World news in brief: American wood and Egyptian gold

A round-up of some of the latest archaeological discoveries from around the globe.

Isn’t it good North American wood?

New evidence suggests that the Norse occupants of Greenland imported some of their wood from North America.

Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir from the University of Iceland analysed timber samples taken from five Norse sites in western Greenland, including four medium-sized farms and one higher-status episcopal manor. Microscopic analysis of these samples was used to identify the species of wood. Several of those identified could have been imported from many different locations (or have arrived in Greenland as driftwood), but others, in particular hemlock and jack pine, did not grow in Europe at this time and so must have been imported from the east coast of North America. Interestingly, these specific species were only found at the high-status site, suggesting that imported wood may have been a luxury item.

Maya pelota marker found

A rare Maya marker depicting the ballgame known as pelota (or sometimes pok-ta-pok) was recently discovered at Chichén Itzá in Mexico. The large, round stone, measuring 32.5cm in diameter and weighing 40kg, was found by archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Anthropología e Historia (INAH) in the Casa Colorado (or ‘Red House’, named after the paint colour found inside it) complex, which is known to have had its own ball court.

Image: INAH

In the centre of this marker, now known as the ‘Disco de los Jugadores de Pelota’, are two figures dressed as ball players: one with a feathered headdress and sash with a flower decoration, and the other with a headdress known as a ‘snake turban’. Surrounding this image is an inscription bearing the date count ’12 Eb 10 Cumku’, which possibly suggests that it is from the year AD 894.

Evidence of ‘gold of honour’ ritual found in Egyptian palace

Recent analysis of 12 dismembered right hands – which were found in three pits in the forecourt of the 15th Dynasty palace (c.1640-1530 BC) at Tell el-Dab’a in north-eastern Egypt in 2011 – suggests that they may be the first direct evidence for the custom known as the ‘gold of honour’ ceremony. The ceremony is described in ancient Egyptian texts, and involved soldiers presenting the severed hands of their enemies to the pharaoh – both to show that their enemies would not be able to pass into the afterlife (as this required the body to be whole) as well as to be rewarded with prestigious objects such as gold collars.

While it had been previously suggested that these hands might be evidence of some sort of judicial punishment, osteological analysis suggests that they were probably removed after death. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that the severing of hands was used as a form of punishment in ancient Egypt.