Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 12

Lake Michigan Wreck Is Not 17th-Century Le Griffon

FRANKFORT, MICHIGAN—Michigan state archaeologist Dean Anderson and underwater archaeologist Wayne Lusardi, along with Michigan State Police divers, visited wreckage in Lake Michigan found by local enthusiasts who thought it could be Le Griffon, a ship built and lost by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1679. The wooden hull, which is 80 feet long, is too big to be the long-lost ship, however. Lusardi added that steam machinery on the ship suggests it was a tug boat dating to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. “We’re interested in what’s down there. We encourage people to report when they find a shipwreck,” State Historic Preservation Office spokeswoman Laura Ashlee told To read about and see some amazing pictures of some of the Greak Lakes' most fascinating wrecks, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

Intact Wine Jug Discovered in Scandinavia’s Oldest City

RIBE, DENMARK—An intact trefoil jug, or wine pitcher, has been unearthed in a cemetery in Ribe, Denmark, by students from the University of Aarhus. The jug was produced in a workshop in France or Belgium, and is estimated to be 1,000 years old. “The pitcher is an example of the finest pottery produced in northern Europe at the time, and it has never been seen before in Denmark. The vessel reveals information about the vast trading network that put Ribe on the map during the Viking era,” Morten Søvsø of the Sydvestjyske Museum told The Copenhagen Post. To read about an even older Egyptian vintage, go to "Wine for Eternity." 

Cause of Athens Infant Deaths Discovered

WATERLOO, CANADA—Newsweek reports that the remains of hundreds of dogs and human infants that were discovered in a well in the Athenian agora in the 1930s have been examined by biological anthropologist Maria Liston of the University of Waterloo and her team, who determined that all but three of the 450 infants were less than a week old at the time of death, and as many as one third of the babies died of bacterial meningitis, a disease that can be transmitted by cutting the umbilical cord with an unsterile object. The rest of the babies are likely to have died from other natural causes that did not leave marks on the bones. Archaeologist Susan Rotroff of Washington University in St. Louis dated the deposits to between 165 and 50 B.C., a time when babies in Greece and Rome may not have been considered to be full individuals until they were named in a ceremony conducted a week to ten days after birth. Babies who died before the ceremony may have ended up in a well. Zooarchaeologist Lynn Snyder adds that the dogs may have been killed as sacrifices. There are no signs of fatal trauma on their bones, but some of them have healed fractures. To read about another mass grave in Athens, go to "Plague Victims Found."

Thursday, June 11

Study Suggests Human Ancestors Smiled

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—A study of the smile types displayed by chimpanzees in the wild suggests that their communication is more similar to that of humans than had been previously recognized. Humans and chimpanzees have the same types of smiles when laughing, and they can produce those smiles silently. “Humans have the flexibility to show their smile with and without talking or laughing. This ability to flexibly use our facial expressions allows us to communicate in more explicit and versatile ways, but until now we didn’t know chimps could also flexibly produce facial expressions free from their vocalizations,” Marina Davila-Ross of the University of Portsmouth said in a press release. This suggests that positive facial expressions and flexibility in facial expressions were present in our common ancestor. There are still differences between the laughter of humans and chimps, however. “Chimps only rarely display crow’s feet when laughing, but this trait is often shown by laughing humans. Then, it is called Duchenne laughter, which has a particularly positive impact on human listeners,” she said. To read about a very different way scientists are looking at the evolution of the human face, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Medieval Wall Unearthed in England’s East Midlands

LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Road construction in England’s East Midlands uncovered part of a medieval wall. “You can see pieces of pottery and bone through the layers allowing us to date them. Although we have what looks like a medieval dwelling, we do not know at this stage its purpose—whether it was residential or if a trade was carried out here,” archaeologist Leigh Brocklehurst said in a press release from the Lincolnshire County Council. The wall is thought to date to the twelfth century, when it would have been set back, behind buildings that faced the High Street. Its rough construction could indicate that it had been a home for daily wage workers who had moved into the growing town, then known as Wigford. To read about how chess was played in medieval England, go to "Artifact."

Cross-Sections of Roman Aqueduct Reveal Water Supply

URBANA, ILLINOIS—Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied the limestone deposits within the Anio Novus aqueduct in order to estimate the rate of water flow from the Apennine Mountains to Rome. They determined that the aqueduct, which was built between A.D. 38 and 52, would have delivered 370 gallons of Aniene River water to the city each second. The buildup of limestone, or travertine, indicates that the 54-mile-long aqueduct channel was almost always full of water. But as the deposits got larger, they eventually reduced the water flow by 25 percent. Earlier estimates of the amount of water carried into Rome were taken from historical accounts and average velocity based upon the slope of the aqueduct. However, this new study has found variations in the slope across the aqueduct that could dramatically change those estimates. “Regardless of the different estimates, researchers agree that these aqueducts were the core piece of infrastructure that permitted large-scale urbanization. With this reliable water supply, Rome’s population was able to grow between 600,000 to a million people during the first century A.D.,” geologist and microbiologist Bruce Fouke said in a press release. To read about the search for the source of one of the most famous ancient aqueducts, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct." 

Wednesday, June 10

Large-Scale Study Examines Bronze Age Genomes

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Analysis of the genomes of 101 individuals who lived in Europe and Central Asia during the Bronze Age—between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago—suggests that the economic and social changes that occurred during this period were due to massive migrations. “Cultural change is actually happening because people are moving around and not just through the spread of ideas,” Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark said in a video clip included in a press release. It also shows that at the end of the Bronze Age, the ability to drink raw milk was still very rare, even though it is common among northern Europeans today. “Previously the common belief was that lactose tolerance developed in the Balkans or in the Middle East in connection with the introduction of farming during the Stone Age….We think that it may have been introduced into Europe with the Yamnaya herders from Caucasus but that the selection that has made most Europeans lactose tolerant has happened at a much later time,” added Martin Sikora of the museum’s Centre for GeoGenetics. To read about one of the earliest migrations in human history, go to "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."

Oklahoma’s Bison Kill Sites Used for Generations

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—Leland Bement of the University of Oklahoma was surveying bison kill sites along the Beaver River in northwestern Oklahoma when he found butchered bison bones on a narrow bench of land between two arroyos. Such “arroyo traps,” where the ditches were used as natural drive lines, are the oldest-known method of large-scale bison hunting. The pieces of leg, foot, and back bones were accompanied by a quartzite hammerstone and a small flake made from Texas chert. This site is 11,500 years old, and is “the most recent Paleoindian site along this stretch of the river,” Bement told Western Digs. “All of these sites [in the Beaver River complex] are large-scale bison kills in arroyo traps. Each kill was of between 30 and 60 animals.” Taken together, the sites, which are part of a study being conducted by Kristen Carlson of the University of Oklahoma, reveal a transformation from the tools of the Clovis culture to the Folsom tradition. “To have a kill complex in use for over 800 years speaks to the ability of hunters to plan and coordinate and revisit a successful hunting ground through generations,” Carlson said. To read about the remarkable way prehistoric Native Americans hunted buffalo, go to "Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers."

Byzantine Church Found Near Ancient Roadway

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A large Byzantine-era church and additional rooms that may have served as living quarters and storage space have been uncovered near the town of Abu Ghosh, during work to expand the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The church, placed near a spring, had a side chapel with a floor of white stone and a baptismal font in the shape of a four-leaf clover. Red-colored plaster among the rubble at the site indicates that the church’s walls were decorated with frescoes. Oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells were also recovered. “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times,” Annette Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel. To read about a Byzantine church that made our last Top 10 Discoveries of the Year list, go to "Sunken Byzantine Basilica."

3,800-Year-Old Statuettes Unearthed in Northern Peru

LIMA, PERU—Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced the discovery of three statuettes crafted by the Caral civilization. According to, the 3,800-year-old statuettes had been placed in a reed basket in a building in the ancient city of Vichama. Two of the mud statuettes are of a man and a woman painted in white, black, and red, and are thought to represent political authorities. The third statuette depicts a woman with 28 fingers and red dots on her white face, who may be a priestess. Two sculptures of women’s faces that had been wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue, and orange feathers were also found by a team led by archaeologist Ruth Shady. She thinks the objects may have been used in religious rituals performed before the construction of a new building. To read about the discovery of a 4,000-year-old painting in Peru, go to "New World's Earliest Mural."