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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 13

Neolithic Battlefield Unearthed in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—While excavating Roman and Iron Age deposits at a hillfort outside Cardiff, archaeologists were surprised to discover ditches that contained Neolithic-period tools and weapons dating to around 3600 B.C. "Quite frankly, we were amazed,” Cardiff archaeologist Dave Wyatt, the excavation co-director, told Culture 24. "No-one realized the site had been occupied as far back as the Neolithic—predating the construction of the Iron Age hillfort by several thousand years." The number of broken flint arrowheads the team unearthed suggests that the site was a battleground at some point during the Neolithic. But according to team archaeologist Oliver Davis, events at the site were typically more peaceful. “The location and number of Neolithic finds indicate that we have discovered a causewayed enclosure – a special place where small communities gathered together at certain important times of the year to celebrate, feast, exchange things and possibly find marriage partners,”

Henge Discovered in England

SITTINGBOURNE, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating an area slated for development in North Kent have uncovered a 6,000-year-old Neolithic henge, reports the Canterbury Times. Consisting of two circular ditches, with the outermost reaching about 100 feet in diameter and featuring an entrance that faces northeast, the site was likely a ceremonial gathering place similar to Stonehenge. SWAT Archaeology's Paul Wilkinson, who led the project, believes the outer ring was made in the Neolithic, and the inner ring was added later, in the Bronze Age, when the henge became a funeral monument. A second, smaller ring discovered nearby may have also been used as a cemetery during the Bronze Age. There are signs that the monuments might have later been repurposed as livestock pens.  

Where Roman Soldiers Took a Bath

GONIO, GEORGIA—Polish archaeologists have made a surprising find of an ancient bath complex at the Roman fort of Asparos during their first excavation season. According to PAP, the team was greatly surprised by the quality of the building materials and techniques used, which were not typical for a soldiers’ bathhouse, as well as its decoration, including mosaic flooring, a luxury unusual for this type of bath. Equally surprising was the date of the complex, says excavation director Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski. The bath dates to the second half of the first century A.D., during the reign of the emperor Vespasian, at least a century or more earlier than other Roman structures found in this part of Georgia.

Massive Hellenistic Tomb Discovered in Northern Greece

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—A massive tomb has been unearthed in northeastern Greece, just 65 away from Thessaloniki, reports the Guardian. Over the past two years, archaeologists have been slowly excavating the giant structure, which dates to the fourth century B.C. The tomb is encircled by a 1500-foot marble wall and approached by an almost 20-foot-wide road lined with fresco-covered walls. Archaeologists have also discovered the tomb’s entrance guarded by two large sphinxes. A 15-foot-tall sculpture of a lion that may once have been placed on top of the tomb was discovered more than a century ago near the site. The tomb’s opulence and enormous size surely mark it as having belonged to an important Macedonian official, says a minister from the Ministry of Culture, and may rank it as the largest tomb ever found in Greece. Within the next weeks, archaeologists hope to enter the tomb’s interior, perhaps enabling them to identify who was buried inside.   

Tuesday, August 12

Conservators Begin New Work on H.L. Hunley

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The Post and Courier reports that conservators have begun to scrape away the layer of sand and shell encasing the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which went down in Charleston Harbor in 1864 just minutes after it sank the Union warship USS Housatonic. The layer, known as concretion, has obscured many of the specific features of the vessel that scientists are interested in studying, especially evidence of bullet holes or other damage that might reveal clues about why the submarine sank. "We have been waiting for this a long time," says Nestor Gonzalez, associate director Warren Lasch Conservation Center, which is responsible for the project. "We will know if there was any damage to the submarine pre-sinking or post-sinking." The painstaking work, carried out using dental chisels and small hammers to remove concretion that is in some places a couple of inches thick, could take up to a year to complete.      

Traces of Ancient Painkiller Found in Colorado

DENVER, COLORADO—Western Digs reports that Durham University archaeochemist Denise Regan has discovered traces of salicylic acid, a precursor compound of aspirin, on an unassuming, 1,300-year-old ceramic sherd unearthed in a rock shelter in eastern Colorado. The discovery could be the earliest proven use of the chemical in North America, and offers a unique glimpse at prehistoric medicinal practices. Derived from willow bark, salicylic acid is still used by some Native groups today to cure aches. “If you talk to the Arapahoe or the Cheyenne, they’ll use willow bark either as a tea with the leaves or they will soften the bark in boiling water and chew on it for toothaches and as a pain reliever,” says Regan. She believes the sherd itself could have come from a vessel that was reserved for preparing poultices or tea. "I think it’s reasonable to infer that this pot was used for medicinal purposes and not to cook food. If it was used to cook food we would’ve more than likely found something else in there.” 

Can Barley Tell the Tale of Civilization?

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Researchers have long argued about the role of climate change in the rise, development, and collapse of societies. According to NBC news, a newly released paper helps to clarify this relationship. A team of scientists led by Frank Hole of Yale University sampled both modern and ancient grains of barley from sites across the Near East and examined the effects of the large droughts that are known to have occurred in the region for the last ten millennia. Variations in the prevalence and health of the barley, which can be detected by the varying levels of carbon isotopes in the grains, are a key to understanding how, for example, the lack of water forced some farmers, especially those inland, to develop more sophisticated irrigation systems and even to turn to other crops, while those on the coast where water was more plentiful continued to cultivate barley for beer, bread, and other foodstuffs. 

Kushite Cemetery in Sudan

DANGEIL, SUDAN—A new book covering more than a decade of excavations by the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project shares the story of a stunning site and an extraordinary collection of exotic artifacts, reports Livescience. The site’s cemetery, which was first discovered in 2002, dates to about 2,000 years ago, a period when the Kushite Kingdom controlled a large amount of territory and exerted a great deal of power in the area. Although the Kushites often built pyramids to bury their dead, these graves are entirely underground and contain such impressive artifacts as a silver ring depicting the god Amun and a faience box decorated with prominent eyes—perhaps to protect against the evil eye—as well as several artifacts associated with archery buried with a man who had clearly been an archer in his life. The work of the project continues and the researchers hope to find the full extent of the cemetery in the future. 

Monday, August 11

Epidemic of Violence in the Ancient Southwest

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON— A new study of human remains from southwest Colorado suggests that ancestral Pueblo people living in the Mesa Verde area between 1140 and 1180 experienced a particularly violent era, reports Washington State University News. Archaeologist Tim Kohler and his colleagues found that almost nine out of ten sets of human remains dating to this period show evidence of skull and arm trauma from violent blows. “If we’re identifying that much trauma, many were dying a violent death,” says Kohler. However, human remains from the nearby northern Rio Grande area that date to the same time show much less evidence of trauma. According to Kohler, cultural differences between the two areas may explain the discrepancy in levels of violence. In the Rio Grande area, people did not rely on kin groups as much as in Mesa Verde, and joined larger groups such as medicine societies that spanned separate villages and promoted links between family groups. Kohler also sees more specialization of crafts in the Northern Rio Grande, which could be significant. "When you don’t have specialization in societies, there’s a sense in which everybody is a competitor because everybody is doing the same thing,” he notes. By the late thirteenth century, the Mesa Verde region was completely abandoned. 

When to Stop Digging?

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—How do archaeologists decide when to call it a day? At the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, modern Silchester, project director Mike Fulford of the University of Reading says it’s time to stop digging more than 100 years after Victorian archaeologists first began to explore the site, reports the Guardian. “Nothing left there except gravel and natural geology," says Fulford, "nothing of any interest whatsoever." But that has certainly not been the case over the four decades that Fulford has been digging at Silchester, one of the best-preserved and completely excavated towns in Roman Britain. In addition to impressive standing remains, the site has produced some of the most important and compelling ancient Roman artifacts in Britain including the island’s oldest olive pit, dog, raven and cat burials, a spectacular knife depicting two mating dogs, a soldier’s folding skillet, as well as important pre-Roman finds including what may the largest Iron Age hall ever found in Britain. Yet despite the extensive excavations, archaeologists have not yet been able to figure out why was this major town abandoned in the sixth century. With the last digging season over and 6,000 tons of excavated soil waiting to use as backfill, Fulford is content to let that question remain a mystery.  

Excavations begin at the Temple of Artemis

Hurriyet Daily News reports that archaeologists are preparing to restart excavations at the site of the Temple of Artemis at the ancient city of Ephesus. Once considered one of the seven wonders of the world, the massive temple was completeted in 550 B.C and constructed completely of marble. Little remains of the temple on the surface, and digs at the site are hampered by the area's high water table. A regional drought will actually help the effort, according to Sabine Ladstatter, director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute and excavation director at Ephesus. "This year we are lucky because the ground water withdrew," she says. "We normally do it with pumps. Now we will progress faster. We are planning to work until the rainy season." The last dig at the site took place twenty years ago and archaeologists still have a number of questions about the temple. "We will seek [the] answer to questions like was there a church in the area of the Temple of Artemis?" says Ladstatter, who hopes the team will reach the site's Roman levels.