Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 02

Everyday Life at Angkor Wat Investigated

 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A team led by University of Sydney archaeologist Alison Carter is excavating the site of an ordinary house at Ankor Wat. Until now, researchers have concentrated their efforts on the more spectacular remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries A.D. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the temples and inscriptions and the elite members of the society, but there’s still so much that can be learned about the regular people who were contributing to the Angkorian empire," Carter told the Phnom Penh Post "I hope that this project can spark some interest in those regular people.” So far, the team has unearthed a number of ceramics related to cooking. They hope to find evidence that will give scholars a clearer picture of diet and agricultural practices of the time. To read more about work at Angkor, go to "Remapping the Khmer Empire." 

Ancient Tuscan Villa Opens its Doors

GIANUTTRI, ITALY—An impressive ancient Roman villa that has been closed to the public for more than a decade has reopened for visitors, according to Discovery News. The so-called “Villa Domitia,” named after the family of the Domitii Ahenobarbi who likely owned it, the sprawling seaside property located on a tiny island in Tuscany near the island of Giglio, the location of the Costa Concordia shipwreck three and a half years ago. Because there was no fresh water or raw materials on the island, according to Paola Rendini, the archaeological superintendent of Tuscany, it was a “huge task” for the Romans to bring the luxuries of a sprawling seaside villa to this harsh location. To read about the re-opening of one of Pompeii’s most famous houses, go to “House of the Chaste Lovers.”

Looted Indian Statue to be Returned

NEW YORK CITY—The Wall Street Journal reports that a looted sacred Indian statue has been recovered by federal customs agents. The two-foot-tall bronze statue depicts the Tamil poet and saint Manikkavichavakar and dates to the 11th century. It's thought that the statue was taken from a village temple in southeastern India about a decade ago. It was voluntarily surrendered to officials by a collector who purchased it from a dealer who allegedly smuggled it into the U.S. and sold it using a false ownership history. The federal government intends to repatriate the object to India, along with a number of other artifacts the dealer is said to have illegally brought into the country. To read more about threats to medieval heritage in India, go to "Letter from India: Heritage at Risk." 

Historical Discoveries in New Zealand's Capital

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—Construction work in downtown Wellington has revealed four 19th-century wells containing artifacts, including several porcelain dolls heads and a china elephant depicted with a small girl riding it. Several schools existed in the area beginning around 1850. “These school buildings could explain the collection of little china dolls’ heads that were found,” said Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear said in a Wellington City Council press release. “Though we think the larger head might once have been attached to the top of a tea cosy and others are likely to have been from ornaments or figurines, so they could also have been discarded items from people’s homes.” Other artifacts recovered from the wells included a glass inkwell and an early bottle of ginger beer. To read more about historical archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."

More Headlines
Wednesday, July 01

A Surprising Find Under the Living Room Floor

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—During renovations of their home in the neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem, a family discovered a ritual bath, or mikveh, under the living room floor, reports Haaretz. Carved out of bedrock and accessed by a stone staircase, the mikveh is 11.5 feet long, more than seven feet wide, and almost six feet deep, and would have been completely covered in plaster in antiquity. Inside the bath, archaeologists found pottery vessels dating to the first century A.D., as well as fragments of stone vessels dating to the same period. According to IAA archaeologist Amit Re’em, archaeological finds from this era are rare in this part of Jerusalem, making the discovery of the mikveh even more of a surprise. To read about the debate surrounding an ancient ossuary also discovered in Jerusalem, go to "The Perils of Interpretation."

Historical Artifacts Unearthed in Seattle

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Construction workers building a rainwater storage facility unexpectedly encountered a trove of historic artifacts beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge. Archaeologists believe most of the objects came from an immigrant community known as Finntown that lasted from 1911 to 1941. "It's a really special site because this is one of Seattle's smaller shantytowns," project archaeologist Alicia Valentino told Komo News. "This very diverse community that was living in this spot (was not) mentioned in the historic record, so it really tells us a lot about this group of people that was living there." Among the finds are eyeglasses, children's toys, and alcohol bottles dating to the Prohibition era. A Chinese coin dating to the 1700s was also found, and was probably a keepsake brought to the area by an immigrant. To read more about the archaeology of immigration in the American West, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Paleolithic Milk-Based Paint Discovered

SIBUDU CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA—Researchers studying residue on a stone tool found in South Africa's Sibudu Cave have discovered a powdered paint mixture made of milk and ochre that dates to 49,000 years ago. While ochre was being used in what is now South Africa as early as early as 125,000 years ago to produce paint powder, this is the first time milk proteins have been identified in an ochre-based paint. The milk likely came from a bovid such as a buffalo or impala, and the paint might have been used for body decoration or to adorn a stone or wooden object. "Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa said in a press release. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product." To read more about the prehistoric use of ochre, go to "Stone Age Art Supplies."

Tuesday, June 30

Neolithic Fingerprint Discovered in Denmark

LOLLAND, DENMARK— A ceramic "funnel beaker" vessel unearthed in Denmark still bears a 5,500-year-old fingerprint, reports Discovery News. Such ritual artifacts were made by members of the early farming peoples known as the Funnel Beaker Culture, which flourished in northern Europe from around 4000 to 2800 B.C. “It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual,” said Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Line Marie Olesen.“The fragile fingerprint, left unintentionally, is an anonymous, yet very personal signature, which somehow brings us a bit closer to the prehistoric people and their actions.”  To read in-depth about the technological skills of people living around this time, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."  

Unusual Viking-Era Find in Scotland

GLENSHEE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that archaeologists excavating a 7th-9th-century A.D. turf longhouse in central Scotland have unearthed an unusual spindle whorl, or a weight used while spinning textiles on a spindle. About five centimeters in diameter, the spindle whorl appears to have been decorated with symbols that could be writing. “Through the ages spindle whorls have often been covered in abstract shapes and the spinning action would bring life to these shapes, much like the old spinning top toy," said Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust archaeologist David Strachan. “While we certainly have abstract shapes on this example, some of the symbols look like they could be writing, perhaps Viking runes or Ogham inscription a form of early medieval Irish script.” To read in-depth about Vikings in the British Isles, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

2,000-Year-Old Footprint Uncovered

VINDOLANDA, ENGLAND—Archaeologists at the site of Vindolanda in northern England have unearthed another piece of evidence of the daily life of the Roman soldiers and their families who lived on Hadrian’s Wall two millennia ago. The Vindolanda Charitable Trust reports that a volunteer has uncovered a tile with the partial imprint of an adolescent’s right foot made, either accidentally or purposely, when they clay was drying. Although excavators have found other footprints belonging to dogs and cats at the site, as well as more than 6,000 shoes, this is the first human footprint to have been found. “This footprint highlights even more that archaeology has the potential to illuminate the lives of otherwise voiceless individuals from antiquity,” says Field School Director archaeologist Elizabeth Greene. To read about how the soldiers at Vindolanda spent their free time, go to "Artifact."