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Crusader-Era Seal Unearthed at a Farm Site in Jerusalem

May 27, 2014

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A medieval lead seal stamped by the Monastery of Saint Sabas has been unearthed at the archaeological remains of a farmstead in Jerusalem. The seal features Greek inscriptions and a bearded figure, identified as Saint Sabas, or Mar Saba in Syriac, wearing a cloak and holding a cross in his right and what is possibly a Gospel in his left hand. St. Sabas is known for establishing a monastery on a cliff in the Judean Desert that has been continuously inhabited to the present era. “The Mar Saba monastery apparently played an important role in the affairs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusader period maintaining a close relationship with the ruling royal family. The monastery had numerous properties and this farm may have been part of the monastery’s assets during the Crusader period,” Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Jerusalem Post

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Intact Granary Discovered at Harappan Village

May 23, 2014

HARYANA, INDIA—A well-preserved granary with at least seven rooms has been uncovered in Rakhigarhi, named the largest Harappan site by the Archaeological Survey of India. “Rakhigarhi is ideal to study the growth of the culture. We’ve found evidence for the beginning, dating back to 5,500 B.C.,” archaeologist Vasant Shinde of Deccan College told The Hindu Business Line. The site is also on the Global Heritage Fund list of endangered sites in Asia because of continued farming, looting, and lack of security. A burial site that could help scientists learn more about the Harappans has also been excavated. “But we’ve exhumed only one body as the site is under a field of standing crops,” Shinde explained. 

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Ancient City Destroyed by Fire Found in Northern India

May 23, 2014

CHANDIGARH, INDIA—Traces of a city, including walls, floors, bamboo, pottery, bones, and postholes, have been unearthed in northern India, on the banks of the Kharoun River. “It is a stunning discovery. Our excavation has so far yielded remains of various settlements that had come up at the site from the sixth century A.D. to the second century B.C. A huge burnt patch of around eight feet high was unearthed at 9-12th layer believed to be dating back to the second century B.C.,” archaeologist J.R. Bhagat told The Asian Age. The city had been completely destroyed by fire. Patches of the ruin were then washed away when the river flooded. 

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Phoenician Statue Discovered in Lebanon

May 23, 2014

SIDON, LEBANON—A Phoenician statue dating to the sixth century B.C. has been discovered at the Freres College site in southern Lebanon. The statue depicts a priest wearing a pleated kilt with a pendant flap from the waist to the hem of the kilt. The man’s left hand is closed, perhaps grasping a scroll or a handkerchief. “Nothing comparable has been found in Lebanon since the early 1960s, and only three other examples originating from Sidon, Umm al-Ahmed, and Tyre are housed in the Beirut National Museum,” Claude Doumit Serhal, head of the British Museum excavation team, announced in The Lebanon Daily Star. The statue, which had been reused by the Romans, was found under a marble pavement. 

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The Search for the Grand Contraband Camp

May 23, 2014

HAMPTON, VIRGINIA—Nicholas M. Luccketti and his team from the James River Institute for Archaeology are “cautiously optimistic” about finding a freedmen’s village where thousands of refugee slaves lived during the Civil War. So far, they have uncovered postholes and evidence of a barrel-lined well. The bucket and well left a round, dark stain surrounded by a lighter ring from the original builder’s trench. “We’re finding what looks like the sort of features we anticipated from studying the Civil War photographs of the contraband camp. We have artifacts from the right period showing up on the surface,” Luccketti told The Hampton Roads Daily Press.

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Caesar’s Account Tested With GIS Modeling

May 22, 2014

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—The Science Network of Western Australia reports that Tom Whitley of the University of Western Australia is leading an international team of scientists in developing a Geographic Information Systems model to evaluate Julius Caesar’s account of his war with the Helvetii, a Celtic tribe that occupied much of modern-day Switzerland. Caesar recorded that a quarter of a million Helvetii were settled in the Swiss plateau before they invaded Gaul. The GIS model will test this population estimate, and it will look at wild and agricultural sources of subsistence to test Caesar’s assertion that the Helvitii were running out of food. “Does that in fact reflect what he was saying, that there was a stress on the amount of energy that’s available versus how many people are there to use it? Or does it look like he’s exaggerating his numbers to make it look like he defeated more people than actually he did,” Whitley asked. The project will also look for archaeological traces of the battle, such as Roman riverfront fortifications. “Some of the GIS modeling is intended to say where it is likely that the Romans would have been building these structures,” he added. 

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Early European Bakery Found in New Zealand

May 22, 2014

TAURANGA CITY, NEW ZEALAND—The brick foundations and large ovens of a bakery dating back to at least the 1870s through World War II have been unearthed on New Zealand’s North Island during construction work. “It is rare to find such a well-preserved bakery from this time period anywhere in New Zealand. The only other examples we have are from the goldfields of Central Otago and one site in Dunedin,” archaeologist Rachel Darmody told Sun Live. City council members and experts from Heritage New Zealand are considering how to preserve the site.

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Cave Paintings Discovered in Spain

May 22, 2014

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Hunting scenes dating to 7,000 years ago have been found painted on the walls of a small cave in eastern Spain. The ten figures, which include bulls, two archers, and a goat, had been exposed to the weather and covered in dust and dirt, but they were in good condition. “Some of the details are unique [and unlike anything] across the entire Mediterranean Basin,” Inés Domingo Sanz of the University of Barcelona told The Art Newspaper

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Leaks Plague President’s House Exhibit

May 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—Leaks at the President’s House commemorative site on Independence Mall threaten the archaeological remains of the home occupied by George Washington and John Adams during their presidencies, from 1790 to 1800. Nine of Washington’s enslaved servants also lived at the site. Despite repairs, glass panels, paving tiles, and a hatch into the site continue to leak. Underground water may be causing problems as well. Independent consultants for the city of Philadelphia, which has managed the building of the memorial, found that an underground drainage system called for in the original design had never been installed. A surface drain was found to be faulty and a gap along a wall may also be letting in water. “We’ve talked internally about a drastic step of filling it with sand and covering it over. It’s an option. It’s not a pleasant option. But in the name of preservation, it’s something we have to consider,” Cynthia MacLeod, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, told The Philadelphia Inquirer

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More on Prehistoric Canal Found in Florida

May 21, 2014

NAPLES, FLORIDA—A canal that was probably used as a shortcut for transporting goods by the Calusa has been dated to between 800 and 1100 A.D. Robert Carr, executive director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, said that the canal is part of a complex web of canals in southern Florida. This section of the canal was found with ground-penetrating radar in the center of modern Naples. “These canals are the only transportation canals in North America outside of Mexico. So, in that sense they are a major engineering marvel that indigenous people have constructed,” he told WGCU.

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Pre-Inca Site Unearthed in Northern Peru

May 21, 2014

PIURA, PERU—Necklaces, pottery, and other artifacts have been unearthed at a site thought to have been an administrative center for the Tallan culture, which lived in northwestern Peru from 700 to 1400 A.D. “This would have been a large storage for corn, cotton and other products from the area. It would have also been a place where the Tallan lived,” archaeologist María Elena Nuñera told El Comercio. Many of the pre-Incan sites in the region have been destroyed by looters. 

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1,500-Year-Old Microbes Support Migration Hypotheses

May 21, 2014

VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO—An analysis of bacteria and fungi found in coprolites, or fossilized human feces, supports archaeological evidence of the ancestries of two cultures that lived in the Caribbean more than 1,500 years ago. “One culture excelled in the art of pottery; in fact, their signature use of red and white paint helped identify them as descendants from the Saladoids, originating in Saladero, Venezuela. In contrast, the second culture had exquisite art for crafting semiprecious stones into ornaments, some of which represented the Andean condor. This helped archaeologists identify the Bolivian Andes as possible origins of this Huecoid culture,” Jessica Rivera-Perez of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, told Phys Org. Differences in the DNA from the coprolites from the two cultures, as well as their bacterial and fungal populations, indicated that they may indeed have had different origins. Fungal and corn DNA were also found in the Huecoid coprolite, suggesting that an Andean fermented corn beverage had been consumed.  

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Human Remains Linked to Norman Conquest of England

May 21, 2014

EAST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—A skeleton bearing six fatal sword injuries to the back of the skull has been radiocarbon dated to 28 years on either side of 1063, suggesting that the man may have been involved in fighting at the time of the Norman invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The bones had been found in Lewes on the grounds of a medieval hospital, and so it had been thought that the man died at the Battle of Lewes, which occurred in 1264. “There is no record of any skirmishes happening in Lewes or any other towns in Sussex at the Norman Conquest, but this suggests that the Normans didn’t just turn up and say, ‘We’re in charge’ and everyone said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ It begins to paint a picture of what might have happened in the aftermath,” Edwina Livesey of Sussex Archaeological Society told BBC News. The new dates make the bones the only human remains ever recorded that are related to the Norman invasion.

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Prehistoric Trash May Have Protected Peru’s Coastline

May 20, 2014

ORONO, MAINE—The Spanish conquest of the Inca empire in the sixteenth century had an unexpected impact on Peru’s northern coastline, according to a new study by Daniel Belknap and Dan Sandweiss of the University of Maine. They examined the massive sand dunes along the ridges of the coastline and found that millions of discarded mollusk shells had held sediments deposited by the combined effects of earthquakes and El Niño events in place for some 5,000 years. After the conquest, the local population was decimated by disease and those who survived were moved inland. New sediments deposited on the ridges were not protected from harsh winds. “You don’t think that pre-Columbian people can have such a significant effect on the landscape, but clearly they can,” Sandweiss told Science Now

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Cahokia’s Ceremonial Road Confirmed

May 20, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—The presence of a ceremonial road running through the center of Cahokia has been confirmed by Sarah Baires of the University of Illinois. She uncovered distinct layers of fill dirt that resembles other monuments at the site. Known as the Rattlesnake Causeway, the elevated earthen road stretches from the Grand Plaza through the center of the city, and ends in Rattlesnake Mound. Cahokia’s buildings and the causeway may all have been constructed to align with the lunar standstill, when the moon rises at its southernmost point in the sky, every 18.6 years. “Why would Cahokians have built this one kilometer-long earthen feature after they constructed everything else? To me, it makes much more sense that this was one of the foundational pieces of the Cahokian landscape,” she told Western Digs. Traces of the road were first uncovered in 1927, but some thought it may have been a natural feature or an early railroad bed. 

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Rare Compound Found on Song-Dynasty Tea Bowls

May 20, 2014

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Catherine Dejoie of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology led an international team of scientists in the analysis of the chemical composition of Jian bowls, made some 1,000 years ago in China’s Fujian Province. The bowls, which are known for retaining heat and for their patterned glaze, were made from local iron-rich clay and coated with a mixture of clay, limestone, and wooden ash. When the bowls were fired, the clay hardened, the coating melted, and oxygen within the glaze pushed iron ions to the surface. As the glaze cooled, molten iron flux flowed down the sides of the bowls and crystallized into iron oxides, forming the bowls’ characteristic patterns. X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and other techniques revealed that rare epsilon-phase iron oxide was formed on the bowls in two of the three patterns. This type of iron oxide is highly valued for its persistent magnetization, high resistance to corrosion, and lack of toxicity, but it is difficult to create with modern equipment. “The next step will be to understand how it is possible to reproduce the quality of epsilon-phase iron oxide with modern technology,’ Dejoie announced at the Berkeley Lab

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Neolithic Artwork Found in Northern Africa

May 19, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A tourist has discovered Neolithic artwork in a shallow cave in the Egyptian Western Desert that supports the suggestion that ancient Egyptian culture drew on cultural influences from Africa as well as the Near East. Giulio Lucarini of Cambridge University and co-director of the Archaeological Mission in the Farafra Oasis examined the etchings last month. He thinks the images, including a giraffe, a cow-like mammal, two boats, and a human hand, could date to between 6000 and 5,500 B.C. The drawings resemble those from another site in the region known as Wadi el Obeiyid Cave, discovered in 1995. “Our work shows that people living in the Eastern Sahara had a significant and developed culture which fed into the development of the Pharaonic civilization and beyond,” Lucarini announced at the University of Cambridge

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Medieval Monastery Excavated in Sudan

May 19, 2014

AL-GHAZALI, SUDAN—Polish archaeologists are excavating a large Byzantine-era church made of sandstone blocks in Sudan that was located on a busy trade route. “Along the east wall of the monastery we dug out a row of 15 toilets. However it may sound and look, it is an important discovery. Nowhere else in Nubia has such a large sanitary complex been discovered,” Artur Obluski of the University of Chicago told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also conserved the plaster walls of the church, which date to the first half of the seventh century and were decorated with Christian images and the names of the four archangels. “By removing a thick layer of mud, we restored part of the original appearance of the church, which is now glowing white from a distance,” added Cristobal Calaforra-Rzepka, head of the conservation team. 

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Three Burial Chambers Discovered in Cyprus

May 19, 2014

LIMASSOL, CYPRUS—Three burial chambers were discovered when the roof of a cave collapsed during landscaping work in southern Cyprus. The tomb, which dates to the second or first centuries B.C., contained seven sets of skeletal remains, amphorae, and small artifacts. “Archaeologically, it is a very interesting area,” archaeologist Yiannis Violaris of the Antiquities Department told the Cyprus Mail

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18th-Century Deposits May Have Had a Magical Purpose

May 19, 2014

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN—Excavations in the British Virgin Islands have uncovered evidence of ritual practices of English plantation residents in the eighteenth century. At the first site, John Chenoweth of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and his team unearthed a cache of grape shot—small iron balls meant to be shot from a cannon—that had been buried in two postholes under a two-room sugar plantation house. Chenoweth thinks the iron grape shot may have served a magical purpose, since it was in short supply and valuable to the English who needed to protect themselves from the Spanish and were concerned about slave uprisings. On another island, the team recovered a whelk shell that had been modified to hold fish bones, pins, and the bones of a Puerto Rican racer snake. It had been placed in the foundation of another two-room plantation house, and resembles a witch’s bottle, found in England and America. Chenoweth told Live Science that witch’s bottles are “seen as an effort to protect the house against bad magic basically, spirits and spells that might seek to harm some of the occupants of the house.”

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