Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 29

Bronze Age Burials Discovered in Siberia

OMSK, RUSSIA—Two 2,700-year-old graves thought to belong to the Irmen culture have been excavated in southwestern Siberia by Mikhail Korusenko of the Omsk Branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Siberian Times reports that a knife and a buckle have been found in one of the graves, which are thought to be part of a Bronze Age necropolis first discovered more than 100 years ago during a construction project. Workers were renovating the building when they found these burials. To read about another Bronze Age site in Russia, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

Were the Lewis Chessmen Carved in Iceland?

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—The skeletons and tusks of 50 walruses have been found since the late nineteenth century on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland. According to Iceland Magazine, recent carbon dating of the bones indicates that they are at least 2,000 years old, and probably came from a large walrus colony that lived on the island before the arrival of the Vikings. Thus, early colonists would have had access to walrus ivory and bone for trade and for carving their own works of art. The new evidence supports the idea that the Lewis Chessmen, discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, could have originated in Iceland. This had been suggested because the “bishop” pieces in the twelfth-century set are dressed in ceremonial clothing as bishops, as they were called in the Icelandic language. In English and other Scandinavian and Germanic languages of the time, the pieces that moved as “bishops” were known as “runners” or “messengers.” To read more about the Viking Era in Britain, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

First-Century Vessel Was Accidentally Printed With Ancient Poem

TATAREVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology discovered a pottery vessel covered with lines of printed letters in the fourth and deepest tomb in the Great Mound in Tatarevo. The vessel dates to the first century A.D. and is a balsamarium, made for holding balsam. “This is a unique find because it is the first time a parchment with the text of a literary work has ever been found in Bulgaria—and in a ‘negative’ in which the letters are backwards,” said lead archaeologist Kostadin Kostadinov. The words, written in Greek with ink made from cinder and natural dyes, had been written on a piece of parchment that was then wrapped around the balsamarium. The parchment has almost completely disintegrated, but the writing has now been identified as part of the poem “Prayer to the Muses” by the Athenian politician and poet Solon, who lived in the sixth century B.C. The excavation is funded by Plovdiv Municipality to protect the Thracian burials from treasure hunters. To read more about manuscripts from antiquity, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."

Byzantine Mosaic in Israel Depicts Egyptian Street Scene

QIRYAT GAT, ISRAEL—The mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era church that had been removed for conservation purposes has been returned to Qiryat Gat Industrial Park, where it will be on display. The 1,500-year-old mosaic realistically depicts a Nile River landscape and the streets and buildings of a settlement in Egypt where, according to Christian tradition, the prophet Habakkuk had been buried. “The appearance of buildings on mosaic floors is a rare phenomenon in Israel. The buildings are arranged along a main colonnaded street of a city, in a sort of ancient map,” archaeologists Sa’ar Ganor and Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release. Animals, including a rooster, deer, and birds are depicted in two sections of the mosaic, and there is also an image of a goblet with red fruits. “The artist utilized tesserae of 17 different colors in preparing the mosaic. The investment in the raw materials and their quality are the best ever discovered in Israel,” added Ganor. To read more about ancient mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Monday, September 28

Bronze Age Boat Discovered in Southern England

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that a log boat dating to the Bronze Age was discovered in a boatyard in the town of Faversham in southern England. A portion of the 4,000-year-old boat was lifted out of the water and Paul Wilkinson of SWAT Archaeology was called in to examine it. The boat was then returned to the water to keep it from drying out. Archaeologists will investigate to see if any more of the vessel has survived. For a similar discovery, go to "Bronze Age Boats Found Near Flag Fen."

Revolutionary War Battlefield Surveyed

CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS—Researchers from the Parker’s Revenge Project are reconstructing the battle that took place on April 19, 1775, when the Lexington militia led by Captain John Parker laid down heavy fire on British soldiers marching from Concord to Boston. The site is part of what is now Minute Man National Historical Park. So far, the team has found a small cluster of battle-related artifacts all within 80 yards of each other. “What we have found to date is very significant. Due to the location and special patterning of the musket balls recovered, we now know the exact place where individuals were standing during the battle, allowing us to begin to paint a much clearer picture about what happened that day,” project archaeologist Meg Watters said in a press release. The team, with the support of the Friends of Minute Man National Park, will continue the high-tech survey of the 44-acre battlefield. “It is extremely gratifying to be able to use modern technology to reveal this history and heroism,” added Bob Morris, president of the Friends of Minute Man National Park. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

Artifacts Recovered From HMS Erebus

NUNAVUT, CANADA—CBC News Canada reports that underwater archaeologists diving on the wreck of HMS Erebus cleaned a lot of kelp off the ship, took detailed measurements of it, and recovered 39 artifacts this season during a period of good weather. Among the objects are a portion of the ship’s wheel, a sword hilt, and a boot. “We now have a really solid understanding of the site that will allow us to develop the best strategy for future investigations,” said Marc-André Bernier of Parks Canada. The team also recorded plates, mariners’ tools, and other artifacts made of wood, lead, copper, and glass at the site. “This shipwreck is proving to be very rich in artifacts. It will have many clues that will lead to the demise and what happened to the crew members,” added Adrian Schimnowski of the Arctic Research Foundation. Parks Canada underwater archaeologists are still looking for HMS Terror, the other Franklin Expedition ship lost in Arctic in the mid-nineteenth century. For more, go to "Saga of the Northwest Passage."

Could Early Humans Hear What We Hear?

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—An international team of scientists led by Rolf Quam of Binghamton University examined CT scans and virtual computer reconstructions of the internal anatomy of the ears of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. “We know that the hearing patterns, or audiograms, in chimpanzees and humans are distinct because their hearing abilities have been measured in the laboratory in living subjects. So we were interested in finding out when this human-like hearing pattern first emerged during our evolutionary history,” Quam explained in a press release. Modern humans have better hearing than other primates across a wider range of frequencies, generally between 1.0 and 6.0 kHz. The new research suggests that these early human ancestors had hearing that was more sensitive than modern humans or chimpanzees from about 1.0 to 3.0 kHz, which may have favored short-range vocal communication in open environments, but this does not indicate that they could speak. “We feel our research line does have considerable potential to provide new insights into when the human hearing pattern emerged and, by extension, when we developed language,” Quam said. For more, go to "Australopithecus' Best Foot Forward."

Friday, September 25

Stolen Olmec Carving Recovered in Paris

PARIS, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that a 3,000-year-old Olmec carving stolen from southern Mexico sometime between 1968 and 1972 has resurfaced in Paris. Parts of the stone, which was chipped out of the rock face, are missing, but the image, thought to depict a priest, is largely intact. “There’s no image like this anywhere else. You can see he’s wearing some sort of mask over his face. His clothes are unlike anything we’ve seen. There’s just enough clues in some of the clothing detail and the face detail to show it’s Olmec,” commented John Clark of Brigham Young University. For more on the Olmec, go to "The Cascajal Block."

Ancient Silver Belt Unearthed in Slovakia

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—According to a report in The Slovak Spectator, archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a sewage system have discovered more than 200 artifacts near Gerulata, a Roman military camp in suburban Bratislava. Among the jewelry, coins, and buckles is a unique silver belt dating to the second to fourth centuries A.D. “We believe that this belt once belonged to a lady, and since the goldsmith work in question is of cutting edge expertise, the lady probably belonged to a high class of society,” said Archaeological Agency general director František Žák Matyasowszky. Two rings were also found. The first, made of bronze, may have been worn by a woman. The other may have been made for a child. It features a small white disc in its center that depicts a gladiator or a warrior. For more, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."

Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Ancient Luxury Goods

WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of archaeologists and professional technical divers were able to spend 40 hours at the Antikythera shipwreck this year as part of the first-ever systematic excavation of the site. They recovered an intact amphora, a large lead salvage ring, two lead anchor stocks, fragments of lead hull sheathing, a small table jug, and a chiseled stone that may have been the base of a statuette. Nine carefully dug trenches yielded wooden remains of the hull of the ship, a piece of bronze furniture, part of a bone flute, a glass gaming piece, and bronze nails. “We were very lucky this year, as we excavated many finds within their context, which gave us the opportunity to take full advantage of all the archaeological information they could provide,” diving archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities said in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution press release. The ship, which dates to 65 B.C., was discovered by sponge divers in 180 feet of water off the coast of the Aegean island of Antikythera in 1900. At the time, marble statues, bronze sculptures, and the mechanical device known as the Antikythera Mechanism were salvaged. To read about a working Lego model of that famous ancient device, go to "Artifact: Lego Antikythera Mechanism."

The Search for “Mona Lisa” Ends

FLORENCE, ITALY—A research team that has been excavating beneath the Sant’ Orsola convent in Florence for several years claims to have found bone fragments that may have belonged to Lisa Gherardini, the silk merchant’s wife thought by some scholars to have been Leonardo da Vinci’s model for the Mona Lisa. Gherardini lived in seclusion at the convent during the last years of her life. Carbon-14 dating shows that the bones in question date to about the time that Gherardini died, in July 1542, at the age of 63, but they are too degraded for DNA testing. “Our biggest problem has been the fact that the fragments were very fragmented, very deteriorated,” Giorgio Gruppioni of the University of Bologna told The Guardian. If a skull had been found, there had been plans to reconstruct its face and compare it with the famous painting. To read about the excavation of an Etruscan necropolis, go to "Tomb of the Silver Hands."