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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.   

More Headlines
Thursday, July 24

18th-Century Structure Excavated at College of William and Mary

  WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists excavating near the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William and Mary are investigating an early eighteenth-century structure thought to have been a brewery because of its central fire pit. The beer would have been safer for the college’s students and faculty to drink than contaminated water. And a trash deposit at the site could tell archaeologists about life at the Wren Building before it was gutted by fire in 1705. “With as much archaeological work as we’ve done in the College Yard over the years, it’s astonishing to find something like this—and to find so much of it still intact,” Louise Kale, director of the historic campus, told The Daily Press.  

Restored Image of Amun Discovered in Sudan

  NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to Live Science, archaeologists have found evidence of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s attempted religious revolution on a carved stone panel that had been reused as a bench at the site of Sedeinga, located in modern-day Sudan. The stone bears an image of Amun and his hieroglyph, and had been part of a temple at Sedeinga dedicated to Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother. During his reign (1353-1336 B.C.), Akhenaten had the name and images of Amun obliterated throughout Egypt, while he promoted the worship of Aten, the sun disk. After Akhenaten’s death, however, the god Amun was restored to prominence. “The name of Amun as well as his face were first hammered out and later carved anew, proving that the persecution of this god extended to this remote province during the reign of Akhenaton and that his images were restored during the following reigns,” Vincent Francigny of the American Museum of Natural History, and Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, wrote in Sudan and Nubia. For more on discoveries at Sedeinga, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."   

Ancient Village Unearthed in Illinois

MURPHSYBORO, ILLINOIS—A survey ahead of road construction near Southern Illinois Airport revealed a village between 700 and 900 years old. Pots, tools, mussel shells, and deer and fish bones have been recovered, and charcoal in the soil suggests that some of the homes burned down. “It’s sort of unclear if these groups spread out and became parts of what we know as the tribes today. Or if they stayed in this location and became something else, or if they moved away entirely,” Patrick Durst of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey told KFVS 12

3-D Imagery Examines Paleolithic Skull Trauma

  BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A 3-D reconstruction of the skull of a child who lived 100,000 years ago suggests that the 12 to 13-year-old suffered a blunt force trauma resulting in a compound fracture. There was a broken piece depressed in his or her skull, which was surrounded by linear fractures. The wound likely caused a moderate traumatic brain injury that may have resulted in personality changes, trouble controlling movements, and difficulty in social communication. The child eventually died and was buried at Qafzeh Cave in Israel’s lower Galilee with two deer antlers lying on the upper part of his or her chest. “Digital imaging and 3-D reconstruction evidenced the oldest traumatic brain injury in a Paleolithic child. Post-traumatic neuropsychological disorders could have impaired social life of this individual who was buried, when a teenager, with a special ritual raising the question of compassion in Prehistory,” Hélène Coqueugniot and her colleagues from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Bordeaux, and the École Pratique des Hautes Études, told Science Daily.   

Wednesday, July 23

Mortuary Bundle Discovered in Central Mexico

ZIMAPAN, MEXICO—A unique mortuary bundle containing the skeletal remains of a young adult was discovered in a rock shelter in the Sierra Gorda region. “The skeleton seems to be complete, but we will not know this with certainty until we can open the shroud, but at first glance we can appreciate the cranium, tibias, clavicles, scapula, and some ribs,” archaeologist Juan Manuel Toxtle Farfan of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told Art Daily. The cranium still has hair. A specialist will have to analyze the colored fabric and mat that make up the bundle before it can be opened and the bones closely examined, but Toxtle Farfan and Ariana Aguilar Romero think the bundle is pre-Hispanic. “It is known that in the Mesoamerican beliefs, caves and other rocky refuges were considered entrances to the underworld and the residence of death deities, which is why they served as funerary spaces in most cases,” Toxtle Farfan explained.           

Iron Age Industrial Hearth Found in Cornwall

PORTHLEVEN, ENGLAND—According to The Falmouth Packet, an Iron Age industrial hearth and a Bronze Age settlement have been discovered in southwest England. The hearth is the first of its kind to be found in Cornwall, where strong winds would have fanned the flames. Community archaeologist Richard Mikulski says that the hearth was stone-lined and had a flue to control the fire. Impressions in the baked clay could have been left by pots that were fired there, and there’s also evidence of metalworking. Nearby, Mikulski has found round houses and stones that may have been used for processing wheat into flour during the Bronze Age.

Binchester Roman Fort Yields Well-Preserved Ring, Walls

BISHOP AUCKLAND, ENGLAND—Excavations at Binchester Roman Fort have uncovered the seven-foot-tall walls of a bath house and a small plunge bath. “There is also some really interesting evidence for the plumbing, including a drain in the base which seems to line up with some of the culverts we’ve picked out in the nearby floor, as well as some gaps within the wall which may have originally contained lead piping or some other mechanism for channeling the water,” David Petts of Durham University told Culture 24. The bath house was also equipped with a bread oven and an altar dedicated to the Roman goddess Fortune the Home-bringer. Other finds include a large rectangular cavalry barrack for stables and troops, and a four-seat latrine. A silver ring with an intaglio that shows two fish hanging from an anchor suggests an early link to Christianity. “The form of the ring and the shape of the stone seem to indicate a third century date. This is a surprisingly early date for a Christian object in Britain,” Petts explained.       

Replica Nazi Defenses Studied in Scotland

  DUNBLANE, SCOTLAND—Battlefield archaeologist Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow and Janice Ainslie of Dunblane Museum are studying a concrete wall built at Sheriffmuir in 1943. The ten-foot-tall wall, which was constructed according to plans stolen from German engineers by French painter Rene Duchez, replicated the German concrete defenses that stretched from Norway to the Spanish border. “A lot of the training for D-Day was done at this wall. Training grounds like this were key in bringing units together that had never fought before and giving them real world experience,” Pollard told The Herald Scotland. Laser scans of the wall may help the researchers determine what kinds of weapons were used in training. And Pollard may excavate at the site of the gun turrets at one end of the wall. Sand, rumored to have been dumped in front of the wall to recreate the conditions on France’s beaches, could be found.