Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 22

4,000-Year-Old Burials Uncovered in England

STRATFORD, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Stratford Observer, five burials were found at a possible henge site in England’s West Midlands during construction work. “The henge survived as a shallow, segmented circular ditch with an internal diameter of around [30 feet],” said Nigel Page, a project officer with Archaeology Warwickshire. “The five people had been buried within a segment of it.” Three of the burials faced west, or out from the henge. The two outer burials faced east, or into the henge. Page added that the ditch was probably surrounded by a bank to close off its interior. Further study of the rare, 4,000-year-old skeletons may reveal their ages and sexes, and possibly even a family connection between them. To read about another discovery in the area, go to “Secret Spaces.”

Medieval Brewery Unearthed in East England

LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that a possible medieval brewery has been discovered amid the rubble of several 800-year-old buildings in the path of a new highway. Church records indicate that the land was worked by the monks of Kirkstead Abbey, who farmed and raised sheep during the twelfth century. A team from Network Archaeology uncovered two rectangular structures with sloping sides and stepped-out limestones that may have supported a wooden floor. They think the buildings may have been malt kilns, since the bottom of the structures, and a gap in the stones that could have acted as a flue, had been blackened by smoke. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Embalming Materials Recovered in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a cache of 3,900-year-old embalming materials has been recovered in the courtyard under the tomb of Ipi, a 12th-Dynasty vizier of Thebes, by a team of researchers led by Spain’s University of Alcalá. The deposit, which had been covered with sand in Deir El-Bahari, included inscribed pots and bowls, bandages, oils, scrapers, a shroud, wide sheets of linen, small pieces of cloth for wrapping fingers and toes, and a mummification board bearing the ankh symbol. All of the materials are thought to have been used during Ipi’s mummification. “The identification of these materials is of great importance for understanding the mummification techniques used in the early Middle Kingdom and the assessment of the kinds of items, tools, and substances involved in the process of embalming,” said Antonio Morales, head of the Spanish mission. The team has also identified what appears to be the vizier’s mummified heart. The jars were discovered in the early 1920s by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock and left in situ. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Friday, May 19

50,000-Year-Old Site Discovered in Australia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that a remote cave on Barrow Island, located off the coast of northwestern Australia, has yielded evidence of human occupation, including charcoal, marine and land animal remains, and other artifacts dating back to more than 50,000 years ago. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, the University of Adelaide, the University of Waikato, and Oxford University say the cave served as a hunting shelter between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, and then became a dwelling for groups of families after about 10,000 years ago. The cave was then abandoned around 7,000 years ago, when the island is thought to have been separated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Revolutionary War–Era Musket Ball Tests Positive for Blood

MANALAPAN, NEW JERSEY— reports that a lead musket ball recovered from Monmouth Battlefield Park has tested positive for human blood protein. Members of the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization collect musket balls in an effort to learn more about the positions of the Continental Army and British troops during the battle, fought in June 1778. This musket ball in particular is thought to have been used as canister shot—one of many balls stuffed in a tin canister and fired from a cannon. Dan Sivilich, president of the group, sent the ball for testing because it bears an impression resembling coarsely woven fabric, suggesting it had hit a person. He later learned the impression was probably made by a corn stalk after the ball was plowed under the surface of the soil. “It’s very exciting in the fact that we’ve identified a projectile that hit a human target, which tells us definitively that we found the battlefield,” Sivilich said. For more on the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

Massive Viking Camp Recreated

TORKSEY, ENGLAND—According to a report in Lincolnshsire Live, a 135-acre Viking camp located along the River Trent in Lincolnshire has been investigated by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield and the University of York. Artisans, traders, women, and children are believed to have lived alongside the invading Viking Great Army, described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, during the winter of A.D. 872-73. As they prepared to continue their battles against Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Vikings are thought to have spent the winter processing their plunder and trading in goods and possibly slaves. Evidence for metalworking includes pieces of chopped up silver and hack-gold ready to be melted down into ingots. More than 100 Arabic silver coins, and 300 gaming pieces used to pass the time, were also recovered, along with iron tools, spindle whorls, needles, and fishing weights. There’s also evidence the Vikings spent time repairing their longships. The new research was compiled and used to recreate the camp through a virtual reality experience now traveling throughout England. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Thursday, May 18

2,300-Year-Old Engraved Block Recovered in Egypt

ABYDOS, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a stone engraved with the cartouche of the 30th-Dynasty king Nectanebo II (r. ca. 360-342 B.C.) was recovered from an illegal excavation by the Tourism and Antiquities Police during a house inspection in the Beni Mansour area of Abydos. According to Hani Abul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Antiquities of Upper Egypt, subterranean water at the site has made it difficult to determine whether the block was part of the king’s royal shrine, or part of a temple that he had built. Further excavations are planned. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

17th-Century English Earthwork Investigated

NEWARK, ENGLAND—The Newark Advertiser reports that an English Civil Wars–era military earthwork, one of a network of 12 seventeenth-century earthworks placed around the strategic city of Newark in the East Midlands, is being excavated. The earthwork is thought to have been a cannon battery used by the Scots who joined a force of Parliamentarian troops during their third attack on the city in 1645. The Parlimentarian forces were eventually defeated by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Royalists in a battle known as the Relief of Newark. This earthwork “is quite a distance from central Newark, so it is possible the battery was built to protect the Great North Road and cut off all hope of rescue for the beleaguered Royalists,” said archaeologist Rachel Askew of the University of Central Lancashire. Askew and her team are also looking for evidence that the redoubt had been built long before the English Civil Wars by Henry VIII, who had an interest in protecting the Great North Road during the rebellion against his religious reforms. “We have also found pottery from that period on site and if we could prove the Henry VIII link that would be an amazing discovery of national significance,” Askew said. To read about another recent discovery relating to the English Civil Wars, go to “After the Battle.”

First Farmers May Have Practiced “Unconscious Selection”

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—ZME Science reports that scientists from the University of Sheffield examined the possible origins of agriculture by analyzing the sizes of the seeds of a range of crops thought to have been domesticated thousands of years ago. According to Colin Osborne and his team, the size of the seeds would not be directly affected if hunter-gatherers selected vegetable plants for their food value—leaves, stems, roots, or fruit. Changes in these seed sizes could have been the result of natural selection acting on cultivated crops, or genetic links between seed size and other plant characteristics such as the overall size of the plant, or the size of the crop yield. The researchers found that the seeds of seven vegetables did get bigger due to domestication, even in the case of crops such as sweet potato, which is propagated with tubers. Osborne noted that the sizes of grains, lentils, and beans, where the seed is eaten, were significantly larger than the seeds of vegetable crops. He also suggests that early changes to crops raised by the first farmers were unintended, and may have been the result of sowing wild plants in cultivated soil and then caring for them. For more on the archaeology of agriculture, go to “Mapping Maya Cornfields.”