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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 02

Native American Remains Unearthed in Alaska

HAINES, ALASKA—A delivery of dirt for constructing new aviaries at the American Bald Eagle Foundation contained part of a human skull, according to a report from Alaska Public Media. At first, the volunteers who discovered the bone did not recognize what they had found. “Everyone was pretty much just in shock—eyes wide, jaws dropped. This doesn’t happen to real people, this is something that you’d only see in a movie or something,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson. Haines police responded to the call, and brought in anthropologist Anastasia Wiley, who determined that the remains are those of a Native American woman who was at least 40 years old at the time of death, most likely sometime before 1700. “If it’s truly an antiquity, and we believe it is based on our limited knowledge of it, then the medical examiner will simply turn it back over to us to release to the family and in this case the family would be the descendants, which in this case would be the local Native organizations,” explained Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths. The site where the dirt originated will also be examined. To read more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

1,500-Year-Old Skeletons Represent Family Members

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The remains of nine people unearthed in 1975 in Cramond, Scotland, during the excavation of a Roman bath house and fort have been re-examined with modern scientific techniques. It had been thought that the dead were victims of a medieval bubonic plague, but the new test results show that the bones belong to more than one generation of a single family and date to the sixth century A.D. Two of the men had multiple healed wounds and may have been warriors, and one of the women died from violent blows to the head. Researchers now think that the family may lived in a royal stronghold at Cramond Fort. “The study has provided important evidence of life during this time of political turmoil and has helped us answer questions about the Dark Ages, but it has also opened up a whole new world of questions. Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the Dark Ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial?” John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, asked in a press release. To read more about the Dark Ages in Britain, go to "The Kings of Kent."

4,000-Year-Old Sauna Found in Scotland

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A rare, almost complete underground building dating to the Bronze Age has been discovered on the periphery of the prehistoric Links of Noltland, an archaeological site on the island of Westray. The building may have been used as a sweat house or sauna and for ritual activities. It may also have served as a place where women could give birth, and the sick and elderly could come to die. “We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam—which could have been used to create a sauna effect,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said in a press release. Heated stones would have been placed in the tank to heat the water. “What this would have been used for we don’t know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking,” McCullagh explained. To read more about archaeology on Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."


More Headlines
Thursday, October 01

Why Was the Tomb at Amphipolis Built?

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Archaeologist Katerina Peristeri claimed in a press conference yesterday that the vaulted tomb excavated last year in Amphipolis “was a funerary monument for Hephaestion,” Alexander the Great’s closest friend and general. At least five skeletons were found in the tomb, which featured twin statues of sphinxes and young women, a painted frieze, and a mosaic floor. Peristeri said that fragments of Hephaestion’s monogram have also been found inscribed in the tomb. According to a report by the Associated Press, Peristeri explained that there is no evidence that Hephaestion was buried at the site, but that it might be one of a series of monuments Alexander erected to his memory in 324 B.C. Panayiotis Faklaris of the University of Thessaloniki disagrees. “There is no historic or scientific basis,” for the claims he said. “Hephaestion had no connection with Amphipolis.” To read more about the Amphipolis tomb, one of last year's Top 10 Discoveries, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb."

Hunter-Gatherer Artifacts Discovered in Scotland

STAFFIN, SKYE—A fragment of burned and worked bone and several hundred flints were discovered near Staffin Bay by a team of archaeologists and volunteers from the University of Highlands and Islands, the Staffin Community Trust, and local primary schools. The piece of 8,000-year-old bone, which appears to have been shaped at one end and perhaps drilled on the other, may have been used as a toggle to fasten clothing or bead in a necklace. The team also uncovered the remains of a circular building. “Although the structure did not turn out to be prehistoric, it has protected significant evidence for Mesolithic activity below it,” outreach archaeologist Dan Lee of the University of Highlands and Islands said in a Staffin Community Trust press release. “Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates and further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site,” he added. To read about a prehistoric musical instrument found on the Isle of Skye, go to "A Little Scottish Ditty."

Machu Picchu DNA Study Planned

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Machu Picchu was built in the Andes Mountains some 8,000 feet above sea level by the Inca in the fifteenth century, and abandoned in the early sixteenth century. “There is a longstanding debate about what the function of Machu Picchu was because it is so unique and unusual as an Inca site. It is too big to be a local settlement. And it’s too small and not the right structure to have been an administrative center for the Inca Empire,” Brenda Bradley of the George Washington University said in GW Today. Many think Machu Picchu served as a royal retreat and diplomatic space for Emperor Pachacuti. Now, Bradley and a team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Yale University will analyze nuclear, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome DNA samples obtained from the skeletal remains of more than 170 individuals unearthed at Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century to learn about the population. “They were probably very skilled people who came from far and wide to play very specific roles. That’s what we predict,” Bradley said. To read about Machu Picchu's amazing hydraulic systems, go to "Machu Picchu's Stairway of Fountains."

Study Suggests Bronze Age Britons Practiced Mummification

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—While at the University of Sheffield, Tom Booth and colleagues from the University of Manchester and University College London conducted a microscopic analysis of skeletons from Bronze Age burial sites across the United Kingdom. “We know from previous research that bones from bodies that have decomposed naturally are usually severely degraded by putrefactive bacteria, whereas mummified bones demonstrate immaculate levels of histological preservation and are not affected by putrefactive bioerosion,” he said in a press release. The researchers then compared the results to a mummy found in northern Yemen and a bog body from Ireland. Both of these bodies showed limited levels of bacterial bioerosion within the bone. Some of the Bronze Age skeletons from Britain show similar low levels of bioerosion, unlike the badly damaged skeletons from other prehistoric and historic periods. “The idea that British and potentially European Bronze Age communities invested resources in mummifying and curating a proportion of their dead fundamentally alters our perceptions of funerary ritual and belief in this period,” he said. To read about the earliest known evidence of intentional mummification in Egypt, one of last year's Top 10 Discoveries, go to "Mummification Before the Pharaohs."

Wednesday, September 30

Bronze Age Hoard May Have Been Left by Warrior Chieftain

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Two Bronze Age hoards have been discovered at Tărtăria-Podu Tărtăriei vest, a site in a small ravine in southern Transylvania, according to a report in Live Science. One of the eighth-century hoards consisted of 300 artifacts, while the other had 50 objects. Both contained parts of horse harnesses, double axes, short swords, spears, brooches, foot and arm bracelets, pendants, torques, beads, and hairpins. “The majority of the objects are made of bronze, yet there are also weapons and tools made of iron,” Corina Bors of the National History Museum of Romania said in a presentation at the recent meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. She thinks that the hoards may have been left as gifts for the gods. “It’s plausible to believe that this offering was made by somebody with high social status,” she said. This discovery marks the first time that scientists have been able to excavate an intact Bronze Age hoard in Romania. Analysis of the artifacts could shed light on prehistoric trade routes in the region. To read about another hoard, consisting of 22,000 coins, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."

Second Well Found at 1607 James Fort Site

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists have been excavating the cellar of a building that sat outside the perimeter of the original 1607 James Fort. They can now confirm that they have found a well that had been dug inside the structure by the English colonists and filled in with debris. “We want to be prepared for what we’ll find in there. Some types of materials will begin to degrade quickly once we remove them, so from a conservation standpoint we want to have all our ducks in a row,” senior archaeologist Danny Schmidt told The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily. This well is similar to one that had been dug inside the fort. Both were square-shaped and lined. Excavation of the second well is scheduled to begin next spring. For more, go to "Burials of High-Status Leaders Identified at Jamestown."

Three Civil War Cannons Recovered From CSS Pee Dee

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Three cannons from the CSS Pee Dee, a 150-foot Confederate gunboat, have been recovered from the Pee Dee River. The cannons, each weighing more than 15,000 pounds, were on board when the gunboat was scuttled in 1865 as Union troops advanced. “The recovery of these three cannons—the complete armament of a Confederate gunboat—offers unique insight in the arming and intended role of this warship to contest the Union blockade off the coast of South Carolina and to perhaps engage in high seas raiding against Northern merchant vessels,” James Spirek of the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) said in a press release. The wreckage of the CSS Pee Dee was broken up in 1906 by an Army Corps of Engineers dredging operation. Its propellers, engines, and a boiler were later recovered. The current project used sonar to discover iron bolts and timbers from the ship, in addition to the cannons. The project also identified the site of the Mars Bluff Navy Yard, one of seven inland Confederate naval yards, with ground-penetrating radar and other remote-sensing technologies. To read about a Confederate POW camp, go to "Life on the Inside."

CT Scans Made of Pompeii Victims

POMPEII, ITALY—Massimo Osanna, the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii, announced that a team made up of archaeologists, computer engineers, radiologists, and orthodontists will use CT scanners to examine the remains of 86 people who died in Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In the late nineteenth century, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli developed a technique of plaster casting the remains of the victims of the volcano, but the plaster, while preserving the external details of the bodies that had been preserved in the ash, had prevented modern archaeologists from examining their bones and teeth. “It will reveal much about the victims: their age, sex, what they ate, what diseases they had and what class of society they belonged to. This will be a great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity,” Osanna told The Local, Italy. Orthodontist Elisa Vanacore added that the citizens of Pompeii had very good teeth, probably from eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables. “The initial results also show the high levels of fluorine that are present in the air and water here, near the volcano,” she explained. To read more about Pompeii, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."