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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 19

Coin Cache Discovered at Copenhagen’s Kastellet

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to The Copenhagen Post, a cache of coins has been discovered at Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress in the center of Copenhagen that was built in the seventeenth century. The coins, nine copper and 23 silver, date between 1649 and 1787. Most of them had been minted in Copenhagen, although some came from Norway and Germany. Musket balls and other pieces of ammunition were also found during the restoration work at the fortress, which is being conducted by the Museum of Copenhagen. To read about the largest coin hoard discovered in Britain see "Seaton Down Hoard."

Blick Mead in Path of Proposed Stonehenge Tunnel

AMESBURY, ENGLAND—The site of a Mesolithic camp known as Blick Mead, or Vespasian’s Camp, could be destroyed if a new 1.8-mile-long tunnel for the A303 is dug near Stonehenge. The 6,000-year-old camp is located about a mile and a half away from the monument, and is thought to have been occupied by hunter-gatherers who returned to Britain after the Ice Age. The bones of aurochs, flint tools, and possible structures have been uncovered. “Our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told Buckingham Today. A team from the university uncovered the 7,000-year-old remains of a meal of frogs’ legs and a natural spring at the site. To read more about the site, see "Frog Legs Eaten in Mesolithic England."

The Search for Spanish Vikings

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Irene García Losquiño of the University of Aberdeen is conducting the first comprehensive study of Viking sites in Spain. “There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale,” she said. She visited Galicia, in northern Spain, last spring, when a number of Viking anchors washed ashore in a storm. Working with Jan Henrik Fallgren of the University of Aberdeen and Ylva Backstrom of the University of Lund, García Losquiño found tell-tale signs of Vikings. “On the beach where the anchors were found there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction, which was used by the later Vikings in France. But with the help of a geographer using tomography we now think this was a longphort—a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbor,” she explained. The team has been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with satellite images to look for additional camps. “We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps,” she said. To read in-depth about some of the earliest evidence of Viking warfare, see "The First Vikings."

Thursday, December 18

Possible Viking Vessel Identified in Canada

OTTAWA, CANADA—Traces of bronze and glass have been detected on a piece of a small, 1,000-year-old stone vessel recovered from Baffin Island in the 1960s. According to Patricia Sutherland of the University of Aberdeen, Peter Thompson of Peter H. Thompson Geological Consulting, Ltd., and Patricia Hunt of the Geological Survey of Canada, who published their findings in the journal Geoarchaeology, the container was used as a crucible for melting bronze and casting small tools or ornaments. The glass formed when the rock was heated to high temperatures. Indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic did not practice high-temperature metalworking at this time, but a similar stone crucible has been found at a Viking site in Norway. “The crucible adds an intriguing new element to this emerging chapter in the early history of northern Canada. It may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico,” Sutherland told Sci-News.com. To read in-depth about some of the earliest evidence of Viking warfare, see "The First Vikings."

Cathedral Builders Reinforced Stone With Iron

PARIS, FRANCE—A team of French researchers from the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération, the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14, and the Université Paris 8, has extracted carbon from the iron used to support Gothic cathedrals, and used radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence to determine that such reinforcements had been implemented in the initial phase of construction. It had been thought that metal reinforcements were added during later modifications or repairs to the stone structures. Up until Europe’s Middle Ages, iron ore was smelted in furnaces powered by charcoal, and as its carbon was released, some of it was trapped in the metal. The new technique can zero in on this carbon for dating purposes. For example, the metallic tie-rods supporting the flying buttresses on the Gothic cathedral in Beauvais have been dated to the beginning of its construction, in the mid-thirteenth century. Graffiti on the flying buttresses dates to the eighteenth century, and it had been thought that the metal may have been added at that time. The cathedral choir in Bourges is supported by an iron chain that dates to the late twelfth century, the time of its construction. The chain, however, skirts a group of columns, while passing under some others, suggesting that it had not been part of the building plan, but had been added as needed by the construction crew. To read about an early medieval cemetery unearthed in France, see "Dark Age Necropolis."

Royal Entryway Discovered at Herod’s Palace

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at Herodium National Park has been unearthed by a team from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The entryway features a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels, and a palace vestibule decorated with frescoes. The archaeologists, Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman, and Rachel Chachy, think that the corridor was back-filled when the hilltop palace was converted into a royal burial mound, and a monumental stairway was constructed from the hill’s base to its peak, over the corridor. Coins and temporary structures from the Great Revolt (66-71 A.D.), and tunnels dug by rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 A.D.), were found in the corridor. The tunnels had been supported by wooden beams and a roof made of woven cypress branches. To read about a hoard dating to the Bar Kokhba Revolt, see "2,000-Year-Old Stashed Treasure."

Wednesday, December 17

The Secret Strength of Roman Concrete

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—An international, interdisciplinary team of scientists has used beams of x-rays at the Advanced Light Source of the U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to study the longevity and endurance of Roman architectural concrete. A reproduction of the Roman volcanic ash-lime mortar that had been used to build the walls of Trajan’s Markets was observed over the 180-day curing process, and compared to 1,900-year-old samples of the original. The team discovered that a crystalline binding hydrate prevents microcracks from spreading, so that the concrete maintains its chemical resilience and structural integrity, even when earthquakes occur. In addition, mixing Roman cement releases less carbon into the environment than mixing modern Portland cement, which is made by heating a mix of limestone and clay to a higher temperature than that required to form the Roman version. “If we can find ways to incorporate a substantial volumetric component of volcanic rock in the production of specialty concretes, we could greatly reduce the carbon emissions associated with their production and also improve their durability and mechanical resistance over time,” explained Marie Jackson of the University of California, Berkeley. To read more about how Roman concrete was used, see "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."

2,800-Year-Old Farm House Will Be Preserved

ROSH HA-‘AYIN, ISRAEL—A 23-room farm house dating to the eighth century B.C. was unearthed in central Israel ahead of a construction project. “Farm houses during this period served as small settlements of sorts whose inhabitants participated in processing agricultural produce. The numerous wine presses discovered in the vicinity of the settlement indicate the wine industry was the most important branch of agriculture in the region. A large silo, which was used to store grain, shows that the ancient residents were also engaged in growing cereal,” said excavation director Amit Shadman, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Built during the time of the Assyrian conquest, the farm house was inhabited during the Persian period and the Hellenistic period. In fact, a rare, Greek silver coin bearing the name of a military leader was found on one of the floors of the building. A lime kiln dating to the Ottoman period was also uncovered. The site will be preserved and opened to visitors. To read about an intriguing discovery at another farm site in Israel, see "Crusader-Era Seal Unearthed in Jerusalem." 

Laser Technology Reveals Rickets in Mary Rose Sailors

LONDON, ENGLAND—Raman spectroscopy, a non-destructive laser technology, has been used to analyze leg bones of sailors who died on King Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, which sank in battle on July 19, 1545. The tests were conducted at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital, as part of a study by a team from University College London, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, and The Mary Rose Trust. Some of the bones appeared anatomically healthy, and some were abnormal in shape. The results of the testing confirmed that the abnormal bones also had chemical abnormalities, perhaps caused by rickets, a metabolic bone disease caused by deficiencies in the diet. “This is the first time that this laser technology has been used to study bone disease in archaeological human bone. We have identified chemical changes in the bones, without damaging them. There is strong evidence to suggest that many of the sailors had suffered from childhood rickets and we hope to apply the Raman technique to the study of modern day rickets,” said Dr. Jemma Kerns, RAMAN Clinical Study Manager at University College London and the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital. To read more about the Mary Rose, see "History's Top 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

8,000-Year-Old Olive Oil Found in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Traces of olive oil have been detected on 8,000-year-old pot sherds unearthed at the site of Ein Zippori, located in the Lower Galilee. “Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive species that was domesticated and joined grain and legumes—the other kinds of field crops that we know were grown then. Those crops are known from at least 2,000 years prior to the settlement at Ein Zippori. With the adoption of olive oil the basic Mediterranean diet was complete,” Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement reported by The Times of Israel. The well-preserved oil closely resembles modern olive oil. Evidence of olive oil production has been found at the 7,700-year-old site of Kfar Samir, now underwater off the coast of Haifa. To read about another recent Neolithic discovery in Israel, see "7,500-Year-Old Well Discovered."