Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 11

Human Remains Found at World War II Underwater Wreckage Site

ZAGREB, CROATIA—The Norman Transcript reports that divers found human remains near The Tulsamerican, the last B-24 Liberator bomber built in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a 17-year search, the wreckage was discovered under 130 feet of water off the coast of Croatia in 2010. The crew ditched the plane in the Adriatic Sea on December 17, 1944, because it had been hit by enemy fire after a bombing run over German-occupied Poland. Three of the ten men on board were killed. Some of the wreckage may be recovered and returned to Oklahoma for display at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. To read more, go to "The  Archaeology of World War II."

Christian Saint’s Hut Possibly Identified

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that the wattle and timber hut where St. Columba is said to have worked and prayed in the sixth century A.D. has been identified on the island of Iona, home of the Iona Abbey, a Christian pilgrimage site. Sixty years ago, historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas uncovered what he thought could be the saint’s cell on a hill traditionally known as Tòrr an Aba, or “the mound of the abbot.” After the structure burned down, the site is thought to have been covered with beach pebbles to preserve it, and a hole at the site suggests that a cross may have been placed to mark it. Archaeologists Ewan Campbell and Adrián Maldonado of the University of Glasgow recently radiocarbon dated some of the pieces of hazel charcoal carefully preserved by Thomas and obtained a date range of A.D. 540 to 650. “What Charles Thomas and his team found—and couldn’t prove until now—was that we’ve been walking on the early monastery this whole time,” Maldonado said. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

4,500-Year-Old Man's Face Reconstructed

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—Forensic experts at Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab reconstructed the countenance of a man thought to have lived in England’s East Midlands some 4,500 years ago, according to a report in Live Science. The man’s remains were recovered from Derbyshire’s Liff’s Low bowl barrow during excavations in the 1930s and the 1980s, and have been housed at the Buxton Museum. He had been buried with a beaker-shaped pot and a stone pendant thought to have been worn as a necklace. Previous studies of the bones indicate that the man stood approximately five feet, seven inches tall, and died between the ages of 25 and 30. His cause of death is not known, but Claire Miles of the Buxton Museum said that a fracture in his left elbow had “healed poorly.” The Face Lab team scanned the surviving pieces of his skull with an Artec 3-D scanner and reassembled them digitally. The portions of the man’s face corresponding to the missing bones were produced from estimates based upon the surviving data, and appear blurred in the final image. To read in-depth about prehistoric Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Monday, July 10

Remains of Women in Wari Tomb Studied

WARSAW, POLAND—Scientists led by Milosz Giersz of the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Archaeology have analyzed samples of tooth enamel and rib bone taken from some of the 64 skeletons found in a 1,200-year-old Wari tomb in Huarmey, Peru. According to a report in Science & Schoarship in Poland, most of the skeletons in the tomb, which also contained imported luxury items and artifacts made of gold, silver, and bronze, belonged to women. Some scholars have suggested that the women were elites, or wives of Wari rulers, who traveled to Huarmey from different parts of the Wari Empire. The analysis of the levels of strontium isotopes in the bone and tooth enamel suggests that the women had been born, raised, and continued to live in the Huarmey area. DNA analysis, however, indicates that the women in the tomb were not closely related to other people who had lived in the Huarmey area. “This allows us to suppose that the women buried in the tomb we examined could have been daughters or granddaughters of immigrant women from different parts of the Wari Empire,” Giersz said. To read about the initial discovery of the women's remains, go to "A Wari Matriachy?

1,400-Year-Old Manuscript Revealed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—A palimpsest containing an ancient medical treatise beneath biblical text has been discovered by the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai, according to a report in Ahram Online. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was found during restoration work in the monastery’s ancient library, which holds some 6,000 manuscripts. The leather pages of the palimpsest were first used in the sixth century A.D. for a recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates. Three other medical recipes, and pictures of medicinal herbs, had also been recorded on its pages by an anonymous scribe. During the medieval period, the pages were scraped and reused for the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, an early version of the Christian scriptures. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” explained Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology for the ministry. To read more about recovering ancient texts, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum." 

Fourth Denisovan Fossil Found

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Live Science, a fourth fossil of an individual of the extinct hominin species known as the Denisovans has been found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. The specimen is estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 years older than the other three known Denisovan fossils. “This would indicate that Denisovans were present in the Altai area for a very long time—at least as long as modern humans have been in Europe, if not much more,” said paleogeneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The new fossil is a well-worn baby tooth probably shed by a girl between the ages of ten and 12. Slon and her team examined the tooth with 3-D X-rays, and analyzed a tiny bit of powdered tooth to look for DNA. The results suggest that there was a low level of genetic diversity among the Denisovans, which could indicate a small, isolated population lived in the cave. To read more about Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Roman Tablets Unearthed in England

HEXHAM, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that well-preserved documents written in ink on wafer-thin pieces of wood have been discovered at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. The documents, which are about the size of a modern postcard, include letters, lists, and personal correspondence, and are thought to have been discarded toward the end of the first century A.D. Some of the writing was protected in the damp soil by the backs of adjoining wooden pages. In one letter, a man named Masclus, known from other documents discovered at Vindolanda, applied for leave, or commeatus. Once the tablets have been conserved, they will undergo infrared photography and the texts will be translated. To read in-depth about the forts of Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."

Friday, July 07

Royal Baths Discovered in Anatolia

KONYA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that baths used by the Seljuk sultans 1,000 years ago have been found in Gevele Castle on Takkeli Mountain, located in central Anatolia. The bath water was heated with a furnace and circulated through gaps in the lower part of the bath. “We did not expect to find such a structure,” said Ahmet Çayci of Necmettin Erbakan University. The team also found private rooms that may have been used for washing. Gevele Castle is known for its small mosque, cistern, tunnels, and dungeons. “The castle should have a view terrace and the venues where the sultan was hosted,” Çayci added. “We are continuing to search for it.” To read in-depth about another excavation of a medieval Islamic castle, go to "Expanding the Story."

Aztec Wolf Burial Found in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report in Reuters, the remains of a young wolf sacrificed some 500 years ago have been found in a stone box near the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square and the site of the Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan’s main ceremonial center before the arrival of the Spanish. The cache was damaged in 1900 when a sewage line was installed, but otherwise it was undisturbed. Archaeologist Leonardo Lopez said that after the wolf had been killed, it was adorned with ornaments crafted from precious metals, including pendants covered with symbols, a nose ring, and a chest plate, and belts made of shells from the Atlantic Ocean. The wolf’s body was then placed in the stone box, along with the remains of other animals from the air, land, and sea. The box was then set on a layer of flint knives. Wolves are thought to represent Huitzilopochtli, Aztec god of war and the sun. Wolves may have also been believed to help guide fallen warriors to the underworld. Lopez added that the wolf’s ribs will be studied to try to determine if its heart was removed during the sacrifice. To read in-depth about excavations of Tenochtitlan, go to "Under Mexico City."

200-Year-Old Burials Uncovered in Southern England

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in BBC News, nine burials were discovered during construction work at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange, which is located in the Royal Pavilion Estate. The burials are thought to have been part of a Quaker cemetery that occupied the site before the Royal Pavilion Estate was first built as a seaside retreat for the Prince of Wales in the late eighteenth century. “The best clue as to when worship and burial ceased is when the Quaker meeting house moved to the current location on Meeting House Lane in 1805,” explained Darryl Palmer of Archaeology South-East. The remains will be exhumed and studied. To read in-depth about the bioarchaeology of early modern England go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."

Ancient Rooms Unearthed at Pilgrimage Site in Rome

ROME, ITALY—ANSA reports that new rooms have been discovered beneath the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, said to have been built around the fourth-century home, or domus, of Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. “We have shed more light on the main entrance into the domus and better established the division between the various rooms,” said archaeologist Anna De Santis. The newly uncovered rooms are thought to have been living quarters for Helena’s ladies in waiting. According to tradition, Helena, who is revered as a saint, housed Christian relics she obtained in Jerusalem in her chapel. Its floor was said to be covered with soil from the Holy Land. To read more about Imperial residences in Rome, go to "Golden House of an Emperor."