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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 31

Fifth-Century Building Unearthed in Japan

TAKATORI, JAPAN—Kanekatsu Inokuma of Kyoto Tachibana University has uncovered an “o-kabe,” or large-wall structure dating to the late fifth century. The building was constructed using a method from the Korean Peninsula, and may have been part of a Korean settlement where immigrants who served the Japanese Emperor Yuryaku lived. “I believe the structure served as part of a settlement of foreigners, who settled in Japan and introduced document administration and foreign policy” Inokuma told The Asahi Shimbun. This is one of the largest such structures in Japan. Its walls were made from poles set in ditches, covered in mud, and then painted. The building also had a Korean heating system under its floor. To read more about the legend of the kamikaze wind in Japanese history, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

Artifact Update from Virginia’s James Fort

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The excavation of the cellar of a building and a well that stood outside of the walls of James Fort has yielded Irish pennies, minted by the English between 1601 and 1602. The coins fell into disuse when the Irish rejected them, however. Mary Outlaw, curator of collections for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, told that one of the earliest colonists, the son of an official at the Royal Mint, may have brought the coins to the colony, since more Irish pennies have been found on Jamestown Island than anywhere else in the world. The team has also recovered the matchlock firing mechanisms for two muskets. The muskets’ wooden stocks have not survived; the barrels were probably made of a higher-quality metal that was melted down and reused. Conservator Dan Gamble has cleaned a piece of wood decorated with copper tacks. Scholars are still trying to identify what it might be. To read about how archaeologists helped solved a 17th-century Jamestown mystery, go to "Jamestown Murder Solved."

Prehistoric Mass Grave Excavated in China

CHANGCHUN, CHINA—At the 5,000-year-old settlement site of Hamin Mangha in northeast China, archaeologists have excavated the remains of 97 people whose bodies had been placed in a small dwelling before it burned, according to a report in Live Science. An epidemic or some sort of disaster that prevented the survivors from completing proper burials has been blamed for the deaths. “The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining. But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers,” the research team from Jilin University wrote in an article for the Chinese archaeological journal Kaogu, and in English in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The bodies were probably damaged when the building’s roof collapsed during the fire. To read about a mass grave from the Roman period in Macedonia, go to "Mass Grave Mystery."


More Headlines
Thursday, July 30

Pre-Colonial Town Excavated in Virginia

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—A team from William & Mary is excavating Kiskiack, a pre-colonial town of some 200 residents that was part of the chiefdom of Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. Located on a bluff overlooking the York River, the mostly intact site is known to have been a center of clamshell bead production, and it had probably been occupied for hundreds of years before the arrival of the English Jamestown colonists in 1607. This season, the team has unearthed a hearth and a series of postholes that may represent a defensive palisade. “One reason this town became so big was because of its political importance. There is evidence of political authority here in the form of a chief in residence by 1607. There is also evidence of economic activity here in the form of craft production,” archaeologist Martin Gallivan said in a press release. To read about an instance of cannibalism at the Jamestown colony, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

Artifacts Reflect Bali’s Ancient Ties to India

BALI, INDONESIA—Two-thousand-year-old pottery and beads from India unearthed in the port towns of Sembiran and Pacung in northern Bali are providing new evidence of the island’s ancient link to India. Names of places located in India, such as Nalanda, Amravati, and Varanasi, were inscribed on the pottery, and those place names were sometimes used to name the homes of officials or priests in the Balinese kingdoms. “In the early times, Indian traders came and stimulated the social structures [with Sanskrit, and Hindu and Buddhist ideology]. When Bali adopted Buddhism, the second migration from the eighth century A.D. to the eleventh century A.D. came to strengthen the Indian influence. It was the second massive contact with India,” archaeologist I. Wayan Ardika of Udayana University explained to the Indo-Asian News Service. Evidence of intermarriage has also been found in remains at burial sites in Julah. “We found Indian DNA on the human remains which indicates there was marriage; the Indian trader may have married locals,” Ardika added. To read about the discovery of the earliest known cave art in Indonesia, go to "On the Origins of Art."

New Technique May Identify Stolen Stones

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A technique that has been developed by scientists at Loughborough University to track stolen metals could eventually help authorities in heritage conservation and enforcement trace stones stolen from historic sites in rural areas. A chemical blueprint of the stone is extracted with a gelatin sheet usually used to lift developed fingerprints or footprints. The sample is then scanned using laser induced breakdown spectroscopy. “This technique of lifting a sample from the surface of stone and scanning it could ultimately lead to us feeding the results into a national database, providing an indication of where geographically that sample came from. This can be done by comparing stone samples with other stone located across the country and could prove to be a useful point of reference for those tackling stone theft,” researcher Paul Kelly said in a press release. To read about how lasers are being used by archaeologists in a completely different way, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Mosaic Floor Uncovered in Georgia

WARSAW, POLAND—A large, first-century bathhouse is being excavated at Apsarus, a Roman fort located in Georgia on the Black Sea, by a team of archaeologists from the University of Warsaw and the Gonio-Apsarus Museum and Sanctuary. They have recently discovered a mosaic featuring geometric designs that had been installed over a heated floor. “Although many floor mosaics have been discovered in the countries around the Mediterranean, the Gonio find should be regarded as exceptional. It is one of the few examples of discovery of a luxury finish flooring in a bath house built by the army for its own needs,” Radoslaw Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski told Science & Scholarship in Poland. To read about some of the ancient Roman world's most stunning mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Wednesday, July 29

Cat’s Paw Prints Found on Roman Roof Tile

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A cat’s paw prints were spotted on a first-century Roman roof tile unearthed in Gloucester in 1969 by an archaeologist who had been looking through the thousands of tile fragments stored at the Gloucester City Museum. “When Romans made roof tiles they left the wet clay out to dry in the sun. Animals, and people, sometimes walked across the drying tiles and left their footprints behind,” a museum spokesperson told The Telegraph. “Dog paw prints, people’s boot prints, and even a piglet’s trotter print have all be found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare,” added Lise Noakes, cabinet member for culture and leisure at Gloucester City Council. To read about some of those types of dog prints, and much more about the roles of ancient dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Study of Magnetic Fields Assisted by Iron Age Archaeology

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK—Information gathered by archaeologist Thomas Huffman of Witwatersrand University has assisted geophysicist John Tarduno and astrophysicist Eric Blackman of the University of Rochester, and geologist Michael Watkeys of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. They are studying the magnetic field record in southern Africa, and its relationship to the reversals of the Earth’s magnetic poles. During the Iron Age in southern Africa, (between 1000 and 1500 A.D.), agricultural communities ritually cleansed their villages by burning down huts and grain bins. The clay floors of the huts and grain bins reached temperatures hot enough to erase the magnetic information stored in the mineral magnetite, and create a new record of the magnetic field strength at the time of the fire. The scientists were able to use this information to understand the weakening of the magnetic field in the region. “It has long been thought reversals start at random locations, but our study suggests this may not be the case,” Tarduno said in a press release. To read about some of our earliest ancestors in Africa, go to "Toothsome Evidence."

Medieval Distillation Vessel Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia News Agency reports that while excavating the medieval Lyutitsa fortress above the town of Ivaylovgrad, a team led by archaeologist Filip Petrunov discovered a fragment of a vessel used for the distillation of rakia, a traditional fruit brandy that is still enjoyed today. The fragment, which dates to the eleventh century, is the second vessel for the distillation of rakia to be found in the fortress, and the third one to have been found in Bulgaria. All three vessels date to the eleventh century. It has been argued that Bulgarians did not begin to produce rakia until the sixteenth century. To read about the art of wine-making in ancient France, go to "French Wine, Italian Vine."

Ground-Penetrating Radar Maps Lithuania’s Great Synagogue

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced in a press release that significant remains of the Great Synagogue and Shulhof of Vilna have been mapped with ground-penetrating radar. The international research team was led by John Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Zenonas Baubonis of the Culture Heritage Conservation Authority of Lithuania, and Richard Freund of the University of Hartford. The Great Synagogue, built in the seventeenth century in the Renaissance-Baroque style, was the oldest monument of Jewish culture in Lithuania. The structure was eventually surrounded by 12 synagogues, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the Strashun library, and a ritual bath complex. Vilna’s Jewish community was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, and the remains of the buildings were later demolished by the Soviets. A school was built on the site, but the new survey revealed sections of the Great Synagogue and traces of what may have been the miqva’ot, or ritual bath complex. Plans are being made to excavate the site next year. To read more about how archaeology has shed light on Napoleon's experience in the city of Vilnius, go to "Digging Napoleon's Dead."