ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Over the past five years, a partnership between the village of Quinhagak, located near the Bering Sea, and Scotland’s
University of Aberdeen has uncovered thousands of artifacts from an Alaskan village dating to the days before European contact. Many of the objects date between 1350 and 1670, a time little understood by scholars. “This is easily the largest collection of pre-contact Yup’ik material anywhere,” said anthropologist Rick Knecht. “Because it’s been in permafrost until now, the level of preservation is just marvelous. Eighty percent of what we’re finding is wood or other organics. A lot of them are preserved to the extent that they still have original paint on them,” he explained. Some of the remarkable finds include sealskin clothing, grass basketry, and ropes made from grass and roots. Knecht estimates that only a quarter of the site remains because of the shifting banks and eroding shoreline of the Arolik River. “It’s kind of an emergency,” he added.
LINCOLN, ENGLAND—The excavation season at Lincoln Castle is closing as archaeologists make plans to lift a sarcophagus thought to contain the remains of a Saxon king or a bishop out of the earth. The grave was discovered alongside the remains of an unknown church thought to be at least 1,000 years old. “Logistically it’s quite a difficult job because the trench is deep and the sarcophagus obviously weighs a lot,” said archaeologist Cecily Spall. The area where the sarcophagus and other skeletons were unearthed will serve as a new exhibition space to house Lincoln’s copy of the Magna Carta.
QUEBEC, CANADA—Artifacts estimated to be between 4,000 and 7,000 years old have been found on Waskaganish territory in northern Quebec, in an area that the local Cree know as a traditional fishing site. The rough-looking stone blades and arrowheads had been ground into shape. Further excavations may reveal if the land was used as a campsite. “It’s pretty exciting, because we don’t have a lot of sites in Quebec that are that old, if it’s as much as 7,000 years,” said James Chism of the Waskaganish Cultural Institute.
CYRENAICA, LIBYA—Archaeologist and blogger Areej Khattab reports that people living near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cyrene have destroyed part of its necropolis. Using earth movers, the farmers allegedly cleared the land, which traditionally belongs to them, and then threw the artifacts into a nearby river. Khattab adds that the land will be sold to developers for homes and shops. “I have been trying everything to stop this disaster. I appealed, in vain, to the archaeological authorities as well as the local authorities. I contacted one of the brigades in charge of the city’s security, who informed me that they could intervene only if the authorities made an official request, but they haven’t made the slightest move to get involved… I even called the Culture Minister on his mobile phone. I left a message but I haven’t heard anything yet,” she writes.
CATANIA, SICILY—A team of archaeologists has followed techniques outlined in ancient texts to plant a vineyard of local grapes that they hope will produce wines approximating what the Romans drank. They planted the vines with wooden tools, and are supporting them with canes and woven juniper leaves. Eventually, the juice will ferment in large, open terracotta pots that are lined with beeswax and buried up to their necks in the ground. “We will not use fermenting agents, but rely on the fermentation of the grapes themselves, which will make it as hit and miss as it was then—you can call this experimental archaeology,” said project manager Mario Indelilcato. The archaeologists should have some wine to taste in about four years.
FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY—Renovations at the Florham Park campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University revealed a Prince Albert tobacco can containing a note left behind by plumbers and tile workers in 1932. The letter recorded their names and the work they had done in the building, which at the time was part of the Vanderbilt-Twombly estate. It also expressed their desire for a drink and the end of Prohibition. “If only those workers had known in 1932 when they placed that time capsule in the wall that FDR’s ‘wet’ victory that November had swept away the ‘dry’ consensus that dominated the 1920s. Indeed, Prohibition ended by ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 12, 1933,” commented historian Gary Darden of the University’s Department of Social Sciences & History.
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINA—Traces of ten furrows have been discovered at the site of James Fort, built by English settlers in 1607. The furrows were found under a wall that was built in 1608 to extend the structure, so archaeologists think they were dug soon after the colonists’ arrival. Without the help of animals for farming, the labor-intensive rows were hoed by hand. “That system of farming with bending over and hoeing up the ground dominates the Virginia landscape for centuries,” said archaeologist David Givens of Jamestown Rediscovery. Soil samples will be tested to see what crops were grown in the furrows.
YORK, ENGLAND—An analysis of charred residues collected from pottery fragments in Denmark and northern Germany shows that Europeans were seasoning their food at least 6,000 years ago. In particular, phytoliths from the seeds of the garlic mustard plant, which have no nutritional value, were identified in meals that also consisted of red deer or shellfish and fish. Bioarchaeologist Hayley Saul of the University of York tried cooking dishes using cod and pork—foods that would have been available to northern Europeans 6,000 years ago—spiced with garlic mustard. “They went down very well,” she said.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, has been found in ten out of 27 flasks collected from five archaeological sites in Israel. The spice, which was only found in southern India and Sri Lanka 3,000 years ago, indicates that there may have been a long-range spice trade in place at the time. The dry spice would have been imported and mixed with a liquid, then stored in the thick-walled flasks with narrow openings that had been made by the Phonecians living in northern coastal Israel. “We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the sixteenth century A.D.,” said Dvory Namdar of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University.
PRICE, UTAH—Twenty-five years ago, a well-preserved hairless Columbian mammoth was discovered in an airtight bog in the Manti La-Sal National Forest. Research continues on the 10,500-year-old bull, which is housed in the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum. “This was most likely one of the last of its kind,” said Tim Riley, curator of archaeology. This animal’s mitochondrial DNA shows that one of its great-grandmothers was a Woolly mammoth, and while there is no direct evidence to suggest that this Columbian mammoth was killed by hunters, Paleoindian archery points have been found about a half-mile away from the place where it was discovered. “While that doesn’t sound like much, that is an incredible Paleoindian site density. It shows that this area was very important near the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene,” Riley added.
BERLIN, GERMANY—Wife-and-husband team Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck of Berlin’s Free University are excavating the Columbia Concentration Camp, operated by the Nazis between 1933 and 1936. The camp had been a military jail before it became a place to house and torture political opponents. “This was not just a place where people were terrorized and tortured, but a school of torture. The people who had been commanders of Columbia later turned into commanders of other concentration camps,” Bernbeck explained. An estimated ten thousand people were inmates at Columbia before it was razed and the Tempelhof Airport was built on the site. Excavations are being conducted now because further development of the site is being planned.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—As part of her internship with the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch, Mikala Pyrch of George Washington University helped to identify the rare nineteenth-century Howell torpedo discovered earlier this year by Navy dolphins training off the coast of San Diego. (The Howell torpedo was the first propelled torpedo and only three are known to have survived.) Of the eight ships that had been carrying Howell torpedoes, two of them had traveled the California coast. “That narrowed it down to the USS Marblehead and the USS Iowa. We went to the National Archives and looked in the deck logs. I saw that in December of 1899 Iowa had been doing target practice with the torpedoes and had lost… Howell No. 24,” she said. The surviving mid- and tail-sections of the torpedo are being conserved at the Washington Navy Yard.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL— A crescent-shaped, mud-brick wall that was more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall and covered with layers of mud and sand has been unearthed at Ashdod-Yam, an area under Assyrian rule in the eighth century B.C. This massive, Iron-Age fortification may have protected a large artificial harbor. “If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant,” said Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University. The structure may have been built in connection with a rebellion led by the Philistine king of nearby Ashdod.
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR—More than 100 sculpture fragments of five or six cat-like creatures and two censers have been uncovered at the site of Cihuatán in central El Salvador. The sculptures may have been of jaguars, but they are lacking spots. “It is estimated that Cihuatán was occupied between 1000 and 1200 A.D., and that its first inhabitants came from central Mexico, where they had abandoned their villages after the Mayan collapse,” said a statement from the office of El Salvador’s Culture Secretariat.