Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 20

Archaeologists Investigate Jamestown Church

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists from Preservation Virginia are investigating the remains of the three colonial churches at the site where a memorial church, built in 1906 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, now stands. The earlier churches date to 1617, the 1640s, and the 1680s. The team dug a pit in the chancel area and was recently working in the southeast corner, where high-status English colonists may have been buried. “We’ve gotten to an area where we can see in between the grave shafts in a couple of places,” said field supervisor Mary Anna Hartley. But earlier excavations may have moved two large gravestones that were placed flat on the church floor from the chancel to the cross-aisle in front of it. So any burials are probably unmarked. “That’s another thing we’re doing—figuring out what they found 100 years ago,” said archaeologist Danny Schmidt. “Archaeology of archaeology is a good way to put it.” For more, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

Copper Coins Unearthed in Israel Amid Byzantine Rubble

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a hoard of 1,400-year-old copper coins was uncovered last summer in the ruins of a two-story building in a Byzantine-era town. The coins bear the faces of Byzantine emperors Justinian I, Maurice, and Phocas, and were minted in Constantinople, Antioch, and Nicomedia. Archaeologist Annette Landes-Naggar of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained that the building may have been a monastery, since the town was situated on a Christian pilgrimage route from the Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem. “The coins were found adjacent to the external wall of one of the monumental buildings found at the site, and it was found among the building stones that collapsed from the wall,” she said. The coins may have been placed in a niche in the wall for safekeeping. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Artifact: Bronze Age Jug.”

Ancient Port of Salamis Found

SALAMIS, GREECE—According to The Greek Reporteran ancient port, including harbor structures and fortifications, has been found by an international team of researchers on the island of Salamis. The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports said that the site is where Greek naval forces led by Themistocles gathered before the naval battle against King Xerxes and the Persians in 480 B.C. Monuments to the victory over the Persians are located adjacent to the site, which is also thought to have served as a commercial port. For more, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

Treasure Discovered in Southwest China

SICHUAN PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Xinhua, a legendary treasure said have been lost some 300 years ago during a peasant uprising has been recovered from the Minjiang River, near its intersection with the Jinjiang River. Archaeologists from the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute drained a significant portion of the riverbed with pumps, and found the artifacts under 16 feet of earth. Seven silver ingots were previously found on the river bank in 2005 during a construction project. The legend states that the treasure was aboard a thousand boats traveling southward when the convoy, led by Zhang Xianzhong, was attacked and defeated by Ming Dynasty soldiers. Gold, silver, and bronze coins, jewelry, and iron weapons are among the more than 10,000 recovered artifacts. “The items are extremely valuable to science, history, and art,” commented archaeologist Li Boqian of Peking University. “They are of great significance for research into the political, economic, military, and social lives of the Ming Dynasty.” For more on archaeology in China, go to “Tomb from a Lost Tribe.”

Friday, March 17

Replica of Ancient Ship Launched in Bay of Haifa

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a replica of a 2,400-year-old ship has been christened the Ma’agan Mikhael II, for the kibbutz where a fifth-century B.C. shipwreck was found in 1985. The first Ma’agan Mikhael was constructed of Aleppo pine and oak, and is thought to have measured about 37 feet long and 13 feet wide. Ballast at the wreck site is thought to have come from the Greek island of Euboea and southern Cyprus. Archaeologists also recovered a carpenter’s toolbox from the site, and used traditional tools to build the replica ship. After the ceremony, the Ma’agan Mikhael II was sailed in the Bay of Haifa. Archaeologists are preparing to take the vessel on a three-day journey from Haifa down the Mediterranean coast to Herzliya, and test ways that ancient sailors might have sailed against the sea’s winds and currents. “We have no idea how they did it,” commented archaeologist Deborah Cvikel of Haifa University. For more, go to “Ship Underground.”

2,000-Year-Old Siberia Site Yields Reindeer Antler Armor

SALEKHARD, SIBERIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a team led by archaeologist Andrey Gusev of the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic has uncovered plates of armor made from reindeer antlers at the Ust-Polui site in northwestern Siberia. The armor dates to between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. Gusev explained that the 30 plates differ from each other in size, ornamentation, and the placement of holes for attaching them to a leather base. Some of the plates may even have been used to create protective helmets. Gusev thinks the variations in the decorations on the plates suggest they belonged to different warriors, who left them as a gift or sacrifice to the gods. A tiny bronze ring found in a sanctuary at the site has been interpreted as an ornament for a bear claw, and may indicate the presence of a bear cult at the site some 2,000 years ago. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

Cairo’s Colossus Identified as Psammetich I

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a colossal statue discovered in the remains of a temple dedicated to Ramses II probably represents Psammetich I, and not Ramses II, as was originally suggested. According to Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, the back pillar on the torso piece of the 30-foot statue was carved with one of the five names of Psammetich I, who ruled from 664 to 610 B.C., during the 26th Dynasty. “If it belongs to this king, then it is the largest statue of the Late Period that was ever discovered in Egypt,” he said. The two giant, quartzite fragments were found under the water table, near a congested residential area of Cairo’s Matariya neighborhood, and were moved with the help of Egypt’s Armed Forces to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir for restoration and exhibition. The excavation team also recovered a relief at the site that depicts Ramses II anointing a statue of the goddess Mut. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Thursday, March 16

Rare Military Insignia Found in Illinois

CAMP LINCOLN, ILLINOIS—The State Journal-Register reports that a collar disc bearing the insignia of a segregated military unit was found by workers replacing a bridge at Camp Lincoln. Based upon its style, the quarter-sized disc, worn on the uniform collar, is thought to have been lost by an Illinois Guardsman between 1923 and 1936. The disc bears the insignia of the Eighth Illinois Infantry, which fought on the Mexican border during the 1916 Pancho Villa Expedition, and then was sent to France in 1917 to fight in the First World War as the 370th Infantry. The 370th was one of the most decorated units of the war. “They probably should have received some Medals of Honor,” said Adriana Schroeder, command historian for the Illinois National Guard. “Instead, they received a lot of French awards and a couple of Distinguished Service Crosses on the American side.” To read about another discovery in Illinois, go to “Mississippian Burning.”

Gold Bridle Fittings Recovered from Viking Grave

SKANDERBORG, DENMARK—The gilded fittings of a horse’s bridle have been recovered from one of several graves dating to the early Viking Age discovered in central Denmark in 2012, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post. “This type of bridle would only be available to the most powerful of people in the Viking Age, and we believe it might have been a gift of alliance from the king,” said Mereth Schifter Bagge of the Museum of Skanderborg. The bridle has been dated to A.D. 950, which suggests that the “Fregerslev Viking,” as the tomb’s occupant is called, may have been aligned with Gorm the Old, or perhaps a rival king. Excavation at the site will resume this spring. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

Huge Polar Bear Skull Discovered at Alaska’s Walapka Site

UTQIAGVIK, ALASKA—Western Digs reports that a large polar bear skull has been discovered at the 4,000-year-old Walapka archaeological site in northern Alaska. Dubbed “The Old One,” the skull has been radiocarbon dated to about 1,300 years old. It measures more than 16 inches long, and while it resembles typical polar bears from the eyes forward, the back of the skull is narrow and elongated when compared to the skulls of most polar bears. Research biologist and wildlife veterinarian Raphaela Stimmelmayer found several skulls that resemble “The Old One” among the 300 polar bear skulls in the collection at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Archaeologist Anne Jensen thinks this huge bear may have been the type referred to as “weasel bears,” or “king bears,” by some Inuit groups in historic interviews with ethnographers. But the bears are not mentioned in accounts from the Utqiagvik region. “That may be because these bears were not around during the period when people were collecting ethnographic accounts—somewhat later here than in Canada—or because people just didn’t ask the right questions,” Jensen said. Further analysis of the skull is planned. For more on archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

Neolithic Hearth Unearthed in Wales

MONMOUTHSHIRE, WALES—According to a report in the Monmouthshire Beacon, a Neolithic hearth has been unearthed at a construction site in southern Wales. Found on the shores of a post-glacial lake, the hearth contained animal bones and charcoal, which have been dated by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center to about 5,000 years ago. Timbers from a Neolithic boat were discovered on the shores of the same lake last year, along with structural timbers dating to the Neolithic period, and the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”