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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 27

Unusual Medieval Burials Found in York

YORK, ENGLAND--Twelve skeletons dating to the time of the War of the Roses are thought to be the remains of soldiers or criminals executed at nearby Tyburn, where executions took place until 1802. All of the individuals were males between the ages of 24 and 40 at the time of death. Two of the men had suffered bone fractures that may be evidence of fighting. “We knew this was a fascinating find as, unlike fifteenth century Christian burial practice, the skeletons were all together and weren’t facing east-west,” Ruth Whyte, osteo-archaeologist for York Archaeological Trust, told The York Press. “They may have been captured in battle and brought to York for execution, possibly in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses, and their remains hastily buried near the gallows,” she said. To read about the recent discovery of a significant artifact dating to the war, see "War of the Roses Cannonball Recovered."

Fifth-Century Gorget Unearthed in Ohio

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Workers digging a trench earlier this month in Newtown, Ohio, uncovered a Native American burial that included a rare, fifth-century gorget. “A gorget is an ornamental item. These gorgets have three holes in them. They have two at the top for suspension and there’s one in the middle where they possibly could have been attached to clothing or something else,” Bob Genheimer, Rieveschl Curator for Archaeology at the Cincinnati Museum Center, told WVXU Cincinnati. The image on this decorative shell resembles a half bird and half cat. “We believe that the bird may be a Carolina Parakeet. Which, as many people know, is now an extinct bird, but used to be prevalent in the southern United States and as far north as here,” he said. The shell is thought to have come to Ohio from the Gulf Coast or the southern Atlantic region through trade, but it is unknown where the carving was done. The remains have been reported as required by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. To read about a massive archaeological site in Ohio that dates to the same time, see "The Newark Earthworks."

Noblewoman’s Grave Yields Anglo-Saxon Jewelry

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Archaeology student Tom Lucking was exploring a private field with a metal detector when a large and deep signal led him to the top of a bronze bowl. He refilled the hole and called in the geophysics team from the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group and Norfolk County Council’s Heritage Environment Service. The excavation revealed that the bowl was at the foot of the grave of an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who had been buried with a fine pendant made of gold and jewels. “It’s so beautifully made. The garnet cells even have scored gold ‘foil’ at the back of them to catch the light,” archaeologist Steven Ashley of the Historic Environment Service said of the pendant. She also had a chatelaine, and a necklace made of two gold beads and repurposed gold coins. One of the coins in the necklace dates to between 639 and 656, and was minted for the Frankish king, Sigebert III. The bronze bowl was probably also imported from France. “She’s going to have known the kings of East Anglia, and France,” archaeologist Helen Geake commented to EDP 24. The woman’s skeletal remains will be analyzed for information about her age, diet, and medical conditions. For more on Anglo-Saxon archaeology, see "The Kings of Kent.'

Domestic Grain DNA Discovered in Mesolithic Britain

COVENTRY, ENGLAND—A submerged archaeological site off the southern coast of England has yielded DNA from 8,000-year-old wheat. At the time, Mesolithic Britons were hunter-gatherers, but the DNA, collected from the sediments of the Solent, the strait separating the Isle of Wight from mainland England, suggests that they maintained social and trade networks with the Neolithic farmers of mainland Europe. “Common throughout Neolithic Southern Europe, einkorn is not found elsewhere in Britain until 2,000 years after the samples found at Bouldnor Cliff. For the einkorn to have reached this site there needs to have been contact between Mesolithic Britons and Neolithic farmers far across Europe. The land bridges provide a plausible facilitation of this contact. As such, far from being insular Mesolithic Britain was culturally and possibly physically connected to Europe,” said Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, who co-led the research team with Vincent Gaffney of the University of Bradford and Mark Pallen of Warwick Medical School, the Maritime Archaeology Trust, the University of Birmingham, and the University of St. Andrews. “The use of ancient DNA from sediments also opens the door to new research on the older landscapes off the British Isles and coastal shelves across the world,” Gaffney added. To read more about early domestication, see "The Origins of Staple Foods Studied."

More Headlines
Thursday, February 26

High-Tech Tools Map Baptistery of St. John

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Using Lidar technology, ultra-high-resolution photography, and thermal imaging techniques, Mike Hess and Mike Yeager of the University of California, San Diego, created a 3-D digital model of the interior, exterior, and façade of the Baptistery of St. John, which sits in Florence’s Piazza del Duomo. “The point cloud data—taken from 80 Lidar scans—becomes the geometric scaffold for the high-resolution thermal imagery. The data can be projected into 3-D space so we know exactly what we’re looking at spatially. The drawings are spatially accurate and we can now pull a measurement for any part of the building we want to look at, down to the millimeter,” Yeager said in a University of California, San Diego press release. The construction of the Baptistery was completed in 1128 on the site of a Roman temple dating to the fourth or fifth century A.D. Yeager and Hess were joined by cultural heritage engineer Maurizio Seracini, Gianfranco Morelli of Geostudi Astier, and Vid Petrovic of IGERT-TEECH to examine an unexcavated area of the ancient site beneath the Baptistery with ground-penetrating radar. The team found what could be a staircase, two vaulted rooms, and a series of walls and hallways. “Now we’re able to use this technology to reference that data in space and ‘fly’ from the domed ceiling of the Baptistery down into the dirt to the ancient rooms beyond,” Yeager said. For more on how archaeologists use Lidar, read "Lasers in the Jungle."

A History of Pollution

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—Geologists led by Aubrey L. Hillman of the University of Pittsburgh used sediment cores from Erhai Lake to examine levels of heavy metal pollution in southwestern China over the past 4,500 years. According to a report in Science, they found a rise in copper contaminants at the start of China’s Bronze Age, but those levels remained stable until the Mongols conquered China in the late thirteenth century A.D. The sediment cores show that heavy metal pollution during the reign of Kublai Khan and the Mongols, who mined and processed silver for coins, jewelry, art, and taxes, was three to four times higher than modern industrialized mining. To read about a similar study, see "Colonial-Era Air Quality Recorded in Andean Ice." 

4,000-Year-Old Barrow Yields Intact Burials

KRAKOW, POLAND—A Bronze-Age burial mound found in a forest in southeastern Poland through the use of Lidar technology has yielded five burials and a World War I firing post. “Importantly, the mound is the first known structure of this type in the Lublin Upland, as well as throughout [southern Poland], probably dating back to the turn of the third and second millennium B.C.,” Piotr Wlodarczak of the Polish Academy of Sciences told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Four graves of the Strzyżów culture were excavated. “The burial rite is slightly different than in the earlier period, the late Neolithic. The mound we examined had not been raised a single grave of a chosen person, but a few graves,” he added. The largest grave had been placed in the center of the mound. All of them contained hundreds of beads made from clam shells, copper jewelry, animal fang pendants, and flint tools. Rifle shells, shrapnel, and an iron fitting from an ammunition basket suggest that the top of the mound had been used as a firing post during the First World War. For more on Bronze Age Poland, see "4,000-Year-Old Ritual Site Discovered in Poland."

Room Discovered at Bronze Age Temple in Sidon

SIDON, LEBANON—An underground room of the Temple of Sidon has been discovered by a team from the British Museum and the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon at the Frères archaeological site. “Sealed by the imposition of a Persian period building constructed on top of it, this new room is of the highest importance in terms of its monumentality and untouched pottery material, both [domestically produced] and imported from Cyprus and Mycenae,” read a statement from the delegation that was reported in The Daily Star. Wooden artifacts, pottery, and utensils were found within the room, built with monumental stones. The site will be preserved in situ, next to the new national archaeology museum now under construction. For more on archaeology in Lebanon, see "Rebuilding Beirut."

Wednesday, February 25

Islamic Coins Discovered in Viking’s Shield Boss

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Last year, a metal detectorist discovered a sword from the Viking Age in a field in central Norway. Archaeologists from the Museum of Natural History and Archaeology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology excavated the site, and found a grave dating to about A.D. 950 that contained the remains of a Viking and his shield, in addition to the inscribed, high-quality sword. Hidden inside the shield boss they found a leather purse that contained several Islamic coins. Norwegian Vikings arrived in Spain in the 800s, where they may have come in contact with Islamic culture, or perhaps the coins were obtained through trade. “We have not managed to find out who owned the sword, but we know that he was a well-traveled man,” archaeologist Ingrid Ystgaard told NRK, as reported by ThorNews. The shield boss also bears combat scars. “The shield boss has a clear cut mark by an ax or a sword. If he died in combat, we do not know,” added Ystgaard. To read about the earliest Norse raids, see "The First Vikings."

Stone Tools Suggest Modern Humans Lingered in Arabia

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A study of stone tools from Arabia, northeastern Africa, and the Middle East by Jeffrey Rose of the Ronin Institute, and Anthony Marks of Southern Methodist University, begins with the evolution of stone tools from the Nile Valley some 150,000 to 130,000 years ago. That was when hunter-gatherers chipped away the edges of a stone core in a systematic way to produce the single, triangular point characteristic of Nubian tools. It had been thought that the modern human makers of these tools moved rapidly to the Levant, where they invented the points, blades, and scrapers known as Emiran tools, first discovered in a cave near the Sea of Galilee in 1951. “The Emiran is the bridge technology. But where did these guys come from?” Rose asked National Geographic News. Rose and Marks propose that some of the early Nile tool-makers first traveled to Arabia, where their descendants spent tens of thousands of years and developed two new toolkits, whose stone points grew smaller and more elongated over time. Rose and Marks add that after climate changed pushed them into the Levant, these modern-human tool makers learned to strike many blades from a single core. The style of their tools may even have been influenced by local toolmakers, possibly Neanderthals. “Archaeologists have always focused so much on ‘out of Africa and into the Middle East’ that we’ve missed an entire chapter of the human expansion in Arabia,” Rose said. To read more about stone tool technology in Arabia, see "Who Crafted Saudi Arabia's 100,000-Year-Old Tools?"

Intact Roman Tombstone Unearthed in England

CIRENCESTER, ENGLAND—A well-preserved Roman tombstone dating between the first and third centuries A.D. has been unearthed in a parking lot in western England, at the site of the Roman town of Corinium. According to Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology, the inscription on the stone reads: “To the spirit of the departed Bodica [or Bodicaca], wife, lived for 27 years.” Blank space on the piece of carved limestone may have been intended for the use of a spouse or another family member. A skull found near the stone may have belonged to the woman named on the stone. The remains of three children were also uncovered in what may have been a family burial plot. “Perhaps Bodica is a local Gloucestershire girl who’s married an incoming Roman or Gaul from France and has adopted this very Roman way of death,” Holbrook told BBC News. To read about a spectacular Roman-era artifact unearthed in the same town, see "Cirencester's Bronze Cockerel."

Examination Shows Pharaoh Senebkay Was Killed in Battle

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Luxor Times reports that an examination of the skeletal remains of Senebkay, discovered in Abydos last year by Josef Wegner and a team from the University of Pennsylvania, recorded 18 injuries to his bones, including vertical cuts to his feet, ankles, and lower back. It is thought that the king, whose family ruled from 1650 to 1600 B.C., died in battle between the ages of 35 and 49. The wounds to his ankles and feet suggest that he was on horseback when he was attacked from below at close range, and then knocked to the ground and killed with ax wounds to his cranium. The researchers also say that he was mummified long after death, suggesting that he was killed far away from home, perhaps in battle with the Hyksos, who occupied Lower Egypt at the time. To read in-depth about Abydos from the archives of ARCHAEOLOGY, see "Ancient Abydos."