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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, May 23

Sacred Burial Ground in England Dates Back 4,000 Years

SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND—A sacred burial site recently unearthed in Shrewsbury is more than 4,000 years old, according to a report from BBC News. The site, where researchers from Baskerville Archaeological Services have found evidence of use in every era since the Neolithic, may be the oldest-known continuously used sacred ground in England. Radiocarbon dating of a wooden post uncovered in the dig indicated that it was put in the ground around 2033 B.C. Also discovered were garment pins, as well as a calf, a pig, and a dog that died while giving birth. The church that currently stands at the site was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Church from the Church of England in 1994. “The dates have shocked us all,” said lead archaeologist Janey Green. “It appears the current Medieval church is built over the site of an ancient pagan burial ground that's been in use from the late Neolithic period through the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and through to today.” For more, go to “Letter from England: The Scientist’s Garden.”

Unusual Burial Found in Russia’s Far East

UST-IVANOVKA, RUSSIA—According to the Siberian Times, archaeologists have unearthed an unusual medieval-era burial in the Primorski Region of Russia’s Far East. Dating from the seventh to ninth centuries, the remains belonged to a man in his twenties who was buried in a manner that seemed to the team to resemble a dance pose, with his feet crossed and knees wide open. No similar examples of such an orientation are known from burials found nearby, and physical anthropologists speculate it could be the result of the man's feet having been bound prior to burial. His arms also appear to have been tied up in some way. Archaeologists recovered arrow tips that were laid on top of the body, perhaps as part of a burial ritual, although one tip might have actually penetrated the bone, and could have been the cause of the man's death. To read about the excavation of a medieval site in Siberia, go to “Fortress of Solitude.” 

Huge Collection of Alaskan Artifacts Preserved

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—More than 50,000 artifacts recovered from a site on the southwestern coast of Alaska will be sent back to the area after having been preserved by archaeologists at the University of Aberdeen, according to a report from BBC News. The artifacts, most made of wood and other organic materials, were in danger of degrading due to melting permafrost and coastal erosion at the site, known as Nunalleq. The materials date back hundreds of years and include extraordinarily well-preserved wooden masks used by the local Yup’ik people in dance rituals. The team, led by archaeologist Rick Knecht, spent seven years unearthing and preserving the artifacts. Once they are returned to Alaska, they will be displayed at a new culture and archaeology center. According to Knecht, the collection is among the largest ever to have been recovered from a single site in Alaska—and perhaps the Arctic as a whole. To read in-depth about the excavation at Nunalleq, go to “Cultural Revival.”

18th-Century Scottish Woman's Face Reconstructed

  EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a facial reconstruction has been made of an eighteenth-century woman whose remains were discovered on the grounds of Lady Yester’s Church. The graveyard was directly opposite of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and it appears that her body was autopsied at the hospital, which at the time was developing a reputation for advanced medical research. But it also seems that many of her teeth were removed after her autopsy by hospital staff, who likely sold them on the black market. “As the move towards grave-robbing in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries tell us, such readily available bodies for research were in great demand,” says Edinburgh city archaeologist John Lawson. “This led medics and hospital staff to meddle with Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.” To read in-depth about the dubious origins of early modern medical science in Great Britain, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

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More Headlines
Monday, May 22

4,000-Year-Old Burials Uncovered in England

STRATFORD, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Stratford Observer, five burials were found at a possible henge site in England’s West Midlands during construction work. “The henge survived as a shallow, segmented circular ditch with an internal diameter of around [30 feet],” said Nigel Page, a project officer with Archaeology Warwickshire. “The five people had been buried within a segment of it.” Three of the burials faced west, or out from the henge. The two outer burials faced east, or into the henge. Page added that the ditch was probably surrounded by a bank to close off its interior. Further study of the rare, 4,000-year-old skeletons may reveal their ages and sexes, and possibly even a family connection between them. To read about another discovery in the area, go to “Secret Spaces.”

Medieval Brewery Unearthed in East England

LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that a possible medieval brewery has been discovered amid the rubble of several 800-year-old buildings in the path of a new highway. Church records indicate that the land was worked by the monks of Kirkstead Abbey, who farmed and raised sheep during the twelfth century. A team from Network Archaeology uncovered two rectangular structures with sloping sides and stepped-out limestones that may have supported a wooden floor. They think the buildings may have been malt kilns, since the bottom of the structures, and a gap in the stones that could have acted as a flue, had been blackened by smoke. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Embalming Materials Recovered in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a cache of 3,900-year-old embalming materials has been recovered in the courtyard under the tomb of Ipi, a 12th-Dynasty vizier of Thebes, by a team of researchers led by Spain’s University of Alcalá. The deposit, which had been covered with sand in Deir El-Bahari, included inscribed pots and bowls, bandages, oils, scrapers, a shroud, wide sheets of linen, small pieces of cloth for wrapping fingers and toes, and a mummification board bearing the ankh symbol. All of the materials are thought to have been used during Ipi’s mummification. “The identification of these materials is of great importance for understanding the mummification techniques used in the early Middle Kingdom and the assessment of the kinds of items, tools, and substances involved in the process of embalming,” said Antonio Morales, head of the Spanish mission. The team has also identified what appears to be the vizier’s mummified heart. The jars were discovered in the early 1920s by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock and left in situ. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Friday, May 19

50,000-Year-Old Site Discovered in Australia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that a remote cave on Barrow Island, located off the coast of northwestern Australia, has yielded evidence of human occupation, including charcoal, marine and land animal remains, and other artifacts dating back to more than 50,000 years ago. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, the University of Adelaide, the University of Waikato, and Oxford University say the cave served as a hunting shelter between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, and then became a dwelling for groups of families after about 10,000 years ago. The cave was then abandoned around 7,000 years ago, when the island is thought to have been separated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Revolutionary War–Era Musket Ball Tests Positive for Blood

MANALAPAN, NEW JERSEY—NJ.com reports that a lead musket ball recovered from Monmouth Battlefield Park has tested positive for human blood protein. Members of the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization collect musket balls in an effort to learn more about the positions of the Continental Army and British troops during the battle, fought in June 1778. This musket ball in particular is thought to have been used as canister shot—one of many balls stuffed in a tin canister and fired from a cannon. Dan Sivilich, president of the group, sent the ball for testing because it bears an impression resembling coarsely woven fabric, suggesting it had hit a person. He later learned the impression was probably made by a corn stalk after the ball was plowed under the surface of the soil. “It’s very exciting in the fact that we’ve identified a projectile that hit a human target, which tells us definitively that we found the battlefield,” Sivilich said. For more on the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

Massive Viking Camp Recreated

TORKSEY, ENGLAND—According to a report in Lincolnshsire Live, a 135-acre Viking camp located along the River Trent in Lincolnshire has been investigated by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield and the University of York. Artisans, traders, women, and children are believed to have lived alongside the invading Viking Great Army, described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, during the winter of A.D. 872-73. As they prepared to continue their battles against Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Vikings are thought to have spent the winter processing their plunder and trading in goods and possibly slaves. Evidence for metalworking includes pieces of chopped up silver and hack-gold ready to be melted down into ingots. More than 100 Arabic silver coins, and 300 gaming pieces used to pass the time, were also recovered, along with iron tools, spindle whorls, needles, and fishing weights. There’s also evidence the Vikings spent time repairing their longships. The new research was compiled and used to recreate the camp through a virtual reality experience now traveling throughout England. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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