Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 26

Archaeologist Re-examines Arkansas Post Hole

PARKIN, ARKANSAS—Archaeologist Jeffrey Mitchem of the Arkansas Archeological Survey has sent a sample of a wooden post first unearthed at Parkin Archeological State Park in 1966 to David Stalhe, a tree-ring specialist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. According to a report in Arkansas Online, carbon dating of the bald cypress post in 1966 indicated that it was cut between 1515 and 1663. Mitchem’s team has rediscovered the posthole, which measures about 35 inches in diameter and is more than five feet deep. Some have speculated that the post was part of a large cross said to have been erected by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto at a village called Casqui in 1541. “The best indication we could have is if the carbon-14 testing says it’s from 1541,” Mitchem said. For more on archaeology in Arkansas, go to "Off the Grid."

Roman Venus Figurine Unearthed in England

LONG MELFORD, ENGLAND—Volunteers digging a test pit in the Suffolk village of Long Melford uncovered a small “pseudo Venus” that is missing its head and pedestal. Fragments of similar figurines have been found in nearby Colchester and along Hadrian’s Wall. John Nunn, one of the volunteers, has conducted research leading him to conclude that the carving, which dates to the first or second century, could indicate that a Roman fort was located nearby. Archaeological officer Fay Minter says that evidence of a Roman town has been found in Long Melford. “To confirm that there was a Roman fort in Long Melford,” she said in a report in the East Anglian Daily Times, “we would have to make more early military finds such as armor or buckles.” To read about another Roman statue found in England, go to "Artifact."

3-D Technology Applied to Oldest-Known Trackway

DORSET, ENGLAND—Human ancestors may have had a modern, upright gait earlier than had been previously thought, according to research conducted by archaeologists from Bournemouth University. Sedimentologist Matthew Bennett used computer software developed for analyzing crime-scene footprints to create and analyze 3-D images of the 3.6 million-year-old hominin footprints preserved in Laetoli, Tanzania, and discovered in the 1970s. Archaeologists had only been able to make detailed casts of the prints of one individual for study. The Independent reports that the software has helped the research team to disentangle the rest of the overlapping footprints, and to provide insight into the size and gait of the walkers. The team now thinks that the prints were left by a total of four individuals who had been walking in pairs at a pace of about two miles per hour. The leading pair is thought to have been a male and a female, followed by a pair of males. “Understanding a range of footprints tells us more about a species and the variations within its population,” Bennett said. For more, go to "England's Oldest Footprints."

Monday, April 25

Modern Y-Chromosomes Suggest Ancient Population Growth

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute led an international study of the Y-chromosomes of more than 1,200 men from 26 populations around the world. The scientists then built a tree of the Y-chromosomes to show how they are related to one another. According to a report in The International Business Times, some parts of the tree were more like bushes, with many branches originating at the same point. “This pattern tells us that there was an explosive increase in the number of men carrying a certain type of Y chromosome, within just a few generations,” explained Yali Xue of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. This increase was seen some 50,000 years ago across Asia and Europe, and 15,000 years ago in the Americas. These population increases may have been due to plentiful resources as people moved into new continents. Later expansions are seen in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Europe, South Asia, and East Asia, between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago. “What we think likely happened is that advances in technology led to more hierarchical societies led by small groups of men whose privileges allowed them to have a lot of sons,” Tyler Smith added. 

Scientists Test Mysterious Hairdo From England’s Romsey Abbey

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Scientists from Oxford University have tested a small sample taken from a full head of braided hair discovered in a lead coffin in Romsey Abbey in the early nineteenth century. The hair, complete with small pieces of scalp, has been kept in a display case in the church. “It seems based on this analysis that there was pine resin in the hair of the person,” Thibaut Deviese said in a report by BBC News. It is not clear, however, if the pine resin was used as a hair-care treatment or if it had been applied in a funerary ritual. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the person died in the mid to late Saxon era, between A.D. 895 and 1123. The tests also suggest that the person ate a diet that included fish. “The fact that this person had a marine diet could be very specific to perhaps members of the monastic community,” explained Frank Green, archaeological advisor to Romsey Abbey. Some think the hair could belong to St. Ethelflaeda, the first abbess and the abbey’s patron saint. To read about another discovery from the same area of England, go to "The Ring’s the Thing."

19th-Century Housing Unearthed in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS—The Forward reports that construction work in central Amsterdam has uncovered remnants of a eighteenth- or nineteenth-century slum on Valkenburger Street, bordering the city’s Jewish quarter. The site is also close to the Portuguese Synagogue, which was built by Sephardic Jews who fled persecution in Portugal and Spain in the 1670s. Municipal archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski told a local television station that the area had originally been used for boat building before cramped housing was built along narrow corridors without infrastructure. “It was damp, no windows and not many people survived here,” he said. Gawronski added that he found a feature at the site that may have served as a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath. To read about a mikvah discovered in Jerusalem, go to "Under the Rug."

Friday, April 22

Researchers Study Sixth-Century Volcanoes with Climate Model

KIEL, GERMANY—Climate change in the sixth century A.D. may have contributed to the circumstances that brought on the Dark Ages, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. The lack of sunlight from a “mystery cloud” in A.D. 536 was recorded by historians in Rome and China, and the poor growing conditions in the Northern Hemisphere have also been noted in tree rings from the period. Matthew Toohey of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research and an international team of scientists developed climate model simulations to reconstruct the possible effects of two volcanoes in the mid-sixth century A.D., whose ash has been detected in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The team estimated the magnitude of the eruptions, their approximate locations, and the spread of sulfur and ash that may have lowered the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere up to two degrees Celsius. Where do they think the volcanoes erupted? “Several candidates are being discussed, including volcanoes in Central America, Indonesia, and North America. Future studies will be necessary to show the exact source of the aerosol clouds of 536/540,” Toohey said. To read about the excavation of a site dating to the early medieval period, go to "The Kings of Kent."

“Skeleton Mosaic” Unearthed in Turkey

HATAY, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a mosaic floor was uncovered in a dining room during construction work near the ancient city of Antioch, located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. The mosaic is divided into three scenes, one of which depicts a seated skeleton and a slogan, written in Greek. The skeleton, positioned on a field of black glass tiles, is shown with wine and bread and a drinking cup in hand. The other images are scenes about a young man’s visit to the baths and being late for dinner. “Two things are very important among the elite class in the Roman period in terms of social activities: The first is the bath and the second is dinner,” explained archaeologist Demet Kara of the Hatay Archaeology Museum. To read more about mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Alpine Cheesemaking May Date Back 3,000 Years

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND—Analysis of the residues on ancient pottery fragments from six archaeological sites in the Swiss Alps detected compounds produced when animal milk is heated, according to a report in Quartz. This suggests that herders were making cheeses at higher altitudes some 3,000 years ago. “Prehistoric herders would have had to have detailed knowledge of the location of alpine pastures, be able to cope with unpredictable weather and have the technological knowledge to transform milk into a nutritious and storable product,” said archaeologist Francesco Carrer of Newcastle University. Herders may have moved into the mountains as the population in the lowlands grew. To read about a recent archaeology discovery in Switzerland, go to "Switzerland Everlasting."