Workshop on Bioarchaeology in Mesopotamia

From February 29 to March 2, 2024 an online, free workshop on “Bioarchaeology in Mesopotamia” will showcase state-of-the-art bioarchaeological research in Mesopotamia.

“Bioarchaeology” is a broad umbrella term for research on biological remains recovered from archaeological contexts. Bioarchaeologists provide information on human health, diet, workload, mobility, and more. They reconstruct past ecologies and reveal ancient changes in climate. They illuminate economies and social structures, revealing how foods were produced, homes were furnished, and cities were cleaned (or not). They contribute information vital to understanding why people in the past settled where they did, and why they abandoned settlements.

Workshop on Bioarchaeology in Mesopotamia/ورشة العمل حول البيوأثرولوجيا في بلاد ما بين النهرين

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Toro Muerto – researching pre-Columbian petroglyphs

The archaeological site of Toro Muerto, one of the largest assemblages of rock art in the world, lies in a small desert valley to the west of the Andean foothills. Much of it is decorated with petroglyphs (rock engravings) created by representatives of several local cultures who, over many centuries (probably from the beginning of our era until Inca times), came to this unique site to take part in ceremonies.

Watch the video describing the research at the site

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Seventy-three intact burials with carved masks discovered at Pachacámac

Seventy-three intact burials in burial bundles, some with carved masks, have just been discovered at Pachacámac. The site of the find is an extensive complex of cemeteries from different periods at the foot of the Painted Temple. Nearby, wooden staff with images of dignitaries of the Wari Empire were also discovered.

The burials date from the second half of the Middle Horizon, that is, the time of the Wari Empire. The burial bundles were initially deposited individually and later also in groups. The state of preservation for most of them is spectacular.

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Stinky problem – where did the Maya go to the toilet?

Imagine an ancient Maya city in its heyday. You will probably see its ceremonial core, with lofty pyramids, elevated palaces, extensive plazas, and everything is either painted bright red, or blinding white. You notice courtiers strolling along private patios, and servants rushing in all directions with their daily tasks. Perhaps there you can catch a glimpse of the ruler, sitting on his cushioned throne somewhere in the guts of a complicated maze of corridors in his palace. There is a sound of a gentle breeze blowing through the roofcombs, and a murmur of indistinguishable conversations. Faint smells of food mix with those of flowers… Then you step outside of the core, and everything changes. Perishable architecture intertwines with small houselot gardens, there are people everywhere, and they all seem to be shouting. Dogs are barking, some turkeys block your way, kids play in a muddy puddle, and you feel nauseous because of the ever-present smell of human waste mixed with odors of organic decay…

Hang on, hang on! Is that really a plausible picture?

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Invisible traces of human presence. Stories from Polish caves

Caves have been an object of human fascination since the dawn of time. These mysterious, closed spaces served various functions in the past – from temporary shelters or flint workshops to places of burial or worship. Human history is recorded here in long stratigraphic sequences, with each layer being a part of a long-forgotten story. We try to read these stories and reconstruct the lives of ancient people. Usually, we use for this purpose artefacts: objects left or lost by the former inhabitants of the caves or by people visiting them. Sometimes our reconstruction is not clear – there are too few objects or they are too well hidden. However, every human activity leaves behind something more than artefacts. It leaves behind chemical traces. We just need to learn to read them properly.

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The lecture about Pre-Pottery Neolithic communities

The Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw will organize the lecture by Professor Ian Kuijt (Dept of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame) titled “Social abstraction, egalitarianism, and Pre-Pottery Neolithic communities: Reconsidering the evolution of the world’s first villages“. It is scheduled for 13th October, 11:30-13:00, room 212 in the building of the Faculty, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa. The lecture will be available also online; to receive the link please contact Aldona Mueller Bieniek (a.muellerbie@uw.edu.pl).

Reconsidering the evolution of the world’s first villages

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Tales as old as time: Teeth reveal migrant neighborhoods in ancient Mesopotamia

The earliest large cities emerged in northern Mesopotamia during the Late Chalcolithic (c. 4200 – 2900 BCE). It was a time of transformation from local village-based social structures to big cities with hierarchical societies, more sophisticated division of labour and development of central authorities towards early states. The process of urbanization is well indicated by the rapid increase in settlement size, which at Tell Brak reached more than 120 hectares in mid-4th millennium BCE. It was however not clear whether this process was due to local population growth or migration and absorption of people from different areas. A recent bioarchaeological study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology offered a new line of evidence, suggesting that the Late Chalcolithic urban growth was supported by migration. Much like today, people migrated into the city and settled in neighborhoods based around their shared migratory origins. These neighborhoods remained distinct communities that did not begin to integrate for multiple generations.

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Archaeology of the invisible: how proteins and carbon isotopes help to reconstruct the human past

Dr. Helen Fewlass is an archaeological scientist in the Ancient Genomics Lab at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK. As an EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) Postdoctoral Fellow at the Crick, she studies proteins in ancient bones and fossils to tell how old they are and to investigate the process of human evolution. She is now collaborating with the researchers of the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw in many scientific projects which involve radiocarbon dates and their interpretation. Archeowieści reached out to her for a little interview about her job and the connection of her field of expertise with the archaeological world. Continue reading “Archaeology of the invisible: how proteins and carbon isotopes help to reconstruct the human past”

The Impact of Metal Object Recording Strategies at Mycenae in 1939

Metal objects from Mycenae are some of the most famous in the archaeological world. Homer memorably described Agamemnon’s Mycenae as “rich in gold”, proven accurate in 1876 when Henrich Schliemann uncovered tombs filled with astonishing gold artefacts, amongst many other valuable treasures.

Trudging through field notes kept in an obscure archaeological notebook for the 1939 archaeological excavations at Mycenae led to an unexpected discovery: a cache of metal artefacts from a rubbish pit near the monumental Treasury of Atreus tomb, the so-called “Atreus bothros”. Yet the objects are unpublished and almost all are missing from the official finds catalogue! What happened to them? The mystery could only be solved by travelling back to 1939…

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