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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 23

Mortuary Bundle Discovered in Central Mexico

ZIMAPAN, MEXICO—A unique mortuary bundle containing the skeletal remains of a young adult was discovered in a rock shelter in the Sierra Gorda region. “The skeleton seems to be complete, but we will not know this with certainty until we can open the shroud, but at first glance we can appreciate the cranium, tibias, clavicles, scapula, and some ribs,” archaeologist Juan Manuel Toxtle Farfan of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told Art Daily. The cranium still has hair. A specialist will have to analyze the colored fabric and mat that make up the bundle before it can be opened and the bones closely examined, but Toxtle Farfan and Ariana Aguilar Romero think the bundle is pre-Hispanic. “It is known that in the Mesoamerican beliefs, caves and other rocky refuges were considered entrances to the underworld and the residence of death deities, which is why they served as funerary spaces in most cases,” Toxtle Farfan explained.           

Iron Age Industrial Hearth Found in Cornwall

PORTHLEVEN, ENGLAND—According to The Falmouth Packet, an Iron Age industrial hearth and a Bronze Age settlement have been discovered in southwest England. The hearth is the first of its kind to be found in Cornwall, where strong winds would have fanned the flames. Community archaeologist Richard Mikulski says that the hearth was stone-lined and had a flue to control the fire. Impressions in the baked clay could have been left by pots that were fired there, and there’s also evidence of metalworking. Nearby, Mikulski has found round houses and stones that may have been used for processing wheat into flour during the Bronze Age.

Binchester Roman Fort Yields Well-Preserved Ring, Walls

BISHOP AUCKLAND, ENGLAND—Excavations at Binchester Roman Fort have uncovered the seven-foot-tall walls of a bath house and a small plunge bath. “There is also some really interesting evidence for the plumbing, including a drain in the base which seems to line up with some of the culverts we’ve picked out in the nearby floor, as well as some gaps within the wall which may have originally contained lead piping or some other mechanism for channeling the water,” David Petts of Durham University told Culture 24. The bath house was also equipped with a bread oven and an altar dedicated to the Roman goddess Fortune the Home-bringer. Other finds include a large rectangular cavalry barrack for stables and troops, and a four-seat latrine. A silver ring with an intaglio that shows two fish hanging from an anchor suggests an early link to Christianity. “The form of the ring and the shape of the stone seem to indicate a third century date. This is a surprisingly early date for a Christian object in Britain,” Petts explained.       

Replica Nazi Defenses Studied in Scotland

  DUNBLANE, SCOTLAND—Battlefield archaeologist Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow and Janice Ainslie of Dunblane Museum are studying a concrete wall built at Sheriffmuir in 1943. The ten-foot-tall wall, which was constructed according to plans stolen from German engineers by French painter Rene Duchez, replicated the German concrete defenses that stretched from Norway to the Spanish border. “A lot of the training for D-Day was done at this wall. Training grounds like this were key in bringing units together that had never fought before and giving them real world experience,” Pollard told The Herald Scotland. Laser scans of the wall may help the researchers determine what kinds of weapons were used in training. And Pollard may excavate at the site of the gun turrets at one end of the wall. Sand, rumored to have been dumped in front of the wall to recreate the conditions on France’s beaches, could be found.  

Tuesday, July 22

Strange Burials in the Burnt City

SISTAN-BALUCHISTAN, IRAN—More than 1,000 burials have been excavated at the site of the Burnt City in Iran over the past thirty years, but few are stranger than two recent discoveries, according to a report in the Teheran Times. In one burial, archaeologists found the skeleton of an adult man with two dog skulls above his head and 12 human skulls on the side of his grave, and in another, a young man who died between 25 and 30 years old who was buried with his skull and two daggers or cutting tools sitting next to his head on his lower right side. Project director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi believes that the tools had been used to decapitate the man who was executed for some offense, and then buried with bowls and vases commonly used for funeral rituals. Another unusual burial contained six skulls and various human long bones, all of which lead Sajjadi to wonder what new insights can be gained into the burial practices of the ancient inhabitants of this region more than five thousand years ago.   

"Last of the Mohicans" Site Excavated

  LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—The AP reports that a team led by Plymouth State University archaeologist David Starbuck is digging at Lake George Battlefield Park, a stretch of ground south of Lake George that saw significant military action during the eighteenth century, particularly during the French and Indian War (1755-63). In 1755, Colonial troops and their Mohawk allies fought a battle there against French detachments, successfully fending off an ambush and subsequent attack. In 1757, British and Colonial troops camped at the site during the French siege of the nearby Fort William Henry. After the surrender of the fort to the French, the colonial forces began a retreat from the camp, but were ambushed by Indians, who killed some 200. The infamous massacre inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write the "The Last of the Mohicans." Starbuck hopes to find evidence related to both the 1755 battle and the camp associated with the massacre. So far, the team has uncovered mainly fragments of eighteenth-century wine bottles.   

Possible Celtic Inscription Deciphered in Spain

BETANZOS, SPAIN—A long-overlooked and enigmatic inscription on the buttress of a fourteenth-century church in Spain's Galicia region is attracting new attention thanks to researchers who claim to have deciphered it. The Local reports that a group of scholars believe the inscription was written in a Gaelic language, the first direct written evidence of the area's Celtic heritage, and reads simply "An Ghaltacht," or "Gaelic-speaking area." The researchers are part of the Gaelaico Project, a private effort that brings together linguists, geographers, and historians to search for evidence of Galicia's Celtic history and specifically its close ties to Ireland, which many specialists have hitherto dismissed as pseudo-history. "If our interpretation is right, the inscription isn't related to religious matters, but rather to the language that was spoken in Galicia at the time," said Gaelaico Project head Martín Fernández Maceiras. The team is hoping to get a second opinion on the inscription from outside epigraphists.     

Monday, July 21

Flint Tools Tell Story of Economic Territory

  DONOSTIA, SPAIN—The study of flint remains from the Ametzagaina site has revealed the economic territory of the people who made temporary camps there over a period of about 2,000 years some 25,000 years ago. Most open-air sites do not survive, but Ametzagaina was protected by earthworks dug in the nineteenth century during the Carlist Wars. The people who camped at Ametzagaina collected flint from the same territory where they hunted, gathered, and fished. “Flint was their steel, but it was not abundant, they had to know the locations where there were seams, they made their way there, they rough-hewed it on the spot and returned to their camps just with whatever they could make use of,” Álvaro Arrizabalaga of the University of the Basque Country told Phys.org.  

Medieval Graffiti Recorded in England’s Churches

  NORFOLK, ENGLAND—A volunteer project to record medieval graffiti in Norfolk is spreading across England. More than 28,000 images, perhaps doodled by churchgoers, have been recorded in Norfolk, and only one-third of Norwich Cathedral has been searched so far. “[Medieval graffiti] was believed to be rare—turns out it’s not,” Matt Champion, a medieval archaeologist who started the program in 2010, told BBC News. Images of compass designs, windmills, sundials, circles, and ships have been documented. “Are they thanksgiving for a voyage safely undertaken, or a prayer for safe passage on a journey yet to come? Some of these ship images appear to show deliberate damage, begging the question whether they are prayers for long overdue ships,” he explained.  

Scraps of Medieval Linen Unearthed in England

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The excavation of the site of Northamptonshire’s new county council headquarters has uncovered scraps of medieval linen and a piece of serpentine marble that may have been part of a portable altar. The pieces of linen were found in the base of a large, timber and stone-lined tank that was probably part of a tanning complex. “Some very nice pieces of antler, a lovely collection of honestones for sharpening knives, two scraps of medieval linen, and a good preservation of industrial features have been uncovered,” Jim Brown of the Museum of London Archaeology told BBC News. A medieval bread oven, an early thirteenth-century well shaft, and trading tokens were also recovered. 

Multicultural Cemetery Discovered at Ostia

ROME, ITALY—Current excavations at Ostia, Rome’s ancient port city at the estuary of the Tiber River, have uncovered a 2,700-year-old cemetery containing a variety of styles among its dozen tombs. Lead curse tablets warding off potential looters were also found. “What is original is that there are different types of funeral rites: burials and cremations,” Paola Germoni, director of Ostia, told Art Daily. The cemetery was found on the edge of the main excavated area of the town.