Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 14

3.4-Million-Year-Old Animal Bones Appear to Have Been Butchered

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Marks on a pair of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones found at the site of Dikka, Ethiopia, appear to have been caused by butchering with stone tools, argue Jessica Thompson of Emory University and her colleagues in the Journal of Human Evolution. The new study uses statistical analysis of marks on more than 4000 bones found at the same site to refute a claim made by other scientists in 2011 that the marks were caused by incidental trampling. The bones date to long before the emergence of the genus Homo and appear to significantly push back the evidence for the earliest known instance of large animal butchering. "Our analysis shows with statistical certainty that the marks on the two bones in question were not caused by trampling," Thompson said in a press release. "While there is abundant evidence that other bones at the site were damaged by trampling, these two bones are outliers. The marks on them still more closely resemble marks made by butchering." To read about the earliest known stone tools, go to “The First Toolkit.”

Sun Temple Excavated in Denmark

BORNHOLM, DENMARK—University of Warsaw archaeologists are joining excavations at the site of Vasagard on the Island of Bornholm. Specialists believe that some 5,500-years ago, a temple complex stood at the site that may have been used for rituals associated with sun worship. Stone disks inscribed with images of sun rays have been discovered there and the complex had an entrance that was aligned in the direction of the solstice sunrise. This summer archaeologists unearthed several ditches at the site, which may have held remains that were taken to burial chambers once they had decomposed. "In the ditches we find large amounts of pottery, animal bones and damaged stone sun discs,” archaeologist Janusz Janowski told Science and Scholarship in Poland. “The function of the latter has not been fully explained yet." To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to "Bronze Age Traveler."

Chinese Cave Graffiti Recounts History of Drought

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An international team of scientists has discovered graffiti on the walls of Dayu Cave in central China describing the effect of several periods of drought spanning from 1520 to 1920, according to a press release from the University of Cambridge. An inscription from 1528, for example, reads: "Drought occurred in the 7th year of the Emperor Jiajing period, Ming Dynasty. Gui Jiang and Sishan Jiang came to Da'an town to acknowledge the Dragon Lake inside in Dayu Cave." The researchers also analyzed stable isotopes and trace elements in cave formations such as stalagmites for indications of annual rainfall levels and found that they attested to low rainfall during the periods when droughts were recorded in the cave writings. To read about the mysterious disappearance of a Bronze Age Chinese civilization, go to “Seismic Shift.”

"Amazon" Burial Discovered in Russia

  MOSCOW, RUSSIA—The Daily Mail reports that during construction of a new airport near the city of Rostov-on-Don, a team led by the Russian Institute of Archaeology’s Roman Mimohod unearthed a 2,000-year-old unlooted burial of a Sarmatian noblewoman. A nomadic people who occupied the steppes north of the Black Sea from the fifth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., the Sarmatians were famous in the ancient world for their woman warriors, who are thought to have inspired the Amazons of Greek mythology. More than 100 iron arrowheads were discovered in the grave, along with a gem with a Phoenician or Aramaic inscription, and a number of pieces of gold jewlery, which date from an unusually long period of time, from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. "It is rather unique, I have not see such a combination before and have not heard about it, “ said Mimohod in a press release. "This can mean that the most ancient things were handed down for a long time and finally were buried with this noble woman." To read about a similar discovery, go to "Scythian Treasure Site Discovered."

Thursday, August 13

Rare Roman Jewelery in Northern England

MARYPORT, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging at a Roman settlement in northwestern England have found a rare piece of rock crystal that might have been the centerpiece of a ring, reports BBC Cumbria. Dating to the second or third century A.D., the back of the crystal appears to have been carved with a depiction of a bearded man. It is just one of several important artifacts to have emerged from the site, a civilian settlement that was associated with a fort that was one of the outposts guarding Hadrian’s Wall, which long marked the frontier of Roman Britain. To read about another remarkable artifact unearthed on the Romano-British frontier, go to “Artifact: Roman Birthday Party Invite.”

Searching for Prohibition’s Bootlegging Widows

BUTTE, MONTANA—A team of University of Montana archaeologists is at work in the historic Butte neighborhood known as the Cabbage Patch searching for Prohibition-era artifacts left behind by widows who took on the role of bootleggers. The impoverished community was occupied by lower class mining families during the Prohibition Era. Widows who lost their husbands to mining accidents were known to take up the making of moonshine just to get by, often with the tacit approval of law enforcement. Led by archaeologist Kelli Casias, the team plans on excavating three sites in Butte. Should they find enough artifacts from the era, “it'll change our perspective on Prohibition," Casias told NBC News Montana. "It will change the whole story completely." For more on the archaeology of immigrant settlements in the West, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Possible Victims of 17th-Century Plague Uncovered

LONDON, ENGLAND—Continuing work on the Crossrail high-speed rail line for southern England has kept archaeologists in London busy at Bedlam burial ground, the site of the new Liverpool Street station—more than 3,500 hundred skeletons have been found this year alone. New images and a 360-degree video of the bodies of 30 possible victims of the Great Plague of 1665 uncovered at the burial ground have revealed that all the bodies were likely buried on the same day. “This mass burial is very likely a reaction to a catastrophic event,” project archaeologist Jay Carver told Culture 24, explaining why the grave differs from the individual burials also uncovered in the cemetery. To read about another massive graveyard and what it reveals about conditions in 19th-century London, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Evidence of 6th-Century Roman Sanctuary Discovered

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists have been working on the Palatine Hill in Rome for decades, trying to uncover evidence of the city’s earliest history. This summer’s excavations on the northeast slope have unearthed the foundations of one of those early buildings, a part of a sixth-century B.C. structure, according to a report in the New York Times.  While the sixth-century date is impressively early, in fact the sanctuary, called the Curiae Veteres, of which the building was a part likely dates back to the eighth-century B.C., at the very time of Rome’s foundation in 753 B.C. The Curia Veteres was in continuous use for twelve centuries, according to excavation director Clementina Panella, until pagan cults were banned when the Roman Empire became Christianized. To read about new work being in done in the Domus Aurea, the largest palace in ancient Rome, go to “Golden House of an Emperor.”

Wednesday, August 12

Gun Carriage Recovered From The London

ESSEX, ENGLAND—A 350-year old gun carriage has been brought to the surface from the wreckage of The London, the warship that in 1660 carried Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to the throne of England. The ship blew up in 1665 when gunpowder that had been stored on board caught fire. The ship now rests in two parts near Southend Pier in Essex. Historic England and Cotswold Archaeology are recovering what they can of the ship, before it is lost to sea worms and changing currents brought on by climate change. “This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition but is a national treasure at risk. Unless we recover it quickly, it may break up and be lost,” maritime archaeologist Alison James of Historic England said in a press release. To read about two other historic shipwrecks, go to "Mary Rose and Vasa." 

15th-Century “Sea Monster” Lifted from Baltic Sea

FLEMINGSBERG, SWEDEN—The figurehead of a fifteenth-century warship that belonged to Denmark’s King Hans has been lifted from the Baltic Sea by a team from Blekinge Museum and Södertörn University. The creature, carved at the end of an 11-foot-long beam, has lion ears and a crocodile-like mouth holding what appears to be a person. “No similar item from the fifteenth century has ever been found anywhere in the world,” Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, told Discovery News. The ship, named Gribshunden, or “Grip Dog,” was anchored in the Swedish town of Ronneby when it sank after a fire in 1495. To read more about the archaeology of ships, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Ancient Skeleton May Represent Female Warrior

ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN—The Telegraph reports that skeletal remains believed to have belonged to a woman who lived between the eleventh century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. have been unearthed in southern Kazakhstan. She had been buried with arrows, a small knife placed near her right hand, and a sword near her left hand, suggesting that she was a warrior who may have been a leader in the ancient Kanguy state. She had also been buried with pots and bowls. The find will be put on display in the National Museum of Kazakhstan.

First Colony Foundation Reveals 16th-Century English Artifacts

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—Pottery, a handmade nail, and an aglet from sixteenth-century clothing are evidence of the presence of early English settlers, according to a press conference held by members of the First Colony Foundation reported in The News & Observer. The artifacts were discovered some 60 miles away from Roanoke Island, where the first English settlers landed in 1587. Their leader, John White, left the island for supplies, and when he returned in 1590, he found only the word “Croatoan” carved in a fence post, and the letters “CRO” left on a tree. With the help of new information from a map of the area drawn by White, the team excavated a place they call Site X and found a kind of sixteenth-century pottery known as Border ware, which was probably made in northern England and was used to store fish for sea voyages. They also uncovered other colonial-era artifacts, including a food-storage jar, a hook for stretching fabric or hides, and pieces of early gun flintlocks. The team thinks that the colonists left their settlement in two waves—first a small group of men, followed by a larger group of men, women, and children. “There’s a lot more unknown to be discovered. The future before us is one of still searching, still researching,” said Phil Evans, president of the foundation. For more on colonial-era archaeology, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."