Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 19

Pemmican-Production Camp Found in the Northern Plains

TUCSON, ARIZONA—According to a report in Western Digs, a camp where pemmican was made by ancestors of the Blackfoot people some 500 years ago has been found at Kutoyis, a large bison-hunting site in north-central Montana. “A single bison may produce a few hundred pounds of meat, so a large kill site like Kutoyis would have produced thousands of pounds of meat at one time,” said researcher Brandi Bethke. Maria Nieves Zedeño of the University of Arizona explained the process of making pemmican, which involves drying the meat in strips, pounding it into tiny pieces with stones, and mixing it with animal fat rendered from boiled bones, in order to produce a calorie-dense product that lasts for years and is easy to transport. The team members used magnetometers to search the floodplain near the Kutoyis bison-kill site and found five potential fire pits. Subsequent excavation revealed three potential production areas, including a wide boiling pit, stone chopping tools, and fragments of bison bones at one spot, and fire-cracked rocks, stone tools, and cracked bison bones at a pit lined with sandstone at another. For more on Zedeño's research, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

Model Looms Discovered in 2,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

CHENGDU, CHINA—Live Science reports that miniature silk looms have been found in a 2,100-year-old tomb in southwestern China. “We are very sure that the loom models from Chengdu are the earliest pattern looms around the world,” said Feng Zhao, of Donghua University and the China National Silk Museum. Such machines are thought to have produced the Shu jin silks of the Han Dynasty, which were traded along the Silk Road routes across Eurasia. The tomb was probably looted in antiquity, but the four model looms, which measure about one-sixth the size of a regular loom, had been left in one of four small compartments beneath the tomb’s main chamber. The compartment also contained devices for warping, rewinding, and weft winding. Figurines of four male weavers and nine female weaving assistants were also found. Names had been written on the ten-inch-tall figurines, suggesting that they represented a team of real-life weavers. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

Neolithic Skeleton Unearthed in Malaysia

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—According to a report in the New Straits Times, a human skull, femur, and ribcage thought to be at least 5,000 years old were discovered during the construction of a museum at the Guar Kepah Neolithic site in northwestern Malaysia. The site is known for its shell middens, discovered in 1860, when more than 30 skeletons, now housed at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland, were also recovered. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng added that the state of Penang is working to have those Neolithic remains repatriated and placed in the new museum. Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science, Malaysia, expects to find additional bones at the site. To read more about Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”

Tuesday, April 18

Ohio Museum Will Return Sculpture to Italy

CLEVELAND, OHIO—The Plain Dealer reports that The Cleveland Museum of Art will hand over a marble portrait head of Drusus Minor, the son of Emperor Tiberius, to Italy. Museum officials learned that the sculpture, acquired in 2012, was excavated and photographed at the town of Sessa Aurunca in the 1920s, and taken from a museum there in 1944, during World War II. They had thought it had been part of an Algerian collection since the late nineteenth century. “It is disappointing, even devastating, to lose a great object,” said museum director William Griswold. “On the other hand, the transfer of this object to Italy is so clearly the appropriate outcome that, disappointed though I may be, one can hardly question whether this is the right thing to do.” To read more about ancient Roman sculpture, go to "Artifact: Eagle Carrying a Snake."

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed at Thornton Abbey

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Today reports that the remains of a medieval priest have been found near a hospital chapel altar at Thornton Abbey in the east of England by a team from the University of Sheffield. A gravestone identified him as Richard de W’Peton, who died on April 17, 1317. “After taking Richard’s skeleton back to the laboratory, despite poor preservation, we were able to establish Richard was around 35-45 years old at the time of his death and that he had stood around 5 feet, 4 inches tall,” said Emma Hook. Examination of his skeleton revealed that he had performed strenuous physical labor, and marks on his teeth suggest that he had experienced a period of malnutrition or illness during childhood. The research team also produced a 3-D scan of the priest’s skull, which detected a slight depression that may represent a well-healed wound from blunt-force trauma. Hugh Willmott added that the priest may have died of hunger during the Great Famine, which struck Europe between 1315 and 1317, after a period of heavy rains that caused widespread crop failures. To read more about medieval English archaeology, go to "Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

Archbishops’ Remains Discovered in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Telegraph reports that 30 lead coffins were found in a hidden chamber beneath the altar of the deconsecrated church located next to Lambeth Palace, the thirteenth-century London residence of the leader of the Church of England. It had been thought that all of the burials under the 1,000-year-old church were removed in the nineteenth century when the structure was refurbished, but scholars now know that the remains of the archbishops were not disturbed. A gilded funerary miter found resting on a coffin was the first clue to the identity of the deceased. Metal name plates on two of the coffins revealed that they indeed held the remains of former Archbishops of Canterbury: Richard Bancroft, who served as archbishop from 1604 to 1610 and oversaw the publication of the King James Bible; and John Moore, who served from 1783 to 1805. Church records have revealed that three additional Archbishops of Canterbury were probably buried in the vault during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the coffins will be left undisturbed, a glazed, manhole-sized panel has placed over the entrance to the tomb in the chancel so that museum visitors can see the steps leading to the vault. To read more about the archaeology of English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

3,500-Year-Old Tomb Opened in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Mostafa Waziry, Director General of Luxor Antiquities, announced that a t-shaped tomb dating to the 18th Dynasty has been opened in the Zeraa Abu El-Nagaa necropolis, according to a report in Ahram Online. Egyptian archaeologists recently found the entrance to the tomb, which was discovered in the early twentieth century. The tomb is thought to have been built for New Kingdom city magistrate Ou Sarhat, and then reused during the 21st Dynasty, so that it contains dozens of well-preserved wooden coffins, wooden funerary masks, and nearly 1,000 ushabti figurines made of faience, terra-cotta, and wood.  To read more about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Friday, April 14

DNA Study Suggests New Dates for Mediterranean Farmers

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—The International Business Times reports that the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield analyzed some 1,500 mitochondrial genome lineages obtained from modern DNA samples in order to study the arrival of farmers in different regions of Europe. The scientists, led by Martin Richards, found evidence suggesting that Near Eastern farmers arrived in the Mediterranean during the Late Glacial period, about 13,000 years ago. Then during the Neolithic period, about 8,000 years ago, they spread from the Mediterranean to the rest of Europe. Martin and his team hope that new sources of ancient DNA from Greece and Italy will be found for additional testing. The climate there makes it difficult to recover ancient genetic material from human remains at archaeological sites, but technological developments may could improve the odds of success. For more on early European farmers, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

17th-Century Wampanoag Massasoit to be Reburied

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—The Associated Press reports that the remains of Massasoit Ousamequin, the leader of the Wampanoag Nation who signed a long-lasting treaty with the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1621, will be reburied at his original Rhode Island gravesite overlooking Narragansett Bay. The cemetery was destroyed in the nineteenth century when a railroad was constructed through the site. Ousamequin’s remains and grave goods, including a pipe, knife, beads, and arrowheads, ended up in seven different museums. Ramona Peters, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, coordinated the effort with members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, and the Assonet Band of Wampanoag, to recover Ousamequin’s remains and belongings, and of the others who had been buried in the same cemetery. “It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for our ancestors,” she said. For more on archaeology in Massachusetts, go to “Salem’s Lost Gallows.”

Archaeologists Investigate Eroding South Carolina Shell Mound

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—According to a report in The Post and Courier, a prehistoric shell mound on South Carolina’s Edisto Island is eroding rapidly due to recent damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. Some 100 years ago, the mound, which is made up primarily of oyster shells, was recorded to stand some 15 feet tall, while today only a three-foot portion of the mound remains. “We’re probably looking at a handful of months [before it’s gone],” explained archaeologist David Jones of South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. While conducting salvage excavations earlier this spring, archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology discovered a pit filled with shells in the heart of the mound, known as the Spanish Mount. “Maybe [the mound] started out as a trash pit and they continued to dump,” added dig leader Karen Smith. Her team recovered a whelk drilled with two holes from a layer of whelk shells thought to have been eaten at a feast. For more on archaeology in South Carolina, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”