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January 6, 2016

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—City archaeologists and a team from Thunderbird Archaeology have found about one-third of a 50-foot vessel at a construction site in Alexandria, Virginia. The ship is thought to have been scuttled in the late eighteenth century and used for landfill that extended the city’s thriving waterfront into the deep channel of the Potomac River. The archaeologists are using 3-D laser scanning equipment to record the well-preserved, sturdily built hull, which will be dismantled and maintained in a wet environment while researchers continue to study it. According to a press release from the city of Alexandria, this discovery may represent a type of vessel that has not yet been documented through archaeological research. To read about an eighteenth-century ship discovered in Manhattan, go to "The Hidden History of New York's Harbor."

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January 5, 2016

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—Scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Tübingen, and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, analyzed stable carbon isotopes from the tooth enamel of the little-known giant ape Gigantopithecus. “Unfortunately, there are very few fossil finds of Gigantopithecus—only a few large teeth and bones from the lower mandible are known,” Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tubingen said in a press release. Those fossils are from China and Thailand, which had open savannas and wooden landscapes. The new study of carbon isotopes indicates that Gigantopithecus was a vegetarian that lived only in forests. “Relatives of the giant ape, such as the recent orangutan, have been able to survive despite their specialization on a certain habitat. However, orangutans have a slow metabolism and are able to survive on limited food. Due to its size, Gigantopithecus presumably depended on a large amount of food. When during the Pleistocene era more and more forested areas turned into savanna landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply for the giant ape,” Bocherens said. To read about another recent paleontological discovery, go to "Earliest Stone Tools." 

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January 5, 2016

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—More than half of the 30,000 artifacts recovered with the wreckage of the ironclad CSS Georgia this summer were returned to the mud of the Savannah River in storage containers. “Anything I considered to be unique, I would say, ‘I want this, I want this.’ I picked through everything. No unique stuff went back in the river,” project manager Jim Jobling of the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University told the Associated Press. The ship, which had been scuttled by its crew in 1864 to keep it from Union troops, was recovered as part of a project to deepen Savannah harbor for cargo ships. In addition to the ship’s armor, several cannons, and pieces of engine, the team recovered buttons, hilts of knives and swords, an intact glass bottle, boots, and an earring. “What we reburied, we made sure it was completely covered and sunk down in the mud. Somebody would have to work pretty hard to get in there,” added Julie Morgan, Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist. For more on nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

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January 5, 2016

LIMA, PERU—The Inca used a series of knotted strings hanging from a main cord, a device known as a khipu, to keep records. Researchers have had a basic understanding of the numerical system and mathematical operations used in khipus, but have not known how to decipher other information kept in the strings. According to The New York Times, for the first time, archaeologists led by archaeologist Alejandro Chu have discovered 29 khipus in a storehouse, rather than in the graves of scribes, at Incahuasi, where they appear to have been used to keep track of peanuts, chili peppers, beans, corn, and other agricultural products. “We can look at how the chili pepper khipu differs from the peanut khipu and from the corn khipu in terms of their color and other characteristics and we can build up a kind of sign vocabulary of how they were signifying this or that thing in their world,” Gary Urton, a member of the Khipu Database Project at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks. He has created a database of detailed information of some 870 khipus. “If we can find the connection between the khipu and the product that it was found with we can contribute to the deciphering of the khipus,” Chu explained. To read more about the Inca, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

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January 5, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Analysis of Neolithic stone tools from the Haua Fteah cave in northern Libya suggests that they were used to process wild plants, at a time when domesticated grains were also available. Giulio Lucarini of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University and his colleagues found microscopic plant residues in the pitted surfaces of several of the well-worn stones. The residues are most likely from Cenchrinae grasses, which, although prickly and hard to process, are very nutritious. This is consistent with research conducted by Jacob Morales of the University of the Basque Country, who found wild plants alone from the Neolithic period at the site. “Haua Fteah is only a kilometer away from the Mediterranean and close to well-established coastal routes, giving communities there access to commodities such as domesticated grain, or at least the possibility to cultivate them. Yet is seems that people living in the Jebel Akhdar region may well have made a strategic and deliberate choice not to adopt the new farming practices available to them, despite the promise of higher yields but, instead, to integrate them into their existing practices ,” Lucarini said in a press release.  To read more about the period, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."  

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January 4, 2016

ALBERTA, CANADA—A farmer in western Canada alerted authorities after he discovered a human skull in a field during last summer’s drought. Once scientists determined that the skull dated to the early nineteenth century, the site was excavated by a team from the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. The scientists uncovered the rest of the skeleton, some 3,000 beads, jewelry, European-style brass buttons from a military jacket, and a thimble. Experts from the University of Alberta determined that the bones had belonged to a 13 or 14-year-old girl. “Because she was buried in what appears to be a shallow grave away from any known sites that we believe would have been important at that time, it is possible that she died in transit between two locations. But at this point it is all very much a mystery,” Matthew Wangler, Alberta Culture’s director of historical resources, told CBC News. But the researchers think she may have been the daughter of a chief who was traveling on a trade route between a European fort and an aboriginal settlement when she died. The girl’s remains and the artifacts were reburied in a ceremony near the original site. To read in-depth about archaeology in the High Plains, go to "The Buffalo Chasers."

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January 4, 2016

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists digging in Newhaven, a historic fishing village in Scotland, expected to find traces of the original harbor and signs of shipbuilding, when they unearthed poorly preserved human bones dated to the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Records show that a gibbet, used to execute witches and pirates, was located on the edge of the Newhaven dockyards, and the bones, thought to have belonged to a man in his fifties, may have belonged to a man who had been executed there for piracy or other criminal activity. Researchers speculate that his remains might have been displayed near the harbor as a deterrent before they were buried in a shallow, unmarked grave. “Edinburgh has an undeniably intriguing past and some of our archaeological discoveries have been in the strangest of places,” councilor Richard Lewis said in a press release

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January 4, 2016

ZVENIGOROD, RUSSIA—Traces of the sixteenth-century village of Ignatievskoe were unearthed by a team from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences during rescue excavations ahead of the construction of a new highway. Among the 60 buildings, the excavators discovered an underground, timber-lined storehouse that was probably in the basement of a boyar’s mansion. It contained spiked helmets that had been stored in leather boxes, body armor, belts, arrows, sections of military sabers, pieces of camp tents, and cooking equipment. The private arsenal may have been intended to supply a standing army, but the house had burned down and the weapons were never recovered. “We’ve never encountered such finds in the Moscow region before neither in cities and especially not in small villages,” deputy director Asya Engovatova told Phys.org. “This gives us a much better idea how a Russian noble would have prepared for setting out on a military campaign—each nobleman would have had his own arsenal in readiness,” added Alexei Alexeyev, specialist in charge of the excavations. To read about a mass grave holding troops who died in the winter of 1812 during the French retreat from Russia, go to "Digging Napoleon's Dead."

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January 4, 2016

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Ayca Omrak of Stockholm University obtained DNA from 8,000-year-old human remains at the site of Kumtepe, a Neolithic site in Anatolia that was excavated in 1994. The samples were heavily degraded, but she was able to show that the region was a hub for the spread of ideas and genes into Europe. “I have never worked with a more complicated material. But it was worth every hour in the laboratory. I could use the DNA from the Kumtepe material to trace the European farmers back to Anatolia,” Omrak said in a press release. Her colleague Jan Storå adds that further research in the region could shed light onto the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. To read more about the period in Europe, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

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December 31, 2015

ASWAN, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that police in Edfu recovered a black granite colossus of King Amenhotep III from a home in the village of Al-Nakhl while they were pursuing illegal weapons and drugs. Ahram Online reports that the statue depicts the 18th Dynasty king, who is wearing a short skirt and a headdress, standing with his left leg forward. Hieroglyphic texts are engraved on the back of the statue, and its base bears the king’s titles. The statue is being restored and examined in Edfu and will eventually be transferred to Luxor Museum. To read about a recent discovery regarding Egyptian paintings, go to "Hidden Blues."

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December 31, 2015

JIMENA DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN—A major Roman settlement is being excavated in a town near Spain’s southern coast that has been continuously occupied since the eighth century B.C. Its hilltop location overlooks the surrounding arable countryside and inland routes from the Mediterranean Sea. “At first sight the impression is of visiting an Arab castle, slightly altered in the nineteenth century. But the moment you take a critical look and analyze what you are actually seeing you quickly realize that this is nothing other than the remains of a very important Roman city,” Miguel Angel Tabales of the University of Seville told BBC News. Construction during the Islamic period was more pragmatic, according to Tabales. “At a construction level, what we’ve found is little more than removing sediment and recycling Roman materials,” he explained. Then the town was moved to the other side of the hilltop, which helped to preserve the Roman remains, including the walls of the fortified town enclosure, its original entrance, and a large temple. Researchers are now working to preserve the site and protect it from looters. To read about a discovery in Spain dating back more than 18,000 years, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."

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December 30, 2015

ROSH HA-‘AYIN, ISRAEL—A 2,700-year-old farmhouse and a 1,500-year-old church have been unearthed in excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of a residential construction project in central Israel. The farmhouse had 24 rooms, and a silo in its courtyard for grain storage. Its well-preserved walls stand more than six feet tall. “It seems that carbohydrates were as popular then as now, and the growing and processing of grain were fairly widespread in the rural-agricultural region,” excavation director Amit Shadman said in a press release. The team, which included volunteer teenagers, also uncovered millstones for grinding the grain into flour and rock-hewn oil presses for the production of olive oil. The farmhouse site also yielded two silver coins dating to the fourth century B.C. that bear images of the goddess Athena and the Athenian owl. Excavators also discovered a Byzantine monastery, a church with mosaic floors, an oil press, and a stable complete with mangers and troughs. Much of the monastery was destroyed by a lime kiln installed during the Ottoman period. To read about another site known for its mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

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<p>KURDISTAN, IRAN&mdash;Excavations in

December 30, 2015

KURDISTAN, IRAN—Excavations in western Iran have uncovered Paleolithic stone tools, burned animal bones, and hearths. The campsites were found in caves and rock shelters along the Sirwan River. “The new finds provide researchers with valuable information about the way of life, game hunting, and tool carving culture of the primitive hunting societies and food collectors,” project leader Fereidoun Biglari told Tasnim News. The artifacts date from about 40,000 years ago to the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, and provide the earliest evidence of human activity in Kurdistan. “Primary examination of animal bones indicates that Mousterian hunters were more focused on wild goat herds that lived in the rugged mountains of Hawraman, high above the Sirwan River,” Biglari explained. To read more about archaeology in Iran, go to "The World in Between."

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December 30, 2015

NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—Heavy rains and flooding have caused the partial collapse of Tadcaster Bridge into the River Wharfe, according to a report in Global News. The limestone structure, one of two bridges that connect the two sides of the town of Tadcaster, dates back to 1700. The bridge had been closed to pedestrians and traffic three days before the collapse. The original Tadcaster Bridge is thought to have been constructed in 1200 with stones from Tadcaster Castle. To read about medieval graffiti in England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

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December 29, 2015

IZMIR, TURKEY—According to a report in Live Science, villagers discovered an altar dating to the second century A.D. near Turkey’s Akçay River. Hasan Malay of Ege University and Funda Ertugrul of the Aydin Museum wrote in the journal Epigraphica Anatolica that the Greek inscription at the top of the altar says Flavius Ouliades dedicated it to the river god Harpasos. They think the image on the altar—a nude warrior wearing a helmet—may represent Hercules’ son Bargasos battling a many-headed serpent monster with a dagger and a shield. The “scene on our altar may be a representation of a local myth telling about Bargasos’ fight against the ravaging river with many arms,” Malay and Ertugrul wrote. After Bargasos defeated the monster, “the river turned into a beneficial deity, the recipient of our dedication,” they concluded. To read about the ancient world's most massive inscription, which was discovered in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."

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December 29, 2015

NANTERRE, FRANCE—A study of the few skulls found among the mostly headless skeletons discovered in 68 graves in a 3,000-year-old Lapita cemetery in Vanuatu suggests that the first Polynesians migrated from Southeast Asia and into Polynesia with little mixing with others. Frédérique Valentin of France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and Matthew Spriggs of Australian National University, led a team that compared the skulls from the Teouma cemetery with skulls from Asia and other places in the South Pacific. “What we’re able to show is that in fact, for places like Vanuatu and New Caledonia and Fiji, they do arrive before there’s anybody else here,” Spriggs told Australia's ABC News. Melanesians came to Vanuatu at a later period. “People in the New Guinea and Solomons area also jumping on these Lapita canoes and getting excited by the culture and travelling to new parts. Over time, and this is just over the first couple of hundreds of years in Vanuatu, the appearance of people changes from looking like Polynesians people look today, to looking like Melanesian people today,” he said. DNA from the Vanuatu skeletons could shed further light on the ancestry of the Polynesians. 

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December 29, 2015

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast sequenced the genomes of a Neolithic woman who lived near Belfast some 5,200 years ago, and three men who lived during the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago, on Rathlin Island. The team found that the early farmer had black hair and brown eyes, and her ancestors had originated in the Middle East. They probably brought agriculture with them across Europe to Ireland. The Bronze Age men had blue eye alleles, the most common Irish Y chromosome type, and the most important variant for the genetic disease haemochromatosis, which is now frequent in people of Irish descent and sometimes thought of as a Celtic disease. About a third of the ancestors of the Bronze Age men came from the northern shores of the Black Sea. “There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island,” study leader Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin said in a press release. To read more about Bronze Age Ireland, go to "Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold."

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December 28, 2015

PUGLIA, ITALY—The remains of an 800-year-old wooden ship have been found in the Porto Cesareo Marine Protected Area, located near the tip of Italy’s “boot.” The shipwreck, which measures nearly 60 feet long, could “explain significant aspects of the coastline in medieval times and contribute to the historical reconstruction of the area,” underwater archaeologist Cristiano Alfonso of Salento University told The Local, Italy. Porto Cesareo was a fishing village during the medieval period. To read more about the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

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December 28, 2015

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two niches containing carved figures have been found in two New Kingdom chapels at Gebel Al-Silsila by a team from Sweden’s Lund University. It had been thought that the 32 chapels at the site, located in an area known of its quarries on both sides of the Nile River, were destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity. The first niche, in Chapel 30, contains the seated figures of the chapel’s owner, a man wearing a wig with his arms crossed in the Osirian posture, and his wife, who has her left arm on her husband’s shoulder and her right hand on her chest. The second niche, in Chapel 31, has four figures: Neferkhewe, the “Overseer of Foreign Lands” during the reign of Thuthmose III, his wife Ruwisti, and their son and daughter.

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December 28, 2015

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—Last week, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority were digging near a Byzantine-era church in Caesarea Harbor National Park when they discovered a marble statue of a ram. In Christian art, rams could represent Christians or Jesus himself; in Roman art, rams appeared with the Greek gods Hermes and Mercury. In Egyptian art, rams were used to represent the god Amun. The statue “might have been part of the decoration of a Byzantine church from the sixth or seventh centuries A.D. at Caesarea. By the same token it could also be earlier, from the Roman period, and was incorporated in secondary use in the church structure,” excavation directors Peter Gendelman and Mohammad Hater explained in a press release. To read about a ritual bath discovered underneath a home in Jerusalem, go to "Under the Rug."

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