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.
ROME, ITALY—A small hole in the ground hidden by bushes has led scholars to the biggest tunnel yet found beneath Hadrian’s second-century A.D. villa in Tivoli. The intact tunnel, dubbed the “Great Underground Road,” was large enough to allow carts and wagons to pass, so that servants could carry food and firewood from one part of the emperor’s vast palace to another. “The underground network helps us to understand the structures that are above ground,” said archaeologist Vittoria Fresi.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—Excavations 11 miles east of Rome in the ancient city-state of Gabii by Nicola Terrenato of the University of Michigan and his students have uncovered a well-preserved building complex made up of walls crafted with giant stone blocks, geometrically patterned floors, and two terraces connected by a grand stairway cut into bedrock. The stone blocks “were stacked one on top of each other without any glue binding them together. This is the only technique they had access to, and it must have been the desire for this kind of grand construction that drove them to the invention of mortar about 125 years later,” Terrenato said. The structures date to between 350 and 250 B.C.—a time thought to have been marked by “modest,” and “inconspicuous” culture, as recorded by Cato the Elder and Cicero. The monumental buildings may have served as a public structure, or even as a lavish private residence.
KAVARNA, BULGARIA—A bronze ring featuring a small compartment may have been made to conceal a poison, according to Boni Petrunova of the National Archaeology Institute and Museum in Sofia. Petrunova unearthed the ring at a medieval fortress at Cape Kaliakra, in an area where 30 pieces of jewelry have been found. “I have no doubts that the hole is there on purpose and the ring was worn on the right hand, because the hole was made in such a way so as to be covered by a finger, so that the poison can be dropped at a moment’s notice. Clearly, it was not worn constantly and would have been put on when necessary,” he said.
DURHAM, ENGLAND—New research suggests that the Faroe Islands, located between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, were occupied at least 300 to 500 years earlier than had been thought. Viking invaders in the ninth century probably destroyed the settlements built by these earlier inhabitants, but archaeologists have found patches of burnt peat ash containing grains of barley that had been spread by people to control wind erosion beginning as early as the fourth century. “Although we don’t know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying, and burning it which indicates they must have stayed here for some time,” said study co-author Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands.
NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Recent discoveries in Norfolk have been declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest because of their historic value. The first is a small silver disc inscribed, “Antonius, may you live in God,” a Christian formula of blessing. “We have practically no other evidence for any Christians in Norfolk,” said Adrian Marsden of the Norwich Castle Museum. The disc dates to between 312 and 410, and is thought to have been set in a signet ring. A Viking silver ingot that was probably used in trade and four Iron Age silver bars were also declared treasure. “The ingot offers some interesting possibilities for metallurgical analysis, to look at how pure they are and what sort of other metals if any might be alloyed with the silver,” added Marsden. His museum hopes to acquire the artifacts.
PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA—Erosion of the banks of the Missouri River uncovers artifacts left behind by people ranging from prehistoric villagers through nineteenth-century fur traders who fueled the beaver hat craze. Evidence of prehistoric trade includes Knife River flint from North Dakota, obsidian from the Yellowstone area, and exotic materials quarried in other parts of South Dakota. Archaeologists also find fishhooks, squash knives, and hoes made from bison bones. “People now gravitate to the same areas for the same reasons that people for millennia have gravitated toward those areas—shade, shelter, resources. It provided a source of food and water,” said archaeologist Richard Harnois of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Omaha District’s Oahe Project Office.
DORSET, ENGLAND—Researchers hope to identify the heavily armed merchantman they have just finished excavating off the coast of southwest England. Known as the Swash Channel Wreck, the ship’s rudder bears a carved face, indicating it was a high-status vessel. More than 1,000 artifacts from the second quarter of the seventeenth century have been recovered, but no cargo remained on board. Tests show that the wood for the ship was cut in 1628 from the coastal region near the Netherlands-Germany border. “We have been working on names, but there is no smoking gun, which is surprising, because it is a big ship and its sinking would have been a big event,” said Dave Parham of Bournemouth University.