Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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."

Tuesday, December 08

Medieval Castle Walls Unearthed in England

GLOUCESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have unearthed an early twelfth-century castle keep wall in the exercise yard at the site of Gloucester Prison, which closed in 2013. The medieval castle also had an inner bailey and stables, and was surrounded by a series of concentric defensive walls and ditches, and had a drawbridge and a gatehouse. In the fifteenth century, the castle became a notorious county jail that was demolished in 1785 to build a new jail, designed by prison architect William Blackburn. That prison building had been expanded and remodeled several times through the 1960s. “It is a very rare opportunity to dig a Norman castle in a great historic city. We have recorded a part of Gloucester’s history that was once covered with the sands of time,” said project manager Cliff Bateman of Cotswold Archaeology. The team will cover the exposed remains to preserve the medieval walls now that the lot is scheduled for redevelopment. For more, go to "The Treasures of Rathfarnham Castle."

New Thoughts on Bronze Age Trade in Raw Materials

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A team of German and Iranian researchers announced that they have found the source of the diorite and gabbro used to carve statues of Mesopotamian rulers some 4,000 years ago in the Iranian province of Kerman. They also discovered deposits of chlorite, which was used to make vessels that have been found in Mesopotamia and the Levant. Early Bronze Age settlements of the Jiroft Culture were found close to the raw materials. “This shows that the civilizations of Mesopotamia and southeastern Iran were in direct contact in the Early Bronze Age. The Persian Gulf most likely served as a trade route,” Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies said in a press release. Pfälzner and Nader Soleimani of the Iranian Center of Archaeological Research are also looking for overland trade routes with aerial photography. So far they have spotted 42 possible settlements along what may have been roads linking the mountains to the coast of the Persian Gulf. To read in depth about trade in Bronze Age in Iran, go to "The World in Between."

Wood Sources Identified in the Ancient Southwest

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Christopher Guiterman of the University of Arizona used the collections housed at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and a technique called dendroprovenance to determine the origins of the wooden beams that were used to build the monumental great houses in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Over a period of four years, he compared the tree-ring patterns on 170 different beams with archived tree-ring patterns from nearby mountain ranges. “We pulled stuff out of the archive that hasn’t been looked at in 30 or 40 years. It was pretty cool to open those boxes,” Guiterman said in a press release. He found that before A.D. 1020, most of the wood used in construction came from the Zuni Mountains to the south. The Chacoans then switched around the year 1060 and harvested trees from the Chuska Mountains to the west. These results agree with the chemical and archaeological evidence. “There’s a change in the masonry style—the architectural signature of the construction. There’s a massive increase in the amount of construction—about half of ‘downtown Chaco’ houses were built at the time the wood started coming from the Chuska Mountains,” Guiterman said. To read in-depth about the ancient Southwest, go to "On the Trail of the Mimbres."

Monday, December 07

Researchers Say Stonehenge Quarries Confirmed in Wales

LONDON, ENGLAND—The bluestones at Stonehenge came from outcrops of natural pillars at Carn Geodog and Craig Rhos-y-felin in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, according to research conducted by a team of scientists from several institutions in the United Kingdom. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face,” Josh Pollard, University of Southampton, said in a press release. Dates have been obtained from burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ campfires. “We have dates of around 3400 B.C. for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 B.C. for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 B.C. It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire,” explained project director Parker Pearson of University College London. The team has a likely spot in mind for this earlier monument. “The results are very promising—we may find something big in 2016,” added Kate Welham of Bournemouth University. For more, go to "Under Stonehenge."

Vikings May Have Braved Greenland’s Cool Weather

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—It had been previously thought that the Vikings colonized Greenland during a period of well-documented good weather known as the Medieval Warm Period (A.D. 950-1250) and disappeared with the onset of the Little Ice Age (1300-1850). However, a new analysis of chemical isotopes in debris marking the advance of glaciers in southwest Greenland and Baffin Island suggests that the glaciers had neared or reached their later maximum Little Ice Age positions between 975 and 1275, during the period of the Viking occupation. “If the Vikings traveled to Greenland when it was cool, it’s a stretch to say deteriorating climate drove them out,” Nicolás Young of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in a press release. “It’s becoming clearer that the Medieval Warm Period was patchy, not global,” he explained. Scholars now think that the Vikings may have abandoned Greenland because of hostilities with the Inuit, a decline in the ivory trade, soil erosion brought on by grazing their imported cattle, or a return to European farms after the depopulation brought on by the Black Plague. For more, go to "The First Vikings."

Study Suggests Modern Human Face Is Unique

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—A study of facial growth patterns, led by Rodrigo Lacruz of New York University has, has found a developmental difference between Neanderthals and modern humans. The international team of scientists used an electron microscope and a portable confocal microscope to examine the outer layer of facial skeletons of young Neanderthals from Gibraltar and from the La Quina site in southwestern France. These results were compared with the 400,000-year-old faces of hominin teenagers discovered in the Sima do los Huesos in north-central Spain, who are thought to be likely Neanderthal ancestors. The study found that in modern human children, the outermost layer of bone in the face has many osteoclast cells, which break down bone. The faces of young Neanderthals have many osteoblasts, or bone forming cells. “We always considered Neanderthals to be a very different category of hominin. But in fact they share with older African hominins a similar facial growth pattern. It’s actually humans … that deviated from the ancestral pattern,” Lacruz explained in a press release. For more, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"  

2,300-Year-Old Etruscan Tomb Discovered in Italy

PERUGIA, ITALY—A farmer working in his fields near the town of Città della Pieve discovered an Etruscan tomb dating to the late fourth century B.C. “It was a totally unexpected discovery. The area is away from the sites visited by tomb robbers and indeed the burial is undisturbed,” Clarita Natalini of the Archaeological Superintendency of Umbria told Discovery News. Natalini’s team excavated a corridor leading to a dromos, or stone double door, and found a rectangle-shaped chamber containing two sarcophagi, four alabaster marble urns containing cremains, and grave goods including pottery, miniature votive vases, two intact jars, and a marble head broken at the neck. One of the sarcophagi had been marked with the male first name “Laris” and other inscriptions yet to be translated. The other sealed sarcophagus had been covered with painted plaster. “Unfortunately a collapse which occurred in antiquity damaged the plaster. The inscription is now lost in thousands of fragments. Piecing them together won’t be an easy task,” Natalini said. To read about a similar discovery, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

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