A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 16

Third-Century Document Describes Fixed Wrestling Match

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London has translated a third-century A.D. document from the collection of papyri discovered in the nineteenth century in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. The document records the details of an agreement between the father of Nicantinous and the guarantors of Demetrius to fix an upcoming wrestling match between the two teenaged boys. Under the terms of the contract, Demetrius is to fall three times and yield to Nicantinous in return for 3,800 drachmas of silver of old coinage, a relatively small amount of money. However, Demetrius would owe Nicantinous a large sum if he backed out of the deal. “It doesn’t look as though they’ve actually gone as far as getting a scribe with legal knowledge to do this form them, which makes you wonder if it’s a bit of an empty thing. It’s not really likely that either side is going to [seek recourse] if the other defaults,” Rathbone told Live Science.

Ostia Much Bigger Than Previously Thought

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Ostia, a port of ancient Rome, extended beyond the Tiber River, which had been thought to form the northern edge of the city. Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge discovered a new section of the city’s boundary wall on the opposite side of the Tiber while conducting a geophysical survey of the region between Ostia and Portus, another Roman port. They say that the newly discovered area contained three huge warehouses. “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side,” Simon Keay, director of the Portus Project, told The Telegraph

Scurvy Was Common in Columbus’s Colony

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Scurvy, a disease caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency, may have contributed to the decline of La Isabela, the colony established by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. “There were lots of diseases, fevers, epidemics, we know from their writing. It seems no one was spared. But apparently scurvy played a big role,” archaeologist Vera Tiesler of Mexico’s Universidad Autonoma de Yucatán told National Geographic News. Of the 27 skeletons Tiesler and her colleagues examined, 20 of the Spaniards had striations on the outer lining of weight-bearing bones on both sides of the body. The colonists’ bones also showed signs of healing from scurvy before they were killed by other diseases.

Model T Snowmobile Recovered From Expedition Site

ANAKTALAK BAY, LABRADOR—Archaeologist Jamie Brake of the Nunatsiavut Government is a member of the team recovering a 1926 Model T Ford snowmobile that was used by the Rawson-MacMillan subarctic expedition in 1927 and 1928. The snowmobile, created from a Model T truck, was discovered in 1995. “People recognized how special a thing this was back in those days, and also recognized how vulnerable the site—and the snowmobile in particular—were,” Brake told The Telegram. Restoration plans are in the works, now that the chassis and engine have been recovered. Brake notes that the snowmobile can be seen in photographs and in film footage from the Rawson-MacMillan expedition, when William Duncan Strong unearthed the remains of 22 people that were kept at Chicago’s Field Museum until 2011, when they were returned. 

An Update on Florida’s Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys

MARIANNA, FLORIDA—University of South Florida forensic archaeologist Erin Kimmerle continues to investigate the claims of abuse made by men who attended the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the 1950s and 60s. The remains of 55 children have been exhumed from a cemetery on the grounds of the state-run boys’ reform school. The school did not keep a master list for the burial ground, so Kimmerle and her team are attempting to identify the remains so that they can be returned to the families. “It wasn’t something that was an option in the past when the deaths occurred,” she told BBC News. Kimmerle has not yet ruled out foul play in the deaths of any of the recovered individuals. The investigation has revealed that those who died in a fire had been locked in their rooms and were unable to escape. Others who died in a flu epidemic had been left without food or medicine. The researchers are searching for human remains on other parts of the campus with canine recovery teams.

More Headlines
Tuesday, April 15

Site of Rhode Island’s First Orphanage Excavated

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—The Rhode Island State Home and School Project, led by E. Pierre Morenon of Rhode Island College, has collected oral histories, video, state records, and conducted excavations on the grounds of the state’s first orphanage, which operated from 1885 to 1979. Its last remaining wooden building, known as Yellow Cottage, and two other buildings still stand on the Rhode Island College campus. Morenon and his team uncovered a toy soldier, pieces of roller skates and toy guns, a toy tow truck, buttons, little purses, and many marbles. “For me, there’s a lot of meaning attached to objects. I tend as an archaeologist to think that they are not just functional things, but part of a child’s life,” Morenon told The Providence Journal

Tests of Chilean Mummies Suggest Arsenic Poisoning

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—New research suggests that contaminated water caused chronic arsenic poisoning among the Incas and the Chinchorro who lived in northern Chile between A.D. 500 and 1450. The skin, hair, clothes, and soil encrusting a naturally preserved mummy from the Tarapacá Valley of the Atacama Desert were examined by with nondestructive instruments by archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli of the University of California Los Angeles and her colleagues. The condition of the mummy’s skin suggested arsenic ingestion, so the scientists imaged the hair samples with a very high resolution scanning electron microscope, and analyzed the distribution of elements and minerals in the hair sample with the synchrotron light source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They found that the arsenic had been uniformly distributed through the hair, and that the soil contained much lower concentrations of the toxic element. “The results are consistent with modern epidemiological studies of arsenic poisoning by ingestion,” Kakoulli told Live Science.  

Sod House Dissected in Nebraska

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—A multidisciplinary team of researchers is dissecting a section of wall removed from a sod house in the Great Plains to learn about the lives of nineteenth-century homesteaders. Weighing in at nearly two tons, the wall was carried to The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the “autopsy” is taking place. The wall itself comes apart easily, but the bricks, composed of dirt held together with the roots of prairie grasses, are very sturdy. “It’s a laboratory that we can kind of look to see over the course of a hundred years, what happened as people dealt with changing economic situations and as droughts came and affected them,” archaeologist LuAnn Wandsnider told NET Nebraska.

Court Rules Clay Tablets Remain at Chicago’s Oriental Institute

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Nine American survivors of a 1997 terrorist attack in Jerusalem were awarded damages in a U.S. court for more than $300 million from the Republic of Iran. When Iran refused to pay the damages, the plaintiffs claimed a collection of Achaemenid Tablets on loan to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. But a U.S. court has ruled in a second appeal that the tablets are classified as noncommercial property and are therefore not subject to seizure. The tablets are currently being digitized and cataloged as part of the university’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. “We will return them [to Iran] when we are done recording, analyzing, and publishing them,” Matthew Stolper, head of the project, told The Chicago Maroon.  

Monday, April 14

Wall Suggests Rome Is 200 Years Older Than Previously Thought

ROME, ITALY—Excavations in the Lapis Niger, a black stone shrine in the Roman Forum, have uncovered ceramics, grains, and a wall made of a type of limestone known as tufa. “Examination of the recovered ceramic material has enabled us to chronologically date the wall structure to between the ninth century B.C. and the beginning of the eighth century B.C. So it precedes what is traditionally considered the foundation of Rome,” archaeologist Patrizia Fortuni of Rome’s cultural superintendency told The Telegraph.  

An Update on the Iraq Museum

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—Work continues on the exhibition halls and the main gate at The Iraq Museum, but it may soon open to all Iraqis. “We have coordinated with Baghdad security officials to secure the museum in a better manner than before, and we hope that we will succeed in opening the museum in the first half of 2014. We are determined to reopen to the public—to families and everybody. Not like last time, when it was open only for officials and for a limited time,” museum director Qais Hussein Rashid told The Christian Science Monitor. Archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani is cataloging the museum’s collections, and examining its archives. “People probably thought these archives don’t exist. These are treasures that no one knows about,” she said. 

New Tests Planned for Bronze Age “Racton Man”

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—A Bronze-Age dagger and jaw bone discovered in 1989 by a metal detectorist led to the excavation of a skeleton known as Racton Man. Staining on the bones suggests that the supposed man, who had been buried in a crouched position, was holding the dagger. Rivets were also found in the grave. Recently, scientists have begun to clean the bones and further investigate the remains. Osteological analysis, isoptopic analysis, and carbon dating are planned. “We’re calling him the Mystery Man because we’re waiting for all this analysis to try and find out more about him,” Amy Roberts, collections officer at The Novium, told Culture 24.

Police Recover 5,000-Year-Old Treasure in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sophia News Agency reports that a marble relief dating to the second or third century, two guns, 100 coins, and three necklaces made up of some 15,000 gold beads have been recovered from suspected artifact smugglers by Bulgaria’s Agency for National Security. The necklaces are estimated to be 5,000 years old. “Such things don’t have a price tag, because this is not a supermarket. Those golden artifacts are 1,500 years old than the Trojan War and 2,500 years older than all Thracian treasures that we know of,” said Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of Sofia’s National History Museum.