Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 20

Rescue Excavations Continue at Bulgaria’s Aquae Calidae

BURGAS, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that excavations at Aquae Calidae, an ancient spa resort, have uncovered a fragment of a Roman inscription dating to the first or second centuries A.D., and a second- or third-century A.D. statuette carved from marble. The city was later known as Therma, or Thermopolis, and archaeologists have uncovered seventh-century Byzantine coins, and scyphates, or cup-shaped coins, dating to the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries. Two lead seals, one of which dates to the end of the eleventh century; ceramic vessels; glass bracelets; Ottoman smoking pipes; and two silver Ottoman coins were also recovered. Some of the coins were discovered in a medieval building. To read about a spectacular recent discovery in Bulgaria, see "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Complete Crossbow Found With China’s Terracotta Army

XI’AN, CHINA—The most complete crossbow to date to have been found with the terracotta army at Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum has been unearthed in pit number one. The arch of the weapon survives, along with a bow string thought to have been made from animal tendon, and a trigger mechanism made of bronze. This example is also complete with the two poorly understood wooden sticks that are usually found with the terracotta army’s crossbows. “When we dusted off the sticks, we found three holes equidistant from each other and concluded that they were probably used to hang up ropes that fastened the crossbows when they were not in use,” Shen Maosheng, head of the archaeological team, told ECNS News. This crossbow will also help researchers create a more precise model to determine its shooting range more accurately. 

Western Washington’s “Completely New” Projectile Points

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A tool-making site estimated to be more than 10,000 years old has been found along Bear Creek in suburban Seattle. Thousands of stone flakes and bifaces, scrapers, and hammerstones were recovered, along with two projectile-point fragments that are concave-based, “something not seen at any time in the local projectile point sequence,” Robert Kopperl of SWCA Environmental Consultants told Western Digs. The artifacts were found under a layer of peat radiocarbon dated to about 10,000 years ago. Burned bits of willow, poplar, and pine dated to between 10,000 and 12,500 years ago were found in the layer with the artifacts. “It’s the oldest artifact assemblage from western Washington, and the excellent context in which we were able to do our excavations and sampling is now providing a picture, much clearer than ever before, of the environment these people were living in during the transition out of the Ice Age,” Kopperl explained. To read in-depth about the first people to reach the New World, see "America, in the Beginning." 

European Parasites Hint at Jerusalem’s Medieval Tourist Trade

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Evidence of six species of parasites were detected in fossilized feces taken from a 500-year-old latrine in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter. The latrine, located near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, had a vaulted roof, stone walls, and two “entry chutes.” All of the samples had roundworm and whipworm, which may have been spread by fecal contamination of food and water through agricultural practices. Two of the parasites, Entamoeba dysentery and fish tapeworm, found in one of the samples, were common in northern Europe at the time, but were very rare among populations in the Middle East. Common northern European methods of preparation, including smoking and pickling, do not kill the fish tapeworm parasite. Arabic texts of the time indicate that fish was not commonly eaten in inland cities such as Jerusalem, but when it was consumed, it was cooked thoroughly, according to local culinary traditions, which would have killed parasites. Fragments of imported pottery were also recovered from the cesspit. “This research highlights how we can use preserved parasite eggs in ancient toilets to spot past migrations and the spread of ancient diseases. Jerusalem’s importance to Christians in medieval Europe made it a key destination for both pilgrimage and trade. We can see these travelers took unexpected guests along with them,” Piers Mitchell of Cambridge University said in a press release. To read about archaeoentomology, see "Insights From Insects."

Thursday, March 19

Celtic Bronze Bracelet Unearthed in Poland

SANOK, POLAND—A third-century B.C. bronze bracelet was discovered in southeastern Poland and handed over to archaeologist Piotr Kotowicz of the Historical Museum in Sanok. It appears that the bracelet may have been deliberately destroyed and the pieces buried near an ancient Celtic settlement. “Maybe the owner of the bracelet lived in the village, the traces of which have been recorded in the same place,” Kotowicz told Science and Scholarship in Poland. The Celts arrived in the area in the middle of the third century B.C. from the Carpathian Mountains to the south. To read more in-depth about this period in Northern Europe, see "Bog Bodies Rediscovered."

The People of the British Isles

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Researchers have developed a map of the United Kingdom based upon genetic variation in the late 1800s, when people were less likely than today to migrate far from the region of their birth. Donnelly and his team took samples from more than 2,000 Britons of European ancestry who lived in rural areas, and whose grandparents were all born in the same region. The team found 17 different groups based upon this DNA, and these groups matched the grandparents’ geographic locations. The team also analyzed the genomes of more than 6,000 people from continental Europe to trace their ancestors’ contributions to the Britons’ ancestry, such as the Anglo-Saxons, who moved from present-day Denmark and Germany into Britain after the departure of the Romans and interbred with the local residents. “The patterns we see are extraordinary. The genetic effects we’re looking at are the result of, probably, thousands of years of history,” Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, told Nature News. To read in-depth about Anglo-Saxons, see "The Kings of Kent."

Animal Fat Residue Detected on 500,000-Year-Old Tools

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Fat residue has been detected on flint tools unearthed near a 500,000-year-old elephant rib bearing clear cut marks at the Revadim site in southern Israel. “Nothing is for sure in archaeology. Based on the time, the culture, the behavior and the assemblage, we assume it was Homo erectus,” Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University told Haaretz. This is the first time that animal remains have been found on an Acheulian biface and a scraper, a discovery that was made possible by Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectra technology. It is not known if the animal had been hunted or scavenged, however. “Not all agree that prehistoric men ate elephants. Some think that prehistoric men who weren’t Homo sapiens sapiens had some sort of problem. They have difficulty accepting that they could hunt and eat elephants. I am confident they’re wrong,” Barkai said. To read more, see "Homo erectus Stands Alone."

Photos of Pompeii, Then and Now

LONDON, ENGLAND—Zena Kamash of Royal Holloway, University of London, examined nineteenth- and early twentieth-century lantern slides of Pompeii taken by tourists, and compared them to modern-day photographs posted by travelers on the Internet. She found that the images are remarkably similar—they contain few people, despite the crowds that are drawn to the ancient city, even in the age of the selfie. “I think we have a very powerful imagined idea of what an ancient city should be like, which is a romantic empty ruin that stands in mute testament to the past. This is the view that has come down to us from the earliest drawings of archaeological sites and through the quiet, empty photos that we find in the lantern slide collection,” Kamash said in a press release. “In the case of Pompeii, I think this is particularly strong because we all know the tragic story of its destruction and devastation by Vesuvius erupting in A.D. 79—the silent plaster casts of the bodies trying to flee seem to really capture people’s imagination and bring home to visitors the emptiness, death and loss suffered by the city all that time ago,” she concluded. To read in-depth about work at one of Pompeii's most iconic buildings, see "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Wednesday, March 18

Human Remains Found Under Wall of Odessos

VARNA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the skeleton of a tall man was unearthed during rescue excavations near the St. Nikolay Church in Varna by archaeologists from the Varna Museum of Archaeology. Part of the skeleton, dated to the late fourth century or early fifth century A.D., is located beneath the fortress wall of the ancient city of Odessos. The man may have died in an accident during the construction of the ancient wall, and his remains laid in the deep pit, which was dug as a construction ditch for the foundation of the wall. “It is possible that someone used the pit, which had been dug up [for construction purposes], to bury the body,” said lead archaeologist Valeri Yotov. 

Why Did Teotihuacan Collapse?

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Lina Manzanilla of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México thinks that Teotihuacan may have collapsed because of internal strife among its inhabitants. She says that volcanic eruptions in the first and fourth centuries forced people to move from the southern basin to the outskirts of Teotihuacan, where their skeletons, identified by activity markers, nutritional patterns, isotopes, and DNA analysis, have been found. According to, Manzanilla says these immigrants were employed by businessmen and that their presence bolstered the economy. But eventually, tension with the government and rivalries between neighborhoods increased until an angry mob burned down the city’s administration and ritual buildings and destroyed the city’s sculptures. To read about a recent study comparing Teotihuacan and other ancient Mexican cities to modern urban centers, see "Big Data, Big Cities."

Celtic Site Uncovered at Bratislava Castle

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—The fate of a Celtic archaeological site discovered during the construction of underground garages at Bratislava Castle, home of the Slovak National Museum, is still unclear after 12 hours of discussion yesterday. An expert commission recommended preserving and exhibiting the site in situ. One of its features is located under a replica of an eighteenth-century winter riding school that could be used for public events. “These negotiations were certainly not easy. There are different opinions of the laymen and also experts about the exhibition of excavations, the construction objects or the archaeological solutions of some parts of the reconstruction of Bratislava Castle,” Daniel Guspan, head of the Parliamentary Office, told The Slovak Spectator.  

Leluh Island’s Temporary Royal Tombs Are 700 Years Old

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—The royal tombs in the ancient city of Leluh, located just off the mainland of Kosrae, a Micronesian island, may be older than had been previously thought. The city was home to high chiefs and others from about 1250 until the mid-nineteenth century, when whalers, traders, and missionaries started to arrive on the island. Leluh features canals and walled compounds built of basalt, and temporary, pyramid-shaped tombs, or saru, built from living coral. Historical sources indicate that when Kosraean high chiefs died, their bodies were rubbed with coconut oil and then wrapped in mats and cords to be buried in the saru for up to three months. The bones were later exhumed, cleaned, and reburied in a hole on the nearby reef. “Today, the ancient tombs of the royal burial complexes are one of the few parts of the ancient Leluh site that remain intact. Much of the historical site is overgrown by the tropical forest and has succumbed to hundreds of years of tropical weather and tidal inundation, and some parts of the site have been dismantled and reused in modern construction,” Zoe Richards of the Western Australian Museum told Live Science. Uranium-thorium dating of the coral in the tombs shows that they could have been built as early as the fourteenth century, or about 300 years earlier than previously thought. “To extract and translocate the amount of coral used to build the saru, as well as the structures and walls throughout Leluh, would have required a highly structured social order that could organize and demand significant labor and logistical support from the population,” she added. To read in-depth about archaeological work on WWII-era sites in the Pacific, see "Defuzing the Past."