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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, August 27

Australia’s Fremantle Prison Excavated

FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Excavations of the parade ground, original bath house, and former engine house at Fremantle Prison have revealed information about the prison’s role in the region’s economy during the nineteenth century. Inmates learned to operate state-of-the art steam engines and boilers and left the prison with skills that were in demand in the local mining communities. But the prison housed Euro-Australian inmates only—Aboriginal convicts were sent to a prison at Wadjemup on Rottnest Island, where they received no skills training. “Fremantle Prison had boundaries that were explicit and enforced, but it also acted as a centerpiece of a spatially distributed system of labor control across Western Australia,” Thomas Whitely of the University of Western Australia told Science Network. “Those traveling to Wadjemup—a forbidden place to most Aboriginals—were not expected to return, much like the convicts transported to Australia from England,” Whitley added. For more, go to "Rogue's Gallery: The Convicts of Early Australia." 

Breeched Cannon Discovered at Revolutionary War Site

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—During the Battle of Red Bank, fought on October 22, 1777, American forces defending Fort Mercer and the Delaware River against an army of Hessian soldiers fired a cannon that exploded and killed 12 American soldiers. Archaeologists from John Milner Associates (JMA) were investigating the battlefield in National Park, Gloucester County, New Jersey, when they found musket balls, shell fragments, buttons, buckles, ramrods, and possibly the massive cannon. “Everyone was surprised when the ground-penetrating radar picked up a large anomaly about two feet down. Maybe the force of the explosion rocketed it into the earth. Or maybe it was buried along with other artillery pieces before the American retreated,” Jennifer Janofsky, curator of the Red Bank Battlefield Park, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. The archaeological team also looked for remains of the hundreds of Hessians who died during the battle. “While they did find small bone fragments, as well as an eighteenth-century button, it will take lab analysis to determine if the bones are human. Given the sandy nature of the soil, the bones were quite soft and difficult to identify,” she added. To read more about the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to "Small Skirmish in the War for Freedom."

Neanderthal Cave Featured Hot Water, One Bedroom

TARRAGONA, SPAIN—Some 10,000 Neanderthal artifacts, hearths, and a sleeping area have been found this month at Abric Romaní, an archaeological site in the Catalonia region of Spain. Archaeologists from The Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) found a hole among the hearths and heated rocks near a wall of the rockshelter that may have been used to heat water some 60,000 years ago. Other artifacts from this level of the cave suggests that the Neanderthal inhabitants used different parts of the cave for butchering game, tool knapping, and trash disposal. An area in the inner part of the rockshelter is thought to have been used for sleeping because it had a lower density of artifacts. The researchers say that this is the first time that a sleeping area has been identified at a Neanderthal site. To read more about Paleolithic domestic spaces, go to "Letter From France: Structural Integrity."

Blue Pigment Detected in Roman-Era Mummy Portraits

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS—The pigment Egyptian blue has been found hidden in Roman-era Egyptian mummy portraits by a team of scientists from Northwestern University and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. In visible light, only the colors yellow, white, black, and red can be seen by the naked eye in the paintings, which were discovered at the turn of the twentieth century at the site of Tebtunis in the Fayum region of Egypt. “But when we started doing our analysis, all of a sudden we started to see strange occurrences of this blue pigment, which luminesces. We concluded that although the painters were trying hard not to show they were using this color, they were definitely using blue,” Marc Walton of Northwestern University said in a press release. Roman-era painters emulated Greek art by using the Greek palette of yellow, white, black, and red, and not the man-made blue pigment. “We are speculating that the blue has a shiny quality to it, that it glistens a little when the light hits the pigment in certain ways. The artists could be exploiting these other properties of the blue color that might not necessarily be intuitive to us at first glance,” he said. To read more, go to "From Egyptian Blue to Infrared."


More Headlines
Wednesday, August 26

1,500-Year-Old Remains of Newborn Found in Siberia

GORNO-ALTAISK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the partially mummified remains of an infant were discovered by a team from Gorno-Altaisk State University during the excavation of a burial mound near Kurai village in southern Siberia. “The child was buried in a separate small burial mound located between the mounds of two adults, probably the parents. [The baby] was buried in a tightly closed stone box, so the body was in an isolated air chamber for over 1,500 years. This partially preserved the soft body tissue and fragments of a leather shroud, in which the baby was wrapped. Sadly the head was not preserved at all,” said archaeologist Nikita Konstantinov. The burials are thought to belong to the Bulan-Kobinskaya culture. DNA analysis could provide more information about who these people were and how they lived. To read about another archaeological discovery in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude." 

Conservators Restore Frescos in Stabiae Villa

WARSAW, POLAND—Murals dating to the first century B.C. in Stabiae’s Villa Arianna were conserved by a team from the Ethnographic Archaeological Monuments Conservation Laboratory of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The wealthy town of Stabiae, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The conservators, working as part of the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation and the Soprintendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia, removed layers of dirt and materials added during previous restoration projects from the wall paintings, which resemble marble cladding and architectural elements including columns, pilasters, and decorated cornices. “With our treatments, the rooms earlier closed because of the bad state of preservation of the frescoes, have now been made available to the public,” team member Krzysztof Chmielewski told Science & Scholarship in Poland. To read in-depth about a similar effort, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Scientists Test Hunter-Gatherers’ Conical Mortars

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—Researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Harvard University reconstructed the process of preparing wild barley into meal and flour some 12,500 years ago by experimenting with mortars carved into the bedrock at Huzuq Musa, a site in the Jordan Valley where as many as 100 hunter-gatherers once lived. “The conical, human-made hollows, found all over Southeast Asia, were noticed by archaeologists decades ago, but there was no agreement about their function,” Mordechai Kislev of Bar-Ilan University explained in a press release. The team members collected wild barley, separated the grains from the stalks, beat them on a threshing floor with a curved stick, sieved out the grains, and then turned to the ancient mortars. “Filled with a measure of the raw grain and beaten with a wooden pestle, the wider cones were used for hummeling—removal of the bristle that extends from the edge of the seed. The narrower cones came into play during the next stage, when the same wooden pestle was used to remove the grain husk,” added physicist Adiel Karty. Taking the husk off the grain makes it possible to grind it into flour and bake bread. For more on early agriculture, go to "Evidence of Trial Cultivation Found in Israel."

Neanderthal Spear Points Recovered From Spanish Cave

TARRAGONA, SPAIN—More than 20 spear points once used for hunting by Neanderthals, and the butchered and roasted bones of animals, have been recovered from Teixoneres Cave by scientists from The Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES). The 50,000-year-old weapons show signs of wear from hard surfaces, perhaps the bones of the horses, aurochs, red deer, wild asses, roe deer, goat, chamois, rhinos, and rabbits that have been recovered from the cave. Older layers in the cave show that Neanderthals displaced hyenas and other large carnivores from this cave. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Tuesday, August 25

Cave Lion Bones May Represent Stone Age Sacrifices

BASHKIRIA, RUSSIA—Some 500 giant cave lion bones, ten stone spearheads, and the skull of a cave bear pierced by a spear have been recovered from Imanai Cave in the Ural Mountains. “Such a large quantity of giant cave lion bones at one site is really unique, the only one in the world so far discovered,” Pavel Kosintsev of the Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Science told The Siberian Times. He says that the bones were found deep in the cave, which is unusual for lions, so the bones may represent the remains of sick or injured animals that were brought into the cave by humans. The spearheads are the only signs of human activity found in the cave so far, however. “The recent findings, from the lower layers, can be older, up to 60,000 years ago. If we will get older data, it could be the world’s most ancient sanctuary of this type. But of course we must wait for the exact data,” he said.  To read about Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man."

Mycenaean Palace Complex Excavated

ATHENS, GREECE—Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced that the ongoing excavations at Laconia have uncovered a palace complex dating to the fifteenth or early fourteenth centuries B.C. reports that a fire destroyed several of the buildings, but preserved Linear B tablets and seals, which were found in what is thought to have been the palace’s archive. Records of commercial transactions, sanctuary offerings, male and female names, and names of places were among the documents written on unbaked clay. The site has also yielded a sanctuary containing clay and ivory figurines, decorative objects, and bronze swords. Another building contained fragments of colorful murals. To read more about the Bronze Age, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

18th-Century Shipwreck Discovered in Maryland River

CALVERT COUNTY, MARYLAND—Workers removing debris while repairing the US 50 Bridge over the Nanticoke River discovered timbers and alerted archaeologists with the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration. The intact keel, frames, and other timbers from an eighteenth-century vessel were lifted from the river and transferred to the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Laboratory. Researchers found that the ship was held together with wooden pegs and a few iron fasteners, and it had been built with wood from local oak trees. “The inadvertent discovery of this shipwreck is an amazing opportunity to study early maritime history. It reminds us how Marylanders used to move goods and people across the region,” SHA Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky said in a press release. A virtual reconstruction of the vessel will be produced with 3-D laser scans of the timbers. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

3-D Map Made of Lincoln’s Presidential Cottage

CORTLAND, NEW YORK—Scott Stull of the State University of New York, Cortland, and Michael “Bodhi” Rogers of Ithaca College have used lasers to create a 3-D map of President Lincoln’s Cottage, located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. The cottage, a 34-room Gothic revival mansion, served as Lincoln’s summer retreat from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, and was where he finished writing the Emancipation Proclamation. “This was a very important place for Lincoln because you could get away from the press of the crowd. And the design of the house was very well situated to get the summer breezes. The whole south side of the house opens up for some accentuated cross breezes from off this long hill,” Stull said in a press release. The house was also used by Presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. The team will next assist with the mapping of President Ulysses S. Grant’s retreat near Saratoga Springs, New York. “Looking at two presidential cottages is like looking at a very specific aspect of society, but they are one of the manifestations of how the political elite lived,” Stull explained. To read more about laser mapping, go to "The Past in High-Def."