Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 15

Gilt Bronze Buddha Statue Recovered in South Korea

GANGWON PROVINCE, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Herald reports that a well-preserved ninth-century Buddha statue has been uncovered in the northeast region of the country. The gilt bronze statue, which stands approximately 20 inches tall, was found at a temple site that has also yielded a stone pagoda and other Buddhist artifacts. “According to experts who were called upon to check the new discovery at the excavation site this afternoon, the relic seems to be the largest of such kind from the Unified Silla period (668-935) and hold high value both artistically and historically,” an official from Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration told the Yonhap News Agency. To read more, go to "North Korea's Full Moon Tower."

Glass Spearhead Found on Australia’s Rottnest Island

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—A team from the University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies found a rare nineteenth-century glass spearhead while visiting Rottnest Island, also known as Wadjemup. Such spearheads are thought to have been made from scraps of glass by Indigenous men and boys who were imprisoned on the island between 1838 and 1931. They were then able to use the weapons to supplement the prison diet of barley, cabbage, and porridge with fish, snake, and quokka—a nocturnal marsupial about the size of a cat. “As I was digging around in the sand with my foot, something shiny glinted in the light and I recognized the object to be a glass spearhead,” Professor Len Collard said in a press release. The team photographed the spearhead and reburied it at the site out of respect for Aboriginal traditions. To see more images of aboriginal glass spearpoints, go to "What's the Point?"

Bronze Age Weapons Unearthed in Scotland

ISLE OF COLL, SCOTLAND—An excavation on a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) nature reserve has uncovered 3,000-year-old swords and spearheads made of bronze. The twelve pieces are thought to have come from at least seven weapons. “The items were recovered from what had once been a freshwater loch. It seems that they had been purposely broken and cast into the waters as part of a ceremony, most likely as offerings or gifts to the gods or goddesses of the time,” Jill Harden, RSPB Scotland Reserves archaeologist, said in a press release. Further study could reveal if there were environmental stresses that prompted the offering. The artifacts have been moved to Kilmartin Museum in Argyll for conservation. To read about prehistoric archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Original Chemistry Lab Discovered at the University of Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Renovation of the University of Virginia’s Rotunda has uncovered a chemical hearth built as a semi-circular niche in an early basement classroom where John Emmet, the school’s first professor of natural history, taught chemistry. The hearth, thought to have been constructed for Emmet’s use, was heated with one wood-burning firebox and a coal-burning one. Underground brick tunnels provided fresh air to the fireboxes and flues carried away fumes and smoke. Five workstations had been cut into stone countertops—these were probably used by students with portable hearths. The chemical hearth is thought to have been closed up in the wall in the mid-1840s, after Emmet’s death, and the chemistry lab was eventually moved to an annex on the north side of the Rotunda that was destroyed by a fire in 1895. “The hearth is significant as something of the University’s early academic years. The original arch above the opening will have to be reconstructed, but we hope to present the remainder of the hearth as essentially unrestored, preserving its evidence of use,” architectural conservator Mark Kutney said in a press release. To read more about historical archaeology in Virginia, go to "Free Before Empancipation."

Wednesday, October 14

Teeth Suggest People Left Africa Earlier Than Previously Thought

DAOXIAN COUNTY, CHINA—Scientists Maria Martinón-Torres of University College London, and Wu Liu and Xie-jie Wu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, analyzed 47 modern human teeth recovered from Fuyan Cave in southern China. According to a report in Live Science, the teeth, found among the bones of hyenas, extinct giant pandas, and other animals, are between 80,000 and 120,000 years old. The age of the teeth was determined by dating calcite deposits in the limestone cave. It had been thought that modern humans migrated out of Africa only 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and that any traces of older human remains outside of Africa were evidence of failed migration attempts. According to comments by Robin Dennell of the University of Exeter, modern humans may have preferred southern Asia’s warmer climate, or as Martinón-Torres suggests, they may have avoided Neanderthal-occupied Europe. No tools were found in the cave, however, which suggests that the human remains had been taken to the cave by predators. “What is especially needed now is archaeological evidence (sadly lacking in Fuyan Cave) to indicate whether the initial dispersal of our species was caused or facilitated by cognitive developments (such as symbolism or complex exchange systems), or was simply an example of opportunistic range extension,” Dennell added. For more, go to "Earliest Modern Human Hand Bone." 

Bulgaria’s Early Christian Island Monastery

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—In 2010, archaeologists excavating the site of an early Christian monastery on St. Ivan Island, located off the coast of the Black Sea, discovered a sandstone reliquary bearing the Greek inscription, “God, save your servant Thomas (Toma). To St. John. June 24.” The date is the Christian feast day of John the Baptist, and the reliquary is thought to have been dedicated to him. Now archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov has discovered the remains of two men who had been buried in a tomb to the north of the monastery’s basilica, which was built in the late fourth or early fifth century A.D. He thinks the men may have been monks from Syria who carried the reliquary to St. Ivan Island and founded the monastic community there. “We are now firmly convinced that the first monastery was not destroyed by an invasion but by this natural disaster. We and our colleagues from abroad are very impressed with the discovery. No tomb of monastery founders, one of whom probably was the Thomas (Toma), has ever been found during excavations,” Popkonstantinov told Archaeology in Bulgaria. For more on Bulgarian archaeology, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Bog in Denmark Yields Iron Age Sacrifices

SKØDSTRUP, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that archaeologists from the Moesgaard Museum uncovered the bones of a woman in her 20s and the skeletons of eight tethered dogs in several bogs located near the site of an Iron Age village north of Copenhagen. The village had a paved road and houses with floors. Researchers think that people and animals were killed and placed in pits that had once been used for digging peat as sacrifices to the gods. “In Skødstrup we have the entire palette of an Iron Age society: a well-structured village with accompanying burial area and sacrificial bogs. It gives us a unique, collective insight into life during the Iron Age,” said Per Mandrup, head of the excavations. For more, go to "Bog Bodies Rediscovered."

England's 600-Year-Old “Great Ship” Will Be Studied

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Historic England will use modern sonar, remote sensing, drone technology, and dendrochronology to investigate a site in the River Hamble, where one of four ships commissioned by Henry V during the Hundred Years War is thought to rest in the mud. Historian Ian Friel spotted the vessel some 30 years ago in an area that was once a medieval breaker’s yard in an aerial photograph. Called the Holigost, or Holy Ghost, the ship had a crew of 200 sailors and could carry hundreds of additional soldiers to war, along with seven cannon, bows and arrows, poleaxes, and spears. “The Holigost fought in two of the most significant naval battles of the Hundred Years War, battles that opened the way for the English conquest of northern France,” Friel told The Telegraph. The site is near the place where Henry’s flagship, The Grace Dieu, was discovered in the 1930s. For more, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Tuesday, October 13

Evidence of Egyptian Punishment Found in Skeletal Remains

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS—Wounds have been found in the shoulder blades of five men buried in Amarna’s cemetery for commoners. Amarna, a city dedicated to the sun god Aten, was built of stone some 3,300 years ago by Akhenaten. Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University thinks that the wounds may have been inflicted with a spear from behind as part of a physical punishment of 100 lashes and five wounds that is described in an ancient wall carving and other texts. The skeletons also show signs of joint disease and malnutrition. “We know that life in this place was physically taxing. This is another example of that,” she told USA Today. There is a chance that the 100 lashes and five wounds punishment was only carried out in Amarna, but Dabbs suggests that Egyptologists look for evidence of similar corporal punishment in their skeletal collections. To read about the search for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "In Search of History's Lost Rulers."

Gold Wreath Unearthed in Cyprus

ANKARA, TURKEY—A tomb complex containing three burial chambers and multiple burials has been excavated near the ancient city of Soloi in northern Cyprus. Two burial chambers in the 2,400-year-old complex were intact and contained human remains, a collection of imported symposium drinking vessels, jewelry, figurines, and weapons, while the third had been looted and was empty. One of the burial chambers also held an ivy wreath fashioned from gold that resembles wreaths usually found in Macedonian tombs. “This tomb complex surely proves that Soloi was in direct relationship with Athens, who was the naval power of the period. Soloi was supplying Athens with its rich timber and copper sources, and in return, was obtaining luxurious goods such as symposium vessels,” Hazar Kaba of Ankara University told Live Science. “A DNA project is also running on the bones to identify the degree of kinship between the deceased,” he added. To read about another recent discovery in Cyprus, go to "Artifact: Pagan Amulet."

Late Neolithic Feasts Held at Durrington Walls

YORK, ENGLAND—A new chemical analysis of the residues found in pottery and animal bones unearthed at Durrington Walls, where the Stonehenge builders are thought to have lived, suggests that residents participated in organized feasts. Pots found in residential areas were used to cook pork, beef and dairy, while pots found in ceremonial areas were mainly used to cook dairy products. “The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone,” Mike Parker Pearson of University College London said in a University of York press release. The bones show that the livestock had been walked to the site from many different locations and not brought in as butchered parts. Burn patterns indicate that some of the meat was roasted, in addition to being boiled in pots. “The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed, and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organized working community,” added Oliver Craig of the University of York. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."