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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 27

Medieval Skeletons Unearthed in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—More than 20 medieval skeletons were discovered in a shallow grave on the grounds of Robert Gordon College by a work crew installing cables. The site is thought to have been a burial from the Blackfriars Abbey, which was founded in 1230 and destroyed by Protestant reformers in 1560. “At the time the friars from both Blackfriars Abbey and Greyfriars were kicked out of the city and the abbeys left in ruins,” local historian Diane Morgan told The Scotsman. The skeletons are thought to date to the thirteenth century. “This find is very interesting and in the thirteenth century people could pay money to be buried on sanctified grounds,” she added. To read about another medieval mass grave, go to "A Parisian Plague."

First Civilizations Challenged by Climate Change

MIAMI, FLORIDA—Abrupt climate change may have affected some of the earliest civilizations in the Middle East and the Fertile Crescent, according to a study conducted by an international team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The team made a high-resolution image of a sediment core taken from Neor Lake in northwest Iran that recorded conditions and changes in climate over the past 13,000 years, and measured the physical properties of its layers. “The high-resolution nature of this record afforded us the rare opportunity to examine the influence of abrupt climate change on early human societies. We see that transitions in several major civilizations across this region, as evidenced by the available historical and archaeological records, coincided with episodes of high atmospheric dust; higher fluxes of dust are attributed to drier conditions across the region over the last 5,000 years,” Arash Sharifi of the University of Miami said in a press release. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between."

What Motivated Viking Raiders?

YORK, ENGLAND—Steve Ashby of the University of York thinks that Viking raiders of the eighth century were motivated by more than the acquisition of wealth. “The lure of the exotic, of the world beyond the horizon, was an important factor. Classic anthropology has shown that the mystique of the exotic is a powerful force, and something that leaders and people of influence often use to prop up their power base. It is not difficult to see how this would have worked in the Viking Age,” he said in a press release. Ashby argues that Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Celtic metal objects were not melted down because they served as reminders of successful raids and became symbols of status and power. And those who participated in raiding parties not only accumulated wealth, they built their reputations. “The lure of the raid was thus more than booty; it was about winning and preserving power through the enchantment of travel and the doing of deeds. This provides an important correction to models that focus on the need for portable wealth; the act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself,” Ashby explained. To read about a discovery presenting other novel ideas about the Vikings, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."  

La Corona Team Discovers Maya Stela & Hieroglyphic Panels

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—Marcello A. Canuto of Tulane University and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala announced at a press conference the discovery of a fifth-century stela at the Maya site of El Achiotal, located to the east of La Corona. “This stela portrays an early king during one of the more poorly understood periods of ancient Maya history,” Canuto said in a press release. Graduate student Luke Auld-Thomas found fragments of the stela in a shrine that had been built for it during a time of political upheaval in the central Maya area. The archaeologists, who are part of the La Corona Regional Archaeological Project in Guatemala, also uncovered two hieroglyphic panels in a corner room at La Corona’s palace. These texts, which tell of rituals of kingly accession, had been missed by looters. “The fact that the stela and these panels were preserved by the ancient Maya themselves long after they were first carved adds a new wrinkle to our interpretation of how much the ancient Maya valued and strove to preserve their own history,” Canuto said. To read about the excavation of another Maya site in Guatemala, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Friday, July 24

18th-Century Village Unearthed in Montreal

MONTREAL, CANADA—Construction crews discovered traces of Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries, an eighteenth-century village, beneath Montreal’s busy Turcot Interchange. More than half of the village’s residents were employed in the leather and tanning trades. “Montreal was almost like the shoe and leather capital of the world,” Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal told CTV News. Among the stone foundations of the family-owned shops and homes, archaeologists have unearthed wood tanks for washing and treating skins, cattle bones and horns, and a double-hilted knife used to make wood chips for the tanning process. To read about the excavation of a medieval tannery, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."

Analyzing the Neolithic Revolution

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Isaac Ullah of Arizona State University, Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame, and Jacob Freemann of Utah State University combined existing research on the origins of agriculture with dynamical systems theory (DST) to try to understand what propelled humans to shift from hunting and gathering to farming. This shift has been difficult for scientists to study because it happened at different times in different places with different crops and animals. “DST tells us that there ought to be some combinations of subsistence behaviors and environmental characteristics that are generally stable and some that aren’t,” Ullah said in a press release. The analysis showed that resource density, mobility, and population size are important variables that can be influenced by social and environmental conditions. “It is this specific insight that may help to explain why the transition to food production happened in some times and places but not in others, why it happened so differently in all these places and at different times and rates,” he said. To read about technology dating to this era, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Tudor Window Glass Uncovered at Site of Elsyng Palace

ENFIELD, ENGLAND—A triangular pane of glass, still set in its lead cames, was found among demolition debris in a guarderobe chute at the Forty Hall Estate by members of the Enfield Archaeology Society. The estate had formerly been the site of Elsyng Palace, used by Henry VIII for hunting. “We were tracing the outline of the palace, once home to the future Edward VI and ‘Bloody’ Mary as children, and in the process found this chute full of demolition material from 1657 when the palace was demolished,” Martin Dearne, director of excavations, told Culture 24. The team uncovered a dump of window glass and lead cames, the channeling that holds the glass in place, and the one pane that was still intact. To read more about historical archaeology in England, go to "Treason, Plot, and Witchcraft."

Thursday, July 23

Timber From 5,000-Year-Old Fort Found in Wales

MONMOUTH, WALES—A timber that once supported a crannog, or fortified farmhouse on stilts, was found in the remains of a post-glacial lake two years ago during the construction of a new housing development. The Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in Glasow has radiocarbon dated the timber to 2917 B.C., making this crannog 2,000 years older than the only other known crannog in England and Wales. “The timber, bearing cut marks left by stone or flint axes, formed the end of an oak post which had been carefully levelled to create a flat surface which would probably have rested on a post pad set in the bottom of the lake,” archaeologist Steve Clarke, founder of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, told the South Wales Argus. To read about another crannog in the British Isles, go to "Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog."

Burial of Bronze-Age Teen Discovered in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The 4,000-year-old skeleton of an adolescent has been uncovered by a team from the University of Reading at Wilsford Henge in the Vale of Pewsey, an area located between Stonehenge and Avebury. The child had been buried in the fetal position, and had been wearing an amber necklace. “The skeleton is a wonderful discovery which will help tell us what life was like for those who lived under the shadow of Stonehenge at a time of frenzied activity. Scientific analysis will provide information on the gender of the child, diet, pathologies and date of burial. It may also shed light on where this young individual had lived,” Jim Leary of the University of Reading told BT News. The excavation has also recovered flint blades, decorated pottery, shale and copper bracelets, and a Roman brooch. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."

Human Limb Bones Unearthed in Xuchang, China

XUCHANG, CHINA—The 100,000-year-old remains of at least nine individuals have so far been unearthed at the Lingjing Historical Site in central China by a team from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Two of the limb bones, which may have belonged to the same young individual, carry bite marks. “We are not quite sure whether those [bite marks] were from predators or other humans,” researcher Li Zhanyang told China Daily. Sixteen pieces of a skull known as Xuchang Man that still bore traces of a fossilized membrane were recovered from the site in 2008. “Different from the ancient human skull fossils that were discovered eight years ago, the first discovery of limb bone fossils provides more opportunities to decode the process of human evolution,” Li said. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Evidence of “Trial Cultivation” Found in Israel

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—Evidence of small-scale agriculture has been found at a 23,000-year-old camp site on the shore of Israel’s Sea of Galilee. Scientists from Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Harvard University found that the site had more domestic wheat and barley than was expected, in addition to plants, or proto-weeds, that are usually found in fields planted with crops. Microscopic examination of the cutting edges of blades from the site found silicon that may have been transferred during the cutting and harvesting of the cereal plants. The site, once underwater, has also yielded six dwellings, a grave, traces of more than 140 different plant species, remains of animal foods, beads, and worked flint. “The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions,” Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University said in a press release. The team also found evidence that the cereals were processed on a grinding slab set on the floor of one of the brush huts. Flat stones found outside another shelter may have been used to bake dough. To read about another recent prehistoric discovery in the region, go to "New Thoughts on Neolithic Israel."