Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 29

New Thoughts on the Origins of Glass

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Some scholars have suggested that glassmaking originated in Mesopotamia some 3,600 years ago, but conservation scientist Katherine Eremin of Harvard Art Museums and archaeologist Andrew Shortland of Cranfield University think that glassmaking may have been invented in Egypt. Science News reports that glass beads and fragments of vessels and pendants recovered almost 100 years ago at the site of Nuzi, located in what is now Iraq, were thought to be the oldest glass artifacts. The new analysis suggests that some of those objects are only a few hundred years old, and the oldest items date to just 3,400 years ago. The researchers say that Egyptian glass is of roughly the same age, and was crafted in multiple colors, such as red, yellow, green, and opaque and translucent blue, in complicated patterns. Eremin says that by comparison, the Mesopotamian glass was not made as skillfully, and the objects may have been copies of Egyptian styles. Further study of glass from Egypt and the Near East is needed, she said. To read in-depth about archaeology in Mesopotamia, go to “The World in Between.”

Huge Bronze Age Torque Found in England

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in the Peterborough Telegraph, a torque made from more than one and one-half pounds of twisted and burnished gold was found by a metal detectorist, some 50 miles from the site of Must Farm, an extremely well-preserved Bronze Age village in the East of England. Although torques were usually worn around a person’s neck, this one, estimated to be more than 3,000 years old, is so large that it may have been worn around the waist by a pregnant woman or over thick winter clothing, as a sash, or even by a sacrificial animal. The torque was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum. To read about the discovery of another gold torque, go to “Hidden in a Coin Hoard.”

Seventh-Century Earthworks Discovered in Japan

CHIKUSHINO, JAPAN—An excavation on a hilltop on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu has found evidence of a seventh-century fortification, complete with castles and large-scale earthworks, according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. The site is thought to have been part of a network of fortifications to protect the Dazaifu, or regional government, which was headquartered about four miles away. In A.D. 663, Japan sent an army to the Korean Peninsula to assist Korean Baekje forces fighting against another one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which was allied with China’s Tang Dynasty. The Japanese were defeated in the battle, however, and the Dazaifu constructed defenses to prepare for a possible invasion. “Given the construction method and the estimated production years of the earthenware, there is a high possibility that the mound was part of a structure to defend Dazaifu,” said an official with the Chikushino city board of education. Some scholars think the earthworks may have been part of a continuous wall, similar to the kind of fortifications seen in China. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to “Khubilai Khan Fleet.”

Monday, November 28

New Dates Suggested for Plovdiv’s Ancient Theater

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Greek inscription found in a stairwell at the theater in the ancient city of Philippopolis suggests it was built earlier than had been previously thought. The theater was believed to date to A.D. 116, and the rule of Emperor Trajan, but the inscription, found on the base of a first-century statue, indicates that the construction of the theater began about three decades earlier, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. According to Nikolai Sharankov of Sofia University, the text of the inscription refers to Titus Flavius Cotis, a descendant of the Thracian kings who was the first priest of the imperial cult in Thrace. Sharankov explained that Titus Flavius Cotis erected many of the city’s buildings. “He wanted to give from his wealth for the public benefit and thus enhance his reputation among the citizenry,” he said. For more, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Pembroke Castle Survey Reveals Possible Medieval Buildings

PEMBROKE, WALES—According to a report from BBC News, a team from Dyfed Archaeology Trust has conducted a geophysical survey at Pembroke Castle, which was built in the eleventh century, to look for structures destroyed at the end of the medieval period. Parch marks on the ground, seen in aerial photographs taken in 2013, suggested possible outlines for the buildings. The new survey, funded by Castle Studies Trust, revealed the outlines of several buildings and a well in the castle’s outer ward, as well as the outlines of another three buildings in the inner ward. Researchers suggest that King Henry VII, who was born at the castle in 1457, might have been born in one of the buildings in the outer ward. To read in-depth about another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Animals in Tomb of China’s First Emperor Analyzed

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Scientists are analyzing the many animal remains and animal sculptures unearthed in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, which dates to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) and is known for its army of terracotta warriors. China Daily reports that most of the animal figurines in the tomb are images of horses that were crafted with pottery, copper, and horse bones. Other figurines include representations of cranes, swans, and geese. The analysis of the many bones of deer, muntjac deer, sheep, chicken, fish, and turtles continues. And, according to head engineer Zhou Tie of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Site Museum, recent excavations at the tomb site investigated its general structure. More than 400 pits were uncovered in the tomb, and many small pits and tombs were found around it. Stone carvings of helmets and armor were also found in the area surrounding the mausoleum. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Wednesday, November 23

Canonized Viking King Reburial Site Located

OSLO, NORWAY—A shrine to a Viking king who was sainted has been discovered in Trondheim, according to a report in Live Science. Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage believe they have unearthed the stone foundations of a wooden church where the body of King Olaf Haraldsson was taken in 1031 shortly after he was declared a saint. Now known as St. Olaf, the king ruled Norway starting in 1016 but was challenged by Canute I of Denmark and died in battle in 1030. Olaf was initially buried elsewhere in Trondheim, but based on reports of posthumous miracles he was dug up and reinterred in St. Clement’s Church. In addition to the church’s foundations, the researchers have found a small rock platform at the structure’s east end that they believe was the base of the church’s altar—which may have been built over St. Olaf’s new grave. His remains were later moved again to a larger church in Trondheim, where Nidaros Cathedral was then built. Also found at the St. Clement’s Church site was a small well that may have been seen as holy. For more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt's First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs. Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

“Thinker” Statuette Uncovered in Israel

YEHUD, ISRAEL—A seven-inch-tall clay figurine of a pensive man attached to a Middle Bronze Age pot was unearthed in the central Israel town of Yehud, The Times of Israel reports. The 3,800-year-old was discovered during the excavation of a future construction site carried out by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Association along with a group of high school students. “It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” said archaeologist Gilad Itach, who led the excavation. Also found at the site were other ceramic vessels, daggers, arrowheads, an ax head, and animal bones, all of which Itach believes may have been funerary objects for an important member of the Canaanite community. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Plymouth Settlement Excavated

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is part of the original settlement of the Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in 1620, The Boston Globe reports. A team from the University of Massachusetts Boston excavated a seventeenth-century trash pit at Burial Hill, the location of a cemetery dating back hundreds of years. The site had long been thought to be part of the Pilgrims’ first settlement, but archaeological work had been delayed due to concerns that it would disturb graves. Taking care not to do so, the team found discolored soil indicative of a post hole, and calf’s bones under a layer of discarded items dating to before 1650. The Pilgrims raised domesticated cattle, while Native Americans in the area did not, so the findings suggest the remains were part of the original settlement. “People have never found part of the seventeenth-century settlement in downtown Plymouth,” said David Landon, a University of Massachusetts Boston archaeologist who led the dig. “For the first time, we found part of the built environment.” The team also found a stone-tool workshop, pottery, and other artifacts indicating that Native Americans used Burial Hill before the Pilgrims’ arrival. For more on the archaeology of colonial America, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”