Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, May 17

New Thoughts on Europe’s Ancient Music

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Billy Ó Foghlú of Australian National University says that horns played in southern India today are almost identical to those from Iron-Age Europe. “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe’s prehistory. And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artifacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India’s past,” Ó Foghlú told Laboratory Equipment. Ó Foghlú’s research suggests that the ancient horns were often used as rhythm instruments, not for melody or harmony as modern Westerners might expect. He adds that almost identical instruments that have been unearthed together may be out of tune with each other, but the dissonance may have been intentional. To read more about music in the archaeological record, go to "Artifact: Chimu Funerary Idols."

Lead Levels Reveal History of Water System in Naples

NAPLES, ITALY—An international team of archaeologists from CNRS, the University of Glasgow, the University of Southampton, and the University of Naples Federico II, tested core samples from a nearly 20-foot deep deposit of sediments in the ancient port of Naples to study the effect of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 on the Aqua Augusta aqueduct and water system. According to a report in, they analyzed the amount and type of lead in the layers of sediments, which accumulated in the harbor after passing through the water circulation system in Naples and neighboring towns. The geochemical analysis detected two different lead isotopes, one before and one after the eruption of the volcano. The team says this indicates the system was destroyed by the eruption and that the Romans replaced it over a period of about 15 years with lead from one or more different mines. The study also suggests that the water system had been expanding until about the beginning of fifth century, when the sediments in the harbor became less contaminated. This shrinking of the water system may have been caused by damage from invasions, new eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, or epidemics. To read about excavations in the city, go to "Naples Underground."

5,000-Year-Old Kurgan Excavated in Turkey

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Archaeologists have excavated “the first and oldest 5,000-year-old kurgan-style tomb that has been discovered and completely unearthed in Turkey,” according to the excavation report from The Istanbul Archaeology Museum quoted in The Hurriyet Daily News. The circular mound sat over an intact burial in the Silivri district of Istanbul. Evidence at the site suggests treasure hunters had attempted to dig it up several times, but had not been able to reach the main burial chamber, where researchers found the remains of a Bronze Age soldier or warrior who had been buried with a spear and two pots. To read about the discovery of a Thracian burial mound, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest." 

Archaeologists Examine The Curtain Theater in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology have excavated the well-preserved remains of The Curtain, a sixteenth-century theater where Shakespeare performed as an actor. They found a rectangular building that could have held about 1,000 people, and segments of wall standing about five feet tall. Scholars think that Shakespeare may have staged the first performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V at The Curtain, which was assumed to have a circular shape, since the prologue of Henry V mentions a “wooden O.” “It now seems clear that the playhouse was a conversion of an earlier tenement—essentially a block of flats—and was later converted back into a tenement again,” explained archaeologist Julian Bowsher. Artifacts from the site include a lead token, a broken bone comb, a metal mount for a cloth purse, and a piece of green pottery thought to be the base of a bird call, perhaps used for stage effects. Bowsher now thinks that the Henry V prologue mentioning the “wooden O” may have been added later, when the play was performed at The Globe. To read more about archaeology in London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

Monday, May 16

Stones May Mark Site of 18th-Century British Fort

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—CBC Canada reports that researchers from Saint Mary’s University uncovered traces of what could be an eighteenth-century British fort at the site of the Lunenburg Academy. The professors and adult students first conducted a geophysical survey of the area where historical records place the fort in 1753. The subsequent excavation uncovered two rows of stones that may have been part of a fence post or a palisade. The star-shaped fort is thought to have been built of earth and wood and surrounded with a dry ditch, and may have been knocked down after the Seven Years War to make way for residential expansion. To read about the discovery of a similar site, go to "Lake George's Unfinished Fort."

Second-Century Military Barracks Unearthed in Rome

ROME, ITALY—The construction of a subway line through the center of Rome has uncovered barracks for the Praetorian guards dating to the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D., according to an announcement made by Italy’s Culture Ministry. Archaeologists have reportedly found a long hallway and 39 rooms decorated with mosaic floors and frescoed walls. “It’s exceptional, not only for its good state of conservation but because it is part of a neighborhood which already included four barracks. And therefore, we can characterize this area as a military neighborhood,” Rossella Rea of the Culture Ministry said in an Associated Press report. The site has also yielded 13 skeletons in a collective grave, a bronze coin, and a bronze bracelet. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Archaeologists Revisit Early Habitation Site in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Evidence suggesting that humans lived in northwestern Florida more than 14,000 years ago has been re-examined by an international team of scientists, who also conducted an additional excavation. In 1983, stone artifacts and butchered mastodon remains were discovered at the Page-Ladson site, which is thought to have been a watering hole that is now located under 13 feet of sediment at the bottom of the Aucilla River. The sediments were dated to 14,400 years ago, but at the time, critics argued that the artifacts could have been carried to the site and deposited in the ancient sediments by river currents. The new excavation returned to the murky waters of the site and recovered more stone tools and the bones of extinct animals. “Artifacts are associated with the mastodon remains, including a tusk with tool marks. They were sealed in undisturbed geological deposits. Seventy-one new radiocarbon dates show the artifacts date to 14,500 years ago. The Page-Ladson site provides unequivocal evidence of human occupation that predates Clovis by over 1,500 years,” Michael Waters of Texas A&M University told Live Science. The new information also suggests that humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years.  To read more, go to "America, in the Beginning." 

Roman Cargo Discovered in Caesarea Harbor

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of cargo from a Late-Roman period shipwreck in the ancient harbor of Caesarea by recreational divers. The ship had been carrying bronze statues, coins, and iron anchors, all thought to have been slated for recycling. Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA marine archaeology unit, and deputy director Dror Planer, think the ship sank during a storm that buried the objects, including a bronze lamp depicting the Roman sun god Sol, a sculpture of the moon goddess Luna, and fragments of three life-size bronze statues. “The sand protected them. They are in an amazing state of preservation—as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago,” Sharvit told Discovery News. The archaeologists explained that metal statues are rare finds because they were usually melted down. “Because the statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and thus were saved from the recycling process.”  To read in-depth about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Friday, May 13

Unusual Ceremonial Site Unearthed in Ohio

MILAN, OHIO—An unusual ceremonial site dating to 300 B.C. has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Ohio's Huron River, reports Fox News. Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist Brian Redmond and his team unearthed an unusual oval ditch that enclosed the two-acre ridge top. They found that the ditch was in turn surrounded by clusters of freestanding poles that may have been as high as 12 feet tall. Excavation also revealed pits filled with charcoal deposits that suggest ceremonial feasting may have occurred at the site, which was built by a people archaeologists know as the Early Woodland culture. Redmond notes that most ceremonial sites in Ohio focus on burial rites or mound building. “To find evidence of life celebrations is an unexpected and exciting discovery,” says Redmond. “It gives us surprising insights about these prehistoric Ohioans that lived nearly 2,300 years ago.”  To read about another Woodland site, go to "Off the Grid: Pinson Mounds."

Bronze Age Burial Found in England

EVESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists surveying a future development site in England’s West Midlands region were surprised to find a Bronze Age burial, reports the Worcester News. The team was following up on an earlier excavation at the site that revealed ditches thought to date to the Iron Age. In broadening their investigation to include a larger tract of land, the archaeologists discovered ditches with artifacts dating 1,000 years earlier than they expected, to the early Bronze Age. “The really unexpected find was a ‘beaker’ burial,” said Laurence Hayes of the environmental consulting firm RSK. “This large burial pit contained a near complete Early Bronze Age vessel known as a beaker, covered with intricate patterns, and a polished stone archer’s wrist guard.” The artifacts are being conserved and will eventually go on display at a local museum. To read in-depth about the Iron Age in the British Isles, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Remnants of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens Sought

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Emily Dickinson is known today as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, but in her lifetime she may have been more renowned for her gardening. At her family estate, she helped to tend an orchard, a greenhouse, and an expanse of flower and vegetable gardens. The size of these gardens was dramatically decreased in the decades after Dickinson died in 1886, but now a team of archaeologists is searching for their remnants. Last summer, they uncovered portions of a pathway leading to nineteenth-century flower and vegetable beds. “If we can follow out the historic path to its end, then theoretically we would find the location of past gardens,” Kerry Lynch of Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the New York Times. If they do locate these gardens, the archaeologists hope to find seeds or other botanical evidence dating back to when Dickinson was alive. For more on archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."

Ancestral Pueblo Carved Mysterious Paths Through Lava Fields

EL MALPAIS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEW MEXICO—Archaeologists have explored an Ancestral Pueblo village in northwest New Mexico that dates to 900 years ago and was built amid lava fields. Surrounding the village, called Las Ventanas, they found a detailed array of trails, whose purpose is unclear. The trails totaled 62 miles in all, and some had no apparent destination other than the lava itself. “What this means is the trails were built, primarily, as ritual features themselves, to access different points in the lava,” Paul Reed of Archaeology Southwest told Western Digs. Goods including ceramics and stone tools were also found along many of the paths, adding further evidence that they had a ceremonial purpose. The people who lived at Las Ventanas used the local black volcanic rock in their buildings, along with sandstone, which was traditionally used by Pueblo to the north at Chaco Canyon. The village comprises more than 100 separate sites, including a two-story great house with up to 85 rooms that is estimated to have been built between 1075 and 1125. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”