Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.”

Tuesday, November 01

An Update from the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The Chronicle Live reports that researcher Pam Graves, a member the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project team at the University of Durham, has been investigating what happened to the Scottish soldiers who survived imprisonment by Oliver Cromwell’s forces after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. (The team has recovered and studied the remains of some of the 1,700 Scottish soldiers who died while imprisoned.) Graves’ research indicates that the survivors went on to do a range of things, including working in the salt pans in England’s South Shields, draining the Fens in eastern England, being sent to Ireland and France for military service, and being sold into indentured servitude in America. Some of those sent to America ended up working at the Saugus ironworks in Lynn, Massachusetts, and at sawmills in Maine. “Tracing their names through history also shows us what these men did once they were released from indenture,” said Graves. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

4,000-Year-Old Grave in Wales Yields Intact Beaker

GWYNEDD, WALES—The Daily Post reports that a 4,000-year-old cemetery has been unearthed by contract archaeologists at the Cefn Graianog Quarry. They found two graves lined with stone slabs, the larger of which contained two pots known as beakers. The smaller of the two pots was found damaged and had to be carefully reconstructed, explained Iwan Parry of Brython Archaeology, while the larger pot was found intact. The site has also yielded Bronze Age pits containing charcoal and pottery. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

“Rapid and Irreversible” Decay Possible at Wetland Sites

YORK, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that a study conducted by chemists Kirsty High and Kirsty Penkman of the University of York simulated recent conditions at Star Carr, a waterlogged Mesolithic archaeological site, to see how environmental changes could affect ancient artifacts made from organic materials. Scientists had noticed that bone and wood recovered at Star Carr was deteriorating—the wood was crumbly, and the bone had demineralized. The change in preservation status at the site was thought to be due to a drop in the water table, which made the soil much more acidic. High and Penkman placed samples of bone and wood in peat from Star Carr, garden compost, and sand to see how they reacted in saturated, fluctuating, or dry conditions. After 12 months, they found that both the wood and bone placed in the peat from Star Carr had deteriorated rapidly. Penkman explained that pollution and changes in land use place wetlands and waterlogged archaeological sites at risk. As a result, she thinks that leaving organic remains in situ may no longer be the best way to protect them for future research. To read about a recent discoery at Star Carr, go to “Mesolithic Markings.”

Ostrich Eggshell Beads Found in Denisova Cave

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that beads made of ostrich eggshells were discovered in Denisova Cave, which is located in the Altai Mountains. The beads measure less than one-half inch in diameter and are thought to be between 45,000 and 50,000 years old. “This is an amazing piece of work,” said researcher Maksim Kozlikin of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. “The ostrich eggshell is quite robust material, but the holes in the beads must have been made with a fine stone drill.” He thinks the beads could have been part of a bracelet or a necklace, or may have been sewn into clothing. The presence of the beads in Denisova Cave suggests that the people who lived there had trade contacts to import either the eggshells or the finished beads. The jewelry items were found in the same archaeological layer where a bracelet made of dark green stone was found in 2008. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”

Monday, October 31

Ancient Egyptian Boat Images Discovered in Abydos

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—More than 120 images of boats have been found on the walls of a building in Abydos, Egypt, that dates back 3,800 years, according to Live Science. The building was built near the tomb of the pharaoh Senusret III (r. 1836–1818 B.C.). The images, which range in size from four inches to five feet across, would have overlooked a real wooden boat, only a few planks of which remain. The researchers, led by Josef Wegner of the University of Pennsylvania, believe there were even more images on the walls in ancient times. Inside the building, they also found more than 145 ceramic vessels. It appears that the boat images were drawn quickly by a number of people, possibly as part of a funerary ceremony for Senusret III. The pottery vessels may have been used to spill water on the ground during such a ceremony to symbolically float the boat. Further excavations are planned to learn more about the site. For more about archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Notorious Coin Discovered in Deadwood

DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA—The Rapid City Journal reports that a notorious and rare nineteenth-century U.S. coin known as a “Racketeer Nickel” has been identified in the archaeological collections of the Historic Preservation Committee of Deadwood. In 1883, the U.S. Mint issued a five-cent nickel that bore a design similar to five-dollar gold coins then in circulation. Grifters quickly began to gold plate the nickels and passed them off as five-dollar coins. The Racketeer Nickel was recently identified by coin experts Kevin and Margie Akins during their analysis of coins discovered in a 2001 excavation of Deadwood’s Chinatown district. According to Kevin Akins, today fake versions of the nickel abound in online auctions. “It’s pretty easy to plate a nickel,” says Akins. “It makes such a great story, but they’re fakes. None of them has the provenance of this particular coin, the Deadwood Racketeer Nickel.” To read more, go to “America’s Chinatowns.”

Researchers Return to a Phoenician Shipwreck

ISLAND OF GOZO, MALTA—An international team of underwater archaeologists returned this year to the site of a Phoenician shipwreck off the coast of the Maltese island of Gozo. The Times of Malta reports the researchers discovered a unique jug at the site that was made locally, demonstrating that the ship had docked somewhere on the Maltese archipelago. “We now have a ship that was actually leaving the Maltese islands before it sank off Gozo, because the island was one of its port calls,” says University of Malta archaeologist Timmy Gambin. “A shipwreck without any local items could mean that the ship just happened to sink close to Malta during its voyage.” Amphoras from North Africa and western Sicily were also found, demonstrating the Maltese islands were part of an international trade network. To read about a Phoenician shipwreck found off the coast of Spain, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks: Bajo Campagna.”