Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.” 

Monday, July 18

Ancient Barley Was Highly Domesticated

SEELAND, GERMANY—A new genetic analysis of barley grains dating back 6,000 years finds that they were extremely similar to modern-day varieties, according to a report by BBC News. Barley was among the earliest farm crops, having been domesticated around 10,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers first began farming. Starting with wild plants, these early farmers tried to eliminate undesirable traits, similar to modern-day selective breeding. Finding intact ancient grains suitable for a genetic study is highly unusual. In this case, the grains were excavated from a cave in an ancient fortress near the Dead Sea in Israel, where they were preserved by extremely dry conditions. DNA analysis of the ancient barley found that the 6,000-year-old grains were surprisingly similar to present-day crops in the same area, suggesting that by the time they were grown, barley had already undergone extensive domestication. “These 6,000 year-old grains are time capsules, you have a genetic state that was frozen 6,000 years ago,” says Nils Stein of the IPK Plant Genetics institute in Germany. “This tells us barley 6,000 years ago was already a very advanced crop and clearly different from the wild barley.” For more, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Possible Traces of Lost Colony Found

ELIZABETH CITY, NORTH CAROLINA—Archaeologists have discovered a range of evidence suggesting that part of the sixteenth-century lost colony of Roanoke Island may have ended up at a location in present-day Bertie County, North Carolina. According to a report in The Virginian-Pilot, excavation of an 850-square-foot tract there has turned up artifacts including seals used to verify cloth quality, sixteenth-century nails, firing pans from guns of the time, tenterhooks used to stretch hides, fragments of pottery jars used for storing preserved fish, and bowl pieces similar to those found at Jamestown. Clay Swindell, an archaeologist at the Museum of the Albemarle, says the artifacts show that members of the lost colony could have lived there. The site of the excavation was marked with the symbol of a fort on a map that John White, the leader of the Roanoke colony, drew from 1585-86. White left the colony in 1587 to resupply, and when he returned three years later, he found the colony gone and the word “Croatoan” carved in a post and “CRO” carved into a tree. Later search efforts did not make it to the current excavation site, where the findings indicate the presence of early English settlers, but not a fort. “We have new clues,” Swindell said. “That’s all we can say, there are new clues.” For more on archaeology in this area, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”

Canine Bones Found in South Dakota

  MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—Archaeologists excavating at the ca. 1000 A.D. Mitchell village site in southeastern South Dakota have unearthed a number of canine bones, including those belonging to dogs, foxes, and wolves that are considerably bigger than anticipated. According to the Daily Republic, Max Planck Institute zooarchaeologist Angela Perri is leading the study of the remains, which is giving scholars an idea of what domesticated dog species were like before European breeds were introduced to the area. "It kind of gives us a more rounded out picture of how humans are interacting with other animals, with their environment, things like that," Perri says. "Mitchell's a great place to do it. It's kind of a unique environment on the Plains. We have a lot of information about dogs from other places like the southwest and the deep south, but in the plains, we don't really know about what's going on with dogs." For more on the archaeology of canines, go to “More than Man’s Best Friend.” 

More on Bronze Age-Wall in Poland

MASZKOWICE, POLAND—Archaeologists studying an unusual 3,500-year-old stone wall discovered at a Bronze Age settlement in southern Poland last year have found more evidence that points to the identity of the structure's builders, reports Science & Scholarship in Poland. Led by Jagiellonian University archaeologist Marcin S. Przybyla, the team believes at least some of the villagers came from the Mediterranean or Adriatic. "The closest similarities in architectural solutions can be found in the settlement situated on the peninsula of Istria in northern Croatia," says Przybyla. His team also found that while the wall protecting the settlement was built using foreign techniques, the twenty houses found inside the settlement are similar to those commonly found in the region. Constructed from ca. 1750-1690 B.C., the wall fell into disrepair after a century. Some signs of crude repair and reconstruction are apparent, but after 200 years, the site was abandoned. Further excavations this summer will focus on a possible bastion or stone gate. To read in-depth about excavations at a Bronze Age site in the Mediterranean, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”