Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 17

New Dates Obtained for Bones from Canada’s Bluefish Caves

MONTREAL, CANADA—New radiocarbon dates have been obtained for animal-bone fragments discovered in northern Yukon’s Bluefish Caves in the 1970s, according to a report in CBC News. If confirmed, the results could push back the human presence in the area known as Beringia by 10,000 years. Ariane Burke and Lauriane Bourgeon of the University of Montreal examined some 36,000 bone fragments from the caves, and found 15 with cut marks and 20 others with possible cut marks. They sent the bones to Thomas Higham of Oxford University for radiocarbon dating. The oldest of the marked bones, a horse’s mandible that appears to have had its tongue removed with a stone tool, has been dated to at least 23,000 years ago. The researchers say these new dates support genetic research indicating a group of early migrants was isolated in Beringia, perhaps by glaciers, between 15,000 and 24,000 years ago. Tools and charcoal have not been found in the Bluefish Caves, however. “Is it the final chapter?” asked Yukon government archaeologist Greg Hare. “I don’t think so. But it’s good, solid work, and I’m excited they’ve been able to revisit it and come up with those dates.” To read in-depth about the peopling of the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Low Water Levels Reveal Buddha Carving in Eastern China

NANCHANG, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that archaeologists have examined a 12-foot-tall Buddha statue that has been submerged in Hongmen Reservoir in eastern China for more than 50 years. The statue, carved into a cliff face, emerged when renovations to the hydropower gate lowered the water level of the reservoir by more than 30 feet. According to Xu Changqing, head of the Jiangxi Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology, the style of the statue suggests that it was carved during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The research team also examined the flooded remains of the town of Xiaoshi, which had been a trade center and a hub for water transportation. Local history suggests that the statue had been placed at the dangerous intersection of two rivers noted for the rapid flow of water. “According to folk tale[s], the ancient people built the statue to pray for safety,” said Guan Zhiyong, head of the Hongmen Township government. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Personalized Necklace Recovered at Nazi Extermination Camp

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Live Science reports that excavations at the Sobibór Nazi extermination camp in eastern Poland have uncovered a silver medallion thought to have belonged to a German Jewish girl named Karoline Cohn. The pendant, along with other pieces of jewelry, was uncovered near the site of a barracks for female prisoners. It is inscribed with the birthdate July 3, 1929, the words “Mazal Tov” in Hebrew, and “Frankfurt A.M.,” referring to the city and the Main River. Researchers used a deportation database maintained by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, to link the information on the pendant to Karoline Cohn. Cohn was born on July 3, 1929, and was deported from Frankfurt on November 11, 1941, to the Minsk ghetto, where some records indicate she died. If she did not carry the pendant to Sobibór herself from the Minsk ghetto, it may have been transported by a family member. Archaeologist Yoram Haimi of the Israel Antiquities Authority is investigating a possible family tie between Cohn and diarist Anne Frank, who was also born in 1929 and owned a nearly identical necklace. “It’s exactly the same, but only with a different birthdate,” Haimi said. Additional examples of the pendant may surface as the investigation continues. For more, go to “Gas Chamber Found at Sobibór Death Camp.”


More Headlines
Friday, January 13

Fortified Gate Unearthed at Desert Copper Mine

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A fortified gatehouse has been found in the Timna Valley, at a copper-smelting site thought to date to the tenth century B.C., according to a report by Live Science. Discovered in the 1930s, the site is known as Slaves’ Hill because the walls that surrounded it were thought to have been intended to imprison workers. But Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University and his team have found evidence of a high-quality diet enjoyed by the residents of the Iron Age settlement. Ben-Yosef suggests the gate represents the entrance of a highly organized defense system to protect people and goods from possible attack. “Copper was a rare product and very challenging to produce,” Ben-Yosef explained. Piles of donkey dung were found in both rooms of the gatehouse. Donkeys may have worked in the copper mines, and their dung may have been used as fuel for the copper-smelting furnaces. Analysis of the dung indicates that the donkeys had been fed a diet of hay and the skins, pulp, and stems of grapes that were probably imported from the Mediterranean. “The food suggests special treatment and care,” Ben-Yosef added. To read about another recent archaeological discovery in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Possible 16th-Century Graves Found in Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report from CBS News, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt has found four sets of human remains under Charlotte Street in downtown St. Augustine. He thinks the remains could belong to settlers who arrived in Florida in the sixteenth century with Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and were buried at the church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which stood at the site. “I think this is probably just as significant as the Castillo de San Marcos because it represents the earliest colonial history of the downtown area,” he explained, referring to a fort built in St. Augustine in the late 17th century. Halbirt plans to excavate further to determine whether any other remains are in the area before the beginning of construction of a new water line. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Traces of a Civil War Trench Uncovered in Virginia

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA—A report by The Free Lance-Star states that archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a park near the Rappahannock River uncovered traces of a Civil War–era trench. All that remains of the trench is a brown stain containing pieces of oyster shells, porcelain, and other artifacts. “It could have been a rear line of fortifications behind the main line of defenses,” commented field director Joe Blondino. Eric Mink, cultural resources manager for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said that no maps of trenches in the area are known to have been made, but they were photographed from the opposite bank of the river. The excavation of the site has also unearthed the remains of a house where two mayors of Fredericksburg lived, its outbuildings, and a possible slave quarters; a vial of mercury tincture; buttons from Civil War uniforms, including some marked with the logo of the 14th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry; and human bone fragments thought to be the remains of Union soldiers. Historical records indicate that the mayors’ house served as a hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. For more on archaeology relating to the Civil War, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

Thursday, January 12

Bronze Toy Offers Clues to Roman Racing Technology

MADISON, WISCONSIN—According to a report in Seeker, Bela Sandor, professor emeritus of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined a highly detailed toy chariot discovered in the Tiber River in the 1890s. The hand-sized toy is thought to have been made for a wealthy racing enthusiast some 2,000 years ago. Sandor was able to use the dimensions of the model to estimate the size and weight of a full-sized racing chariot. He and Judith Swaddling of the British Museum also noted that the wheels of the bronze model, which is missing one of its two galloping horses and its charioteer, do not match. Sandor explained that racing chariot wheels, which measured about two feet in diameter, were usually made of wood, animal hide glue, and rawhide strips to hold them together at the joints. A thin strip of iron, visible on the outside of the toy’s right wheel, may have been added to strengthen and stabilize it for the repeated left turns in an oval-shaped arena. “Without any iron on the wheels, the right wheel was failing often and predominantly, while both wheels having iron tires tended to be safe but were seldom a winning combination,” Sandor said. To read about a recently discovered mosaic depicting a horse race, go to “And They’re Off!

New Thoughts on the Origins of Human Speech

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that an international team of researchers led by Louis-Jean Boe of Grenoble Alpes University analyzed 1,335 vocalizations made by male and female baboons in order to investigate the possible origins of human speech. It had been suggested that a low, modern human-like larynx was necessary for the production of vowel sounds. If so, the spoken language of modern humans could only have originated sometime during the last 100,000 to 70,000 years. But the new research indicates that baboon tongues have the same muscles as human tongues, and could be used to form vowel sounds in a way similar to that of modern humans. Furthermore, the analysis of baboon vocalizations indicates that they make five distinct vowel-like sounds to communicate, even though they have the high larynx typical of non-human primates. The findings suggest spoken language may have evolved from skills possessed by the last common ancestor of baboons and modern humans, who lived some 25 million years ago. For more, go to “The Monkey Effect.”

3,000-Year-Old Crocodile Bones Unearthed at Ruins of Haojing

XI’AN, CHINA— reports that 12 crocodile lamellae, or thin bone plates, were discovered at Haojing, part of the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty from 1066 to 770 B.C. Pottery, stone and bronze tools, tombs, pottery kilns, and wells have also been found at the site. “The discovery provides important materials for the study of the ecological distribution of crocodiles in the Western Zhou Dynasty,” said Yue Lianjian of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, since the animals usually live in marshy, tropical areas. The researchers also suggest that the presence of crocodile bones at the site could be related to the production of tuogu, a type of drum made with crocodile skin that has also been found at Haojing. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”