fragment argues that women should have a leadership role in the Christian church, a view which the medieval Church tried to suppress," she said.

 Golden medallions from Romen era found in Bulgaria:

Some positive news coming out of Bulgaria this week, in light of the recent attack.
Photo of the medallions
Golden medallions featuring inscriptions and images found in a gravesite dating to the Roman era in Debelt, a village in the region of Bourgas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, have been identified by archaeologists as being from the second century CE.
According to archaeologists, the graves are those of veterans of the eighth legion of Augustus. They are in the western part of the ancient Roman colony of Deultum, according to a report on July 17 2012 by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television.
Today the gravesite is next to a street in the latter-day village of Debelt. Deultum, in its time, was known as “Little Rome in Thrace”, the report said.
The find was made by accident while people were pouring concrete for construction. The vibration of the concrete mixer caused the surface to crack and a tomb was found.
Krasimira Kostova, director of the Archaeological Museum in Debelt, said that the find was of extremely high value. The valuable gifts were evidence that the people who lived there were of high status.
The finds included golden jewellery and a needle, beads and scrapers used by the ancient Romans for bathing and massage and in medicine as a means of inserting medication in the ears and throat, the report said. All of these were signs of urban life in what was then an important place in the Roman empire.
An inter-ministerial committee will decide what will become of the site. According to the report, Debelt archaeological reserve is the only one in Bulgaria to have “European archaeological heritage” status.

Archaeologists are pretty convinced they have found the remains of Mona Lisa (AFP Photo/Claudio Giovannini)
Scientists claim that they might have found the skeleton of the woman who posed for Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous painting. Most art historians agree that Lisa del Giocondo was the woman who inspired Da Vinci to create his iconic work.

Now the archaeologists working in Florence are pretty convinced they have found the remains of the lady, merchant Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini.

The skeleton was unearthed beneath the medieval Convent of Saint Ursula in Florence. Knowing she became a nun after her husband died and lived in the convent until her death in 1542, a team of archaeologists began excavation works at the abandoned convent last year.

A female skull along with other fragments of human bones will undergo DNA analysis and compared with the DNA data in the bones of the Lisa Gherardini’s children to establish the truth. If the scientists confirm the DNA belongs to Lisa Gherardini, then specialists will try to reconstruct her face and try to solve the mystery of her smile.
“We don't know yet if the bones belong to one single skeleton or more than one,” archaeologist in charge of the excavation works Silvano Vinceti explains. Yet in his opinion the find confirms, “that in St.Ursula convent there are still human bones and we cannot exclude that among them there are bones belonging to Lisa Gherardini
Great Wall of China Longer Than Previously Thought:
The Great Wall of China is already the longest man-made structure in the world but we may have to start calling it the Greater Wall of China.

A five-year archaeological survey done by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) found that the total length of the Great Wall was 13,170 miles long and reached across 15 provinces.
This is more than twice the length previously thought. In 2009, SACH reported that the wall was 5,500 miles and stretched across 10 provinces.

The previous estimation particularly refers to Great Walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties,” Yan Jianmin, the office director of the China Great Wall Society, told the China Daily.
Archaeologists and mapping experts conducted field surveys in 15 provinces and found 43,721 sites related to the Great Wall, according to the report.
As thousands years pass, some ground structures disappear, and we do not know where the walls used to be. When some local governments or companies develop the land, like coal mining or building new roads, they destroy the remaining parts under the ground,” Jianmin told the China Daily.
The survey, which began in 2007, is part of the Great Wall protection project, which aims to preserve and protect the wall.
Now we are clear about the location of the Great Wall, so the government can take steps to protect the walls, and local governments are clear about their responsibility to protect the walls,” Jianmin told the China Daily.
Construction of the Great Wall began more than 2,000 years ago to ward off invasions, but only 8 percent of the wall is still standing today. The Great Wall is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1987.

Article of the Week: How did Persian and Other Western Medical Knowledge Move East, and Chinese West?  A Look at the Role of Rashīd al-Dīn and Others:

Written by  Paul D. Buell, a professor at the Western Washington University.
The name of Rashīd al-Dīn (1247-1317) is associated with the transmission of considerable medical lore from China to Mongol Iran and the Islamic World. In fact, Rashīd al-Dīn was only at one end of the exchange, and while Chinese medical knowledge, including lore about pulsing and the Chinese view of anatomy, went west, Islamic medical knowledge went east, where Islamic medicine became the preferred medicine of the Mongol elite in China. The paper traces this process and considers who may have been involved and what specific traditions in an ongoing process of medical globalisation


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