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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 11

Mediterranean Shipwreck May Be 4,000 Years Old

LIMANTEPE, TURKEY—A Mediterranean shipwreck thought to be 4,000 years old is being called one of the oldest in the world by scholars from Ankara University’s Research Center for Maritime Archaeology. “If we confirm that the sunken ship is 4,000 years old, it will be a very important milestone for archaeology,” Hayat Erkanal, head of excavations, told Hurriyet Daily News. Turkey’s Urla Port and the coastal town of Klozemenai date back to the seventh century B.C. The city was destroyed and inundated by an earthquake in the eighth century. The wreck and its artifacts are being conserved and studied at the new Mustafa Vehbi Koç Maritime Archaeology Research Center and Archaeopark. To read about two Bronze Age shipwrecks discovered off the Turkish coast, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "History's Top 10 Shipwrecks."    

Gate May Mark Site of 17th Century Home Destroyed by Royalists

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Pipeline work along the River Trent in the East Midlands uncovered two stone walls, positioned adjacent to the Kelham Road, that are angled to lead away from it. The structures may have been part of a gateway to a large house that was possibly demolished sometime between 1644 and 1666. “The theory is that the house was demolished by Royalists during the Civil War to remove any cover for attacking forces,” Karen Nichols of Wessex Archaeology told Culture 24. The house and its gate do not appear on any eighteenth century maps. The team also recovered pottery, tiles, and tobacco pipe fragments dating to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, and a Neolithic arrowhead.   

Google Offers Street Views of Egypt’s Monuments

CAIRO, EGYPT—Google Street View now offers images of archaeological attractions in Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the pyramids of Saqqara, Saladin’s citadel, and the ancient city of Abu Mena. The Street View team usually collects images with a camera attached to a car, but that plan would not work in the bumpy terrain surrounding Egypt’s ancient monuments. Instead, the Google team members set out on foot with the 360-degree panoramic cameras on their backs. “It was a unique experience for us as well, because the equipment really got tested in the heat,” program manager Amita Khattri told Time. To read about the construction of the pyramids, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "How to Build a Pyramid."  

Wednesday, September 10

Pilgrimage Church Excavated in Hallaton, England

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—The remains of a man and a woman who had been buried holding hands have been uncovered at the Chapel of St. Morrell, an ancient pilgrimage site in the English Midlands. The skeletons are thought to date to the fourteenth century, since nine other skeletons of similar age have been unearthed at the site. Stones had been placed upon some of those bodies at burial. “This was a tradition popular in eastern Europe with the idea of keeping the dead down,” archaeologist Vicky Score of the University of Leicester told The Leicester Mercury. Tiles from a Roman building were also discovered beneath the medieval chapel. “It shows this ground has been used as a special sort of place by people for at least 2,000 years,” she said. To read about the discovery of a forgotten graveyard in London, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature article "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."   

Rock Art Chemistry Analyzed in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Working with the people of the Jawoyn culture, Barbara Stuart, Alexandria Hunt, and Paul Thomas of the University of Technology, Sydney, are analyzing the chemistry of ancient rock art in Arnhem Land to understand how the materials were used by the artists, and how their techniques changed over time. “We need to take samples but we try to take as small amount as we can so that we don’t visually alter the paintings at all,” Hunt told Phys.org. Her tests, employing the infrared beam at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, will determine what the pigments were made from. “Once I have that information I’ll be able to work out the age of the paintings,” she explained.   

New Map Reveals Stonehenge’s Hidden Landscape

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Information gathered with high-tech equipment during a four-year project to survey the area around Stonehenge has been converted into a new digital map. Among the discoveries are two massive pits that are older than Stonehenge and appear to form astronomical alignments on midsummer’s day. Stonehenge was eventually built upon the intersection point of the eastern pit’s alignment with the rising sun and the western pit’s alignment at sunset. Also predating Stonehenge was a burial mound containing a massive wooden building. Wolfgang Neuber of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute thinks it was used in burial rituals until it was later covered in chalk. Another huge henge known as Durrington Walls was found to the northeast. Its 70 massive stones or posts had been pushed over or laid flat. “This radically changes our view of Stonehenge. In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t… it’s absolutely huge,” Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University, told The Guardian  

Lost Franklin Expedition Ship Found in the Canadian Arctic

OTTAWA, CANADA—After six years of searching, one of the lost Franklin Expedition ships has been discovered in the waters of Victoria Strait near King William Island, right where an Inuit hunter testified in the late 1840s that he saw an abandoned ship sinking in deep water. “This is a great historic event,” Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at a press conference. Researchers from Parks Canada found the vessel using a recently acquired remotely operated underwater vehicle. “With older technology, you could have come very close to this and not seen it at all,” Harper stated in his comments, reported by CBC News. The sonar images reveal that some of the deck structures survived, but the masts were sheared away, probably by the ice when the ship sank. The contents of the ship “should be very, very well preserved,” added Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris. Further investigation should tell if the ship is the HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. “Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum—or wind in our sails—necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin expedition’s crew,” Harper concluded. To read about the discovery of HMS Investigator, a doomed vessel dispatched to search for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, see ARCHAEOLOGY’s feature, “Saga of the Northwest Passage.”  

Tuesday, September 09

Ancient Egyptian Artwork Aids Ecologists

SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA—Ancient Egyptian images of the natural world have helped quantitative ecologist Justin Yeakel of the University of California, Santa Cruz, determine that the drying climate and growing human population have probably made Egypt’s ecosystem progressively less stable. Yeakel used records from paleontology, archaeology, and art, including the work of zoologist Dale Osborne, who examined archaeological and paleontological evidence and compiled a database of when species were represented in artwork and how that changed over time. Six thousand years ago, there were 37 species of large-bodied mammals in Egypt. Today there are only eight. “What was once a rich and diverse mammalian community is very different now. As the number of species declined, one of the primary things that was lost was the ecological redundancy of the system. There were multiple species of gazelles and other small herbivores, which are important because so many different predators prey on them. When there are fewer of those small herbivores, the loss of any one species has a much greater effect on the stability of the system and can lead to additional extinctions,” Yeakel explained.

Domestication of Peach Trees Began in China 7,500 Years Ago

TORONTO, CANADA—Farmers began to domesticate peach trees 7,500 years ago in the lower Yangtze River Valley of southern China, according to a new study of ancient peach pits conducted by Yunfei Zheng and X. Chen of the Zhejiang Institute of Archaeology, and Gary Crawford of the University of Toronto. Since peach trees mature quickly and produce fruit within two to three years, the results of selective breeding for preferred traits, such as larger, sweeter peaches, would have been seen by early farmers relatively quickly. And peach pits survive in the archaeological record. By comparing peach pits from six sites that spanned a period of 5,000 years, the scientists determined that peaches were indeed growing larger in the Yangtze Valley, becoming the fruit we recognize today over a period of about 3,000 years. “We’re suggesting that very early on, people understood grafting and vegetative reproduction, because it sped up selection. They had to have been doing such work, because seeds have a lot of genetic variability, and you don’t know if a seed will produce the same fruit as the tree that produced it. It’s a gamble. If they simply started grafting, it would guarantee the orchard would have the peaches they wanted,” Crawford told Science Daily

Circular Viking Fort Discovered in Denmark

KØGE, DENMARK—The Telegraph reports that a circular Viking fortress thought to date to the late tenth century has been discovered in Denmark. Nanna Holm of The Danish Castle Centre and Søren Sindbæk of Aarhus University took new, precise laser measurements in a field that was a likely candidate. “We suspected that one fortress was ‘missing’ in the island Zealand," Sindbæk explained. "The location at Vallø was quite the right setting in the landscape: in a place where the old main roads met and reached out to Køge river valley, which in the Viking Age was a navigable fjord and one of Zealand’s best natural harbors. From there we worked our way forward step by step.” Then a geophysical survey revealed the “ghost image” of the fortress, and excavation at the north gate uncovered charred oak posts. “The burned wood in the gates will make it possible to determine the age by means of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology,” Holm added. Further investigation will look for buildings inside the fortress. “We are eager to establish if the castle will turn out to be from the time of King Harald Bluetooth, like the previously known fortresses, or perhaps a former king’s work. As a military fortification from the Viking Age, the monument may help to unravel the position of Zealand in relation to the oldest Danish kingdom,” she said. To read about the discovery of another legendary Norse fortification, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Ireland's Viking Fortress."  

Possible Artifacts from the Franklin Expedition Found

OTTAWA, CANADA—Two artifacts thought to have come from the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition have been discovered on Hat Island in Nunavut. The crews of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were searching for the Northwest Passage through the Arctic when they were lost in 1848. These artifacts are the first clues to the whereabouts of the lost ships to have been found since 1945, when human remains thought to be members of Sir John Franklin’s team were found buried on King William Island. The first artifact is a davit, an iron fitting from the crane of a Royal Navy ship; the second is a wooden plug to cover the hole for a ship’s anchor. “The iron fitting was lying on the shore, adjacent to a rock, a large rock, and the wooden artifact was a bit farther away, a bit farther from the shoreline,” Nunavut archaeologist Douglas Stenton told CBC News Canada. It’s not clear if the artifacts washed ashore from the sunken ships or if they were carried there by crew members, but they do tell researchers that they’ve been looking in the right place. To read about the discovery of HMS Investigator, the doomed vessel dispatched to search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Saga of the Northwest Passage."