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Notorious Coin Discovered in Deadwood

November 1, 2016

DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA—The Rapid City Journal reports that a notorious and rare nineteenth-century U.S. coin known as a “Racketeer Nickel” has been identified in the archaeological collections of the Historic Preservation Committee of Deadwood. In 1883, the U.S. Mint issued a five-cent nickel that bore a design similar to five dollar gold coins then in circulation. Grifters quickly began to gold plate the nickels and passed them off as five dollar coins. The Racketeer Nickel was recently identified by coin experts Kevin and Margie Akins during their analysis of coins discovered in a 2001 excavation of the Deadwood’s Chinatown district. According to Kevin Akins, today fake versions of the nickel abound in online auctions. “It’s pretty easy to plate a nickel,” says Akins. “It makes such a great story, but they’re fakes. None of them has the provenance of this particular coin, the Deadwood Racketeer Nickel.” To read more, go to “America’s Chinatowns.”  

 

 

Categories: Blog

Researchers Return to a Phoenician Shipwreck

October 31, 2016

ISLAND OF GOZO, MALTA—An international team of underwater archaeologists returned this year to the site of a Phoenician shipwreck off the coast of the Maltese island of Gozo. The Times of Malta reports the researchers discovered a unique jug at the site that was made locally, demonstrating that the ship had docked somewhere on the Maltese archipelago. “We now have a ship that was actually leaving the Maltese islands before it sank off Gozo, because the island was one of its port calls,” says University of Malta archaeologist Timmy Gambin. “A shipwreck without any local items could mean that the ship just happened to sink close to Malta during its voyage.” Amphoras from North Africa and western Sicily were also found, demonstrating the Maltese islands were part of an international trade network. To read about a Phoenician shipwreck found off the coast of Spain, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks: Bajo Campagna.”

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Cemetery May Hold Victims of a 17th-Century Epidemic

October 29, 2016

MIŃSK MAZOWIECKI, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that more than 100 shallow burials in a “hastily prepared necropolis” were found in eastern Poland during road improvement work. Based upon coins found in some of the graves, the burials are thought to date to the seventeenth century. Cholera, which is spread through contaminated water and food, spreads easily during war and after natural disasters, and is suspected to be the cause of this epidemic. “We have found only a few artifacts in the graves, while generally there are considerably more in the necropolises from this period—such as clothing accessories, for example studs, buckles and pins,” said contract archaeologist Szymon Lenarczyk. “In this case, everything indicates that the dead were buried in the graves naked or in shrouds. The skeletons were buried without funerary objects.” Some of the graves contained more than one body, and some of the bodies may have been burned before burial in an attempt to prevent the spread of infection. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

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Cave Burial Found in Mexico May Be 2,000 Years Old

October 29, 2016

CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO—Western Digs reports that a cave in the Chihuahuan Desert has yielded stone points, textiles, an ear of corn, a squash, the partial skeleton of a young child, large human leg bones that had been tied together, and the remains of a scarlet macaw, all estimated to be about 2,000 years old, based upon a lack of pottery and other artifacts usually associated with farmers and traders. “If we confirm the hypothesis [that this burial dates from] the Late Archaic, we could have a site with information about the transition to agricultural, sedentary communities in the region,” said archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. The human remains were probably first buried somewhere else, and then moved to the cave for reburial. It is not known if the bones represent relatives, but they were placed near each other and surrounded with baskets, textiles, a bag or dress made of deer hide, and a large sea shell. The bird and seashell are not found locally, and suggest that the trade in exotic goods and wildlife began centuries earlier than had been previously thought. Carbon dating of material from the site is underway. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Categories: Blog

Eighth-Century Pictish Cross Slab Recovered in Orkney

October 28, 2016

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a carved stone has been recovered from an eroding cliff face by Nick Card and a team from the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA) at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Historic Environment Scotland. The stone, located on the East Mainland coast, was uncovered by powerful wind and waves and spotted by archaeologist Hugo Anderson-Whymark, who investigated the area after a storm. Closer examination of the stone revealed it to be a weathered Pictish cross slab carved with a dragon or similar beast that probably dates to the eighth century, when the people of Orkney were beginning to convert to Christianity. The reverse side of the stone bears a carving of a beast grasping what may be a staff in its open beak. Only two similar carved stones have ever been found in Orkney. The team is seeking additional funding to investigate the rest of the site. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Categories: Blog

New Techniques for Finding Hidden Texts in Egyptian Coffins

October 28, 2016

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Wired reports that Mike Toth, an expert in imaging techniques, is working with archaeologists, physicists, and engineers to develop ways to find and read the texts written on the layers of ancient papyri in cartonnage, coffins made for middle-class Egyptians. In the past, researchers dismantled the ancient coffins and funerary masks, and washed the paint, plaster, and gesso off the papyri to look for rare texts in the layers. “Apart from destroying a mummy, washing away is a reckless way to deal with something where the littlest thing can be really interesting,” said Derin McLeod of the University of California, Berkeley's Tebtunis Center. Multi-spectral imaging, X-ray phase contrast, and fluorescence offer new ways to look for signs of ink, and possibly even read the texts. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”

Categories: Blog

Byzantine-Era Inn Found in Anatolia

October 28, 2016

ÇANAKKALE PROVINCE, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports than an inn dating to the Byzantine period has been unearthed behind the western gate of the ancient harbor city of Assos, known for its Temple of Athena and large theater overlooking the Aegean Sea. “The existence of this complex is mentioned in ancient sources but it has never been unearthed,” said Nurettin Arslan of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. “Ancient resources from the Byzantine era provide information about the inn but none of them defined this structure and its location.” The team will look for additional sections of the inn, which may include a bakery, kitchens, cisterns, guest rooms, and a chapel. The excavation conducted by Arslan’s team is part of a larger restoration project to make the site more visitor friendly. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Categories: Blog

Air Raid Shelter Found Under English Driveway

October 28, 2016

LUTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a man in eastern England was backing out of his driveway when his wheel got stuck in a hole that opened up in the paving stones. At first Simon Marks thought it was a sinkhole, but he could see parts of a ladder, so he used a camera and a selfie stick to get a better look. He found what could be an air raid shelter dating to World War II that had been filled in with dirt and garbage. At the time of the war, the land was an empty plot. “It was so well structured with the concrete roof and the walls, it was quite clear what it was going to be,” Marks said. If found to be structurally sound, the family plans to keep the shelter under the driveway. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

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Geneticists Develop New Model for Ancient Human Relationships

October 27, 2016

VANCOUVER, CANADA—ABC News Australia reports that statistical geneticist Ryan Bohlender of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and his team developed a new computer model to evaluate the possible relationships among the ancestors of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The tool varied estimations of population size and dates for when the populations stopped interbreeding, and accounted for inconsistencies in previous studies of genomes of modern and archaic humans. The analysis suggests that interbreeding occurred both within and outside of Africa, that the early population in Africa was 50 percent larger than had been thought, and that modern humans diverged from the family tree some 440,000 years ago. The study also suggests that the different populations may have interbred less frequently than previously thought, and in similar numbers in Europe and in East Asia. (It had been suggested that interbreeding occurred more frequently in East Asia.) And, according to Bohlender, Melanesians may carry a small amount of DNA from an unidentified, extinct human species. Future computer simulations will add additional populations into the mix to see how they affect the results. For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Categories: Blog

Ritual Use of Cave Lions May Have Contributed to Their Extinction

October 27, 2016

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cosmos reports that human hunters may have contributed to the extinction of Panthera spelaea, the Eurasian cave lion, some 14,000 years ago. Marian Cueto of the Universidad de Cantabria and her team examined nine lion claws, or phalanxes, recovered in La Garma, a cave in northern Spain associated with human rituals during the Upper Paleolithic period. They found cut marks and signs of scraping on the bones similar to the ones made by modern hunters when they skin an animal in a way that keeps the claws attached to the pelt. The researchers add that the locations of the bones on the cave floor suggest that the pelt may have been used as a floor covering. For more on the relationship between ancient people and cats, go to “Baby Bobcat,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Categories: Blog

Ancient Beverage Brewed in Milwaukee

October 27, 2016

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—NPR reports that archaeologist Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her research team worked with Lakefront Brewery to try to re-create an alcoholic beverage that had been placed in a bronze cauldron and buried in a grave sometime between 400 and 450 B.C. in what is now Germany. The recipe was based upon the research of paleobotanist Manfred Rösch, who analyzed the residues in the Iron Age cauldron. He found evidence of honey, meadowsweet, barley, and mint—ingredients in a type of beverage known as a braggot. The experimental mixture took seven hours to make. It was then left to ferment for two weeks, producing a smooth drink with an herbal, minty taste. “I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink,” commented Chris Ranson of Lakefront Brewery. To read about another find from the same time period, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Categories: Blog

What Motivated the Violent Burials of the Sonoran Desert?

October 26, 2016

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that James Watson and Danielle Phelps of the University of Arizona examined unusual burials dating to the beginning of the agricultural period in the Sonoran Desert, around 2100 B.C. When a body was buried on its side, with its arms crossed and knees bent, the person is thought to have been buried with the respect of the community. But sometimes, bodies were tumbled headfirst into graves, with bones broken and limbs splayed. Watson and Phelps suggest that as people moved into settled communities and attempted to establish control over farming territories, tensions between different groups may have turned into feuds lasting generations. These tensions may be reflected in the violent deaths and disrespectful burials. Watson speculates that desecrating the corpse of an enemy may have been a way to gain prestige, but it also could have increased the risk of retaliation. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Categories: Blog

Sixth-Century Swords Discovered in Japan

October 26, 2016

EBINO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two swords have been recovered from a sixth-century A.D. tomb on the island of Kyushu. One of the weapons, which has a wooden pommel, would have measured about 60 inches long and is said to be the longest sword ever found in an ancient tomb in Japan. The opening of its scabbard was covered with a valuable textile. The hilt of the other sword, which has a pommel decorated with silver, is covered with ray skin. It is said to be the oldest such item found in East Asia, and may have been made in the Paekche kingdom, on the Korean Peninsula. “The swords suggest there was a powerful person in southern Kyushu, who would have directly served someone in the upper rank close to the Yamato king, and would have gone overseas in charge of foreign politics,” said researcher Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum. The tomb has also yielded armor, horse harnesses, and human remains. To read about the discovery of another sword, go to “Viking Trading or Raiding?

Categories: Blog

Photogrammetric Models Made of Black Sea Shipwrecks

October 26, 2016

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Quartz.com reports that the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project found more than 40 Byzantine and Ottoman shipwrecks during geophysical surveys of the Black Sea seabed along the Bulgarian coast. Many of the hulls, masts, tillers, and other features of the ships are well preserved, due to the low oxygen levels in the deep waters. Principal investigator and University of Southampton marine archaeologist Jon Adams and his team of researchers recorded information about the ships with laser scanners, and they took thousands of high-resolution photographs and videos of the shipwrecks with remotely operated vehicles. The images were then assembled with photogrammetry to build 3-D models of the shipwrecks. To read about another archaeological project involving photogrammetry, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Categories: Blog

Great Basilica Yields Medieval Fresco Fragment

October 25, 2016

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists excavating the northern nave of the Great Basilica in Plovdiv have uncovered a fragment of a medieval painting thought to depict Peter, the Christian saint. The original church on the site had been located in the center of the ancient city of Philippopolis, and dates to the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The structure is thought to have been destroyed by invaders in the sixth century. Eighteen medieval burials, including the remains of children and a possible priest, were recently found resting on the original building’s mosaic floors. The excavators think the fine quality of the medieval fresco suggests it was probably part of a mural painted in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries by a master from Constantinople. The excavation team also found a donor inscription near the mural, written in Greek, bearing the name “Avram.” For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Plants Found in Northwestern China

October 25, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that 13 Cannabis plants were discovered covering a man’s body in a 2,500-year-old burial located in the large Jiayi cemetery in arid northwestern China. About 35 years old at the time of death, the man was placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow. The root-ends of the Cannabis plants were placed over his pelvis, so that the leaves reached his chin on the left side of his face. Hongen Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his team suggest the burial occurred in the late summer, since the plants bore immature fruit. They also suggest that the lack of hemp clothing and rope in the burial, and the large size of the plants’ seeds, indicate that they were grown for their psychoactive properties. Pottery from the cemetery suggests that it belonged to the Subeixi culture of the Turpan Basin. Processed Cannabis flowers were found in another Subeixi graveyard in 2006. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Child’s Rattle Unearthed in Siberia

October 24, 2016

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that a child’s toy has been unearthed at the site of a Bronze Age settlement in Siberia. The 4,000-year-old rattle was made by sealing small stones in clay shaped as a bear’s head. Archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Russian Academy of Sciences explained that the artifact will be X-rayed to try to determine what kind of stones were used to make the rattle. He added that the rattle is believed to bear a stamp including a drawing made when the clay was still wet. The settlement has also yielded a figurine shaped like a bird that may have been used as an incense stand. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”

Categories: Blog

Island Chiefdom May Offer Insight Into Complex Societies

October 22, 2016

DALLAS, TEXAS—Fox News reports that Mark McCoy of Southern Methodist University and his team calculated the age of Nan Madol, a capital ruled by a single chief on the Pacific island of Pohnpei. Using uranium-thorium dating, the researchers found that the tomb where Nan Madol’s first chief was buried dates back to A.D. 1180, or about 100 years earlier than similar tombs elsewhere in the Pacific. McCoy described Nan Madol as the first site in the remote Pacific islands to serve as a seat of political power, religious rituals, and monumental burial. This information could help researchers understand how human societies evolved more complex, hierarchical systems. “The main finding here was the discovery of strong archaeological evidence of [the] rise of the first chiefs to rule the island,” McCoy said. “Something that of course is described in Pohnpei’s own oral histories, but with the results described in our new paper, can now be compared to other islands in the Pacific and societies around the world.” To read in-depth about another Pacific island, go to “Letter From the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Third 16th-Century Ship Found in Florida Waters

October 22, 2016

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—The Pensacola News Journal reports that archaeologists and students from the University of West Florida have found a third shipwreck in Pensacola Bay. All three ships are thought to have been part of Don Tristan de Luna’s expedition, which included 11 ships and 1,500 people sent to colonize Florida for Spain. One month after Luna arrived in 1559 on the northern Gulf Coast, a hurricane sank many of the ships and wiped out much of the expedition’s supplies. The newly discovered ship, found in shallower water than the two previously discovered, may have been La Salvadora, a smaller ship that had been built in the New World. “We’ll take the wood sample soon and see what it’s made out of,” said historian John Worth, who has been studying the Luna settlement, which was discovered last year. “Is it a New World species or Old World species? If it turned out to be [La Salvadora] that would be really exciting, because that would be the earliest ship built in the New World that’s documented,” he explained. So far, the team has found ballast stones, iron concretions, an articulated hull, planking, and ceramics. The Luna expedition ended in 1561, when Spanish ships rescued the surviving colonists and returned them to Mexico. For more, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

Categories: Blog

Homo Habilis May Have Been Right Handed

October 22, 2016

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—HealthDay News reports that University of Kansas professor emeritus David Frayer has found evidence of right-handedness in a Homo habilis specimen. He and his team conducted experiments to re-create scratch marks similar to the ones found on 1.8-million-year-old Homo habilis teeth found in Tanzania. Most of the marks, located on the lip side of the specimen’s upper front teeth, veer from the left down to the right. The team members suggest that the marks were made when the hominin used a stone tool, held in the right hand, to cut food held with the teeth and the left hand. Frayer explained that Homo habilis was already thought to have had lateralization of the brain, meaning that each side of the brain has functional specializations for tasks such as handedness and language. Further research could show that how the brain is organized may be important in identifying the origins of human ancestors. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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