Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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."

Friday, June 26

Vast Database of African Rock Art Goes Online

LONDON, ENGLAND—The British Museum and the Trust for African Rock Art are partnering to make some 25,000 images of rock art available to the public. The database will contain images of remote and difficult to access sites that are rarely visited and are subject to deterioration. "The Museum wants to make Africa’s rock art available to both scholars and the general public alike," Elizabeth Galvin, curator of the African Rock Art Image Project, told the Independent. "We hope to both protect and share this remarkable history for free with a global audience." The archive will include images from sites ranging from Libya to South Africa, and will include art dating from 10,000 B.C. to the early twentieth century. To read in-depth about archaeology in Africa, go to "The Nok of Nigeria."

WW I-Era Trenches Discovered in Australia

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—World War I-era trenches have been unearthed outside of the Australian capital of Canberra. Dug in 1916 by officers hoping to simulate battlefield conditions in Europe, the trenches were recorded in military documents, but their exact location was unknown until Australian National University archaeologists used remote sensing to search for them. The team is now unearthing an elaborate system of trenches and tunnels that was used to train soldiers in new tactics before they were shipped to the front. "It's a sobering thought ... when people were here they were probably optimistic about the new trench designs and how they'd go in the field," archaeologist Tim Denham told ABC. "And of course now we know what a terrible time it was for all those who went and unfortunately a lot of people didn't come back." To read in-depth about WW I-era battlefield archaeology, go to "Anzac's Next Chapter."  

Medieval Friary Unearthed in England

NORWICH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating ahead of a new development in Norwich are revealing the remains of a 13th-century Augustinian friary that was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. The wealth of artifacts and remains discovered at the site, known as Austin Priory, is expected to give researchers a new perspective on a period when several monastic orders established themselves in the city. “Before the friary, this was marshland. They didn’t have a lot of choice but to set up outside what was the Saxon town and were given the land by rich benefactors in return for praying for their souls," Ramboll Group archaeologist Andy Shelly told Eastern Daily Press. “They started off as a reaction to what was seen as the wealth of the church—living in poverty and chastity and taking the message to the people of Norwich, but they soon ended up becoming wealthy themselves.” In addition to oyster shells and animal bones, the archaeologists have discovered several burials that could give the team insight into diet and health of the monks living at the friary. To read about another recent discovery in Norwich, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur.

Marble Dolphin Sculpture Unearthed in Israel

KIBBUTZ MAGEN, ISRAEL—A marble statuette of a dolphin gripping a fish in its jaws has been unearthed in the northern Negev at the ruins of a late Byzantine and early Islamic site. The statue itself probably dates to the Roman era, but was re-used later as building material for a paved floor. Standing 16 inches high, it was originally part of a larger statue, perhaps one depicting a god. “It’s possible that the [full] statue was of the [Greek] goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, who was born from sea foam,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Rina Avner told the Times of Israel. There was a major shrine to the goddess in the nearby city of Ashekelon. Avner also speculates that the larger statue might have been of Poseidon, who was often depicted with dolphins. To read about the discovery of another sculpture dating to the same era, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."