Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 12

Pit Containing Cat Bones Unearthed in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Possible evidence for the medieval trade in cat fur has been uncovered at a site in eastern Spain, according to a report in Live Science. Some 900 domestic cat bones were discovered in a pit where crops may have been stored at the farming site of El Bordellet. The bones’ cut marks and fractures are consistent with what has been found in skinning experiments. Most of the bones are from cats between the ages of nine and 20 months at the time of death, likely because the animals would have been large, but their coats still relatively undamaged. Zooarchaeologist Lluis Lloveras of the University of Barcelona said cat fur was widely used during the Middle Ages in northern Europe to make coats, collars, and sleeves. “Some texts also make reference to the healing qualities of cat skin, but also to its possible harmfulness,” he said. Domestic cat fur was less valuable than the fur of wild cats, he added, and was worn by the less wealthy, and austere social groups, such as nuns. Lloveras also notes, however, that a horse skull, a goat horn, and a chicken eggshell were found alongside the cat bones. “All these particular animal remains have been associated with ritual practices in the Middle Ages as well as in later times,” he said. For more on cat remains in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

New Dates for England’s Montem Mound

SLOUGH, ENGLAND—The Slough Express reports that a team led by Jim Leary of the University of Reading has determined that a 20-foot hill in a town in southern England known as the Montem Mound is a 1,500-year-old Anglo-Saxon burial mound. The structure had been thought to be the remains of a Norman castle earthwork, but samples taken from different parts of the mound indicate that it was built some 500 years earlier. Leary and his team also note that the mound’s size and dimensions, and its proximity to another Saxon barrow, support the new identification. To read in-depth about the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, go to “The Kings of Kent.”

Holes in Rocks May Have Supported Mesolithic Shelters

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers from the Czech Institute of Egyptology think that holes drilled in the rocks on the west bank of the Nile River in central Sudan may have been used to hold the wooden poles of Mesolithic structures. The team members took detailed measurements of the holes, which have regular, cylindrical shapes with smooth sides. They then used the information to create hypothetical reconstructions of shelters anchored to the rock. “These shelters would have been anchored to the rocks for solidity and to keep them in the shade throughout all day,” explained team member Lenka Varadzinová, who added that drilling the holes as long as 11,000 years ago, without the use of metal tools, would have been challenging work. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

Friday, June 09

Australia Will Repatriate Human Remains to Japan

SAPPORO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two museums in Australia will repatriate the skeletal remains of Ainu people in their collections. The Ainu people are indigenous to northern Japan, and particularly the island of Hokkaido. Their remains are known to be held in collections in countries including Britain, the United States, and Germany. The three sets of remains known to be held in the two Australian museums are thought to have been shipped overseas between 1911 and 1936. “The repatriation process with Australia will be important in making guidelines for further returns from overseas,” explained Hirofumi Kato of the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Hellenistic Burials Uncovered in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a tomb dating to the Hellenistic period (323‒30 B.C.) has been discovered in the El-Shatby neighborhood of Alexandria by a team from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Funerary prayers written in Greek and geometric designs are among the decorations in the tomb’s four halls and burial shafts. Some 300 artifacts, including pottery, lamps, and a terracotta statue, were recovered. The researchers plan to study the phrases written on the individual burials. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Thursday, June 08

Circular Temple and Ball Court Discovered in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Reuters reports that the foundations of a circular Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been unearthed in Mexico City, near Zocalo Plaza. The modern capital was built over the Aztec capital, known as Tenochtitlan, which was captured by the Spanish is 1521. The stucco-covered temple, dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl, was erected during the reign of Emperor Ahuizotl, between 1486 and 1502. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) said the top of the temple probably resembled a coiled snake. Priests would have entered the building through a doorway that looked like the snake’s nose. Archaeologist Raul Barrera, also of INAH, said that 32 severed neck vertebrae were found in a pile near the ball court. “It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” he said. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.” For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”

Green-Glass Spearhead Found on Australia’s Prison Island

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Students from the University of Western Australia have uncovered a spearhead made of bright green glass on Rottnest Island, according to a report from ABC News. Nearly 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned on the island, also known as Wadjemup, between 1838 and 1931. The prisoners are thought to have made such spearheads from scrap pieces of glass for use in trade, building relationships, and for hunting small nocturnal marsupials called quokkas. The spearhead, which has been estimated to be at least 100 years old, has been reburied on the island. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Wooden Palisades at Avebury Dated to 5,300 Years Ago

AVEBURY, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a monument in Avebury, England, located about 23 miles away from Stonehenge, may be 800 years older than had been previously thought. The monument, which resembled a pair of eyeglasses outlined with tall, wooden posts, was first dated to 2500 B.C., or about the time that Stonehenge was built. Researchers recently employed new radiocarbon-dating techniques on pottery, animal bones, and charred remains of posts found in the monument’s post holes to arrive at the new, older date. “It’s much too large to be a stock enclosure; it’s got to be a ceremonial enclosure,” explained statistical archaeologist Alex Bayliss of Historic England. He thinks one enclosure may have been for men, and the other for women. Both were burned to the ground in what Bayliss called an “amazing spectacle.” Few remains of human occupation from the time have been found in the area, but later, Neolithic housing has been uncovered, suggesting that people returned to the site after the fire. They may even have been involved with the construction of the nearby chalk mound known as Silbury Hill. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”