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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, June 05

Antikythera Wreck Expedition Will Use Robotic Diving Suit

WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—A suit designed to be worn in New York City’s water treatment plants will be used to explore the Antikythera shipwreck in the deep waters of the Aegean Sea later this year. “It’s basically a wearable submarine. The pressure inside is no different from being in a submarine or in fresh air. We can go straight to the bottom, spend five hours there, and come straight back to the surface with no decompression,” diving specialist Phil Short told New Scientist. Known as the Exosuit, it has voice, video, and data links; articulated joints for free movement; an umbilical cable to supply it with power for its thrusters; and a rebreather that can provide 50 hours of life support. The Antikythera device, dubbed the world’s oldest computer, was pulled from the Roman wreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900. “All we can do is get down there, get close to the sediment, and map out the debris field with our metal detectors. Over a period of meticulous seasons, we’ll slowly close in on what we hope is another mechanism,” said Brendan Foley, co-director of field operations at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Deep Submergence Laboratory. 

Work Colonies Investigated in Western Australia

YORK, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Sean Winter of the University of Western Australia has investigated the Toodyay and York convict hiring depots in Western Australia, and found differences between them and the convict system in New South Wales. “It was set up 60 years after New South Wales and under a completely different penal theory,” he told Phys.org. Winter and his team used old maps, ground-penetrating radar, and a magnetometer to look for the remains of buildings erected by the convicts at the depots and to target areas for excavation. “There is no evidence of walls or any kind of restrictive structures around the outside of the depots. They weren’t locked up at night, they could come and go as they pleased, and they were even able to do things like access guns so they could go hunting. We found that there was a lot of alcohol consumption,” he added.  

Rock Art Damaged in Southern Libya

GHAT, LIBYA—Rock art in Libya’s Tadrart Acacus, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been vandalized by spray-painted graffiti and carved initials at an accelerated rate since the country’s civil war began in 2011. Hunters have taken over the landscape, killing off gazelles and wolves, while archaeologists and tourists stay away for safety concerns. The oldest paintings date back 14,000 years, and depict animals and plants that no longer live in the region. “The destruction is not just affecting the paintings but also the natural reserve. Hunters are to blame,” Ahmed Sarhan, a tourist ministry official in Ghat, told Reuters

Exeter’s Medieval Plumbing System Examined

DEVON, ENGLAND—In the medieval period, fresh drinking water was carried into the city of Exeter through a network of tunnels, according to Mark Stoyle of the University of Southampton. He examined historic documents that record the plumbers’ activities and list the supplies that they needed, including lead, candles, and lanterns. “People from all social backgrounds relied on the system to provide their drinking water, so it was vital to keep it running smoothly. The city retained a plumber to carry out regular maintenance and he, in turn, hired in a team of workers to help with specific jobs,” Stoyle told Science Daily. The brick-lined tunnels were constructed to protect the lead pipes that carried the water, and to provide the plumbers with easy access to them. “Imagine if today there was no more digging up the roads to mend a water main!” he said. 

Wednesday, June 04

New Study Blames Hunters for Megafauna Extinctions

AARHUS, DENMARK—A new study concludes that the extinctions of large mammals such as woolly mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons, and cave lions around the world over the past 130,000 years correlates more closely with the arrival of humans than with changes in climate. “The evidence really strongly suggests that people were the defining factor,” Chris Sandom, who was a researcher at Aarhus University at the time of the study, told Live Science. In sub-Saharan Africa, where large animals evolved alongside humans as they learned to make and use tools, there was the least extinction. When humans moved to Asia and Europe, they encountered animals unaccustomed to human hunters, and extinction rates rose. Climate may have interacted with human arrival in Eurasia, with temperatures determining where people migrated. Sandom found that extinctions were most extreme in Australia and the Americas, where humans arrived comparatively late. The new predators may have disrupted the animals’ ability to adapt to new habitats. “You’ve got this very advanced hunter arriving in the system,” he explained. 

3,000-Year-Old Remains of an Infant Found in Ireland

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A baby’s intact skeleton has been discovered at Tlachtga, on the Hill of Ward in Athboy. The child is thought to have been between seven and ten months old at the time of death. “We may never know what caused the death of the child. The skeleton probably dates back 3,000 years and was found on the bedrock at the base of a 1.5 meter ditch,” Stephen Davis of University College Dublin told The Meath Chronicle. The site is thought to have been a key ritual site where Samhain was first celebrated with the lighting of the winter fires. Davis doesn’t think the baby’s death was sacrificial, however. 

Bronze Age Settlement Excavated in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—A site that was in use from the early Bronze Age (2300 B.C.) through the 1800s is being excavated ahead of the construction of a new park and ride facility. Archaeologists have found 4,000-year-old pottery, small pits and post-holes from roundhouses, and partial quern stones, used for grinding grains. Residues from working metal have also been uncovered. “The site appears to have been significant over a 2,000 year period with Iron Age occupation and evidence of smithing and domestic life,” archaeologist Steve Thomson told Culture 24.  

Unusual Foundation Unearthed at Montpelier

ORANGE, VIRGINIA—Archaeological work at Montpelier, James Madison’s home, has uncovered an unusually shaped foundation near the main house. The eighteenth-century brick building is thought to have been taken down in 1808, when Madison added two wings to the mansion. “It’s totally different than anything else. It’s not square, and we have no idea what it is. It’s going to be cool, that’s all we know,” Matt Reeves, director of Montpelier’s archaeology department, told C-Ville. The house had eight owners after the former president and his wife Dolley died, and it was only in 2008 that the house was restored to what it would have looked like when the couple had lived there. Now the focus is on finding and returning their possessions to the house, and rebuilding the quarters where some 300 enslaved people lived. 

Tuesday, June 03

Arab Dhow Unearthed in Thailand

SAMUT SAKHON, THAILAND—An Arab dhow dating to the eighth or ninth centuries has been discovered in the mud beneath a shrimp farm that may have once been a canal or a shoreline in a mangrove forest. The parts of the wooden ship had been stitched together with rope. It had been carrying earthenware and stoneware from China and Europe, coconuts, toddy palms, betel nuts, rice, a horn, fish, animals, and seeds when it sank. “Some of the earthenware is extraordinary and had never been found anywhere in Thailand. They are oval-shaped containers with a pointed bottom. Comparison studies found they are similar to amphoras usually found in Europe, the Middle East, and India,” Preeyanuch Chumphrom, an archaeologist for the Regional Office of the Fine Arts Department in Ratchaburi, told The Bangkok Post. The team is researching the best way to preserve the vessel. 

Neolithic Homes Recreated at Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Volunteers have built five structures at Stonehenge, based upon the 4,500-year-old archaeological remains of Neolithic homes unearthed at nearby Durrington Walls, with 20 tons of chalk, 5,000 rods of hazel and three tons of wheat straw. The one-room dwellings contain replica axes, pottery, and other items to reflect what is known about living conditions at about the same time as the placement of the large sarsen stones at the site. “We know for example, that each house contained a hearth and that puddled chalk was used to make the floor. And far from being dark and primitive, the homes were incredibly bright and airy spaces with white chalk walls and floors designed to reflect sunlight and capture heat from the fire,” a spokesperson from English Heritage told BBC News

Mesolithic Site in Ireland Destroyed by Construction

DUNDONALD, NORTHERN IRELAND—A rare archaeological site at Ballymaglaff that had yielded more than 2,000 pieces of struck flint from the Mesolithic period has been badly damaged by the construction of a road into a new housing development. The site was discovered in 1984 by local historian Peter Carr, and had been listed on the Department of the Environment’s Sites and Monuments record. “Over 20 of the period’s rare and highly distinctive microliths have been discovered here. Very few sites can claim over ten,” Carr told The Belfast Telegraph. Much of the archaeological layer was left in spoil heaps near the new road, but they have since been redistributed. Excavation of the site could have produced evidence of dwellings and fireplaces. “If the department gets its act together, material could still be salvaged from what remains of the heaps,” Carr said.