ArtiFACTS: Recent News in Archaeology and Anthropology

The holidays nearly had my full attention but now I’m going to post a bit more often. I’ll start with continuing with the ArtiFACTS series, rounding up some recent news in archaeology and anthropology.

Here’s a few of the topics I’ve found this week:

  • Ancient Roman Road Found in the Netherlands
  • Bulgarian Archaeological Discoveries of 2006
  • Can You Hear Me Now?
  • Apocalypto an Inaccurate Distortion of History

They’re discussed below the fold.

Ancient Roman Road Found in the Netherlands

Dating between 30-350 CE, the road is being excavated near Amsterdam in Houten about 30 miles away. Though probably used for trade and civilian activity, Romans used the road for military purposes in their conflicts against Germanic tribes and is thought to have connected Traiectum and Fectio (the modern cities of Utrecht and Vechten, respectively).

Hessing said the road was built of a sloping mound of sand and clay, interspersed with layers of gravel and smashed seashells, which would have stood about a yard above nearby fields. The top layer of hard-packed gravel is unusually well-preserved at the site.

Dendrochronology of wooden posts used by the roads builders and pot sherds used in filler may help pinpoint more exact dates.
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Bulgarian Archaeological Discoveries of 2006

7th – 8th century CE tombs were discovered on Cape Kaliakra along with a medieval sword. A 5000 year old, 6.3 inch gold and platinum dagger was discovered in a Thracian site in central Bulgaria. Also recovered at the same site were 500 tiny gold rings were (part of a jewelry ensemble), a golden plaque, silver and bronze vessels and ritual daggers, and pottery.

Excavation began in 2002 of Sostra in norther Bulgaria where a castle, settlements and a necropolis have so far been revealed. Sostra was destroyed by the Huns in the late 5th century CE, but its diamond shaped castle was impressive at 130m square. Recent finds in 2006 include 12 inscribed stones as well as “[c]eramic and glass vessels and jewellery, coins, and a ceremonial bronze mask, attributed to the Thracians.”

Archaeologists of the National Institute for Cultural Monuments only had to travel 50 meters to begin excavation of a Roman amphitheatre in Sofia. It was discovered during the construction of a hotel on Dondoukov Boulevard. Later construction of the headquarters building of Bulgaria’s National Electric Company revealed the western portion of the ampitheater. Coins and vessels recovered so far indicate a construction period between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.

This just scratches the surface. Click the link above to read about many more archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria, including three chariots in a vinyard, a Thracian tomb containing murals and a breastplate that gave clues to the Thracian concept of time.
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Can You Hear Me Now?

A Pakistani mobile phone service company has erected a transmission tower at a protected site in Mohenjodaro, the cradle of the 5000 year old Indus Valley Civilization.

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Apocalypto an Inaccurate Distortion of History

Mayanist Kam Manahan of Kent State takes issue with the Mel Gibson film.

What? Mel guilty of distorting historical reality in a film with an obscure language and overt violence?

Still, the link above is to a question and answer type interview with Manahan that’s very interesting. His criticisms include the portrayal by Gibson of the Spanish conquest as a “benevolent event” and the sacrificial overkill. Manahan points out that, while there is good evidence that the Maya sacrificed captured elites during elaborate rituals following conflicts, there is no evidence that the commoners were routinely sacrificed in the manner Gibson showed. Manahan goes on to note the reciprocity involved in Maya sacrifices:

Sacrifice was the fundamental way in which the ancient Maya honored what we call the sacred covenant: that by offering blood back to the gods that had created them, they would ensure that these gods would continue to ensure their sustenance and prosperity.

At the core of this tenet is the concept of reciprocity — life must be given in order to ensure that life will be received.

The most common way that the sacred covenant was honored was through autosacrifice — ritualized bloodletting of one’s self.

Maya art shows both male and female elites sacrificing themselves by piercing genitalia or tounges. I recall a mural or pot that depicted a king’s wife pulling a string through her tongue, catching the blood in a vessel. Manahan also took issue with the fact that Gibson mixed elements unique to various periods such as 300 BCE with 1000 CE in the same scene.

Didn’t Mayanist Richard Hansen consult for Gibson on the project?