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“Spectacular” Rock Art Discovered in Spain

October 15, 2016

LEKEITIO, SPAIN—BBC News reports that some 50 Paleolithic etchings thought to be between 12,000 and 14,500 years old have been found in a difficult-to-access area of Armintxe Cave, located in northern Spain. The images include depictions of bison, goats, and horses, one of which measures nearly five feet long. Researchers also identified two lion images, which have not been seen before in the Basque country, and semi-circles and lines similar to those found in the French Pyrenees. Taken together, the lions, the semi-circles and lines, and the etching technique suggest that these artists in Biscay province might have been linked to those in the French Pyrenees. “It is a wonder, a treasure of humanity,” commented Biscay province official Unai Rementeria. For more on cave art, go to “The First Artists.”

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Badger Unearthed 4,200-Year-Old Bones in Ireland

October 14, 2016

COUNTY CAVAN, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a badger unearthed ancient human remains at a burial site in Cavan Burren Park, known for its prehistoric monuments, megalithic tombs, rock art, and dwelling sites. A group of historians and archaeologists found the small pieces of cremated human bone and charcoal near a collapsed tomb. “Our badger just threw out the bones,” said historian Séamus Ó hUtlacháin. “They were no bigger than my nail, just scraps of bone. It is the oldest discovery in this region, a wonderful discovery.” Part of a femur from the site has been carbon dated by scientists at Queen’s University to between 2438 and 2200 B.C. To read more about animal excavators, go to “Critter Diggers.”

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Ancient Footprints Studied in Tanzania

October 14, 2016

ENGARE SERO, TANZANIA—The Washington Post reports that Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce of Appalachian State University led a team of researchers in the study of some 400 ancient Homo sapiens footprints that were discovered in northern Tanzania, near the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, about 10 years ago. The footprints are thought to have been made by men, women, and children in flood deposits that dried and then were covered with another layer of mud. Minerals in the footprint layers were dated to between 19,000 and 10,000 years ago with the argon-argon dating technique. Once the excavation team exposed the footprints, each one was photographed, 3-D scanned, and mapped. The researchers have found evidence of at least 24 individuals who crossed the mud in two directions. Some of the travelers were walking, and some may have been jogging. A subgroup of the researchers continues to investigate the size and composition of the group that left the footprints. “For people who work in prehistory, it’s incredibly rare to get that kind of snapshot in time,” said paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner of the National Museum of Natural History. For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

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Roman Settlement Uncovered in Rugby, England

October 14, 2016

RUGBY, ENGLAND—The Rugby Observer reports that an archaeological investigation ahead of the construction of a housing development in England’s West Midlands unearthed a 2,000-year-old Roman settlement, a well, and kilns where pottery was produced. They also found a waterlogged pit alignment dating to the late Bronze Age, between 1000 and 500 B.C. Samples from the pit will be tested for information about the local landscape, forest clearance, and agriculture. To read about other discoveries in this area, go to “They're Just Like Us.”

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Australia’s Early Astronomers

October 14, 2016

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—ABC News Australia reports that the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in southeast Australia may have been used to track the movements of the sun some 11,000 years ago by early farmers, who, according to Duane Hamacher of Monash University, had a complex understanding of astronomy and the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars throughout the year. Traces of villages and evidence of farming terraces and eel traps have been found near the stone circle and a water source. “If you’re going to have a stone arrangement where you mark off the seasons throughout the year with the solstices and equinoxes, it kind of makes sense if you’re at least most of the year in one specific location to do that,” said custodian Reg Abrahams. He added that people may have navigated by the stars and traveled at night to avoid the heat of the day. Plans are being made for archaeological investigation and dating of the site. For more on ancient astronomy, go to “An Eye on Venus.”

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Cameras Catch Chimpanzees Teaching Tool Use

October 13, 2016

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Laboratory Equipment reports that anthropologists led by Stephanie Musgrave of Washington University in St. Louis used video cameras equipped with infrared sensors to document wild mother chimpanzees in the Republic of Congo teaching their young to use tools to gather food. The cameras allowed the researchers to observe the wild chimpanzees without disrupting them or exposing them to disease. The extensive footage revealed that the mothers chose specific branches to make brush-tipped probes to poke holes in termite mounds and collect the insects, then gave the tools to their offspring when asked. “By sharing tools, mothers may teach their offspring the appropriate material and form for manufacturing fishing probes,” said Musgrave. The scientists note that just as different groups of chimpanzees use different tools, their teaching and learning styles may also be customized. Musgrave also explained that such studies could help us to understand the origins of human culture and technology and how early humans transferred knowledge to the next generation. For more, go to Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use.

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Live Civil War Ordnance Uncovered by Hurricane Matthew

October 13, 2016

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that a pile of 16 Civil War–era cannonballs was discovered on Folly Island by a beach walker the day after the winds and waves of Hurricane Matthew attacked the shoreline. Although the cannonballs were heavily corroded, a cylindrical notch where a timed fuse would have been placed was still visible on one of them. “Initially, the city wished to display them,” said Andrew Gilreath, Folly Beach's director of public safety. “However, they were inspected and a large number of them were [found to be] explosive cannonballs, and thus contained old and very unstable gunpowder.” Local officials and the U.S. Air Force Explosive Team destroyed most of the cannonballs. The remaining examples were taken to the nearby Navy base. For more, go to “A Civil War POW Camp in Watercolor.”

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New Thoughts on the Tomb of China’s First Emperor

October 13, 2016

XIAN, CHINA—According to a report in BBC News, archaeologists at the Emperor Qin Shihuang Mausoleum Site Museum in central China speculate that the 8,000 life-sized sculptures known as the Terracotta Warriors were inspired by the work of artisans from the West. Senior archaeologist Li Xiuzhen explained that before the tomb of China’s first emperor was built in the third century B.C., Chinese sculptures measured only about eight inches tall. Xiuzhen suggests the enormous change in the style of the tomb’s sculptures was due to an outside influence. “We now think that Terracotta Army, the Acrobats, and the bronze sculptures found on site have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art,” she said. Another study establishes that mitochondrial DNA attributed to Europeans has been discovered at archaeological sites in northwest China. “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals,” said Lukas Nickel of the University of Vienna. For more, go to “An Opportunity for Early Humans in China.”

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Mud-Brick Study Illuminates Fire at Tel Megiddo

October 12, 2016

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, Ruth Shahack-Gross and Mathilde Forget suggest that it may have only taken two to three hours for fire to have destroyed the entire city of Tel Megiddo some 3,000 years ago. A previous study found that mud bricks at the site had reached 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. While working at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Shahack-Gross and Forget made new mud bricks, and then tried to determine how quickly the bricks would catch on fire by placing them in a hot oven and timing how long it took the bricks’ cores to reach 1,112 degrees. The scientists found that the larger bricks took longer to heat than smaller bricks, and that wood beams, furniture, mats, stored food and oil, and bedding probably helped the fire at Tel Megiddo to spread. Critics point out that in an actual fire, a home’s bricks would probably have been heated only on one side. “We are totally aware of the fact that the experiment, [which was done] in controlled conditions in the lab, does not mimic what happened in the past,” responded Shahack-Gross. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

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Vindolanda Roman Fort Yields Hundreds of Shoes

October 12, 2016

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Chronicle Live reports that more than 400 shoes sized for men, women, and children, were recovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda over the summer, bringing the total of shoes from the site to more than 7,000. The 1,800-year-old shoes included ones made solely for indoor wear, boots, sandals, and bath clogs. The footwear was found in a defensive ditch, along with pottery and the remains of cats and dogs. Andrew Birley, director of Vindolanda’s excavations, thinks the contents of the ditches may have been discarded when the garrison withdrew from the fort in A.D. 212, when the war between northern British tribes and Roman forces ended. “They may have had to walk hundreds of miles and perhaps longer and had to leave anything they couldn’t carry,” he said. All of the shoes will be conserved. “The volume of footwear has presented some challenges for our lab but with the help of dedicated volunteers we have created a specific space for the shoe conservation and the process is now well underway,” explained trust curator Barbara Birley. To read about a writing tablet found at Vindolanda, go to “Artifact.”

Categories: Blog

Word Puzzle Found on Agora Walls in Smyrna

October 12, 2016

IZMIR, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that excavators led by Akin Ersoy of Dokuz Eylül University found Greek words and names carved in a wall of the basilica in the marketplace of ancient Smyrna. The positions of the words and names resemble a modern acrostic. “The same words are written both from top to bottom and left to right in five columns,” he said. “The word ‘logos,’ which is located in the center, is on the third column.” Some scholars have suggested that early Christians communicated in such puzzles, but Ersoy says that this one was carved in an area where there were market stalls and is unlikely to have conveyed a secret message. He thinks it is more likely that the salespeople working in the agora’s booths carved the words to entertain themselves during slow periods. Ersoy added that love poems have also been found written on the walls of the agora. To read about a massive inscription discovered in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Categories: Blog

Mass Graves Exhumed in Central Spain

October 12, 2016

VALLADOLID, SPAIN—Reuters reports that Valladolid’s city council has authorized the exhumation of mass graves that could hold the remains of more than 1,000 people killed between 1936 and 1939, during the country’s civil war, and during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco that followed. So far, three graves have been excavated, and the bones of 185 individuals have been sent to a forensic archaeologist for analysis. “This is a question of national dignity and human rights rather than opening the wounds of the past,” said Oscar Puente, the mayor of Valladolid. There may be as many as ten mass graves in the cemetery. For more on archaeology in Spain, go to “The Red Lady of El Mirón.”

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Did Human Ancestors Possess Theory of Mind?

October 8, 2016

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Science reports that a study conducted by Christopher Krupenye of Duke University and Fumihiro Kano of Kyoto University suggests that chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans know when someone else holds a false belief—a trait thought to be limited to modern humans. The researchers created video dramas featuring two modern humans, one of whom was wearing a “generic apelike” suit. In one of the dramas, the apelike figure steals a rock from the man, places it in one of two boxes, scares the man away, and then moves the rock to another location. The man then returns to retrieve the rock. Would the apes expect him to look for it in the first box? The scientists used infrared eye-tracking technology to record what the chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans watched during the film when the man returned to the scene, and found that 22 of the 30 individuals looked at the boxes, while 17 watched the first box. “It suggests that the capacity to track others’ perspectives and beliefs is not unique to humans,” commented developmental psychologist Victoria Southgate of the University of London. It also suggests that the last common ancestor of great apes and humans may have possessed theory of mind. For more, go to “Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?

Categories: Blog

Backyard Birdbath Identified as Roman Pottery

October 8, 2016

REDDITCH, ENGLAND—The Redditch Standard reports that a Roman mortarium has been identified in Alcester, a town that grew from a Roman military camp in the first century A.D. The pottery bowl dates to the second or third century and would have been used to grind herbs, spices, and other ingredients for sauces. An Alcester resident discovered the bowl in his yard, and used it as a bird bath until his daughter realized it resembled pottery she’d seen on display during the town’s Roman Festival. The family donated the bowl, thought to have been made at a mortaria production site about 40 miles away, to the Warwickshire Museum. For more on Roman artifacts found in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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Blick Mead Yields 7,000-Year-Old Dog’s Tooth

October 7, 2016

BUCKINGHAM, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a large domesticated dog’s tooth has been found at the oldest-known settlement in the area surrounding Stonehenge. Called Blick Mead, the site is known for its warm spring, good hunting, and rare stones. Previous excavations at Blick Mead have turned up stone tools from Wales, the Midlands, and the West of England, but archaeologist David Jacques of the University of Buckingham explained that isotope analysis of the 7,000-year-old tooth indicates that the dog came from the Vale of York, and so may have traveled with a Mesolithic hunter some 250 miles to arrive at the site. Information from the tooth also suggests the dog would have been roughly the size, shape, and possible color of an Alsatian. Jacques thinks Mesolithic hunter-gatherers traveled such long distances to feast and exchange ideas, technologies, and even genes at this special location some 2,000 years before Stonehenge was built. “It is very hazy and this evidence just makes the glass slightly less dark, it is a significant movement forwards,” he said. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Categories: Blog

An Update From Earthquake-Stricken Bagan

October 7, 2016

YANGON, MYANMAR—According to a report in The Irrawaddy, experts from UNESCO and Myanmar’s National Museum and Library are conducting detailed assessments of the 449 out of more than 3,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan that were damaged by a powerful earthquake in August. The temples in the ancient capital were built between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Among the damaged structures are the well-known Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda, and Dhamma Yazaka, as well as the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung. “Detailed assessment takes time,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of Bagan’s Archaeological Department. “It will assist technical experts in planning restoration works for individual damaged temples more effectively.” So far, the team has evaluated about 30 temples. UNESCO has pledged to support the restoration of the damaged temples. For more, go to “The World's First Temple.”

Categories: Blog

Police Break Up Alleged Antiquities Smuggling Ring in Greece

October 7, 2016

PATRAS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that police in western Greece broke up an alleged antiquities smuggling ring after a 14-month investigation, arresting 26 people and recovering more than 2,000 artifacts and fake provenance documents. Most of the artifacts were ancient coins, but gold jewelry, bronze figurines, glassware, and stone and marble statues were also recovered. The oldest of the objects date to the sixth century B.C. The police department says that the artifacts were looted from archaeological sites across Greece and sold to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The investigators also found metal detectors, guns, counterfeit license plates, and currency such as euros, U.S. dollars, and Kuwaiti dinars. The suspects reportedly kept extensive records that will help authorities track down artifacts that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” said police spokesperson Haralambos Sfetsos. To read more about Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Categories: Blog

Viking Rune Stone Unearthed in Sweden

October 6, 2016

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—The Local, Sweden, reports that a Viking-era rune stone has been found near the site of Hagby Church, where it had been part of a threshold leading to the church’s porch in the medieval period. The stone, which measures about six feet by four feet, was thought to have been lost when the church was torn down in the 1830s. One piece is missing from the otherwise well-preserved stone. Archaeologist Emelie Sunding of the Uppland Museum said the runestone resembles other signed stones carved by a runemaster named Fot in the mid-eleventh century. “This one isn’t signed, but we can tell from the style and the ornaments that this is Fot,” Sunding said. To read more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

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1,600-Year-Old Roasting Pit Removed from Buffalo Jump Site

October 6, 2016

EDMONTON, CANADA—The Pincher Creek Echo reports that after a month of work, an intact roasting pit was removed from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Archaeologist Bob Dawe of the Royal Alberta Museum found the pit in 1990. “For some reason the people never came back to open this object,” he said. “They prepared this delicious meal, but they never came back and ate it.” The roasting pit was first blessed, and then encased in layers of plaster, burlap, and foil to prepare it for removal with a crane. The kitchen-table sized artifact will be carefully opened and excavated “with toothpicks and a small vacuum cleaner” in a laboratory at the Royal Alberta Museum, where it will eventually be displayed. To read in-depth about buffalo jumps, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

Categories: Blog

English 19th-Century Utopia Under Excavation

October 6, 2016

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that a team led by Marcus Brittain of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is excavating Manea Fen, the site of a nineteenth-century utopian experiment. The community, established in 1838 by businessman William Hodson, was built around a central square, had terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, a communal kitchen, a school, and a grand tower. The utopia project lasted three and one-half years, and was home to 150 people at its height. So far, the research team has uncovered garbage pits and wood and brick foundations of some of the buildings. “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design,” Brittain said. To read about a cross-shaped pectoral discovered in the same area, go to “Artifact.”

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