Letter from Cairo
February 4, 2011 by ARCHAEOLOGY correspondent Mike Elkin
"If the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, is safe, Egypt is safe," newly appointed Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass wrote on his web page Thursday. Yet Egypt is anything but safe and the museum is on the front lines of the ongoing street battle between anti-government demonstrators and those loyal to President Hosni Mubarak.
While the safety of those peaceful protesters I met in Tahrir Square over the past week concerns me, so does the protection of Egypt's archaeological sites. As in any popular revolt, rumors fly faster than rocks and bullets. Local and foreign archaeologists have been calling each other daily and flooding the Internet with whatever bits of information they can come by. Yet, first-hand accounts of whether sites have been looted are hard to find. The official statements from Hawass say that only two heritage sites were damaged: the Cairo Museum and Quntara in Sinai.
"In Quntara, thieves broke into the storage facility, but they later returned 288 statues," Hawass told me over the phone on Thursday. "We think that nothing else is missing." Thieves broke into the Cairo Museum on Friday, January 28, damaging several artifacts—including a wooden statue from King Tut's tomb—and beheading two mummies. Hawass has said everything that was damaged can be restored and that the army and other security forces are protecting the museum. Information about damage to other sites around the country, however, is patchy because many archaeological teams are between digging seasons and only the local inspectors are nearby.
"We've all been talking, mainly finding out who is here, who isn't, who is leaving, and who is staying," said Miriam Seco, director of the excavation of the Temple of Thutmose III in Luxor, on Wednesday in her apartment in Cairo. The tympani-like chants of Mubarak supporters from a nearby square echoed throughout the interview. "I've been in contact with the curators at the Cairo Museum, and many are sleeping there at night. The army is outside, but they are staying there to protect the antiquities. In Luxor, there were warnings on January 29th and 30th about armed looters so all the Egyptian archaeologists, who live on the East Bank, crossed the river to take turns standing guard with sticks and anything else to protect the sites. Thank god there were no such attacks."
Seco said that as of Tuesday, the missions pressing on with work include Chicago House in Medinet Habu—the holy ground where the four primeval gods of Egyptian mythology are believed to be buried—and her excavations at Thutmose III's temple in Luxor. A French team is still working at Karnak (a vast complex of temples devoted mainly to the god Amun) and a Polish team continues excavations at Deir el Bahri (the site of a temple and palace complex built by Hatshepsut in the 15th century B.C.)
What concerns the Egyptologists I spoke to, however, is the funerary site of Saqqara, which suffered a 36-hour gap in security before the army moved in around the site. Hawass insists that no looting took place. Some locks on tombs were broken, but the intruders caused no damage inside nor stole anything. "If anything had happened it would have been a disaster," he said.
Several archaeologists with contacts at Saqqara, who requested anonymity, confirmed this assessment. But they added that storage facilities were robbed, something the Supreme Council of Antiquities has denied. Inspectors, sources said, are evaluating the damage to the site with the army because the looters might be armed. The site is now closed to the public.
I spoke to an archaeologist at the French mission, who works at Saqqara and was in Cairo. "We've heard a lot of conflicting stories and many things on the Internet are wrong," he told me, based on calls to his Egyptian counterparts. "People were saying that my site in south Saqqara was destroyed, but in reality only two tents were damaged. We just have to wait and see, because now we have orders to stay out. On Sunday, looters were shooting at inspectors, who were very brave. Looting in Saqqara is nothing new, but before the army arrived, the site was left unguarded."
Egypt will likely undergo change in the coming months. Politically, the future is anyone's guess. Archaeologically, we will have to wait for the research teams to resume work before we learn about anything definitive about possible damage.
© 2011 by the Archaeological Institute of America
Egypt Update: Rare Tomb May Have Been Destroyed
by Andrew Lawler on 3 February 2011, 5:26 PM
Reports of damage to one of the few ancient Egyptian tombs devoted solely to a woman have tempered the news that most of Egypt's priceless antiquities have escaped damage and that teams of foreign archaeologists are safe amid widespread protests against the regime led by Hosni Mubarak.
One archaeologist present at the famous cemetery of Saqqara, south of Cairo, said that as many as 200 looters were digging for treasure in the area this past weekend before police resecured the area. The excavator, who requested anonymity, added that the tomb of Maya, the wet nurse of King Tutankhamun, was "completely destroyed." Another Western archaeologist said, "We still don't know the extent of the damage, but things have been bad and out of control."
None of the Molotov cocktails hurled yesterday around Tahrir Square, home of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities , damaged the building or its contents, according to Zahi Hawass, the minister of antiquities. His blog explains that he has been in contact with the museum control room and that there was no damage beyond last weekend's break-in, which damaged 70 artifacts. Hawass also vehemently denied that there has been heavy looting in Saqqara.
Hawass did say that six boxes were stolen from a storeroom at a site on the Sinai Peninsula but that many objects had since been returned. Concerns remain that the small museum at Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, has been thoroughly looted. There was good news at Giza, however. Mark Lehner, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based archaeologist who digs at the pyramid-builders town, said the site was not damaged, as was reported earlier in the week.
Foreign archaeologists in Luxor say the situation in that city far to the south was normal. W. Raymond Johnson, who heads the University of Chicago team there, said that after some weekend rioting all was quiet and that there was no damage to any site. His team resumed work on Sunday. He added that American, French, German, and Egyptian teams "are all checking up on each other." The situation is so normal, in fact, that he noted "there were 10 tour buses" in the parking lot of one ancient Luxor temple yesterday afternoon.
At Amarna, once the capital of Egypt under the pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti, all is "as peaceful as ever," says Barry Kemp, a University of Cambridge archaeologist who is still at the site. An attempt to loot archaeological magazines on the other side of the Nile River was thwarted by police, he said. "Order has not broken down in the countryside as it has in Cairo," he says.
Kemp said all foreign expeditions were ordered on Saturday to halt work and leave. Most of his team has since left, and he intends to travel to Cairo soon "to sit it out until I can come back."
Museums on high alert for ancient Egyptian loot
By Mohammed Abbas – Wed Feb 2, 9:49 am ET
International museums are on high alert for looted Egyptian artifacts and some archaeologists have even offered to fly to the country to help safeguard its ancient treasures, museums said Wednesday.
Egypt has been rocked by an unprecedented nine days of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule, and fears are high for the country's priceless heritage after looters broke into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo last week.
The specter of the fall of Baghdad in 2003 looms large in the minds of Egyptologists, when thousands millennia-old artifacts were stolen or smashed by looters in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"The situation during the fall of Baghdad is the worst case scenario, but we think that's not going to happen because there is such a movement to protect the antiquities," said Karen Exell, chairwoman of Britain's Egypt Exploration Society and curator of the Egypt collection at the Manchester Museum.
Egyptologists have been heartened by the reaction of ordinary Egyptians to chaos and lawlessness.
In Cairo hundreds of people formed a chain around the museum to protect it after looters broke into the museum Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, officials said.
Western museums are still urging vigilance.
"All of us who are friends of Egypt can help the efforts to stop looting of archaeological sites, stores and museums, by focusing on the international antiquities trade," London's Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology said in a statement.
Exell said an international alert had gone out to watch for looted items, as well as offers of help. One had been posted on a global Egyptologist electronic bulletin board by a team of Spanish archaeologists, offering to help catalog artifacts.
Egypt is home to one of the world's greatest ancient civilizations, which is also a major source of tourist income.
The British Museum, home to one of the world's top collections of Egyptian antiquities, including the famed Rosetta Stone, called for more protection of the country's heritage.
"It is a matter of the greatest concern that these irreplaceable objects should be fully protected to ensure their safety and survival for future generations," the museum said.
Many key ancient Egyptian works were allowed to leave the country in previous centuries and are stored in international museums. Some critics say this is because authorities did not recognize their true value when they were unearthed.
Exell said this is not the case now.
"It's been really heartening that ordinary people are protecting sites closest to them, they understand their value ... People do feel very proud of their heritage."
Reburial requirement impedes archaeology
The Guardian, Friday 4 February 2011
We have written to justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to express our concern about conditions imposed on the archaeological excavation of human remains, which occurs under licence from the Ministry of Justice. Recently issued licences require the reburial of all human remains from England and Wales, however ancient. This requirement is not specified in the relevant act and Mr Clarke has not explained his reasoning. We wish to return to the simple, well-tried system practised up to 2008 which permitted the retention, study, curation and display of excavated remains as appropriate.
The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest. The long-term retention of excavated ancient human remains is a fundamental principle of scientific research, regulated by professional ethics and guidelines, and is a museum practice that has been much examined around the world. Curated remains continue to be reanalysed for centuries, as new techniques are developed. Such research makes important contributions to the public's understanding of the lives of the people who came before us; it helps put our own lives into perspective. If the requirement for wholesale reburial remains, Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology, a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community.
Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE FBA, Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology University of Oxford
Professor Chris Stringer FRS, Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum
Professor Graeme Barker FBA, Disney Professor of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
Professor Stephen Shennan FBA, Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, London
Professor Mike Fulford CBE FBA, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright MBE, former Chief Archaeologist, English Heritage
Professor Timothy Darvill OBE, School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University
Professor Richard P. Evershed FRS FRSC, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol
Professor Martin Bell FBA, Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Richard Bradley FBA, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Clive Gamble FBA, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor Roberta Gilchrist FBA, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Chris Gosden FBA, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor Anthony Harding FBA, Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
Professor Colin Haselgrove FBA, Head of School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester
Professor David Mattingly FBA, School of Archaeology & Ancient History, University of Leicester
Professor Martin Millett FBA, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge
Professor Alasdair Whittle FBA, Distinguished Research Professor in Archaeology, Cardiff University
Professor Ian Armit, Department of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor David Austin, Chair of Archaeology, University of Wales Trinity St David
Professor Martin Carver, Editor of Antiquity, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, University of York
Professor Andrew Chamberlain, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Professor Bob Chapman, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Professor Jim Crow, Head of Archaeology, School of History, Classics & Archaeology, Edinburgh University
Professor Keith Dobney, Sixth Century Professor of Human Palaeoecology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Stephen T. Driscoll, Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow
Professor Andrew Fleming, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of Wales
Professor Helena Hamerow, Head of School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Professor Ian Haynes, Chair of Archaeology, Newcastle University
Professor Julian Henderson, Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Professor Carl Heron, Head of Archaeological, Geographical & Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor Simon Hillson, UCL Institute of Archaeology, London
Professor Mark Horton, Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol
Professor John Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Birmingham
Professor Martin Jones, George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science, University of Cambridge
Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Mike Pitts, Editor of British Archaeology, Director of Digging Deeper Ltd
Professor Charlotte A. Roberts, Department of Archaeology, University of Durham
Dr Duncan Sayer, School of Forensic & Investigative Science, University of Central Lancashire
Professor Chris Scarre, Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Durham
Professor Howard Williams, Department of History & Archaeology, University of Chester
Legislation forces archaeologists to rebury finds
Bones and skulls from ancient settlements will be reburied and lost to science under controversial legislation that threatens to cripple archaeological research
Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 4 February 2011
Archaeologists from Durham University clean a Roman stone sarcophagus uncovered at a dig in Newcastle city centre. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA/PA
Human remains from Stonehenge and other ancient settlements will be reburied and lost to science under legislation that threatens to cripple research into the history of humans in Britain, a group of leading archaeologists says today.
In a letter addressed to the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, and printed in the Guardian today, 40 archaeology professors write of their "deep and widespread concern" about the issue.
The dispute centres on legislation introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2008 which requires all human remains excavated at digs in England and Wales to be reburied within two years, regardless of their age. The decision, which amounts to a reinterpretation of law previously administered by the Home Office, means scientists have too little time to study bones and other human remains of national and cultural significance, the academics say.
"Your current requirement that all archaeologically excavated human remains should be reburied, whether after a standard period of two years or a further special extension, is contrary to fundamental principles of archaeological and scientific research and of museum practice," they write. Signatories include Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London; Stephen Shennan, director of University College London's archaeology institute; and Helena Hamerow, head of archaeology at Oxford University.
The ruling applies to any pieces of bone uncovered at around 400 dig sites, including the remains of 60 or so bodies found at Stonehenge in 2008 that date back to 3,000BC. Archaeologists have been granted a temporary extension to give them more time, but ultimately the bones will have to be returned to the ground.
The arrangements, the archaeologists say, may result in the squandering of future discoveries at sites such as Happisburgh in Norfolk, where excavations are continuing after the discovery of stone tools made by early humans 950,000 years ago.
"If human remains were found at Happisburgh they would be the oldest human fossils in northern Europe and the first indication of what this species was. Under the current practice of the law those remains would have to be reburied and effectively destroyed," said Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology. "This applies to everything. If we were to find a Neanderthal fossil or a Roman skeleton, it would all have to be reburied."
Prior to 2008, guidelines allowed for the proper curation and study of bones of sufficient age and historical interest, while the Burial Act 1857 applied to more recent remains, such as those exhumed from the St Pancras Old Church cemetery to build the London Eurostar train terminal. The Ministry of Justice assured archaeologists two years ago that the ruling was an interim measure, but has so far failed to revise its decision.
Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at Sheffield University, said: "Archaeologists have been extremely patient because we were led to believe the ministry was sorting out this problem, but we feel that we cannot wait any longer.
"Whereas we have museum collections of ancient and prehistoric human remains that have been dug up in some cases hundreds of years ago, we are about to lose all of the well-excavated, well-documented skeletal material that has been excavated since 2008," he added.
The ministry has no guidelines on where or how remains should be reburied, or on what records should be kept.
Removing the need to rebury ancient human remains within two years would give archaeologists the option to study excavated bones with new scientific techniques that constantly emerge from research laboratories, the letter says.
Remains from dozens of sites are immediately at risk of reburial, including eight bronze and iron age bodies found at Clay Farm in Cambridgeshire, 50 or so skeletons from the cemetery of a medieval hospital in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, and a remarkable Viking mass burial site excavated during work on the Weymouth relief road in 2009.
"The government is asking us to destroy important materials, not preserve them for future generations, a situation that is against its own heritage policies, contra to the public will and not in the interests of the general public at large," said Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire.
"This is a law that was not designed for archaeology and is doing a considerable amount of damage, and because of it we may prevent people in the future from ever being able to explore their past because we have destroyed it."
Giant archaeological trove found in Google Earth
00:10 4 February 2011
Wendy Zukerman, Asia Pacific reporter
Indiana Jones, put down your whip. To scour the globe for archaeological sites these days all you need is a desktop computer.
Almost two thousand potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia have been discovered from an office chair in Perth, Australia, thanks to high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth.
"I've never been to Saudi Arabia," says David Kennedy from the University of Western Australia, Australia. "It's not the easiest country to break into."
Instead Kennedy scanned 1240 square kilometres in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth. From their birds-eye view he found 1977 potential archaeological sites, including 1082 "pendants" - ancient tear-drop shaped tombs made of stone.
According to Kennedy, aerial photography of Saudi Arabia is not made available to most archaeologists, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to fly over the nation. "But, Google Earth can outflank them," he says.
Kennedy confirmed that the sites were vestiges of an ancient life - rather than vegetation or shadow - by asking a friend in Saudi Arabia, who is not an archaeologist, to drive out to two of the sites and photograph them.
Ground views confirmed what Kennedy was seeing on Google
By comparing the images with structures that Kennedy has seen in Jordan, he believes the sites may be up to 9000 years old, but ground verification is needed. "Just from Google Earth it's impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago, or 10,000 years ago," he says.
Since Google Earth was launched five years ago, the field of "armchair archaeology" has blossomed. And it's been harder for archaeologists to get out of the office, since Spot Image started providing Google Earth with 2.5-metre resolution imagery taken from the SPOT 5 satellite.
In 2008 researchers from Melbourne, Australia, found 463 potential sites in the Registan desert in Afghanistan using the desktop computer program.
Journal Reference: Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI:10.1016/j.jas.2011.01.003
1,500-Year-Old Church Found In Israel
by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HIRBET MADRAS, Israel February 2, 2011, 06:25 pm ET
Israeli archaeologists presented a newly uncovered 1,500-year-old church in the Judean hills on Wednesday, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks.
The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated over the last two months, will be visible only for another week before archaeologists cover it again with soil for its own protection.
The small basilica with an exquisitely decorated floor was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., said the dig's leader, Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor was "one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel in recent years."
"It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation," he said.
Archaeologists began digging at the site, known as Hirbet Madras, in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered several months earlier that antiquities thieves had begun plundering the ruins, which sit on an uninhabited hill not far from an Israeli farming community.
Though an initial survey suggested the building was a synagogue, the excavation revealed stones carved with crosses, identifying it as a church. The building had been built atop another structure around 500 years older, dating to Roman times, when scholars believe the settlement was inhabited by Jews.
Hewn into the rock underneath that structure is a network of tunnels that archaeologists believe were used by Jewish rebels fighting Roman armies in the second century A.D.
Stone steps lead down from the floor of church to a small burial cave, which scholars suggest might have been venerated as the burial place of the Old Testament prophet Zecharia.
Ganor said the church would remain covered until funding was obtained to open it as a tourist site.
Israel boasts an exceptionally high concentration of archaeological sites, including Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, ancient Jewish and prehistoric ruins.
TOMB OF PROPHET ZECHARIAH FOUND?: BIG PIC
Feb. 2, 2011
Israeli archaeologists unveiled on Wednesday the remnants of a newly discovered Byzantine-era church they suspect is concealing the tomb of the biblical prophet Zechariah.
The church, with intricate and well-preserved mosaic floors, was discovered on the slopes of the Judaean hills at Horbat Midras, the site of a Jewish community in Roman times, southwest of Jerusalem.
Underneath is a second layer of mosaics dating from the Roman period, with a cave complex still further below which archaeologists think could be Zechariah's tomb.
"Researchers believe that in light of an analysis of the Christian sources ... the church at Horbet Madras is a memorial church designed to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah," the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
A statement noted, however, that more work is needed to confirm the hypothesis.
A Jewish prophet of the late sixth century before Christ, Zechariah is associated with the book of the Old Testament that refers to four horsemen and other visions prefiguring the coming of God in judgment.
The church at Horbat Midras was discovered after a gang of tomb raiders was found to be in possession of the church lintel -- part of the door structure -- which they said came from an underground location.
"Following the discovery, an excavation was carried out with the aim of revealing the secrets of the monumental building which the lintel belonged to," added the statement
Boston Brothel Reveals Secrets
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | News
Boston’s infamous Big Dig construction project, which rerouted the city’s central artery, unearthed a trove of archaeological treasures in a 19th-century brothel’s outhouse. Buried there were items of importance to the women who made their living outside the margins of polite society: hairbrushes, medicines, and vaginal syringes used for self-medicating and cleaning.
Now, a team of archaeology students from Boston University is studying these artefacts to find out what they reveal about how the residents of one Boston brothel lived. The building, long since torn down, existed on Endicott Street, near Boston’s North End, just two blocks from what was then the city’s red light district. The team hopes that by studying the more than 3,000 artefacts recovered from the outhouse and using old city records, they can gain insight into the day-to-day lives of prostitutes believed to have lived at the property between 1852 and 1883.
Through our work and analysis, it came to light that this was an interesting, alternative household
At first, little was known about the artefacts or the people they once belonged to. “Through our work and analysis, it came to light that this was an interesting, alternative household,” says Mary Beaudry, a College of Arts & Sciences professor and acting chair of archaeology, who is working on the project with her students. “It was a house of prostitution.”
In the course of their work, the archaeologists have deduced that personal hygiene was of great importance to these women—besides the hairbrushes, medicines, and syringes, items found included toothbrushes and hair combs.
“This project is slowly piecing together the texture of everyday life,” Beaudry says. “The dig site is jam-packed with potential, and this collection has such a fascinating back story.”
During the massive highway project, construction crews excavated a site called Mill Pond, which in 1828 had been filled in when the city needed more space to expand. Crews found a sealed, wood-lined privy (the under portion of an outhouse) filled with items that begged for further inspection. During the 19th century, before the advent of municipal trash collection, privies were used not only as toilets, but for general household waste disposal.
Because of limited funding, Massachusetts officials stipulated at the time of the Big Dig that the state would pay to study only those excavated items believed to have been manufactured before 1830. Recognising the items’ historical significance, archaeologists working for John Milner Associates, the firm that excavated the Mill Pond site, cleaned and stored them.
And that’s where Beaudry and her students became involved in the project. While not part of the actual excavation, Beaudry had heard about the surprising finds from former student Ellen Berkland, the archaeologist for the city of Boston. “She kept talking about what a shame it was that nothing had been done with the materials because they were sitting in storage,” Beaudry recalls. “So when it came time to find projects for my students to work on in 2008, I asked my friend Martin Dudek, an archaeologist who had worked on the excavation for Milner Associates, if he would be willing to have us come and take some items to study. He was delighted.”
Beginning in 2008, Beaudry and several of her students began to study the excavated items for a research analysis class and as a thesis project for some of them.
Research into city records revealed that the privy had been attached to a brothel at 27 and 29 Endicott St. Records showed that the buildings belonged to a Mrs. Lake, whose profession was listed as “prostitution.” Mrs. Lake eventually married a Dr. Padelford, a homoeopathic doctor “considered to be crackpot at the time, according to Beaudry. He prescribed unusual remedies for the women, most likely for treating sexually transmitted diseases and inducing abortions.
Beaudry and her team pieced together a fascinating re-creation. “The madam managed to create an atmosphere that mimicked the middle-class home,” she says. “This kind of brothel was referred to as a parlour house, because there were furnishings that sort of looked like a middle-class parlour.” The brothel offered special kinds of entertainment, like gambling, meals, and “special services,” which would take place in a private room for an extra cost. This the team was able to deduce from the many different dinner and tea sets, which suggests that the home was able to serve several different clients at once.
One of Beaudry’s students, Amanda Johnson, looked into old Boston census records to find out more about the home’s residents; among them were 21-year-old Eliza Thompson, from Rhode Island, 22-year-old Elina McMahon, from Vermont, and 20-year-old Mary Colby, from Ireland, all believed to have been prostitutes working for Mrs. Lake.
Johnson’s research showed that at the time, most of the young women who worked as prostitutes in cities came from predominantly rural areas, probably to find work in the city. “To them, it seemed like a place of opportunity,” Beaudry says. “But many of them were forced into the low-end brothel houses, or even worse, streetwalking, because that was the only way they could make any kind of a living.”
While prostitution was illegal, she says, policemen often looked the other way. In fact, city records show that a policeman lived at the Lake property while it operated as a brothel.
Most fascinating to Beaudry and her students is what the recovered items reveal about 19th-century prostitution.
“What I think surprises people is the fact that the artefacts point to the workers’ self-care and shows the attention they gave to personal hygiene,” Beaudry says.
Items found in the privy included hair combs, jewellery, toothbrushes, and even remains of tooth powder, which was similar to toothpaste. At the time, it was unusual for people to brush their teeth, suggesting these women took particular care with their appearance.
For Johnson, the most interesting item found at the site was a bottle filled with copaiba oil, a natural remedy used at the time to treat stomach cancers and ulcers. She brought the bottle to Richard Laursen, now a CAS chemistry professor emeritus, who was able to extract residue from the bottle and run conclusive tests on it. “The analysis revealed the type of medical treatments for venereal disease at the brothel,” Johnson says. “It is the only concrete evidence we have for what the women were using to treat their conditions.”
Diane Gallagher, a PhD student specialising in archaeoparasitology—meaning she studies bugs and dirt, among other things, to identify what diseases may have affected a population—identified both roundworm and whipworm at the Padelford home. These are very common parasites, and show a household that was not heavily infected. “It was similar to any urban household at that time,” says Gallagher.
Team member Katrina Eichner, studied 30 syringe fragments excavated at the site. At first glance, she thought they were hypodermic syringes, but upon closer analysis, discovered they were vaginal syringes, used for personal cleanliness, disease prevention, treatment of disease, and termination of pregnancy.
Eichner’s research found that prostitutes at other 19th-century brothels used similar syringes to inject mercury, arsenic, and vinegar into the body to induce abortions or treat diseases.
“Working on this site has been one of my favourite projects,” says Eichner. “I plan on studying brothels in the Caribbean for my dissertation, and I will use this work as a jumping off point.”
Beaudry and her students continue to unlock secrets from the items recovered in the privy. Students from other universities, including the University of Rhode Island, UMass Boston, and Brandeis University, have also studied the artefacts over the years. She hopes that one day the findings can be published in a book.
Progressive reformers wrote of brothels as dens of iniquity, vice, depravity, and filth, “but yet in this site we see a very high concern for personal health and hygiene,” Beaudry says. “This is understandable given the inevitable side effects of the sex trade, which is conception, disease, that sort of thing. These findings are the reverse of shocking; they show that these women were making a living as best they could.”
Reproduced courtesy of BU Today - written by Amy Laskowski
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