National Geographic : 2015 Mar
PHOTOS: JIM HABERMAN (TOP); HUACAS DEL SOL Y DE LA LUNA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT Ancient Worlds EXPLORE IN PERUVIAN DIGNITARY’S GRAVE, COSTUME CLAWS At Huacas de Moche, a pre-Inca ceremonial center in the Peruvian desert, an intriguing grave from about 1,300 years ago has come to light. Near the skeleton of a man in his 30s lay a copper scepter, a symbol of power in the Moche culture. Also found: gilded feline claws of copper, probably from an animal costume used in ritual combat, with paws like the reconstructions at right. Archaeologists now plan to analyze the chemistry of this dignitary ’s bones. Clues about his diet may identify the city where he wielded his power. —ARW Scenes From a Synagogue When archaeologist Jodi Magness began to excavate a fifth-century synagogue at the site of Huqoq in Israel in 2011, the last thing she expected to see was a mosaic. In similar buildings found in the area, floors are paved in flagstones. But there, in an agricultural village near the Sea of Galilee, Magness’s team has uncovered one stunning scene after another rendered in tiny colored stones. Two sections depict Samson, a biblical hero not commonly portrayed in syna- gogues of the time. Another scene includes an even more uncommon subject: a pair of elephants decked out for battle. “There’s no doubt that we have the very first nonbiblical story ever discovered decorating an ancient synagogue,” says Magness. “In the Hebrew Bible there are no stories involving elephants.” More surprises may lie ahead. The excavation has cleared only part of one aisle so far. The floor’s main section, and its secrets, are yet to be revealed. — A . R. Williams An elephant that’s 12.5 inches tall is part of an intricate mosaic floor with unusual themes.