Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 11

Neolithic Pit in Eastern France Yields Victims of Violence

HABSHEIM, FRANCE—Science News reports that Fanny Chenal of Antea Archéologie and her colleagues have excavated a Neolithic pit in Bergheim, France, that held the remains of two men, one woman, and four children that had been killed some 6,000 years ago. Their remains had been placed over seven severed human left arms and scattered hand bones, and topped with a section of an infant’s skull. Only one man is missing a left arm, but Chenal and her team have not been able to determine if it was among the limbs in the circular pit. All of the well-preserved remains are thought to have been placed in the pit at the same time. That layer also contained a piece of jewelry made from a mussel valve, a stone point, a pig jaw fragment, and two hare skeletons. Other pits at the site contained human remains, but none showed signs of violent death or limb loss. According to Bruno Boulestin of the University of Bordeaux, this is the first time that the bodies of people likely to have been killed or mutilated in battle have been found in a Neolithic circular pit. To read about technology dating to this era, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Roman and Medieval Leicester Unearthed

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Construction work at the former site of a bus depot has given archaeologists the rare opportunity to examine the area at the corner of Southgates and Peacock Lane in central Leicester. Between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, this area is thought to have been crowded with houses and shops. The team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services has uncovered stone-lined pits that may have been cisterns or used for storage, garbage pits, latrines, wells, boundary walls, and a cellar that may date to the late fifteenth or sixteenth century. Under the medieval street surface, the researchers found the remains of two Roman streets with stone and timber buildings, floor surfaces and wall fragments, and coins, tableware, game pieces, bone hair pins, and jewelry that date from the second through the fourth centuries. “One of the Roman streets found on the site has never been seen before in Leicester and isn’t on any of our plans of the Roman city. This is a significant find and raises exciting new questions about the layout of the early Roman town and how it evolved through the Roman period,” archaeologist Mathew Morris said in a press release. To read more about Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."

U.S. Returns Artifacts, Fossil to China

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement handed over 22 archaeological artifacts and a microraptor fossil to Gu Yucai, China’s Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. The artifacts, including jade disks and bronze trays, were seized in Miami, Cleveland, and New York City, and had been accompanied by false documentation. “The repatriation of these items is a great success for the United States and for the Chinese government and its people. Cultural heritage endures as a reminder of the contributions and historical experiences of humanity, and we must continue to work together on many fronts to safeguard it,” Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan said in a press release. To read in-depth about looting in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

2,000-Year-Old Tomb Contained “Golden” Horse

BEIJING, CHINA—Samples of DNA obtained from the bones of five horses discovered in a 2,000-year-old tomb in northwestern China have been analyzed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Social Science. The tomb, which had been excavated by a team made up of archaeologists from the Xinjiang Cultural Relics Department and Northwestern University, contained the remains of three nomads, and the horses are thought to have been buried with them as sacrifices. Two of the horses were chestnut colored and had been buried with a camel in an animal vault. But one of the horses had been buried in the same vault as its supposed owner. “The color of the horse’s body was golden, or palomino, while its mane and tail were nearly white,” lead researcher Zhao Xin told Xinhua. “Obviously, its conspicuous and unique appearance made it precious,” she said. To read more about ancient horses, go to "The Story of the Horse."

Thursday, December 10

Watlington Hoard Rewrites England’s Early Medieval History

LONDON, ENGLAND—The British Museum has unveiled a hoard of coins found by a metal detectorist who alerted an officer from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and assisted with the archaeological excavation. The hoard contains 186 coins, seven pieces of Viking jewelry, and 15 ingots. Some of the coins depict figures thought to represent King Alfred the Great of Wessex, who ruled from A.D. 871 to 899, and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia, who ruled from 874 to 879. Ceolwulf II has been largely forgotten by history, but the coins suggest that the two kings shared a powerful alliance as equals. “Here is a more complex political picture in the 870s which was deliberately misrepresented in the 890s after Alfred has taken over the whole of Ceolwulf’s kingdom,” Gareth Williams, curator of Early Medieval coinage at the British Museum, told The Telegraph. The coins were produced in both kings’ names, and in a number of different mints. “It sheds new light on a very poorly understood period in English history,” Williams said. To read about an early Anglo-Saxon discovery, go to "The Kings of Kent."

Traces of 19th-Century Chinatown Found in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—An excavation ahead of subway construction in eastern San Francisco has uncovered pieces of nineteenth-century industrial sewing machines. The machines are thought to have been used in the basement of a Chinatown factory that was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. “There’s very little that remains of the Chinatown prior to the [1906] earthquake, so this is basically the last remains of the earliest Chinatown,” Adrian Praetzellis of Sonoma State University told The San Francisco Examiner. Archaeologist and oral historian Dana Shew, also of Sonoma State, will research the site’s address, 1018 Stockton Street. She may be able to learn the names of the people who worked in the factory. “If you think about the history of San Francisco and all the things that have happened over time, it’s the same areas that keep seeing development and change over and over. There’s a whole city underneath the ground that we can’t see, and we want to make sure we don’t lose that,” commented Sarah Jones, director of environmental planning for the city of San Francisco. To read about similar discoveries, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Bronze Age Settlement Discovered in Scotland

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands, The University of Manchester, and the University of Central Lancashire were walking to a known archaeological site in the Orkney Islands when they discovered a Bronze Age settlement on the Sanday sea shore. The circular stone spreads were covered with stone tools. “This is a major discovery as the houses and a Bronze Age land-surface has clearly been sealed beneath the dune system for some 4,000 years. It was the scale and density of occupation that really surprised us. Not only are house structures present but working areas are also visible,” Colin Richards of The University of Manchester said in a press release. The estimated 14 houses and working areas were roughly evenly spaced over a little more than a half-mile of beach. “This must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivalling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland,” added Jane Downes of the University of the Highlands and Islands. To read more about archaeology in the Orkney Islands, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Investigation Changes Understanding of Civil War Battle

JASPER COUNTY, MISSOURI—On May 18, 1863, 25 black soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored, and about 20 white soldiers from the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery Battery, who were on horseback, arrived at the Rader farmhouse to look for food when they were surprised by 70 Confederate men. It had been thought that most of the white soldiers on horseback took off quickly while the black soldiers were loading wagons, since 15 black soldiers and three white soldiers were killed in what is known as the Battle of Sherwood and the Battle of Rader’s Farm. Christopher Dukes of Missouri State University investigated the site, which has been acquired by Jasper County. He found 57 artifacts, including Union buttons, fired rounds, and rounds dropped during reloading, which suggest that the troops on horseback did not abandon their comrades. “They ran to a rallying point and stood and fired back,” Dukes told The Jopling Globe. “It was one of the first battles to involve black and white soldiers together, and many of the black soldiers may have been slaves now fighting their former masters,” he said. To read more in-depth about slaves during the Civil War, go to "Letter From Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Wednesday, December 09

Earliest Gun Flints Unearthed on Scottish Island

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—A 15-year investigation conducted by the University of Glasgow has uncovered the stronghold of Clan Morrison on Dùn Èistean, an island surrounded by sheer cliffs in the Western Isles of Scotland. Among the recovered artifacts are gun flints dating to the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that had been manufactured on the island. It had been thought that gun flints were first used there in the mid to late seventeenth century. Pottery and coins indicate that the residents had contact with maritime trade routes, and they may have even policed the passing sea traffic from the highly visible island. “Through the combination of archaeological survey and excavation, together with detailed historical research, we have been able to tell the story of the development and use of the stronghold and gain insight into its participation in the wider Gaelic world in the 1500s and early 1600s,” Rachel Barrowman of the University of Glasgow told Culture 24. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Possible Tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent Found in Hungary

PÉCS, HUNGARY—In 2013, Norbert Pap of the University of Pécs announced the discovery of Turbék, a fortified town and Ottoman pilgrimage site that grew up around the burial site of Suleiman the Magnificent’s internal organs. Suleiman died in Hungary in 1566 during the siege of Szigetvar, and although his body was returned to Constantinople, his heart and intestines were buried where he died. Pap and his team think they have found the remains of a building that could be the sultan’s tomb, a small mosque, a dervish monastery, and military barracks—all arranged in a formation that is compatible with a map of the town that dates to 1664. The building thought to be the sultan’s tomb has a deep pit, suggesting it had been looted in the late seventeenth century. Further excavations are needed to confirm the identification of the site. To read more, go to "Lost Tombs: In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."

Historic Photographs Captured Astronomical Observations

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Retired astronomer Holger Pedersen found boxes containing more than 150 photographic plates, most of which were taken at the now closed Østervold Observatory, in the basement at the Niels Bohr Institute. “It is astronomy archaeology,” Pedersen explained in a press release. He has cataloged the images and wants to have them digitized for the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The oldest photographs date to 1895, and were taken with a double-lensed telescope. One glass plate of the solar eclipse in 1919 is a copy, but it shows how English astronomer Arthur Eddington tested Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, proposed in 1915. The theory suggests that light traveling from a distant star would be bent by the gravity of a massive object as it passed. Eddington traveled to Brazil to photograph the solar eclipse and saw that light from stars close to the sun really did bend. “It is astronomy from a different age,” said Johan Fynbo of the Niels Bohr Institute. To read more about the archaeology of the contemporary world, go to "Where There's Smoke..."

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Complex Is Larger Than Expected

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—International team members of the Greater Angkor Project have been mapping Angkor Wat with airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) technology, ground-penetrating radar, and targeted excavation. They have learned that the Angkor Wat site is much larger than expected, and that there had been a massive structure on the south side of the complex. “Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world,” Roland Fletcher of the University of Sydney said in a press release. Towers that had been built and demolished during the construction of the main temple were also discovered. Evidence of the workers’ homes includes a grid of roads, ponds, and mounds. Late in its history, sometime between A.D. 1297 and 1585, or 1585 and the 1630s, Angkor Wat was fortified with wooden structures, perhaps in an attempt to defend the city from the growing influence of the city of Ayutthaya. “Either date makes the defenses of Angkor Wat one of the last major constructions at Angkor and is perhaps indicative of its end,” Fletcher said. To read in-depth about another sacred site in the Angkor Empire, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."