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June 24, 2015

SARDINIA, ITALY—A ship that sank some 2,000 years ago while carrying a cargo of terracotta roof tiles has been discovered in deep water off the coast of Sardinia by a specialized diving unit of the Italian police. The tiles, which are still packed into ship’s hold, had probably been made in Rome and were headed to a villa for a senior Roman official or a wealthy merchant. “Given the location of the discovery, archaeologists believe that the vessel was destined for Spain or the west coast of Sardinia,” reads an official statement from the Polizia di Stato, reported in The Telegraph. The weight of the tiles may have contributed to the sinking of the vessel. “The cargo is very well preserved and has enormous value to scholars. We’re really pleased about this discovery,” commented Rubens D’Oriano of Sardinia’s archaeological department. To read about more underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

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June 23, 2015

KROSNO, POLAND—A farmer in southeastern Poland unearthed three gold bracelets tied with golden wire that are thought to date to between 1600 and 400 B.C. “We will study the place of discovery because we want to determine whether it was a discovery of a treasure, or perhaps remains of a burial ground,” Jan Gancarski, director of the Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Gancarski thinks that “the objects probably originated from behind the Carpathians. At the time, the Carpathian foothills were inhabited by people who came here from behind the Carpathians.” 

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June 23, 2015

VICTORIA, CANADA—Fossilized footprints discovered below the current shoreline of an island in British Columbia may be the oldest in North America. The prints, thought to have been made by a man, a woman, and a child some 13,000 years ago, were discovered on Calvert Island last year near the remains of an ancient campfire. “We figure that at some point people were hanging out around this fire. They left their footprints in the grey clay and then they were subsequently filled by this black sand, which essentially preserved the footprints,” archaeologist Duncan McLaren of the University of Victoria told the National Post. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."

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June 23, 2015

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—New radiocarbon dates for Mesoamerican parrots unearthed in the late nineteenth century in the American Southwest suggest that the birds were highly prized by the pueblo’s political elites in the early tenth century, at least 150 years earlier than previously thought. Most of the skeletal remains of scarlet macaws found in Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito predate the Chaco florescence, an era of rapid architectural expansion beginning around A.D. 1040. “By directly dating the macaws, we have demonstrated the existence of long-distance networks throughout much of this settlement’s history. Our findings suggest that rather than the acquisition of macaws being a side effect of the rise of Chacoan society, there was a causal relationship. The ability to access these trade networks and the ritual power associated with macaws and their feathers may have been important to forming these hierarchies in the first place,” Adam Watson off the American Museum of Natural History said in a press release.   

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June 22, 2015

LUND, SWEDEN—The well-preserved mummy of Peder Winstrup, a bishop who had been buried in a crypt at Lund Cathedral a year after his death in 1679, has been examined by scientists from Lund University. CT scans show that the 74-year-old Winstrup suffered from fluid in his sinuses and had been bedridden for a long time, and he may have had both tuberculosis and pneumonia. He also had plaque in his arteries, gallstones, osteoarthritis in the knees and hips, dental cavities, and had lost teeth. “His right shoulder was slightly higher than his left, due to an injury to a tendon in the shoulder. This would have limited Winstrup’s mobility, making it difficult for him to carry out simple everyday tasks such as putting on a shirt or combing his hair with the comb in his right hand,” osteologist Caroline Ahlström Arcini said in a press release. The scan also revealed the remains of a fetus that had been concealed under Winstrup’s feet. “You can only speculate as to whether it was one of Winstrup’s next of kin, or whether someone else took the opportunity while preparing the coffin. But we hope to be able to clarify any kinship through a DNA test,” said Per Karsten, director of the Historical Museum at Lund University. To read about a recent discovery made in Sweden, go to "One Ring to Bind Them."

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June 22, 2015

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Students from the University of Leicester are conducting excavations at Bradgate Park, located near Bradgate House, the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen in 1553. So far, they have recovered 10,000-year-old flint blades, Roman pottery, a musket ball, and a toy gun dating to the 1960s. They have also found two outbuildings and a medieval moated site that may have been the home of the park keeper. “We have uncovered the building on top of the moat which we expected, and recovered some pottery and glazed floor tile that are consistent with a medieval date. What is new, is that we have identified that the building has at least two different phases of construction—the original building with a later extension,” archaeologist Richard Thomas explained to the Leicester Mercury. To read more about recent discoveries in England, go to "Artifact: Medieval Chess Pieces." 

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June 22, 2015

WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT—An early Christian mosaic floor has been unearthed at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth by a team of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, Duquesne University, the University of Wisconsin, and Haifa University. Tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary at the site where the church was built and rebuilt over time. The ancient floor, thought to date to the fourth century, was discovered with ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. “The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said in a press release. The floor and the original church may have been constructed as a Christian pilgrim site when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. To read about the excavation of an early Christian community in Kuwait, go to "Archaeology Island."

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June 22, 2015

MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study. 

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June 19, 2015

SURRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA—An excavation to install a handicapped parking space at Bacon’s Castle uncovered an H-shaped chimney base with two 11-foot-wide fire boxes. Bacon’s Castle is a four-story Jacobean brick house built in 1665 by Arthur Allen, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. “This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia,” archaeologist Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute for Archaeology told Daily Press. Arthur Allen II, who was himself elected as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1686 and 1688, is known for planting one of the first pleasure gardens in the English colonies. The recent excavation also uncovered a large, brick-lined root cellar that butts up against the fireplace. “What we’re seeing here is that Bacon’s Castle continued to grow and develop after the original house was completed,” added Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations. To read about another archaeological discovery in the area, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

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June 19, 2015

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) have autopsied the remains of a three-month-old female dog thought to have died during a landslide near the Syallakh River some 12,450 years ago. (Two twigs in her stomach suggest that she tried to grab onto nearby plants with her teeth.) The puppy, whose fur, skin, bones, and internal organs are intact, was discovered in permafrost by two men who were looking for mammoth tusks in an area where hikers have found stone and bone tools and weapons. Was the puppy an early domestic breed? “Our task is to estimate the preservation of the ancient animal tissues at the macro and micro level. What is of real interest is the fact the animal has a completely preserved carcass, which is unique by itself, with nothing like it in the world. Although the tissues are mummified, they have no post-mortem decomposition, as it usually happens with biological material,” Darima Garmaeva of the NEFU Medical Institute told The Siberian Times. Members of the dog research project will return to the site with archaeologists this summer to look for evidence of early dog owners. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend." 

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June 19, 2015

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—DNA analysis conducted by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and Morten Rasmussen of Stanford University suggests that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world. It had been thought that the 8,500-year-old skeleton, known as the Ancient One by Native American groups, was more likely to be related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples, based upon anatomical data. “Although the exterior preservation of the skeleton was pristine, the DNA in the sample was highly degraded and dominated by DNA from soil bacteria and other environmental sources. With the little material we had available, we applied the newest methods to squeeze every piece of information out of the bone,” Rasmussen said in a press release. The study also reveals that Kennewick Man is more closely related to some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, located in Washington State, than to many other contemporary Native American groups. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."

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June 18, 2015

SAQQARA, EGYPT—Researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University conducted a new survey of the dog catacomb near the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, at Saqqara. The catacomb is thought to have been dug in the fourth century B.C. “It’s a very long series of dark tunnels. There is no natural light once you’ve gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It’s really quite a spectacular thing,” Nicholson told Live Science. More than 90 percent of the millions of mummies in the catacomb were of dogs, as expected, but the team also found the mummies of jackals, foxes, falcons, cats, and mongoose. Many of the dogs were very young puppies that were likely bred for the cult and separated from their mothers shortly after birth. “It would have been a busy place. A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults,” Nicholson explained. To read more about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

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June 18, 2015

CARDIFF, WALES—Analysis of more than 70,000 fragments of animal bone from a midden at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, reveals an usual preference for imported pork. “Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favored meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were just one quarter of the animal—the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast—that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honor of the feast,” osteoarchaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University said in a press release. To read about a recent Bronze Age discovery in Wales, see "Artifact: Gold Lock-Rings." 

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June 18, 2015

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Maryport Roman Temples Project has entered its final year of excavation. “By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” archaeologist Ian Haynes of Newcastle University told Culture 24. The team has uncovered a second-century A.D. building that had red sandstone walls, yellow sandstone decorations, a grey slate roof, and a columned entrance. This temple stood near the area where a collection of Roman altars was unearthed in 1870. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected,” he said. Earlier excavations revealed that the altars had been reused in the foundation of a Roman timber building, and had not been ritually buried, as had been thought. The team also found another complete altar, inscribed by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison. The altars are housed at the Senhouse Roman Museum. To read about an intriguing Roman discovery made in northern England, go to "Artifact: Roman Party Invitation." 

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June 18, 2015

ENFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A team from Plymouth State University is conducting an excavation in front of the Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum, where a Shaker religious community settled in 1793 and lived for more than 100 years. “I am standing in what we believe is the cellar of the Shakers’ trustees office. The trustees were the business leaders of the community. They conducted business transactions with the outside world,” Michael O’Conner, the curator of the Shaker Museum, told WCAX.com. The team is working to uncover the building’s foundation. “From an architectural standpoint, from a religious history, from a communal studies standpoint—yes, this site and this group are of great relevance to our society,” O’Connor added. There had once been 100 structures on the 3,000-acre property. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."

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June 17, 2015

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Recent stormy weather off the coast of Ireland has exposed a ship from the Spanish Armada that sank near Sligo while attempting to invade England in 1588. Some ship timbers had washed ashore, so divers from Ireland’s Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s Underwater Archaeology Unit conducted surveys and have begun to recover artifacts, including a cannon, to be conserved by the National Museum of Ireland. “We have uncovered a wealth of fascinating and highly significant material, which is more than 425 years old. The National Monuments Service believes that all of the material has come from La Juliana, one of the three Armada ships wrecked off this coastline in 1588. On current evidence, the other two wreck sites remain buried beneath a protective layer of sand, but the wreck of La Juliana is now partly exposed on the seabed along with some of its guns and other wreck material,” Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, told UTV Ireland. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

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June 17, 2015

MOUNT TABOR, GALILEE—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that arsonists had destroyed two storerooms filled with artifacts from the salvage excavation at Tel Kishon in northern Israel. Among the artifacts were Bronze Age pottery and weapons from the late fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. Tel Kishon had been excavated ahead of road construction. “It’s significant and serious damage to the study of historical objects [belonging to] everyone,” archaeologist Amir Golani told The Times of Israel. The police are investigating the incident. To read about a recent discovery in Israel, go to "Egyptian Artifacts Found in Southern Israel."

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June 17, 2015

TEHRAN, IRAN—Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his team have created a 3-D reconstruction of the 7,000-year-old remains of a woman unearthed in Tehran. “The model was developed drawing upon the supine position of the skeleton to represent its true position when interred; to reconstruct the face we added a digital version of missing parts mounted on the 3-D model; the prepared model was pinpointed in 11 points on the face, on eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, lips, and chin, and then the digital texturing filled these pinpoints to give us a clear image of the face,” he told Mehr News Agency. The team based the woman’s hair upon images from pottery from Cheshmeh Ali, a late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village in northern Iran. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between." 

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June 17, 2015

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Potential respiratory irritants have been found in the dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth from Israel’s Qesem Cave. The irritants, including traces of charcoal, are thought to have come from smoke inhaled from cooking fires in the cave. “Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque. However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well,” Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a press release on Phys.org. The hardened plaque also contained traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, particles of starch, and fibers that may have been used for teeth cleaning. “Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed,” added Ran Barkai of TAU. To read about another finding based on the analysis of dental plaque, go to "Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking."

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June 16, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Kathelijne Koops of the University of Cambridge and colleagues from Kyoto University tracked wild chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and Congo and recorded their tool use, the surrounding environmental conditions, and social time. They also observed the young apes when manipulating objects, and whether or not those objects were deployed as tools. The researchers found that bonobos had similar access to as many tools and the opportunities to use them as the chimpanzees, but the bonobos rarely used tools, and never used them to forage for food. Immature chimpanzees were also observed playing with objects more frequently, and with more objects. “Chimpanzees are object-oriented, in a way that bonobos are not,” Koops said in a press release. “Given the close evolutionary relationship between these two species and humans, insights into the tool use difference between chimpanzees and bonobos can help us identify the conditions that drove the evolution of human technology. Our findings suggest that an innate predisposition, or intrinsic motivation, to manipulate objects was likely also selected for in the hominin lineage and played a key role in the evolution of technology in our own lineage,” she explained. For more, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."

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