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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 08

World War I Training Trenches Uncovered in England

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Aerial photographs taken of Bircham Newton in 1946 show that what looked like drainage ditches from the ground were actually trenches dug by soldiers training for World War I battlefields. The complex system includes supply lines, small trenches for fighting, and a circular feature with two entrances that may have been a command center. Landowner Nigel Day, who runs a camp site, found the trenches and contacted Norfolk County Council’s archaeology department. “I want to have them dug out by professional archaeologists and then restore them to their original World War I condition,” he told BBC News.

Teeth Reflect Changes in the Late Woodland Period

TORONTO, ONTARIO—Archaeologist Bradly T. Lepper has written about the research of Susan Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto in his column for the Columbus Dispatch. Pfeiffer and her team worked with First Nations descendant communities to study DNA and isotopes from the teeth of 53 “archaeologically discovered ancestors,” who lived between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The results indicate that the people ate mostly maize and fish, but the consumption of fish declined as their villages grew larger. The researchers also found genetic mutations that may connect some of the ancient villagers to modern tribes. “The Middle and Late Woodland periods were times of population movement, mixing, and diversification in the lower Great Lakes,” Pfeiffers’ team concluded. 

Farming and Technology Eased Stress on Human Bones

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An analysis of the lower leg bones of Central European farmers who lived between 7,300 and 1,150 years ago by Alison Macintosh of Cambridge University suggests that men carried out less physically demanding tasks over time. Their work load was probably lightened by the specialization of labor, the production of metal goods, and the development of trade networks. Macintosh found that the changes in women’s bones were not as consistent, however, indicating that they may have been performing a wide variety of tasks that did not require traveling long distances or carrying heavy loads. In fact, women’s skeletons from two of the earliest cemeteries in the study showed signs of tooth wear from processing activities. “As more and more people began doing a wider variety of crafts and behaviors, fewer people needed to be highly mobile, and with technological innovation, physically strenuous tasks were likely made easier. The overall result is a reduction in mobility of the population as a whole, accompanied by a reduction in the strength of the lower limb bones,” Macintosh told the University of Cambridge news service.

Monday, April 07

Infrared Sensors Detect Desert Ruins in New Mexico

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—A small, remote-controlled drone carrying a heat-sensing camera has helped archaeologists to get a sense of the Blue J community—an eleventh-century, ancient Puebloan settlement of nearly 60 households situated around open plazas in New Mexico’s desert. The settlement is just south of Chaco Canyon, but archaeologists had not found a monumental great house, nor a great kiva, that are typical of Chaco architecture. The heat-sensing camera, however, detected the sun-warmed masonry of a large, circular structure that may be a ceremonial kiva hidden beneath the earth. “The drone work was able to show us that at least some of the sites are much larger below the surface than can be seen on the surface,” archaeologist John Kantner of the University of North Florida told Western Digs. He had thought that the people who lived at Blue J may have resisted the influence of Chaco Canyon. “If it is indeed a great kiva, I’ll have to change my interpretation of how villages like Blue J interacted with Chaco Canyon,” he added.

Pompeii Will Receive High-Tech Tools

ROME, ITALY—The Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica will donate ground sensors and satellites to the project “Pompeii: Give it a Future.” The technology will be used for three years to assess the instability of the site and set up an early warning system for possible collapses. The company will also supply security guards with radio equipment and smartphone apps to improve their communication and pinpoint their position on the site. “We are offering our technology for the service of the country and its heritage,” Finmeccanica’s chief executive Alessandro Pansa told Phys.org

CT Scans Show Plaques Beneath Mummy’s Wrappings

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by Andrew Wade of McMaster University has examined the CT scans of a 1,700-year-old Egyptian mummy. The images revealed that the woman’s intestines, stomach, liver, and heart had been removed through her perineum by embalmers, who then packed the hole with linen and resin. “We don’t really know what’s happening to the hearts that are removed,” Wade said. The embalmers also put two thin plaques on the woman’s skin above her sternum and abdomen. Spices and lichen were probably placed on her abdomen as well, since they had been placed on her head, which was unwrapped in the nineteenth century. The woman’s brain had been left intact.

Heart Disease is an Ancient Ailment

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Three men and two women who were buried 3,000 years ago at Amara West, located in present-day Sudan, had atherosclerosis, or a thickening of the artery walls. The tiny calcified plaques were found among their skeletons by bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder and palaeopathologist Charlotte Roberts of Durham University, who think that smoke from fires for cooking, firing pottery, and metalwork may have been a factor in the development of this condition. The individuals were all between ages 35 and 50 at death, had poor dental health, and were of high and low social status. “The main relevance of these findings is that it shows us that the factors leading to these diseases are not products of modern life but that there are other factors in the environment which may have been around for many thousands of years,” Binder told The Journal. 

Friday, April 04

Erosion Reveals Cist Burial in Scottish Cliff

SANNOX, SCOTLAND—A Bronze Age cist burial was rescued from an eroding cliff face on the Isle of Arran. “All the bone was uniformly white and in a similar condition, which is evidence for a hot cremation pyre,” excavation leader Iraia Arabaolaza explained to Culture 24. Some of the bones may have been lost to erosion, or not included in the burial. A green stain indicates that a copper artifact may have originally been part of the burial. A sharp knife made of Yorkshire flint was recovered, along with a cracked food pot that may have been fired when the body was cremated.

Prehistoric Artifacts Found at Nashville Ball Park Site

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A prehistoric site consisting of fire pits and ceramics has been uncovered at a construction site in Nashville. State archaeologist Mike Moore thinks the site had been a workshop where mineral water was boiled to collect salt as early as 1150 A.D. “This is one of those few chances we’ve had to actually get real, hard scientific evidence of who was here and what they were doing,” archaeologist Kevin E. Smith of Middle Tennessee State University told WBIR. A ball park will be built on the site, but the remaining artifacts will be protected.

Medieval Latrine Unearthed in Denmark

ODENSE, DENMARK—In the center of the medieval town of Odense, well-preserved brick houses, half-timbered houses, and stables have been unearthed, along with barrels that had been repurposed as latrines. “We are talking about 700-year-old latrines. And yes, they still smell bad,” archaeologist Maria Elisabeth Lauridsen told Discovery News. “Preliminary results of analysis shows that raspberries were popular in Odense in the 1300s. The contents also contain small pieces of moss, leather and fabric which were used as toilet paper,” she added. 

New Translation Revises Bronze Age Chronology

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new translation of the 3,500-year-old Tempest Stela, a six-foot-tall calcite block inscribed with a description of stormy weather, may push back the reign of Ahmose, the first New Kingdom pharaoh, closer to the time of the eruption of the Thera volcano. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Robert Ritner of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute told Phys.org. The timing suggested by the new translation corresponds with radiocarbon dates of an olive tree that had been found buried under volcanic residue, and would help to explain the rise and fall of empires in the ancient Middle East. “This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” added co-author Nadine Moeller, who is also from the University of Chicago.