Archaeology Magazine Archive

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From the Trenches Volume 58 Number 3, May/June 2005

It turns out pigs have a more complicated family tree than anyone suspected. Recent DNA analysis of swine the world over shows they were domesticated from wild boar at least seven different times in places as far apart as Europe, India, and Southeast Asia. Pigs were always assumed to have been tamed only twice, around 9,000 years ago in Turkey and in the Far East, when the Chinese began including them in human burials. Excavators of a 4,000-year-old tomb in central China who assumed an animal jawbone found there was that of a pig, however, were surprised to learn recently that it actually belonged to a Giant Panda, which has never been domesticated and is now threatened with extinction. Chinese were likely hunting panda at the time, when the wild population was significantly higher than the 1,600 it stands at today.

Love is alive and well in Italy, where a second-century A.D. life-size marble statue of Venus was discovered during excavations at a new archaeological park in Marsala, Sicily. Archaeologists are still looking for her head. Meanwhile, construction at the future site of an Ikea near Rome has revealed an elaborate brothel. Found along with an aqueduct system and baths dating to the Republican Period (300-27 B.C.), the brothel was decorated with erotic murals depicting a young woman cavorting with an older man, together with a variety of animals' reproductive organs. Such decor would not have been out of place at a site now being excavated in downtown New Orleans. Archaeologists think they may have found the remains of the House of the Rising Sun, a bordello made famous by the folk song recorded by the Animals in 1964. Historical documents, along with the remains of rouge pots and an impressive number of liquor bottles, suggest the site was once the legendary house of ill repute.

Today's Fortune 500 CEOs would probably love to know how ancient leaders inspired devotion so fierce they were venerated long after death. At the site of a 2,400-year-old chariot burial of a military leader in northern England, archaeologists are finding that people were still visiting the burial site five centuries after the man was entombed there. Sacrificed cattle from herds belonging to different eras and different areas of Britain were buried around the chariot. The skeleton of a Gaulish leader interred around 120 B.C. and discovered beneath the Geneva Cathedral also seems to have been the object of long-term devotion. Archaeologists found a cavity dug beneath his head that contained the remains of offerings that seem to have been burnt in rituals centuries after the leader's death. An engraved stone is the oldest piece of a throne ever found in Germany. The piece, part of an armrest that would have supported Charlemagne's left elbow when he was visiting the city of Mainz, was discovered in 1911, but has only recently been identified as part of a throne dating to A.D. 790.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America