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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 24

18th-Century Village Unearthed in Montreal

MONTREAL, CANADA—Construction crews discovered traces of Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries, an eighteenth-century village, beneath Montreal’s busy Turcot Interchange. More than half of the village’s residents were employed in the leather and tanning trades. “Montreal was almost like the shoe and leather capital of the world,” Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal told CTV News. Among the stone foundations of the family-owned shops and homes, archaeologists have unearthed wood tanks for washing and treating skins, cattle bones and horns, and a double-hilted knife used to make wood chips for the tanning process. To read about the excavation of a medieval tannery, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."

Analyzing the Neolithic Revolution

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Isaac Ullah of Arizona State University, Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame, and Jacob Freemann of Utah State University combined existing research on the origins of agriculture with dynamical systems theory (DST) to try to understand what propelled humans to shift from hunting and gathering to farming. This shift has been difficult for scientists to study because it happened at different times in different places with different crops and animals. “DST tells us that there ought to be some combinations of subsistence behaviors and environmental characteristics that are generally stable and some that aren’t,” Ullah said in a press release. The analysis showed that resource density, mobility, and population size are important variables that can be influenced by social and environmental conditions. “It is this specific insight that may help to explain why the transition to food production happened in some times and places but not in others, why it happened so differently in all these places and at different times and rates,” he said. To read about technology dating to this era, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Tudor Window Glass Uncovered at Site of Elsyng Palace

ENFIELD, ENGLAND—A triangular pane of glass, still set in its lead cames, was found among demolition debris in a guarderobe chute at the Forty Hall Estate by members of the Enfield Archaeology Society. The estate had formerly been the site of Elsyng Palace, used by Henry VIII for hunting. “We were tracing the outline of the palace, once home to the future Edward VI and ‘Bloody’ Mary as children, and in the process found this chute full of demolition material from 1657 when the palace was demolished,” Martin Dearne, director of excavations, told Culture 24. The team uncovered a dump of window glass and lead cames, the channeling that holds the glass in place, and the one pane that was still intact. To read more about historical archaeology in England, go to "Treason, Plot, and Witchcraft."

Thursday, July 23

Timber From 5,000-Year-Old Fort Found in Wales

MONMOUTH, WALES—A timber that once supported a crannog, or fortified farmhouse on stilts, was found in the remains of a post-glacial lake two years ago during the construction of a new housing development. The Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in Glasow has radiocarbon dated the timber to 2917 B.C., making this crannog 2,000 years older than the only other known crannog in England and Wales. “The timber, bearing cut marks left by stone or flint axes, formed the end of an oak post which had been carefully levelled to create a flat surface which would probably have rested on a post pad set in the bottom of the lake,” archaeologist Steve Clarke, founder of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, told the South Wales Argus. To read about another crannog in the British Isles, go to "Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog."

Burial of Bronze-Age Teen Discovered in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The 4,000-year-old skeleton of an adolescent has been uncovered by a team from the University of Reading at Wilsford Henge in the Vale of Pewsey, an area located between Stonehenge and Avebury. The child had been buried in the fetal position, and had been wearing an amber necklace. “The skeleton is a wonderful discovery which will help tell us what life was like for those who lived under the shadow of Stonehenge at a time of frenzied activity. Scientific analysis will provide information on the gender of the child, diet, pathologies and date of burial. It may also shed light on where this young individual had lived,” Jim Leary of the University of Reading told BT News. The excavation has also recovered flint blades, decorated pottery, shale and copper bracelets, and a Roman brooch. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."

Human Limb Bones Unearthed in Xuchang, China

XUCHANG, CHINA—The 100,000-year-old remains of at least nine individuals have so far been unearthed at the Lingjing Historical Site in central China by a team from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Two of the limb bones, which may have belonged to the same young individual, carry bite marks. “We are not quite sure whether those [bite marks] were from predators or other humans,” researcher Li Zhanyang told China Daily. Sixteen pieces of a skull known as Xuchang Man that still bore traces of a fossilized membrane were recovered from the site in 2008. “Different from the ancient human skull fossils that were discovered eight years ago, the first discovery of limb bone fossils provides more opportunities to decode the process of human evolution,” Li said. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Evidence of “Trial Cultivation” Found in Israel

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—Evidence of small-scale agriculture has been found at a 23,000-year-old camp site on the shore of Israel’s Sea of Galilee. Scientists from Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Harvard University found that the site had more domestic wheat and barley than was expected, in addition to plants, or proto-weeds, that are usually found in fields planted with crops. Microscopic examination of the cutting edges of blades from the site found silicon that may have been transferred during the cutting and harvesting of the cereal plants. The site, once underwater, has also yielded six dwellings, a grave, traces of more than 140 different plant species, remains of animal foods, beads, and worked flint. “The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions,” Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University said in a press release. The team also found evidence that the cereals were processed on a grinding slab set on the floor of one of the brush huts. Flat stones found outside another shelter may have been used to bake dough. To read about another recent prehistoric discovery in the region, go to "New Thoughts on Neolithic Israel." 

Wednesday, July 22

Qur’an Manuscript Is One of World’s Oldest

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Fragments of two parchment leaves on which text of the Qur’an had been written have been radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 568 and 645. The manuscript, held at the University of Birmingham, is thought to have been written shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, who probably lived between A.D. 570 and 632, making it one of the oldest surviving examples of the book. The text contains parts of the Suras 18 to 20, and is written is an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. These leaves had been bound with similar leaves that date to the late seventh century. “The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” David Thomas of the University of Birmingham said in a press release. To read about an early medieval Christian manuscript discovered in an Irish bog, go to "Artifact: The Faddan More Psalter."

Hohle Fels Cave Yields Paleolithic Figurine Fragments

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Two fragments of a female figurine carved from mammoth ivory have been found in Hohle Fels Cave. The fragments resemble a breast and part of the stomach of the 40,000-year-old figurine known as the Venus from Hohle Fels, which was discovered in 2008. This carving may have been slightly larger, however, than the approximately two-inch-tall Venus. “The new discovery indicates that the female depictions are not as rare in the Aurignacian as previously thought, and that concerns about human sexuality, reproduction and fertility in general have a very long and rich history dating to the Ice Age,” Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen said in a press release. To read about another masterpiece of Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man."

The Peopling of the New World

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A new large-scale genome study is adding to the debate over how the peopling of the Americas occurred. An international team of scientists sampled several present-day Native American and Siberian populations, in addition to ancient DNA samples from across the Americas. “Our study presents the most comprehensive picture of the genetic prehistory of the Americas to date. We show that all Native Americans, including the major sub-groups of Amerindians and Athabascans, descend from the same migration wave into the Americas. This was distinct from later waves that gave rise to the Paleo-Eskimo and Inuit populations in the New World Arctic region,” Maanasa Raghavan of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen said in a press release. The results also indicate that the initial migration took place no earlier than 23,000 years ago, when Native Americans split from East Asian and Siberian populations. Ancestral Native Americans may then have been isolated in Beringia for some 8,000 years, since the oldest archaeological evidence in the Americas is about 15,000 years old. The study also found that some 13,000 years ago, this population split into northern and southern branches. Gene flow between some Native American groups and present-day East Asians and Australo-Melanesians was also detected. “It is a surprising finding and it implies that New World populations were not completely isolated from the Old World after their initial migration. We cannot say exactly how and when this gene flow happened, but one possibility is that it came through the Aleutian Islanders living off the coast of Alaska,” added Eske Willerslev, who headed the study. To read more about the peopling of the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning."  

4,000-Year-Old Egyptian Reliefs Unearthed

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damaty announced the discovery of two carvings by archaeologists from the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology. The reliefs were uncovered in the temple of Serapis in the ancient port city of Berenice, located on the Red Sea coast. One of the reliefs has been dated to the Middle Kingdom (2134-1690 B.C.) because it bears the cartouche of the 12th Dynasty king Amenemhat IV. The other has been dated to the Second Intermediate Period (1674-1549 B.C.), although it is not as well preserved as the first. The reliefs are older than the port city, which was built by Ptolemy II in the third century B.C. To read about a recently unearthed temple to the god Amun, go to "The Cult of Amun."