OXFORD, ENGLAND—Researchers are proposing a new approach to dendrochronology, the dating method that utilizes ancient tree rings, according to a report in The Guardian. Japanese scientist Fusya Miyake had previously used ancient tree rings to identify an unusual spike in radiocarbon activity at A.D. 775, which she concluded was caused by a violent solar storm. A subsequent "Miyake event" was also identified at A.D. 994. Now Oxford University scientists Michael Dee and Benjamin Pope hope to search the dendrochronological record for similar spikes. “There must be more of these events and we will try and find where we should look for them," says Dee. Identifying more Miyake events could help archaeologists refine so-called "floating chronologies," or records not tied to calendar years, such as those currently used to date events in Old Kingdom Egypt and the Bronze Age. To read about another novel approach to dating, go to “Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating.”
DEVON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that three shipwrecks in England have been given official government protection based on the advice of maritime archaeology experts. They include a wreck thought to be the remains of the Sally, which ran aground on the north coast of Devon with a shipment of port wine from Portugal in September 1769. Its decaying timbers are visible during the lowest tides of the year on a stretch of beach that has since been renamed “Westward Ho!” to attract fans of a Victorian novel of the same name. “The timbers are exceptionally well preserved, giving the whole outline of the ship,” says Mark Dunkley, a maritime archaeologist with Historic England, “and they match the unusual circumstances of the loss of the Sally, which was driven stern first on to the beach.” One of the other wrecks granted protection, a small eighteenth-century merchant ship, is nearby. Farther away, on the south coast, is the wreck of a boat dating to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. Its well-preserved timbers reveal some of the techniques used to build it, and some contents, including a wooden bowl, have been found intact inside it. To read about a wreck discovered in the Arctic, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”
DATONG, CHINA—LiveScience reports that an excavation in northern China conducted ahead of a construction project revealed the elaborate 1,500-year-old burial of a high-status woman. According to a stone epitaph found at the entrance to the tomb, it held the remains of a woman named Han Farong who was the wife of a magistrate and lived at a time when the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386-534) ruled the area. Farong was buried with a necklace made up of some 5,000 beads, as well as gold earrings inlaid with gemstones that depict dragons and human faces. The style of the earrings is similar to artifacts discovered in Afghanistan in 1978, suggesting some degree of contact between the regions at the time. To read about another dramatic burial discovered in China, go to “Tomb from a Lost Tribe.”
NORFOLK, ENGLAND—An excavation in a field next to a nursery in the town of Aylsham has turned up two pottery kilns, thousands of broken pots, late Roman coins, and pieces of jewelry, according to a report in the Eastern Daily Press. Among the most notable finds is a piece of kiln lining with the finger and thumbprints of its Roman maker clearly visible. Archaeologists believe that the nursery is on the site of a Roman villa that included a bathhouse. John Davies, chief curator and keeper of archaeology with Norfolk Museums Service, notes that the site provides insight into what rural Norfolk was like in Roman times, as contrasted with urban sites such as Caistor and St. Edmund. The presence of the kilns also raises questions. “It’s very interesting—were the kilns a small-scale industry or were they serving the villa?” asks Davies. To read about another Roman site in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”
KANSK, RUSSIA—Siberian archaeologists have completed their study of a skull belonging to a man who died between the ages of 30 and 40 that was discovered last year at a Bronze Age burial ground in the region of Krasnoyarsk. The Siberian Times reports the skull bore obvious traces of trepanation, or brain surgery, which in ancient times was carried out for both medical and ritual reasons. In this case, the researchers suspect the trepanation was likely medical in nature, and that although the patient survived the surgery and lived for a time afterwards, he may have died because of post-operative inflammation. In reconstructing the incisions made in the skull, the researchers suspect the "surgeon" had an assistant helping complete the procedure. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to “Fortress of Solitude.”
PORTLAND, OREGON—Archaeologists have unearthed an unusual collection of obsidian tools after being tipped off by a landowner in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, according to a report from OPB. The landowner, a math and science teacher, came across 14 of the tools while digging out a spring on his property. He contacted state archaeologist John Pouley who identified them as bifaces that could be converted with some work into scrapers, spearpoints, or arrowheads. Pouley estimated that the tools dated back 1,000 to 4,000 years and came from the Santiam Band of the Kalapuya people. In a June excavation, attended by some of the landowner’s students, archaeologists found a fifteenth biface along with other stone tools. The artifacts were determined to have come from a quarry called Obsidian Cliffs 80 miles away in the Cascade Mountains. The bifaces did not have any flakes missing, so it appears that whoever transported them from the quarry was planning to sell them. “It seems likely that this was part of a trade network and these themselves were commodities,” said Pouley. For more on archaeology in Oregon, go to “Site of a Forgotten War.”
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A new method has demonstrated an ability to determine what types of animal were used to make clothing worn by people preserved in bogs for thousands of years, according to a report in ScienceNordic. The method, tested by a team including Luise Brandt of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, involves examining proteins in the garments to determine the species of animal used to make them. Brandt looked at 12 samples from the National Museum of Denmark’s collection of garments discovered in bogs, all of which are around 2,000 years old. She identified two samples as coming from cattle, three from goats, six from sheep, and one from either sheep or goat. The results indicate that Iron Age garments were largely made from domesticated animals, not wild ones as suggested by popular lore. One garment was determined to have been made from calf leather based on the presence of a type of hemoglobin found only in the final months of pregnancy and the first three months after birth. “We can see that they went to great lengths to make the garments and choose the right skin,” says Brandt. To read more about bodies preserved in bogs, go to “Bog Bodies Rediscovered.”
NICOSIA, CYPRUS—Archaeologists have fully unearthed a fourth-century A.D. Roman-era mosaic depicting a chariot race, reports the Cyprus Mail. Discovered outside the modern capital of Nicosia, the mosaic is some 85 feet long and depicts four chariots competing against one another. Each rider and team of horses is accompanied by two inscriptions, which may be the names of the charioteer and one of the horses. The mosaic also depicts a man on horseback and two standing figures, one bearing a whip and the other holding a water vessel. According to Marina Ieronymidou, the director of the country's Department of Antiquities, the mosaic is the only one found in Cyprus depicting a chariot race. Excavations at the site will continue, and a temporary structure will be erected over the mosaic to protect it from the elements. To see more ancient depictions of horses, go to “Sport and Spectacle.”
LUFTON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating a Roman villa in Southwest England have unearthed a semi-circular room that was equipped with a heating system under its floor. According to SomsersetLive, researchers suspect the villa was used as a country retreat by several generations of officials from the nearby Roman town of Ilchester, who would have expected a certain level of comfort. Previous excavations showed the villa had a bath surrounded by elaborate mosaics, and revealed evidence that after the Roman period ended squatters probably lived there. The team currently working at the site, led by University of Newcastle archaeologist James Gerrard, hopes to discover another mosaic soon when they remove the fallen roof now lying atop one of the villa's rooms. To read about another discovery dating to Britain’s Roman era, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”
LIMA, PERU—Skeletal remains bundled up in a funerary blanket and thought to date back more than 6,000 years have been uncovered in the district of Los Olivos in northern Lima, according to a report in Living in Peru. The excavation on a hillside known as Cerro Pacifico, led by archaeologist Luis Angel Flores Blanco, has also revealed evidence of two terraced pyramids, suggesting that it was a center of the ancient Caral civilization. “This discovery is possibly the biggest indication that Los Olivos is a place full of history,” said the district’s mayor, Pedro del Rosario. Samples from the dig have been sent to museums for radiocarbon dating. To read about another recent discovery from ancient Peru, go to “A Life Story.”
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—The tip of a sword manufactured in France has been unearthed at the Alamo, according to a report in the Star-Telegram. Nesta Anderson, lead archaeologist of the excavation at the Alamo, said that the sword, known as a briquette, is of a type that was issued to non-commissioned officers in the Mexican infantry around 1835. “We’re really excited to have evidence of military action here at the south wall,” she said. Anderson also suggested that the sword may have been in use during the fortification of the south wall, or even during the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. For more, go to "Artifact: Viking Sword."
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the excavation of two possible features at Durrington Walls has failed to uncover evidence of a stone “Superhenge.” A survey conducted last year with ground-penetrating radar detected underground anomalies thought to represent more than 100 buried stones lying on their sides. But the excavation team, led by National Trust archaeologist Nicola Snashall, uncovered two pits for wooden posts. “They have got ramps at the sides to lower posts into,” Snashall said. She thinks a timber monument may have been raised at the site, which is located about two miles away from Stonehenge, when the Neolithic settlement there went out of use. The timbers were eventually removed. “The top was then filled in with chalk rubble and then the giant henge bank was raised over the top,” she explained. For more, go to "Quarrying Stonehenge."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Traveling south from Alaska to the region now known as the continental United States via an inland route would have been impossible for the earliest Ice-Age migrants, according to a report by the Associated Press on recent research led by Eske Willerslev of Cambridge University and the University of Copenhagen. Willerslev and his team tested cores taken from nine former lake beds in northeastern British Columbia for the presence of pollen, fossils, and animal DNA. They found that when a passable corridor through Canada’s ice sheets opened up some 13,000 years ago, it would have been unable to support human life. “The land was completely naked and barren,” said Mikkel Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen. The analysis of the core samples also suggests that bison, hare, and sagebrush began to appear in the corridor around 12,600 years ago, when archaeological evidence indicates people were already inhabiting the Americas. The first migrants likely traveled along the Pacific coast, Willerslev explained. To read in-depth about evidence of early settlement of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."
ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA—NBC 29.com reports that the foundation of the North Dwelling, which housed enslaved people in the nineteenth century, has been found in the South Yard at Montpelier, James Madison’s estate. The building was one of six structures in the South Yard that together housed around 100 enslaved African-American workers during Madison’s lifetime. Senior research archaeologist Terry Brock explained that two other dwellings unearthed in the South Yard were “double quarters” that had central chimneys with two rooms on either side. The North Dwelling consisted of a single room with a chimney on the end. “We’re trying to capture the authenticity of Montpelier in terms of what existed here in the nineteenth century,” said Matthew Reeves, director of archaeology. To read more about excavations relating to slavery, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."
ATHENS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that the 3,000-year-old skeleton of a teenager has been discovered at the remote sanctuary of Zeus on the summit of Mount Lykaion. Thousands of animals were sacrificed to Zeus at the site, beginning around the sixteenth century B.C. The human remains were found among the ashes of the animals. The body had been laid between two lines of stones on an east-west axis. Stone slabs covered the pelvis, and the upper part of the skull was missing. Pottery placed with the bones dates them to the eleventh century B.C. “Several ancient literary sources mention rumors that human sacrifice took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” said David Romano of the University of Arizona. Only about seven percent of the altar has been excavated. For more, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.
BRADFORD, ENGLAND—Evidence of starvation could be found through the analysis of the levels of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in teeth, according to a report in The Guardian. The composition of dentine collagen reflects the diet during childhood, at the time the tooth was growing. Julia Beaumont of the University of Bradford and Janet Montgomery of Durham University tested one tooth from each of 20 adults and children whose remains were unearthed from a workhouse cemetery in Kilkenny, Ireland, where almost 1,000 victims of the Great Famine were interred. Some of the adults had lived through earlier periods of food shortages before the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852. The scientists also examined bone collagen from the skeletons’ ribs, which reflects the diet during the few years before death. Because the residents of the workhouse had been given maize, imported from America, to eat, the researchers were able to identify this change in the diet and mark the condition of the teeth just before the change took place, when the people were starving. “We’re seeing evidence here of the body virtually eating itself as starvation gets a grip,” Beaumont said. For more, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."
LEEDS, ENGLAND—Researchers led by Andrew Wilson of Leeds Beckett University analyzed 55 round and almost round stones from the Cave of Hearths, located in South Africa’s Makapan Valley. Known as spheroids, such stones are regularly found at archaeological sites that are between 1.8 million and 70,000 years old. Previous studies have suggested that spheroids may have been used as shaping or grinding tools, but Wilson and scientists from the University of Wyoming, the University of Liverpool, and Indiana University suggest they were instead used for hunting. The Irish Times reports that the team simulated the damage that spheroids could inflict on a medium-sized prey animal, like an impala, if thrown by an expert, and found that about 80 percent of the stones that they tested could have caused damage if thrown from distances measuring up to 80 feet. Wilson explained that distance from the prey helped keep the hunter safe, and that choosing the right stone was important—it had to be heavy enough to inflict damage yet still light enough to be thrown at a high speed. Stone projectiles would also have been useful for driving away other dangerous carnivores. To read about the evolution of humans' throwing ability, go to "No Changeups on the Savannah."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Hundreds of fragments of brightly colored Roman frescoes have been discovered in Zippori National Park by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The site, also known as Sepphoris, was a Jewish urban center in the Galilee during the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Jerusalem Post reports that the images on the fragments include figures of a lion’s head, a horned animal, a bird, and a tiger’s hindquarters, as well as floral patterns and geometric motifs. The paintings are thought to have decorated one or more rooms in a monumental public structure built during the early second century A.D. The center of the building featured a stone-paved courtyard and a side portico. Underground vaults that served as water cisterns were found to the west and north of the courtyard. The building was dismantled in antiquity and a new structure was built on the same location. To read about a famous set of frescoes from Pompeii, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."
PAZARDZHIK, BULGARIA—Archaeologist Yavor Boyadzhiev of the Bulgarian Academy of Science has found a tiny gold bead that he claims could be the world’s oldest gold artifact. Reuters reports that the bead, unearthed in southern Bulgaria, dates to between 4500 and 4600 B.C. “I have no doubt that it is older than the Varna gold,” Boyadzhiev said, referring to jewelry discovered at a Copper Age site near the Black Sea in 1972. He explained that the bead was found in a house at a fortified settlement dating back to 6000 B.C. that he thinks was founded by migrants from Anatolia. More than 150 ceramic bird figurines have also been found at the site, which was destroyed by invaders around 4100 B.C. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
LONDON, ENGLAND—A multidisciplinary team of English researchers has conducted an analysis of the Piltdown specimens, a collection of forged fossils supposedly representing a human ancestor that were first “discovered” in 1912 by amateur scientist Charles Dawson. The fossils were determined to be fakes in 1953, and several people were considered as possible suspects in the hoax, including Dawson himself, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The analysis suggests, however, that the “fossils” were created and planted at the two Piltdown sites by a single person, likely to be Dawson. The same reddish-brown stain had been applied to all of the bones to make them look old, and the bones had all been packed with dentist’s putty and local gravel. The shape of the molars found at both Piltdown I and Piltdown II, and DNA analysis, suggest that the teeth, which had been ground down to make them look more human, all came from a single orangutan. “What we’ve been able to demonstrate is a signature, a fingerprint throughout all of these specimens, even including the second molar from the second Piltdown site,” Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University told BBC News. For more, go to "Bogus! An Introduction to Dubious Discoveries."