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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 06

Birch-Bark Coffin Discovered in Russia’s Zeleny Yar

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—A birch-bark coffin has been removed from Zeleny Yar, a medieval site on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. Similar burials from the site have contained mummified remains. “The mummification was natural. It was a combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles, and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect,” Alexander Gusev of the Research Center for the Study of the Arctic told The Siberian Times. Five of the mummies from the site that had been shrouded in copper had also been buried with reindeer, beaver, wolverine, or bear furs. One man had also been wearing a head ornament in the shape of a bear and had been buried with an iron hatchet. Metal has been detected within the newly discovered birch bark coffin, thought to date to the twelfth or thirteenth century. “It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in a special freezer,” Gusev added. His team will open the “cocoon” later this month. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."

American Artifacts From WW II Found on Salisbury Plain

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A team from Wessex Archaeology has found items left by American soldiers who trained for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on Salisbury Plain—usually noted for Stonehenge and other prehistoric archaeological sites. The artifacts include spoons and plates, cans of cooking oil, 16 intact containers of sunscreen, packages of bacon and lard, and bottles of sauce. “The state of preservation of the provisions shows how well made they were,” a spokesperson for Wessex Archaeology told BBC News. “It’s evidence of US military presence on Salisbury Plain and the surrounding area. Sadly, there were no contents left in the tins of sliced bacon.” The artifacts will be housed in the Salisbury Museum. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."

Square Slave Quarters Unearthed at Maryland Plantation

CROWNSVILLE, MARLYAND—While looking for traces of French troops thought to have camped at Belvoir, an eighteenth-century plantation, during the Revolutionary War, archaeologists uncovered a 34-by-34-foot structure with a stone foundation and brick walls and floors that, according to the 1798 tax roll, housed slaves close to the brick plantation house. “There was a large front room with a kitchen hearth for cooking, meals, and socializing. In the rear were two rooms, perhaps with bunk beds in one and a family’s quarters in another,” Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the State Highway Administration, told The Capital Gazette. The large kitchen hearth, where meals may have been prepared for the plantation house, shared a chimney with two smaller hearths, one in each of the back rooms. Similar buildings have been found listed in historic documents, but this is the first time that a square, stone and brick structure has been unearthed in the Chesapeake. The tax roll also lists a log structure on the property that may have housed field laborers. To read more about the archaeology of slavery, go to "Free Before Emancipation." 

New Thoughts on the Bronze Age Diet in the Iberian Peninsula

GRANADA, SPAIN—Analysis of human remains from a burial site at Cova do Santo in northwestern Spain suggests that the diet eaten by the local residents between 1800 and 1600 B.C. consisted mostly of plant food. Stable isotopes from the bone collagen of at least 14 men, women, and children indicate that they ate little meat or fish, despite living near the Sil River. “There are no significant differences between individuals in terms of diet, so access to food resources must have been similar, regardless of sex or age,” Olalla López-Costas of the University of Granada said in a press release. López-Costas and her team think that the Bronze Age diet in northwestern Iberia may have included millet earlier than had been previously thought, although they cannot confirm it. Millet crops “give a high yield in a short time, which probably helped people become more sedentary and the excess of production could have contributed to the construction of a social hierarchy,” she said. To read more about the period, go to "Bronze Age Palace & Royal Burial Unearthed in Spain."

Friday, July 03

Second "Kamikaze" Shipwreck Discovered

MATSURRA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that underwater archaeologists surveying the waters off the island of Takashima have located the remains a second shipwreck that was part of one of the two 13th-century Mongol invasions that were destroyed by the “divine wind” (Kamikaze) typhoons. Artifacts from the second invasion, in 1281, have been found around Takashima Island, and a vessel from that fleet was discovered in 2011. The recently discovered ship is estimated to have been 65 feet long and around 20 feet wide and was carrying 13th-century Chinese ceramics, as well as ironware that positively identified it as a ship belonging to one of the two doomed Mongol fleets. “We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” said University of the Ryukyus archaeologist Yoshifumi Ikeda. To read more about some of the most important underwater discoveries made by archaeologists, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Ancient Bobkitten Burial Identified

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—In the 1980s, archaeologists excavating a Hopewell Culture (ca. 100 B.C.–A.D. 400) burial mound 50 miles north of St. Louis found the remains of 22 adults buried in a ring around an infant. They also discovered the skeleton of a small animal, which they assumed was a puppy, buried with a necklace made of marine shells and bear teeth. The Hopewell people were known to bury dogs in village sites, so the discovery did not strike the team as unusual. But more recently, Max Planck Institute zooarchaeologist Angela Perri, a specialist in canine burials, examined the remains and made a startling discovery. "As soon as I saw the skull, I knew it was definitely not a puppy,” Perri told Science. “It was a cat of some kind.” She determined the remains belonged to a bobcat that was no more than seven months old when it died and found no marks on the bones that would suggest it had been sacrificed. “It shocked me to my toes,” says the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's Kenneth Farnsworth. “I’ve never seen anything like it in almost 70 excavated mounds. Somebody important must have convinced other members of the society that it must be done. I’d give anything to know why.” To read more about this period, go to "Who Were the Hopewell?"

Thursday, July 02

Everyday Life at Angkor Wat Investigated

 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A team led by University of Sydney archaeologist Alison Carter is excavating the site of an ordinary house at Ankor Wat. Until now, researchers have concentrated their efforts on the more spectacular remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries A.D. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the temples and inscriptions and the elite members of the society, but there’s still so much that can be learned about the regular people who were contributing to the Angkorian empire," Carter told the Phnom Penh Post. "I hope that this project can spark some interest in those regular people.” So far, the team has unearthed a number of ceramics related to cooking. They hope to find evidence that will give scholars a clearer picture of diet and agricultural practices of the time. To read more about work at Angkor, go to "Remapping the Khmer Empire." 

Ancient Tuscan Villa Opens its Doors

GIANUTTRI, ITALY—An impressive ancient Roman villa that has been closed to the public for more than a decade has reopened for visitors, according to Discovery News. The so-called “Villa Domitia,” named after the family of the Domitii Ahenobarbi who likely owned it, the sprawling seaside property located on a tiny island in Tuscany near the island of Giglio, the location of the Costa Concordia shipwreck three and a half years ago. Because there was no fresh water or raw materials on the island, according to Paola Rendini, the archaeological superintendent of Tuscany, it was a “huge task” for the Romans to bring the luxuries of a sprawling seaside villa to this harsh location. To read about the re-opening of one of Pompeii’s most famous houses, go to “House of the Chaste Lovers.”

Looted Indian Statue to be Returned

NEW YORK CITY—The Wall Street Journal reports that a looted sacred Indian statue has been recovered by federal customs agents. The two-foot-tall bronze statue depicts the Tamil poet and saint Manikkavichavakar and dates to the 11th century. It's thought that the statue was taken from a village temple in southeastern India about a decade ago. It was voluntarily surrendered to officials by a collector who purchased it from a dealer who allegedly smuggled it into the U.S. and sold it using a false ownership history. The federal government intends to repatriate the object to India, along with a number of other artifacts the dealer is said to have illegally brought into the country. To read more about threats to medieval heritage in India, go to "Letter from India: Heritage at Risk." 

Historical Discoveries in New Zealand's Capital

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—Construction work in downtown Wellington has revealed four 19th-century wells containing artifacts, including several porcelain dolls' heads and a china elephant depicted with a small girl riding it. Several schools existed in the area beginning around 1850. “These school buildings could explain the collection of little china dolls’ heads that were found,” said Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear in a Wellington City Council press release. “Though we think the larger head might once have been attached to the top of a tea cosy and others are likely to have been from ornaments or figurines, so they could also have been discarded items from people’s homes.” Other artifacts recovered from the wells included a glass inkwell and an early bottle of ginger beer. To read more about historical archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."