Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 13

Fortified Gate Unearthed at Desert Copper Mine

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A fortified gatehouse has been found in the Timna Valley, at a copper-smelting site thought to date to the tenth century B.C., according to a report by Live Science. Discovered in the 1930s, the site is known as Slaves’ Hill because the walls that surrounded it were thought to have been intended to imprison workers. But Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University and his team have found evidence of a high-quality diet enjoyed by the residents of the Iron Age settlement. Ben-Yosef suggests the gate represents the entrance of a highly organized defense system to protect people and goods from possible attack. “Copper was a rare product and very challenging to produce,” Ben-Yosef explained. Piles of donkey dung were found in both rooms of the gatehouse. Donkeys may have worked in the copper mines, and their dung may have been used as fuel for the copper-smelting furnaces. Analysis of the dung indicates that the donkeys had been fed a diet of hay and the skins, pulp, and stems of grapes that were probably imported from the Mediterranean. “The food suggests special treatment and care,” Ben-Yosef added. To read about another recent archaeological discovery in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Possible 16th-Century Graves Found in Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report from CBS News, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt has found four sets of human remains under Charlotte Street in downtown St. Augustine. He thinks the remains could belong to settlers who arrived in Florida in the sixteenth century with Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and were buried at the church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which stood at the site. “I think this is probably just as significant as the Castillo de San Marcos because it represents the earliest colonial history of the downtown area,” he explained, referring to a fort built in St. Augustine in the late 17th century. Halbirt plans to excavate further to determine whether any other remains are in the area before the beginning of construction of a new water line. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Traces of a Civil War Trench Uncovered in Virginia

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA—A report by The Free Lance-Star states that archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a park near the Rappahannock River uncovered traces of a Civil War–era trench. All that remains of the trench is a brown stain containing pieces of oyster shells, porcelain, and other artifacts. “It could have been a rear line of fortifications behind the main line of defenses,” commented field director Joe Blondino. Eric Mink, cultural resources manager for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said that no maps of trenches in the area are known to have been made, but they were photographed from the opposite bank of the river. The excavation of the site has also unearthed the remains of a house where two mayors of Fredericksburg lived, its outbuildings, and a possible slave quarters; a vial of mercury tincture; buttons from Civil War uniforms, including some marked with the logo of the 14th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry; and human bone fragments thought to be the remains of Union soldiers. Historical records indicate that the mayors’ house served as a hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. For more on archaeology relating to the Civil War, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

Thursday, January 12

Bronze Toy Offers Clues to Roman Racing Technology

MADISON, WISCONSIN—According to a report in Seeker, Bela Sandor, professor emeritus of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined a highly detailed toy chariot discovered in the Tiber River in the 1890s. The hand-sized toy is thought to have been made for a wealthy racing enthusiast some 2,000 years ago. Sandor was able to use the dimensions of the model to estimate the size and weight of a full-sized racing chariot. He and Judith Swaddling of the British Museum also noted that the wheels of the bronze model, which is missing one of its two galloping horses and its charioteer, do not match. Sandor explained that racing chariot wheels, which measured about two feet in diameter, were usually made of wood, animal hide glue, and rawhide strips to hold them together at the joints. A thin strip of iron, visible on the outside of the toy’s right wheel, may have been added to strengthen and stabilize it for the repeated left turns in an oval-shaped arena. “Without any iron on the wheels, the right wheel was failing often and predominantly, while both wheels having iron tires tended to be safe but were seldom a winning combination,” Sandor said. To read about a recently discovered mosaic depicting a horse race, go to “And They’re Off!

New Thoughts on the Origins of Human Speech

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that an international team of researchers led by Louis-Jean Boe of Grenoble Alpes University analyzed 1,335 vocalizations made by male and female baboons in order to investigate the possible origins of human speech. It had been suggested that a low, modern human-like larynx was necessary for the production of vowel sounds. If so, the spoken language of modern humans could only have originated sometime during the last 100,000 to 70,000 years. But the new research indicates that baboon tongues have the same muscles as human tongues, and could be used to form vowel sounds in a way similar to that of modern humans. Furthermore, the analysis of baboon vocalizations indicates that they make five distinct vowel-like sounds to communicate, even though they have the high larynx typical of non-human primates. The findings suggest spoken language may have evolved from skills possessed by the last common ancestor of baboons and modern humans, who lived some 25 million years ago. For more, go to “The Monkey Effect.”

3,000-Year-Old Crocodile Bones Unearthed at Ruins of Haojing

XI’AN, CHINA— reports that 12 crocodile lamellae, or thin bone plates, were discovered at Haojing, part of the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty from 1066 to 770 B.C. Pottery, stone and bronze tools, tombs, pottery kilns, and wells have also been found at the site. “The discovery provides important materials for the study of the ecological distribution of crocodiles in the Western Zhou Dynasty,” said Yue Lianjian of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, since the animals usually live in marshy, tropical areas. The researchers also suggest that the presence of crocodile bones at the site could be related to the production of tuogu, a type of drum made with crocodile skin that has also been found at Haojing. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Wednesday, January 11

Anglo-Saxon Village Site Unearthed in Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that an Anglo-Saxon settlement was discovered during the construction of a new housing development. Brooches, glass and amber beads, rings, and hairpins dating to the sixth century A.D. were uncovered, in addition to tools, weaponry, and the remains of buildings. The excavation team from Oxford Archaeology East also recovered pottery vessels and a glass drinking vessel with claw-shaped decorations. Such “claw beakers” are usually found in areas to the southeast, and in northern France, the Netherlands, and Germany, where they are thought to have been made. “Evidence of the time period ... is almost nonexistent, so this gives us a highly important window into understanding how people lived in that era, their trade activities and behaviors,” said Duncan Hawkins of CgMs Archaeology. The team also found artifacts dating back to the Roman era. To read in-depth about evidence of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Cistern Yields 13,000 Victorian Food Containers

LONDON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that thousands of bottles, jars, and pots from the Victorian era were found in a cistern at the construction site of a new train station in the Soho area of London. The vessels came from a Crosse & Blackwell food factory that operated on the site from 1830 until 1921. Archaeologist Nigel Jeffries of the Museum of London Archaeology explained that the cistern had been used to power the steam engines that ran the factory until the 1870s, when the building was redesigned. After that, the cistern was used for storage. The vessels included bottles for mushroom catsup; preserved ginger; piccalilli, a relish of chopped pickled vegetables and spices; and jams and marmalade. Jeffries explained that the find has helped the investigators learn more about “the tastes and palates of the Victorians.” For more, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

New Kingdom Tombs Unearthed Near Aswan

ASWAN, EGYPT—Mahmoud Afifi of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities announced in Ahram Online that more than 12 tombs in Gebel el-Silsila have been discovered by an Egyptian-Swedish team led by Maria Nilsson of Lund University and John Ward. Each of the 3,400-year-old tombs excavated so far contained multiple burials and may have belonged to families who lived during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. In general, the condition of the skeletal remains suggests that the people performed hard physical labor but were healthy. An adult crocodile had been placed in the courtyard at the entrance to one of the tombs. Another tomb contained the remains of sheep, goats, and Nile perch. Three infant burials were also found: one of the infants had been wrapped in textiles and placed in a wooden coffin, and two infants were found on their sides in overhangs in the site’s sandstone bluffs. Sandstone sarcophagi, painted cartonnage, painted pottery coffins, ceramic vessels and plates, jewelry, amulets, and scarabs were also recovered. Most of the tombs had been looted in antiquity. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”