Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, May 11

1,800-Year-Old Kiln Uncovered in Verulamium

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—St. Alban’s Review reports that an 1,800-year-old kiln has been unearthed at Verulamium, a Roman town in southeastern England. Archaeologists found the kiln deep underground, ahead of the installation of a new gas pipe. “To find another ancient pottery kiln is a wonderful surprise,” said Councillor Annie Brewster. Recent excavations at the ancient site also uncovered a townhouse and the absence of a tower expected at the corner of the city walls. To read more about Roman Britain, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

An Update on Mississippi’s Asylum Cemetery

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI—The Clarion-Ledger reports that as many 7,000 people may be buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. The deceased are thought to have been patients of the Mississippi Asylum for the Insane, which stood on the property from 1855 to 1935. In 2013, 66 coffins were uncovered during road construction, and a ground-penetrating radar survey before the construction of a parking garage in 2014 detected another 2,000 coffins. Because the burials rest in areas where the school is considering additional construction work, officials may exhume the burials and create a memorial, visitors’ center, and a lab where the remains and artifacts could be studied. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the premodern period, particularly those being institutionalized,” commented Molly Zuckerman of Mississippi State University’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. To read about a very different sort of discovery made in Mississippi, go to “Not Quite Ancient.”

Burial Chamber Discovered in Pyramid at Dahshur

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Live Science, a team of archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has discovered a burial chamber in the remains of a 3,800-year-old pyramid uncovered at the Dahshur royal necropolis last month. At the time, the name “Ameny Qemau,” a pharaoh who ruled around 1790 B.C., was found on an alabaster block at the site. Within the chamber, the researchers found a wooden box inscribed with the name “Hatshepset,” who may have been a daughter of Ameny Qemau. Such boxes were used to store canopic jars containing the inner organs of mummies, but only a few mummy wrappings were recovered from this box. Egyptologist James Allen of Brown University suggested that the princess may have been buried in her father’s pyramid, which would explain why two pyramids in Dahshur bear his name. The excavation team also found a poorly preserved sarcophagus in the burial chamber. For more on Egypt, go to “Hidden Blues.”

Wednesday, May 10

Ancient Log Boat Unearthed in England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that roadwork has uncovered a 20-foot log boat that may be 4,000 years old. A wood sample has been sent for radiocarbon dating. The vessel was found in a silted-up channel of the Witham River, with the prow slightly higher than the stern, which suggests that it had been pulled ashore. The prow is not as well preserved as the stern, perhaps because it was exposed to the air while the rear of the vessel was covered by the swampy riverbank. The vessel was probably made by splitting a tree trunk in half with wedges, then hollowing out half of it with flint or metal tools, and then, possibly, subjecting it to controlled burning. Slots cut into the stern of the boat would have held a transom board to square it off. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Remnants of World War I Battle Found in Israel

ROSH HA’AYIN, ISRAEL—Fox News reports that students uncovered World War I rifle cartridges and shell fragments at the site of the Battle of Megiddo, which took place on September 19, 1918, in central Israel. Further exploration by the Israel Antiquities Authority team revealed two military outposts used by the Ottoman army, a piece of a British army cap insignia, and Ottoman rifle cartridges. Archaeologist Shahar Crispin identified the insignia as belonging to Britain’s Norfolk Regiment, which attacked the ridge where the excavation took place. According to weapons expert Alexander Glick, the artifacts indicate that British forces shelled the Turkish positions with 18-pounder guns. The Ottomans responded with massive light arms fire that had been manufactured in Germany. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Medieval Fasting Rules May Have Altered Chicken Evolution

OXFORD, ENGLAND— reports that Christian religious beliefs and increased urbanization may have shaped the domestication of the chicken during the medieval period. Liisa Loog of Oxford University said that chickens were first domesticated about 6,000 years ago. The new study combined DNA data from chicken bones recovered at archaeological sites in Europe with statistical modeling, and found that some of the features of modern chickens, such as the ability to live in close proximity to one another, rapid egg laying, and a reduced fear of humans arose about 1,000 years ago, when religious fasting rules excluded the consumption of four-legged animals, but allowed the devout to eat chickens and their eggs. Loog explained that selection pressures, including different preferences and ecological factors, can change over time. For more on human consumption of animals, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

Tuesday, May 09

France Repatriates Artifacts to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that French officials handed over a limestone relief recovered from a Paris auction house during a ceremony at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of the ministry’s Antiquities Repatriation Department said that the sculpture, which dates to the 30th Dynasty and depicts the goddess Sekhmet carrying a sun disk on her head, is thought to have been taken from a temple at the Saqqara necropolis sometime in the twentieth century. Hieroglyphs on the relief include the cartouche of King Nekhtenbo II. A collection of more than 40 artifacts seized at Charles de Gaulle Airport was also returned. Most of those objects date to the Coptic era, and include jewelry and cosmetic containers. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

4,000-Year-Old Paintings Revealed on Egyptian Tomb Walls

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that 4,000-year-old tombs excavated more than 100 years ago in the Beni Hassan cemetery have been cleaned and conserved by a team from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. A team led by Linda Evans of Macquarie University’s Australian Centre for Egyptology then surveyed the tombs using modern techniques. The effort has revealed scenes on the walls that were not recorded during the initial investigation, and clarified other images, including one of an Egyptian mongoose wearing a collar and walking on a leash on the wall of a tomb occupied by Baqet I, a governor during the 11th Dynasty. Evans noted that the person walking the mongoose also holds the leash of a spotted hunting dog. Although mongooses were not fully domesticated, Evans suggests they may have been kept as pets to control pests such as snakes, rats, and mice. Or, they may have been employed by hunters to flush birds from cover. For more, go to “Recovering Hidden Texts.”

Additional Homo naledi Fossils Found

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—The Guardian reports that the fossils of additional Homo naledi individuals have been found in the Rising Star Cave system, in a chamber some 300 feet away from the site were the first specimens were discovered in 2013. That brings the total number to at least 18 individuals, including the nearly complete skull of an adult. Homo naledi stood nearly five feet tall, weighed about 100 pounds, and had a small brain and curved fingers, but wrists, hands, legs, and feet resembling those of Neanderthals and modern humans. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand said that the bones show few signs of stress or disease, which suggests Homo naledi may have been the dominant species in the area between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago—a time when Homo sapiens also lived in the region. Berger thinks stone tools attributed to modern humans may have been made by Homo naledi, although no tools have been found with the hominin fossils. He also speculates that they were able to control fire, since they were able to navigate the underground cave. “I think the discovery of this second chamber adds to the idea that Homo naledi deliberately disposed of its dead in the deep underground chambers of the Rising Star cave system,” he said. For more on Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”