Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 22

Medieval Hospital Foundations Found Under York Theatre Royal

YORK, ENGLAND—The foundations of St. Leonard’s Hospital have been found under the stage and auditorium at the site of the York Theatre Royal. It had been thought that the medieval foundations had been destroyed in the Victorian era, but they have been found intact. “It is amazing that, considering all the alterations to the theater since 1764, so much of the medieval hospital has survived under the stalls and elsewhere within the building,” chief archaeologist Ben Reeves told The Northern Echo. To read about another recent medieval discovery in England, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."

Early Moche Temple Discovered in Peru

LIMA, PERU—A small temple thought to predate the great temples of the Moche culture has been discovered on a mountain in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru. The two small mounds on the mountain are surrounded by looted cemeteries. “The temple, which is 30 meters wide and 40 meters long, dates back to the earliest stage of the Mochica culture,” archaeologist Walter Alva, Director of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, told The Andina News Agency. The oldest Mochica structure at the site is a white and yellow low platform. There are signs of erosion of the adobe structures from heavy rain and subsequent repairs. “This might imply that heavy rains affected the place in early Mochica’s times and that its origin must have been characterized by small religious and administrative centers that later evolved into huge pyramidal constructions such as Sipan and Pampagrande,” he added.

Dogs May Have Split From Wolves 10,000 Years Earlier Than Thought

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—DNA from an ancient Taimyr wolf bone from Siberia has been compared to DNA from modern dogs by Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, and Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. They say that the specimen, dated to 35,000 years ago, represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs, and shares a large number of genes with today’s Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs. “Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed,” Dalén said in a press release. It is also possible that there was a divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of those populations gave rise to modern wolves, but if that were so, then the second wolf population would have had to have gone extinct in the wild. “It is possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time,” added Skoglund. Earlier genetic studies have suggested that the ancestors of domesticated dogs split from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Ancient Aqueduct Revealed in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have excavated a section of Jerusalem’s ancient Lower Aqueduct, which was uncovered during the construction of a new sewer line in the Umm Tuba quarter of the city. “The Lower Aqueduct to Jerusalem, which the Hasmonean kings constructed more than 2,000 years ago in order to provide water to Jerusalem, operated intermittently until about 100 years ago,” excavation director Ya’akov Billig said in a press release. The aqueduct began at a spring near Solomon’s Pools and sloped gently downward for more than ten miles along an open channel until the Ottoman period, when a terracotta pipe was installed inside the channel to protect the water as it traveled through the growing city. This section of the aqueduct has been preserved for future generations. To read more about ancient aqueducts, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."

Thursday, May 21

Hundreds of Gaming Pieces Unearthed in Utah Cave

EDMONTON, CANADA—A cave on the shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake has yielded butchered bison and elk bones and hundreds of child-sized moccasins made by the members of the Promontory culture in the late thirteenth century. Now archaeologist John Ives of the University of Alberta is studying dice, hoops, and carved pieces of cane from the cave that are thought to have been used for gambling. “The numbers and diversity of gaming artifacts that we see in the Promontory record are unparalleled in western North America,” Ives told Western Digs. Many of the gaming pieces were discovered around a central hearth near the entrance to the cave, in what was probably a social, domestic space. “The propensity of the Promontory people for gaming signifies a genuine interest in engaging in peaceful interactions with neighbors extending over the far-flung area in which they ranged,” added University of Alberta’s Gabriel Yanicki, who has studied historical accounts of games played with similar objects. To read about a famous collection of figurines found in Utah, go to "Investigating a Decades-Old Disappearance."

Saxon Butter-Churn Lid Found in England

STAFFORD, ENGLAND—Carbon dating has revealed that the lid to a butter churn unearthed during construction work in Staffordshire dates to the early medieval period, between A.D. 715 and 890. “During this period this part of Staffordshire was part of the Mercian heartland and was populated by a pagan tribe called the Pencersaete. Existing knowledge of this period for the north and east of the Midlands and the UK in general is very scarce, so this find is fantastic and of regional significance,” senior archaeologist Emma Tetlow of Headland Archaeology told The Staffordshire Newsletter. To read more about Anglo-Saxon England, go to "The Kings of Kent."

Farmers’ Reduced Mobility Led to Lighter Bones

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—A recent study of the bones of hundreds of people who lived in Europe over the past 33,000 years suggests that the rise of agriculture and the corresponding reduced mobility led to a change in human bones. Christopher Ruff of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a team of researchers from Europe and the United States took molds of arm and leg bones in museum collections and scanned them with portable x-ray machines. “By comparing the lower limbs with the upper limbs, which are little affected by how much walking or running a person does, we could determine whether the changes we saw were due to mobility or to something else, like nutrition,” Ruff said in a press release. The team found that leg-bone strength began to decline in the Mesolithic era, some 10,000 years ago, while arm bone strength remained fairly steady. “The decline continued for thousands of years, suggesting that people had a very long transition from the start of agriculture to a completely settled lifestyle. But by the medieval period, bones were about the same strength as they are today.” To read more about the evolution of human limbs, go to "No Changeups on the Savannah."

Denmark’s Egtved Girl May Have Been Born in Germany

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Isotopic analysis of the preserved hair, teeth, and nails of the Egtved Girl show that she had not been born in Egtved, Denmark, where her partial remains were discovered in a Bronze Age barrow in 1921. Analysis of the strontium isotopes in one of her first molars shows that she had been born outside of Denmark, and when combined with the strontium isotopic signatures obtained from her clothing, scientists were able to pinpoint her place of origin to the Black Forest of southern Germany. Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark and the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen was also able to track the girl’s last journeys through an analysis of the strontium isotopic signatures in her long hair. “Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains a strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died. As an area’s strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to Denmark, and Egtved, about a month before she passed away,” Frei explained in a press release. To read more about prehistoric burials in Scandinavia, go to "Bog Bodies Rediscovered." 

Wednesday, May 20

More on the World’s Oldest Tools from Lomekwi 3

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Stone tools from northern Kenya have been dated to 3.3 million years ago, making them 700,000 years older than Oldowan artifacts. Louise Leakey and her team at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) created 3-D laser scans of the Lomekwi 3 tools to reveal very fine details on their surfaces. “The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone,” Sonia Harmand of TBI, Stony Brook University, and the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) said in Stony Brook University Happenings. Harmand and her colleague Jason Lewis discovered the site while looking for early stone tools in a dry riverbed along the western shore of Lake Turkana. Yet no hominin fossils or cut-marked bones have been found at the site, so the team isn’t sure who made the tools or how they were used. “Many have expected the threshold of stone tool-making to be pushed back in time, but the Lomekwi excavations really do represent a major advance in our understanding,” commented Richard Leakey, chair of TBI. For another recent discovery, see "Neanderthal Tool Time."

The Origins of Madagascar’s Dogs

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Peter Savolainen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology looked for traces of Indonesian ancestry in modern dogs from Madagascar, but found no connection to the pets of ancient Austronesian migrants. “Dogs, together with pigs and chickens, were important domestic animals in the Austronesian culture. So it would be expected that dogs were brought in the colonization of major new areas, and a seemingly total absence in Madagascar of dogs with Austronesian heritage is surprising,” he said in a press release. Madagascar’s human population has a high diversity of maternal and paternal lineages of Indonesian origin, however. Those migrants are thought to have traveled with domesticated pigs, chickens, and their dogs, whose genes have been detected in dogs in Hawaii, Southeast Asia, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand. “It is possible that if the dogs were brought along on these long journeys, they died from the hardship, or were used as a food source,” Savolainen speculated. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Navy Divers Recover Civil War-Era Ironclad

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—The wreckage of the CSS Georgia is being recovered by Navy divers to make way for the expansion of a shipping channel as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The ironclad gunboat was launched in 1863, but it was too heavy to travel under its own steam and leaked badly. The vessel was moored some five miles from Savannah and was scuttled by Confederate forces as Union troops seized the city in 1864. Sections of the wreckage will be recovered in segments from the muddy river bottom because they are too large to handle, and special precautions are being taken to handle the ship’s projectiles and ordnance. “You’re dealing with something that’s been down there for 150 years; I can’t imagine that any part will be easy,” Navy Diver 2nd Class Jonny Pounders told 13 News Now. The project is expected to take two months to complete. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."