Museum Blog

Diggin' Archaeology!: Update 4/23/13

Posted 4/23/2013 12:04 AM by Michele Koons | Comments

It is a very exciting time for archaeology indeed! Recently there have been a bunch of amazing new archaeological discoveries.  I thought I would share a few here and continue to update as new ones are made.   The combination of new scientific techniques applied to archaeological materials, such as genetics and DNA analysis, advanced dating methods, and residue and isotope analysis, has led to some of these incredible finds.  And then there is always just good old fashion digging in the dirt!

Update 4/23/13



The recipe for Maya Blue- the incredibly durable pigment that decorates temple walls, pottery, and was used to paint human bodies- has been discovered.  It has long been known that the pigment was a mixture of a particular clay type known as palygorskite and indigo, a blue plant dye.  However, recently Spanish chemists discovered another pigment that is yellow in color and formed through oxidation from the heating of indigo.  Heating was necessary to prepare Maya Blue.  This is interesting because it now explains why some Maya Blue is actually more greenish.  It is probable that the Maya knew how to control the pigment making process to achieve the desired color.



Clam shells indicate that El Niños were more frequent and intense between the 6th and 16th centuries and may have contributed to the demise and reorganization of some ancient Peruvian civilizations.  Clam shells grow bands, like tree rings, and they take in carbon as they grow.  The carbon in these bands can be measured and can also be radiocarbon dated.  Cold water is richer in nutrients than warm water and allows the clams to absorb more carbon. The waters off the coast of Peru are normally cold, but El Niño events bring periodic bouts of warm water. This warm water in turn brings devastating rains to an otherwise arid region.  These rains destroy civic infrastructure and wreak havoc on the cadence of everyday life.



Researchers in the southwest US studied hundreds of thousands of artifacts (mainly ceramics and stone tools) to uncover a complex and dynamic social network that existed between 1200 and 1450 A.D., long before Facebook .  This research shows that people over great distances-from villages over 250 km apart-were interacting and learning from each other in complex ways.  It also shows that there were cycles when people and networks were highly integrated and periods when the social landscape was much more fragmented.



A team of researchers has recently completed a series of studies of Australopithecus sediba, a new hominin species discovered in 2008, 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa.  These studies reveal many interesting facts about A. sediba and indicate that this was a close ancestor of ours who lived two million years ago!


A robot was used to explore tunnels inside the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at the site of Teotihuacan in Mexico.  The team of archaeologists thought there was only one chamber inside the temple, but the robot showed that there are three.  The archaeologists will now excavate the tunnels for further exploration.  An elite tomb has not been found at Teotihuacan.  The head archaeologist, Sergio Gomez, says that there is a possibility that these chambers might house the remains of former Teotihuacan rulers.



Sad news here.  Syria is home to some of the oldest civilizations and cities in the world.  The war has led to increased looting and vandalism of some of the most important archaeological sites.   Soldiers are also using many of the sites as military garrisons.  The site of Ebla was first settled more than 5,000 years ago.  In the 1960s and 70s, 16,000 cuneiform stone tablets were systematically excavated from here that revealed much about administrative and religious life from 3000 B.C.  The archaeologists at the time left large portions of the site undisturbed so future researchers could continue the investigations.  Ebla is now being completely destroyed and much of the history of one of the earliest civilization is now lost.


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