Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 13

Unusual Ceremonial Site Unearthed in Ohio

MILAN, OHIO—An unusual ceremonial site dating to 300 B.C. has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Ohio's Huron River, reports Fox News. Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist Brian Redmond and his team unearthed an unusual oval ditch that enclosed the two-acre ridge top. They found that the ditch was in turn surrounded by clusters of freestanding poles that may have been as high as 12 feet tall. Excavation also revealed pits filled with charcoal deposits that suggest ceremonial feasting may have occurred at the site, which was built by a people archaeologists know as the Early Woodland culture. Redmond notes that most ceremonial sites in Ohio focus on burial rites or mound building. “To find evidence of life celebrations is an unexpected and exciting discovery,” says Redmond. “It gives us surprising insights about these prehistoric Ohioans that lived nearly 2,300 years ago.”  To read about another Woodland site, go to "Off the Grid: Pinson Mounds."

Bronze Age Burial Found in England

EVESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists surveying a future development site in England’s West Midlands region were surprised to find a Bronze Age burial, reports the Worcester News. The team was following up on an earlier excavation at the site that revealed ditches thought to date to the Iron Age. In broadening their investigation to include a larger tract of land, the archaeologists discovered ditches with artifacts dating 1,000 years earlier than they expected, to the early Bronze Age. “The really unexpected find was a ‘beaker’ burial,” said Laurence Hayes of the environmental consulting firm RSK. “This large burial pit contained a near complete Early Bronze Age vessel known as a beaker, covered with intricate patterns, and a polished stone archer’s wrist guard.” The artifacts are being conserved and will eventually go on display at a local museum. To read in-depth about the Iron Age in the British Isles, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Remnants of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens Sought

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Emily Dickinson is known today as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, but in her lifetime she may have been more renowned for her gardening. At her family estate, she helped to tend an orchard, a greenhouse, and an expanse of flower and vegetable gardens. The size of these gardens was dramatically decreased in the decades after Dickinson died in 1886, but now a team of archaeologists is searching for their remnants. Last summer, they uncovered portions of a pathway leading to nineteenth-century flower and vegetable beds. “If we can follow out the historic path to its end, then theoretically we would find the location of past gardens,” Kerry Lynch of Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the New York Times. If they do locate these gardens, the archaeologists hope to find seeds or other botanical evidence dating back to when Dickinson was alive. For more on archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."

Ancestral Pueblo Carved Mysterious Paths Through Lava Fields

EL MALPAIS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEW MEXICO—Archaeologists have explored an Ancestral Pueblo village in northwest New Mexico that dates to 900 years ago and was built amid lava fields. Surrounding the village, called Las Ventanas, they found a detailed array of trails, whose purpose is unclear. The trails totaled 62 miles in all, and some had no apparent destination other than the lava itself. “What this means is the trails were built, primarily, as ritual features themselves, to access different points in the lava,” Paul Reed of Archaeology Southwest told Western Digs. Goods including ceramics and stone tools were also found along many of the paths, adding further evidence that they had a ceremonial purpose. The people who lived at Las Ventanas used the local black volcanic rock in their buildings, along with sandstone, which was traditionally used by Pueblo to the north at Chaco Canyon. The village comprises more than 100 separate sites, including a two-story great house with up to 85 rooms that is estimated to have been built between 1075 and 1125. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Thursday, May 12

Possible Medieval Kitchen Site Excavated in England

SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that an archaeological investigation in Bury St. Edmunds, located near the southeast coast of England, has uncovered a building with a foundation made of flint and mortar that probably had timber walls and a tiled roof and floor. The building may have been a kitchen or cold storage area in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, perhaps placed at a distance from the houses in the core of the medieval market town to protect them from potential kitchen fires. The site also yielded pits where chalk was quarried between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. (Lime for making mortar would have been extracted from the chalk.) The excavation team from Suffolk Archaeology found a gaming counter with wear marks suggesting it had been worn on a string, worked bone and antler waste, pottery, a chain, a spindle whorl, and roof tile fragments among the trash and food waste in the pits. To read more on medieval England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

Climate Change May Have Contributed to Neanderthal Extinction

DENVER, COLORADO—Zooarchaeologist Jamie Hodgkins of the University of Colorado, Denver, thinks that climate change may have contributed to the demise of the Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago. According to a report in R&D Magazine, Hodgkins examined the remains of prey animals and found that bones of animals butchered by Neanderthals during colder periods showed higher frequencies of percussion marks. This suggests that they were processed to remove every bit of marrow. “As the climate got colder, Neanderthals had to put more into extracting nutrients from bones," Hodgkins said. "This is especially apparent in evidence that reveals Neanderthals attempted to break open even low marrow yield bones, like the small bones of the feet." For more, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Study Suggests Arabia Was Inhabited During Ice Age

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—It had been thought that modern humans settled in southern Arabia with the development of agriculture, but a new genetic study by Francesca Gandini of the University of Huddersfield and colleagues suggests that people lived there some 20,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. According to a report in Sci-News, the researchers focused on a rare mitochondrial DNA lineage (R0a) that is found most frequently in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. They think this lineage is older than had been previously believed, and that when the Ice Age ended some 11,000 years ago, people migrated out of Arabia and into eastern Africa, through the Middle East, and into Europe. For more, go to "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."

Wednesday, May 11

Volunteers Will Serve on “Petroglyph Patrol” in Utah

ST. GEORGE, UTAH—Vandalism at archaeological and rock art sites is a growing problem in southern Utah. According to a report at, the Bureau of Land Management and Conserve Southwest Utah will create a “Petroglyph Patrol” as part of their Respect and Protect campaign. In particular, volunteers will monitor the Land Hill Heritage site during peak visitor times and educate visitors about appropriate behavior at rock art sites. “Losing these sites or having them destroyed to the point where we can’t read the stories that are there, is a huge loss to our culture, to everyone. It’s like burning down libraries,” said Susan Crook, land program manager/Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends director. For more, go to "North America’s Oldest Petroglyphs."

Small Egyptian Sarcophagus Receives CT Scan

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Egyptologists at the Fitzwilliam Museum reportedly expected to find the embalmed remains of an adult’s organs in a miniature cedar sarcophagus that was discovered in Giza in 1907 by the British School of Archaeology. However, a CT scan has revealed the remains of a human fetus, estimated to have been no more than 18 weeks old at the time of death, which occurred sometime between 664 and 525 B.C. “The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception,” Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the museum, told The Telegraph. The small-scale coffin had been carefully decorated, and the remains inside it had been wrapped in bandages. Molten black resin was poured over the tiny mummy before the coffin was closed. To read about another recent discovery, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."

Possible Evidence of Earliest Ax Uncovered

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Peter Hiscock and his team from the University of Sydney say that one tiny piece of worked stone is evidence of the world’s oldest ax. The fragment, thought to have come from the polished edge of an ax when it was re-sharpened, was excavated in the early 1990s by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University, along with other artifacts from Carpenter’s Gap, a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Hiscock and his team found the basalt fragment among the materials from the oldest levels of the site, which date to 45,000 to 49,000 years ago. The scientists think the ax may have been crafted by the first people to arrive in Australia. “We know that they didn’t have axes where they came from. There’s no axes in the islands to our north. They arrived in Australia and innovated axes,” O’Connor said in a report by BBC News. To read about finds from the same area dating to much more recently, go to "What's the Point?"