Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, May 18

Excavations Underway at England’s Roman Baths

BATH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating rarely seen areas of the Roman Baths under York Street and Swallow Street have found traces of red-painted plaster on the outside wall of the Great Bath. According to a report in The Bath Chronicle, the building may have been painted that color during the Roman period. Samples of the materials have been sent to Bournemouth University for analysis, where specialists will try to determine where the building materials in the different phases of construction originated. The excavation team has also found evidence of the earliest phases of the Roman Baths, a second bath beneath York Street, the footings of the Roman walls of the Great Bath, and Roman floor levels to the south of the Great Bath. The project will create a new learning center and a World Heritage Center. “It’s fascinating to see new finds being unearthed. When the new center opens these spaces will form part of a state-of-the art education center, which will include a digging pit where school groups can uncover replica Roman objects in an authentic setting,” said Councilor Patrick Anketell-Jones. To read more about Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Eagle Sculpture."

Nilometer Discovered in Ancient Egyptian City

MANOA, HAWAII—Workmen building a water pumping station in the ancient Egyptian city of Thmuis uncovered a nilometer that was probably constructed in the third century B.C., during the reign of the Ptolemies. A nilometer was a device used by the ancient Egyptians to calculate the water level of the Nile River during its annual flood, and therefore predict the success of the harvest and compute the tax rate for the year. Rising water from the river may have flowed through a channel, or from the rising water table, into the nilometer’s circular well, which was accessed by a staircase. One of the large limestone blocks in the nilometer bears a list of Greek names followed by numbers, which suggests that these people may have contributed funds to build it. “We suspect it was originally located within a temple complex. They would’ve thought of the Nile River as a god, and the nilometer was this point of interface between the spiritual and the pragmatic,” archaeologist Jay Silverstein of the University of Hawaii said in a National Geographic report. To read about another recent discovery on the banks of the Nile, go to "Cult of Amun."

Scientists Assess Skulls in Prehistoric and Modern Populations

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Cribra orbitalia (CO), a condition in which the bone inside the eye sockets becomes porous, can be caused by iron deficiency anemia and is often used by anthropologists to assess the health and diet of prehistoric populations. It had been thought that this condition might have gone extinct, but when anthropologists from North Carolina State University and the University of the Witwatersrand examined 844 modern, historic, and prehistoric human adult and juvenile skulls for the prevalence of CO, they were surprised to find higher rates of CO in modern populations in both North America and South Africa. “We thought we might see some CO, but not to the extent that we did. The high rates may stem from the fact that these remains were part of forensic cases—they were often related to cases of homicide or neglect,” Ross said in a report in India Today. The team suggests that access to adequate nutrition and the presence of intestinal parasites are still problems for disadvantaged socioeconomic groups and parts of the developing world. To read in-depth about the bioarchaeology of disadvantaged people in nineteenth-century London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

Decorated Human Jaw Unearthed in Mexico

CORVALLIS, OREGON—Live Science reports on the ongoing study of a 1,300-year-old carved and painted human mandible discovered in a ceremonial area at the Zapotec site of Dainzú-Macuilxó, located in southern Mexico. The jawbone is thought to have been worn as a pendant. The excavation team also recovered thousands of fragments of smashed ceramic whistles and figurines, figurine molds, and a kiln at the ceremonial site. The whistles may have made owl-like sounds, while the figurines may have represented Xipe Totec, a Mesoamerican god associated with human sacrifice and agriculture. But Pink and the researchers think the decorated human bones belonged to ancestors of the site’s residents, who were “probably going into the tombs of their ancestors and bringing the remains of their ancestors out,” explained Jeremias Pink of Oregon State University. To read about another recent discovery, go to "Deconstructing a Zapotec Warlord Figurine."

Tuesday, May 17

New Thoughts on Europe’s Ancient Music

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Billy Ó Foghlú of Australian National University says that horns played in southern India today are almost identical to those from Iron-Age Europe. “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe’s prehistory. And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artifacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India’s past,” Ó Foghlú told Laboratory Equipment. Ó Foghlú’s research suggests that the ancient horns were often used as rhythm instruments, not for melody or harmony as modern Westerners might expect. He adds that almost identical instruments that have been unearthed together may be out of tune with each other, but the dissonance may have been intentional. To read more about music in the archaeological record, go to "Artifact: Chimu Funerary Idols."

Lead Levels Reveal History of Water System in Naples

NAPLES, ITALY—An international team of archaeologists from CNRS, the University of Glasgow, the University of Southampton, and the University of Naples Federico II, tested core samples from a nearly 20-foot deep deposit of sediments in the ancient port of Naples to study the effect of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 on the Aqua Augusta aqueduct and water system. According to a report in, they analyzed the amount and type of lead in the layers of sediments, which accumulated in the harbor after passing through the water circulation system in Naples and neighboring towns. The geochemical analysis detected two different lead isotopes, one before and one after the eruption of the volcano. The team says this indicates the system was destroyed by the eruption and that the Romans replaced it over a period of about 15 years with lead from one or more different mines. The study also suggests that the water system had been expanding until about the beginning of fifth century, when the sediments in the harbor became less contaminated. This shrinking of the water system may have been caused by damage from invasions, new eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, or epidemics. To read about excavations in the city, go to "Naples Underground."

5,000-Year-Old Kurgan Excavated in Turkey

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Archaeologists have excavated “the first and oldest 5,000-year-old kurgan-style tomb that has been discovered and completely unearthed in Turkey,” according to the excavation report from The Istanbul Archaeology Museum quoted in The Hurriyet Daily News. The circular mound sat over an intact burial in the Silivri district of Istanbul. Evidence at the site suggests treasure hunters had attempted to dig it up several times, but had not been able to reach the main burial chamber, where researchers found the remains of a Bronze Age soldier or warrior who had been buried with a spear and two pots. To read about the discovery of a Thracian burial mound, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest." 

Archaeologists Examine The Curtain Theater in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology have excavated the well-preserved remains of The Curtain, a sixteenth-century theater where Shakespeare performed as an actor. They found a rectangular building that could have held about 1,000 people, and segments of wall standing about five feet tall. Scholars think that Shakespeare may have staged the first performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V at The Curtain, which was assumed to have a circular shape, since the prologue of Henry V mentions a “wooden O.” “It now seems clear that the playhouse was a conversion of an earlier tenement—essentially a block of flats—and was later converted back into a tenement again,” explained archaeologist Julian Bowsher. Artifacts from the site include a lead token, a broken bone comb, a metal mount for a cloth purse, and a piece of green pottery thought to be the base of a bird call, perhaps used for stage effects. Bowsher now thinks that the Henry V prologue mentioning the “wooden O” may have been added later, when the play was performed at The Globe. To read more about archaeology in London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

Monday, May 16

Stones May Mark Site of 18th-Century British Fort

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—CBC Canada reports that researchers from Saint Mary’s University uncovered traces of what could be an eighteenth-century British fort at the site of the Lunenburg Academy. The professors and adult students first conducted a geophysical survey of the area where historical records place the fort in 1753. The subsequent excavation uncovered two rows of stones that may have been part of a fence post or a palisade. The star-shaped fort is thought to have been built of earth and wood and surrounded with a dry ditch, and may have been knocked down after the Seven Years War to make way for residential expansion. To read about the discovery of a similar site, go to "Lake George's Unfinished Fort."

Second-Century Military Barracks Unearthed in Rome

ROME, ITALY—The construction of a subway line through the center of Rome has uncovered barracks for the Praetorian guards dating to the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D., according to an announcement made by Italy’s Culture Ministry. Archaeologists have reportedly found a long hallway and 39 rooms decorated with mosaic floors and frescoed walls. “It’s exceptional, not only for its good state of conservation but because it is part of a neighborhood which already included four barracks. And therefore, we can characterize this area as a military neighborhood,” Rossella Rea of the Culture Ministry said in an Associated Press report. The site has also yielded 13 skeletons in a collective grave, a bronze coin, and a bronze bracelet. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Archaeologists Revisit Early Habitation Site in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Evidence suggesting that humans lived in northwestern Florida more than 14,000 years ago has been re-examined by an international team of scientists, who also conducted an additional excavation. In 1983, stone artifacts and butchered mastodon remains were discovered at the Page-Ladson site, which is thought to have been a watering hole that is now located under 13 feet of sediment at the bottom of the Aucilla River. The sediments were dated to 14,400 years ago, but at the time, critics argued that the artifacts could have been carried to the site and deposited in the ancient sediments by river currents. The new excavation returned to the murky waters of the site and recovered more stone tools and the bones of extinct animals. “Artifacts are associated with the mastodon remains, including a tusk with tool marks. They were sealed in undisturbed geological deposits. Seventy-one new radiocarbon dates show the artifacts date to 14,500 years ago. The Page-Ladson site provides unequivocal evidence of human occupation that predates Clovis by over 1,500 years,” Michael Waters of Texas A&M University told Live Science. The new information also suggests that humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years.  To read more, go to "America, in the Beginning." 

Roman Cargo Discovered in Caesarea Harbor

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of cargo from a Late-Roman period shipwreck in the ancient harbor of Caesarea by recreational divers. The ship had been carrying bronze statues, coins, and iron anchors, all thought to have been slated for recycling. Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA marine archaeology unit, and deputy director Dror Planer, think the ship sank during a storm that buried the objects, including a bronze lamp depicting the Roman sun god Sol, a sculpture of the moon goddess Luna, and fragments of three life-size bronze statues. “The sand protected them. They are in an amazing state of preservation—as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago,” Sharvit told Discovery News. The archaeologists explained that metal statues are rare finds because they were usually melted down. “Because the statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and thus were saved from the recycling process.”  To read in-depth about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."