A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 21

Flint Tools Tell Story of Economic Territory

  DONOSTIA, SPAIN—The study of flint remains from the Ametzagaina site has revealed the economic territory of the people who made temporary camps there over a period of about 2,000 years some 25,000 years ago. Most open-air sites do not survive, but Ametzagaina was protected by earthworks dug in the nineteenth century during the Carlist Wars. The people who camped at Ametzagaina collected flint from the same territory where they hunted, gathered, and fished. “Flint was their steel, but it was not abundant, they had to know the locations where there were seams, they made their way there, they rough-hewed it on the spot and returned to their camps just with whatever they could make use of,” Álvaro Arrizabalaga of the University of the Basque Country told Phys.org.  

Medieval Graffiti Recorded in England’s Churches

  NORFOLK, ENGLAND—A volunteer project to record medieval graffiti in Norfolk is spreading across England. More than 28,000 images, perhaps doodled by churchgoers, have been recorded in Norfolk, and only one-third of Norwich Cathedral has been searched so far. “[Medieval graffiti] was believed to be rare—turns out it’s not,” Matt Champion, a medieval archaeologist who started the program in 2010, told BBC News. Images of compass designs, windmills, sundials, circles, and ships have been documented. “Are they thanksgiving for a voyage safely undertaken, or a prayer for safe passage on a journey yet to come? Some of these ship images appear to show deliberate damage, begging the question whether they are prayers for long overdue ships,” he explained.  

Scraps of Medieval Linen Unearthed in England

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The excavation of the site of Northamptonshire’s new county council headquarters has uncovered scraps of medieval linen and a piece of serpentine marble that may have been part of a portable altar. The pieces of linen were found in the base of a large, timber and stone-lined tank that was probably part of a tanning complex. “Some very nice pieces of antler, a lovely collection of honestones for sharpening knives, two scraps of medieval linen, and a good preservation of industrial features have been uncovered,” Jim Brown of the Museum of London Archaeology told BBC News. A medieval bread oven, an early thirteenth-century well shaft, and trading tokens were also recovered. 

Multicultural Cemetery Discovered at Ostia

ROME, ITALY—Current excavations at Ostia, Rome’s ancient port city at the estuary of the Tiber River, have uncovered a 2,700-year-old cemetery containing a variety of styles among its dozen tombs. Lead curse tablets warding off potential looters were also found. “What is original is that there are different types of funeral rites: burials and cremations,” Paola Germoni, director of Ostia, told Art Daily. The cemetery was found on the edge of the main excavated area of the town. 

Friday, July 18

Europe’s Oldest Footprints?

  KUTZTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA—Science News reports that human footprints found in a Romanian cave in the 1960s and initially dated to 15,000 years ago are actually 35,000 years old, making them some of the oldest such prints in Europe. Radiocarbon dating of cave bear bones found just below the prints allowed a team of anthropologists, led by Kutztown University’s David Webb, to re-date the tracks, which were left by six or seven people, including one child. Some 400 footprints were initially discovered, but over the years explorers and tourists have damaged the site, and only 51 now remain. Three-dimensional mapping of the prints has allowed the researchers to reconstruct human movement throughout the cave.   

"Revolutionary" Site Unearthed Near Mesa Verde

  CORTEZ, COLORADO—Archaeologists are excavating a 1,500-year-old village near Mesa Verde that appears to be the first settlement in the Four Corners region to have been occupied year-round by farmers. “This is the first population to move into the central Mesa Verde region and farm and be sedentary full time,” Susan Ryan, Director of Archaeology at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, told Western Digs. The site features ten pithouses built in a diversity of architectural styles organized around an underground ceremonial chamber, known as a great kiva. Dating to A.D. 570, the kiva is the earliest to be found in the region. “We think we’re at the very first site that has a village forming around public architecture in the central Mesa Verde region, and that’s unique,” said Ryan. Prior to the establishment of the village, which is known as the Dillard site, the area was populated by people who were still highly mobile and alternated between foraging and farming. The kiva would have helped socially integrate people of diverse backgrounds who were transitioning into a new, fully agricultural way of life. The Dillard site heralded a revolutionary change in Southwestern prehistory, but within a hundred years of being built, its great kiva was ritually burned and abandoned.     

World's Oldest Brain?

  STOKKE, NORWAY—Excavators on the site of a planned large conference center southwest of Oslo have uncovered the skull of a child aged between infancy and ten that they believe may be as much as 8,000 years old and may contain the oldest remains of a human brain, the Daily Mail Online reports. It is extremely rare to find organic material, such as human tissue, preserved for so many millennia. Archaeologists have thus far only removed the skull and surrounding soil, and examined only the parts of the skull that are exposed, so as not to damage it. The site appears to be a burial, as the bones of an adult, probably a man, were also found at the site, and will provide new information about the Mesolithic period in Norway, about which relatively little is known.   

Rare Coin Discovered in Israel

  BETHSAIDA, ISRAEL—An archaeological team working at the site of Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee has uncovered a rare example of a coin minted under the Roman emperor Domitian celebrating the Romans’ conquest of Judea in A.D. 70, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha press release. While the “Judea Capta” (“Conquered Judea”) coin series lasted for 25 years, this version is very unusual—only 48 similar coins have been found—and has confirmed the date of a large Roman building the team has been excavating for the past several seasons. Bethsaida was the site of an important biblical city (possibly identified with the city of Geshur in the Hebrew Bible) not only as the birthplace of the apostles Peter, Philip, and Andrew, but also the location of some of Jesus’ important miracles, including the healing of a blind man and a paralytic.   

Thursday, July 17

The 5,000 Years of History Discovered Beneath I-95

  PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—Construction work on Interstate 95 in the Kensington-Fishtown and Port Richmond neighborhoods led to the discovery of artifacts spanning 5,000 years of Philadelphia’s history. “The people in these areas are not often recorded in historic documents,” archaeologist Douglas Mooney told NBC Philadelphia. Prehistoric tools, points, pots, and pipes were found along the Delaware River, along with houses and artifacts from European colonists. This area is also known for shipbuilding, fishing, and glassware industries along the river. Excavators recovered snapping turtle skulls, glass objects, and fishing supplies. “Center City has been the focus of history. The peripheral parts have not been given equal treatment until now,” Mooney added.  

Circular Earthworks Found in Austria

    RECHNITZ, AUSTRIA—Aerial photographs have led archaeologists in eastern Austria to concentric circular trenches dating to the Neolithic period. The trenches were surrounded by wooden poles, and defensive walls with multiple entrances were found inside the approximately 12-foot-deep trenches. “Such circular trenches are always positioned on a gentle slope, in order to give a clear view of the sky for the observation of the heavenly bodies,” archaeologist Franz Sauer told The Local. The circular earthworks may have been used as a calendar and a ritual space.  

Where Was the First Free Black Community in the U.S.?

  EASTON, MARYLAND—Mark Leone of the University of Maryland, College Park, is leading a team of students in the excavation of The Hill neighborhood in Easton. They are looking for evidence that could prove it was the country’s first free African-American community, and not the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans, which dates to 1812. The team is currently excavating a building where three free non-white residents lived, according to the 1800 census. “We also know that by around 1790 there were a few free African Americans who were actually purchasing property in this neighborhood. And so we’re excavating here, one, to figure out what their lives were like and also to better understand the community more broadly in order to help support the claim that this is the oldest free African-American community in the United States,” Stefan Woehlke told Delmarva Now. Those first 400 residents may have been freed by Methodists and Quakers who lived in the area in the eighteenth century.   

Dental Plaque Hints at Prehistoric Plant Knowledge

  YORK, ENGLAND—Samples of dental calculus obtained from 7,000-year-old skeletons at Al Khiday, a prehistoric site on the White Nile in Central Sudan, have been analyzed by an international team of scientists. Chemical compounds and microfossils in the calcified dental plaque suggest that purple nut sedge (Cyperus rotundus) was an important part of the diet. It is a good source of carbohydrates and it inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that contributes to tooth decay. The researchers did observe a low level of dental cavities in the population. “We also discovered that these people ate several other plants and we found traces of smoke, evidence for cooking, and for chewing plant fibers to prepare raw materials. These small biographical details add to the growing evidence that prehistoric people had a detailed understanding of plants long before the development of agriculture,” Karen Hardy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona told Science Daily. The people of Al Khiday continued to eat the beneficial purple nut sedge after agricultural plants had been introduced to their diets.