COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS—Students from the University of Bologna unearthed a collection of artifacts that could represent the cosmological view of the Mississippians living at Cahokia Mounds. Whelk shells, imported from the Gulf Coast, a dog bone, and bird bones were found in a ceremonial pit, along with two toggles that may have tied the items together in a bundle. The shells are thought to represent the lower world of the cosmos, the dog bone the middle world where humans lived, and the bird bones the upper world. “Most of what we find are fragments of pottery shards and little bits of arrow points and things like that. So 95 percent of what we find are that kind of stuff. But when we find something that represents what we think, it was actually a bundle, a sack, with things laid in there in a very specific order related to their cosmological view, that’s a pretty significant find,” Cahokia Mounds Museum Society Executive Director Lori Belknap told The News Democrat.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Researchers from the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University analyzed samples taken from the partial hull of a wooden ship discovered 22 feet below street level at the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in 2010. Hickory in the keel helped them to narrow the search for the ship’s origins to the eastern United States. White oak in the ship is similar to samples from a study of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall. Philadelphia was one of the most—if not the most—important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there,” Dario Martin-Benito of Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab told Live Science. Most of the ship’s timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more on the discovery of the ship, read ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."
POTOSI, BOLIVIA—A mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of people was uncovered by construction workers in the El Minero district of Potosi in the Andes Mountains. Sergio Fidel of Tomas Frias University thinks that the site may have been an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants during the Spanish colonial era, when the ethnic Aymara were put to work in the silver mines, or victims of the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s. “We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters, and human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” Fidel told AFP.
CALGARY, CANADA—According to a report by Newstalk 770, a hand-stamped brick, metal pickax heads, rail spikes, and window glass that could date to the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway in the 1880s were uncovered by utility workers in downtown Calgary. The artifacts were found along the old railway line in what is now a power substation. Archaeologists have been called in to try to determine the exact age of the tools.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Forensic artists from the University of Dundee have rebuilt the faces of several of the nearly 400 men, women, and children whose remains were discovered in a medieval cemetery five years ago. “We have had a forensic pathology report done on all of the remains and that is allowing us to gain information about the population,” city archaeologist John Lawson told The Edinburgh Evening News. Most of those buried in South Leith Parish Church’s graveyard probably died of infectious diseases, and a small number of the women died in childbirth. Chemical analysis of a sample of the bones suggests that 80 percent of the dead had grown up in the Leith or Edinburgh area, eating a diet made up of predominately meat and dairy products with some marine fish. “It would have been a difficult life and it would have been hard for these folk because it was only a small hamlet,” added Jim Tweedie of Leith History Society.
ESSEX, ENGLAND—Local divers and archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology continue to explore the wreckage of The London, a warship that was carrying 300 barrels of gunpowder when it blew up in 1665. Until now, the ship has been preserved in the silt and mud of the Thames Estuary, the ship’s timbers are now being destroyed by changing tidal patterns and dredging for the London Gateway port development. One woman and 24 men of the 350-member crew survived the explosion, but many of the human remains recovered so far have been women. “It’s a good question why there were so many women, and one on which I wouldn’t care to speculate,” archaeologist Dan Pascoe told The Guardian. The researchers have also recovered a clay pipe, tallow candles, a pistol, musket shot, spoons, and part of a scale. The team expects that many of The London’s guns are still buried in the silt.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artifacts have been discovered at an archaeological site at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa by archaeologists from the University of Cape Town, the University of Toronto, and the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa. The site, which is estimated to be between 700,000 and one million years old, is located in a major mining center and development zone. “We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa,” Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto told Science Daily.
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists excavating near the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William and Mary are investigating an early eighteenth-century structure thought to have been a brewery because of its central fire pit. The beer would have been safer for the college’s students and faculty to drink than contaminated water. And a trash deposit at the site could tell archaeologists about life at the Wren Building before it was gutted by fire in 1705. “With as much archaeological work as we’ve done in the College Yard over the years, it’s astonishing to find something like this—and to find so much of it still intact,” Louise Kale, director of the historic campus, told The Daily Press.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to Live Science, archaeologists have found evidence of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s attempted religious revolution on a carved stone panel that had been reused as a bench at the site of Sedeinga, located in modern-day Sudan. The stone bears an image of Amun and his hieroglyph, and had been part of a temple at Sedeinga dedicated to Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother. During his reign (1353-1336 B.C.), Akhenaten had the name and images of Amun obliterated throughout Egypt, while he promoted the worship of Aten, the sun disk. After Akhenaten’s death, however, the god Amun was restored to prominence. “The name of Amun as well as his face were first hammered out and later carved anew, proving that the persecution of this god extended to this remote province during the reign of Akhenaton and that his images were restored during the following reigns,” Vincent Francigny of the American Museum of Natural History, and Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, wrote in Sudan and Nubia. For more on discoveries at Sedeinga, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."
MURPHSYBORO, ILLINOIS—A survey ahead of road construction near Southern Illinois Airport revealed a village between 700 and 900 years old. Pots, tools, mussel shells, and deer and fish bones have been recovered, and charcoal in the soil suggests that some of the homes burned down. “It’s sort of unclear if these groups spread out and became parts of what we know as the tribes today. Or if they stayed in this location and became something else, or if they moved away entirely,” Patrick Durst of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey told KFVS 12.
BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A 3-D reconstruction of the skull of a child who lived 100,000 years ago suggests that the 12 to 13-year-old suffered a blunt force trauma resulting in a compound fracture. There was a broken piece depressed in his or her skull, which was surrounded by linear fractures. The wound likely caused a moderate traumatic brain injury that may have resulted in personality changes, trouble controlling movements, and difficulty in social communication. The child eventually died and was buried at Qafzeh Cave in Israel’s lower Galilee with two deer antlers lying on the upper part of his or her chest. “Digital imaging and 3-D reconstruction evidenced the oldest traumatic brain injury in a Paleolithic child. Post-traumatic neuropsychological disorders could have impaired social life of this individual who was buried, when a teenager, with a special ritual raising the question of compassion in Prehistory,” Hélène Coqueugniot and her colleagues from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Bordeaux, and the École Pratique des Hautes Études, told Science Daily.
ZIMAPAN, MEXICO—A unique mortuary bundle containing the skeletal remains of a young adult was discovered in a rock shelter in the Sierra Gorda region. “The skeleton seems to be complete, but we will not know this with certainty until we can open the shroud, but at first glance we can appreciate the cranium, tibias, clavicles, scapula, and some ribs,” archaeologist Juan Manuel Toxtle Farfan of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told Art Daily. The cranium still has hair. A specialist will have to analyze the colored fabric and mat that make up the bundle before it can be opened and the bones closely examined, but Toxtle Farfan and Ariana Aguilar Romero think the bundle is pre-Hispanic. “It is known that in the Mesoamerican beliefs, caves and other rocky refuges were considered entrances to the underworld and the residence of death deities, which is why they served as funerary spaces in most cases,” Toxtle Farfan explained.
PORTHLEVEN, ENGLAND—According to The Falmouth Packet, an Iron Age industrial hearth and a Bronze Age settlement have been discovered in southwest England. The hearth is the first of its kind to be found in Cornwall, where strong winds would have fanned the flames. Community archaeologist Richard Mikulski says that the hearth was stone-lined and had a flue to control the fire. Impressions in the baked clay could have been left by pots that were fired there, and there’s also evidence of metalworking. Nearby, Mikulski has found round houses and stones that may have been used for processing wheat into flour during the Bronze Age.
BISHOP AUCKLAND, ENGLAND—Excavations at Binchester Roman Fort have uncovered the seven-foot-tall walls of a bath house and a small plunge bath. “There is also some really interesting evidence for the plumbing, including a drain in the base which seems to line up with some of the culverts we’ve picked out in the nearby floor, as well as some gaps within the wall which may have originally contained lead piping or some other mechanism for channeling the water,” David Petts of Durham University told Culture 24. The bath house was also equipped with a bread oven and an altar dedicated to the Roman goddess Fortune the Home-bringer. Other finds include a large rectangular cavalry barrack for stables and troops, and a four-seat latrine. A silver ring with an intaglio that shows two fish hanging from an anchor suggests an early link to Christianity. “The form of the ring and the shape of the stone seem to indicate a third century date. This is a surprisingly early date for a Christian object in Britain,” Petts explained.
DUNBLANE, SCOTLAND—Battlefield archaeologist Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow and Janice Ainslie of Dunblane Museum are studying a concrete wall built at Sheriffmuir in 1943. The ten-foot-tall wall, which was constructed according to plans stolen from German engineers by French painter Rene Duchez, replicated the German concrete defenses that stretched from Norway to the Spanish border. “A lot of the training for D-Day was done at this wall. Training grounds like this were key in bringing units together that had never fought before and giving them real world experience,” Pollard told The Herald Scotland. Laser scans of the wall may help the researchers determine what kinds of weapons were used in training. And Pollard may excavate at the site of the gun turrets at one end of the wall. Sand, rumored to have been dumped in front of the wall to recreate the conditions on France’s beaches, could be found.
SISTAN-BALUCHISTAN, IRAN—More than 1,000 burials have been excavated at the site of the Burnt City in Iran over the past thirty years, but few are stranger than two recent discoveries, according to a report in the Teheran Times. In one burial, archaeologists found the skeleton of an adult man with two dog skulls above his head and 12 human skulls on the side of his grave, and in another, a young man who died between 25 and 30 years old who was buried with his skull and two daggers or cutting tools sitting next to his head on his lower right side. Project director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi believes that the tools had been used to decapitate the man who was executed for some offense, and then buried with bowls and vases commonly used for funeral rituals. Another unusual burial contained six skulls and various human long bones, all of which lead Sajjadi to wonder what new insights can be gained into the burial practices of the ancient inhabitants of this region more than five thousand years ago.
LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—The AP reports that a team led by Plymouth State University archaeologist David Starbuck is digging at Lake George Battlefield Park, a stretch of ground south of Lake George that saw significant military action during the eighteenth century, particularly during the French and Indian War (1755-63). In 1755, Colonial troops and their Mohawk allies fought a battle there against French detachments, successfully fending off an ambush and subsequent attack. In 1757, British and Colonial troops camped at the site during the French siege of the nearby Fort William Henry. After the surrender of the fort to the French, the colonial forces began a retreat from the camp, but were ambushed by Indians, who killed some 200. The infamous massacre inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write the "The Last of the Mohicans." Starbuck hopes to find evidence related to both the 1755 battle and the camp associated with the massacre. So far, the team has uncovered mainly fragments of eighteenth-century wine bottles.
BETANZOS, SPAIN—A long-overlooked and enigmatic inscription on the buttress of a fourteenth-century church in Spain's Galicia region is attracting new attention thanks to researchers who claim to have deciphered it. The Local reports that a group of scholars believe the inscription was written in a Gaelic language, the first direct written evidence of the area's Celtic heritage, and reads simply "An Ghaltacht," or "Gaelic-speaking area." The researchers are part of the Gaelaico Project, a private effort that brings together linguists, geographers, and historians to search for evidence of Galicia's Celtic history and specifically its close ties to Ireland, which many specialists have hitherto dismissed as pseudo-history. "If our interpretation is right, the inscription isn't related to religious matters, but rather to the language that was spoken in Galicia at the time," said Gaelaico Project head Martín Fernández Maceiras. The team is hoping to get a second opinion on the inscription from outside epigraphists.
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.
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.