Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 12

Lost Civil War Blockade Runner May Be the Agnes E. Fry

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA—A 225-foot-long shipwreck discovered off the coast of North Carolina has been tentatively identified as the Agnes E. Fry, a Confederate blockade runner, according to a report in Wired. Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris has researched ship records in Bermuda, where many blockade runners loaded supplies for the Confederacy, and found that among the three blockade runners that were missing, only the Agnes E. Fry was more than 200 feet long. The iron-hulled steamer is also missing its engine and paddlewheel, both of which had been removed by salvagers. An imaging sonar scan of the ship, which rests in water with extremely poor visibility, is planned for next week. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "Canada Finds Erebus," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Radiocarbon Dates Suggest New Timeline for Chauvet Cave

PARIS, FRANCE—A series of more than 250 radiocarbon dates of rock art samples, animal bones, and charcoal from Chauvet Cave suggests that people used it seasonally for cultural purposes during two distinct periods separated by several thousand years. According to the Los Angeles Times, the first period lasted from 37,000 to 33,500 years ago. The second period of occupation began between 31,000 and 28,000 years ago, and lasted for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Occupation of the cave may have ended due to rockfalls that blocked its entrance. Anita Quiles of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and Jean-Michel Geneste of the Ministry of Culture and Communication in Paris say that most of the drawings were created during the first period of occupation, while the torch marks were left by the second group of people. Bears left scratch marks on the walls between 48,500 and 33,300 years ago, but probably only used the cave during the winter months to hibernate. “Only the black paintings have been dated,” Quiles and Geneste wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The dating technique for the red paintings has yet to be developed.” For more on cave art, go to "The First Artists."

Handwriting Dating to the Seventh Century B.C. Analyzed

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Israel Finkelstein, Arie Shaus, and Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin of Tel Aviv University used computer programs to scan and analyze the handwriting on 16 ostracons dating to the seventh century B.C. All of the inscriptions were unearthed at the site of Arad, a frontier fort, and had been made within a span of a few months. The analysis suggests that at least six different people, ranging in rank from the commander of the fort down to the deputy quartermaster, had written these texts. All of the writers used proper spelling and syntax. Similar ostracons have been found at other border forts, suggesting that writing was widespread, at least within the Judahite army. Finkelstein thinks the ancient kingdom of Judah may have had an educational system, since literacy was not limited to the elite. “This is really quite amazing, that in a remote place like this, there was more than one person, several people, who could write,” he told Live Science. Finkelstein also claims that if literacy were widespread at the time, it would support the idea that portions of the Bible could have been compiled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "The Gates of Gath."

Monday, April 11

High-Altitude Grave Yields Well-Preserved Artifacts

HOVD, MONGOLIA—The Siberian Times reports that researchers from Mongolia’s Khovd Museum have discovered a Turkik burial in the Altai Mountains. The grave is thought to have belonged to a non-elite woman who was buried with a sacrificed horse, an embroidered saddle and a bridle, a vase, a wooden bowl, a trough, an iron kettle, clothing, pillows, a sheep’s head, an embroidered felt travel bag containing sheep and goat parts, and a cup in a leather bag. “An interesting thing we found is that not only sheep wool was used, but also camel wool. We can date the burial by the things we have found there, also the type of hat. It gives us a preliminary date of around the sixth century A.D.,” said Khovd Museum researcher B. Sukhbaatar. To read about other finds from the Altai Mountains, go to "Iron Age Mummy."

Scientists Suggest Illness May Have Weakened Neanderthals

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—It had been thought that infectious diseases became more common among human populations some 8,000 years ago, when people became more sedentary and began living with herd animals. But scientists from the University of Cambridge and Oxford Brookes University say that some chronic infectious diseases and their causes, such as tapeworms, tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, and the virus that causes genital herpes, may be thousands of years older than had been previously believed, and that humans may have initially passed those diseases to their livestock. They may have also spread those diseases to Neanderthals, weakening the population. “Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases. For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic,” Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge told The Guardian. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

Possible Wine-Production Site Found at Imperial Roman Estate

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—Wine was produced in the first-century A.D. on an industrial scale at Vagnari, an imperial estate in Italy, according to an excavation conducted by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield. The team, led by Maureen Carroll, uncovered the corner of a wine fermentation and storage room and three buried vats where wine could have been kept cool. “The vats were impossible to move—they were in the ground and stayed there for a long time and were reused year after year. The Roman agricultural writers said it was a good idea round late summer to clean out what was left, give them a good rub, and reline them with pitch,” Carroll told The Yorkshire Post. The scientists plan to analyze residues in the vats to try to determine what kind of wine may have been stored there. For more, go to "France’s Roman Heritage."

Kiln Site in Israel May Have Produced “Judean Glass”

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Chemical analysis of glass unearthed at sites in Europe and from shipwrecks suggested that the beach sand and salt used to make the glass originated in Israel. “Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware,” Yael Gorin-Rosen of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department told Discovery News. Archaeologists working with the Jezreel Valley Railway Project found fragments of flooring, pieces of vitrified bricks that could be from the walls and ceilings of the 1,600-year-old kilns, and raw glass chips. Gorin-Rosen and her team say raw glass was produced on an industrial scale at the site, sometimes in chunks weighing in excess of ten tons, and sold to workshops in smaller pieces across the Roman Empire, where it would have been melted again in order to produce glassware. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "Off The Grid: Tel Kabri."

Friday, April 08

Cache of Silver Jewelry Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Silver jewelry dating to the second half of the seventeenth century has been unearthed in northwest Bulgaria by locals who turned it over to the country’s National Museum of History. The treasure, which includes a tiara, two forehead adornments, earrings, ear tabs, and rings, is thought to have been hidden in a leather purse during the Chiprovtsi Uprising, when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. The region of Chiprovtsi was known for its silver ore, discovered in the fifteenth century, and metal smiths. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the insurgents were crushed by Ottoman troops in 1688 near the modern city of Montana, then known as Kutlovitsa, where the treasure was found. “The treasure was probably a family fortune,” according the National Museum of History. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Cremation Pits Uncovered in Wales

ST. ATHAN, WALES—Construction work on a housing development was suspended after human skeletal remains and cremation pits were discovered by an archaeologist working at the site, located in the Vale of Glamorgan. “The council is advised by Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, its professional advisors in such matters, that the correct procedures are being followed and the investigation is continuing,” a spokesperson for the Vale of Glamorgan council told BBC News. For more, go to "Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Scientists Study Microbes on Gulf of Mexico Shipwrecks

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—At the Ocean Sciences Meeting, marine microbial ecologists Leila Hamdan and Jennifer Salerno of George Mason University and marine archaeologist Melanie Damour of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported on their investigation into changes in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. According to an article in Live Science, they said that an estimated 30 percent of the oil from the spill was deposited in the deep sea, where there are more than 2,000 shipwrecks. Those wrecks support a variety of ocean life, from microorganisms to bivalves, corals, and fish. So far, their research suggests that certain oil-eating microbes are flourishing, and that such a change in the environment could speed up the corrosion of steel-hulled wrecks. “We are concerned that the degradation of these sites a lot faster than normal will cause the permanent loss of information that we can never get back,” Damour said. To read in-depth about shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico, go to "All Hands on Deck."