Luxury 17th-Century Items Uncovered Near Paul Revere House

Archaeology News - November 11, 2017

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Evidence of a sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by a seventeenth-century family has been uncovered near the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End, according to a report from The Boston Globe. The finds include a shard of a ceramic bowl of a type known as “sgraffito” probably produced between 1630 and 1640 in the Pisa region of northern Italy, making it the oldest known piece of European ceramic to have been discovered in the city. Also found at the site were decorated pieces of expensive Italian glass, animal bones suggesting a rich diet, and a clasp from a woman’s bodice. “They’ve got glassware that would make Liberace blush,” said Joe Bagley, Boston city archaeologist. The items were apparently discarded by the family of John Jeffs, a mariner active in the Atlantic trade, and suggest that people living in Puritan Boston were comfortable acquiring ostentatious and luxurious items. Bagley expected to find a large number of nineteenth-century artifacts in the excavation, which is being carried out in advance of construction work, and was surprised to find insights into life two centuries earlier as well. To read about a Revolutionary War–era discovery made near Boston, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

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Medieval Mass Graves Unearthed

Archaeology News - November 11, 2017

KUNTA HORA, CZECH REPUBLIC—While excavating beneath a Catholic chapel in the eastern Czech Republic, archaeologists have unearthed some 1,500 skeletons from 30 medieval mass graves, reports the Prague Daily Monitor. Experts believe the remains belong to people who likely died during a famine in 1318 and a plague epidemic that began in 1348. "We must realize that such a mass grave represents a sample of a population within a very short period, which is extremely valuable to us," says the Czech Institute of Archaeology's Jan Frolik, who supervised the dig. The burials were probably unmarked and while the team found some buckles and coins in the cemetery, the people were largely buried without any grave goods. To read more about medieval mass graves, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

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8th-Century Skeleton Discovered at Hereford Cathedral

Archaeology News - November 11, 2017

HEREFORD, ENGLAND—The Hereford Times reports that a skeleton discovered underneath Hereford Cathedral dates back to the origins of the city. Excavations ahead of construction work to improve the cathedral’s cloisters found three skeletons nearly seven feet underground. According to archaeologists, one of the skeletons belonged to a man who died in middle age, potentially due to several apparent blade injuries. Radiocarbon dating determined that the man lived sometime between A.D. 680 and 780, a period when the city was still a dangerous Anglo-Saxon frontier settlement in the Kingdom of Mercia, in the Welsh borderlands. To read more about Anglo-Saxon England, go to “The Kings of Kent.”

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Medieval Jewish Cemetery Excavated in Italy

Archaeology News - November 10, 2017

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, more than 400 graves at the site of a medieval Jewish cemetery have been uncovered as part of a construction project near Bologna’s Via Orfeo. In 1569, after Pope Pius V banished Jews from most papal territories, he reportedly turned the cemetery’s land over to the nuns of a nearby cloister and told them to destroy the graves. Archaeologists recovered the remains of adults and children, and artifacts made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and amber. No tombstones were found, and 150 of the graves showed signs of intentional desecration. To read about another recent discovery in Italy, go to “Itinerant Etruscan Beekeepers.

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Teenager’s Bones Recovered from Scottish Cave

Archaeology News - November 10, 2017

EIGG, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that tests have confirmed that some 50 human bones discovered in Frances Cave on the island of Eigg belonged to a single teenager who lived between 1430 and 1620. The cave is also known as Massacre Cave, after a story of clan warfare said to have wiped out as many as 400 members of the Macdonald clan by their Macleod rivals in 1577. The Macdonalds are said to have retreated to the cave when the Macleods arrived on the island seeking revenge after several of their young men were tied up and returned to their boats for reportedly harassing the local girls. The Macleods are accused of setting a turf fire at the entrance to the cave that suffocated the hiding Macdonalds. “When post-excavation analysis has been completed we will discuss what happens next with the community on Eigg,” said archaeologist Kirsty Owen of Historic Environment Scotland. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

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Cuneiform Tablet From Anatolia Records Infertility Plan

Archaeology News - November 10, 2017

KAYSERI PROVINCE, TURKEY—Daily Sabah reports that a 4,000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet found in Anatolia records a marriage agreement that includes a plan for how to proceed in case of infertility. Researchers led by Ahmet Berkiz Turp of Harran University said the agreement provided for a hierodule, or a female slave, who would serve as a surrogate if the couple were not able to produce a child within the first two years of marriage. “The female slave would be freed after giving birth to the first male baby and ensuring that the family is not left without a child,” Turp said. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

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Study Suggests Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers Coexisted

Archaeology News - November 10, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in Seeker, a new genetic study indicates that most of today’s Europeans still carry hunter-gatherer DNA. Mark Lipson and David Reich of Harvard Medical School and their team of international colleagues analyzed samples taken from the remains of 180 people who lived in what are now Hungary, Germany, and Spain between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago. The farmers, who migrated into Europe from the Near East, could be differentiated from the hunter-gatherers based on the different isotope ratios in their bones and teeth, due to the differences in their diets. The researchers then constructed mathematical models to describe how farmer and hunter-gatherer populations might have interacted with each other. The data suggests that after an initial exchange, the two groups continued their contact over a long period of time. And, the farmers moved around a lot, perhaps searching for arable land as their populations grew. “During this period, it seems likely that hunter-gatherers were not migrating such long distances, but our knowledge is not complete,” Lipson said. Overall, the scientists think farmers and hunter-gatherers coexisted for some time before hunter-gatherers were completely integrated into farming populations. To read about evidence of early conflict among hunter-gatherers, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

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Rome’s Lead Pipes May Have Added Antimony to Water Supply

Archaeology News - November 9, 2017

NANTERRE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that an international team of scientists led by Philippe Charlier of Max Fourestier Hospital tested a lead water pipe from a home in Pompeii and found it carried highly toxic levels of antimony. The metal is thought to have been added to lead to strengthen it. To begin the investigation, the researchers dissolved a fragment of the metal pipe in concentrated nitric acid, and then heated it to more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to ionize the elements so that they could be identified within a mass spectrometer. The analysis suggests the possible levels of antimony in city’s water supply could have caused antimony intoxication, diarrhea, and vomiting, leading to severe dehydration and eventually liver and kidney damage. Antimony has also been found in the groundwater close to volcanoes, possibly increasing the exposure of Pompeii’s population to the toxic element. The researchers suggest testing additional pipes throughout the Roman Empire, and looking for traces of antimony in the bones and teeth of ancient Romans, for more information on how antimony poisoning might have affected their health. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

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Glass Fragment from Calligraphy Set Found in Japan

Archaeology News - November 9, 2017

KYOTO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a fragment of a twelfth-century glass vessel was unearthed in an area of nobles’ homes in Heiankyo, Japan’s ancient capital. Researchers from the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property in Nara say the bluish-green fragment may have been part of the spout of a “suiteki” container, which would have been imported from China during the Heian Period, from A.D. 794 to 1185, for dropping water onto ink-grinding stones. The site may have been a base to distribute imported suiteki to aristocrats in Kyoto. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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2,000-Year-Old Sundial Unearthed in Roman Town

Archaeology News - November 9, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 2,000-year-old sundial has been discovered in a roofed theater at the site of the ancient town of Interamna Lirenas, which is located in central Italy. An inscription on the sundial names Marcus Novius Tubula, a plebeian tribune to Rome, and dates the artifact to the first century B.C. Alessandro Launaro of the University of Cambridge said the sundial and its inscription suggest the small town was more aware of and involved in the affairs of the capital than had been previously thought. Additional engravings on the face of the timepiece mark the seasons with respect to the winter solstice, equinox, and summer solstice. Only part of its needle, which cast the shadow necessary to show the time, was preserved. To read about a 3,300-year-old sundial discovered in Egypt, go to “Artifact.”

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Luxurious Bathtubs Unearthed in China

Archaeology News - November 8, 2017

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—China.org reports that three 2,000-year-old baths, complete with bricks, tiles, and sewerage drains, have been uncovered in Liyang, an ancient capital city located in northwest China. “The shape, structure, and size of the baths were very similar to the baths in the imperial palace of Xianyang, capital during the Qin Dynasty,” said researcher Liu Rui. The baths are thought to be some of the oldest in China. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Cut Marks on Fossils May Have Been Made by Crocodiles

Archaeology News - November 8, 2017

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Science Magazine, scrapes and cut marks found on animal fossils may have been made by the teeth of attacking crocodiles, rather than the tools of early human ancestors, as had been previously suggested by a study of 3.4-million-year-old animal remains. In that study, the researchers suggested the marks on the bones had been made by Australopithecus afarensis some 800,000 years before the oldest-known stone tools were used. Yonatan Sahle and Sireen El Zaatari of the University of Tübingen and Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, recently butchered a sheep carcass with stone flakes and compared the marks to those made on sheep bones by captive crocodiles. Even under a microscope, they found the cut marks to be indistinguishable from those made by the reptiles. “The resemblance is so stunning,” Sahle said. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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Section of Roman Road Unearthed in Germany

Archaeology News - November 8, 2017

BERLIN, GERMANY—According to an Associated Press report, a Roman road was discovered in western Germany by construction workers preparing the local Christmas market. Aachen city archaeologist Andreas Schaub said the road measures about 20 feet wide and is thought to date to the second century A.D. The road may have connected Aachen to what is today the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

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Griffin Warrior’s Tomb Yields Finely Carved Seal Stone

Archaeology News - November 7, 2017

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Conservation of an artifact recovered from the grave of the so-called Griffin Warrior at Pylos has revealed an agate finely carved with an image of a battle between a victorious soldier wearing a codpiece and another wearing a kilt, according to a report in The New York Times. A second kilt-clad fighter is shown dead on the ground. The stone was mounted so that it could have been worn on the wrist. Archaeologists Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker of the University of Cincinnati say the seal stone, dubbed the Pylos Combat Agate, is a masterpiece likely to have been imported from Crete, and then buried with the Griffin Warrior, who may have been a local chieftain in southern Greece, around 1450 B.C. Fritz Blakolmer of the University of Vienna suggests the image on the seal stone was a copy of a larger work of art, such as a Minoan wall painting, and may represent an event familiar to both the Minoans and the Greeks of the Peloponnese. The detailed image was probably created with the use of a magnifying glass, he added, but no such tool has been found on Crete to date. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

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Greek-Style Gymnasium Discovered in Egypt’s Faiyum Oasis

Archaeology News - November 7, 2017

MEDINAT WATFA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a center for the education of wealthy, Greek-speaking men has been unearthed at Philoteris, a village founded in the third century B.C. by Ptolemy II. The site, which featured a large meeting hall with statues, a dining hall, and a courtyard in the main building, resembles those found in large cities such as Athens, Pergamon, and Pompeii. The excavation team of German and Egyptian archaeologists also uncovered traces of the gardens that surrounded the school, and a racetrack on the grounds. “Although much smaller, the gymnasium of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside” explained Cornelia Römer of the German Archaeological Institute. To read about other recent discoveries in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

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Possible Evidence of Cave-Dwelling Farmers Found in China

Archaeology News - November 7, 2017

FUZHOU, CHINA—Some 10,000 grains of carbonized rice have been discovered in a cave in southeast China, according to a Xinhua News Agency report. Caves are usually thought to be the homes of hunter-gatherers, but Zhao Zhijun, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the remains of common farmland weeds found among the rice grains suggest they were grown by the Nanshan cave dwellers between 5,300 and 4,300 years ago. And the people suffered from dental cavities and other oral problems common among agrarian societies, added team member Wang Minghui. “The Nanshan finding offers a new perspective for prehistoric study,” Zhao said. “We must consider more possibilities when talking about where our ancestors lived and what they lived on.” For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

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Artifacts Suggest Pre-Inca Society Lacked Hierarchical Structure

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Elizabeth DeMarrais of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues have been investigating the ruins of Borgatta, a city built in the Andes in what is now Argentina in the tenth century A.D. According to a report in the International Business Times, DeMarrais says the society at the site was governed by power sharing and decentralized networks, rather than a system of elite leaders and poorer citizens, which would be reflected in differences in diet and artifacts. But the team did not find any evidence of luxury artifacts. In fact, it appeared that most objects were made at home, in varying styles, with bone and stone tool kits, and not at specialist sites, such as a blacksmith’s shop. The archaeologists also uncovered painted urns in different styles that had been buried under the floors of the houses. These distinctive urns contained the remains of infants, and may have evoked shared emotions among the members of the community and strengthened their ties to each other. To read about another recent discovery in Argentina, go to “Andean Copper Age.”

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Ancient Coins Discovered in English Manor House

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

KENT, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a disintegrating cardboard box containing 186 antique coins has been discovered in the back of a drawer in New Scotney Castle, a Tudor Revival–style house built in the nineteenth century near the original castle, a ruined medieval manor house surrounded by a small lake. Most of the coins are Roman, and are thought to have been collected during the Victorian period by Edward Hussey, who owned the castle at the time, and his son, Edwy. The collection includes a fake coin made in the nineteenth century. Edwy wrote in his diary that he and his father wanted to collect the coins of all of the Roman emperors, and the kings and queens of England. “That collection might still be somewhere in the house too, just waiting for us to find it,” said archaeologist Nathalie Cohen of the National Trust. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

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Byzantine Sarcophagus Cover Unearthed in Turkey

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

GÜMÜŞHANE PROVINCE, TURKEY—The Anadolu Agency reported that a sarcophagus cover dating to A.D. 610 was unearthed by construction workers in northeastern Turkey. Greek characters inscribed on the cover read “Blessed Kandes sleeps here,” according to Gümüşhane museum officials. “The discovery of the full sarcophagus will give us a clue about who it was built for,” said museum director Gamze Demir. Şahin Yildirim of Bartin University added that further excavation could reveal a necropolis and perhaps even a church in the area. To read about another discover in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

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Cosmic Rays Used to Detect Void Inside Great Pyramid

Archaeology News - November 3, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—After a two-year investigation, a team of Japanese and French scientists announced that a giant void has been detected within Egypt’s Great Pyramid, constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu between 2509 and 2483 B.C. BBC News reports that the researchers employed three different muography technologies, which record how cosmic rays from space interact with solid objects. When higher numbers of muons reached detectors placed in the pyramid, it suggested the particles had passed through empty space and had not been absorbed by stone. The proposed void measures about one hundred feet long and rests above the pyramid’s Grand Gallery, one of three known interior chambers. Voids may have been incorporated into the building plan to reduce the weight of the structure and avoid collapse. “What we are doing is trying to understand the internal structure of the pyramids and how this pyramid has been built,” explained Hany Helal of Cairo University. For more on Egypt's pyramids, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

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