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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 12

War of the Roses Cannonball Recovered

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The Eagle Drive Cannon Ball, thought to be the oldest surviving cannonball in England, has been rediscovered at the site of the Battle of Northampton. “It is highly likely that the projectile was fired during the battle in 1460,” Glenn Foard of Huddersfield University told Culture 24. As many as 12,000 men may have been killed while fighting the battle called the turning point in the War of the Roses. The cannonball is thought to have been fired by Yorkist gunners targeting Lancastrian troops. It was damaged by at least two bounces, and it may have hit a tree. A gouge on the ball contains small fragments of local sand and ironstone. “It supports the long-held belief that the 1460 Battle of Northampton was the first time artillery was used in battle on English soil, raising the importance of the conflict as part of the story of England,” added David Mackintosh, Leader of the Northampton Borough Council. To read more about battlefield archaeology, see "Reconstructing Medieval Artillery." 

Foundations of Tudor Apartments Seen at Hampton Court

MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND—The removal of squeaky floorboards from a room used by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court palace revealed the foundations of the royal apartments built for Anne Boleyn when she became queen in 1533. This is the first time that the Tudor brickwork has been recorded by researchers, who could see evidence of its hasty construction and later repairs. Problems with the foundation in 1536 required the construction of a new inner wall, and renovations for another new queen. Jane Seymour’s son then lived in the rooms after her death in October 1537. The Tudor apartments were eventually demolished and the foundations covered up by Christopher Wren in the late seventeenth century. The new floor was laid on supports to keep it off the historic bricks. “It’s taken far longer, and cost a lot more, than originally expected, but it’s been worth it,” Dan Jackson, curator of historic buildings for Hampton Court, told The Guardian. To read about a suprising royal discovery beneath the floorboards of another English palace, see "Treason, Plot, and Witchcraft."

“Wine of the Negev” Grape Seeds Found

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced that charred grape seeds dating to the Byzantine era could help scientists learn about “the Wine of the Negev,” noted in historical sources as one of the finest wines in the Byzantine Empire. “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said excavation director Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa. Previous excavations in the Negev have uncovered the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where the drink was produced, and the Gaza jugs in which it was stored, but this is the first time that the grape seeds, recovered from the middens surrounding the ancient city of Halutza, have been found. Pottery and coins in the middens suggest that the seeds date to the sixth and seventh centuries A.D., when the city was at the peak of its economic success. “After washing the dirt and gently sifting the findings all that remained was to separate the botanical findings, which included seeds, pits and plant remains, from small animal bones, which included the remains of rodents that were drawn to the refuse,” Bar-Oz said. Study of the seeds could reveal if the vines were native to the Negev, or if they had been imported. For more, see "Ancient Wine Press Discovered in Tel Aviv."

Wednesday, February 11

Shamsheer Studied With Non-Destructive Tests

LONDON, ENGLAND—A curved single-edged sword called a shamsheer has been studied using metallography and neutron diffraction by a team led by Eliza Barzagli of the University of Florence. The sword, made in a Persian design, had been crafted in India in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Samples were collected from an area of the weapon that had already been damaged to be examined under a microscope. Then the sword was sent to the ISIS pulsed spallation neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom, for non-invasive testing. The results of the tests revealed that the sword, now housed at the Wallace Collection, was made of wootz steel, which is quite pure and has a high carbon content, characteristic of high-quality swords made in India and Central Asia. Such cast pieces of metal were cooled slowly and forged carefully at low temperatures. This particular sword was probably used in battle. “A non-destructive method able to identify which of the shiny surface blades are actually of wootz steel is very welcome,” Barzagli told Eureka Alert. To read about a similar study, see "Army Assists With Study of Anglo-Saxon Sword."

Excavation of the Nissia Begins Off the Coast of Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—A shipwreck dating to the Ottoman period is being excavated off the southeast coast of Cyprus by the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory of the University of Cyprus, in collaboration with the department of antiquities. Called the Nissia, “it is the only shipwreck of this period known in Cyprus, and one of the few that are under investigation in the eastern Mediterranean,” the Cyprus antiquities department announced. The Cyprus Mail reports that three iron cannons, wooden rigging, bullets, ceramics, glass tableware, bricks, and a section of the ship’s hull have been found so far. The project members also want to protect the site, which is a favorite of recreational divers, from looting and wear and tear. For more on nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Evidence of Nighthawking Found at Hadrian’s Wall

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Evidence of illegal digging has been found at a center section of Hadrian’s Wall, constructed in the second century at the edge of the Roman frontier. The police and officials from English Heritage suspect that metal detectors were used to look for artifacts because of the discoveries that have been made at the nearby site of Vindolanda Roman fort. “The trust deplores the illegal use of metal detecting,” Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, told The Telegraph. Volunteers have been recruited to patrol and inspect stretches of the wall for signs of damage. “The objects they are stealing belong to the landowner, in this case the National Trust, and the history they are stealing belongs to all of us,” said Mark Harrison, English Heritage national crime advisor. To read more about metal detecting in England, see "Heads Won, Tales Lost."

Ancient Pueblo Indian Rock Art Damaged by Vandals

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—Trash, motorcycle tracks, and graffiti were discovered at Boca Negra Arroyo in the Petroglyph National Monument. The fencing was down, semi-trailer tires had been dumped in the canyon, traces of campfires were found, and an archaeologically sensitive dry cave had been spray-painted with graffiti. “We have to be careful and sensitive so we don’t damage the rocks and create our own markings. We have a variety of methods to try, ranging from high-pressure water, to a pumice removal method to a new product, an environmentally friendly solvent. In the very near future, we’ll have it looking better,” Dennis Vásquez, the National Park Service superintendent at the Petroglyph National Monument, told The Associated Press.

Tuesday, February 10

1300 Edition of the Magna Carta Found in Kent

SANDWICH, KENT—An edition of the Magna Carta produced in 1300 has been discovered in an archive in eastern England. The original Magna Carta, issued by King John, was signed in 1215 and established the rule of law and equality before the law. The 1300 version was issued by King Edward I and was marked with a royal seal and belonged to the town of Sandwich. About a third of the Sandwich copy is missing and it no longer retains its seal, however. The document had been filed inside a nineteenth-century scrapbook, along with a copy of the Charter of the Forest, which provided some rights and privileges to the common people. “It must have been much more widely distributed than previously thought because if Sandwich had one…the chances are it went out to a lot of other towns. And it is very likely that there are one or two out there somewhere that no one has spotted yet,” Nicholas Vincent of the University of East Anglia told The Guardian. To read about archaeology in the region, see "The Kings of Kent."

Roman Roadside Cemetery Unearthed at Ipplepen

EXETER, ENGLAND—Fifteen skeletons were recovered from a roadside cemetery at a Romano-British settlement by volunteers, students, and archaeologists from the University of Exeter. The site was discovered by metal detectorists who notified England’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. Research has shown that one of the skeletons dates to some 250 to 350 years after the Roman period. Additional research will try to determine when the roadside cemetery first came into use, and if the people buried there grew up in the region. “As the excavation progressed, it became clear that we were dealing with the largest Romano-British cemetery discovered in Devon and that it had huge potential to develop our understanding of settlements and how people lived in the southwest 2,000 years ago. Then the radiocarbon date of A.D. 655-765 brought even further revelations; everyone was very surprised. It suggests continuation of the settlement after the Roman period and shows that life carried on at Ipplepen rather than falling out of use,” said Danielle Wootton, Devon Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, based at the University of Exeter. For an unusual glimpse of life in this period, see "Artifact: Romano-British Brooch."

4,000-Year-Old Child’s Grave Exposed in Orkney

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The 4,000-year-old remains of a child thought to be between the ages of ten and 12 at the time of death were discovered on the island of Sanday last week. BBC News reports that the grave, located near the coast, was exposed by winter storms and high tides and spotted by a tour guide who alerted archaeologists. The child’s skeleton has been excavated and will be analyzed by an osteoarchaeology team. To see a sequence of images showing the excavation, go to the website of the Sanday Ranger.  

Colonial-Era Air Quality Recorded in Andean Ice

COLUMBUS, OHIO—Paolo Gabrielli and Lonnie Thompson of The Ohio State University have studied cores of ice taken from Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap that record 1,200 years’ worth of wet and dry, dusty seasons. They found antimony, arsenic, bismuth, molybdenum, and lead in the ice dating back to the years before Spanish rule, but in amounts that are likely to coincide with natural contamination sources, such as volcanic eruptions. Much larger quantities of the elements were captured in the seemingly clean ice that dates to just before 1600. Such pollution persisted until the early 1800s, when South American countries declared independence from Spain. Most of the pollution was probably produced in Potosí, located in modern-day Bolivia, where the Spanish mined and refined silver on a large scale by grinding silver ore, which contains more lead than silver, into a powder and mixing it with mercury. “The fact that we can detect pollution in ice from a pristine high-altitude location is indicative of the continental significance of this deposition. Only a significant source of pollution could travel so far, and affect the chemistry of the snow on a remote place like Quelccaya,” Gabrielli said. For another recent discovery in the region, see "Inca Ceremonial Site Uncovered in Peru."