Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 12

Gun Carriage Recovered From The London

ESSEX, ENGLAND—A 350-year old gun carriage has been brought to the surface from the wreckage of The London, the warship that in 1660 carried Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to the throne of England. The ship blew up in 1665 when gunpowder that had been stored on board caught fire. The ship now rests in two parts near Southend Pier in Essex. Historic England and Cotswold Archaeology are recovering what they can of the ship, before it is lost to sea worms and changing currents brought on by climate change. “This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition but is a national treasure at risk. Unless we recover it quickly, it may break up and be lost,” maritime archaeologist Alison James of Historic England said in a press release. To read about two other historic shipwrecks, go to "Mary Rose and Vasa." 

15th-Century “Sea Monster” Lifted from Baltic Sea

FLEMINGSBERG, SWEDEN—The figurehead of a fifteenth-century warship that belonged to Denmark’s King Hans has been lifted from the Baltic Sea by a team from Blekinge Museum and Södertörn University. The creature, carved at the end of an 11-foot-long beam, has lion ears and a crocodile-like mouth holding what appears to be a person. “No similar item from the fifteenth century has ever been found anywhere in the world,” Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, told Discovery News. The ship, named Gribshunden, or “Grip Dog,” was anchored in the Swedish town of Ronneby when it sank after a fire in 1495. To read more about the archaeology of ships, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Ancient Skeleton May Represent Female Warrior

ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN—The Telegraph reports that skeletal remains believed to have belonged to a woman who lived between the eleventh century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. have been unearthed in southern Kazakhstan. She had been buried with arrows, a small knife placed near her right hand, and a sword near her left hand, suggesting that she was a warrior who may have been a leader in the ancient Kanguy state. She had also been buried with pots and bowls. The find will be put on display in the National Museum of Kazakhstan.

First Colony Foundation Reveals 16th-Century English Artifacts

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—Pottery, a handmade nail, and an aglet from sixteenth-century clothing are evidence of the presence of early English settlers, according to a press conference held by members of the First Colony Foundation reported in The News & Observer. The artifacts were discovered some 60 miles away from Roanoke Island, where the first English settlers landed in 1587. Their leader, John White, left the island for supplies, and when he returned in 1590, he found only the word “Croatoan” carved in a fence post, and the letters “CRO” left on a tree. With the help of new information from a map of the area drawn by White, the team excavated a place they call Site X and found a kind of sixteenth-century pottery known as Border ware, which was probably made in northern England and was used to store fish for sea voyages. They also uncovered other colonial-era artifacts, including a food-storage jar, a hook for stretching fabric or hides, and pieces of early gun flintlocks. The team thinks that the colonists left their settlement in two waves—first a small group of men, followed by a larger group of men, women, and children. “There’s a lot more unknown to be discovered. The future before us is one of still searching, still researching,” said Phil Evans, president of the foundation. For more on colonial-era archaeology, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

Tuesday, August 11

Army Training Trenches Unearthed in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists are excavating the Dreghorn trenches, which were dug by local soldiers as part of their training for battle. The training trenches were shallower than expected, but the dirt from them had been used to build ramparts, which would have provided extra protection. Sloping sides would have helped the troops “going over the top.” According to Tom Lovekin of AOC Archaeology, the trenches have provided some insight into how they were used. The evidence suggests that the Army kept the trenches clean and the troops did not camp out in them overnight. “We did recover a single bullet casing from the fill of one of the trenches, which we believe is from a Lee-Enfield rifle. This was the standard British infantry weapon from 1895 until 1957, which indicates that the trenches cold have been used for training in preparation for both the First and Second World Wars,” Lovekin said in a press release. For more on the archaeology of WWI, go to "Anzac's Next Chapter."

Bell Recovered From HMS Hood

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—The bell from the British battlecruiser HMS Hood has been recovered from the floor of the Denmark Strait by a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In May 1941, Hood exploded and sank after it was hit by the German battleship Bismarck. Only three of the 1,418 crew members survived. Allen’s team used a remotely operated vehicle to retrieve the bell. Once the restoration is complete, it will become part of a display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and a memorial to its fallen World War II-era sailors. “For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honor in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth will mean that future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage, and personal sacrifice of Hood’s ship’s company who died in the service of their country,” Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association, said in a statement reported in USNI News. For more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."

Shipwreck May Have Belonged to Baron de Rothschild

HAIFA, ISRAEL—A wreck discovered in 1976 may be the Baron de Rothschild’s long-lost ship, according to new research conducted by Deborah Cvikel and Micky Holtzman of the University of Haifa. The Baron had three ships that carried raw materials from France to his glass factory on the Mediterranean coast in the late nineteenth century in order to produce bottles for a winery at Zichron Yaacov. “We know that two of the Baron’s three ships were sold, but we have no information concerning the third ship. The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron’s ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period,” Cvikel and Holtzman said in a press release. Earlier excavations of the wreck found pots and tiles stamped with factory marks that helped the researchers participating in the current project to date the ship. One of the pots also contained traces of a chemical used in the production of glass. “This ship could certainly be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period. However, there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron’s Ships. Perhaps we can now conclude that the third ship was not sold and condemned to obscurity like its sisters, but sank with its cargo still onboard,” they said. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

High-Tech Images Inspire New Thoughts on Tut’s Tomb

TUSCON, ARIZONA—Nicholas Reeves, currently at the University of Arizona, was examining ultra-high resolution images of Tutankhamun’s tomb when he noticed fissures and cracks in two places on its walls. He suggests that the cracks reveal the presence of two passages that were blocked and then plastered and painted over. Reeves thinks that one of the passages probably leads to a storeroom, while the other, which aligns with both sides of the tomb’s entrance chamber, may open to a corridor and a queen’s burial chamber. As he told The Economist, such an arrangement is typical of tombs built for Egyptian queens. Reeves adds that Tutankhamun’s tomb is smaller than other kings’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and it seemed to have been put together in a hurry. Could this tomb have been intended for Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s stepmother? Radar scans could reveal hidden rooms if they exist. “Each piece of evidence on its own is not conclusive, but put it all together and it’s hard to avoid my conclusion. If I’m wrong I’m wrong, but if I’m right this is potentially the biggest archaeological discovery ever made,” he said. For more on the search for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."

Monday, August 10

New Kingdom Mummies Re-Examined

TURIN, ITALY—Scientists have taken a new high-tech look at the royal architect Kha and his wife Merit—a pair of Egyptian mummies dating to the 18th Dynasty that were discovered in the village of Deir el Medina in 1906. It had been thought that their bodies had been put through a poor mummification process because their internal organs had not been removed and placed in canopic jars, as the organs of royal mummies usually were during this time period, some 3,500 years ago. According to a report in Discovery News, however, the international research team found that all of the internal organs were well preserved. X-ray imaging and chemical microanalyses showed that the mummies were decorated with jewelry. Kha’s wrappings had been treated with animal fat or plant oil and balsam. Merit’s mummy had been treated with fish oil, balsam, resin, and beeswax. “The findings tell us that the lower-level elite, such as Kha and Merit, received a reasonable degree of care. Significant effort was clearly involved in their mummification, even if it did not produce the same high level of bodily preservation as the higher elite and royals at this time,” said Joann Fletcher of the University of York. To read about animal mummies in ancient Eygpt, go to "Messengers to the Gods." 

Study Suggests Carbs Fueled Human Evolution

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Karen Hardy of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and her team examined archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological, and anatomical data, and argue in The Quarterly Review of Biology that carbohydrate consumption was critical to the evolution of the human brain over the past million years. Starch-rich plant foods, when cooked, make it easier to digest the glucose needed to fuel the brain and to support human pregnancy and lactation. Early humans may have started off cooking meat, but they could have added tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts to the fire. People now have an average of six copies of salivary amylase genes, versus only two copies in other primates, which increases their ability to digest starch. Genetic evidence suggests that this increase in salivary amylase genes occurred within the last million years. The increase in the number of genes may have co-evolved with the ability to cook, and further accelerated the growth of brain size. To read more about early humans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

“Summer Palace” Found at India’s Qutub Shahi Tombs

HYDERABAD, INDIA—Chinese blue and white pottery dating to the sixteenth century has been unearthed at a Summer Palace discovered in the Qutub Shahi Tombs complex in southern India. “This shows that there were trade relations between the Qutub Shahi Sultanate and China,” KK Muhammed of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture told The Times of India. Hookahs, which were introduced to India by the Portuguese in 1604, were also uncovered. Hundreds of people who worked at the tombs also lived there and participated in group recitations of Quran. “There was a muallim (teacher) with 20 to 25 students. A portion which has a mosque has also been found,” he added. Underground chambers are thought to have offered a cool retreat. For more, go to "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."

Large Bronze Age Fortress Discovered in Turkey

MANISA, TURKEY—A Bronze Age settlement and fortress have been discovered in Turkey’s Gölmarmara Lake basin by an international team of archaeologists working with the Kaymakçi Archaeology Project. “This area is four times larger than the ancient site of Try in Çanakkale and the largest late Bronze Age settlement that has been found in the Aegean region,” Sinan Ünlüsoy of Yaşar University told Hürriyet Daily News. The site has one of the largest of six citadels in the region that were within a day’s walk of each other. According to Ünlüsoy, this fortress may be one mentioned in texts from the Hittite Empire. To read about a similar Bronze Age site, go to "Temple of the Storm God."