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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, May 21

More on Prehistoric Canal Found in Florida

NAPLES, FLORIDA—A canal that was probably used as a shortcut for transporting goods by the Calusa has been dated to between 800 and 1100 A.D. Robert Carr, executive director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, said that the canal is part of a complex web of canals in southern Florida. This section of the canal was found with ground-penetrating radar in the center of modern Naples. “These canals are the only transportation canals in North America outside of Mexico. So, in that sense they are a major engineering marvel that indigenous people have constructed,” he told WGCU.

Pre-Inca Site Unearthed in Northern Peru

PIURA, PERU—Necklaces, pottery, and other artifacts have been unearthed at a site thought to have been an administrative center for the Tallan culture, which lived in northwestern Peru from 700 to 1400 A.D. “This would have been a large storage for corn, cotton and other products from the area. It would have also been a place where the Tallan lived,” archaeologist María Elena Nuñera told El Comercio. Many of the pre-Incan sites in the region have been destroyed by looters. 

1,500-Year-Old Microbes Support Migration Hypotheses

VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO—An analysis of bacteria and fungi found in coprolites, or fossilized human feces, supports archaeological evidence of the ancestries of two cultures that lived in the Caribbean more than 1,500 years ago. “One culture excelled in the art of pottery; in fact, their signature use of red and white paint helped identify them as descendants from the Saladoids, originating in Saladero, Venezuela. In contrast, the second culture had exquisite art for crafting semiprecious stones into ornaments, some of which represented the Andean condor. This helped archaeologists identify the Bolivian Andes as possible origins of this Huecoid culture,” Jessica Rivera-Perez of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, told Phys Org. Differences in the DNA from the coprolites from the two cultures, as well as their bacterial and fungal populations, indicated that they may indeed have had different origins. Fungal and corn DNA were also found in the Huecoid coprolite, suggesting that an Andean fermented corn beverage had been consumed.  

Human Remains Linked to Norman Conquest of England

EAST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—A skeleton bearing six fatal sword injuries to the back of the skull has been radiocarbon dated to 28 years on either side of 1063, suggesting that the man may have been involved in fighting at the time of the Norman invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The bones had been found in Lewes on the grounds of a medieval hospital, and so it had been thought that the man died at the Battle of Lewes, which occurred in 1264. “There is no record of any skirmishes happening in Lewes or any other towns in Sussex at the Norman Conquest, but this suggests that the Normans didn’t just turn up and say, ‘We’re in charge’ and everyone said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ It begins to paint a picture of what might have happened in the aftermath,” Edwina Livesey of Sussex Archaeological Society told BBC News. The new dates make the bones the only human remains ever recorded that are related to the Norman invasion.

Tuesday, May 20

Prehistoric Trash May Have Protected Peru’s Coastline

ORONO, MAINE—The Spanish conquest of the Inca empire in the sixteenth century had an unexpected impact on Peru’s northern coastline, according to a new study by Daniel Belknap and Dan Sandweiss of the University of Maine. They examined the massive sand dunes along the ridges of the coastline and found that millions of discarded mollusk shells had held sediments deposited by the combined effects of earthquakes and El Niño events in place for some 5,000 years. After the conquest, the local population was decimated by disease and those who survived were moved inland. New sediments deposited on the ridges were not protected from harsh winds. “You don’t think that pre-Columbian people can have such a significant effect on the landscape, but clearly they can,” Sandweiss told Science Now

Cahokia’s Ceremonial Road Confirmed

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—The presence of a ceremonial road running through the center of Cahokia has been confirmed by Sarah Baires of the University of Illinois. She uncovered distinct layers of fill dirt that resembles other monuments at the site. Known as the Rattlesnake Causeway, the elevated earthen road stretches from the Grand Plaza through the center of the city, and ends in Rattlesnake Mound. Cahokia’s buildings and the causeway may all have been constructed to align with the lunar standstill, when the moon rises at its southernmost point in the sky, every 18.6 years. “Why would Cahokians have built this one kilometer-long earthen feature after they constructed everything else? To me, it makes much more sense that this was one of the foundational pieces of the Cahokian landscape,” she told Western Digs. Traces of the road were first uncovered in 1927, but some thought it may have been a natural feature or an early railroad bed. 

Rare Compound Found on Song-Dynasty Tea Bowls

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Catherine Dejoie of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology led an international team of scientists in the analysis of the chemical composition of Jian bowls, made some 1,000 years ago in China’s Fujian Province. The bowls, which are known for retaining heat and for their patterned glaze, were made from local iron-rich clay and coated with a mixture of clay, limestone, and wooden ash. When the bowls were fired, the clay hardened, the coating melted, and oxygen within the glaze pushed iron ions to the surface. As the glaze cooled, molten iron flux flowed down the sides of the bowls and crystallized into iron oxides, forming the bowls’ characteristic patterns. X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and other techniques revealed that rare epsilon-phase iron oxide was formed on the bowls in two of the three patterns. This type of iron oxide is highly valued for its persistent magnetization, high resistance to corrosion, and lack of toxicity, but it is difficult to create with modern equipment. “The next step will be to understand how it is possible to reproduce the quality of epsilon-phase iron oxide with modern technology,’ Dejoie announced at the Berkeley Lab

Monday, May 19

Neolithic Artwork Found in Northern Africa

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A tourist has discovered Neolithic artwork in a shallow cave in the Egyptian Western Desert that supports the suggestion that ancient Egyptian culture drew on cultural influences from Africa as well as the Near East. Giulio Lucarini of Cambridge University and co-director of the Archaeological Mission in the Farafra Oasis examined the etchings last month. He thinks the images, including a giraffe, a cow-like mammal, two boats, and a human hand, could date to between 6000 and 5,500 B.C. The drawings resemble those from another site in the region known as Wadi el Obeiyid Cave, discovered in 1995. “Our work shows that people living in the Eastern Sahara had a significant and developed culture which fed into the development of the Pharaonic civilization and beyond,” Lucarini announced at the University of Cambridge

Medieval Monastery Excavated in Sudan

AL-GHAZALI, SUDAN—Polish archaeologists are excavating a large Byzantine-era church made of sandstone blocks in Sudan that was located on a busy trade route. “Along the east wall of the monastery we dug out a row of 15 toilets. However it may sound and look, it is an important discovery. Nowhere else in Nubia has such a large sanitary complex been discovered,” Artur Obluski of the University of Chicago told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also conserved the plaster walls of the church, which date to the first half of the seventh century and were decorated with Christian images and the names of the four archangels. “By removing a thick layer of mud, we restored part of the original appearance of the church, which is now glowing white from a distance,” added Cristobal Calaforra-Rzepka, head of the conservation team. 

Three Burial Chambers Discovered in Cyprus

LIMASSOL, CYPRUS—Three burial chambers were discovered when the roof of a cave collapsed during landscaping work in southern Cyprus. The tomb, which dates to the second or first centuries B.C., contained seven sets of skeletal remains, amphorae, and small artifacts. “Archaeologically, it is a very interesting area,” archaeologist Yiannis Violaris of the Antiquities Department told the Cyprus Mail

18th-Century Deposits May Have Had a Magical Purpose

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN—Excavations in the British Virgin Islands have uncovered evidence of ritual practices of English plantation residents in the eighteenth century. At the first site, John Chenoweth of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and his team unearthed a cache of grape shot—small iron balls meant to be shot from a cannon—that had been buried in two postholes under a two-room sugar plantation house. Chenoweth thinks the iron grape shot may have served a magical purpose, since it was in short supply and valuable to the English who needed to protect themselves from the Spanish and were concerned about slave uprisings. On another island, the team recovered a whelk shell that had been modified to hold fish bones, pins, and the bones of a Puerto Rican racer snake. It had been placed in the foundation of another two-room plantation house, and resembles a witch’s bottle, found in England and America. Chenoweth told Live Science that witch’s bottles are “seen as an effort to protect the house against bad magic basically, spirits and spells that might seek to harm some of the occupants of the house.”