Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 15

New Thoughts on the Sahara Desert

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The International Business Times reports that David Wright of Seoul National University thinks that Neolithic cattle herders may have contributed to the desertification of the Sahara as they spread west from the Nile River some 8,000 years ago. Cattle grazing and the loss of vegetation may have been enough to tip the balance from the green pastures of 6,000 years ago to the spread of scrub vegetation, changing atmospheric conditions, and less frequent monsoon rains. Wright wants to obtain cores from former lake beds in the Sahara to study the vegetation records. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”

Fossils Suggests Leopards Roamed Neanderthal Landscape

SAN DANIELE PO, ITALY—Live Science reports that a fossil recovered in northern Italy, from the banks of the Po River, has been identified as the right shinbone of a leopard. It had been previously thought that leopards only lived in Italy’s mountainous regions during the Ice Age. Based upon its size, paleontologist Davide Persico of the University of Parma thinks the bone came from a large female or a young male. The age of the bone is not known, but other fossils from the area, including the remains of straight-tusked elephants, steppe bison, wooly mammoths, giant deer, rhinos, and elk, have been dated to no older than 180,000 years ago. “Probably, they lived on the Po plain with Neanderthal man,” Persico said of the carnivorous cat. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Tuesday, March 14

400,000-Year-Old Cranium Discovered in Portugal

MADRID, SPAIN—According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, a 400,000-year-old skull has been found at Gruta da Aroeira in Portugal, along with animal bones and Acheulean stone tools. The fossil was freed from a block of sediments at the Centro de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion y Comportamiento Humanos over a two-year period. The partial skullcap, pieces of jaw and nasal floor, and two fragmentary teeth exhibit a mixture of traits, including some that are similar to those attributed to Neanderthals, and others to Homo erectus. Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis has suggested that archaic members of the genus Homo were all one species exhibiting different, regional combinations of traits across the Old World. “What this fossil does for me is it reinforces what I’ve maintained for some time that this is all just normal variation,” he said. Genetic analysis of archaic human remains indicates that different groups may have interbred and produced viable offspring, an ability attributed to creatures in the same species. “My opinion would be that this fossil stresses the need to overcome the species question in order to understand the humans living in Eurasia about half a million years ago,” added João Zilhão of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Medieval Kiln Unearthed in Southeastern England

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—The Daily Gazette reports that an excavation conducted by the Colchester Archaeological Trust ahead of construction work has uncovered a rare medieval pottery kiln. The well-preserved, wood-fired kiln was spotted with a magnetometry survey. Philip Crummy, director of the trust, explained that during the medieval period, the excavation site was a busy industrial area. “It is really good because we will be able to tie down some of the pottery in the town to where it actually came from,” added Colchester Council archaeological advisor Jess Tipper. The kiln and its artifacts could be displayed in the Colchester Castle Museum. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Colonial-Era Artifacts Found at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Malaysian Digest reports that a team led by archaeologist Goh Hsiao Mei of the University Sains Malaysia has found coins, porcelain, ceramics, and glass dating to the colonial era in the moat at Fort Cornwallis, a star-shaped structure built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century. The fort was first built of wood, and then strengthened with bricks. The moat was added in 1804 and was lined with charcoal and bitumen. The fort was never attacked, however. An outbreak of malaria in the 1920s prompted the municipal council to fill in the water feature. For more on Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”

Aberdeen Archaeologists Plan Search for 16th-Century School

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen will look for traces of a sixteenth-century grammar school that was situated in front of King’s College, a site now occupied by King’s College Chapel, according to The Scotsman. “It acted as a preparatory school for pupils who wished to study at the university and pupils underwent a grueling timetable, with prayers, classes on the Latin authors, and language lessons,” said project leader Gordon Noble. The team members hope to find evidence of the building’s ground plan, artifacts from the school, and develop a better understanding of educational practices in the years before the Protestant Reformation, which is thought to have brought about a more egalitarian educational system. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”

Monday, March 13

Murals Depict Wardrobe Choices During China's Liao Dynasty

DATONG CITY, CHINA—Live Science reports that a second circular tomb decorated with vivid murals has been excavated by a team from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology. The entrance to the tomb, which is believed to date to the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 907–1125) and was discovered in 2007, had been sealed with bricks, but the archaeologists were able to enter it through a hole in the arch-shaped roof. Once inside, they found ceramics and an urn containing cremated human remains thought to belong to a husband and wife. The walls of the tomb had been decorated with murals depicting servants, cranes, and clothing hanging on stands. The clothing had been painted in shades of blue, beige, yellow, and pink. One of the garments features a diamond-grid pattern outlined in green and yellow with a small red flower in each diamond. Plates holding accessories such as a headdress, bracelets, hairpins, and combs were shown on a rectangular table in front of the clothing rack. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Zinc Zone.”

Large Structure Discovered in Japan's Ancient Capital

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that holes for nine pillars of a large structure dating to the late-seventh century have been unearthed at the “square of zelkova trees,” in the ancient capital of Asuka. The imperial palace stood to the south of square, which was known as the place where the Empress Saimei entertained guests from remote provinces, and her son, Emperor Tenji, cemented his reign by removing the competing Soga clan from power. The holes for the newly discovered building measure nearly three feet deep and four feet in diameter, and suggest that the building measured 36 feet long by 20 feet wide. “The square was almost certainly a multipurpose space,” explained Kanekatsu Inokuma of Kyoto Tachibana University. “The building may have been the venue of the banquets or some sort of lodging.” Masashi Kinoshita of Tokyo Gakugei University thinks the building may have served as a warehouse for the palace. To read more about Japan, go to “Dogu Figurine.”

Woman Buried in Viking Grave in Demark Was Born in Norway

RANDERS, DENMARK—According to a report in The Copenhagen Post, archaeologist Ernst Stidsing of East Jutland Museum says that a woman buried in a Viking grave in Randers, Denmark, was born in southern Norway. He arrived at this conclusion based on the style of her bronze and silver jewelry, and the results of strontium isotope analysis of her teeth. He added that the high-status woman may have traveled to Denmark to marry. To read about a young woman who traveled to Denmark more than 3,000 years ago, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

Algiers Metro Station Dig Yields Trove of Artifacts

ALGIERS, ALGERIA—The AFP reports that excavation for a metro station in the Algerian capital has uncovered artifacts spanning a period of 2,000 years, including coins, weapons, a fifth-century public building from the ancient Roman port town of Icosium paved with mosaics, and a seventh-century Byzantine necropolis. The excavation, begun in 2009, has also revealed the remains of the Ottoman-era Es Sayida mosque, which was demolished in 1831 by the French colonial government. Revisions to the plans for the Martyrs Square metro station, set to open later this year, will incorporate an archaeological museum. To read about discoveries made during construction of a subway in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”