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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 29

Traces of 19th-Century Courthouse Found in Illinois

BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS—Excavations at the McLean County Museum of History have uncovered part of the footprint of the 1836 courthouse where Abraham Lincoln often worked as an attorney. “They found the corner and now can plot out the exact location. These are the physical remains of an incredibly historical episode in McLean County,” museum director Greg Koos told The Pantagraph. The two-story brick structure replaced a wood-frame building, until it was eventually torn down and replaced in 1868. Archaeologists Christopher Stratton and Floyd Mansberger of Fever River Research also found a line of fence posts, and they recovered pieces of glass, a pipe stem, ceramic pieces, spikes, and nails. The researchers will dig in the four corners of the property, including the site of two early jails.

Family Will Pay for Utah Rock Art Repairs

PRICE, UTAH—Repairs to the protected Nine Mile Canyon Pregnant Buffalo rock art panel reportedly will be paid for by the family of the juveniles who defaced it. The two juveniles carved their initials and the date into the rock face over Memorial Day weekend, which was reported to the authorities by concerned citizens. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that the restoration will cost $1,500. “I hope people try to think about the consequences and the effect their actions have on history,” one of the youths told The Standard Examiner after a BLM law enforcement officer met with the family.

Erosion Exposes Human Remains on Kwajalein Atoll

MANJORO, KWAJALEIN ATOLL—The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that rising seas and coastal erosion have exposed human bones on the Marshall Islands. The bones are thought to be the remains of Japanese soldiers killed during fierce fighting between American forces and the Imperial Japanese Army in early 1944. Michael Terlep, chief archaeologist at the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office, examined the bones with a representative of the U.S. government. They concluded that the bones have Asian characteristics, and bullets and Japanese military artifacts were found with the bones. If the remains are confirmed to be Japanese, they will be repatriated. An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers are thought to have been killed on the Marshall Islands or in the surrounding ocean during World War II.

Macabre Ritual Site Unearthed in Denmark

ARHUS, DENMARK—In 2012, the remains of an entire army were discovered in the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland. Archaeologists from Aarhus University, Skanderborg Museum, and Moesgaard Museum have examined the 2,000-year-old bones, and found that the soldiers’ remains were collected some six months after death, desecrated, and cast into Mossø Lake in what was likely a religious ritual. “We have found a wooden stick bearing the pelvic bones of four different men. In addition, we have unearthed bundles of bones, bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls,” project manager Mads Kähler Holst of Aarhus University told Phys.org. The human bones were mixed with the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that probably contained food. 

More Headlines
Monday, July 28

Shells & Bones Found at Cahokia May Reflect Cosmology

COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS—Students from the University of Bologna unearthed a collection of artifacts that could represent the cosmological view of the Mississippians living at Cahokia Mounds. Whelk shells, imported from the Gulf Coast, a dog bone, and bird bones were found in a ceremonial pit, along with two toggles that may have tied the items together in a bundle. The shells are thought to represent the lower world of the cosmos, the dog bone the middle world where humans lived, and the bird bones the upper world. “Most of what we find are fragments of pottery shards and little bits of arrow points and things like that. So 95 percent of what we find are that kind of stuff. But when we find something that represents what we think, it was actually a bundle, a sack, with things laid in there in a very specific order related to their cosmological view, that’s a pretty significant find,” Cahokia Mounds Museum Society Executive Director Lori Belknap told The News Democrat

WTC Ship May Have Been Built in Philadelphia ca. 1773

  NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Researchers from the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University analyzed samples taken from the partial hull of a wooden ship discovered 22 feet below street level at the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in 2010. Hickory in the keel helped them to narrow the search for the ship’s origins to the eastern United States. White oak in the ship is similar to samples from a study of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall. Philadelphia was one of the most—if not the most—important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there,” Dario Martin-Benito of Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab told Live Science. Most of the ship’s timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more on the discovery of the ship, read ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."   

Mass Grave Uncovered in Bolivia

  POTOSI, BOLIVIA—A mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of people was uncovered by construction workers in the El Minero district of Potosi in the Andes Mountains. Sergio Fidel of Tomas Frias University thinks that the site may have been an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants during the Spanish colonial era, when the ethnic Aymara were put to work in the silver mines, or victims of the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s. “We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters, and human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” Fidel told AFP.   

Friday, July 25

Historic Railroad Tools Found in Canada

CALGARY, CANADA—According to a report by Newstalk 770, a hand-stamped brick, metal pickax heads, rail spikes, and window glass that could date to the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway in the 1880s were uncovered by utility workers in downtown Calgary. The artifacts were found along the old railway line in what is now a power substation. Archaeologists have been called in to try to determine the exact age of the tools. 

Faces of Medieval Scots Reconstructed

  EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Forensic artists from the University of Dundee have rebuilt the faces of several of the nearly 400 men, women, and children whose remains were discovered in a medieval cemetery five years ago. “We have had a forensic pathology report done on all of the remains and that is allowing us to gain information about the population,” city archaeologist John Lawson told The Edinburgh Evening News. Most of those buried in South Leith Parish Church’s graveyard probably died of infectious diseases, and a small number of the women died in childbirth. Chemical analysis of a sample of the bones suggests that 80 percent of the dead had grown up in the Leith or Edinburgh area, eating a diet made up of predominately meat and dairy products with some marine fish. “It would have been a difficult life and it would have been hard for these folk because it was only a small hamlet,” added Jim Tweedie of Leith History Society.  

Excavation of The London Continues

  ESSEX, ENGLAND—Local divers and archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology continue to explore the wreckage of The London, a warship that was carrying 300 barrels of gunpowder when it blew up in 1665. Until now, the ship has been preserved in the silt and mud of the Thames Estuary, the ship’s timbers are now being destroyed by changing tidal patterns and dredging for the London Gateway port development. One woman and 24 men of the 350-member crew survived the explosion, but many of the human remains recovered so far have been women. “It’s a good question why there were so many women, and one on which I wouldn’t care to speculate,” archaeologist Dan Pascoe told The Guardian. The researchers have also recovered a clay pipe, tallow candles, a pistol, musket shot, spoons, and part of a scale. The team expects that many of The London’s guns are still buried in the silt.  

Thousands of Earlier Stone Age Artifacts Found in South Africa

  CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artifacts have been discovered at an archaeological site at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa by archaeologists from the University of Cape Town, the University of Toronto, and the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa. The site, which is estimated to be between 700,000 and one million years old, is located in a major mining center and development zone. “We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa,” Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto told Science Daily.