Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 01

A Surprising Find Under the Living Room Floor

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—During renovations of their home in the neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem, a family discovered a ritual bath, or mikveh, under the living room floor, reports Haaretz. Carved out of bedrock and accessed by a stone staircase, the mikveh is 11.5 feet long, more than seven feet wide, and almost six feet deep, and would have been completely covered in plaster in antiquity. Inside the bath, archaeologists found pottery vessels dating to the first century A.D., as well as fragments of stone vessels dating to the same period. According to IAA archaeologist Amit Re’em, archaeological finds from this era are rare in this part of Jerusalem, making the discovery of the mikveh even more of a surprise. To read about the debate surrounding an ancient ossuary also discovered in Jerusalem, go to "The Perils of Interpretation."

Historical Artifacts Unearthed in Seattle

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Construction workers building a rainwater storage facility unexpectedly encountered a trove of historic artifacts beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge. Archaeologists believe most of the objects came from an immigrant community known as Finntown that lasted from 1911 to 1941. "It's a really special site because this is one of Seattle's smaller shantytowns," project archaeologist Alicia Valentino told Komo News. "This very diverse community that was living in this spot (was not) mentioned in the historic record, so it really tells us a lot about this group of people that was living there." Among the finds are eyeglasses, children's toys, and alcohol bottles dating to the Prohibition era. A Chinese coin dating to the 1700s was also found, and was probably a keepsake brought to the area by an immigrant. To read more about the archaeology of immigration in the American West, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Paleolithic Milk-Based Paint Discovered

SIBUDU CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA—Researchers studying residue on a stone tool found in South Africa's Sibudu Cave have discovered a powdered paint mixture made of milk and ochre that dates to 49,000 years ago. While ochre was being used in what is now South Africa as early as early as 125,000 years ago to produce paint powder, this is the first time milk proteins have been identified in an ochre-based paint. The milk likely came from a bovid such as a buffalo or impala, and the paint might have been used for body decoration or to adorn a stone or wooden object. "Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa said in a press release. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product." To read more about the prehistoric use of ochre, go to "Stone Age Art Supplies."

Tuesday, June 30

Neolithic Fingerprint Discovered in Denmark

LOLLAND, DENMARK— A ceramic "funnel beaker" vessel unearthed in Denmark still bears a 5,500-year-old fingerprint, reports Discovery News. Such ritual artifacts were made by members of the early farming peoples known as the Funnel Beaker Culture, which flourished in northern Europe from around 4000 to 2800 B.C. “It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual,” said Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Line Marie Olesen.“The fragile fingerprint, left unintentionally, is an anonymous, yet very personal signature, which somehow brings us a bit closer to the prehistoric people and their actions.”  To read in-depth about the technological skills of people living around this time, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."  

Unusual Viking-Era Find in Scotland

GLENSHEE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that archaeologists excavating a 7th-9th-century A.D. turf longhouse in central Scotland have unearthed an unusual spindle whorl, or a weight used while spinning textiles on a spindle. About five centimeters in diameter, the spindle whorl appears to have been decorated with symbols that could be writing. “Through the ages spindle whorls have often been covered in abstract shapes and the spinning action would bring life to these shapes, much like the old spinning top toy," said Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust archaeologist David Strachan. “While we certainly have abstract shapes on this example, some of the symbols look like they could be writing, perhaps Viking runes or Ogham inscription a form of early medieval Irish script.” To read in-depth about Vikings in the British Isles, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

2,000-Year-Old Footprint Uncovered

VINDOLANDA, ENGLAND—Archaeologists at the site of Vindolanda in northern England have unearthed another piece of evidence of the daily life of the Roman soldiers and their families who lived on Hadrian’s Wall two millennia ago. The Vindolanda Charitable Trust reports that a volunteer has uncovered a tile with the partial imprint of an adolescent’s right foot made, either accidentally or purposely, when they clay was drying. Although excavators have found other footprints belonging to dogs and cats at the site, as well as more than 6,000 shoes, this is the first human footprint to have been found. “This footprint highlights even more that archaeology has the potential to illuminate the lives of otherwise voiceless individuals from antiquity,” says Field School Director archaeologist Elizabeth Greene. To read about how the soldiers at Vindolanda spent their free time, go to "Artifact." 

Monday, June 29

Researchers Return to Welsh Hillfort

CARDIFF, WALES— Archaeologists have begun excavating at Caerau Hillfort, a large Iron Age site just outside the Welsh capital. Last year, the team made a number of significant discoveries, including five Iron Age roundhouses and Neolithic flint weapons that date to about 3600 B.C., making the site significantly older than previously believed. "Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time," project co-director Dave Wyatt told Culture24. "But we believe we're still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year.” To read in-depth about another site that reveals thousands of years of British history, go to "Letter From England."

Arrowhead Found in Iron Age Warrior's Spine

KOITAS, KAZAKHSTAN—LiveScience reports that researchers studying the remains of a seventh-century B.C. nomad unearthed from a Scythian burial mound in central Kazkahstan have discovered an arrowhead embedded in the man's spine. The bronze point is a little over two inches long, but it appears the man did not die immediately after being wounded. "The found individual was extremely lucky to survive," said Queen's University Belfast bioarchaeologist Svetlana Svyatko. "It's hard to get a vertebral wound without damaging the main blood vessels, which would have resulted in an immediate death." The mound in which the remains were found had been plundered before the archaeologists excavated it, but at almost 75 feet in diameter, its impressive dimensions suggest the man belonged to Scythian nobility. To read about the ancestors of the Scythians, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

Prehistoric Village Rediscovered in Guam

AGANA, GUAM—A team led by University of Guam archaeologist Mike Carson has discovered a village founded before European contact near the island's Ritidian Point, reports Pacific Daily News. The settlement was made up of 15 limestone and coral homes, some of which still have stone patios attached to them. The team has found fishing hooks and other artifacts amid the ruins of the houses and is planning a limited excavation at the siteAccording to Carson, the village probably dates back to the 17th-century, and is mentioned in historical documents as a place where islanders rose up against Spanish rule around 1680. To read more about archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."