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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 07

Young Girl’s Prone Burial Unearthed in Italy

ALBENGA, ITALY—The remains of a 13-year-old girl who suffered from anemia have been unearthed in northern Italy by a team from the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology at the Vatican. She had been buried face down in front of a church dedicated to Saint Calocero, which dates to the fifth or sixth century A.D. “The prone burial was linked to the belief that the soul left the body through the mouth. Burying the dead face-down was a way to prevent the impure soul threatening the living,” anthropologist Elena Dellù told Discovery News. Areas of spongy bone tissue on her skull are evidence of severe anemia that would have made her pale and prone to fainting. She may have experienced hematomas as well. “She could have suffered from an inherited blood disorder such as thalassemia or from hemorrhagic conditions. More simply, it could have been an iron lacking diet,” Dellù added. Excavation director Stefano Roascio says that the prone burial, suggesting that the girl had been rejected by her community, is at odds with the prestigious location of her burial, in front of the church. “A precise dating of the skeleton and further research on similar burials might help in finding more clues,” he said. To read about a strange female burial unearthed in France that dates to the same era, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Barbarian Body Modification."  

Iron Age Cooking Mound Excavated on Skomer Island

PEMBROKESHIRE, WALES—The first excavation on Skomer Island, known for its puffins and other seabirds, has examined a cooking mound containing fire-cracked stones. “This mound built up from numerous cooking episodes in the adjacent house. Our excavation discovered a cattle tooth from within the mound of stones, which has now been radiocarbon dated to the late Iron Age,” Toby Driver of the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth told Culture 24. Archaeological research on the island has focused on non-invasive techniques including aerial photography, airborne laser scanning, ground geophysics, and walkover surveys, in order to preserve the fragile landscape. “These new dates confirm pre-Roman settlement on Skomer. Even so, the burnt mound covers a substantial earlier field wall showing that the island was already well settled and farmed in previous centuries.” To read about another suprising prehistoric find in Wales, see "Neolithic Battlefield Unearthed."   

Location of Columbus’ Point of Departure Found in Spain

HUELVA, SPAIN—Traces of a fifteenth-century pottery and a reef unearthed at Palos de la Frontera in southwestern Spain have led archaeologist Juan Manuel Campos of the University of Huelva to claim he has discovered the exact location of Christopher Columbus’ departure for the New World in 1492. Historical sources describe La Fontanilla port as having a shipyard, a fresh water fountain, a pottery works, and a reef. “The reef was the port’s customs area, and it was the place where Columbus negotiated and made the arrangements necessary for the success of his historic voyage,” Campos told The Latin American Herald Tribune. To read about late medieval Jewish cemeteries in Spain, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Spain's Lost Jewish History."  

World War II Graffiti & Ancient Ritual Bath Uncovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A 1,900-year-old ritual bath, or mikveh (miqwe), has been discovered at Ha-Ela Junction south of Beit Shemesh as part of the project to widen Highway 38. “We exposed a miqwe in which there are five steps; the fifth step being a bench where one could sit at the edge of the immersion pool. We found fragments of magnificent pottery vessels there dating to the second century CE, among them lamps, red burnished vessels, a jug, and cooking pots. Apparently the miqwe ceased to be used during the second century CE, perhaps in light of the Bar Kokhba revolt,” excavation director Yoav Tsur announced in an Israel Antiquities Authority press release. The team found that the water collection vat for the bath was enlarged some 1,700 years ago and may have been used to collect drinking water. In addition, graffiti left by two soldiers of the Royal Australian Engineers was found on the cistern’s ceiling. They had left their names and serial numbers in 1940. “It seems that the two were members of the Australian Sixth Division which was stationed in the country at the time of the British Mandate and was undergoing training prior to being sent into combat in France. Because France surrendered before the troops were ready they were ultimately sent to Egypt in October 1940 where they fought at the front in the Western Desert,” said archaeologist Assaf Peretz. Both men survived the war. To read about the study of other World War II-era sites, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Archaeology of WWII."  

Monday, October 06

Neolithic Settlement Discovered in Southwest England

READING, ENGLAND—A team assisted by volunteers has uncovered Neolithic pottery and evidence of a settlement in the Isles of Scilly, off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula. “We found about 30 post holes which might have been successive structures. There weren’t any coherent buildings, however, like neat rectangles, which is always a bit annoying, but is the way it is,” Duncan Garrow of the University of Reading told The Cornishman. The team also found flint, a pit that contained thick layers of charcoal with rock crystals, and a pierced pebble necklace or amulet. Nearby test pits yielded a Neolithic mace head with a hole in its middle made of Cornish greenstone. “This process would have taken hours of work, as at the time people did not have metal tools and would have had to grind out the hole using a wooden bow drill and abrasive sand from the beach,” Garrow said. To read more of ARCHAEOLOGY's coverage of Neolithic England, see "The Henge Builders."  

Early Image of Jesus Unearthed in Spain

LINARES, SPAIN—A green glass paten dated to the fourth century has been discovered at the site of a religious building in southern Spain. Etchings on the paten, a plate used during Christian religious services to hold consecrated bread, depict three beardless men identified as Jesus and the apostles Paul and Peter. Coins and pottery helped the Forum MMX team date the paten. “We know it dates back to the fourth century, in part because popes in the following centuries ordered all patens to be made out of silver,” Marcelo Castro, head of the team, told The Local. “We were wary about presenting the paten as a fourth century piece in case it clashed with previous studies into the chronology of Christianity in Spain,” he added. To read about the controversy surrounding an alleged early depiction of the Crucifixion unearthed in Spain, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Veleia Affair."  

Oregon’s Paisley Caves Added to National Register

PORTLAND, OREGON—Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, a network of caves that may be the oldest site of human habitation in what is now the United States, has been added to National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. Reuters reports that Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon and his team dated more than 200 samples of preserved human feces from the cave system and found that they had been deposited some 14,300 years ago. “As we have used increasingly sophisticated scientific techniques in recent years, our understanding of the cultural and megafaunal remains at the site has grown dramatically. Analyses by our research team provides significant new information regarding the timing and spread of the first settlers in the Americas,” Jenkins announced at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.  To read more about Paisley Caves and other important early American sites, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "America, in the Beginning"  and "Pre-Clovis Breathrough."  

Shipwreck Near Haiti Is Not Likely to be the Santa María

CAP-HAITIEN, HAITI—According to a report from the Associated Press, experts from UNESCO are expected to announce that a shipwreck off the northern coast of Haiti is not the lost flagship of Christopher Columbus, the Santa María, as had been claimed earlier this year by an American explorer. Columbus abandoned his flagship and some two dozen crew members Christmas Day, 1492, after the vessel struck a reef. The men built a fort, named “Navidad,” but they had disappeared and the fort had been burned to the ground when Columbus returned to the site a year later. The Santa María would have had parts made from iron and wood, not copper, as was found at the shipwreck site. “We are still awaiting the final report, but so far what we have seen … tends to lead us to think it is a later ship,” said Haiti’s Culture Minister Monique Rocourt. The wreckage may date to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. To read more about maritime discoveries, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."  

Friday, October 03

Men’s Roles in Scandinavian History Examined

OSLO, NORWAY—Lisbeth Skogstrand of the University of Oslo has surveyed the artifacts found in 805 men’s graves in Norway and Denmark dating from the Early Nordic Bronze Age to the late Roman period. She found that in the Early Bronze Age, grooming articles such as razors, tweezers, and possible implements for manicures were highly valued. “We have found traces of beard hair and possibly eyebrows on the razors, so they probably removed hair from various parts of the body,” she told Science Nordic. Weapons such as spears, shields, and other iron weapons were considered important enough to bury with dead in the early Roman period, until A.D. 200  At this time, perhaps men were required to protect their belongings from rival communities. After A.D. 200, men’s grave goods resemble those of women—tools and decorative items representing other roles in society. “There were more ways of being a man than we thought,” she quipped. To read about artifacts being discovered in Norway's retreating glaciers, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Big Melt."  

Shipwreck May Be Part of Kublai Khan’s Invading Fleet

MATSUURA, JAPAN—Pieces of a ship thought to date from the Mongol attempt to invade Japan 700 years ago have been discovered off the coast of Takashima Island. Divers investigated the wreckage, detected with shipboard sonar, and found port and starboard structures near the bow of the ship. Ballast stones may cover the ship’s keel. “We hope it is a Mongol invasion ship. We plan to clarify details like its structure, size, and origin by excavating further. It’s well preserved, so we expect it to carry a significant load of cargo like porcelains and weapons,” archaeologist Yoshifumi Ikeda of the University of the Ryukyus told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about previous excavations at the site, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Relics of the Kamikaze."  

Maryland’s Historians Search for Camp Parole

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND—Local historians from the Annapolis History Consortium think that  thousands of Union soldiers may have been housed at a site in Maryland’s Crystal Spring Farm and Forest. The soldiers had agreed to live in the camp as noncombatants until they could be exchanged for Confederate soldiers captured by the Union. Soldiers’ diaries, letters, and drawings; land records; and claims made by property owners whose land was damaged by the Army all point to Crystal Spring as the site of one of the three camps in the area. The land, however, is slated for development. “People have been looking for this camp for years,” historian Jane McWilliams told The Baltimore Sun. The developers will be required to check for potential historical resources on the property. “It wouldn’t stop the development, but there might have to be some changes,” said Sally Nash, the acting planning director for Annapolis. To read about a Confederate POW camp, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Life on the Inside."  

Marble Door Fragments Unearthed in Amphipolis

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Greece’s Culture Ministry has announced that fragments of a marble door have been unearthed in the second chamber of the tomb at the Kasta Hill site. The door had a row of dots down the center that resembled nail heads, a style common to Macedonian tomb doors. “Based on our findings, we are absolutely sure about our dating to the last quarter of the fourth century B.C.,” excavation director Katerina Peristeri said in a government press release reported by Discovery News. The door had been crafted in two sections from marble brought to the site from the island of Thasso. The door was also hinged on its left side, so it was probably functional. It may have collapsed in an earthquake that struck Amphipolis in the sixth century A.D., or during bombing in 1913. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's tomb, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."