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​​TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a Haaretz report, an international team of researchers led by Ella Assaf of Tel Aviv University suggests that stone spheres unearthed in central Israel’s Qesem Cave were used to break up large animal bones in order to extract their nutritious, high-calorie marrow.

Examination of the artifacts also indicates the cave’s residents may have collected the spheres from an older site and reused them, since such spheroids found in the Middle East usually date to between 1.4 million and 500,000 years ago, and Qesem Cave was inhabited between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago.

These stone balls were made of dolomite or limestone, which is not found in the area, and they were covered with a different patina than other tools found in the cave, Assaf explained, which suggests the spheres were stored in another environment over a long period of time. Microscopic analysis of the artifacts revealed wear and tear on their ridges, as well as residues of fat, collagen, and bone.

The team members recreated the spheres, and used the new tools to break open fresh animal bones. And although the experiment reproduced the marks found on the prehistoric tools, they were tricky to make. “One little mistake and the sphere can break in half, or you can keep fixing the ridges and end up with a very tiny, useless ball,” Assaf said. Recycling the ancient tools was therefore worthwhile, she said.

To read about Paleolithic evidence for the use of fire in the Levant, go to "Catching Fire and Keeping It."

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Weapons of the Ancient World
How people of the past developed arms to master the challenges of their time

Villages in the Sky
High in the Rockies, archaeologists have discovered evidence of mountain life 4,000 years ago

Megasites of Ukraine
Massive 6,000-year-old settlements are revolutionizing how archaeologists understand ancient cities

A Path to Freedom
At a Union Army camp in Kentucky, enslaved men, women, and children struggled for their lives and fought to be free

The King's Canal
​Rock reliefs in Iraqi Kurdistan show how Assyrian farmers toiled under the royal gaze

Experiment Tests Israel’s Prehistoric Stone Spheres

Wednesday, April 15, 2020​​

Archaeological Sites Investigated in Northern Alaska

Tuesday, April 14, 2020​​

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—According to an Anchorage Daily News report, archaeologist Jeff Rasic of the National Park Service has investigated archaeological sites at Howard’s Pass, a several mile–wide tundra plateau located in the mountains of northern Alaska’s Brooks Range.

The sites date back some 11,000 years, and include traces of houses, tent rings, food-storage pits, tool-making debris, and cairns that may have been used to help drive caribou into hunting traps. Wind-chill temperature in the pass can drop to about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit—so cold that caribou can freeze to death. Yet some of the sites appeared to have been occupied during the winter, Rasic said. Half of the dwellings’ living area was set underground, with cold-trap tunnels at the entrances, he explained.

Rasic thinks Inupiaq peoples may have chosen to live there to harvest caribou and fish, and explained that the Inupiaq name for Howard’s Pass is Akutuq, a word also used for a food product made of whipped animal fat, sugar, and berries, which resembles wind-driven snow. “If you are someone trying to escape clouds of mosquitoes, winds aren’t necessarily bad. And maybe a windswept place is good for winter travel—hard and crusty, good to get around on,” he added.

For more on the archaeology of indigenous communities in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."


Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Unearthed at Temple of Ramesses II

Tuesday, April 9, 2020​​

ABYDOS, EGYPT—According to an Ahram Online report, a team of researchers led by Sameh Iskander of New York University uncovered foundation deposits, ten large storerooms, and niches cut into the walls of the southwest corner of the Temple of Ramesses II in Abydos. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said that the foundation deposits, which include plaques inscribed with Ramesses II’s throne name, copper tool models, pottery, grindstones, and food offerings, were buried in 1279 B.C. when construction of the temple began.

It had been previously thought that the temple was built by Seti I, the father of Ramesses II. “This discovery has changed the physical appearance of the Abydos landscape and shed considerable light on our understanding of the temple and its economy during the thirteenth century B.C.,” Iskander explained. The storerooms at the site held grain and other temple provisions, offerings, and equipment, and were roofed with vaulted brick ceilings. In the niches, the researchers found the heads and bones of 12 sacrificial bulls dated to the Ptolemaic period. “This is a testimony to the vivid memory of Ramesses II in the Egyptian mind 1,000 years after his reign,” Iskander said. A complete bull skeleton was also found buried under the temple floor.

To read about analysis of a pair of legs found in the tomb of Ramesses II's wife Nefertari, go to "Royal Gams."