Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 21

Cache of Silver Denarii Uncovered in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Two hundred silver denarii dating to the first century B.C. were discovered at the site of Empúries, a town founded by Greek colonists and later occupied by the Romans. The coins had been placed in a ceramic vase and hidden in a house that burned down. “This was a huge amount of money by that time and would have allowed the owner to live comfortably for quite a long time,” archaeologist Pere Castanyer told the Catalan News Agency. The cellar also contained 24 wine amphoras, a bronze ladle, and two bracelets. The excavators were surprised to find such treasures at Empúries, which is located near the coast of northeastern Spain, and has been under excavation for more than 100 years. For more, go to “Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain.”

2,000-Year-Old Engraved Stones Discovered in Western Canada

VANCOUVER, CANADA—Archaeologist Bob Muir and his students at Simon Fraser University investigated a midden discovered by members of the K’ómoks First Nation when they dug a roasting pit for a barbecue held last year in the Comox Valley. The students uncovered shells; the well-preserved bones of deer, elk, and dogs; bone needles used for fishing; harpoon points; herring rakes; and some 80 flat pieces of stone engraved on one side. According to a report in the Comox Valley Record, the images are sometimes described as representing trees, feathers, or symbols of fertility. Similar engraved stones, known as tablets, have been found at only two other sites in the Comox Valley. Muir estimates that the tablets are about 2,000 years old. He will document and study the artifacts before they are returned to the K’ómoks First Nation. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Found in a Bronze Age Barrow

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A team led by Gavin Speed of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) excavated the site of a Bronze Age barrow in central England ahead of the construction of a housing development. A stone ax dating to the Neolithic period was found in the backfill of the barrow ditch, suggesting that use of the site could date back 6,000 years. “By the Iron Age the barrow had partly eroded and its ditches had silted up but much of the mound was likely still upstanding, making it a visible landmark in the local landscape even if its original purpose and meaning had changed,” Speed told the Loughborough Echo. The site was used for at least 12 burials during the Anglo-Saxon period. These skeletons were poorly preserved, but a pottery vessel, spears, knives, a spike, a brooch, and the boss and studs of a shield were recovered. Some scholars think that the Anglo-Saxons may have reused Bronze Age barrows for burials as a display of power through connection to the past. For more on the Anglo-Saxon period, go to "Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

Canals, Roads Unearthed in China’s Ancient Capital

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—A 3,000-year-old system of canals has been uncovered at the Yinxu site, the ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty in Henan Province. The 1.5-mile-long system carried water from the Huanhe River through the center of the city, and was nearly 20 feet wide in places. “The water system covers about half the city, running through workshops and the residential areas for commoners, located south of the palaces and temples,” Tang Jigen, head of the Anyang branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Archaeology, told Xinhuanet. Archaeologists have also uncovered the city’s system of roads: two arterial roads traveled north-south, while three roads ran east-west. For more on archaeology in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

Wednesday, July 20

Copper Fragments May Be Part of Pagoda’s Crowning Finial

KYOTO, JAPAN—Archaeologists with the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute say they have unearthed fragments of a huge sorin, the decorative finial placed atop a pagoda, on the grounds of the Kinkakuji temple. They think the fragments may have been part of the sorin that stood on the Kitayama Daito, a pagoda constructed under the orders of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, starting in 1404. The Kitayama Daito is thought to have had seven tiers and may have been the largest pagoda ever built in Japan. But it was struck by lightning burned down in 1416, shortly before it was completed. According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, the measurements of the fragments, made of gold-plated copper, suggest that the finished sorin measured almost eight feet in diameter. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

Maritime Artifacts Recovered from Hong Kong’s Waters

HONG KONG—The South China Morning Post reports that the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group recovered the upper part of an anchor thought to be more than 1,000 years old near Basalt Island. “The anchor is proof that Hong Kong was perhaps quite advanced during the Song Dynasty in terms of water transport and commercial trade,” says Libby Chan Lai-pik of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. The team also recovered a cannon thought to date to the first half of the nineteenth century off the coast of High Island. A second cannon remains underwater. “This trip is tangible evidence that there is historical material in Hong Kong’s waters,” adds Bill Jeffery of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and the University of Guam. “There have been lots of surveys on land but not in water.” For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.

Vitamin D Deficiency Detected in Dental Remains

HAMILTON, CANADA—A team of researchers has developed a way to look for signs of vitamin D deficiency in teeth by examining the remains of people who had been buried in rural Quebec and France in the 1700s and the 1800s. Teeth begin to develop layers of dentin, which requires an adequate supply of vitamin D to mineralize, before birth. So, anomalies found in the dentin would indicate that the subjects were not getting enough vitamin D in the diet, or from exposure to sunshine, at the time it was formed. “We correlated the age at which the tooth was forming, with the location of the defect in the tooth,” Lori D’Ortenzio of McMaster University explains in a report by The Canadian Press. The scientists also compared the samples to teeth from modern-day people, and when possible, examined the skeletons of the subjects. Defects in the dentin suggest that all of the subjects suffered from an extreme vitamin D deficiency, and an examination of their skeletons confirmed rickets, or weak and deformed bones, in some of the cases. For more, go to "Paleo-Dentistry."

Tuesday, July 19

Record of Work on Great Pyramid Goes on Display

CAIRO, EGYPT—A logbook containing records of the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza has gone on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, according to a report from Live Science. The largest of the three pyramids on the Giza Plateau, the Great Pyramid was built to honor the pharaoh Khufu and originally stood 481 feet tall. The papyrus logbook was written in hieroglyphics by an inspector named Merer who oversaw a team of some 200 workers. Discovered in 2013 at the Red Sea harbor of Wadi al-Jarf by archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard, the 4,500-year-old logbook is the oldest papyrus document to have been found in Egypt. Its entries are dated to the 27th year of Khufu’s reign, when the major remaining building task involved assembling the limestone casing that would cover the outside of the pyramid. Merer detailed the route by which the limestone was transported to the pyramid site from a quarry near present-day Cairo via boat along the Nile and a network of canals—a trip that took four days in all. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Ancient Korean-Style Tools Found in Japan

EBINO, JAPAN—According to the Asahi Shimbun, archaeologists excavating a sixth-century A.D. tomb on the island of Kyushu have discovered iron blacksmith tools decorated with silver inlay, which strongly suggests they were influenced by Korean styles of the time. The artifacts, which appear to be a chisel and and a pair of bow tongs, were X-rayed and discovered to have waving inlaid silver patterns similar to those found on Korean swords that date to the same period. "It is totally unheard of to find metal inlaid works on items other than long swords and horse harnesses from around that time,” says Kagoshima University Museum archaeologist Tatsuya Hashimoto. Scholars note that the technique may have been introduced to Japan by Korean migrants, and that the tomb's occupant was likely an important personage who was possibly responsible for craftsmen in the area. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Korean Peninsula, go to "North Korea's Full Moon Tower."

Caribbean Cave Walls Hold Evidence of Religious Exchange

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have discovered evidence deep in a Caribbean cave that complicates the popular image of early European colonizers as unbending religious hardliners, according to a report in The Guardian. Walls in the cave, on uninhabited Mona Island, feature indigenous spiritual iconography alongside sixteenth-century European religious markings, including Christograms, abbreviations for Jesus Christ, and Latin sentences. The archaeologists who discovered them suggest that the juxtaposition illustrates a spiritual exchange between the two groups. “It is truly extraordinary,” says Jago Cooper of the British Museum. “It is proof that the first generation of Europeans were going into caves and being exposed to an indigenous world view. I can’t think of another site like this in the Americas.” Since 2013, the team has been exploring around 70 cave systems on the island, which is 40 miles west of Puerto Rico and was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus. The researchers believe the Christian markings were made by some of the earliest European colonizers in America. “This is not zealous missionaries coming with their burning crosses,” says Alice Samson of the University of Leicester, “they are people engaging with a new spiritual realm and we get individual responses in the cave and it is not automatically erasure, it is engagement.” For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to "Tracing Slave Origins."

Iron Age Burials Unearthed in England

DORSET, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging at a massive Late Iron Age settlement in southeastern England have unearthed nine skeletons, reports BBC News. The remains were found buried in oval pits and some of the graves were furnished with meat and ceramic vessels. Future DNA and isotopic studies of the skeletons should provide the team with a wealth of information about ancestry and migration during the British Iron Age, a period during which most people either cremated their dead or buried them in wetlands. "Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare," says Bournemouth University archaeologist Paul Cheetham. "This data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age." Some 400 roundhouses have been discovered so far at the site, which was occupied beginning around 100 B.C. To read more about the archaeology of this period, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”