Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 06

First World War Shipwreck Declared War Grave

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that the wreckage of the HMHS Anglia has been declared an official war grave, along with a dozen other British naval vessels. At least 160 people were killed when the HMHS Anglia sank off the southeastern coast of England after hitting a German mine on November 17, 1915. The hospital ship had been carrying nearly 400 soldiers wounded in World War I battlefields, as well as the team of doctors and nurses caring for them. It is now illegal to damage, move, remove, or unearth any of the human remains at the wreck site, or to open any hatch or other opening on the ship. “In protecting these historic wreck sites, the Ministry of Defense has recognized the significance of the ships as part of our national story, recognized the cultural importance of the First World War at sea, and honored the memory of those lost in the defense of our shores,” said marine archaeologist Mark Dunkley of Historic England. To read about another shipwreck, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

Rock Art Discovered in 4,000-Year-Old Dolmen

HULA VALLEY, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a dolmen containing the remains of an adult, a young adult, and a child has been found in a field of more than 400 ancient tombs in northern Israel. The underside of the tomb’s capstone, which is thought to weigh about 50 tons, had been decorated with engravings. At least four smaller dolmens had been built at its foot, and then the chambers were covered with a tumulus of stones. Researchers from the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of Hebrew University made a 3-D model of the engravings, which archaeologist Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority said are the first to be found in a dolmen in the Middle East. The patina inside the carvings matches the rest of the rock face, suggesting that the tomb was decorated when it was built. “It’s a problem to date [the dolmens] because they are very obvious on the landscape and people have been using them since they were built 4,000 years ago or a little bit more than that,” explained Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College. The scientists will attempt to radiocarbon date the bones discovered in the tomb. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Artifact: Middle Bronze Age Jug.”

Study Suggests Domesticated Trees Persist in Amazon Forest

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Science reports that ecologist Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Carolina Levis of Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research and Wageningen University in the Netherlands employed a database of information collected in earlier studies of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest to search for evidence of domesticated woody species near more than 1,000 archaeological sites in the Amazon basin and the Guiana shield. They found that common domesticated species, such as the Brazil nut tree and palm trees, made up as much as 61 percent of the trees near archaeological sites. Forests near archaeological sites also had more domesticated tree species than places without evidence of past human occupation. “The effect of Pre-Columbian people is much more pronounced than many of us believed,” said Ter Steege. Researchers cannot be sure, however, when domesticated trees became common. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Friday, March 03

Children’s Burials Unearthed in Historic St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—The remains of three children have been found among seven European burials under the floor of a hurricane-damaged shop in St. Augustine. First Coast News reports that two of the children were buried in the same grave, perhaps at the same time. “The bioarchaeologist will be able to tell us the precise age but he thinks—based on the bones—they probably are under seven years old,” said archaeologist Kathleen Deagan, who is assisting city archaeologist Carl Halbirt with the project. The graves are part of a church cemetery that dates to the earliest years of the European colony. The excavation team has also discovered foundations at the site that are not recorded on historic maps. The structures may have served as a seawall. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

19th-Century Military Trench Uncovered in New Zealand

MATAPIHI, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report by Radio New Zealand, workers installing a median barrier on a highway near the North Island’s city of Tauranga found musket balls in what appears to be a nineteenth-century military trench. Archaeologists are investigating the site, which is in an area known to hold the archaeological remains of three Maori settlements. But Niclas Johansson, a NZ Transport Agency spokesperson, said that even though there are other well-known battle sites in the Tauranga area, this military trench was a surprise. “This could be nationally significant so it’s important that we keep the site closed and take the time now to find out as much as we can so we can honor the tangata whenua [people of the land] who were affected by this part of our history,” he explained. To read about a recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Vast Burial Mound Found in Japan’s Ancient Capital

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a square burial mound measuring nearly 230 feet per side has been found in Asuka, the ancient capital of imperial Japan. The vast tomb is surrounded by a stone-lined moat, which was discovered in 2014. Researchers have also found remnants of a passage to the burial chamber, which they think could hold the remains of Emperor Jomei, who lived from A.D. 593 to 641, or Soga no Emishi, a warlord who died in 645. To read about another recent discovery, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Thursday, March 02

Students Recreate Japan’s Nintoku-ryo Kofun in Lego Bricks

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that students in Osaka University’s LEGO Users' Group (OULUG) assembled a 1:560-scale model of the keyhole-shaped Nintoku-ryo burial mound and the moat that surrounds it with more than 10,000 plastic bricks. The students examined the shape of the fourth-century mound at the Osaka Prefectural Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, and used 3-D computer images, aerial photographs, and Lego’s modeling software to plan the miniature replica. Half of it was covered with white bricks to simulate what the tomb may have looked like when it was built. The other half was covered in green bricks to represent the trees that now grow over the mound. A stone coffin, swords, and glassware were placed inside the model. “Our (model) burial mound ended up being more realistic than we had ever thought,” said engineering student Satoshi Osako, deputy head of OULUG. The project was commissioned by the local government in an effort to interest children in the bid to have Japan’s Mozu and Furuichi burial mound clusters added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. To read about a LEGO model of the Antikythera Mechanism, go to “Artifact.”

100,000-Year-Old Skulls Exhibit Mix of Features

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Live Science reports that two partial skulls dated to more than 100,000 years ago appear to share traits of modern humans, archaic humans, and Neanderthals. The bones, discovered at the Lingjing site in Xuchang, central China, exhibit a large brain size, lightly built cranial vaults, and modest brow ridges, similar to late archaic and early modern humans found across the Old World. But the braincase is low and broad, resembling that of earlier hominins from eastern Eurasia, and the inner ear bones and the rear of the skulls resemble those of western Eurasian Neanderthals. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, and Xiu-Jie Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, say that the fossils suggest that these groups were not separate lineages. “We’re seeing a general interconnectedness of all these populations across the Old World,” Trinkaus said. Traits that are usually associated with fossils from one region or another may occur have occurred there in greater frequency, he explained. The scientists are hoping to find a complete skull “so we can tell what they looked like,” Wu said. For more, go to “Homo erectus Stands Alone.”

Archaeologists Return to 19th-Century Shipwreck Survivors’ Camp

SITKA, ALASKA—The Capital City Weekly reports that an international team of archaeologists led by Dave McMahan returned to Kruzov Island, where 26 survivors of the wreck of the Russian-American Company ship Neva are thought to have awaited rescue for three weeks in the winter of 1813. The campsite yielded a large piece of a ship’s iron yard brace entwined in the roots of a tree; a fragment of a scabbard made of bronze or brass; additional scraps of copper hull sheathing remade into survival tools; cooking fires; remains of fish and deer; Russian axes; and cannon grapeshot. The team also found rows of mismatched iron nails at the edge of the camp. The nails, oriented east to west, may have held together a coffin made of salvaged wood. The burial, thought to hold the remains of one of the two survivors of the wreck who died after reaching the island, has been left in place. For more on archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

17th-Century Artifacts Found Under English Mansion’s Floor

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—The Midhurst and Petworth Observer reports that conservationists recovered artifacts dating to the late seventeenth century while repairing marble tiles in Petworth House. The tiles had been laid on a bed made up of layers of sand, gravel, and marble chippings on the floor of the formal entrance to the mansion, which was built by the sixth Duke of Somerset in the 1690s. The floor has not been disturbed since the 1920s, when a few of the tiles were moved to install electricity in the house. The artifacts include a fragment of a seventeenth-century pottery drinking vessel thought to have been imported from Germany; an oyster shell that may have been part of a worker’s lunch; and a piece of a lead window frame that may have been part of the medieval house that stood on the property before Petworth House was built. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”