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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 30

Spain Tests Limited Visits to Altamira Cave

  ALTAMIRA, SPAIN—The cave at Altamira, where bison and horses were painted and carved into the limestone some 22,000 years ago, was closed to visitors in 2002 due to the grown of algae-like mold on the cave walls. But as part of a new study, five randomly chosen visitors a week have been allowed to enter the cave wearing special protective suits since late last February. The goal of the study is to determine “if there is a form of public visiting that is compatible with the adequate conservation of Altamira,” José Antonio Lasheras, director of the Altamira museum, told The New York Times. The results of the investigation are due in September. Some scientists are concerned that the experiment will endanger the rock art in order to promote tourism. “All the data indicate the fragility of the cave and its propensity to suffer a fungal infection if it is opened to visits,” said Cesáreo Sáiz Jiménez, a research professor at the Spanish National Research Council.   

Large Slave Quarters Discovered at Maryland Plantation

CROWNSVILLE, MARYLAND—While looking for the French general Comte de Rochambeau’s 1781 campsite at Belvoir, the plantation home of Francis Scott Key’s grandmother, archaeologists found the brick floor of a large building that may have served as a dormitory-style slave quarters. “The discovery of this is an amazing contribution to understanding African-American life in Anne Arundel County. Up to this point, we did not know they were building slave barracks like this,” county cultural resources planner Jane Cox told The Capital Gazette. The building’s footprint is more than twice the size of most slave quarters. “The foundation of this thing is so massive, we strongly suspect it had two stories,” said county archaeologist All Luckenbach.   

Wine Cup Bearing Famous Names Reportedly Unearthed in Greece

ATHENS, GREECE—The AFP reports that a ceramic wine cup engraved with the names of six men was unearthed in a pauper’s grave in the suburb of Kifissia. Among the names are “Pericles,” and “Ariphron.” “The name Ariphron is extremely rare. Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 percent sure that these two are brothers,” said Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society. Could the cup have been used by the Athenian statesman Pericles, who had an older brother named Ariphron? Matthaiou suggests that the cup was used in a wine symposium, and the six men put their names on the cup as a memento given to a man named Drapetis, who may have been a the owner of the tavern or his servant. “They were definitely woozy, as whoever wrote Pericles’ name made a mistake and had to correct it,” he added.  

Finland’s Prehistoric Dairy Farmers

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of Helsinki analyzed residues in ancient cooking pots from “Corded Ware” settlements in Finland and discovered evidence of milk fats dating to 2500 B.C. “This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago, Stone Age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging,” Lucy Cramp of Bristol University, told Science Daily. These dairy-consuming farmers, who were probably genetically different from the local hunters and gatherers, have been linked to modern-day Finns.

Tuesday, July 29

Traces of Lincoln's Courthouse Found in Illinois

BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS—Excavations at the McLean County Museum of History have uncovered part of the footprint of the 1836 courthouse where Abraham Lincoln often worked as an attorney. “They found the corner and now can plot out the exact location. These are the physical remains of an incredibly historical episode in McLean County,” museum director Greg Koos told The Pantagraph. The two-story brick structure replaced a wood-frame building, until it was eventually torn down and replaced in 1868. Archaeologists Christopher Stratton and Floyd Mansberger of Fever River Research also found a line of fence posts, and they recovered pieces of glass, a pipe stem, ceramic pieces, spikes, and nails. The researchers will dig in the four corners of the property, including the site of two early jails.  

Family Will Pay for Utah Rock Art Repairs

PRICE, UTAH—Repairs to the protected Nine Mile Canyon Pregnant Buffalo rock art panel reportedly will be paid for by the family of the juveniles who defaced it. The two juveniles carved their initials and the date into the rock face over Memorial Day weekend, which was reported to the authorities by concerned citizens. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that the restoration will cost $1,500. “I hope people try to think about the consequences and the effect their actions have on history,” one of the youths told The Standard Examiner after a BLM law enforcement officer met with the family.  

Erosion Exposes Human Remains on Kwajalein Atoll

MANJORO, KWAJALEIN ATOLL—The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that rising seas and coastal erosion have exposed human bones on the Marshall Islands. The bones are thought to be the remains of Japanese soldiers killed during fierce fighting between American forces and the Imperial Japanese Army in early 1944. Michael Terlep, chief archaeologist at the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office, examined the bones with a representative of the U.S. government. They concluded that the bones have Asian characteristics, and bullets and Japanese military artifacts were found with the bones. If the remains are confirmed to be Japanese, they will be repatriated. An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers are thought to have been killed on the Marshall Islands or in the surrounding ocean during World War II.

Macabre Ritual Site Unearthed in Denmark

ARHUS, DENMARK—In 2012, the remains of an entire army were discovered in the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland. Archaeologists from Aarhus University, Skanderborg Museum, and Moesgaard Museum have examined the 2,000-year-old bones, and found that the soldiers’ remains were collected some six months after death, desecrated, and cast into Mossø Lake in what was likely a religious ritual. “We have found a wooden stick bearing the pelvic bones of four different men. In addition, we have unearthed bundles of bones, bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls,” project manager Mads Kähler Holst of Aarhus University told Phys.org. The human bones were mixed with the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that probably contained food.   

Monday, July 28

Shells & Bones Found at Cahokia May Reflect Cosmology

COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS—Students from the University of Bologna unearthed a collection of artifacts that could represent the cosmological view of the Mississippians living at Cahokia Mounds. Whelk shells, imported from the Gulf Coast, a dog bone, and bird bones were found in a ceremonial pit, along with two toggles that may have tied the items together in a bundle. The shells are thought to represent the lower world of the cosmos, the dog bone the middle world where humans lived, and the bird bones the upper world. “Most of what we find are fragments of pottery shards and little bits of arrow points and things like that. So 95 percent of what we find are that kind of stuff. But when we find something that represents what we think, it was actually a bundle, a sack, with things laid in there in a very specific order related to their cosmological view, that’s a pretty significant find,” Cahokia Mounds Museum Society Executive Director Lori Belknap told The News Democrat

WTC Ship May Have Been Built in Philadelphia ca. 1773

  NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Researchers from the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University analyzed samples taken from the partial hull of a wooden ship discovered 22 feet below street level at the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in 2010. Hickory in the keel helped them to narrow the search for the ship’s origins to the eastern United States. White oak in the ship is similar to samples from a study of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall. Philadelphia was one of the most—if not the most—important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there,” Dario Martin-Benito of Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab told Live Science. Most of the ship’s timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more on the discovery of the ship, read ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."   

Mass Grave Uncovered in Bolivia

  POTOSI, BOLIVIA—A mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of people was uncovered by construction workers in the El Minero district of Potosi in the Andes Mountains. Sergio Fidel of Tomas Frias University thinks that the site may have been an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants during the Spanish colonial era, when the ethnic Aymara were put to work in the silver mines, or victims of the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s. “We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters, and human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” Fidel told AFP.