Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 22

Human Arm Bone Found in Orkney

  ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A human arm bone has been found during excavation of Neolithic buildings at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland, according to a report in The National. Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute who have been excavating the site since 2002 believe the bone may have been placed intentionally and could have belonged to the founder of the complex. The Ness of Brodgar is located between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. It dates to the Neolithic period and features a number of buildings enclosed within a massive stone wall. Excavations have unearthed a sizeable amount of Neolithic artwork, pottery, animal bones, and stone tools. To read in-depth about this site, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Excavations Begin at the Alamo

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Achaeologists are excavating at the site of the Alamo in an effort to locate the 18th-century mission’s original south and western adobe walls, according to Texas Public Radio. The dig is part of a planned eight-year effort the redevelop the World Heritage site. “To re-imagine the Alamo we first have to rediscover it,” says city archaeologist Kay Hindes. “So the work that we’re doing here is to try to determine the exact compound walls and to confirm those in the ground.” The team is using archival maps and leads provided by a 1970s-era excavation at the site to guide their work. In addition to the mission's original walls, they expect to find artifacts left behind by both the Catholic priests and Native Americans who lived at the site. To read about the archaeology of this period in the Southwest, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire."

Surviving the Neolithic in Egypt

GEBEL RAMLAH, EGYPT—Polish archaeologists excavating in Egypt's Western Desert around a now-dried lake have unearthed a number of Neolithic sites dating from 11,000 to 7,000 years ago, allowing them to track cultural changes during the period, reports Science & Scholarship in Poland. In addition to evidence for small settlements and a number of cemeteries, the researchers discovered a large ochre-making workshop where people processed hematite into the red dye, which was used for clothing and also sprinkled into the graves in nearby cemeteries. "The most important conclusion after a few seasons of the research is this: the people had very diverse burial rites," says archaeologist Jacek Kabacinski, the expedition leader. "This suggests that perhaps we are dealing with different, independent groups of people who had used a very limited area for funeral purposes." Kabacinski speculates that when the climate grew drier toward the end of the Neolithic period and the lake became seasonal, people were forced into greater mobility, taking their flocks from watering hole to watering hole, which indirectly led to contact with more far-flung communities. To read in-depth about this period in Europe, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit." 

Silk Road Served as Conduit for Parasites

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Analysis of ancient feces shows that infectious parasites were transported on China’s Silk Road along with valuable goods. Researchers excavated the 2,000-year-old excrement from a latrine at Xuanquanzhi, a major stopping point along the legendary trading route in northwestern China. The feces were found on “personal hygiene sticks,” rods wrapped with cloth at one end that travelers used to clean themselves after defecating. Microscopic examination revealed the eggs of four parasitic intestinal worms in the feces, including those of Chinese river fluke, which thrives in wet areas and could not have come from the area where the excavation took place—the arid Tamrin Basin. The worm is most common in Guangdong Province, around 1,240 miles from the site, suggesting that the traveler infected with it most likely journeyed a great distance. “This is the earliest evidence for the spread of infectious diseases along the Silk Road,” Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge told Live Science, “and the first to find evidence at an archaeological site along the Silk Road itself.” For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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Thursday, July 21

Cache of Silver Denarii Uncovered in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Two hundred silver denarii dating to the first century B.C. were discovered at the site of Empúries, a town founded by Greek colonists and later occupied by the Romans. The coins had been placed in a ceramic vase and hidden in a house that burned down. “This was a huge amount of money by that time and would have allowed the owner to live comfortably for quite a long time,” archaeologist Pere Castanyer told the Catalan News Agency. The cellar also contained 24 wine amphoras, a bronze ladle, and two bracelets. The excavators were surprised to find such treasures at Empúries, which is located near the coast of northeastern Spain, and has been under excavation for more than 100 years. For more, go to “Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain.”

2,000-Year-Old Engraved Stones Discovered in Western Canada

VANCOUVER, CANADA—Archaeologist Bob Muir and his students at Simon Fraser University investigated a midden discovered by members of the K’ómoks First Nation when they dug a roasting pit for a barbecue held last year in the Comox Valley. The students uncovered shells; the well-preserved bones of deer, elk, and dogs; bone needles used for fishing; harpoon points; herring rakes; and some 80 flat pieces of stone engraved on one side. According to a report in the Comox Valley Record, the images are sometimes described as representing trees, feathers, or symbols of fertility. Similar engraved stones, known as tablets, have been found at only two other sites in the Comox Valley. Muir estimates that the tablets are about 2,000 years old. He will document and study the artifacts before they are returned to the K’ómoks First Nation. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Found in a Bronze Age Barrow

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A team led by Gavin Speed of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) excavated the site of a Bronze Age barrow in central England ahead of the construction of a housing development. A stone ax dating to the Neolithic period was found in the backfill of the barrow ditch, suggesting that use of the site could date back 6,000 years. “By the Iron Age the barrow had partly eroded and its ditches had silted up but much of the mound was likely still upstanding, making it a visible landmark in the local landscape even if its original purpose and meaning had changed,” Speed told the Loughborough Echo. The site was used for at least 12 burials during the Anglo-Saxon period. These skeletons were poorly preserved, but a pottery vessel, spears, knives, a spike, a brooch, and the boss and studs of a shield were recovered. Some scholars think that the Anglo-Saxons may have reused Bronze Age barrows for burials as a display of power through connection to the past. For more on the Anglo-Saxon period, go to "Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

Canals, Roads Unearthed in China’s Ancient Capital

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—A 3,000-year-old system of canals has been uncovered at the Yinxu site, the ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty in Henan Province. The 1.5-mile-long system carried water from the Huanhe River through the center of the city, and was nearly 20 feet wide in places. “The water system covers about half the city, running through workshops and the residential areas for commoners, located south of the palaces and temples,” Tang Jigen, head of the Anyang branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Archaeology, told Xinhuanet. Archaeologists have also uncovered the city’s system of roads: two arterial roads traveled north-south, while three roads ran east-west. For more on archaeology in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

Wednesday, July 20

Copper Fragments May Be Part of Pagoda’s Crowning Finial

KYOTO, JAPAN—Archaeologists with the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute say they have unearthed fragments of a huge sorin, the decorative finial placed atop a pagoda, on the grounds of the Kinkakuji temple. They think the fragments may have been part of the sorin that stood on the Kitayama Daito, a pagoda constructed under the orders of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, starting in 1404. The Kitayama Daito is thought to have had seven tiers and may have been the largest pagoda ever built in Japan. But it was struck by lightning burned down in 1416, shortly before it was completed. According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, the measurements of the fragments, made of gold-plated copper, suggest that the finished sorin measured almost eight feet in diameter. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

Maritime Artifacts Recovered from Hong Kong’s Waters

HONG KONG—The South China Morning Post reports that the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group recovered the upper part of an anchor thought to be more than 1,000 years old near Basalt Island. “The anchor is proof that Hong Kong was perhaps quite advanced during the Song Dynasty in terms of water transport and commercial trade,” says Libby Chan Lai-pik of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. The team also recovered a cannon thought to date to the first half of the nineteenth century off the coast of High Island. A second cannon remains underwater. “This trip is tangible evidence that there is historical material in Hong Kong’s waters,” adds Bill Jeffery of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and the University of Guam. “There have been lots of surveys on land but not in water.” For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.

Vitamin D Deficiency Detected in Dental Remains

HAMILTON, CANADA—A team of researchers has developed a way to look for signs of vitamin D deficiency in teeth by examining the remains of people who had been buried in rural Quebec and France in the 1700s and the 1800s. Teeth begin to develop layers of dentin, which requires an adequate supply of vitamin D to mineralize, before birth. So, anomalies found in the dentin would indicate that the subjects were not getting enough vitamin D in the diet, or from exposure to sunshine, at the time it was formed. “We correlated the age at which the tooth was forming, with the location of the defect in the tooth,” Lori D’Ortenzio of McMaster University explains in a report by The Canadian Press. The scientists also compared the samples to teeth from modern-day people, and when possible, examined the skeletons of the subjects. Defects in the dentin suggest that all of the subjects suffered from an extreme vitamin D deficiency, and an examination of their skeletons confirmed rickets, or weak and deformed bones, in some of the cases. For more, go to "Paleo-Dentistry."

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