Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 03

Second "Kamikaze" Shipwreck Discovered

MATSURRA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that underwater archaeologists surveying the waters off the island of Takashima have located the remains a second shipwreck that was part of one of the two 13th-century Mongol invasions that were destroyed by the “divine wind” (Kamikaze) typhoons. Artifacts from the second invasion, in 1281, have been found around Takashima Island, and a vessel from that fleet was discovered in 2011. The recently discovered ship is estimated to have been 65 feet long and around 20 feet wide and was carrying 13th-century Chinese ceramics, as well as ironware that positively identified it as a ship belonging to one of the two doomed Mongol fleets. “We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” said University of the Ryukyus archaeologist Yoshifumi Ikeda. To read more about some of the most important underwater discoveries made by archaeologists, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Ancient Bobkitten Burial Identified

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—In the 1980s, archaeologists excavating a Hopewell Culture (ca. 100 B.C.–A.D. 400) burial mound 50 miles north of St. Louis found the remains of 22 adults buried in a ring around an infant. They also discovered the skeleton of a small animal, which they assumed was a puppy, buried with a necklace made of marine shells and bear teeth. The Hopewell people were known to bury dogs in village sites, so the discovery did not strike the team as unusual. But more recently, Max Planck Institute zooarchaeologist Angela Perri, a specialist in canine burials, examined the remains and made a startling discovery. "As soon as I saw the skull, I knew it was definitely not a puppy,” Perri told Science. “It was a cat of some kind.” She determined the remains belonged to a bobcat that was no more than seven months old when it died and found no marks on the bones that would suggest it had been sacrificed. “It shocked me to my toes,” says the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's Kenneth Farnsworth. “I’ve never seen anything like it in almost 70 excavated mounds. Somebody important must have convinced other members of the society that it must be done. I’d give anything to know why.” To read more about this period, go to "Who Were the Hopewell?"

Thursday, July 02

Everyday Life at Angkor Wat Investigated

 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A team led by University of Sydney archaeologist Alison Carter is excavating the site of an ordinary house at Ankor Wat. Until now, researchers have concentrated their efforts on the more spectacular remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries A.D. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the temples and inscriptions and the elite members of the society, but there’s still so much that can be learned about the regular people who were contributing to the Angkorian empire," Carter told the Phnom Penh Post. "I hope that this project can spark some interest in those regular people.” So far, the team has unearthed a number of ceramics related to cooking. They hope to find evidence that will give scholars a clearer picture of diet and agricultural practices of the time. To read more about work at Angkor, go to "Remapping the Khmer Empire." 

Ancient Tuscan Villa Opens its Doors

GIANUTTRI, ITALY—An impressive ancient Roman villa that has been closed to the public for more than a decade has reopened for visitors, according to Discovery News. The so-called “Villa Domitia,” named after the family of the Domitii Ahenobarbi who likely owned it, the sprawling seaside property located on a tiny island in Tuscany near the island of Giglio, the location of the Costa Concordia shipwreck three and a half years ago. Because there was no fresh water or raw materials on the island, according to Paola Rendini, the archaeological superintendent of Tuscany, it was a “huge task” for the Romans to bring the luxuries of a sprawling seaside villa to this harsh location. To read about the re-opening of one of Pompeii’s most famous houses, go to “House of the Chaste Lovers.”

Looted Indian Statue to be Returned

NEW YORK CITY—The Wall Street Journal reports that a looted sacred Indian statue has been recovered by federal customs agents. The two-foot-tall bronze statue depicts the Tamil poet and saint Manikkavichavakar and dates to the 11th century. It's thought that the statue was taken from a village temple in southeastern India about a decade ago. It was voluntarily surrendered to officials by a collector who purchased it from a dealer who allegedly smuggled it into the U.S. and sold it using a false ownership history. The federal government intends to repatriate the object to India, along with a number of other artifacts the dealer is said to have illegally brought into the country. To read more about threats to medieval heritage in India, go to "Letter from India: Heritage at Risk." 

Historical Discoveries in New Zealand's Capital

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—Construction work in downtown Wellington has revealed four 19th-century wells containing artifacts, including several porcelain dolls' heads and a china elephant depicted with a small girl riding it. Several schools existed in the area beginning around 1850. “These school buildings could explain the collection of little china dolls’ heads that were found,” said Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear in a Wellington City Council press release. “Though we think the larger head might once have been attached to the top of a tea cosy and others are likely to have been from ornaments or figurines, so they could also have been discarded items from people’s homes.” Other artifacts recovered from the wells included a glass inkwell and an early bottle of ginger beer. To read more about historical archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."

Wednesday, July 01

A Surprising Find Under the Living Room Floor

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—During renovations of their home in the neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem, a family discovered a ritual bath, or mikveh, under the living room floor, reports Haaretz. Carved out of bedrock and accessed by a stone staircase, the mikveh is 11.5 feet long, more than seven feet wide, and almost six feet deep, and would have been completely covered in plaster in antiquity. Inside the bath, archaeologists found pottery vessels dating to the first century A.D., as well as fragments of stone vessels dating to the same period. According to IAA archaeologist Amit Re’em, archaeological finds from this era are rare in this part of Jerusalem, making the discovery of the mikveh even more of a surprise. To read about the debate surrounding an ancient ossuary also discovered in Jerusalem, go to "The Perils of Interpretation."

Historical Artifacts Unearthed in Seattle

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Construction workers building a rainwater storage facility unexpectedly encountered a trove of historic artifacts beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge. Archaeologists believe most of the objects came from an immigrant community known as Finntown that lasted from 1911 to 1941. "It's a really special site because this is one of Seattle's smaller shantytowns," project archaeologist Alicia Valentino told Komo News. "This very diverse community that was living in this spot (was not) mentioned in the historic record, so it really tells us a lot about this group of people that was living there." Among the finds are eyeglasses, children's toys, and alcohol bottles dating to the Prohibition era. A Chinese coin dating to the 1700s was also found, and was probably a keepsake brought to the area by an immigrant. To read more about the archaeology of immigration in the American West, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Paleolithic Milk-Based Paint Discovered

SIBUDU CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA—Researchers studying residue on a stone tool found in South Africa's Sibudu Cave have discovered a powdered paint mixture made of milk and ochre that dates to 49,000 years ago. While ochre was being used in what is now South Africa as early as early as 125,000 years ago to produce paint powder, this is the first time milk proteins have been identified in an ochre-based paint. The milk likely came from a bovid such as a buffalo or impala, and the paint might have been used for body decoration or to adorn a stone or wooden object. "Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa said in a press release. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product." To read more about the prehistoric use of ochre, go to "Stone Age Art Supplies."