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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, February 27

Pub Renovations Uncover 17th-Century Details

FALMOUTH HARBOR, ENGLAND—Restoration of the St. Austell Brewery Chain Locker pub on the coast of southwestern England has revealed that the building dates to the late seventeenth century, according to a report in Cornwall Live. An original earth and hair plaster-bounded wall, a timber partition wall decorated with hand-painted wallpaper, and a stone fireplace are among the historic features uncovered at the site. The team from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit also discovered that the building had subsided over the years by more than ten inches. “Three extra floors have been put into the building over the years to compensate for the drop,” said site agent Tim Frampton. It had been thought that the historic pub dated to the eighteenth to early nineteenth century. The archaeological discoveries will be included in the final plan for the refurbishment of the historic pub. For more on archaeology in England, go to “Behind the Curtain.”

Colorado’s Network of Ancient Routes Studied

GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO—The Daily Sentinel reports that Carl Conner and Richard Ott of the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group have been recording Ute habitation sites in Colorado, and are now looking for the trails and routes that connected them through the Ute Trails Project. “We wanted to take more of a landscape approach rather than just a site-by-site look,” Conner said. One of the trails under investigation was mentioned by Father Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, who wrote of his 1776 travels on a “very wide and well-beaten trail” to the Uncompahgre River Valley with Ute guides and Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. Conner and Ott have found that other trails, such as one that may have been used by Utes traveling on horseback between Wyoming and the Piceance Basin in Colorado, had water holes approximately every 25 miles. Many of the ancient footpaths became horseback trails and then wagon roads, and many of the trails through mountain passes are covered with modern highways. “Every mountain pass that’s worth a hill of beans has (an archaeological) site of some sort on it,” commented retired archaeologist John Goodwin. To read more about the Utes, go to “A Western Wiki-pedia.”

Neolithic Enclosure Discovered in Denmark

STEVNS, DENMARK—Archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth of the Museum Southeast Denmark told Seeker that a Neolithic enclosure has been found at a construction site near Copenhagen. The oval-shaped palisade, formed with five rows of posts with irregular openings, covered about 60,000 square feet. Pits containing flint flakes, ax fragments, and pieces of pottery, all thought to be about 4,900 years old, have been unearthed in the structure’s interior area. It is not known whether all five rows of the palisade were built at the same time, or how long the structure was in use. “It has been suggested that the fence rows and their openings form a sort of labyrinth,” said Rohde Sloth. Further investigation could reveal whether the enclosure served a ritual purpose, or whether it was a fortification or fenced settlement. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Prehistoric Pointillist Images Found in Southwestern France

VÉZÈRE VALLEY, FRANCE—According to a report in Live Science, Randall White of New York University and his colleagues have discovered 16 limestone blocks at Abri Cellier that are thought to have been re-shaped and engraved some 38,000 years ago by Europe’s first modern humans. The mammoth and horse images on the blocks were formed with engraved dots and lines, a technique often associated with nineteenth-century pointilist artists. Fifteen of the tablets are thought to have been unearthed when the Aurignacian-period site was first excavated in 1927, but they were set aside and not studied at the time. The sixteenth tablet, which had been broken in half, was recovered during the new excavation, and it provided the date for the find. For more, go to “On the Origins of Art.”

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Friday, February 24

Settlements Dating Back 12,000 Years Uncovered in England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Excavations in Lincolnshire associated with the construction of a new roadway have uncovered evidence of inhabitation stretching back to the Mesolithic period, according to a report in The Lincolnite. The finds, made by a team from Network Archaeology, include part of a Bronze Age cemetery, along with a settlement dating from the Iron Age to the Roman Age. Remains of a twelfth-century tower that may have been used as a beacon to warn against threats around the time of the First Battle of Lincoln in 1141 were also found. Additional discoveries include Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, field systems, pottery kilns, a possible vineyard, and a medieval monastic grange. “The evidence we’ve seen so far suggests that small communities were already living in this area around 12,000 years ago and that it has been a favored spot for human activity ever since,” said Chris Taylor of Network Archaeology. To read about another recent discovery in England, go to “Something New for Sutton Hoo.”

Neanderthal Genes Still Influencing Health Today

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—New Scientist reports that a recent genetic study shows that Neanderthal DNA that survives in people of non-African descent is still controlling how some genes work. University of Washington geneticist Joshua Akey led a team that did a comprehensive DNA analysis of 214 Americans of European ancestry, and was able to isolate Neanderthal genes that were active in 52 kinds of tissue. In some cases, individuals had both a human and Neanderthal copy of a gene, and the team could compare the copies and find which variant controlled gene expression. They found that in the case of one gene that is a known risk factor for schizophrenia, the Neanderthal DNA controls the gene in such a way that it reduces the risk of developing the disease. “Strikingly, we find that Neanderthal sequences present in living individuals are not silent remnants of hybridization that occurred over 50,000 years ago, but have ongoing, widespread, and measurable impacts on gene activity,” says Akey. In other genes, such as ones that regulate brain activity, the influence of Neanderthal DNA is much less pronounced. To read more, go to “Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Temple to Near Eastern God Found on Corsica

  MARIANA, CORSICA—A team of French archaeologists excavating the Roman city of Mariana on the island of Corsica have discovered a Mithraeum, or a temple dedicated to the Indo-Iranian god Mithras, reports International Business Times. Mithraism was probably spread through the Roman Empire by Near Eastern merchants and soldiers around the same time Christianity was introduced. “This is a very rare and exciting find,” says archaeologist Philippe Chapon, who led the team. “It is the first time we find evidence that Mithraism was practiced in Corsica.” Inside the temple the team found fragments of a marble altar depicting Mithras sacrificing a bull, while a dog and a snake drink its blood. The archaeologists also found oil lamps, bronze bells, as well as the marble head of a woman. Some of the artifacts show signs of being damaged, perhaps after the temple was attacked by Christians, who built a church on the island around A.D. 400. To read more about Near Eastern dieties, go to “How to Pray to a Storm God.”

Sally Hemings’ Monticello Living Quarters Excavated

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the living space of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Thomas Jefferson is thought to have fathered six children, according to a report from NPR. The excavation is part of a renovation project at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation that aims to illuminate the lives of the enslaved people who lived there. The area where Hemings is thought to have lived was turned into a restroom in 1941. In the area, archaeologists have uncovered a fireplace, the original brick floor, and traces of several shelves. One of the goals of the project is to make the presence of enslaved people at the plantation more apparent to visitors. “There were no remnants of slavery that visitors could encounter,” said Christa Dierksheide, a historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. “And we're recreating or restoring spaces where enslaved families would've worked, would've lived, and made it the dynamic place that it was.” For more, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”

Thursday, February 23

Skeletons Buried Hand in Hand Excavated in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The skeletons of two men who appear to have been interred hand in hand were excavated from a plague burial ground in London during the construction of the Crossrail tunnel, according to a report from The Guardian. The men are thought to have been in their 40s and were buried in the early fifteenth century in a carefully dug double grave. They were placed in identical positions, with their heads angled to the right, and the left hand of one man clasping the right hand of the other. “One possible interpretation is that they were related in some way, for example by blood or marriage,” said archaeologist Sam Pfizenmaier, who led the excavation, noting that the positioning of their hands could be accidental. Both men are thought to have died in an outbreak of bubonic plague and were buried in the cemetery in Smithfield that opened in 1348 and ultimately held more than 50,000 bodies. DNA of several of the skeletons excavated from the cemetery has revealed exposure to Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague. To read about another discovery as part of the Crossrail project, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

WWII Bomb Defused in Greek City

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Soldiers recently defused a World War II bomb in Greece’s second-largest city after evacuating tens of thousands of people from the area, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. The bomb was discovered during roadwork near a gas station. It took several hours to defuse the five-foot-long bomb, which was found to contain 375 pounds of explosives. According to Army chief of staff Nikos Phanios, the American-made bomb’s firing mechanism “was still in a very good shape, and this was what had us worried.” The bomb is thought to have been dropped by a British place as part of a campaign of strikes on the city’s railway station and port in 1943. Around 70,000 people were evacuated from a one-mile radius around the site before the bomb was defused. “A bomb of this size has never been found in an area this densely populated” in Greece, said regional security chief Apostolos Tzitzikostas. For more on handling unexploded ordnance from World War II, go to “Letter from the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

Crouched Medieval Burials Found in Siberia

YAMAL PENINSULA, RUSSIA—Unusual burials of three women and a man dating to the eleventh century have been discovered in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, according to a report from The Siberian Times. All four bodies were found in a crouched position, which archaeologist Andrey Plekhanov said indicates they may have been ritually buried or possibly even sacrificed. All four also suffered from serious diseases or starvation, and the man was set on fire after death, a phenomenon not previously recorded in the area. “We can be sure that he did not die in the fire,” said Plekhanov. “His dead body was set to fire, but not a very strong one. His bones remained almost intact, the fire damage[d] mostly the soft tissues.” Among the artifacts found with the bodies were a bronze bracelet with a bear image, a knife with a bronze handle, a tanning scraper, bronze and silver pendants, a ring, and a facial mask made of animal skin. Fragments of pottery, possibly from the funeral meal, were also found. To read about another recent discovery in the area, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

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