Saturday, January 8, 2011

Archaeology in 2010

I have been subscribing to Archaeology magazine since at least the mid-1990s. A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, the glossy bi-monthly magazine offers easy-to-read news-like updates on new discoveries, conservation issues, black-market crimes, and other related bits of information regarding things found underground and underwater. Their website often provides free the full-text of some of the articles too, which is rather nice of them. I always read the articles about ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, India, and China, but occasionally there are great articles about newer bits of archaeology like the discovery this past summer of an 18th-century ship during construction at the World Trade Center site.

The latest issue online for January/February 2011 has a recap of the top 10 discoveries in 2010. From the list, I found the article on "The Tomb of Hecatomnus" in Milas, Turkey to be of interest. The picture above shows the king's sarcophagus with what may be a carved representation of the king himself (source: AP Photo/Durmus Genc, Anatolian). This 4th-century B.C.E. king of Caria in southwestern Turkey arguably is most famous today only because of his son, Mausolas, who was buried in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (and from whose name we get the word mausoleum). Another major discovery that fascinated me was the decoding of the genome for Neanderthals. Contrary to what had been believed, that Neanderthals had nothing to do with Homo sapiens (that's us), in fact studies of extracted Neanderthal DNA now have shown that they are part of our modern DNA structure too. Author Zach Zorich writes: "A major insight came when researchers compared the Neanderthal DNA to the DNA of three modern people (one French, one Han Chinese, and one Polynesian). The team found that all three had inherited between 1 and 4 percent of their DNA from Neanderthals. They also compared the Neanderthal sequence to two African individuals (one Yoruba and one San) and found no indication that they had inherited genes from Neanderthals, who are known to have evolved outside Africa. The research supports the idea that Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens between 100,000 and 80,000 years ago as our anatomically modern ancestors left Africa and spread across the globe."

But of all the articles published last year in Archaeology, my favorite has to be the September/October issue that had a series of articles on dogs in ancient cultures. Authored by Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell, "More Than Man's Best Friend" discussed the different ways in which dogs have been part of human culture for more than 15,000 years. We know all dogs descended from wolves that were domesticated (such as the beautiful creature you see here; image copyright Staffan Widsrtrand/Nature Picture Library). The article talks about specific cultures and aspects of how dogs were part of our lives, as companions, guardians, even in some cultures food (ugh!) for thousands of years. The story of dogs in Roman Britain showed how they were more integrated into our lives both as pets and working creatures, as evidenced by found artefacts and fossilized pawprints. Fascinating stuff for us dog lovers!

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