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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 29

Did Cave Acoustics Inspire Prehistoric Artists?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA—The field of acoustic archaeology is growing as scientists consider the importance of sound to prehistoric cultures and their rituals. Steven Waller of Rock Art Acoustics thinks that ancient people were inspired to decorate cave walls and canyons with images of herds of animals because of the thundering echoes the formations produced. He has found that European caves with higher levels of reverberation are more likely to be decorated, and in North America, there is a correlation between places in canyons with echoes and the placement of prehistoric art. “It’s a trivial little sound, but it can have a huge emotional impact if you don’t expect it, if you can’t explain it,” he told Live Science. Waller is presenting his research at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. To read more about one of the world's great cave art sites, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "A Chauvet Primer."

Unusual Sacrifices Unearthed in Peru

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Peruvian archaeologist Gabriel Prieto and John Verano of Tulane University have expanded the excavation of a site where the sacrificed remains of 42 children and 76 young llamas were found in 2011. “This is unusual, and not what we’ve seen before, especially on the coast of Peru,” Verano told Phys.org. The site is close to the beach, in an area that was dominated by the Chimú state from 1100 to 1470 A.D., when it was conquered by the Inca Empire. “It’s not a place where you’d think to look,” he added. For more on the site and Chimú-era rituals, see "A Society's Sacrifice."

Roman Sculptures Discovered in Northern England

PAPCASTLE, ENGLAND—A fertility genius thought to represent a local deity has been unearthed in a village in Cumbria. He holds a cornucopia and a patera, which are symbols of fertility. The site has also yielded the carved heads of male and female gods. The male statue wears a Phrygian cap, and may represent the god Mithras, or perhaps the god Attis, the consort of the goddess Cybele. If Attis, then the female head may represent his counterpart. The base of an amphora that contained a few coins, a stag figurine, and a Roman oil lamp have also been uncovered. According to a report in Culture 24, extensive flood deposits have been making it difficult for the archaeologists from Wardell Armstrong Archaeology to identify the site’s features. For more on Roman-era sculpture from Britain, see ARCHAEOLOGY's piece on a limestone depiction of an eagle carrying a snake.

Aluminum Debris Identified as Amelia Earhart Artifact

OXFORD, PENNSYLVANIA—A piece of aluminum recovered from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, has been identified to a high degree of certainty as a patch that had been applied to Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra on a stop during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The repair can been seen in a photograph published in the Miami Herald on June 1, 1937. The aluminum debris was discovered on the island in 1991 by researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). They compared the patch’s dimensions and features with the window of a Lockheed Electra being restored at Wichita Air Services in Newton, Kansas. “Its complex fingerprint of dimensions, proportions, materials and rivet patterns was as unique to Earhart’s Electra as a fingerprint is to an individual,” Rick Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. He adds that the piece of the plane provides strong circumstantial evidence that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed on Nikumaroro’s coral reef and eventually died there as castaways. TIGHAR will continue to look for wreckage of the lost aircraft, thought to have washed into the ocean, next summer, beginning at a possible site 600 feet underwater. For more on the TIGHAR's work, see "Has Amelia Earhart's Plane Been Found?"

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Tuesday, October 28

News from James Fort

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA—Captain John Smith wrote that the original, three-sided James Fort was expanded and given five sides sometime in 1608, with as many as 50 houses at the site by 1609. The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists from Preservation Virginia have found the outline of the expanded fort and ten buildings. They are currently excavating an area located outside the walls of the expanded fort, where they have found a series of postholes and what may have been a pit or a well. Debris from the pit has included a spur made from copper alloy that dates from 1625 to 1650. A second building with three hearths has also been found outside the fort walls. It may have been used for industry and perhaps as a trading post. To read about evidence for the so-called "Starving Time" at the site, see "Colonial Cannibalism."

23rd Cannon Recovered from Blackbeard’s Flagship

BEAUFORT, NORTH CAROLINA—Another cannon has been recovered from the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, bringing the total to 23. The 5-foot cannon was found within a concretion of artifacts some 25 feet wide and 30 feet long. “We were only able to bring up one of the two cannons, but we discovered another gun underneath the second one, so it all balanced out,” project director John “Billy Ray” Morris told JD News. Discovered in 1996, the ship that became the Queen Anne’s Revenge was captured by Edward Teach, also known as the pirate Blackbeard, who fitted her with 40 guns. Blackbeard ran his flagship aground off the coast of North Carolina in 1717. To read more about the excavation, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Blackbeard Surfaces."

Deep-Water Divers Reach Well-Preserved Ship

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Skilled divers from the group Global Underwater Explorers are helping Italian archaeologists investigate a shipwreck under 410 feet of water near the Aeolian Islands. The well-preserved ship, thought to have sailed between Rome and Carthage sometime between 218 and 210 B.C., has been out of reach of looters and fishing lines and nets. “It felt very much like a ghost ship awaiting the boarding of ancient mariners,” diver Jarrod Jablonski told The Associated Press. He and other divers were followed by Italian archaeologists riding in a small submarine who pointed out artifacts of interest. Known as the Panarea III, the ship had been carrying amphoras perhaps filled with wine or olive oil and an altar inscribed in Greek. Metal supports in its base probably attached the altar to the deck. To read more about nautical excavations, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

The Caves of the Irish Revolution

SLIGO, IRELAND—Archaeologist Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology Sligo is looking for caves associated with the Irish War of Independence or the Civil War. So far, she has recorded and mapped more than 20 of them. “Some of these caves were used as hideouts, others were used to stash arms and ammunition, others still were used as centers of intelligence,” she told the Leitrim Observer. For example, many locals know that 34 men took shelter in a cave near Lough Gill for six weeks in 1922. “I think it is safe to say that in another generation any associations between these caves and the Irish Revolution will be lost and forgotten. It is important to record these places now while they are still remembered,” Dowd explained. 

Monday, October 27

High-Tech Images Reveal Texts of the Philae Obelisk

DORSET, ENGLAND—Modern imaging techniques are being used to examine the inscriptions on the Philae Obelisk, which was brought to the Kingston Lacy estate from Egypt’s island of Philae in the Nile by adventurer and collector William John Bankes. “The last time anyone made a good record of what was on this stone was in 1821 when a lithograph was commissioned to celebrate the obelisk’s arrival at Kingston Lacy,” Jane Masséglia of the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford University told BBC News. The new images show that the lithograph was accurate, and they illuminate parts of the Greek text that have always been difficult to see. Along with the Rosetta stone, the inscriptions on the Philae Obelisk—the repetition of the names of kings and queens in both Greek and Egyptian—provided clues that helped nineteenth-century scholars translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. “It gives us a good opportunity now to look at the relationship between the two inscriptions, to see if they’re talking about the kings in similar ways—because there’s the potential that they were appealing to different ethnic communities. You’ve got the hieroglyphs that are showing the king as a traditional pharaoh, and the Greek that might be saying something a little bit different to other people reading those inscriptions,” explained Rachel Mairs of both Oxford and Reading universities. To read about an unusual burial chamber in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Tomb of the Chantress."

17th-C. French Explorer’s Ship To Be Reassembled in Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Conservation of the hull of La Belle, a French frigate that sank in a storm off the Texas coast in 1686, has been completed at Texas A&M University. The ship is gradually being reassembled and installed at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. La Belle was discovered in 1995 by Texas Historical Commission archaeologists, who built a dam around the wreck site and pumped it dry so they could excavate the nearly intact hull from six feet of mud. The new exhibit will eventually allow visitors to have the sensation of being on the ship’s deck from a glass cabin-like structure. French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle had been the first European explorer to travel the Mississippi south to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the land for France. He later returned to the region with 300 colonists aboard four ships, including the well-stocked La Belle. The expedition failed, however, as did his colony at Fort St. Louis, located near Matagorda Bay. La Salle was killed by some of his men. “Rather than the ship being empty when it wrecked, everything he had left that you need for a colony was in the Belle,” curator Jim Bruseth of the Bullock Texas State History Museum told Phys.org. For ARCHAEOLOGY's original coverage of the discovery see "La Salle Ship Sighted."

New Thoughts on Ancient Greek Wine Cup

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—John Barnes of the University of Missouri suggests that rather than depicting a simple animal scene, a 2,600-year-old skyphos at the Lamia Archaeological Museum in central Greece could portray an early Greek understanding of constellations. Approximately one-third of the wine cup, which was discovered in a trench next to a temple in the acropolis of Halai, is missing, but images of the back half of a bull, a snake, a hare or small dog, a large dog, a scorpion, a dolphin, and the front half of a panther or a lion have been preserved. Barnes spotted the skyphos while visiting the museum. “My dad raised me on astronomy, and to me, the snake, rabbit, and dog together looked like constellations. That group jumped out at me,” he told Live Science. He adds that the decorative images may have been arranged into seasonal groups. To read about a Greek colony established in Italy around this time, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Rediscovering Paestum."