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Channel Islanders Used Local Tar Balls for Tools

February 11, 2014

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA—Archaeologist Kaitlin Brown of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her team have analyzed artifacts from the Channel Islands to learn where the proto-Chumash obtained most of their raw petroleum for tool-making. They had two options: malak, or sea-borne bitumen that washes up on shore, and woqo, which is found on the mainland. Woqo was thought to have been the more highly prized resource and would have to have been imported, but the scientists found that the material in the ancient tools was similar to the local tar balls. “We find that native islanders would use asphaltum from locally available sources and did not need to rely on mainland asphaltum exchange for their everyday needs,” Brown told Western Digs.

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New Excavation Planned for Ireland’s Carrickfergus Castle

February 11, 2014

CARRICKFERGUS, IRELAND—An excavation at Carrickfergus Castle could tell scholars more about the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman structure, which was built on the shores of Belfast Lough by John de Courcy. Its long history includes sieges by King John in 1210 and Edward Bruce in 1315. The castle was used by the British Army until 1928, and during World War II, it served as an air raid shelter. The new work will focus on the Great Hall. “We do not know yet what we will find in the excavations and we want to make sure that any new discoveries become part of the visitor experience at the site,” Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan told The Irish Independent.

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Update: Mastaba Tomb Yields Additional Artifacts

February 10, 2014

DAKAHLIYA, EGYPT—The remains of three more people from the Late Egyptian period have been found in a mastaba tomb at Tel El-Tabila, according to an announcement by Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities. Two of them had been mummified, and were found in anthropoid limestone coffins. The first, from the 26th Dynasty, had been damaged by high levels of humidity. Both coffins had been accompanied by wooden boxes filled with ushabti figurines. Ahram Online also reports that all of the bodies were accompanied by amulets, including one depicting Amun, Horus, and Neftis; a heart-shaped scarab; an Alba bird made of bronze; and 12 amulets featuring the Udjat eye of Horus. 

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Police Recover Bronze Statue in the Gaza Strip

February 10, 2014

GAZA—A young fisherman claims to have pulled an intact bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo from the ocean last August. He says he then carried it in a donkey cart to the Gaza Strip, where two of its fingers were removed to try to determine the value of the metal, before the rare statue appeared for sale on the Internet. Police then seized the statue and are investigating its origins. Archaeologists who have seen photographs of the statue estimate it to be at least 2,000 years old, crafted sometime between the fifth and first centuries B.C. But they question the fisherman’s story. “This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea…it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem told Reuters. “There is a feeling that they could find more and more [items] linked to the statue, more and more artifacts, so this is very sensitive,” he added.

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Hieroglyphs Shed New Light on Akhenaten’s Rule

February 10, 2014

LUXOR, EGYPT—An excavation by a team of Spanish and Egyptian archaeologists has revealed hieroglyphs carved into the columns of a mausoleum of an 18th Dynasty minister. The rulers are shown in the same space, one following the other, and their names are shown beside each other. This would suggest that Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, ruled together for nine or ten years of the 39 years that Amenhotep III sat on the throne. “There is nothing similar in Pharaonic history,” Martin Valentin, Field and Scientific Director of the Spanish Mission of the Asasif Project, told Hispanically Speaking News. The reign of Amenhotep III is known for its stability and prosperity, and it had been thought that his son broke away from tradition when he ascended to the throne—changing his name to Akhenaten and promoting the worship of the sun god Aten.

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The First Mission Station in New Zealand

February 10, 2014

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Ian Smith and Angela Middleton of the University of Otago have been excavating the Hohi Mission Station at Kerikeri, which stood from 1814 to 1832. The first Europeans in New Zealand were dependent upon local Maori communities for food and protection. “We found the remains of what is likely to have been the house of early New Zealand missionary Thomas Kendall and his family, as well as artifacts like ceramic shards, glass, a coin dating from 1806 bearing the profile of George III, and gunflints,” Smith told the New Zealand Herald. They also found a classroom containing toys, slate pencils, and fragments of writing slates, and a whare, or Maori dwelling.

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Third-Century Palace Unearthed in Japan

February 7, 2014

SAKURAI, JAPAN—The discovery of another building at the Makimuku archaeological site, which is located near the ancient capital of Nara, suggests that the third-century complex was home to Queen Himiko and perhaps her successor, Toyo, who are mentioned in early Chinese documents. “The latest finding virtually confirms that the buildings stood in a regular geometry along the central axis of a quadrangular area stretching 150 meters from east to west. That is an extraordinary dimension for third-century artifacts,” Hironobu Ishino of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology, explained to The Asahi Shimbun.

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Mastaba Tomb Discovered in Egypt

February 7, 2014

DAKAHLIYA, EGYPT—At the site of Tel Tabla, archaeologists unearthed a mud-brick mastaba tomb with a number of burial shafts. According to a report in Ahram Online, one of the shafts contained a carved limestone sarcophagus holding the well-preserved mummy of a woman named Werty. Beside the sarcophagus they found 180 wood and limestone ushabti figurines.

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Northern Europe’s Earliest-Known Inhabitants

February 7, 2014

HAPPISBURGH, ENGLAND—Erosion along the coast of Norfolk in eastern England has revealed footprints thought to have been left behind by a group of Homo antecessor individuals some 900,000 years ago. The tracks were made by at least five different hominids. “In some cases we could accurately measure the length and width of the footprints and estimate the height of the individuals who made them….This height range suggests a mix of adults and children, with the largest print possibly being male,” Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University told The Telegraph. The scientists took 3-D scans of the prints when they were revealed during a low tide after stormy seas last spring, but it was not possible to preserve them. At the time the prints were made, the area was an estuary of the Thames River, surrounded by salt marsh and coniferous forest. The weather would have been cold, requiring clothing, shelter, and the ability to make fire. Flint tools and fossil remains of rhinos, hyenas, and mammoths were also found at Happisburgh. 

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The Loss of Syria’s Cultural Heritage

February 6, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, announced at a press conference that the European Union has donated 2.5 million euros to a program intended to fight looting and improve the available information about Syria’s endangered cultural heritage. During the continuing civil war, illegal digging has taken place at the sites of Mari, Elba, Palmyra, and Apamea. “All of them have been subject to this phenomena, some of them to an extent that is unimaginable. Apamea—it’s completely destroyed,” Bandarin told the Associated Press. In an effort to stem the flow of antiquities out of Syria, UNESCO has been training police and customs forces in neighboring countries to identify looted artifacts. “We certainly have intercepted a very, very small amount of what has been pillaged,” said Bandarin.

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Erosion Threatens England’s Archaeology

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

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

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

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

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”

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

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

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

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

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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