Archaeology Magazine Archive

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From the Trenches Volume 58 Number 5, September/October 2005

Sometimes, the bad guys can help you out. Archaeologists in the eastern German city of Halle were given a tip that treasure hunters were at work in the area where the Nebra Disc, possibly a 3,600-year-old astronomical map, was supposedly found in 1999. Eager to beat them to the punch, the archaeologists immediately began excavating one of at least eight barrows that stand within view of the cult site where the disc was allegedly found. Excavation revealed the 3,000-year-old elite burial of a man who had apparently taken his retinue with him. Laid out in a circle around his body were the remains of an undetermined number of people, including three children, who had been clubbed to death.


On an equally grisly front, when a German peat-machine operator found more than 100 body parts in his bog five years ago, he called the police, who immediately suspected he had found a teenage girl missing since 1969. But when the DNA failed to match, the discovery was forgotten until recently, when a hand (shown at right) was found in the same bog. This time, archaeologists were called in, and radiocarbon dating of the hand revealed the remains did not belong to a 17-year-old, but a 2,700-year-old. Now completely reassembled with the exception of a single shoulder blade, the "Girl of the Uchter Moor" is the oldest well-preserved body ever discovered north of the Alps, beating out Denmark's Tollund Man by 600 years. Researchers will examine the remains to better understand how the "Girl of Uchter Moor" lived. "Today we have a handful of questions," one investigator told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. "In a week it will probably be two handfuls."

Body parts were also on the mind of the AmaRharhabe Royal House of South Africa, which commissioned University of Pretoria archaeologists to excavate a grave believed to be that of Xhosa King Mgolombanie Sandile, killed while fighting the British in 1878 in the Ninth Frontier War. Legend has held that the king was beheaded and his head unceremoniously buried on a farm in England next to a pet dog. An AmaRharhabe royal delegation to the farm last year confirmed the existence of a tombstone that claimed "Here lies the head of Sandile." An excavation of the grave site in the Tyusha Forest near Stutterheim revealed cartridges from the battle and human remains that exhibited a leg malformation--a disability the king was known to have. But, most important, King Sandile had his head. Following the archaeologists' discovery of the king's grave, a spokesman for the royal house denounced the tombstone as "a deliberate distortion of truth by the British enemy."

* For more news, see "World Roundup."

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America