Artificial intelligence for the study of sites

An experimental study led by researcher Abel Moclán, from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has just been published in the Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences journal, which proposes a new method to understand how the faunal assemblages were generated in archaeological sites, and how they could have interacted with groups of humans and carnivores in the places they occupied.

Artificial intelligence for the study of sites
Three examples of the different types of notches
[Credit: A. Moclán]

This new method involves the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to decipher whether faunal assemblages were generated by hominids or carnivores, specifically hyenas and/or wolves. “Thanks to this method, we can discern among the acting agents with a certainty of over 95%,” says Abel Moclán.

To carry out this study, bone fractures have been analyzed in order to interpret whether they were fractured by human groups to consume the bone marrow, or if, on the contrary, the carnivores fractured the bones when trying to access this same resource.

This method can be used as a starting point in Taphonomy when analyzing remains in sites whose preservation does not allow distinguishing who accumulated the assemblages through the analysis of the cut or tooth marks left on the surface of the bones.

“The future of Taphonomy involves using increasingly powerful statistical tools, like the ones we use here,” says Abel Moclán.

Source: CENIEH [March 15, 2019]

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Rare inscription in Greek uncovered in archaeological excavations in the Negev

A 1700-year old stone bearing a Greek inscription referring to the name of the city of Elusa (Hebrew: Halutza) has been discovered in archaeological excavations in Halutza National Park in the Negev. The excavations in the ancient city of Elusa are part of a project directed by Prof. Michael Heinzelmann on behalf of the University of Cologne in cooperation with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority​. Students from the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn participated in three years of excavations, which are underwritten by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development.

Rare inscription in Greek uncovered in archaeological excavations in the Negev
Student from the University of Cologne excavating the bathhouse furnace and hypocaust
discovered this month in Elusa [Credit: Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, IAA]

The inscription is being studied by Prof. Leah Di Segni from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The discovery of an inscription with the name of the ancient city in the site itself is a rare occurrence. The name of the city of Elusa appears in a number of historical documents and contexts, including the Madaba mosaic map, the Nessana papyri and other historical references. However, this is the first time that the name of the city has been discovered in the site itself. The inscription mentions several Caesars of the tetrarchy which allow to date it around 300 CE.
In addition, in the recent excavation season, a bathhouse and Byzantine church were uncovered. The 40 m long three-aisled church contained an eastward apse, whose vault was originally decorated with a glass mosaic. Its nave was decorated with marble. The bathhouse is a large, urban complex of which were revealed part of the furnace and caldarium (hot room). The well-preserved hypocaust underlying the caldarium heated the floor and walls by way of brick-built channels and ceramic pipes. Its originates in the Middle Roman period but was in use until the 6th c. CE.

Rare inscription in Greek uncovered in archaeological excavations in the Negev
The Greek inscription bearing the name Elusa 
[Credit: Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, IAA]

Elusa was founded towards the end of the 4th century BCE as an important station along the Incense Road, the ancient road between Petra and Gaza. The city continued to develop, reaching its peak in the Byzantine period in the fourth to mid-sixth centuries CE. In that period, it was inhabited by thousands of inhabitants and was the only city in the Negev.
The three-year project, underwritten by the Germany-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, included a combination of pedestrian surveys and technological methods such as geophysical surveys and remote imaging in order to map the ancient city and its surroundings. During the project, researchers succeeded in reconstructing the plan of the city and identifying its streets which often were accompanied by porticoes and blocks of buildings, all of which display elements of both western and eastern planning and construction. The surveys have also revealed the presence of nine churches, a huge peristyle building, maybe a market building, and the existence of at least three pottery workshops. The city covered in its heyday a surface of c. 450 dunams reaching a population of c. 8.000 inhabitants.

In wake of the wide-ranging surveys carried out by the German expedition, excavations were carried out at key points in the site to reveal the development of the city. According to Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, a project member on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “The export of high-quality wine from the Negev Highlands in the Byzantine period was responsible for economic prosperity that affected the entire region.
Elusa was also an important station on the route used by Christian pilgrims on their way to and from Santa Katarina in southern Sinai and as such was visited by many foreign travelers. The site appears to have gone out of existence by the end of the seventh century CE, but its name was preserved locally in the Arabic name of its ruins: ‘el-Khalassa’. The site was used as a source of building stone for Ottoman Gaza and Beer Sheba until the British Mandate period and as a result few building remains can be seen on the surface today and much of the site is hidden under the sand.”

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs [March 14, 2019]

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700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu

A rare, well-preserved lacquer coffin dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) has been unearthed in east China’s Jiangsu Province, local authorities said Thursday.

700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu
Credit: Sohu.com

Changzhou Museum said a tomb group was recently found at a construction site in Tangling Village in the city of Changzhou, where a coffin, looking like a freshly-painted one, was unearthed.
“We speculated that the good condition of the coffin might be attributed to the sticky mud between the chamber and coffin, which could isolate the air. While the high underground water level also helped isolate the air and keep the color of the coffin bright,” said Peng Hui, director of the archaeological office of the museum.

However, there was a lot of liquid inside the 700-year-old coffin due to its poor water resistance. To discharge the liquid from the coffin and minimize the impact on things inside the coffin, archaeologists spent around 16 hours discharging 500 litres of liquid from the coffin, Peng said.

700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu
700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu
Credit: Sohu.com

700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu
700-year-old well-preserved lacquer coffin discovered in Jiangsu
Credit: Sohu.com

So far, five wooden combs and two bamboo fine-toothed combs and bronze cash coins have been found.
Changzhou has a long history of comb manufacturing, tracing back to the Wei-Jin period (220-420).

“Yuan Dynasty tombs were seldom discovered in the southern lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The findings are very important for the study of Changzhou’s history,” said Huang Jiankang, deputy curator of the museum.

Source: Xinhua News Agency [March 14, 2019]

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