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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 24

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

WILLIMASBURG, VIRGINIA—An excavation near the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William and Mary is 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.   

More Headlines
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.  

Tuesday, July 22

Strange Burials in the Burnt City

SISTAN-BALUCHISTAN, IRAN—More than 1,000 burials have been excavated at the site of the Burnt City in Iran over the past thirty years, but few are stranger than two recent discoveries, according to a report in the Teheran Times. In one burial, archaeologists found the skeleton of an adult man with two dog skulls above his head and 12 human skulls on the side of his grave, and in another, a young man who died between 25 and 30 years old who was buried with his skull and two daggers or cutting tools sitting next to his head on his lower right side. Project director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi believes that the tools had been used to decapitate the man who was executed for some offense, and then buried with bowls and vases commonly used for funeral rituals. Another unusual burial contained six skulls and various human long bones, all of which lead Sajjadi to wonder what new insights can be gained into the burial practices of the ancient inhabitants of this region more than five thousand years ago.   

"Last of the Mohicans" Site Excavated

  LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—The AP reports that a team led by Plymouth State University archaeologist David Starbuck is digging at Lake George Battlefield Park, a stretch of ground south of Lake George that saw significant military action during the eighteenth century, particularly during the French and Indian War (1755-63). In 1755, Colonial troops and their Mohawk allies fought a battle there against French detachments, successfully fending off an ambush and subsequent attack. In 1757, British and Colonial troops camped at the site during the French siege of the nearby Fort William Henry. After the surrender of the fort to the French, the colonial forces began a retreat from the camp, but were ambushed by Indians, who killed some 200. The infamous massacre inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write the "The Last of the Mohicans." Starbuck hopes to find evidence related to both the 1755 battle and the camp associated with the massacre. So far, the team has uncovered mainly fragments of eighteenth-century wine bottles.   

Possible Celtic Inscription Deciphered in Spain

BETANZOS, SPAIN—A long-overlooked and enigmatic inscription on the buttress of a fourteenth-century church in Spain's Galicia region is attracting new attention thanks to researchers who claim to have deciphered it. The Local reports that a group of scholars believe the inscription was written in a Gaelic language, the first direct written evidence of the area's Celtic heritage, and reads simply "An Ghaltacht," or "Gaelic-speaking area." The researchers are part of the Gaelaico Project, a private effort that brings together linguists, geographers, and historians to search for evidence of Galicia's Celtic history and specifically its close ties to Ireland, which many specialists have hitherto dismissed as pseudo-history. "If our interpretation is right, the inscription isn't related to religious matters, but rather to the language that was spoken in Galicia at the time," said Gaelaico Project head Martín Fernández Maceiras. The team is hoping to get a second opinion on the inscription from outside epigraphists.