Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, June 24

Teens Attempt to Collect Auschwitz Artifacts

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Polish police arrested two British teenagers on a school trip to Auschwitz for picking up artifacts from the ground. The 17-year-old boys were spotted in an area where the prisoners’ personal items had been stockpiled in the Nazi-run death camp, where an estimated 1.5 million people, mostly European Jews, were killed during World War II. The police found the boys with a fragment of a razor, part of a spoon, a hair clipper, buttons, and pieces of glass. The Mirror reports that the school said the teens had “picked up the items without thinking.” The boys were fined and given a year’s probation, suspended for three years. To read more about how researchers study this period, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."

7,000-Year-Old Tool Workshop Found in Bulgaria

KAMENOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeologists from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the Razgrad Regional Museum of History, and the Ruse Regional Museum of History unearthed a workshop used for making flint tools dating to around 4800 B.C. while looking for a necropolis at the Chalcolithic site near Kamenovo in northeast Bulgaria. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that pieces of flint, in addition to unfinished and completed tools, were found, along with fragments of pottery, in a layer of black sediment on clay-coated ground. This huge workshop is thought to have produced high-status tools found in other archaeological sites in Bulgaria. To read about a spectacular discovery from a later period in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Artifacts Possibly From Famed Swiss Battle Found

ZUG, SWITZERLAND—The Local reports that coins, knives, a knife scabbard, arrows, and a spur that may have been left behind during the Battle of Morgarten have been found in the Agëri Valley of central Switzerland. The victory of the Swiss Confederacy over Austrian troops at the Battle of Morgarten in 1315 paved the way for Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire. The 12 silver coins date from 1275 to the beginning of the fourteenth century. These are the first archaeological artifacts to be found that may have come from the battle. “The objects are so exciting my heart beats faster,” said Stefan Hochuli, Zug cantonal archaeologist. To read more about battlefield archaeology, go to "The Fight for Ancient Sicily." 

Roman Ship Carrying Roof Tiles Discovered Near Sardinia

SARDINIA, ITALY—A ship that sank some 2,000 years ago while carrying a cargo of terracotta roof tiles has been discovered in deep water off the coast of Sardinia by a specialized diving unit of the Italian police. The tiles, which are still packed into ship’s hold, had probably been made in Rome and were headed to a villa for a senior Roman official or a wealthy merchant. “Given the location of the discovery, archaeologists believe that the vessel was destined for Spain or the west coast of Sardinia,” reads an official statement from the Polizia di Stato, reported in The Telegraph. The weight of the tiles may have contributed to the sinking of the vessel. “The cargo is very well preserved and has enormous value to scholars. We’re really pleased about this discovery,” commented Rubens D’Oriano of Sardinia’s archaeological department. To read about more underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Tuesday, June 23

Farmer Unearthed 2,500-Year-Old Gold Bracelets in Poland

KROSNO, POLAND—A farmer in southeastern Poland unearthed three gold bracelets tied with golden wire that are thought to date to between 1600 and 400 B.C. “We will study the place of discovery because we want to determine whether it was a discovery of a treasure, or perhaps remains of a burial ground,” Jan Gancarski, director of the Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Gancarski thinks that “the objects probably originated from behind the Carpathians. At the time, the Carpathian foothills were inhabited by people who came here from behind the Carpathians.” 

13,000-Year-Old Footprints Found on Calvert Island

VICTORIA, CANADA—Fossilized footprints discovered below the current shoreline of an island in British Columbia may be the oldest in North America. The prints, thought to have been made by a man, a woman, and a child some 13,000 years ago, were discovered on Calvert Island last year near the remains of an ancient campfire. “We figure that at some point people were hanging out around this fire. They left their footprints in the grey clay and then they were subsequently filled by this black sand, which essentially preserved the footprints,” archaeologist Duncan McLaren of the University of Victoria told the National Post. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."

Scarlet Macaws and the Growth of Pueblo Hierarchies

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—New radiocarbon dates for Mesoamerican parrots unearthed in the late nineteenth century in the American Southwest suggest that the birds were highly prized by the pueblo’s political elites in the early tenth century, at least 150 years earlier than previously thought. Most of the skeletal remains of scarlet macaws found in Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito predate the Chaco florescence, an era of rapid architectural expansion beginning around A.D. 1040. “By directly dating the macaws, we have demonstrated the existence of long-distance networks throughout much of this settlement’s history. Our findings suggest that rather than the acquisition of macaws being a side effect of the rise of Chacoan society, there was a causal relationship. The ability to access these trade networks and the ritual power associated with macaws and their feathers may have been important to forming these hierarchies in the first place,” Adam Watson off the American Museum of Natural History said in a press release. To read more about Chaco, go to "Who Were the Anasazi?"

Monday, June 22

Sweden’s Seventeenth-Century Mummy Examined

LUND, SWEDEN—The well-preserved mummy of Peder Winstrup, a bishop who had been buried in a crypt at Lund Cathedral a year after his death in 1679, has been examined by scientists from Lund University. CT scans show that the 74-year-old Winstrup suffered from fluid in his sinuses and had been bedridden for a long time, and he may have had both tuberculosis and pneumonia. He also had plaque in his arteries, gallstones, osteoarthritis in the knees and hips, dental cavities, and had lost teeth. “His right shoulder was slightly higher than his left, due to an injury to a tendon in the shoulder. This would have limited Winstrup’s mobility, making it difficult for him to carry out simple everyday tasks such as putting on a shirt or combing his hair with the comb in his right hand,” osteologist Caroline Ahlström Arcini said in a press release. The scan also revealed the remains of a fetus that had been concealed under Winstrup’s feet. “You can only speculate as to whether it was one of Winstrup’s next of kin, or whether someone else took the opportunity while preparing the coffin. But we hope to be able to clarify any kinship through a DNA test,” said Per Karsten, director of the Historical Museum at Lund University. To read about a recent discovery made in Sweden, go to "One Ring to Bind Them."

England’s Bradgate Park Yields Medieval Moated Dwelling

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Students from the University of Leicester are conducting excavations at Bradgate Park, located near Bradgate House, the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen in 1553. So far, they have recovered 10,000-year-old flint blades, Roman pottery, a musket ball, and a toy gun dating to the 1960s. They have also found two outbuildings and a medieval moated site that may have been the home of the park keeper. “We have uncovered the building on top of the moat which we expected, and recovered some pottery and glazed floor tile that are consistent with a medieval date. What is new, is that we have identified that the building has at least two different phases of construction—the original building with a later extension,” archaeologist Richard Thomas explained to the Leicester Mercury. To read more about recent discoveries in England, go to "Artifact: Medieval Chess Pieces." 

Early Christian Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Nazareth

WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT—An early Christian mosaic floor has been unearthed at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth by a team of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, Duquesne University, the University of Wisconsin, and Haifa University. Tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary at the site where the church was built and rebuilt over time. The ancient floor, thought to date to the fourth century, was discovered with ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. “The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said in a press release. The floor and the original church may have been constructed as a Christian pilgrim site when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. To read about the excavation of an early Christian community in Kuwait, go to "Archaeology Island."

Early Modern Humans Interbred With Neanderthals in Europe

MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"