Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Archeology and paleoanthropology from campuses on the campaign trail

Among the current crop of research universities in jurisdictions holding elections this year, I've found one that has been putting out consistently good stories about archeology and paleoanthropology, Boston University.  Here are the stories from BU on these topics plus one from University of North Carolina at Charlotte that I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (IPCC report released) and Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (ACA and shutdown on campus) arranged by school (BU first, then UNCC) and age of subject, oldest first.

Walking Like a Cavewoman,

In this video, anthropologist Jeremy DeSilva and physical therapist Kenneth Hold discuss how they unraveled the mystery of how a human ancestor walked.
Walking Like a Cavewoman
A chance BU collaboration sheds light on how a human ancestor got around
By Rich Barlow
They say that to understand another person, you must walk in her shoes. Jeremy DeSilva took that advice to the extreme, attempting to understand a prehistoric ancestor by walking in her feet.

It hurt: putting his foot down on its outer edge, then rolling it inward, step by excruciating step. “It is painful,” says DeSilva, who ambulated (or, more scientifically, hyperpronated) around campus, and occasionally still does. He believes that’s how Australopithecus sediba got around two million years ago, with an anatomy, unlike ours, suited to such a peculiar gait. The South African protoperson, a mixed bag of human and ape traits, could walk upright and also clamber up trees.

DeSilva, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of anthropology, was lead writer on one of six papers published last April in the journal Science, describing in loving detail how this hybrid hominid—a woman, four- to four-and-a-half-feet tall, whose skeletal remains were excavated in South Africa by a team led by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand—got around.
More over the jump.

Knapping Rocks

At Boston University, professors and students practice the ancient art of crafting ancient weapons and tools from raw slabs of stone.
Boston University: Knapping Rocks
BU archaeology students make stone tools with stone tools
By Rich Barlow
Eight people sit in a circle, mostly mute, intently cutting or chopping chunks of obsidian on their laps with tools—which, like the obsidian, are stone. Occasional banter and a chorus of chip-chip-chip-CRACK break the quiet, as the crew scrapes and smooths their stones, then whacks them to hew off larger pieces. Stone dust and chips litter the floor.

The group in the archaeology department’s Gabel Museum is practicing the ancient technology of knapping: fashioning stone artifacts with stone tools, variously obsidian, flint, and sandstone. David Carballo, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of archaeology, guides their progress.

“I’m very rusty,” Carballo says. “This is going to end in blood or something.” At one point, wielding a precision cutting tool—a deer antler tip—in his right hand, he cautiously cradles the obsidian in his left. “This is where you could really hurt yourself, driving a flake off into your hand.”
CAS Archaeologist Finds Near-Perfect Maya Mural
Discovery sheds light on ancient power struggles
By Amy Laskowski
It all started with a dead body. A body with teeth of jade.

Last year, Francisco Estrada-Belli led a team deep in the jungle of the P├ęten region of Guatemala to the Holmul ruins, a Classic Maya city that was once home to 10,000 people. There, they felt and scraped their way through unlit tunnels dug long ago by looters. Finally, after weeks of digging in withering heat and humidity, they came upon something that made the hardships worth the effort: a previously undisturbed tomb beneath a pyramid staircase.

Inside was the skeleton of an adult male, with two teeth drilled and inlaid with jade, “a distinction of status among Maya elite,” says Estrada-Belli (GRS’98), a College of Arts & Sciences research assistant professor of archaeology, who is teaching this semester at Tulane University. The body was buried with a wooden funerary mask and 28 decorated ceramic vessels. Estrada-Belli says the number of vessels and the jade dental decorations suggest that the person was a member of Holmul’s ruling class.

Returning this summer to investigate the building’s function, the team unearthed a wall carving that reveals a saga about changes in power among battling Maya groups. The mural, says Estrada-Belli, is in near-perfect condition, making it an extremely rare find.
That's it for BU.  Now it's University of North Carolina at Charlotte's turn.

Mt. Zion Dig Reveals Possible Second Temple Period Priestly Mansion, Abandoned and Preserved
Quirks of history protect details regarding domestic lives of Jerusalem elites from the time of Jesus
JERUSALEM - Sept. 17, 2013 - In excavating sites in a long-inhabited urban area like Jerusalem, archaeologists are accustomed to noting complexity in their finds – how various occupying civilizations layer over one another during the site’s continuous use over millennia. But when an area has also been abandoned for intermittent periods, paradoxically there may be even richer finds uncovered, as some layers have been buried and remain undisturbed by development.

Such appears be the case at an archaeological dig on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the 2013 excavations have revealed the well-preserved lower levels of what the archaeological team believes is an Early Roman period mansion(first century CE), possibly belonging to a member of the Jewish ruling priestly caste.

If the mansion does prove to be an elite priestly residence, the dig team hopes the relatively undisturbed nature of the buried ruin may yield significant domestic details concerning the rulers of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
And that's it for the latest installment of the ancient world from campuses on the campaign trail.

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