Erosion Threatens England’s Archaeology

Archaeology News - February 6, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND—Storms and flooding in Britain this winter have eroded away archaeological sites and uncovered shipwrecks. Among the damaged sites is the lost medieval port town of Dunwich, which was slowly swallowed up by the North Sea beginning with a three-day storm in 1286. The Museum of London Archaeology is therefore recruiting volunteers to help archaeologists address the emergency. “We cannot halt the erosion or destruction of some of these sites but can ensure that the information about the remains is not lost. By creating a standardized, web-based recording system and providing training and new skills, we see this as an extraordinary opportunity for people across the country to create a lasting record that will benefit us all for years to come,” Taryn Nixon, chief executive of the museum, told The Guardian

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New Thoughts on Corn Domestication

Archaeology News - February 6, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the ancestor plant of modern corn has many long branches tipped with tassels, and its seeds mature over a period of a few months. But when cultivated in a greenhouse under the environmental conditions of 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, teosinte grows into a something recognizable as a corn plant. “Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation,” Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told Science Daily. The Holocene climate, recreated in the greenhouse, was two to three degrees Celsius cooler than today’s temperatures, and the carbon dioxide levels were approximately 260 parts per million. Current carbon dioxide levels are 405 parts per million. “When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication,” she said. Piperno and colleague Klaus Winter of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute add that past environmental conditions should be taken into consideration by scientists researching evolutionary change and the process of domestication.

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Traces of Medieval Church Grounds Found in Wales

Archaeology News - February 5, 2014

ANGLESEY, WALES—A medieval wall constructed with local stones has been unearthed at the site of St Ffinan’s Church on an island off the northwest coast of Wales. A newspaper article from 1840 indicates that the present church on the site was built on top of the remains of an old church. “It’s very exciting. It was a very big surprise really. It definitely goes back to the twelfth century. There is a twelfth century font in the church,” archaeologist Matt Jones of CR Archaeology told The Daily Post. His team also uncovered human remains that had been disturbed by the Victorian construction crew, iron cleats from their work boots, and a tin button.

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4,000-Year-Old Seal & Weight Unearthed in India

Archaeology News - February 5, 2014

RAJASTHAN, INDIA—A seal and a weight were unearthed at a Harappan-period site in northwestern India. “The seal consists of two Harappan characters, with a typical unicorn as the motif and a pipal leaf depicted in front of an animal. There is a knob behind the seal,” Archaeological Survey of India archaeologist VN Prabhaka told the Hindustan Times. Prabhaka added that the presence of the seal and the weight, which date to the peak of the Harappan civilization (2600 B.C. to 1900 B.C.), indicate that commercial transactions were taking place at the site.

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Shipwreck May Offer Clues to Ancient East-West Trade

Archaeology News - February 5, 2014

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—An international team of underwater archaeologists, led by Deborah Carlson of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, will soon survey and investigate a 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. All that remains of the wreck is a concreted mound containing timber fragments, pieces of glass ingots, corroded ingots of iron and copper, grinding stones, and pottery that have been damaged by the strong currents of the Indian Ocean. These are goods that may have been produced locally for shipment to Rome, and in fact, in the 1990s, German archaeologists discovered a second-century A.D. port near the Sri Lankan fishing village of Godavaya that served as a stop along the maritime Silk Road. This ship may have been part of the trade that brought goods from Asia to Rome.

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“The Birthplace of Miami”

Archaeology News - February 4, 2014

MIAMI, FLORIDA—Over the past six months, archaeologist Bob Carr and his team have uncovered a 2,000-year-old Tequesta village site consisting of eight large circles of postholes carved into the limestone, and lines of postholes that may represent boardwalks connecting the dwellings, across the Miami River from the so-called Miami Circle, another set of postholes thought to have been a Tequesta council house or ceremonial structure. A Tequesta burial ground has also been found nearby. “It’s one of the earliest urban plans in eastern North America. You can actually see this extraordinary configuration of these buildings and structures,” Carr said. Preservationists argue that the site, which is located in a known archaeological zone, could earn National Historic Landmark status, or even qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

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New Dates for Israel’s Domesticated Camels

Archaeology News - February 4, 2014

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Radiocarbon dates for the oldest-known domesticated camel remains in Israel indicate that the pack animals did not arrive there until the ninth century B.C., or 300 years later than had been thought. “The introduction of the camel to our region was a very important economic and social development. By analyzing archaeological evidence from the copper production sites of the Aravah Valley, we were able to estimate the date of this event in terms of decades rather than centuries,” said Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University. He and colleague Lidar Sapir-Hen speculate that the Egyptians, who had conquered the region at this time, may have imported the domesticated camels from the Arabian Peninsula for use in copper mining operations. 

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16th-Century Burials Unearthed at Mexico’s Las Ventanas

Archaeology News - February 4, 2014

ZACATECAS, MEXICO—Seven burials of people who may have been among the last of the sixteenth-century Caxcan residents at the site of Las Ventanas have been uncovered. “Five of the burials belong to children approximately between one and five years of age,” said Marco Antonio Santos Ramirez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. Written sources indicate that women, children, and the elderly remained at the site, which features a large plaza with two altars, while the young men fought the Spanish and their allies in the Mixtón War. 

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Christian Pilgrimage Station Found in Ireland

Archaeology News - February 4, 2014

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND—A survey of the rocky island of Caher has identified an outer arc of altars or “leachts” that marked a station on a medieval maritime pilgrimage circuit. According to archaeologist Michael Gibbons, the circuit “represents a now rare example of a form of religious devotion stretching back at least a millennium on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.” The island is home to a monastery with a late medieval chapel; a series of stone crosses and small stone altars; a holy well; and a wall chamber where pilgrims or monks confined themselves in solitude.  The island was abandoned in the early nineteenth century. 

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Remains of England’s Ancient Iron Industry Discovered

Archaeology News - February 3, 2014

EAST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Archaeologists working ahead of road construction in southeastern England have found evidence of the region’s high-quality iron industry. “There are only a small number of really high quality iron resources in Northern Europe. The ones here around Hastings are some of the best, and certainly in Britain they are the best,” said county archaeologist Casper Johnson. He thinks that the quality of iron produced at these sites would have drawn the attention of the Roman Empire. “Iron was the key technology, a key resource—this is 2,000 years ago, for weapons through to nails and the fittings for wagons and horses,” he explained.

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Step Pyramid Uncovered in Southern Egypt

Archaeology News - February 3, 2014

TORONTO, ONTARIO—A step pyramid dated to 4,600 years ago has been uncovered in southern Egypt, at the ancient settlement of Edfu, by a team led by Gregory Marouard of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. One of seven “provincial” pyramids constructed before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, the Edfu pyramid was made of local sandstone blocks and clay mortar, had no internal chambers, and may have been dedicated to the royal cult of the king. “The construction itself reflects a certain care and a real expertise in the mastery of stone construction, especially for the adjustment of the most important blocks,” Marouard said at a recent meeting of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. But less than 50 years after its construction, offerings were no longer made at the Edfu pyramid. Scholars think that the provincial pyramids were abandoned when Khufu began work on the Great Pyramid.

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Rabbits Unearth Artifacts at Land’s End

Archaeology News - February 3, 2014

LAND’S END, ENGLAND—Burrowing rabbits have reportedly led archaeologists to 8,000-year-old Neolithic tools, a Bronze Age burial mound, and an Iron Age hill fort near the tip of Cornwall known as Land’s End by bringing artifacts to the surface. “They dug two little burrows right next to each other and all these treasures were thrown out of the earth,” said archaeologist Dean Paton. “It seems important people have been buried here for thousands of years—probably because of the stunning views,” he added.   

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Who Is Buried in Charlemagne’s Tomb?

Archaeology News - January 31, 2014

AACHEN, GERMANY—Bones and bone fragments from Charlemagne’s gilded sarcophagus in Aachen Cathedral belonged to a tall, thin, older man, according to a team of scientists that began studying the bones in 1988. They announced their results this week, 1,200 years after Charlemagne’s death. “Thanks to the results from 1988 up until today, we can say with great likelihood that we are dealing with the skeleton of Charlemagne,” said Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich. The skeleton also showed signs of injuries to a kneecap and heel bones. Medieval biographer Einhard the Frank claimed that the king walked with a limp in his old age. No clues to his cause of death were found.

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Royal Inscription Discovered in Iran

Archaeology News - January 31, 2014

TEHRAN, IRAN—Fragments of stone bearing inscriptions—including a few spelling errors—have been unearthed in southern Iran at the Palace of Xerxes in Persepolis. A team led by Gian Pietro Basello of the University of Naples is attempting to reassemble the sixth-century B.C. text and decipher it. “The texts of the inscriptions were written by people with a high level of literacy, but the mistakes happened when the engravers cut the texts into the stones,” said team member Adriano V. Rossi. 

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Cultural Festival Could Damage Mohenjodaro

Archaeology News - January 31, 2014

KARACHI, PAKISTAN—Archaeologists say that the wooden and steel scaffolds erected at Mohenjodaro to serve as a stage for the launch a cultural heritage festival have harmed the ancient site, and that a planned light and sound show could further damage its delicate walls. “You cannot even hammer a nail at an archaeological site,” commented Farzand Masih of Punjab University. He added that the country’s Antiquity Act banned such activities. Mohenjodaro was one of the largest cities in the Indus Valley some 5,000 years ago.

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Milan’s Ancient Past Unearthed

Archaeology News - January 31, 2014

MILAN, ITALY—A temple thought to have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva has been discovered beneath Milan’s cathedral, and a stone floor and a section of an arcade of the ancient Mediolanum Forum have been found under the basement of the seventeenth-century building that houses the historic art gallery, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and the library, Biblioteca Ambrosiana. In A.D. 292 Mediolanum became the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and it remained so until 402.

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Third-Century Bronze Mirrors From Japan Projected Images

Archaeology News - January 30, 2014

KYOTO, JAPAN—Ryu Murakami of the Kyoto National Museum thinks that two mirrors discovered in the Higashinomiya tomb in Inuyama may have been “magic mirrors,” which are thought to have originated in China. The patterns engraved on the back of the third-century bronze mirrors would have been projected onto a wall when sunlight reflected off the front. “Someone apparently noticed the phenomenon and intentionally shaped mirrors in this way. I believe they have something to do with sun worship,” he said. He recreated the two mirrors using copper, tin powder, and a 3-D printer to demonstrate how they would have worked. These are the first mirrors with “magic” properties to have been identified in Japan. “The finding could lead to reconsideration of the role of mirrors in ancient rituals. Sometimes, dozens of mirrors are found from the same burial mound. Theoretically, it’s not hard to imagine that they were lined up to project a number of images,” commented archaeologist Shoji Morishita of Otemae University.

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Israel’s Highest Court Will Rule on Fate of Roman Terraces

Archaeology News - January 30, 2014

BATTIR, WEST BANK—The 2,000-year-old agricultural terraces of the Palestinian village of Battir could be damaged if a separation barrier is built by the government of Israel. Opponents to the plan, including Israeli environmentalists, conservationists, and the local villagers, argue that altering part of the site would damage its integrity and upset the balance of its ancient system of seven springs and a Roman pool. “A country has the right to raise security concerns. It doesn’t have the right to destroy a cultural heritage site. If you can strike a balance in order to protect a potential world heritage site through technology that also safeguards or advances security interests, then the obligation is on the state to do that,” said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

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Neanderthal Genes May Have Helped Homo sapiens Adapt

Archaeology News - January 30, 2014

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Two teams of scientists have identified genome segments that they say modern humans inherited from Neanderthals. David Reich and Sriram Sankararaman of Harvard Medical School, and Joshua Akey and Benjamin Vernot of the University of Washington in Seattle, found segments of the modern human genome, using computational methods, that were likely to have originated hundreds of thousands of years in the past, but entered the modern human gene pool more recently. These gene segments were then compared with the actual Neanderthal genome sequence to create a catalog of Neanderthal genes in modern humans. Both teams found that Neanderthal genes that tend to be common in modern humans are related to the workings of cells on the outer layer of human skin and the growth of hair. The researchers speculate that the genes that survived were beneficial to modern humans, and those that died out were harmful to them. “We find these gigantic holes in the human genomes where there are no surviving Neanderthal lineages,” explained David Reich of Harvard Medical School.

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Giza’s Port City Revealed

Archaeology News - January 30, 2014

TORONTO, ONTARIO—At a recent meeting of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, Mark Lehner of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) suggested that the long buildings that were thought to have housed the pyramid workers may have served as barracks for soldiers and sailors instead because of the charcoal remains of wood imported from the Levant that were found there. “What was all this cedar from the Levant doing in a common workers barracks?” he asked. The buildings, known as galleries, are located in a city near Egypt’s Giza Pyramids, and could have housed the crews of incoming ships, or the troops depicted in the tombs of officials and in temples. In addition, Lehner’s team has uncovered a basin near a town named for Queen Khentkawes, who may have been Menkaure’s daughter. The basin may have been “an extension of a harbor or waterfront” that would have been less than a mile from the nearest Nile River channel. (This is also where the archaeologists discovered a large dwelling where royal cult priests may have lived.) “Giza was the central port then for three generations, Khufu, Khafre, Menkaure,” Lehner added. 

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