Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 20

Message in a Bottle is More Than 100 Years Old

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Marine biologist George Parker Bidder threw some 1,000 bottles into the North Sea in batches more than 100 years ago as part of his research into the patterns of currents. Now, 108 years later, one of those bottles has washed up in Germany, where it was found by a retired postal worker. She and her husband removed the note from the bottle and followed its instructions to fill in the date and where it was found, and then put it in an envelope and mailed it back to the Marine Biological Association. The card promised a one-shilling reward. “We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay. We sent it to her with a letter saying thank you,” Guy Baker, communications officer for the Marine Biological Association, told The Guardian. Bidder’s bottles helped him to show that the deep sea current in the North Sea flowed from east to west. To read about the discovery of a WWII-era military courier pigeon, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War." 

2,000-Year-Old Royal Coffin Opened in China

NANCHANG, CHINA—According to China Daily, scientists have opened the 2,000-year-old coffin thought to belong to Liu He, the Marquis of Haihun, in a laboratory. They found another seal bearing the characters for his name, and “a large number of teeth” thought to belong to the deposed emperor. Characters for the name Liu He were also found on a seal, gold coins, and bamboo slips in the tomb, located in a royal cemetery. Yang Jun of the Archaeological Research Institute of Jiangxi Province said that testing of the remains could provide more information about his cause of death. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

New Thoughts on Maya Human Sacrifice

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—According to a report in Science News, many of the nearly 10,000 human bones, bone fragments, and teeth discovered in Belize’s Midnight Terror Cave are thought to be the remains of children. Bioarchaeologist Michael Prout of California State University, Northridge, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists that the ancient Maya may have considered cave areas near water to be sacred spaces, suggesting that the children might have been sacrificed to Chaac—a rain, water, and lighting god. Radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests that bodies were deposited in the cave over a 1,500-year period, beginning some 3,000 years ago. It had been thought that human sacrifices in the region were largely limited to adults, but another site of possible large-scale child-sacrifice by the Maya has been found in an underground cave at Chichén Itzá. “Taken together, however, finds at Chichén Itzá and Midnight Terror Cave suggest that about half of all Maya sacrificial victims were children,” Prout said. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Found at Boston Home of Malcolm X

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—An excavation at the one-time home of civil rights activist Malcolm X has yielded broken dishes, pieces of jewelry, toys, and a record from the 1940s that may have been thrown into the yard when the house was vandalized in the 1970s. Built in 1874, the house was occupied by an Irish immigrant family in the years before it was owned by Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s half-sister. She took teenaged Malcolm Little in after his father’s death and mother’s hospitalization. Bagley and his team had thought the site had been used as farmland before 1874, but eighteenth-century artifacts suggest that there may have been a house on or near the site during the colonial era. “We’ve come onto a whole layer, roughly two feet down and across the whole site, that’s absolutely filled with stuff from the period,” Boston city archaeologist Joseph Bagley said in an Associated Press report. The excavation will continue next month. To read more about urban archaeology on the East Coast, go to "Letter From Philadelphia: City Garden."

Tuesday, April 19

Stone Age Well Discovered in Czech Republic

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—According to a report in the Prague Monitor, a research team led by archaeologist Tomas Chlup has found a 7,000-year-old well at the site of a large Linear Pottery culture settlement. The team has been working at the site, located in the country’s Central Bohemian Region, since 2006. So far, they have uncovered traces of 19 wooden longhouses that stood on pillars. “We have a rare opportunity to study the everyday life of the first farmers in our country,” Chlup said. To read more about wells dating to this period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Eighteenth-Century Ship Studied in Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—The Flagship reports that experts from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) assisted city archaeologist Francine Bromberg with the study of timbers from an eighteenth-century ship unearthed at a construction site in Alexandria late last year. “We are recording each one of the timbers so that we can learn about the ship construction and see if there are any maker’s marks or other indications of specific construction techniques,” said UAB archaeologist George Swartz. He noted that the ship had been built by hand with thousands of trunnels, or wooden pins that connected the timbers and swelled when exposed to moisture to form a watertight seal. Schwarz thinks that parts of the ship were probably reused to make buildings and furniture, while the rest was buried in a landfill to build a port for ocean-going vessels for the growing city of Alexandria in the late eighteenth century. To read about the vessel's original discovery, go to "Ship Underground."

Stone Blocks May Date to Early Days of Hatshepsut’s Reign

CARIO, EGYPT—A joint Egyptian-German team of archaeologists has recovered an additional 30 blocks from a building on Elephantine Island that dates to the beginning of the reign of Hatshepsut. Researchers say that the images of the queen on the blocks depict her as a woman, whereas in later images, she was shown as a man. The structure was a way-station for a festival barque, or sailing vessel, dedicated to the god Khnum that was dismantled in antiquity. The reused blocks were found in the foundation of Khunum’s temple, constructed by King Nectanebo II. “Although a large amount of blocks from the barque’s way-station building were found along several archaeological seasons, the blocks found this season have clarified the meanings of the other blocks,” team leader Felix Arnold of the German Archaeological Institute told Ahram Online. To read more in-depth about a recent Egyptological discovery, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Peru’s Puquios May Have Been Part of a Nazca Water System

POTENZA, ITALY—Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis and a team of researchers used satellite images to study puquios, the spiral-shaped holes thought to have been constructed between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 750 by the same people who created the Nazca geoglyphs. The distribution of the holes across the arid region, and their positions near settlements, suggests that they were part of a sophisticated hydraulic system for retrieving water from underground aquifers. Lasaponara thinks that the spiral holes funneled wind into the Nazca aqueduct system to keep the water moving. “What is really impressive is the great efforts, organization, and cooperation required for their construction and regular maintenance,” she said in BBC News. To read in-depth about a mysterious alignment not far from the Nazca geoglyphs, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

Monday, April 18

Mummified Lung Tissue Tested

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY—Raffaella Bianucci of the University of Turin led an international team of researchers in the investigation of the preserved lung found in a stone sarcophagus in the Basilica of St. Denis, Paris, in 1959. The lung was accompanied by skeletal remains, a strand of hair, jewelry, fragments of textiles and leather, and an elaborate copper belt, according to a report in Discovery News. An inscription on the ring suggested that the remains belonged to the Merovingian Queen Arnegunde, who lived in the sixth century. Bianucci said in a meeting at the International Conference of Comparative Mummy Studies that scanning electron microscopy on the lung biopsies showed a massive concentration of copper ion on the surface of the tissue. Copper oxide was also found in the lung biopsies. Low levels of benzoic acid and related compounds were also detected. “These substances are widespread in the plant kingdom and similar profiles have been already reported in the balms of Egyptian mummified bodies,” Bianucci said. The researchers think a fluid made of spices and aromatic plants was injected into the queen’s mouth and settled in her lung. Her copper alloy belt is also thought to have contributed to the organ’s preservation. To read more about forensic analysis of mummies, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Well-Preserved Roman Fortress Wall Found in Bulgaria

RUSE, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a section of fortress wall from the ancient Roman site, Sexaginta Prista, or Port of the Sixty Ships, has been found on the Danube River in the city of Ruse in northeastern Bulgaria. The section of wall dates to the fourth century A.D. and stands some 23 feet tall and 65 feet long. Archaeologists Nikola Rusev and Varbin Varbanov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History say the wall suggests that the Sexaginta Prista Fortress was larger than had been previously thought. The fortress was part of the Roman system of fortifications along the frontier known as the Limes Moesiae. To read more, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."

Traces of Medieval Town Uncovered in Western Scotland

IRVINE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists examined an area in Irvine, Scotland, ahead of a development project, to look for traces of the medieval royal burgh. They uncovered an oven, wells, and the skeletons of a pony and two cows that had been buried intact. “In each instance the whole articulated skeleton—two cows and a pony—was buried in an individual grave, with no apparent attempt to butcher or otherwise use the body—a practice that would have been common in medieval Scotland,” Claire Williamson of Rathmell Archaeology told Culture 24. The team also found pits lined with timber and stone that may have been used for soaking hides and making leather. The well-preserved wood suggests that water levels may have been higher at the site in the past. Archaeologists will attempt to date the timbers using dendrochronology. Medieval pottery imported from as far away as Germany and Spain dating back to the thirteenth century has also been recovered. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

Large, Possibly Intact Roman Villa Unearthed in England

LONDON, ENGLAND—A Roman villa said to be one of the largest in England has been discovered in a private yard in Wiltshire. Workmen were digging a trench for electric cables when they found a red, white, and blue mosaic floor, so the landowner called the local government office. The New York Times reports that experts from the Salisbury Museum and Historic England uncovered coins, jewelry, pottery, a well, heating pipes, and the shells of hundreds of oysters and whelks. The shellfish were probably imported in barrels of salt water from the coast. The main structure is thought to have been a three-story tall building with as many as 25 rooms on its ground floor. The villa’s outbuildings are also expected to be found at the site. “The site has not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago, and so it’s of extreme importance,” said archaeologist David Roberts of Historic England. To read in-depth about a Roman villa recently unearthed in France, go to "France's Roman Heritage."