Colonial-Era Artifacts Found at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

Archaeology News - March 14, 2017

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Malaysian Digest reports that a team led by archaeologist Goh Hsiao Mei of the University Sains Malaysia has found coins, porcelain, ceramics, and glass dating to the colonial era in the moat at Fort Cornwallis, a star-shaped structure built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century. The fort was first built of wood, and then strengthened with bricks. The moat was added in 1804 and was lined with charcoal and bitumen. The fort was never attacked, however. An outbreak of malaria in the 1920s prompted the municipal council to fill in the water feature. For more on Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”

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Aberdeen Archaeologists Plan Search for 16th-Century School

Archaeology News - March 14, 2017

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen will look for traces of a sixteenth-century grammar school that was situated in front of King’s College, a site now occupied by King’s College Chapel, according to The Scotsman. “It acted as a preparatory school for pupils who wished to study at the university and pupils underwent a grueling timetable, with prayers, classes on the Latin authors, and language lessons,” said project leader Gordon Noble. The team members hope to find evidence of the building’s ground plan, artifacts from the school, and develop a better understanding of educational practices in the years before the Protestant Reformation, which is thought to have brought about a more egalitarian educational system. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”

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Murals Depict Wardrobe Choices During China's Liao Dynasty

Archaeology News - March 14, 2017

DATONG CITY, CHINA—Live Science reports that a second circular tomb decorated with vivid murals has been excavated by a team from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology. The entrance to the tomb, which is believed to date to the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 907–1125) and was discovered in 2007, had been sealed with bricks, but the archaeologists were able to enter it through a hole in the arch-shaped roof. Once inside, they found ceramics and an urn containing cremated human remains thought to belong to a husband and wife. The walls of the tomb had been decorated with murals depicting servants, cranes, and clothing hanging on stands. The clothing had been painted in shades of blue, beige, yellow, and pink. One of the garments features a diamond-grid pattern outlined in green and yellow with a small red flower in each diamond. Plates holding accessories such as a headdress, bracelets, hairpins, and combs were shown on a rectangular table in front of the clothing rack. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Zinc Zone.”

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Large Structure Discovered in Japan's Ancient Capital

Archaeology News - March 14, 2017

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that holes for nine pillars of a large structure dating to the late-seventh century have been unearthed at the “square of zelkova trees,” in the ancient capital of Asuka. The imperial palace stood to the south of square, which was known as the place where the Empress Saimei entertained guests from remote provinces, and her son, Emperor Tenji, cemented his reign by removing the competing Soga clan from power. The holes for the newly discovered building measure nearly three feet deep and four feet in diameter, and suggest that the building measured 36 feet long by 20 feet wide. “The square was almost certainly a multipurpose space,” explained Kanekatsu Inokuma of Kyoto Tachibana University. “The building may have been the venue of the banquets or some sort of lodging.” Masashi Kinoshita of Tokyo Gakugei University thinks the building may have served as a warehouse for the palace. To read more about Japan, go to “Dogu Figurine.”

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Woman Buried in Viking Grave in Demark Was Born in Norway

Archaeology News - March 13, 2017

RANDERS, DENMARK—According to a report in The Copenhagen Post, archaeologist Ernst Stidsing of East Jutland Museum says that a woman buried in a Viking grave in Randers, Denmark, was born in southern Norway. He arrived at this conclusion based on the style of her bronze and silver jewelry, and the results of strontium isotope analysis of her teeth. He added that the high-status woman may have traveled to Denmark to marry. To read about a young woman who traveled to Denmark more than 3,000 years ago, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

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Algiers Metro Station Dig Yields Trove of Artifacts

Archaeology News - March 13, 2017

ALGIERS, ALGERIA—The AFP reports that excavation for a metro station in the Algerian capital has uncovered artifacts spanning a period of 2,000 years, including coins, weapons, a fifth-century public building from the ancient Roman port town of Icosium paved with mosaics, and a seventh-century Byzantine necropolis. The excavation, begun in 2009, has also revealed the remains of the Ottoman-era Es Sayida mosque, which was demolished in 1831 by the French colonial government. Revisions to the plans for the Martyrs Square metro station, set to open later this year, will incorporate an archaeological museum. To read about discoveries made during construction of a subway in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”

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Ancient Roman Sarcophagus Identified at English Estate

Archaeology News - March 11, 2017

OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—The New York Times reports that a large fragment of a 1,700-year-old Roman sarcophagus was discovered by a visitor to the gardens at Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage site dating to the eighteenth century. There are no records of how the sarcophagus, which is carved with images of Dionysus and wine flowing from crushed grapes, arrived on the estate. But it is known that it was used to collect water from a natural spring in the nineteenth century, and then in the early twentieth century, it was incorporated into a rock garden. A conservation team led by Nicholas Barnfield of Cliveden Conservation cut the bolts that held the marble fragment to a lead cistern and took it to their workshop, where they carefully cleaned the surface with water and wooden picks over a six-month period. “There are no inscriptions to indicate who it was for, but it was obviously someone of very high status,” Barnfield said. The sarcophagus is now on display inside Blenheim Palace. To read about another discovery in the area, go to “Alfred the Great’s Forgotten Ally.”

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Archaeologists Race to Exhume Historic Remains in Philadelphia

Archaeology News - March 11, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that archaeologists and anthropologists have come from all over the East Coast to volunteer their time and skills to exhume as many as 300 burials discovered on a residential construction site within Philadelphia’s Old City. The graves had been part of the First Baptist Church burial ground, which was founded in 1707. When the cemetery closed in 1859, the graves were supposed to have been moved. The Philadelphia Historical Commission and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission say they do not have the jurisdiction to intervene in the project, but the developer has given the archaeologists time to salvage the burials. “These are our ancestors,” said Anna Dhody, head of the city’s Mütter Institute and a leader of the excavation. “This is our history. We can learn so much from these bones—about the yellow fever epidemic in 1793, the cholera epidemic of 1849.” The developer has also agreed to pay to have the remains reinterred at Mount Moriah cemetery, where they were supposed to have been transferred in the mid-nineteenth century. For more, go to “Letter from Philadelphia: Empire of Glass.”

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10th-Century Tree-Lined Street Discovered in Japan

Archaeology News - March 11, 2017

TOTTORI, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, the roots of 18 willow trees were unearthed along a 200-foot-long stretch of ancient road at the Aoyayokogi ruins, located on the island of Honshu. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the trees lived in the late tenth century, which corresponds with a wood strip marked “Tengyo junen,” or the tenth year of Tengyo (A.D. 947), that was also recovered. The trees may have been supported by 40 wooden stakes found at the site. “Boulevard willow trees are believed to have been planted in [the] ‘miyako’ (ancient capital),” said Toshihide Omi of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “What a surprise to find them even in rural areas as well.” For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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New Kingdom Statues Unearthed in Cairo

Archaeology News - March 10, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two statues were discovered by an Egyptian-German excavation team at the site of the Ramses II temple in the Al-Matariya area of Cairo. Mahmoud Afifi, of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities, said the first statue is a limestone bust of King Seti II that measures about two and one-half feet tall. The second statue, which was found in pieces, was carved from quartzite and may have stood more than 25 feet tall. “Although there are no engravings that could identify such a statue, its existence at the entrance of King Ramses II’s temple suggests that it could belong to him,” Afifi said. Most of the temple’s colossal statues and obelisks are thought to have been taken to Alexandria and Europe in antiquity, while the blocks from the temple’s walls were reused during the Islamic period to construct buildings of Historic Cairo. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

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Genetic Study Links Aboriginal People to Regions of Australia

Archaeology News - March 10, 2017

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a BBC News report, the first phase of the Aboriginal Heritage Project is a genetic study conducted by a team led by Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide. The study analyzed mitochondrial DNA obtained from 111 hair samples collected from Aboriginal people in the early twentieth century by anthropologists Norman Tindale of the University of Adelaide and Joseph Birdsell of Harvard University. Its results suggest that after a founding population from New Guinea arrived some 50,000 years ago, the first Australians traveled east and west around the coast and met in South Australia. “The amazing bit is that they don’t seem to move again once they’ve done that,” Cooper said, explaining that Aboriginal Australians appear to have stayed for a long period in distinct geographical regions, except for small movements into the interior of the desert. Cooper also noted that such an enduring connection to the land is unknown anywhere else in the world. The hair samples, and cultural, linguistic, and genealogical information collected by Tindale and Birdsell are held at the South Australian Museum. For more on archaeology of Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Nomadic Herders May Have Forged Silk Road Routes

Archaeology News - March 10, 2017

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Science News reports that Michael Frachetti of Washington University and his team created a computer model of possible pathways traveled more than 4,000 years ago by nomadic herders between seasonal mountain pastures and lowland camps in Asia. Information for the model was collected using satellite analysis, geography, archaeology, and Geographic Information Systems. Frachetti suggests that some 2,000 years later, these routes had become Silk Road trade corridors through the mountains. Nomads may have shared their knowledge with lowland farmers, and they may have marked paths with standing stones or other landmarks. “Silk Road highland networks were formed by pastoralists interacting with other groups in a lengthy process that was not a construction project and involved no planning,” he explained. After 500 simulations of possible routes to the best areas of pastureland, Frachetti and his team shaped a cumulative route, which came within a mile or so of 192 of the 258 Silk Road archaeological sites discovered at high altitude. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

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DNA From Neanderthal Dental Plaque Analyzed

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Nature reports that scientists from the University of Adelaide and the University of Liverpool analyzed DNA obtained from the dental plaque of five Neanderthals whose remains were recovered in northern Spain’s El Sidrón Cave, and compared the results to a study of the plaque obtained from four Neanderthals buried in Belgium’s Spy Cave. The results suggest that while the Neanderthals from Spy Cave enjoyed rhinoceros and sheep meat, the Neanderthals living in Spain ate a vegetarian diet. One of the individuals, who suffered from a dental abscess, also carried an intestinal parasite. His plaque contained traces of poplar, which contains the active ingredient in aspirin, and a natural antibiotic mold. Neither of these substances were detected in the other plaque samples, which suggests he may have been treated with medicinal plants. The genome sequence of one of the types of ancient mouth bacteria in the samples suggests it was transferred to Neanderthals from modern humans. “If you’re swapping spit between species, there’s kissing going on, or at least food sharing, which would suggest that these interactions were much friendlier and more intimate than anybody ever possibly imagined,” said Laura Weyrich of the University of Adelaide. To read in-depth about the study of ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Decorated Stone Age Clothing Studied

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

PESSAC, FRANCE—The International Business Times reports that Aurélie Zemour of Bordeaux Montaigne University and her colleagues examined traces of the 7,000-year-old clothing of a man whose burial was unearthed in southern France in the 1970s. Both ends of the skeletal remains had been damaged by disturbance in the modern and medieval eras. “But the materials worn by the dead here are obvious and ornaments are visible,” Zemour said. “The burial is exceptional.” The cloth of the man’s jacket or tunic did not survive, but the researchers were able to see that it had been embroidered with 158 Columbella rustica shells. The shells had been arranged in patterns, with the conical shells either pointed all up, pointed all down, or up and down in alternating pairs. Sixteen canine teeth from red deer had also been sewn to the garment at chest level. Chemical analysis of the teeth indicates they may have been painted red. For more, go to “World's Oldest Pants.”

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Search for Maritime Silk Road’s Starting Point Continues

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that archaeologists with the State Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center and Huanghua City Museum will continue to look for evidence that the starting point of the ancient maritime Silk Road was located in what is now northern China’s port city of Huanghua. “The ongoing excavation is to determine the functions of the port ruins’ different zones,” explained Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics. Previous excavations near the ruins of the ancient town of Haifeng have uncovered traces of an ancient port, including a river, a layer of coal ash, roads, and trampled earth. Archaeologists have also recovered large amounts of different styles of porcelain from north and south China, suggesting that Haifeng had been a center for the porcelain trade as early as the Jin Dynasty (A.D. 1115–1234). For more, go to “Letter from China: Tomb Raider Chronicles.”

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Toppled Statues Discovered at Luxor Temple

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a black granite statue of Amenhotep III has been unearthed at the pharaoh's temple, which is located on Luxor’s West Bank. “It is a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian sculpture: extremely well carved and perfectly polished,” said Hourig Sourouzian, director of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project. The statue depicts the king as a young man and is thought to have been commissioned early in his reign. Once it has been conserved, that statue and a similar one discovered in 2009 will be returned to the temple site for display. The excavation team has also recovered 66 parts of statues representing the powerful lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. All of the sculptures, which had been toppled by an earthquake, were uncovered while the researchers were looking for the remains of a wall that separated the temple’s Peristyle Court and Hypostyle Hall. For more on archaeology of Egypt, go to “Royal Gams.”

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Excavation Reveals Fortification Wall in Malta

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

VALLETTA, MALTA—Malta’s Infrastructure Ministry announced that an ancient fortification wall was uncovered at the site of a public bathroom located just outside Valletta’s city gate. According to the Times of Malta, the wall was part of the city’s landward defenses. The country’s Superintendence of National Heritage will investigate the wall. 

Categories: Blog

4,000-Year-Old Pollen Reflects Scotland’s Ancient Landscape

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

CAITHNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that pollen from medicinal and flowering plants has been identified on a decorated beaker placed in a young woman’s grave some 4,100 years ago. Dubbed “Ava,” the woman’s remains were unearthed 30 years ago at Achavanich, a site known for its megalithic horseshoe-shaped structure. “Of the pollen recovered the majority were from trees and shrubs including birch, pine—most likely Scots pine—hazel and alder,” said archaeologist Maya Hoole. Traces of heather, grasses, meadowsweet, and St. John’s wort were also found in the grave. Stable isotope analysis of Ava’s bones indicates that she lived in the area. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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Secondary Roman Road Uncovered in Israel

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a 164-yard section of ancient Roman road during salvage excavations ahead of the installation of a water line about 20 miles west of Jerusalem. The cobbled road is thought to have connected the ancient town of Bethletepha to the highway that stretched from Jerusalem to Eleutheropolis, a city located to the south. Several coins found at the site date to the first century A.D. and suggest that the road could be older than the highway, which is thought to have been built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country around A.D. 130. The road is situated near a cross-country hiking route and will be preserved for visitors. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

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New Technique May Identify Vulnerable Temples at Angkor

Archaeology News - March 7, 2017

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that a new technique could help scientists predict when buildings at Angkor and other UNESCO World Heritage sites are susceptible to collapse and even prevent small shifts in the structures that can cause damage. Fulong Chen of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a team of researchers used InSAR, or synthetic aperture radar interferometry, and high-resolution satellite imagery, to measure millimeter-scale changes to the monuments in an area measuring 14 miles by 11 miles. The scientists did not detect a threat over the two-year span of the study, but they suspect that erosion, temperature variations, and changes in the level of the groundwater, which is now being depleted by the millions of visitors to the ancient city each year, could contribute to the instability of Angkor’s ancient structures over time. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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