Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, November 04

Recovered Bones May Have Been Earhart’s

NIKUMARORO, REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI—CNN reports that human remains discovered on the island of Nikumaroro in 1940 may have belonged to aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937. The skeleton, which British authorities had identified as male, was eventually lost, but researchers with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) obtained the original files of the examination, which include measurements of the bones. Forensic anthropologists determined that the measurements are consistent with a woman of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin. Recently, while reviewing those measurements, Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee noticed that the skeleton in question had unusually long forearms. He joined forces with Jeff Glickman, a forensic imaging specialist, to analyze photographs of Earhart. They concluded that her forearms are nearly identical to those of the recovered skeleton. The TIGHAR team suggests that Earhart’s navigator, Frederick J. Noonan, died shortly after the plane crashed, and that his body was washed away by the island’s tides, since Earhart reported him injured in her initial distress calls, and only one set of human remains was recovered. “We believe she survived heroically, and alone, for a period of time, in terrible circumstances,” said Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR executive director. For more, go to “Last Flight of a Tuskegee Airman.”

Megalithic Carving Spotted at Ireland’s Hellfire Club

DUBLIN, IRELAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists working at the site of the Hellfire Club, an eighteenth-century hunting lodge built with stones taken from nearby passage tombs, spotted a carving that may be 5,000 years old on a damaged stone that had long been part of a fire ring. The image is nearly invisible, but the changing fall sunlight hit the stone at an angle and revealed a long curving line cutting over two concentric circles. “This is a motif that appears in megalithic art at some of the most famous passage tombs in the country,” said archaeologist Neil Jackman of Abarta Heritage. The stone is being analyzed at Ireland’s National Museum, and could help researchers learn more about the destroyed passage tomb. To read about other discoveries in Ireland, go to “Treasures of Rathfarnham Castle.”

Legendary Medieval Well Uncovered in England

RAINHILL, ENGLAND—Discovery News reports that archaeologist Jamie Quartermaine of Historic England Heritage uncovered St. Anne’s Well on private land in northwest England that had been buried by years of farming. “The fabric of the well is consistent with a medieval date,” Quartermaine said. The structure, built of sandstone blocks and surrounded by a small, three-roomed structure to accommodate pilgrims, was associated with a nearby priory. Legend has it that the waters had healing powers, especially for eye and skin diseases, but there were also tales of a curse uttered by a sixteenth-century prior on the neighboring landowner. Pilgrims continued to travel to the well into the nineteenth century. They entered the shallow basin, descended two steps, and then submerged themselves in a four-foot-deep pool fed by the well below its floor. A stone conduit, now gone, carried away the overflow. Wooden edging will be placed around the well to protect it from farm machinery. To read about another discovery in northwest England, go to “Artifact: Silver Viking Coin.”

Another Australian Cave Offers Early Occupation Evidence

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—ABC News reports that a cave in Western Australia has yielded campfires, stone tools, animal bones, and emu eggshells dating back 25,000 years. Previous excavations at Yellabidde Cave indicated that its earliest inhabitants lived there 10,000 years ago. Carly Monks of the University of Western Australia, who has been working with Amangu traditional owners and elders, explained that the dates suggest people were living in the cave just before the last Ice Age. “So potentially there’s a lot more archaeology in the area that can tell us about this early period of site use,” she explained. Caves are thought to have been used by the first Australians to shelter from the heat during the warmest months of the year. For more on early cave use, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Thursday, November 03

Ireland’s Earliest-Known Burial Site Studied

COUNTY LIMERICK, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a highly polished adze recovered from an ancient burial on the banks of the River Shannon 15 years ago may have been made for the funeral. Microscopic analysis of the 9,000-year-old shale blade shows that it was only used for a short time before it was blunted and placed in the grave with cremated human remains. The site was then marked with a post. “We make the argument [the adze] was probably commissioned for the burial and was probably used as part of the funerary rites, possibly to cut the wood for the pyre for the cremation, or to cut the tree used as the grave post marker,” said lead researcher Aimée Little of the University of York. To read about the roots of Halloween in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

The Role of Climate in the Colonization of the Pacific

EUGENE, OREGON—The New York Times reports that geographer and climatologist Alvaro Montenegro of Ohio State University, anthropologist Scott Fitzpatrick of the University of Oregon, and archaeologist Richard Callaghan of the University of Calgary created computer simulations using recent satellite data sets of winds, ocean currents, land distribution, and El Niño and La Niña patterns to study possible routes for the colonization of the South Pacific. Archaeological evidence suggests that people left the Solomon Islands some 3,400 years ago, and traveled to other islands, such as Tonga and Samoa. But then they waited 2,000 years before traveling on to Hawaii, Tahiti, and New Zealand. The simulations suggest that for the first leg of the migration, the wind had been at the travelers’ backs. But when they reached the area around Samoa, the migrants had to develop new boating and navigation technologies to move against the wind before they could proceed to the rest of Oceania. To read more about Oceania, go to “Letter From the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

Australia’s Warratyi Rock Shelter Excavated

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—ABC News reports that a rock shelter in the arid interior of South Australia may have been inhabited 49,000 years ago. Giles Hamm of La Trobe University and Adnyamathanha elder Clifford Coulthard were conducting surveys in the Flinders Ranges when they found the site, known as Warratyi, near a spring surrounded by rock art. Excavations at the rock shelter, which has a blackened roof, have uncovered more than 4,000 artifacts, and 200 bone fragments from 16 mammals and one reptile. One of the animals was Diprotodon optatum, an extinct, giant wombat-like creature. The team also found egg shells from an ancient giant bird. “The only way those bones and shells got there [because of the steep incline up to the rock shelter] is because people brought them there [to eat],” said Gavin Prideaux of Flinders University. "In terms of megafauna that’s the really significant finding." Other discoveries at the site establish that ochre was used in Australia between 49,000 and 46,000 years ago, and also push back the timeline for the development of other technologies, such as bone needles and wood-handled tools. The findings, according to Prideaux, “smashed several paradigms about indigenous Australians.” To read about another recent discovery, go to “Rock Art Recorded in Remote Western Australia.”

Ochre May Have Had Many Uses in Middle Stone Age Ethiopia

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—It has been suggested that ochre was used by Middle Stone Age peoples for either utilitarian or symbolic purposes. Cosmos reports that a team of researchers led by Daniela Rosso of the University of Bordeaux examined 40,000-year-old ochre-processing tools and ochre-stained artifacts collected in a small area of Ethiopia’s Porc-Epic Cave with microscopy, spectroscopy, and X-rays. They found that the red and yellow powders were produced in a variety of colors and textures, perhaps for multiple different uses. For example, preparing ochre in a limestone or sandstone grindstone yielded a lighter-colored powder, while using harder basalt and quartzite grindstones affected the granularity of the ochre. Rosso and her team suggest that fine ochre with a clayish texture would have been made for symbolic body painting or cosmetics. Ochre of the mixed-grain size may have served utilitarian purposes, such as an ingredient in an adhesive used for attaching a blade to a handle or strap. The researchers add that a round-shaped stone found in the collection of ochre-related tools may have been used as a stamp to apply pigment to surfaces. For more, go to “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Neanderthal?

Wednesday, November 02

Coin Suggests New Construction Date for the Segovia Aqueduct

SEGOVIA, SPAIN—El País reports that the discovery of a coin has revised the construction date for the Segovia Aqueduct to the early years of the second century A.D. A team of researchers, including Santiago Martínez Caballero, director of the Segovia Museum; Víctor Manuel Cabañero Martín of the National Distance Education University; regional archaeologist Luciano Municio; and archaeologists Clara Martín García and José Miguel Labrador Vielve analyzed materials collected during an excavation at three of the aqueduct’s pillars in the Plaza del Azoguejo, the city’s old market square, in 1998. The fill in the foundations included ceramics from workshops in La Rioja dating to the first third of the second century A.D., and a Roman coin minted between A.D. 112 and 116 Previous studies of anchors used to hang large bronze letters on the arches of the aqueduct suggested that the structure had been erected around A.D. 98. For more, go to “Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain.”

Nineteenth-Century Shipwreck Found in Baltic Sea

MARIEHAMN, FINLAND—The Local, Sweden, reports that local divers discovered a mid-nineteenth-century shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of the Âland Islands. The well-preserved vessel still had its anchor and figurehead, along with hundreds of intact, unopened bottles. “It’s quite rare to find a wreck in this condition with cargo intact at a relatively shallow depth,” said Magnus Melin of Baltic Underwater Explorers. The non-profit group has received permission from local authorities to retrieve some of the bottles. Analysis of their contents could help identify the wreck. “We don’t know at the moment what will happen after that, but more non-destructive documentation will be done to identify the wreck,” Melin said. To read about a well-known Swedish shipwreck, go to “Mary Rose and Vasa.”

New Thoughts on the Aberdeen Bestiary

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that high-definition images of a medieval illuminated manuscript that once belonged to Henry VIII have revealed previously unknown marks on its pages. Art historian Jane Geddes of the University of Aberdeen said that the marks in the margins of the Aberdeen Bestiary indicate that it had not been finished and “tidied up” by the monks who created it for a wealthy individual, as had been thought. Rather, the marks suggest that the book was part of a monastery library. Sketches have been found in the margins, and prick marks on many of the images may have been made when illustrations were transferred to another copy. Some of the marks on the pages provide a guide to pronunciation for reading aloud. And, there are dirty finger marks on the bottom corners of the pages from turning them, and finger marks on the top center margins, perhaps made when turning the book around to show the illustrations to listeners. It is now thought that the manuscript could have been seized by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, rather than created for one of his ancestors. To read about one of Henry VIII's warships, go to “Mary Rose and Vasa.”

Possible High-Altitude Buffalo Jump Found in Wyoming

DUBOIS, WYOMING—The Casper Star Tribune reports that archaeologist Todd Guenther and his students from Central Wyoming College found a possible buffalo jump site in the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains. The team was surveying prehistoric campsites near the Dinwoody Glacier, when they found a mile-long series of lichen-covered cairns that led to a precipice, and stone flakes in a possible butchering area below it. Holes in the ground, surrounded by stones, were found near each end of the drive line. Known as shaman structures, it is thought that people used these pits to pray for a successful hunt. Guenther’s research suggests that these prehistoric people may have lived in the mountains all year long. He found that, in January, some of the ground in the region had been cleared of snow and ice by the wind. There were also free-flowing springs, and trees for fuel and shelter. “Would they have wasted weeks and weeks of work and expended thousands of calories carrying all the meat and pine nuts into the valleys below?” he asked. I think not.” To read in-depth about buffalo jumps, go to “Letter From Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”