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4,000-Year-Old Urn Discovered in England

April 18, 2018

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an intact collared urn, flint tools, and additional pieces of pottery were found under just ten inches of dirt in a Bronze Age burial mound overlooking the English Channel in southwestern England. The urn stands about 12 inches tall, and may contain cremains. “It’s almost a miracle that a plow has never hit it,” said archaeologist Catherine Frieman of Australian National University. Frieman’s team discovered the burial mound during a geophysical survey of farmland in the coastal area, which she suggests was important for the trade of metals such as Cornish tin during the Bronze Age. The surface of the mound is dotted with several features that look like pits, and is surrounded by a circular ditch with a single entrance. It had been previously thought that barrows in Cornwall had been constructed without ditches. To read more about this period in the British Isles, go to "Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold." 

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Coin Hoard Discovered in Germany

April 18, 2018

BERLIN, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that metal detectorists investigating Germany’s Rügen Island helped archaeologists to discover a trove of silver artifacts that may be linked to Harald Bluetooth, who ruled Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden, and parts of Norway from about A.D. 958 to 986. The pair found a piece of silver and alerted the regional archaeology service, who investigated an area covering 4,300 square feet, and recovered braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings, and as many as 600 coins. More than 100 of the coins date to the reign of Harald Bluetooth, while the oldest in the cache dates to A.D. 714. “This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” said archaeologist Michael Schirren. The treasure is thought to have been buried in the late 980s, when Bluetooth fled to Pomerania in the wake of a rebellion led by his son. To read in-depth about Viking coin hoards on another island in the Baltic Sea, go to "Hoards of the Vikings."

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Medieval Egyptian Pottery Found in Bulgaria

April 17, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The site of an opulent medieval building in southern Bulgaria has yielded a lusterware plate made in Egypt, fragments of colorful murals, and ancient roadways, according to a report in Archaeology in Bulgaria. The pottery, decorated with a human form and a metallic glaze, has been dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century A.D. The cellar in which the plate was recovered had been decorated with murals painted in red, green, and blue. “Pieces which haven’t been pieced together yet show floral motifs as well as scenes,” said archaeologist Kamen Stanev. “We hope to find more pieces from the murals, which were laid on wooden planks.” Coins, belt appliques, weights, and fragments of glass bracelets have also been recovered during the rescue excavation. The building was found near six layers of a roadway that had been reused over the centuries. Stanev explained that in antiquity, the road had been paved with large stone slabs, but during later periods, it was covered with fragments of ceramics, small stones, and bits of mortar from ancient buildings. During the city’s poorer periods, its roads were just “a river of mud,” she added.

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Skeletal Study of Custer’s Men Questions Suicide Claims

April 17, 2018

MISSOULA, MONTANA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Genevieve Mielke of the University of Montana reviewed accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn made by Native Americans and soldiers of General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry, and data on soldiers whose remains were unearthed at the battlefield in the 1980s and 1990s. Fourteen of the 30 accounts claimed that Custer’s men killed themselves with their revolvers in order to avoid death at the hand of the Native American warriors who had defeated them on June 26, 1876. But the data on 31 soldiers’ skeletal injuries suggests that only three of them committed suicide by shooting themselves in the head. Twenty-two of the men had skeletal damage consistent with dismemberment, scalping, or other wounds. “No doubt suicides happened among Custer’s men, but perhaps not on the grand scale previously suggested,” Mielke said. A larger study of the remains of the 268 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who died during the battle would be required to get an estimate of how many of them actually committed suicide, she explained. To read in-depth about the historical archaeology of Plains Indians, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire." 

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Stone Foundation May Mark Copenhagen’s Oldest Church

April 17, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a report in the Copenhagen Post, the foundations of a building or a dyke have been found in Copenhagen’s City Hall Square, near the remains of 20 people thought to have lived some 1,000 years ago. The foundations may have supported the city’s first Christian church. It had been thought that Copenhagen had been a fishing village at the time. “If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” said archaeologist Lars Ewald Jensen of the Museum of Copenhagen. The museum will continue to study the skeletons. To read about a discovery from a later period of the city's history, go to "Kidnapped in Copenhangen." 

Categories: Blog

Asian Ancestors Detected in DNA Study in Mexico

April 14, 2018

IRAPUATO, MEXICO—According to a report in Science Magazine, population geneticist Juan Esteban Rodríguez and his advisor, Andrés Moreno-Estrada, of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, used data collected from the genomes of 500 living Mexicans to look for traces of Asian immigrants to Mexico. The scientists expected to find traces of nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants who lived in northern Mexico, and so were surprised to find that about one-third of the people in the sample who live in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero also had significant Asian ancestry. Their DNA resembled that of present-day populations from the Philippines and Indonesia. Historic records suggest their ancestors may have been enslaved and carried from Asia to Mexico in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on Spanish galleons. “We’re uncovering these hidden stories of slavery and people who lost their identities when they disembarked in a whole new country,” Moreno-Estrada said. For more on the colonial history of Mexico, go to “Conquistador Contagion.”

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Medieval Skeleton Found With Possible Arm Prosthesis

April 14, 2018

ROME, ITALY—Science Alert reports that the remains of a man whose partially amputated right arm appears to have been replaced with a knife has been found in a Lombard necropolis in northern Italy. Archaeologist Ileana Micarelli of Sapienza University said the man died between the ages of 40 and 50 sometime during the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. He had been placed in the grave with his right arm bent at the elbow and laid across his torso. A knife blade, a D-shaped buckle, and decomposed organic material—probably leather—were found aligned with the arm. Micarelli said the man’s hand may have been amputated after an injury from a fall or combat. He survived, and the ends of the arm bones had formed a callus and a bone spur on the ulna, perhaps from wearing a prosthesis. Micarelli also noted that the teeth on the man’s right side were very worn, possibly from using them to tighten straps that held a prosthesis in place. A ridge of bone on his shoulder may have also been caused by frequent tightening movements. For more on archaeology in Italy, go to “Rome’s Oldest Aqueduct.”

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Remains Rediscovered

April 14, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, the lead coffins of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family have been found in the cellar of St. Michael’s Church, which was built in 1831 on London’s Highgate Hill. When Coleridge died in 1834, he was buried in the chapel at the nearby Highgate School. But in 1961, the coffins were moved from the chapel’s crumbling vault to St. Michael's. There, they were stored in an area that had been the wine cellar of a mansion that previously stood on the site. The door to the cellar was bricked up. Since then, the exact location of the coffins had been forgotten and they languished amid the rubble from the demolished mansion that still litters the cellar. A recent investigation of the cellar, however, found the entrance to the wine vault, and the coffins were spotted through a ventilation gap in the bricks. It turned out the coffins were situated just under an inscription on a memorial slab in the nave of the church reading, “Beneath this stone lies the body of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.” “So that was a bit of a clue really,” said Drew Clode, a member of the parish. To read about another discovery in London, go to “A Cornucopia of Condiments.”

Categories: Blog

Nineteenth-Century Graves Exhumed in New Zealand

April 13, 2018

LAWRENCE, NEW ZEALAND—Radio New Zealand reports that eight sets of skeletal remains have been exhumed from a nineteenth-century cemetery in Otago, located on the South Island of New Zealand. Three other possible graves at the site are being investigated. The cemetery was believed to have been cleared of human remains before it was closed in 1997. As part of the Otago Historic Cemeteries Bioarchaeology Project, the team is also excavating a second cemetery in Lawrence where Chinese immigrants and other marginalized people are thought to have been buried. “We want to create a detailed picture of what life was like at the time of the gold rush in the early 1860s,” said Hallie Buckley of the University of Otago. Isotopic and DNA analyses of the bones will be conducted. The remains will eventually be reinterred. For more, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Categories: Blog

Indonesian Rock Shelter Possibly Occupied During the Ice Age

April 13, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Xinhua reports that hominins appear to have reached the Indonesian island of Sulawesi at least 50,000 years ago, or at least 15,000 years earlier than previously thought. Adam Brumm of Griffith University led a team of archaeologists who conducted new excavations at the Leang Burung 2 rock shelter, and dug about ten feet deeper than previous excavations. In the deepest part of the site, the researchers found stone tools, which were dated to the time of the Ice Age through uranium series analysis, and bones of animals probably killed by the hunter-gatherers. But the lack of hominin remains means the hunter-gatherers may have been Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, or early modern humans. The excavators note that they have not yet reached the bottom of the rock shelter’s deposit. To read about earlier discoveries on Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

Categories: Blog

Unusual Die Unearthed in Norway

April 13, 2018

BERGEN, NORWAY—Live Science reports that a 600-year-old die found along a wooden street lined with inns and pubs in southwestern Norway may have been designed for cheating during gambling. Archaeologists led by Ingrid Rekkavik of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research said this die is different from other medieval dice recovered in Bergen, which usually have the numbers one through six represented on their six sides. This particular die has two fives and two fours—the extra five and four replace numbers one and two on two sides. It is possible the die was used to play a special game, but the researchers speculate the die was tossed into the street by a cheater trying to avoid getting caught, or by an angry opponent. For more on dice in the archaeological record, go to “No Dice Left Unturned.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Offers New Thoughts on Sweet Potatoes

April 13, 2018

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a New York Times report, a new analysis of sweet potato DNA has determined neither where the tuber was first domesticated, nor when it arrived in the Pacific, but it does suggests that humans had nothing to do with its spread around the world. Botanist Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez of the University of Oxford and his colleagues collected samples of Ipomoea batatas and its wild relatives from around the world. They then sequenced the DNA of the samples using powerful tools. The study suggests the modern sweet potato has one wild ancestor, which most closely resembled today’s wild Ipomoea trifida, a plant with an inedible, pencil-thick root found in the Caribbean. The researchers said the ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida some 800,000 years ago. The team members also studied eighteenth-century samples of sweet potato leaves collected in Polynesia by Captain Cook’s crew and stored in London’s Natural History Museum. Muñoz-Rodríguez said those tubers were different from the other samples, and had split from other sweet potatoes some 111,000 years ago. People are thought to have only reached the remote Pacific islands in the last few thousand years, so the tubers may have gotten to them by floating on the ocean’s waters, or by being carried in small quantities by birds. For more on Polynesia, go to “Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past.”

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Cache of Meroitic Texts Recovered in Sudan

April 12, 2018

KHARTOUM, SUDAN—Live Science reports that a cache of Meroitic funerary texts has been found at the Sedeinga necropolis in Sudan. Meroitic is the oldest known written language from south of the Sahara. It borrows characters from the ancient Egyptian language, but is not fully understood. Archaeologist Vincent Francigny of the French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service explained that although scholars can translate much of the known funerary texts written in Meroitic, there are so few Meroitic texts overall that each one has the potential to yield new information. “Every text tells a story—the name of the deceased and both parents, with their occupations sometime[s]; their career in the administration of the kingdom, including place names; their relation to extended family with prestigious titles,” Francigny said. To read in-depth about excavations at Sedeinga, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

Categories: Blog

1,500-Year-Old Onion Discovered in Sweden

April 11, 2018

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, a burned lump recovered near a fireplace at Sandby Borg on the island of Öland is a 1,500-year-old onion. However, archaeologist Helena Victor explained that onions were not grown in Scandinavia at the time. She thinks the vegetable may have been imported from the Roman Empire as an exotic vegetable. “An onion doesn’t sound very interesting,” Victor said, but she notes that the next-oldest onion to have been found in Scandinavia dated to A.D. 650. The inhabitants of Sandby Borg were killed and the settlement burned by unknown attackers. Victor suggests imported items such as the onion, as well as Roman gold rings and coins found in the ancient ring fort, may have been a motive for the massacre. To read in-depth about the massacre at Sandby Borg, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Categories: Blog

Additional Fragments of Colossus Found in Cairo

April 11, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that an excavation in the ancient city of Heliopolis has uncovered thousands of fragments of a colossal statue of King Psamtek I, who ruled in the seventh century B.C. This discovery adds to the more than 6,000 pieces of the statue, which had been deliberately destroyed, that were recovered last year. “The new fragments confirm that the colossus once depicted King Psamtek I standing, but it also reveals that his left arm was held in front of the body, an unusual feature,” said Ayman Ashmawy of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. “A very carefully carved scene on the back pillar shows the kneeling King Psamtek I in front of the creator-god Atum of Heliopolis.” The quartzite colossus was part of a temple dating back to Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.) that had been remodeled by later pharaohs until it was eventually dismantled in the tenth or eleventh century A.D. Fragments of a frieze of falcons and a colossal red granite sphinx were among the objects recovered from the temple ruins. To read about another recent Egyptological discovery, go to “We Are Family.”

Categories: Blog

Red-Figure Krater Unearthed in Bulgaria

April 11, 2018

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a dwelling dating to the sixth century B.C. has been discovered in the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, located on the Skamni Peninsula of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Among the artifacts in the house, archaeologists found a krater decorated with red figures depicting the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and an askos, or small jug, for pouring small amounts of liquids. The site was situated about six feet underneath the foundations of a home built in the nineteenth century. Layers of soil in between the two homes contained Classical Period artifacts such as pottery, loom weights, spindle parts, coins, seals, and game pieces, and a medieval necropolis in use during the eleventh century and the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. One of the eleventh-century graves yielded a small cross made of bronze and one made of bone. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

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Possible Royal Palace Uncovered in Cambodia

April 10, 2018

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Nation (Thailand), archaeologists led by Jean-Baptiste Chevance have been excavating a site they think may be the ninth-century royal palace of Jayavarman II in Phnom Kulen National Park, located in a mountain range some 20 miles north of Angkor Wat. Jayavarman II was the first ruler of the Angkor Empire. The massive compound was investigated with lidar technology in 2012. “It’s obviously one of the most important buildings because of the quality of the construction,” Chevance said. The square building, made of high-quality brick, was surrounded by a series of concentric walls. Radiocarbon dates obtained from the site suggest the building was abandoned late in the ninth century, which corresponds with inscriptions relating to the reign of Jayavarman II. No inscriptions have been found to date in the well-made building, however. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Why Do Modern Humans Have Expressive Brows?

April 10, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in Vox, evolutionary anthropologist Penny Spikins and anatomist Paul O’Higgins of the University of York and their colleagues think modern humans may have evolved smooth, long foreheads with agile eyebrows as a way to communicate emotions, and thus, enhanced the ability to survive. The researchers created a 3-D computer model of Kabwe I, a Homo heidelbergensis skull, and manipulated it to see whether shaving back its heavy brow ridge affected simulations of chewing meat, or how the brain case and eye sockets fit together. The analysis suggests that reducing the creature’s thick brow ridge would not have caused any functional problems. Spikins and O’Higgins speculate that the brow ridge may have instead served as a social signal of strength and dominance. Larger foreheads and smaller brow bones may have evolved along with more complex muscles for controlling subtle eye and eyebrow movements capable of expressing the modern human state of mind. For more on the evolution of the human face, go to “Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?

Categories: Blog

Historic Slaughterhouse Unearthed in Scotland

April 10, 2018

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC News report, a slaughterhouse dating to the nineteenth century has been uncovered at a construction site in Edinburgh. The site, which is located just outside the historic city walls, is in an area where cattle and horse markets were held as early as the fifteenth century. Traces of a well that may have been used to water the cattle at the slaughterhouse were also found. “Now this gives flesh to the bones of what we already know,” said archaeologist Bruce Glendinning of CFA Archaeology. “It tells us how it looked inside with cobbled floors and the different floors and how the drains worked so they could sluice the blood away.” The features will be filled, capped, and preserved under the new construction. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Categories: Blog

Stone Age Scandinavians May Have Relied on Fish

April 10, 2018

LUND, SWEDEN—Science Nordic reports that scientists from Lund University analyzed the isotope levels in 82 sets of Stone Age skeletal remains found in Sweden and Denmark, and fish and animal bones uncovered at four Stone Age sites in Sweden spanning a period of about 3,000 years. The study suggests that people in the region heavily relied on fish, which made up just over half of their protein intake, and that they ate locally sourced foods. Those who lived by lakes and rivers ate carp, perch, and pike regularly, while those who lived by the sea ate mostly cod, but also herring, pollock, haddock, and dogfish. Adam Boethius of Lund University said the prevalence of fish in the Stone Age diet could indicate that people living in Scandinavia were not as mobile as previously believed. Seal meat made up 10 percent of the diet, and land animals, such as wild boar and red deer made up about 37 percent, while plants, mushrooms, berries, and nuts accounted for only about three percent of the foods eaten by Stone Age Scandinavians at one settlement. The prevalence of fish in the diet may have been underestimated in the past because the delicate bones are difficult to detect at archaeological sites. For more on archaeology in Scandinavia, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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