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Christian Relic of Saint Nicholas Radiocarbon Dated

December 7, 2017

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, Oxford University scientists have radiocarbon dated a relic attributed to Saint Nicholas, the fourth-century Christian Bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas died in what is now Turkey, where his remains are thought to have been revered for centuries. Then, Italian merchants are said to have carried off his bones in the eleventh century, and deposited them in churches in Bari and Venice. The bone that was tested came from a collection of relics that has been held in the United States. Hundreds of bone fragments around the world have been labeled as belonging to the popular saint, and tests of Christian relics usually reveal them to be younger than thought. But the researchers say this piece of hip bone, revered as belonging to Saint Nicholas, has been radiocarbon dated to the fourth century A.D. Georges Kazan of the Oxford Relics Cluster plans to compare the dated bone to the remains held in Bari and Venice to see if they might have come from the same individual. For more, go to “The Church that Transformed Norway.”

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New Technique Analyzes Prehistoric Cut Marks

December 7, 2017

WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA—The International Business Times reports that scientists led by archaeologist and biostatistician Erik Otárola-Castillo of Purdue University have developed a method to analyze the often ambiguous marks on animal bones recovered from archaeological sites. The tiny marks left by prehistoric hunters can be difficult to distinguish from marks made by other kinds of damage. The shallow marks left by stone tools are often “V” shaped, while those made by trampling animal hooves are usually “U” shaped. The new technique, which employs 3-D imaging, shape analysis, and Bayesian statistics, was shown to identify butchery marks made by volunteers with stone tools 88 percent of the time—a major improvement in accuracy over old methods, Otárola-Castillo said. For more on prehistoric hunting, go to “Letter From Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

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Colonial Cemetery Excavated in Delaware

December 7, 2017

REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE—According to a report in The News Journal, 11 graves have been exhumed from a seventeenth-century cemetery at Avery’s Rest, an 800-acre colonial farmstead in southern Delaware. Three of the graves belonged to unrelated African Americans who had probably been enslaved. One of them was a child of about five years of age whose burial had been damaged by a groundhog. The other eight graves held the remains of European Americans, including two women, six men, and an infant. At least four of them are thought to be related to each other, but John Avery, who moved to the site in 1674, is not thought to be among them. Historic documents note the Avery family members, who grew corn, wheat, and tobacco, owned two slaves. “This place kind of reframes our whole interpretation of African-American history in Delaware,” said Tim Slavin of the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. Forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley and his team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are examining the remains for signs of age, diet, and health, and comparing them to other colonial burials in the Chesapeake region. The scientists are also conduction DNA testing. “When all is said and done, I feel we will have a number of these individuals identified by name,” Owsley said. For more on Colonial America, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

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Remote Cave in Scotland Mapped

December 6, 2017

BRADFORD, ENGLAND—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by Ian Armit of the University of Bradford have created a 3-D virtual map of Scotland’s Sculptor’s Cave, which overlooks the North Sea and can only be entered at low tide. The cave is known for the images carved at its entrance by the Picts between A.D. 500 and 600. It may also have served as a place to lay out bodies for funerary rites beginning around 1000 B.C. Analysis of one group of human remains suggests the people may have been decapitated in the cave, sometime around A.D. 250, near the end of the period the cave was is use. “The site is pretty hard to get to, so if people want to appreciate it and want to understand it, then the idea was to create a resource that was as close to being in the cave without actually having to get there,” Armit said. The cave’s main chamber and twin entrance passageways were mapped with a terrestrial laser scanner. Different equipment and lighting techniques were employed to capture the Pictish symbols and other fine details. To read about a similar site in Iceland, go to "The Blackener's Cave." 

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Rare Iron Objects From the Bronze Age Analyzed

December 6, 2017

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in the International Business Times, Albert Jambon of the Institute of Mineralogy, Materials Physics, and Cosmochemistry says that all iron artifacts crafted during the Bronze Age were made from meteorite iron. Jambon analyzed a variety of Bronze Age artifacts, such as a dagger, bracelet, and headrest recovered from the tomb of Egypt’s Tutankhamun; a pendant found in northern Syria dating to 2300 B.C., and Shang-Dynasty artifacts from China dated to 1400 B.C., with a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. He found that the rare and valuable iron objects made before 1200 B.C. were made from space rocks, which have a unique chemical signature. Iron from meteorites did not have to undergo the smelting process in order to separate it from ore, making it accessible to smiths using Bronze Age technologies. Some 2,000 years later, during the Iron Age, humans developed a process to smelt iron from Earth-bound sources. To read more about metallurgy during this period, go to "Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold."

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Whetstone Unearthed in Norway Bears Runic Inscription

December 6, 2017

OSLO, NORWAY—Live Science reports that Viking runes have been found engraved on a whetstone unearthed in Oslo. According to archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), the stone was used to sharpen knives in the Middle Ages, some 1,000 years ago. Runes were used as symbols to represent letters or signs, and may even have been used to cast spells, but it is not known how many people were capable of reading or writing them. The runes carved on the whetstone may have been intended to spell a person’s name, or the words “scared,” “ugly,” or “pain.” Researcher Karen Holmqist said the quality of the writing on the whetstone is poor, and it may have been engraved by someone who was learning to spell. To read more, go to "The First Vikings."

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Engraved Stones Link May Link Neolithic Settlements

December 5, 2017

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—Stone vessels, human remains, and a fragment of an anthropomorphic clay figurine were uncovered in shallow pits at the Prastio-Mesorotsos site in western Cyprus, according to a report in Cyprus Mail Online. The site is located on a prominent rocky outcrop in the Dhiarizos Valley, with views of the mountains and the sea, and was inhabited from the Neolithic period through the Middle Bronze Age. The recovery of an engraved stone, similar to stones found at Choletria-Ortos, which is also located in the Paphos region; Choirokitia, which is located on the southern coast; and Lebanon, located across the Mediterranean Sea, suggests the inhabitants of these sites had contact with each other, perhaps as early as the late Neolithic period. To read more about this period, go to "Neolithic Facetime." 

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3,000-Year-Old Noble Tomb Discovered in Northwest China

December 5, 2017

YINCHUAN, CHINA—Northwest China’s Ningxia’s region might have been under imperial rule 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency. The tomb of a marquis-level ruler was found during the excavation of 3,000-year-old necropolis in the Yaoheyuan Ruins in Ningxia’s Pengyang County. The tomb did not contain inscribed bronze vessels that might have identified the tomb’s owner, but the excavation team did recover two jade mantises. “[They] provide strong evidence of the tomb owner’s relationship with the imperial governments during the period from the late Shang to the middle of Western Zhou [1046 B.C. to 771 B.C.] dynasties,” said Zhang Tian’en of the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. Two horse burial pits and a chariot burial pit were found near the tomb. A bronze casting workshop, moats, roads, and a water drainage system have also been uncovered at the site. To read in-depth about Chinese archaeology, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Categories: Blog

Statues of Lioness Goddess Unearthed in Egypt

December 5, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that fragments of statues of the lioness goddess Sekhmet have been unearthed at the King Amenhotep III funerary temple by a team led by archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the tallest of the 27 black-granite statues would have stood more than six feet tall. The surfaces of those that had been deep underground were damaged by water and salt, but the statues closer to the surface are well preserved, in some cases only missing the base and feet. More than 280 statues of Sekhmet have been unearthed in the temple since the excavation began in 1998. The walls and columns of the King Amenhotep III funerary temple were toppled by an earthquake in 1200 B.C. “The sculptures are of a high artistic quality and of the greatest archaeological interest,” Sourouzian said. The statues will be cleaned and desalinated and eventually returned to the temple when it has been restored. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Categories: Blog

Rare Greek Document Identified by Religious Scholars

December 5, 2017

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Newsweek reports that fragments of a rare Christian text dating to the fifth or sixth century have been found in the Nag Hammadi Library, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 and is now housed at Oxford University. A collection of 13 Gnostic books, or codices, the documents in the Nag Hammadi Library purported to record “secret knowledge” imparted by Jesus to his followers. Most of the documents are translations in the Coptic language, but the newly discovered fragments, from the First Apocalypse of James, were written in Greek, the text’s orginial language. The copy is thought to have been used as a teaching tool because the neatly written words had been broken down into individual syllables with mid-dots, according to Brent Landau of the University of Texas at Austin. “This new discovery is significant in part because it demonstrates that Christians were still reading and studying extra-canonical writings long after Christian leaders deemed them heretical,” explained colleague Geoffrey Smith. To read more about early Christian manuscripts, go to "Artifact: The Fadden More Psalter."

Categories: Blog

Medieval Road Uncovered in Southern England

December 2, 2017

OXFORD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a stone road dating to the medieval period was found in southern England during work to alleviate flooding problems. The road was made from rounded river pebbles, limestone, and chalk. Ruts made by wheels have been found on some of the stones. Horseshoes have also been found among the cobbles. Scientists will examine the horseshoes with X-rays in order to date them. The excavation team members also uncovered evidence of roundhouses, pottery, and animal bones dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages. For more on the medieval period, go to “Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Surviving in the Ancient Southwest

December 2, 2017

CINCINNATI, OHIO—It had been thought that Ancestral Puebloans living in the Grand Canyon region were sustained by corn, like Ancestral Puebloans based in other parts of the Southwest, but little evidence of corn farming had been found there. According to a Laboratory Equipment report, Alan Sullivan of the University of Cincinnati thinks Ancestral Puebloans in the Upper Basin may have set small fires to clear away the grasses and weeds growing under nut and berry-producing pinyon and juniper trees and encourage the growth of nutritious, wild sprouts such as amaranth and goosefoot. In fact, Sullivan said the land was covered with such plants after a recent fire in the Upper Basin. Archaeologists have also found evidence of wild edible plants growing in abundance at the time Ancestral Puebloans lived in the area, and no burn scars, which would suggest big fires, in the rings of ancient trees. For more on Ancestral Pueblo sites, go to “Angry Birds.”

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Medieval Artifacts Discovered in English Market Town

December 2, 2017

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A medieval garbage pit in Newcastle city center has yielded leather, green-glazed pottery, and animal bone, according to a Chronicle Live report. The waterlogged artifacts are thought to date to the twelfth century, when the area was known for its markets. “Particularly interesting finds here were several examples of animal horn neatly cut, presumably for reuse as handles or another function,” said archaeologist Richard Carlton of the Archaeological Practice. The excavation also uncovered a medieval woven wood fence and traces of a dwelling facing the modern street. A pit with layers of burned deposits found inside the building is thought to have been used as an oven. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

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7,000-Year-Old City Found Near Abydos

December 1, 2017

SOHAG PROVINCE, EGYPT—The International Business Times reports that a 7,000-year-old city and cemetery have been found on the west bank of the Nile River, about a quarter mile from Abydos, which is thought to have been a regional capital during the late Predynastic Period. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt Antiquities, said laborers who constructed royal tombs in Abydos lived in the newly discovered city, where traces of their huts, and stone tools and pottery have been uncovered. Fifteen large tombs featuring mudbrick mastabas have been discovered in the cemetery. The ministry explained that some of the graves are larger than royal graves in Abydos dating back to the First Dynasty, suggesting the high social standing of the people who had been buried there. To read about other recent discoveries in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Categories: Blog

U.S. Archaeological Sites Threatened by Sea Level Rise

December 1, 2017

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—David Anderson of the University of Tennessee and a team of researchers analyzed data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) in order to evaluate the possible effect of rising sea levels on archaeological and historical sites, according to a Live Science report. DINAA aggregates archaeological and historical data collected over the past century from numerous sources, including state and federal agencies. “We will lose much of the record of the last several thousand years of human occupation in coastal areas, where a great deal of history and settlement has occurred,” he said. The study found that an estimated rise in sea levels of about three feet in the next century could damage or submerge more than 13,000 archaeological and historical sites located on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern United States, including the English settlement site at Jamestown, Virginia, and other cultural landmarks in Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Augustine, Florida. Continuing sea level rise in the following centuries could put an estimated 32,000 sites at risk. “When you develop tools showing how much will be lost at regional and continental scales, it shows the scale of the challenge and the need to start seriously planning for it,” Anderson said. For more on archaeology and climate change, go to “Letter from Norway: The Big Melt.”

Categories: Blog

Bone Study Highlights Neolithic Women’s Rigorous Labor

December 1, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, Alison Macintosh of the University of Cambridge and a team of researchers examined the shin bones and upper arm bones of 94 women who lived in central Europe between 5300 B.C. and A.D. 900, and compared them to scans of the bones of 83 living women who were either runners, rowers, footballers, or not athletic. They found that the women who lived during the Neolithic period through the late Iron Age had very strong arms, perhaps developed by the repetitive motions of grinding grain, pottery making, farming, and tending livestock. “We really saw them standing out through that first 5,500 years of farming, just really consistently stronger arm bones than the majority of the living women, including the rowers,” Macintosh said. By the Middle Ages, women’s arm strength had decreased to levels comparable to modern women, perhaps due to innovations in grain-grinding technologies. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

Categories: Blog

Early Twentieth-Century Movie Sphinx Uncovered in California

November 30, 2017

GUADALUPE, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that a large portion of a brightly painted plaster sphinx from the set of The Ten Commandments has been found in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. A total of 21 sphinxes had been created by French artist Paul Iribe for the 1923 movie, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The bright paint was intended to help the sculptures stand out in the silent, black-and-white movie. DeMille had the giant, expensive set buried in the sand when the filming was completed in order to keep it from rival filmmakers. Previous excavations at the site starting in the 1990s uncovered Prohibition-era liquor bottles, makeup, and tobacco tins, in addition to pieces of the set. To read about some of these earlier discoveries, go to “Hollywood Exodus.”

Categories: Blog

Roman-Period Egyptian Mummy Analyzed

November 30, 2017

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS—PBS News Hour reports that an intact Egyptian mummy has been examined with a particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in order to learn about its material composition. The mummy, the remains of a girl who lived in the Faiyum Oasis in the late first century A.D. and died at the age of five, was discovered more than 100 years ago and has been housed at Northwestern University. An earlier CT scan revealed an object wrapped to the girl’s belly, and a bowl-shaped object in her skull. Cell and molecular biologist Stuart Stock of Northwestern University said the particle accelerator's high-energy X-rays indicate the material in the skull could be solidified pitch. The scientists are continuing to analyze the results of the tests. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

Categories: Blog

Paleolithic Camel Image Discovered in Russian Cave

November 30, 2017

BASHKIRIA, RUSSIA—According to a report in Newsweek, an image of a two-humped camel has been discovered by restorative specialist Eudald Guillamet in the southern Ural Mountains. Guillamet was cleaning graffiti from a rock art panel in Kapova Cave when he found the camel image, painted in red ochre and partially outlined in charcoal. Uranium-thorium dating of calcite deposits suggests the camel was painted between 14,500 and 37,700 years old, at a time when camels did not live in the region. Researchers led by Vladislav Zhitenev of Moscow State University suggest the artist may have traveled a long distance to the cave. Horses, bison, mammoths, and woolly rhinoceroses—animals seen in other European caves—were painted as well. A camel image has also been found in Ignatievskaya Cave, which is located in the same region. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Categories: Blog

Julius Caesar’s Possible Landing Site Found in England

November 30, 2017

KENT, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester say a defensive ditch found on the southeastern tip of England may have been left behind by Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54 B.C. The ditch measures about 16 feet wide, and resembles first-century B.C. Roman defenses uncovered in France. The researchers  also uncovered iron weapons, including a Roman javelin, and human bones bearing injuries. The site, located near the open sandy shore of Pegwell Bay, probably included a fort and served to protect Caesar’s 800 Roman ships. “The main purpose of the site is to defend the fleet,” said researcher Andrew Fitzpatrick. Caesar wrote that the ships were drawn onto the beach for repairs after they were damaged during a storm. Scholars had not thought Pegwell Bay a viable land site for the Romans, since it is separated from the mainland. But Fitzpatrick notes that Roman engineers could have overcome the barrier created by Wantsum Channel. “This was the beginning of the permanent Roman occupation of Britain,” explained team member Colin Haselgrove. For more, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”

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