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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 30

Pre-Colonial Town Excavated in Virginia

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—A team from William & Mary is excavating Kiskiack, a pre-colonial town of some 200 residents that was part of the chiefdom of Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. Located on a bluff overlooking the York River, the mostly intact site is known to have been a center of clamshell bead production, and it had probably been occupied for hundreds of years before the arrival of the English Jamestown colonists in 1607. This season, the team has unearthed a hearth and a series of postholes that may represent a defensive palisade. “One reason this town became so big was because of its political importance. There is evidence of political authority here in the form of a chief in residence by 1607. There is also evidence of economic activity here in the form of craft production,” archaeologist Martin Gallivan said in a press release. To read about an instance of cannibalism at the Jamestown colony, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

Artifacts Reflect Bali’s Ancient Ties to India

BALI, INDONESIA—Two-thousand-year-old pottery and beads from India unearthed in the port towns of Sembiran and Pacung in northern Bali are providing new evidence of the island’s ancient link to India. Names of places located in India, such as Nalanda, Amravati, and Varanasi, were inscribed on the pottery, and those place names were sometimes used to name the homes of officials or priests in the Balinese kingdoms. “In the early times, Indian traders came and stimulated the social structures [with Sanskrit, and Hindu and Buddhist ideology]. When Bali adopted Buddhism, the second migration from the eighth century A.D. to the eleventh century A.D. came to strengthen the Indian influence. It was the second massive contact with India,” archaeologist I. Wayan Ardika of Udayana University explained to the Indo-Asian News Service. Evidence of intermarriage has also been found in remains at burial sites in Julah. “We found Indian DNA on the human remains which indicates there was marriage; the Indian trader may have married locals,” Ardika added. To read about the discovery of the earliest known cave art in Indonesia, go to "On the Origins of Art."

New Technique May Identify Stolen Stones

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A technique that has been developed by scientists at Loughborough University to track stolen metals could eventually help authorities in heritage conservation and enforcement trace stones stolen from historic sites in rural areas. A chemical blueprint of the stone is extracted with a gelatin sheet usually used to lift developed fingerprints or footprints. The sample is then scanned using laser induced breakdown spectroscopy. “This technique of lifting a sample from the surface of stone and scanning it could ultimately lead to us feeding the results into a national database, providing an indication of where geographically that sample came from. This can be done by comparing stone samples with other stone located across the country and could prove to be a useful point of reference for those tackling stone theft,” researcher Paul Kelly said in a press release. To read about how lasers are being used by archaeologists in a completely different way, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Mosaic Floor Uncovered in Georgia

WARSAW, POLAND—A large, first-century bathhouse is being excavated at Apsarus, a Roman fort located in Georgia on the Black Sea, by a team of archaeologists from the University of Warsaw and the Gonio-Apsarus Museum and Sanctuary. They have recently discovered a mosaic featuring geometric designs that had been installed over a heated floor. “Although many floor mosaics have been discovered in the countries around the Mediterranean, the Gonio find should be regarded as exceptional. It is one of the few examples of discovery of a luxury finish flooring in a bath house built by the army for its own needs,” Radoslaw Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski told Science & Scholarship in Poland. To read about some of the ancient Roman world's most stunning mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Wednesday, July 29

Cat’s Paw Prints Found on Roman Roof Tile

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A cat’s paw prints were spotted on a first-century Roman roof tile unearthed in Gloucester in 1969 by an archaeologist who had been looking through the thousands of tile fragments stored at the Gloucester City Museum. “When Romans made roof tiles they left the wet clay out to dry in the sun. Animals, and people, sometimes walked across the drying tiles and left their footprints behind,” a museum spokesperson told The Telegraph. “Dog paw prints, people’s boot prints, and even a piglet’s trotter print have all be found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare,” added Lise Noakes, cabinet member for culture and leisure at Gloucester City Council. To read about some of those types of dog prints, and much more about the roles of ancient dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Study of Magnetic Fields Assisted by Iron Age Archaeology

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK—Information gathered by archaeologist Thomas Huffman of Witwatersrand University has assisted geophysicist John Tarduno and astrophysicist Eric Blackman of the University of Rochester, and geologist Michael Watkeys of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. They are studying the magnetic field record in southern Africa, and its relationship to the reversals of the Earth’s magnetic poles. During the Iron Age in southern Africa, (between 1000 and 1500 A.D.), agricultural communities ritually cleansed their villages by burning down huts and grain bins. The clay floors of the huts and grain bins reached temperatures hot enough to erase the magnetic information stored in the mineral magnetite, and create a new record of the magnetic field strength at the time of the fire. The scientists were able to use this information to understand the weakening of the magnetic field in the region. “It has long been thought reversals start at random locations, but our study suggests this may not be the case,” Tarduno said in a press release. To read about some of our earliest ancestors in Africa, go to "Toothsome Evidence."

Medieval Distillation Vessel Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia News Agency reports that while excavating the medieval Lyutitsa fortress above the town of Ivaylovgrad, a team led by archaeologist Filip Petrunov discovered a fragment of a vessel used for the distillation of rakia, a traditional fruit brandy that is still enjoyed today. The fragment, which dates to the eleventh century, is the second vessel for the distillation of rakia to be found in the fortress, and the third one to have been found in Bulgaria. All three vessels date to the eleventh century. It has been argued that Bulgarians did not begin to produce rakia until the sixteenth century. To read about the art of wine-making in ancient France, go to "French Wine, Italian Vine."

Ground-Penetrating Radar Maps Lithuania’s Great Synagogue

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced in a press release that significant remains of the Great Synagogue and Shulhof of Vilna have been mapped with ground-penetrating radar. The international research team was led by John Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Zenonas Baubonis of the Culture Heritage Conservation Authority of Lithuania, and Richard Freund of the University of Hartford. The Great Synagogue, built in the seventeenth century in the Renaissance-Baroque style, was the oldest monument of Jewish culture in Lithuania. The structure was eventually surrounded by 12 synagogues, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the Strashun library, and a ritual bath complex. Vilna’s Jewish community was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, and the remains of the buildings were later demolished by the Soviets. A school was built on the site, but the new survey revealed sections of the Great Synagogue and traces of what may have been the miqva’ot, or ritual bath complex. Plans are being made to excavate the site next year. To read more about how archaeology has shed light on Napoleon's experience in the city of Vilnius, go to "Digging Napoleon's Dead."

Tuesday, July 28

Rooms Full of Jars Discovered at Israel’s Tel Kabri

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The latest excavations at the 4,000-year-old site of Tel Kabri in northern Israel have uncovered three more rooms with plastered floors containing storage jars, and there are more rooms in the palace complex to be excavated. The palace at Tel Kabri, which resembles Crete’s palace of Knossos, was inhabited continuously for more than 250 years and features banquet rooms and halls. Last season, Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa and Eric H. Cline of The George Washington University discovered a room full of storage jars that had contained an aromatic red wine. “The goal of this season was to further understand the Canaanite palatial economy, by expanding the excavation beyond the area where the jars were found last season. We were hoping to find additional store rooms, thinking about the palace of Mari and the palaces in Crete from the same period—but to find ones that are actually filled with jars was unexpected. This kind of a find is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about Canaanite economy and rulership,” Yassur-Landau told Haaretz. To read more about this fascinating Bronze Age site, go to "Off the Grid-Tel Kabri." 

Scotland’s Earliest Pictish Fort

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Carbon dating reveals that a Pictish fort on a sea stack known as Dunnicaer dates to the third or fourth century, making it the oldest-known Pictish fort. Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen needed the assistance of mountaineers to reach the site for excavations conducted last April. Their efforts were rewarded with evidence of ramparts of timber and stone, floors, and a hearth. “The stone is not from the local area so it must have been quite a feat to get it, and the heavy oak timbers, up to such an inaccessible site,” archaeologist Gordon Noble said in a press release. “It is likely that the sea stack was greater in size than it is today as the fort appears to extend over a large area. Dunnicaer was likely to have been a high-status site for a structure of this scale and complexity to have been present as early as the third century,” he added. In fact, erosion may have eventually prompted the Picts to move along the coast to what is now Dunnottar Castle, first built in the early medieval period. To read more about the Picts and their writing systems, go to "It's All Pictish to Me."

560,000-Year-Old Human Tooth Unearthed in France

TAUTAVEL, FRANCE—The Guardian reports that a large adult tooth was discovered at Arago Cave in southwestern France. “A large adult tooth—we can’t say if it was from a male or female—was found during excavations of soil we know to be between 550,000 and 580,000 years old, because we used different dating methods. This is a major discovery because we have very few human fossils from this period in Europe,” paleoanthropologist Amélie Vialet told Agence France-Presse. The tooth is about 100,000 years older than Tautavel man, whose remains were unearthed at the site it 1971, and could represent the oldest human remains ever found in France. To read about the oldest art in France, go to "A Chauvet Primer."

Burials of High-Status Leaders Identified at Jamestown

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Archaeologists from Jamestown Rediscovery and Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley and his team have identified the remains of four men buried in the chancel of the 1608 church at Jamestown as the Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, and Capt. William West with archaeological evidence, skeletal analyses, chemical testing, 3-D technology, and genealogical research. “Two of the men, Archer and Hunt, were with the first expedition, which established Jamestown in May 1607. And the other two, Wainman and West, arrived with Lord De La Warr and helped save the colony three years later,” James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery, said in a press release. Hunt, an Anglican minister, is thought to have been buried simply, in the grave without a coffin. Archer died during the “starving time” at Jamestown and is thought to have been buried in a coffin with a captain’s leading staff. This burial also contained a small silver box that may have served as a Roman Catholic reliquary. Lead in the bones of the third burial suggests the deceased was affluent and had eaten from pewter and glazed wares. This man, thought to be Wainman, had been buried in an anthropomorphic wooden coffin. The last of the chancel burials is thought to belong to Capt. William West, who was killed in 1610 during a skirmish with the Powhatan. He was also buried in an anthropomorphic coffin. A micro-CT scan revealed the highly decayed remnants of a military sash, thought to have been made of silk and adorned with silver fringe and spangles. “The presence of the artifacts and the location of the graves in the church’s most sacred space, the chancel, both indicate the high status of the four men and their importance to the early history of the Jamestown venture,” said William Kelso, director of archaeology at Jamestown Rediscovery. To read about a discovery at Jamestown that made our Top 10 list, go to "1608 Church-Jamestown, Virginia."

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