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New Thoughts on Banquo’s Walk

December 21, 2016

LOCHABER, SCOTLAND—Members of Lochaber Archaeological Society and staff from AOC Archaeology investigated “Banquo’s Walk,” a purported ceremonial route to Tor Castle, a stronghold whose residents claimed Banquo, a character from the Shakespearean play Macbeth, as an ancestor. BBC News reports that in the late nineteenth century, the Ordnance Survey Name Book listed the tree-lined site as part of a road alignment leading to the ruined castle. But the excavation failed to uncover a road surface or ditches. The new study suggests that Banquo’s Walk may have been a clay-mining site. “Looking at the surviving natural layers and after further excavation through the banks,” said Clive Talbot of the Lochaber Archaeological Society, “we realized that the surface of Banquo’s Walk had been lowered by the removal of these natural deposits and the banks had been built with the upcast.” The clay may have been used to line the Caledonian Canal, built in the early nineteenth century. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

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Possible Medical Office Found in Nea Paphos, Cyprus

December 20, 2016

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Archaeologists from Jagiellonian University have excavated a possible medical office in the agora at the site of Nea Paphos, according to a report in The Cyprus Mail. Its rooms are thought to have collapsed during an earthquake in A.D. 126. In the first room, the team uncovered two intact glass vessels in a box that may have had an iron handle. The box also contained two intact oil lamps. Two collections of bronze coins dating to the first half of the second century A.D. were found nearby. The second room contained another intact glass vessel, and seven surgical instruments made of bronze and iron. The tools are thought to have been kept in a bronze box. To read about another find at Nea Paphos, go to “Artifact.”

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Caribou Fence Recorded in Canada’s Northwest Territories

December 20, 2016

YELLOWKNIFE, CANADA—According to a report in CBC News, archaeologist Tom Andrews of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center and his team are using drones to take high-resolution photographs of wooden fences thought to have been built by the Sahtu Dene people an estimated 100 years ago. The hunters would have used the fence to corral caribou. “It’s a real smart hunting strategy that’s probably been used for thousands of years,” Andrews said. After the hunt, the Sahtu Dene may have sold the large quantities of caribou meat to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Andrews said that he wants to record the fence because it is deteriorating, and it could be wiped out at any time by a forest fire. His team will also study the tree rings in the wood from the fence to pinpoint when it was built. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “A Removable Feast.”

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Eastern Han Dynasty Tombs Found Near Beijing

December 20, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—The Associated Press reports that construction work has uncovered ancient, square-shaped city walls and more than 1,000 tombs in Tongzhou, a suburb southeast of Beijing. Most of the tombs date to the eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25–220). Yu Ping, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, said it had been previously thought that the region first developed along a trade route during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (A.D. 581-907). Ceramic and porcelain urns, sculptures of animals, copper tools, and mirrors that may have been imported from the northern kingdom of Yan were also found. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Traces of Cooked Plants Detected on 10,000-Year-Old Pottery

December 20, 2016

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of cooked wild grains from grasses, leafy plants, and aquatic plants have been detected in oily residues on 10,000-year-old pottery fragments. According to scientists from the University of Bristol and Sapienza University of Rome, cooking the plants would have made them tastier, easier to digest, and in some cases, less toxic. The more than 100 pieces of pottery were recovered from two sites in the Libyan Sahara, which was a green savannah at the time. Julie Dunne of the University of Bristol explained that the pottery fragments are the earliest direct evidence researchers have of plant processing by hunter-gatherers. Stones found near the pottery suggest that some of the grains may have been ground into flour. “Or they may have just boiled the grains for prolonged periods and made a kind of porridge,” she said. “Interestingly enough, that is one of the staples in Africa today—it may be that this has a very long history.” For more, go to “Libya's Forgotten History.”

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2,100-Year-Old Wine Press Unearthed in Israel

December 17, 2016

ASHKELON, ISRAEL—A 2,100-year-old wine press and a nearby building were discovered at the site of an elementary school construction project on the Mediterranean coast of southern Israel. The Jewish News Service reports that the press, which was covered with a thick layer of plaster mixed with seashells, is thought to have been part of a larger farm. The square-shaped press had a flat surface where grapes were stomped into juice. The juice would flow into a pit where the skins were filtered out, and then it was piped into a collection vat. The nearby building may have provided a place to store wine vessels and accommodations for the workers. The press will be preserved as part of the new school. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

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Archaeologists Trace Istanbul’s Earthquakes

December 17, 2016

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—According to a report in Hürriyet Daily News, Şerif Barış of Kocaeli University is leading a team of archaeologists and geologists who are examining damage to the roads and structures of the ancient city of Bathonea, located on the European shore of the Sea of Marmara, to try and determine the location and magnitude of earthquakes that occurred before A.D. 1500. For example, in 2012 the team unearthed a church that had been damaged by an earthquake. “The bones of three bodies were found under the structure, as well as coins from the Justinian era,” Barış said. “This showed us that one of the big Istanbul earthquakes, which occurred in 557 A.D., also gave great damage to the Hagia Sophia,” he said. Damage to structures was noted in the sixth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, as well as the early sixteenth century, when there was a large earthquake known as the “small doomsday.” Barış added that information about past earthquakes could help scientists predict future ones. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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Asuka-Period Painting Found on Discarded Wooden Panel

December 17, 2016

TOTTORI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that fragments of an ink painting on wood have been found in an ancient road on the island of Honshu. The panel is thought to have been burned, broken up, and thrown away between the late seventh and early eighth centuries, when the road was built. The artwork is estimated to have measured about 27 inches long by six inches wide, and it had a small hole in the upper part of the panel. The image, revealed using infrared rays, is thought to depict six women, but most of the bodies of the figures are indiscernible. Akio Donohashi, professor emeritus at Kobe University, thinks the panel painting shows a procession related to a funeral ritual. He notes that the image is similar to a wall painting in the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, which is located in Nara Prefecture and dates to about the same period. Similar paintings have also been found in the Kingdom of Goguryeo, which covered an area from northeastern China to the northern Korean Peninsula, and in China’s Tang Dynasty. “Because of that, the value of the panel painting is high when we think about the spread of various cultures,” Donohashi said. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Ancient Pot of Meat Soup Found in China’s Henan Province

December 16, 2016

XINYANG, CHINA—New Kerala reports that a vessel containing traces of meat stew prepared more than 2,000 years ago was found earlier this week in a tomb built during the reign of the ancient state of Chu, between 700 and 200 B.C. The vessel is said to have contained beef bones and other ingredients. The contents of the vessel will be analyzed. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Dental Plaque Dates Raw Food Consumption

December 16, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—The Deccan Herald reports that scientists from the University of York and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona analyzed dental plaque taken from 1.2-million-year-old hominin remains recovered in northern Spain’s Sima del Elefante. Microfossils in the plaque suggest that the hominin ate raw animal tissue, uncooked grasses, pollen from a species of pine, and insects. The researchers also found possible fragments of a toothpick. All of the materials were uncharred, and there was no microcharcoal, or evidence that the individual had inhaled any smoke, in the sample. So far, the earliest known evidence for the use of fire in Europe is 800,000 years old and was found at Cueva Negra, in southeastern Spain. A site of similar age has been found in Israel, and possible sites for very early use of fire have been found in Africa. Taken together, the evidence suggests that human ancestors began using fire and cooking food sometime between 1.2 million and 800,000 years ago. Karen Hardy of the University of York noted that cooked food provides more energy, and may have fueled an evolutionary increase in brain size. The date of the remains coincides with the possible development of salivary amylase, an enzyme necessary to digest cooked starchy foods. To read in-depth about investigation of ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Kitchens Unearthed in Western Turkey

December 16, 2016

BALIKESIR, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that archaeologists are excavating the 2,600-year-old city of Dascylium, located in the ancient kingdom of Lydia. In one area, they found two kitchens that had been preserved one on top of the other. “Below, one was collapsed due to fire, then the second one was built on it, but this one also collapsed due to another fire,” said Kaan İren of Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University. The kitchens have yielded mortars made of basalt, containers, fish bones, and seeds. Iren says this is the first time a complete kitchen from this time period has been found in Anatolia. The investigation also found more than 20 feet of wall that had been built to strengthen a burial mound, in addition to rock-cut tombs. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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Neanderthals Returned to Cave for More Than 100,000 Years

December 15, 2016

SAINT HELIER, JERSEY—UPI reports that archaeologist Andy Shaw of the University of Southampton led a team that reexamined artifacts and mammoth bones unearthed in La Cotte de St Brelade, a cave on the largest of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. The team also investigated the landscape surrounding the cave. The study suggests Neanderthals returned to the high ground for many generations between 180,000 and 40,000 years ago, before Jersey was surrounded by water. But the researchers are not sure why the Neanderthals kept returning to the cave, despite changes in the climate and the landscape. It may have been a highly visible marker with a known shelter, and may be one of the last known places where Neanderthals lived. To read about another cave used by Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Extinct Seal’s Tooth Found at Florida Archaeological Site

December 15, 2016

DAVIE, FLORIDA—The Miami Herald reports that a tooth from a Caribbean monk seal has been found at a prehistoric archaeological site at Lake Worth, in southern Florida. This is the first time evidence of the seal has been found in this area, although seal remains have also been found at a Tequesta site at the mouth of the Miami River, along the Florida coast, and in the Bahamas. DNA testing has revealed that the seal, hunted to extinction by Europeans for its oil, was a member of the newly discovered Neomonachus genus, which also includes the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Christopher Columbus first recorded the Caribbean monk seal in 1494. The last Caribbean monk seal in the United States was killed near Key West in 1922, while the last sighting of the animal was in 1956, between Jamaica and the Yucatán Peninsula. For more on archaeology in Florida, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

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Possible A. afarensis Trackway Found in Tanzania

December 15, 2016

ROME, ITALY—BBC News reports that a new trackway of large footprints has been found at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania, where another set of prints, thought to have been left by Australopithecus afarensis individuals, was discovered about 500 feet away in the 1970s. Giorgio Manzi of Sapienza University, Marco Cherin of the University of Perugia, and their colleagues in Tanzania think the 3.66-million-year-old prints were made by an Australopithecus afarensis male who stood about five feet, five inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds. That’s almost eight inches taller than the height estimate made for the individuals who left the other tracks. Were Australopithecus afarensis males considerably larger than the females? The researchers suggest that taken together, the prints represent a group made up of one male, two or three females, and one or two juveniles. For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

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Shark Teeth May Have Inspired Maya Sea Monster Stories

December 15, 2016

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA—Sarah Newman of James Madison University has studied how the Maya may have combined what they knew about sharks with their understanding of the creation of the world, according to a report in Live Science. The fossilized remains of megalodon sharks, who lived between 23 million and 2.6 million years ago, have been found in offerings at many archaeological sites in Central America. Newman suggests that fossilized shark teeth may have inspired the creation of a sea monster called Sipak by the Maya, and Cipactli by the Aztecs, which is portrayed as having a single giant tooth. “Mayan iconography is notoriously difficult to piece out, but you can see [the monster] is a fairly realistic representation of a shark with a bifurcated tail, and it has jagged jaws—but it does have that one central tooth,” Newman said. The teeth of living species of sharks have also been found in sacred offerings, even in inland cities where the residents may never have seen an entire shark. Newman thinks cultural concepts of sharks may have spread along with the traded shark remains as a way to make sense of the world. For more, go to “Letter from Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

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Forensic Technique Applied to Prehistoric Rock Art

December 14, 2016

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—UPI reports that researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of the Witwatersrand used a forensics technique to study hand stencils found in prehistoric rock art. The scientists think the method, which applies geometric morphometrics to the images, can determine whether a given stencil was created by a man or a woman with 90 percent accuracy. The team members created new hand stencils for the test by blowing, spitting, or stippling pigment over men and women’s hands held against a rock surface. The negative impressions on the rock were then digitized and evaluated. Forensic anthropologist Patrick Randolph-Quinney explained that the shape of the palm, rather than finger size and length, may be the most accurate way to determine the sex of the artist. The team recommends acquiring hand measurements from people around the world to further develop the technique for archaeological use. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Categories: Blog

Roman Villa Complex found in the East of England

December 14, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that a construction project near the town of Bottisham has uncovered a large Roman settlement, including a villa complex that dates between A.D. 200 and 400. One of those buildings is thought to have been a bath house that had an underfloor heating system. Archaeologists have also found a fourth-century coin of the Roman emperor Constantine II, ceramic building tiles, stone work, and a spout from an imported pottery vessel. “Another extremely exciting discovery was the evidence of medieval settlement activity which suggests that the medieval village of Bottisham may have once expanded along Tunbridge Lane,” said Duncan Hawkins of CgMs Consulting. For more, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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Ancient Astronomers’ Records Assist Modern Scientists

December 14, 2016

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The Los Angeles Times reports that ancient records of lunar and solar eclipses have helped scientists to determine that the time it takes for the Earth to spin once around its axis has increased by an average of 1.8 milliseconds per century. Recently retired astronomer Richard Stephenson began the project 40 years ago at the University of Essex, and continued the work at Durham University, where he memorized 1,500 Chinese characters so that he could decipher astronomical records kept between A.D. 434 and 1280. He also analyzed data from Babylonian cuneiform tablets written between 720 and 10 B.C., the work of Arab astronomers working between A.D. 800 and 1000, and medieval European records. “People recording these things never had the slightest notion that what they were doing would lead to people in our generation actually studying changes in the Earth spin,” Stephenson said. “We are very much at the mercy of these ancient chroniclers and astronomers.” Stephenson would like to add the observations of the Maya and the Incas to the data set, and to find additional data dating from A.D. 200 to 600. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

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Neolithic Man’s Face Reconstructed

December 13, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—The face of a man who lived 9,500 years ago in Jericho, near the Jordan River in the West Bank, has been reconstructed based on a scan of his skull, according to a report from Seeker. The “Jericho Skull” is one of seven discovered by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953 and is now housed at the British Museum. It consists of a face modeled in plaster over a man’s skull. “He was certainly a mature individual when he died, but we cannot say exactly why his skull, or for that matter the other skulls that were buried alongside him, were chosen to be plastered,” says Alexandra Fletcher of the British Museum. “It may have been something these individuals achieved in life that led to them being remembered after death.” The 3-D reconstruction of the man’s face was produced using a micro-CT scan of the skull, which detected the structure of his face bones. The scan revealed that the man had broken and decayed teeth and a healed broken nose, and that his head had been bound from a young age to alter the shape of his skull, which suggests that he had elite status. For more, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Greek City Explored

December 13, 2016

 

VLOCHOS, GREECE— Archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg and the University of Bournemouth are exploring the remains of a long-overlooked ancient city in northern Greece. The ruins, which are scattered atop a hill, were known to scholars, but were regarded as belonging to a small settlement. However, after just one season, the team has found extensive walls that enclose some 100 acres. “I think it is incredibly big,” project leader Robin Rönnlund told The Local Sweden. “It's something thought to be a small village that turns out to be a city, with a structured network of streets and a square.” The team has found coins dating back to 500 B.C., as well as other artifacts that indicate the city flourished from the fourth to third centuries B.C., before it was abandoned when Romans conquered the region. To read more about recent archaeology in Greece, go to “Murder on the Mountain?

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