Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 12

15th-Century Printed Page Discovered in Archive

READING, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that librarian Erika Delbecque found a page from a Latin text of instructions for priests known as the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye in an archive at the University of Reading. The book was printed in late 1476 or early 1477 by William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England, with black text, red paragraph marks, and double-sided pages. Delbecque said that the page is one of only two surviving fragments of the medieval book, which fell out of use after the Reformation. The rare leaf had been pasted into another book to reinforce its spine for about 300 years, until it was recovered at the University of Cambridge around 1820. The University of Reading purchased the page 20 years ago as part of a collection belonging to a typographer. To read in-depth about the search for medieval manuscripts, go to "Recovering Hidden Texts."

Millstone Found at Cleveland Park Site

CLEVELAND, TENNESSEE—According to a report in The Cleveland Banner, a large millstone was discovered near Taylor Spring in downtown Cleveland, the site where the city’s first residents are thought to have settled. A city public works crew found the stone while picking up litter and debris near the spring, and hauled it away as garbage. But a local resident noticed what had happened and contacted a historian, who alerted the crew’s director to the potential value of the find. City historian Bob George said that although it appears that the stream and spring at the site are not powerful enough to turn a millstone, there may have been dams at one time to increase the force of the water. He added that millstone may have belonged to the Cleveland Milling Company, which owned the property in 1906. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "Empire of Glass."

Scottish Soldiers Remembered in Durham

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The National reports that Durham University hosted an event to commemorate the lives of the Scottish soldiers taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and imprisoned in Durham. A plaque in Durham Cathedral, which had stated that the soldiers’ burial place was unknown, has been updated, and a new plaque has been placed in the courtyard at Palace Green Library. The remains of some 1,700 of these men were found in a mass grave during the construction of the library, which began four years ago. Researchers have studied the remains to learn about the lives of the Scottish soldiers who died while imprisoned in England, and they have tracked down what happened to those who survived the battle and imprisonment. Their descendants were consulted in the creation of the new plaque, made of stone quarried at the site of the Battle of Dunbar. “It is our intention through this project to give these individuals a voice in our history,” explained Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor and warden of Durham University. The soldiers’ remains will eventually be reburied in a cemetery close to the original site of the mass grave. To read an in-depth article about the prisoners, go to "After the Battle." 

Thursday, May 11

1,800-Year-Old Kiln Uncovered in Verulamium

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—St. Alban’s Review reports that an 1,800-year-old kiln has been unearthed at Verulamium, a Roman town in southeastern England. Archaeologists found the kiln deep underground, ahead of the installation of a new gas pipe. “To find another ancient pottery kiln is a wonderful surprise,” said Councillor Annie Brewster. Recent excavations at the ancient site also uncovered a townhouse and the absence of a tower expected at the corner of the city walls. To read more about Roman Britain, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

An Update on Mississippi’s Asylum Cemetery

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI—The Clarion-Ledger reports that as many 7,000 people may be buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. The deceased are thought to have been patients of the Mississippi Asylum for the Insane, which stood on the property from 1855 to 1935. In 2013, 66 coffins were uncovered during road construction, and a ground-penetrating radar survey before the construction of a parking garage in 2014 detected another 2,000 coffins. Because the burials rest in areas where the school is considering additional construction work, officials may exhume the burials and create a memorial, visitors’ center, and a lab where the remains and artifacts could be studied. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the premodern period, particularly those being institutionalized,” commented Molly Zuckerman of Mississippi State University’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. To read about a very different sort of discovery made in Mississippi, go to “Not Quite Ancient.”

Burial Chamber Discovered in Pyramid at Dahshur

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Live Science, a team of archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has discovered a burial chamber in the remains of a 3,800-year-old pyramid uncovered at the Dahshur royal necropolis last month. At the time, the name “Ameny Qemau,” a pharaoh who ruled around 1790 B.C., was found on an alabaster block at the site. Within the chamber, the researchers found a wooden box inscribed with the name “Hatshepset,” who may have been a daughter of Ameny Qemau. Such boxes were used to store canopic jars containing the inner organs of mummies, but only a few mummy wrappings were recovered from this box. Egyptologist James Allen of Brown University suggested that the princess may have been buried in her father’s pyramid, which would explain why two pyramids in Dahshur bear his name. The excavation team also found a poorly preserved sarcophagus in the burial chamber. For more on Egypt, go to “Hidden Blues.”

Wednesday, May 10

Ancient Log Boat Unearthed in England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that roadwork has uncovered a 20-foot log boat that may be 4,000 years old. A wood sample has been sent for radiocarbon dating. The vessel was found in a silted-up channel of the Witham River, with the prow slightly higher than the stern, which suggests that it had been pulled ashore. The prow is not as well preserved as the stern, perhaps because it was exposed to the air while the rear of the vessel was covered by the swampy riverbank. The vessel was probably made by splitting a tree trunk in half with wedges, then hollowing out half of it with flint or metal tools, and then, possibly, subjecting it to controlled burning. Slots cut into the stern of the boat would have held a transom board to square it off. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Remnants of World War I Battle Found in Israel

ROSH HA’AYIN, ISRAEL—Fox News reports that students uncovered World War I rifle cartridges and shell fragments at the site of the Battle of Megiddo, which took place on September 19, 1918, in central Israel. Further exploration by the Israel Antiquities Authority team revealed two military outposts used by the Ottoman army, a piece of a British army cap insignia, and Ottoman rifle cartridges. Archaeologist Shahar Crispin identified the insignia as belonging to Britain’s Norfolk Regiment, which attacked the ridge where the excavation took place. According to weapons expert Alexander Glick, the artifacts indicate that British forces shelled the Turkish positions with 18-pounder guns. The Ottomans responded with massive light arms fire that had been manufactured in Germany. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Medieval Fasting Rules May Have Altered Chicken Evolution

OXFORD, ENGLAND— reports that Christian religious beliefs and increased urbanization may have shaped the domestication of the chicken during the medieval period. Liisa Loog of Oxford University said that chickens were first domesticated about 6,000 years ago. The new study combined DNA data from chicken bones recovered at archaeological sites in Europe with statistical modeling, and found that some of the features of modern chickens, such as the ability to live in close proximity to one another, rapid egg laying, and a reduced fear of humans arose about 1,000 years ago, when religious fasting rules excluded the consumption of four-legged animals, but allowed the devout to eat chickens and their eggs. Loog explained that selection pressures, including different preferences and ecological factors, can change over time. For more on human consumption of animals, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”