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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 18

Sections of the Great Wall of China Unearthed

BEIJING, CHINA—The Global Post reports that three sections of the Great Wall thought to have been constructed during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.) have been discovered in northwest China. The stone wall had been placed in a valley of the Yellow River in order to prevent foreign invaders from crossing the river when it was frozen.  

Physical Impact of the Trail of Tears and the Civil War Analyzed

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Environmental stressors brought on by the Trail of Tears and the Civil War led to significant changes in the shape of skulls of members of the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people, according to researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. They analyzed data collected in the late nineteenth century by anthropologist Franz Boas, who measured the length and breadth of skulls from many Native American tribes. “When times are tough, people have less access to adequate nutrition and are at greater risk of disease. This study demonstrates the impact that those difficult times had on the physical growth of the Cherokee people,” Ann Ross of North Carolina State told Phys.org

Famous Civil War Gunboat May Have Been Found

GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA—Bruce Terrell of the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program announced that the Planter, a ship commandeered in Charleston Harbor by a 23-year-old enslaved man named Robert Smalls, may have been found buried in ten feet of silt with scanning sonar and a magnetometer. Smalls and other African-American crewmembers took control of the transport steamer, picked up Smalls’ wife and children, and headed to the Union blockade in 1862. He surrendered the vessel, which was transformed into a Union gunboat with Smalls as its captain. The Planter eventually sank off Cape Romain in 1876. “We have probed down. We know there’s wood there and we know there’s metal there, but we don’t know absolutely whether it is or is not the Planter,” Gordon Watts of Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc. told Greenville Online. Smalls went on to serve five terms in Congress. The site will be monitored and protected. 

Revolutionary War Tunnel Preserved in South Carolina

NINETY SIX, SOUTH CAROLINA—Firefighters wearing breathing equipment are assisting a team from the University of South Florida with the exploration of a siege tunnel dating to the Revolutionary War. The tunnel was dug by Americans in 1781 during the siege of Ninety Six in order to place explosives underneath the loyalist-controlled Star Fort, but they were turned back and the explosion never occurred. The unfinished tunnel will be mapped and photographed in order to create 3-D models. “We can capture whole landscapes in hours, minutes as opposed to traditional archaeology that would be out here for weeks and months,” project leader Lorie Collins told WNEM. The tunnel will be stabilized and preserved, but will be closed to visitors.

More Headlines
Thursday, April 17

Copper Artifact Discovered in Britain at a Portal Dolmen

ANGLESEY, WALES—A copper artifact has been discovered at the ruins of a Neolithic tomb on the island of Anglesey by an international team of researchers. “The big question in archaeology at the moment is whether there was a Copper Age in Britain. Did copper come to Britain before bronze? This discovery helps to suggest that we did have a Copper Age,” George Nash of the University of Bristol explained to The Daily Post. Called Perthi Duon, the tomb is thought to have been built as a single-chambered tomb around 5,500 years ago, with a compacted-stone, kidney-shaped cairn surrounding the chamber. The tomb is known to have still been standing in the early eighteenth century, but plowing around the monument caused” a lot of disturbance,” Nash said.

Turkish Police Recover Demeter Sculpture

SIMAV, TURKEY—The body of a statue thought to represent the Greek goddess Demeter has been recovered from two men accused of conducting illegal excavations in western Turkey, according to Greek Reporter. The two men were taken into custody. The head of the statue and an altar were later recovered at another location by Turkish police. 

Ancient Corridor Unearthed at Roman Theater

FLORENCE, ITALY—According to a report in ANSA, the painted walkways used by spectators to move from the outer circle of the theater to the orchestra pit have been uncovered at the Roman theater situated beneath the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Gondi. Well shafts that provided water and waste disposal for the theater have also been found. Originally built to seat 7,000 people, the theater was expanded to accommodate as many as 15,000 in the first and second centuries A.D. 

Wednesday, April 16

Third-Century Document Describes Fixed Wrestling Match

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London has translated a third-century A.D. document from the collection of papyri discovered in the nineteenth century in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. The document records the details of an agreement between the father of Nicantinous and the guarantors of Demetrius to fix an upcoming wrestling match between the two teenaged boys. Under the terms of the contract, Demetrius is to fall three times and yield to Nicantinous in return for 3,800 drachmas of silver of old coinage, a relatively small amount of money. However, Demetrius would owe Nicantinous a large sum if he backed out of the deal. “It doesn’t look as though they’ve actually gone as far as getting a scribe with legal knowledge to do this form them, which makes you wonder if it’s a bit of an empty thing. It’s not really likely that either side is going to [seek recourse] if the other defaults,” Rathbone told Live Science.

Ostia Much Bigger Than Previously Thought

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Ostia, a port of ancient Rome, extended beyond the Tiber River, which had been thought to form the northern edge of the city. Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge discovered a new section of the city’s boundary wall on the opposite side of the Tiber while conducting a geophysical survey of the region between Ostia and Portus, another Roman port. They say that the newly discovered area contained three huge warehouses. “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side,” Simon Keay, director of the Portus Project, told The Telegraph

Scurvy Was Common in Columbus’s Colony

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Scurvy, a disease caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency, may have contributed to the decline of La Isabela, the colony established by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. “There were lots of diseases, fevers, epidemics, we know from their writing. It seems no one was spared. But apparently scurvy played a big role,” archaeologist Vera Tiesler of Mexico’s Universidad Autonoma de Yucatán told National Geographic News. Of the 27 skeletons Tiesler and her colleagues examined, 20 of the Spaniards had striations on the outer lining of weight-bearing bones on both sides of the body. The colonists’ bones also showed signs of healing from scurvy before they were killed by other diseases.

Model T Snowmobile Recovered From Expedition Site

ANAKTALAK BAY, LABRADOR—Archaeologist Jamie Brake of the Nunatsiavut Government is a member of the team recovering a 1926 Model T Ford snowmobile that was used by the Rawson-MacMillan subarctic expedition in 1927 and 1928. The snowmobile, created from a Model T truck, was discovered in 1995. “People recognized how special a thing this was back in those days, and also recognized how vulnerable the site—and the snowmobile in particular—were,” Brake told The Telegram. Restoration plans are in the works, now that the chassis and engine have been recovered. Brake notes that the snowmobile can be seen in photographs and in film footage from the Rawson-MacMillan expedition, when William Duncan Strong unearthed the remains of 22 people that were kept at Chicago’s Field Museum until 2011, when they were returned. 

An Update on Florida’s Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys

MARIANNA, FLORIDA—University of South Florida forensic archaeologist Erin Kimmerle continues to investigate the claims of abuse made by men who attended the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the 1950s and 60s. The remains of 55 children have been exhumed from a cemetery on the grounds of the state-run boys’ reform school. The school did not keep a master list for the burial ground, so Kimmerle and her team are attempting to identify the remains so that they can be returned to the families. “It wasn’t something that was an option in the past when the deaths occurred,” she told BBC News. Kimmerle has not yet ruled out foul play in the deaths of any of the recovered individuals. The investigation has revealed that those who died in a fire had been locked in their rooms and were unable to escape. Others who died in a flu epidemic had been left without food or medicine. The researchers are searching for human remains on other parts of the campus with canine recovery teams.