Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 13

14th-Century Abbey Wall Unearthed in Southeastern England

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—Kent News reports that the footings of a fourteenth-century wall have been found on a construction site at the North Holmes campus of Canterbury Christ Church University. The structure is thought to have been a precinct wall of St. Augustine’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in A.D. 598, dissolved during the sixteenth-century English reformation, and dismantled in the nineteenth century. A section of the wall will be preserved under glass in the reception area of the new building. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

American University in Cairo Repatriates Artifacts

CAIRO, EGYPT—The American University in Cairo has handed over a collection of 5,000 artifacts excavated in the 1960s to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, according to a report in Ahram Online. At the time of the excavation, Egyptian law allowed foreign archaeological missions to divide artifacts with the Egyptian government. Under the Egypt Antiquities Law of 1983, ownership of the artifacts was transferred to the Egyptian government, but the objects remained at the university. University officials recently requested the return of the artifacts, uncovered in the Fustat region of Old Cairo, to the Egyptian state. The collection includes pottery vessels, ushabti figurines, tombstones, Greco-Roman wooden funerary masks, and lamps from the Islamic period. The artifacts will be housed in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Evidence of 1,000-Year-Old Glass Production Found in Nigeria

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Live Science reports that a cache of 1,000-year-old drawn beads has been found at Igbo-Olokun, an archaeological site within the ancient Yoruba city of Ile-Ife, which is located in southwestern Nigeria. The Yoruba are known for the copper alloy and terracotta heads and figurines found at Ile-Ife. Some of the sculptures, which date to between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries A.D., were decorated with glass beads. Researchers had speculated that the beads had been imported from the Mediterranean or the Middle East, but Abidemi Babalola of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research has found evidence of local glass production at Igbo-Olokun. The evidence includes glass waste; some 13,000 blue, green, red, yellow, and multicolored glass beads; hundreds of crucible fragments; and ceramic cylinders thought to have been used to handle crucible lids. Babalola and his team also unearthed pieces of clay covered with melted glass, suggesting that glass furnaces may have operated in the area. And, analysis of the minerals in the beads revealed that many of them were made of materials acquired near Igbo-Olokun. To read about beads from another part of Africa, go to “In Style in the Stone Age.”

Monday, June 12

Pit Containing Cat Bones Unearthed in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Possible evidence for the medieval trade in cat fur has been uncovered at a site in eastern Spain, according to a report in Live Science. Some 900 domestic cat bones were discovered in a pit where crops may have been stored at the farming site of El Bordellet. The bones’ cut marks and fractures are consistent with what has been found in skinning experiments. Most of the bones are from cats between the ages of nine and 20 months at the time of death, likely because the animals would have been large, but their coats still relatively undamaged. Zooarchaeologist Lluis Lloveras of the University of Barcelona said cat fur was widely used during the Middle Ages in northern Europe to make coats, collars, and sleeves. “Some texts also make reference to the healing qualities of cat skin, but also to its possible harmfulness,” he said. Domestic cat fur was less valuable than the fur of wild cats, he added, and was worn by the less wealthy, and austere social groups, such as nuns. Lloveras also notes, however, that a horse skull, a goat horn, and a chicken eggshell were found alongside the cat bones. “All these particular animal remains have been associated with ritual practices in the Middle Ages as well as in later times,” he said. For more on cat remains in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

New Dates for England’s Montem Mound

SLOUGH, ENGLAND—The Slough Express reports that a team led by Jim Leary of the University of Reading has determined that a 20-foot hill in a town in southern England known as the Montem Mound is a 1,500-year-old Anglo-Saxon burial mound. The structure had been thought to be the remains of a Norman castle earthwork, but samples taken from different parts of the mound indicate that it was built some 500 years earlier. Leary and his team also note that the mound’s size and dimensions, and its proximity to another Saxon barrow, support the new identification. To read in-depth about the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, go to “The Kings of Kent.”

Holes in Rocks May Have Supported Mesolithic Shelters

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers from the Czech Institute of Egyptology think that holes drilled in the rocks on the west bank of the Nile River in central Sudan may have been used to hold the wooden poles of Mesolithic structures. The team members took detailed measurements of the holes, which have regular, cylindrical shapes with smooth sides. They then used the information to create hypothetical reconstructions of shelters anchored to the rock. “These shelters would have been anchored to the rocks for solidity and to keep them in the shade throughout all day,” explained team member Lenka Varadzinová, who added that drilling the holes as long as 11,000 years ago, without the use of metal tools, would have been challenging work. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

Friday, June 09

Australia Will Repatriate Human Remains to Japan

SAPPORO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two museums in Australia will repatriate the skeletal remains of Ainu people in their collections. The Ainu people are indigenous to northern Japan, and particularly the island of Hokkaido. Their remains are known to be held in collections in countries including Britain, the United States, and Germany. The three sets of remains known to be held in the two Australian museums are thought to have been shipped overseas between 1911 and 1936. “The repatriation process with Australia will be important in making guidelines for further returns from overseas,” explained Hirofumi Kato of the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Hellenistic Burials Uncovered in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a tomb dating to the Hellenistic period (323‒30 B.C.) has been discovered in the El-Shatby neighborhood of Alexandria by a team from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Funerary prayers written in Greek and geometric designs are among the decorations in the tomb’s four halls and burial shafts. Some 300 artifacts, including pottery, lamps, and a terracotta statue, were recovered. The researchers plan to study the phrases written on the individual burials. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”