Medieval Kiln Unearthed in Nottingham

Archaeology News - February 15, 2017

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—The Nottingham Post reports that pottery, glass, roof tiles, and a possible brick kiln have been unearthed at a construction site located outside what had been the limits of the medieval town of Nottingham. The town was known for its green-glazed pottery, but this is the first time that evidence suggesting that it was produced beyond the town ditch has been found. “Defense was a factor, but the main purpose of a town ditch was demarcation,” said project manager Paul Flintoft. “Every town would have needed one. It’s almost as if there may have been a suburb on the outside of the ditch.” To read about another recent discovery in England, go to “Behind the Curtain.”

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Roasted Turnip Found 16th-Century Settlement in Siberia

Archaeology News - February 15, 2017

TARA, SIBERIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a team of researchers from Tomsk State University is excavating a house at an early Russian settlement in southwestern Siberia that was founded in 1594. The military town was situated on the border of the steppe, in order to protect areas to the west that were occupied by Russians. The house under investigation burned down, so that a woman’s knitted stockings, a turnip in a large clay pot, and wooden structures and fortifications were preserved. “The fire was quite big,” explained archaeologist Maria Chernaya. She said that the turnip had been stored near the house’s stove, and when the fire began, it baked inside the storage pot. Analysis of the root vegetable indicates that it had been kept in the pot for several months, suggesting that if it had been harvested in autumn, the house burned down in the winter or spring. “Among other interesting finds are pieces of glassware, which was made by Venetian technology somewhere in Germany or the modern Czech Republic, and then exported to Russia,” she explained. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

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Ancient Pottery Recorded Geomagnetic Field Fluctuations

Archaeology News - February 15, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Live Science reports that Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues measured fluctuations in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field using a collection of pottery jugs dating to between the eighth and second centuries B.C. The jugs were marked some 2,500 years ago with administrative stamps by the bureaucracy of the kingdom of Judah, and then fired. The heat locked information regarding the Earth’s geomagnetic field into the iron-containing minerals in the clay, while the stamps provide precise dates. The study suggests that in the Levant, the strength of the magnetic field “fluctuates quite rapidly,” but because the precise locations of where the pottery was fired are not known, the scientists can't determine the direction of the geomagnetic field based on it. The research could help lead to a system of dating heated materials based upon their magnetic properties. For more on archaeology of the kingdom of Judah, go to “Cults of the Bronze Age.”

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Lake Sediments Record Climate Change at Cahokia

Archaeology News - February 14, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA—National Public Radio reports that climatologist Broxton Bird of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and colleagues analyzed layers of calcite crystals interspersed with layers of mud on the bottom of Indiana’s Martin Lake in order to learn about historic rainfall levels at Cahokia. The study suggests that beginning in the 900s, the Central Mississippi Valley received more rain than usual. And carbon isotopes found in skeletons at Mississippian cities indicate that people ate a lot of corn. “That comes at right around 950, and that’s around the time the population at Cahokia explodes,” Bird said. Then around A.D. 1200, at a time of increased worldwide volcanic activity, the weather pattern in North America shifted. “We switch to profound drought at A.D. 1350,” Bird explained. According to the climate record in the Martin Lake sediments, the drought lasted for 500 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that palisades were built at Cahokia after A.D. 1250, villages were burned, and skeletal remains show signs of decapitations and other injuries. Bird and his colleagues think climate change and food scarcity prompted the residents to migrate to the south and east, where conditions were less extreme. For more, go to “Breaking Cahokia’s Glass Ceiling.”

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Comala-Period Figurines Discovered in Mexico

Archaeology News - February 14, 2017

COLIMA, MEXICO—Live Science reports that a 1,700-year-old tomb was discovered in western Mexico during the renovation of a church. The entrance to the rare, intact tomb had been sealed with stones, grinding tools, and human bones. Inside, researchers discovered 12 skulls and additional bones in piles. Physical anthropologist Rosa María Flores Ramírez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said that some of the skulls showed signs of damage, tooth fractures, and wear. Excavation of the tomb revealed additional burial levels. The second level contained two polished figurines sculpted from fine paste and decorated with ochre that had been placed facedown, along with two skulls. One of the figurines is thought to be a male shaman wearing an elaborate headdress and holding an ax. It measures about 15 inches tall. The other figurine is thought to be female, measures about 12.5 inches tall, and has a triangular head with a sharp nose. She has her hands crossed, holds a pot, and wears a banded headdress. Two other pots were also found in the burial. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

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Sarcophagus Fragment Returned to Greece

Archaeology News - February 14, 2017

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Courthouse News reports that a fragment of the marble façade of an ancient Greek sarcophagus, thought to have been stolen from Thessaloniki in 1989, was handed over to Greece’s consul general Konstantinos Koutras in a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The sculpture, which dates to A.D. 200 and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan warriors, was recently recovered from a Manhattan art gallery. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., warned art galleries in his statement at the ceremony to “be on guard” for looted objects. “The process of establishing an item’s provenance may not be easy,” Vance said, “and it’s often not straightforward, but the alternative is the implicit endorsement of an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance.” The sarcophagus fragment will be displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “Regime Change in Athens.”

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Round Temples Found in Northern Sudan

Archaeology News - February 11, 2017

KERMA, SUDAN—AFP reports that Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet has discovered massive fortifications and three temples at Dogi Gel, or “Red Hill,” a site located several hundred yards from the ancient city of Kerma in northern Sudan. The temples are round and oval in shape, and date from 1,500 to 2,000 B.C., while buildings at Kerma are square or rectangular in shape. “This architecture is unknown,” Bonnet said of the temples. “There is no example in central Africa or in the Nile Valley of this architecture.” Bonnet thinks the fortifications suggest that the king of Kerma and others from central Africa defended the site against the ancient Egyptians. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

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Ancient Tomb Surveyed Near Japan’s Fukushima Power Plant

Archaeology News - February 11, 2017

FUKUSHIMA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that researchers from Tohoku University Museum, along with government officials from the town of Futaba, employed 3-D technology to create a map of the seventh-century Kiyotosakuoketsu tomb. The tomb is located in an area of high radiation levels less than two miles away from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011. “We want to collect the accurate data as this is a valuable cultural asset,” said archaeologist Atsushi Fujisawa. The tomb contains a mural that consists of a spiral pattern, people riding horses, and other animals and objects painted in red. The researchers found that white crystallized minerals have formed on part of the mural, and a tree root has grown through the ceiling of the tomb. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Animal Burials Unearthed in England

Archaeology News - February 11, 2017

SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Shropshire Live reports that the remains of three people and several animals have been found at the site of a church that could date to the Anglo-Saxon period. A flint was found in the ribs of a calf buried side-by-side with a pig. The remains of a large dog, which had died giving birth, was buried near six chickens. The team also uncovered a pig that may have been interred in a leather-covered wooden coffin. The bones of a pregnant goat, another dog, and what may be a large goose have also been found. “The bones don’t show any signs of butchery, and the animals appear to have been deliberately and carefully laid in the ground,” said archaeologist Janey Green of Baskerville Archaeological Services. “To find animals buried in consecrated ground is incredibly unusual because it would have been a big no-no,” Green explained. The bones may be linked to a nearby prehistoric burial mound, however, and once they have been dated, they will be reburied at the site. For more on the Anglo-Saxons, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Students Experiment With Ancient Brewing Techniques

Archaeology News - February 11, 2017

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—National Public Radio reports that archaeologist Li Liu of Stanford University and her students brewed an ancient beer recipe derived from the residues detected in pottery vessels unearthed in northeast China. The ingredients included millet, barley, a type of grass known as Job’s tears, yam, and lily root. The students started the fermentation process by either sprouting the grains or chewing them and spitting them out. The mixtures were then heated and allowed to rest for a week. The brewing experiments produced a fermented porridge that was low in alcohol but rich in nutrients. “I think the early beer is not just for drink[ing],” Liu said. “It’s a food.” Liu added that she had been surprised to find barley in the residues of 5,000-year-old beers because the earliest known evidence of barley in China dates to about 4,000 years ago. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Prehistoric Stone Ax Returned to Egypt

Archaeology News - February 10, 2017

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—Ahram Online reports that scientists at Louvain University handed over a 35,000-year-old ax to the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels. The stone ax was discovered by an excavation team from Louvain University at the Nazlet Khater archaeological site in Upper Egypt. A skeleton from the site that had been in Belgium since 1980 was returned in 2015. Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department has proposed that the skeleton and the ax be put on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Update From Downtown St. Augustine

Archaeology News - February 10, 2017

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—First Coast News reports that excavations in downtown St. Augustine have uncovered additional human remains at a site thought to be the home of a sixteenth-century church. The remains were found beneath the floor of a building at King and Charlotte Streets that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. According to city archaeologist Carl Halbirt, the bones could represent some of the city’s first European residents. The burials are in the Christian style, with the skulls to the east and the arms crossed over the body, and are thought to date to between 1572 and 1586. “We can actually start to look at small pieces of bone and tooth,” said biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida. “You can start to get access to diet. Are they eating a lot of fish, corn, wheat?” DNA may also be collected from the bone samples. “This would provide clues as to what is going on in St. Augustine in the sixteenth century,” Halbirt said. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

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Pebbles May Have Linked Paleolithic Mourners to the Deceased

Archaeology News - February 10, 2017

MONTRÉAL, CANADA—The International Business Times reports that a team of scientists from the Université de Montréal, Arizona State University, and the University of Genoa found marine pebbles in Italy’s Arene Candide Cave that hunter-gatherers may have used to apply ochre paste to the dead between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. The remains of about 20 people have been found in the cave, which is located in a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The pebbles, found in pieces in the cave, are thought to have been collected on the shoreline, and then broken in half when the ritual painting was completed. The researchers attempted to reassemble the pebble fragments recovered during the excavation, but no matching halves were found, suggesting that half of a pebble was left with the dead, while the other half was carried away as a talisman or souvenir. Claudine Gravel-Miguel of Arizona State University said that the new evidence could push the earliest known case of the ritual breaking of objects back by 5,000 years. For more, go to “Paleo-Dentistry.”

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More on Scotland’s Ardnamurchan Boat Burial

Archaeology News - February 9, 2017

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, a team of scientists has analyzed the contents of a 1,000-year-old Viking warrior’s grave discovered in western Scotland in 2011. Isotope analysis of the warrior’s teeth revealed that he grew up in Scandinavia, while his grave goods are thought to have originated in Scandinavia, Scotland, and Ireland. The high-status weapons in the grave included a large ax head, a sword with a decorated hilt, a spear, and a shield whose boss has survived. Other artifacts related to daily life included a whetstone made from a type of rock found in Norway, and a copper-alloy ringed pin, which may have been used to fasten a burial cloak or shroud. Stones for the boat burial may have been obtained from a nearby Neolithic burial cairn. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Boat-Shaped Coffins Unearthed in China

Archaeology News - February 9, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a cluster of boat-shaped coffins has been discovered at a construction site in southwest China. The cemetery is thought to have been used some 2,200 years ago by people of the Shu culture who may have operated nearby salt wells. Archaeologists led by Gong Yangmin of the Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute estimate that there are 60 coffins in the cemetery, laid out in four rows. Forty-seven of them have been excavated so far. Two of the burials were exceptionally well preserved: One contained 10 bamboo baskets filled with grain, and the tomb’s occupant wore a string of glass beads at the waist. “Glass beads like dragonfly eyes were exotic at the time,” said Gong. “They were probably imported via the Silk Road.” The coffins were carved from a durable wood known as nanmu, which comes from evergreen trees and was used to construct actual boats as well. More than 300 artifacts, made from pottery, bronze, iron, and bamboo, have also been recovered. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Twelfth Dead Sea Scroll Cave Discovered at Qumran

Archaeology News - February 9, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that researchers from Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority have found a twelfth cave where Dead Sea Scrolls are thought to have been hidden more than 2,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent more than 900 Jewish historic and religious documents, including texts of the Hebrew Bible, and philosophical works by members of the community that lived at Qumran during the Second Temple period. Led by archaeologists Ahiad Ovadia and Oren Gutfeld, the team members recovered a scrap of parchment in a jar, at least seven broken containers like the ones found in other Dead Sea Scroll caves, a leather strap for binding scrolls, and a cloth for wrapping them. The excavators also found flint blades, arrowheads, a carnelian stamp seal, and pickaxes dated to the 1940s, when the cave is thought to have been plundered and the scrolls removed. Scholars will have to rethink what they know about how the scrolls were stored. “How can we know for sure that they only came from 11 caves?” Gutfeld said. “For sure there were 12 caves, and maybe more.” For another recent find in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Categories: Blog

Soil Samples from the Amazon’s Ancient Earthworks Studied

Archaeology News - February 8, 2017

EXETER, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that archaeologist Jenny Watling, now of the University of São Paulo, and her colleagues collected soil samples from two geoglyph sites in far western Brazil and analyzed them for charcoal, carbon isotopes, and phytoliths. The results of the investigation suggest that the forest had been dominated by bamboo until about 4,000 years ago, when humans are thought to have set fires to clear the vegetation. The fires are represented by layers of charcoal. At this point, palm trees, which grow quickly in cleared areas and provide food and building material, became more common. Palm trees remained plentiful for about 3,000 years, suggesting that humans were managing the land, until about 650 years ago, when other larger trees became more common. Watling explained that even the oldest of the hundreds of geoglyphs in the Amazon were probably built in a landscape that had already been shaped by human intervention. She added that although no evidence of settlements has been found near the earthworks, traces of maize and squash crops have been discovered, in addition to smashed pots uncovered near the entrances to some of the geoglyphs. She thinks that people might have gathered food at the sites and used them for rituals during harvest seasons. For more, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

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Angkor-Era Iron-Smelting Furnace Unearthed in Cambodia

Archaeology News - February 8, 2017

PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE, CAMBODIA—An international team of scientists has discovered an Angkor-era iron smelter, according to a report in Cambodia Daily. Mitch Hendrickson of the University of Illinois at Chicago said that the team uncovered some collapsed sidewalls and the base of a nearly 1,000-year-old furnace, which was set at an angle so that liquefied iron ore could flow out of it. “The way that we think they built them is that they constructed the furnaces out of clay: They smelt the iron and then, to extract the bloom, they had to break down the walls,” Hendrickson explained. Traces of at least six such furnaces have been found at the site, but Hendrickson and archaeologist Phon Kaseka of the Royal Academy of Cambodia expect that the site was used to produce iron for a long period of time, and probably holds the remains of many such small furnaces, which measured only about three feet by six feet. Iron was used to make weapons, tools, and reinforcement bars for Angkor’s many stone temples. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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Pharaonic Period Wall-Painting Fragments Found in Egypt

Archaeology News - February 8, 2017

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY—Ahram Online reports that a large building complex is being excavated in the ancient city of Pi-Ramesses, the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ramesses II, by a team of researchers from the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum. The expansion of the nearby village of Qantir is endangering the 3,000-year-old site, which, according to a magnetic survey conducted last year, measures more than 650 feet long by 500 feet wide. It is thought to have been a palace or a temple with several phases of construction. Children’s footprints were also found near the building, preserved in a mortar pit where smashed pieces of painted wall plaster had been dumped. “No motifs are recognizable so far, but we are certainly dealing with the remains of large-scale multi-colored wall paintings,” said mission director Henning Franzmeier. The team members will attempt to conserve and reconstruct the wall paintings. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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General’s Sixth-Century Tomb Found in Northern China

Archaeology News - February 7, 2017

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Live Science reports that a sixth-century tomb containing the remains of a military general and his wife has been discovered in an ancient cemetery in northern China by a team made up of researchers from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, Shanxi University, Taiyuan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and the Agency of Cultural Relics and Tourism of Jinyuan District, Taiyuan city. The names of Zhao Xin, and his wife, Princess Neé Liu, were found inscribed on a piece of sandstone in the tomb, which also recorded the date of their burial—the equivalent of March 18, 564—and information about their lives. Zhao Xin died at the age of 67, while he still commanded a garrison of soldiers at Huangniu Town. The inscription also states that he had led them to victory in battle with the Yi barbarians. Princess Neé Liu was said to be modest, humble, respectful, and chaste. It is not known why the two were buried at the same time, but further study of the remains is underway. The tomb also contained about 100 colored pottery figurines of warriors, camels, oxcarts, and drummers, the largest of which stands about 22 inches tall. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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