2013: The Year in Archaeology

It’s the end of the year, so it’s time to make lists. Here are my favourite archaeological things of 2013–enjoy!

Top picks

A huge Wari tomb, miraculously left untouched by looters, unearthed just North of Lima. Simply amazing.

Gone Home was one of the best games that came out this year, if not the game of the year. Over at Middle Savagery, Colleen Morgan provides a great archaeology-geek perspective on “the way the game uses found objects, assemblages, and a domestic structure to connect the player with missing people”. I kind of wish I’d written this myself.

Who says British Archaeology is boring? A small fleet of Bronze Age boats was uncovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, in an area once inhabited by prehistoric eel fishers. The Guardian article is full of lovely examples of the geeky love archaeologists will often feel towards their finds, including this paragraph, about nicknaming the boats:

The boats were all nicknamed by the team, including Debbie – made of lime wood, and therefore deemed a blonde – and French Albert the Fifth Musketeer, the fifth boat found. Murrell’s favourite is Vivienne, a superb piece of craftsmanship where the solid oak was planed down with bronze tools to the thickness of a finger, still so light and buoyant that when their trench filled with rainwater, they floated it into its cradle for lifting and transportation.

Who says archaeology is all about the past? Jason De León’s Undocumented Migration Project uses archaeological skills and ways of thinking to better understand illegal migration from Mexico to the US.

“Here come the flying pi-ig!” Archaeologists unearth 2,400-year-old baby bottle in the shape of a pig in Southern Italy. Io9 has a nice big picture of the object, but the History Blog provides a brief but in-depth look at the find’s significance within its wider context, a Messapian family grave: “[i]t’s possible that one of the adults was pregnant when she died and was poignantly buried with the artifacts she’d accumulated in expectation. It’s also possible that an infant was buried there but her delicate bones have disintegrated over time.”

This article on 19th-century shark-tooth weaponry from Kiribati has a lot of things going for it. Firstly, it’s about motherflipping shark-tooth weaponry. Secondly, it shows that interesting and useful research can be carried out on museum collections. Thirdly, it includes an awesome description of duelling practices in 19th-century Kiribati (combatants wore coconut cord armour and dried pufferfish helmets, apparently).

The world’s oldest known preserved human dissection, likely used in the thirteenth century as an aid for anatomy lessons–challenges popular notions that the Middle Ages were “anti-science”.

Eight-year-old Harriet asked Hadley Freeman who invented clothes, on the Guardian. Though Suzi Gage thought Freeman’s reply “was, as usual, entertainingly breezy, with some refreshing encouragement to Harriet to experiment in developing her own style”, she was also “disappointed that a girl asking a genuine question about archaeology ended up with the barest of facts, as well as being told, even if it was meant lightheartedly, that the grown-up answering her question would rather she pay attention to what she looks like”. This is how Gage, as an archaeologist, would have replied.

Candidates for (Long-Dead) Person of the Year

Richard III One of the first Big Archaeological Things this year was the announcement that the bones of Richard III were unearthed from beneath a car park in Leicester. I snobbishly neglected to follow this story, thinking, “So what! Archaeology’s not about finding the remains of famous people!” But Rosemary Joyce’s article on “the king in the car park” made me reconsider things–the way archaeologists engaged with the press and the public should be taken as an example by everyone who, like me, wishes to divulge the awesomeness of archaeology beyond academia.

The Gilwice Vampire A dig near Gilwice (Poland) unearthed the remains of a man with his skull resting between his legs–which corresponds to traditional Eastern European practices for the disposal of suspected vampires. National Geographic provides a short history of archaeological research on vampires, while Katy Meyers over at Bones Don’t Lie provides a healthily skeptic perspective on the matter.

The El Brujo Priestess-Queen Tomb of a Moche Priestess-Queen Uncovered at El Brujo, Peru: Everybody Is Surprised that Women Could Achieve Positions of Power in Ancient Times… despite the fact that there was already ample evidence for this. Rosemary Joyce has a great rant about the sexism that typically characterises the way the press covers these kinds of finds. She also points to things that are legitimately surprising about this Moche woman–for example, the fact that her coffin wore sandals.

Toothpicking Neanderthals Our prominent-browed cousins were fans of dental hygiene: and so their journey from glorified gorillas to Stone Age sophisticates continues.

The Llullaillaco children A group of Inca children ingested alcohol and drugs just before they were ritually killed. The use of the words “stoned”, “high” and “drunk” in the press’s coverage of this research struck me as a trifle insensitive. Katy Meyer, on the other hand, provides a nice, respectful summary of the researchers’ findings, and their significance.

The Dmanisi Homo erectus Does it really revolutionise our understanding of human evolution? John Hawkes provides an articulate perspective.

I would also like to apologise for not posting here as regularly as I would like to–the more I blog, the more concerned I get about the quality of each post, which means that I have loads of drafts for posts that I abandoned halfway through because I decided they weren’t good enough. However, I am hoping to get a lot of blog-work done during the holidays… future posts may or may not be about Easter Island’s alleged environmental catastrophes, cavepeople in cinema, and the archaeology of disability!


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