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Students Experiment With Ancient Brewing Techniques

February 11, 2017

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—National Public Radio reports that archaeologist Li Liu of Stanford University and her students brewed an ancient beer recipe derived from the residues detected in pottery vessels unearthed in northeast China. The ingredients included millet, barley, a type of grass known as Job’s tears, yam, and lily root. The students started the fermentation process by either sprouting the grains or chewing them and spitting them out. The mixtures were then heated and allowed to rest for a week. The brewing experiments produced a fermented porridge that was low in alcohol but rich in nutrients. “I think the early beer is not just for drink[ing],” Liu said. “It’s a food.” Liu added that she had been surprised to find barley in the residues of 5,000-year-old beers because the earliest known evidence of barley in China dates to about 4,000 years ago. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Stone Ax Returned to Egypt

February 10, 2017

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—Ahram Online reports that scientists at Louvain University handed over a 35,000-year-old ax to the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels. The stone ax was discovered by an excavation team from Louvain University at the Nazlet Khater archaeological site in Upper Egypt. A skeleton from the site that had been in Belgium since 1980 was returned in 2015. Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department has proposed that the skeleton and the ax be put on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Categories: Blog

Update From Downtown St. Augustine

February 10, 2017

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—First Coast News reports that excavations in downtown St. Augustine have uncovered additional human remains at a site thought to be the home of a sixteenth-century church. The remains were found beneath the floor of a building at King and Charlotte Streets that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. According to city archaeologist Carl Halbirt, the bones could represent some of the city’s first European residents. The burials are in the Christian style, with the skulls to the east and the arms crossed over the body, and are thought to date to between 1572 and 1586. “We can actually start to look at small pieces of bone and tooth,” said biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida. “You can start to get access to diet. Are they eating a lot of fish, corn, wheat?” DNA may also be collected from the bone samples. “This would provide clues as to what is going on in St. Augustine in the sixteenth century,” Halbirt said. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Categories: Blog

Pebbles May Have Linked Paleolithic Mourners to the Deceased

February 10, 2017

MONTRÉAL, CANADA—The International Business Times reports that a team of scientists from the Université de Montréal, Arizona State University, and the University of Genoa found marine pebbles in Italy’s Arene Candide Cave that hunter-gatherers may have used to apply ochre paste to the dead between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. The remains of about 20 people have been found in the cave, which is located in a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The pebbles, found in pieces in the cave, are thought to have been collected on the shoreline, and then broken in half when the ritual painting was completed. The researchers attempted to reassemble the pebble fragments recovered during the excavation, but no matching halves were found, suggesting that half of a pebble was left with the dead, while the other half was carried away as a talisman or souvenir. Claudine Gravel-Miguel of Arizona State University said that the new evidence could push the earliest known case of the ritual breaking of objects back by 5,000 years. For more, go to “Paleo-Dentistry.”

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More on Scotland’s Ardnamurchan Boat Burial

February 9, 2017

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, a team of scientists has analyzed the contents of a 1,000-year-old Viking warrior’s grave discovered in western Scotland in 2011. Isotope analysis of the warrior’s teeth revealed that he grew up in Scandinavia, while his grave goods are thought to have originated in Scandinavia, Scotland, and Ireland. The high-status weapons in the grave included a large ax head, a sword with a decorated hilt, a spear, and a shield whose boss has survived. Other artifacts related to daily life included a whetstone made from a type of rock found in Norway, and a copper-alloy ringed pin, which may have been used to fasten a burial cloak or shroud. Stones for the boat burial may have been obtained from a nearby Neolithic burial cairn. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Boat-Shaped Coffins Unearthed in China

February 9, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a cluster of boat-shaped coffins has been discovered at a construction site in southwest China. The cemetery is thought to have been used some 2,200 years ago by people of the Shu culture who may have operated nearby salt wells. Archaeologists led by Gong Yangmin of the Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute estimate that there are 60 coffins in the cemetery, laid out in four rows. Forty-seven of them have been excavated so far. Two of the burials were exceptionally well preserved: One contained 10 bamboo baskets filled with grain, and the tomb’s occupant wore a string of glass beads at the waist. “Glass beads like dragonfly eyes were exotic at the time,” said Gong. “They were probably imported via the Silk Road.” The coffins were carved from a durable wood known as nanmu, which comes from evergreen trees and was used to construct actual boats as well. More than 300 artifacts, made from pottery, bronze, iron, and bamboo, have also been recovered. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Twelfth Dead Sea Scroll Cave Discovered at Qumran

February 9, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that researchers from Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority have found a twelfth cave where Dead Sea Scrolls are thought to have been hidden more than 2,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent more than 900 Jewish historic and religious documents, including texts of the Hebrew Bible, and philosophical works by members of the community that lived at Qumran during the Second Temple period. Led by archaeologists Ahiad Ovadia and Oren Gutfeld, the team members recovered a scrap of parchment in a jar, at least seven broken containers like the ones found in other Dead Sea Scroll caves, a leather strap for binding scrolls, and a cloth for wrapping them. The excavators also found flint blades, arrowheads, a carnelian stamp seal, and pickaxes dated to the 1940s, when the cave is thought to have been plundered and the scrolls removed. Scholars will have to rethink what they know about how the scrolls were stored. “How can we know for sure that they only came from 11 caves?” Gutfeld said. “For sure there were 12 caves, and maybe more.” For another recent find in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Categories: Blog

Soil Samples from the Amazon’s Ancient Earthworks Studied

February 8, 2017

EXETER, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that archaeologist Jenny Watling, now of the University of São Paulo, and her colleagues collected soil samples from two geoglyph sites in far western Brazil and analyzed them for charcoal, carbon isotopes, and phytoliths. The results of the investigation suggest that the forest had been dominated by bamboo until about 4,000 years ago, when humans are thought to have set fires to clear the vegetation. The fires are represented by layers of charcoal. At this point, palm trees, which grow quickly in cleared areas and provide food and building material, became more common. Palm trees remained plentiful for about 3,000 years, suggesting that humans were managing the land, until about 650 years ago, when other larger trees became more common. Watling explained that even the oldest of the hundreds of geoglyphs in the Amazon were probably built in a landscape that had already been shaped by human intervention. She added that although no evidence of settlements has been found near the earthworks, traces of maize and squash crops have been discovered, in addition to smashed pots uncovered near the entrances to some of the geoglyphs. She thinks that people might have gathered food at the sites and used them for rituals during harvest seasons. For more, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Categories: Blog

Angkor-Era Iron-Smelting Furnace Unearthed in Cambodia

February 8, 2017

PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE, CAMBODIA—An international team of scientists has discovered an Angkor-era iron smelter, according to a report in Cambodia Daily. Mitch Hendrickson of the University of Illinois at Chicago said that the team uncovered some collapsed sidewalls and the base of a nearly 1,000-year-old furnace, which was set at an angle so that liquefied iron ore could flow out of it. “The way that we think they built them is that they constructed the furnaces out of clay: They smelt the iron and then, to extract the bloom, they had to break down the walls,” Hendrickson explained. Traces of at least six such furnaces have been found at the site, but Hendrickson and archaeologist Phon Kaseka of the Royal Academy of Cambodia expect that the site was used to produce iron for a long period of time, and probably holds the remains of many such small furnaces, which measured only about three feet by six feet. Iron was used to make weapons, tools, and reinforcement bars for Angkor’s many stone temples. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Pharaonic Period Wall-Painting Fragments Found in Egypt

February 8, 2017

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY—Ahram Online reports that a large building complex is being excavated in the ancient city of Pi-Ramesses, the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ramesses II, by a team of researchers from the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum. The expansion of the nearby village of Qantir is endangering the 3,000-year-old site, which, according to a magnetic survey conducted last year, measures more than 650 feet long by 500 feet wide. It is thought to have been a palace or a temple with several phases of construction. Children’s footprints were also found near the building, preserved in a mortar pit where smashed pieces of painted wall plaster had been dumped. “No motifs are recognizable so far, but we are certainly dealing with the remains of large-scale multi-colored wall paintings,” said mission director Henning Franzmeier. The team members will attempt to conserve and reconstruct the wall paintings. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Categories: Blog

General’s Sixth-Century Tomb Found in Northern China

February 7, 2017

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Live Science reports that a sixth-century tomb containing the remains of a military general and his wife has been discovered in an ancient cemetery in northern China by a team made up of researchers from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, Shanxi University, Taiyuan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and the Agency of Cultural Relics and Tourism of Jinyuan District, Taiyuan city. The names of Zhao Xin, and his wife, Princess Neé Liu, were found inscribed on a piece of sandstone in the tomb, which also recorded the date of their burial—the equivalent of March 18, 564—and information about their lives. Zhao Xin died at the age of 67, while he still commanded a garrison of soldiers at Huangniu Town. The inscription also states that he had led them to victory in battle with the Yi barbarians. Princess Neé Liu was said to be modest, humble, respectful, and chaste. It is not known why the two were buried at the same time, but further study of the remains is underway. The tomb also contained about 100 colored pottery figurines of warriors, camels, oxcarts, and drummers, the largest of which stands about 22 inches tall. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

DNA Suggests Baltic Hunter-Gatherers Learned to Farm

February 7, 2017

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Genome Web reports that researchers from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge, and University College Dublin analyzed human remains from Latvia and Ukraine ranging in age from 8,300 to 4,800 years old, and found little change in the Baltic hunter-gatherer genome through the Neolithic period. The study suggests that farmers from the Middle East, who migrated into Central and Western Europe, where they interbred with hunter-gatherers and eventually replaced them, did not expand into the Baltic. And, archaeological evidence supports the idea that the transition to farming occurred slowly in the Baltic. Hunter-gatherers there are thought to have adopted domesticated livestock, the cultivation of grains, and pottery through trade and cultural contact with farming communities. The study did detect a possible migration of people from the Pontic Steppe to the East some 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. These people may have brought early Slavic languages to the Baltic with them. For more, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Categories: Blog

Fourth-Century A.D. Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Leicester

February 7, 2017

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—The Leicester Mercury reports that a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services has uncovered Roman-era remains in Leicester’s city center. Some 1,500 years ago, the area under excavation covered nearly two-thirds of a city block, or insula, in the town of Ratae. So far, the excavators have uncovered a section of a street and three buildings. The first building, a house dating to the fourth-century A.D., had mosaic floors in at least three of its rooms. In one square room, a large section of floor measuring about six feet by ten feet has survived. It had a thick border of red tiles surrounding a center of grey tiles, which was decorated with designs fashioned with additional red tiles. The floor will be removed from the site and conserved. The second building is thought to have been a townhouse with a portico, a courtyard, and under-floor heating. A small building located in the center of the insula, perhaps for privacy, had an unusual sunken room or cellar, and an apse that may have held a statue and served as a shrine. For more, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Categories: Blog

3-D Virtual Model Reconstructs Germany’s Heidelberg Castle

February 4, 2017

KARLSRUHE, GERMANY—The International Business Times reports that architectural historian Julian Hanschke of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has digitally reconstructed Heidelberg Castle using photographs, drawings, and surveys of the ruins made by researchers some 100 years ago. The result is a highly detailed, 3-D model of what the Renaissance-era castle would have looked like inside and out in 1683. Located on a hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg, the first castle building on the site was constructed in the early thirteenth century. A second castle was built in the late thirteenth century, but in 1537, a fire started by a bolt of lightning destroyed the upper castle. The castle complex was repeatedly rebuilt and expanded, and damaged by war and fire, until it became a source for building materials in the late eighteenth century. To read about excavations at another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

More From Fredericksburg’s Civil War Trench

February 4, 2017

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA—The Free Lance-Star reports that the excavation of a Civil War trench at Fredericksburg’s Riverfront Park has yielded three spent .54 caliber brass cartridges for a Burnside carbine, an innovative firearm loaded at the rear portion of its barrel. The cartridges were found together in the trench, and may have been fired by an individual soldier. The weapon, designed by Ambrose E. Burnside in the mid-1850s, was used by 43 Union cavalry regiments. Some Confederate cavalry units also carried Burnside carbines, but those weapons were probably obtained from fallen Union soldiers. Burnside rose to the rank of major general in the Union army and oversaw Union defeats at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. For more, go to “A Civil War POW Camp in Watercolor.”

Categories: Blog

Rock Art Sites Discovered in Tibet

February 4, 2017

MARKHAM COUNTY, TIBET—China Daily reports that eight rock art sites have been found in Tibet by a team of more than 20 researchers from the Tibetology Institute at Sichuan University. The sites are thought to be more than 1,000 years old. “They include cliff-side carvings, circular engraved statues, ancient Tibetan texts, and Mani stones,” said researcher Zhang Yanqing. (Mani stones are engraved with a mantra, and serve as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism.) Zhang thinks the petroglyphs, which reflect Indian and Chinese influences, were created during the reigns of kings Trisong Detsan (A.D. 755-797) and Tride Songtsan (A.D. 798-815). “As both Buddhist art and a historical find, these carvings are of great value and should be protected,” he said. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Turkish Soldier’s Grave Found at Gallipoli

February 3, 2017

ÇANAKKALE, TURKEY—The grave of a Turkish soldier named Sergeant Mehmet, who was killed during World War I's Battle of Gallipoli, was found during a landscaping project conducted by the Gallipoli Site Management Directorate, according to a report in The Daily Sabah. The Battle of Gallipoli was fought by around a million soldiers between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916, when the Allies attempted to invade Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Tens of thousands were killed. Sergeant Mehmet’s grave was found in an area that had been the site of a military hospital and graveyard during the eight-month-long battle. His tombstone, inscribed in Arabic, had been covered with vegetation. A new stone translates the dedication into modern Turkish. For more on archaeology at the Gallipoli battlefield, go to “Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic House Unearthed in Abu Dhabi

February 3, 2017

MARAWAH ISLAND, ABU DHABI—According to a report in The National, the foundations of a 7,500-year-old, three-room house with 30-inch-thick walls has been found on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. “It’s a stunning find because there are no parallels to it anywhere else in the Gulf coast region,” said Mark Beech, head of coastal heritage at Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority. He said the Neolithic dwelling had walls that projected into the backyard to create a space for cooking that is similar to what is found in traditional Arabian houses. The structure was found in the smallest of seven mounds at the site. Beech thinks that the rest of the mounds could hold the remains of a village, where the residents herded sheep and goats, and also fished. Stone tools, beads made from shells, and a shark’s tooth have also been recovered. A ceramic jar made in what is now Iraq suggests that the residents engaged in long-distance trade. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Archaeology Island.”

Categories: Blog

Royal Scribe’s 3,000-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Luxor

February 3, 2017

SHINJUKU, JAPAN—Seeker reports that a team led by Jiro Kondo of Waseda University was working in Luxor, in the forecourt of the tomb of the royal scribe Userhat, when they discovered a hole leading to a previously unknown chamber. Hieroglyphics identified the chamber as the tomb of Khonsu, another royal scribe. The style of the tomb’s paintings suggests that it dates to between 1292 and 1069 B.C. A picture of four baboons adoring the solar boat of the sun god Ra-Atum had been carved on the chamber’s north wall. Baboons were associated with wisdom, science, and measurement, are believed to have been spiritual muses of scribes, and are also linked to Ra-Atum, perhaps because they warm themselves in the morning sun, and make noise when the sun rises. Baboons are not native to Egypt, but are thought to have been imported from Nubia as pets. Their morning calls may have also served as alarm clocks. Images on another section of wall depict Khonsu and his wife worshipping Osiris and Isis. Illustrations of two ram-headed deities, perhaps Khnum or Khnum-Re, are also present. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Suggests Modern Link to Stone Age Population

February 2, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, some modern, indigenous East Asian populations have a genetic makeup that closely resembles that of two female hunter-gatherers who were buried in the Russian Far East nearly 8,000 years ago. Nuclear DNA was extracted from the hunter-gatherers’ teeth, inner ear bones, and other skull bones, which were found in Devil’s Gate Cave along with pottery, harpoons, and nets and mats woven from wild sedge grass. The DNA was analyzed by a team led by Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge, who compared it to hundreds of genomes of modern Asians and Europeans. The hunter-gatherers from Devil’s Gate Cave were found to be most closely related to the Ulchi people, who live in the Amur Basin to the north. The study also suggests that the women looked like modern Ulchi people, in that they had brown eyes; thick, straight hair; and shovel-shaped incisors. The women were also related to modern people based in eastern Siberia and China, and to modern Koreans and Japanese. In addition, the results suggest that no other group, such as migrating farmers, contributed a significant amount of DNA to the people of the region. For more on the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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