Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 13

Danish Museum Repatriates Etruscan Artifacts

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Ny Carlsbeg Glyptotek will return a collection of some 500 ancient artifacts to Italy. Some of the objects, such as an Etruscan eighth-century B.C. bronze chariot, a shield, weapons, incense burners, and tableware, are believed to have been illegally excavated from the Sabine necropolis at Colle del Forno. The museum acquired most of these artifacts in the 1970s from a now discredited art dealer. In exchange for the return of the looted items, the Italian ministry of culture will lend “significant artifacts” to the Danish museum on a rotating basis. “What at first looked as if it would turn into a legal, political deadlock, has now, through an intense academic dialogue been transformed into a powerful and visionary agreement,” Glyptotek director Flemming Friborg told The Art Newspaper. For more on the Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

23 Additional Shipwrecks Discovered in Greek Waters

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Last month, a team of American and Greek divers located 23 shipwrecks in the waters around Fourni, a collection of 13 small islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. While the waters around the islands are considered to be safe, they were heavily traveled along routes stretching from east to west and north to south. Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Live Science that ships anchored at Fourni were occasionally caught in storms that crashed them into the island’s tall cliffs. “It looks like the scene of a giant car crash, with these ceramics cascading down,” he said. Combined with discoveries made last fall, the team has spotted a total of 45 ancient wrecks, ranging in date from the sixth century B.C. to the 1800s. Amphoras, lamps, cooking pots, and anchors have been found at the wreck sites. The team has explored less than half of the coastline in the archipelago, however, and only in waters shallower than 213 feet. The next phase of the project could employ remotely operated underwater vehicles. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

Traces of Scotland’s First Farmers Found

WELLHILL, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow’s Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot project (SERF) have discovered faint marks in the soil at a site in Scotland that might have been made by a hand-held plow known as an ard. Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow told The Courier that these marks are evidence of the earliest-known farming activity in Scotland. Pieces of 6,000-year-old pottery were found close to the plow marks. “Evidence for plowing and fields in Neolithic Britain is incredibly rare and so the excavation of the ard marks at Wellhill is a very significant discovery that suggests a farming economy had taken hold in this location only a few generations after farming began in Britain around 4000 B.C.,” he explained. For more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Bronze Age Couple Unearthed in Russia

IRKUTSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the skeletons of a man and a woman who had been buried holding hands some 4,500 years ago have been unearthed near Lake Baikal. Dmitry Kichigin of Irkutsk National Research Technical University said that a ring of white jade had been placed over of the man’s eye sockets, and three more such rings had been placed on his chest. Red deer and musk deer teeth were found on his skull and around his feet, suggesting that he had been wearing a decorated hat and footwear. A small bag at his knees held metal implements. The woman, who may have been his wife or concubine, was buried with a large jade knife. Her upper body has been damaged by rodents. For more, go to "4,000-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered in Siberia."

Tuesday, July 12

“Holy Island” Excavation Reveals Possible Tower Foundation

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologist Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice has found traces of two structures on Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England known for its seventh-century priory and Christian saints. One trench revealed the foundation of a massive wall that may have been the foundation for a tower built without mortar, probably during the early medieval period. A second trench revealed traces of a similar structure that may have been a church. Historical sources dating to the eighth century refer to two churches, a guesthouse, a dormitory, and a watchtower on Lindisfarne. “Holy Island is one of the most significant sites in Britain in terms of early medieval heritage, there is a real possibility that we have uncovered two very significant buildings associated with the early Christian foundation of the priory which could provide a tangible link to the time of St. Cuthbert,” Sara Rushton of Northumberland County Council told the Berwick Advertiser. For more, go to "The First Vikings."

Neolithic Village Unearthed in Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—More than 20 round buildings dating to as early as the ninth century B.C. have been unearthed at a village site near the southern coast of Cyprus. The Associated Press reports that the walls of the buildings were made of earth and wooden poles, and many of the buildings had plastered floors. Most also had fireplaces. The structures had been placed around a larger, circular building thought to have served as a communal space. The excavation team, led by Francois Briois of France’s School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences and Jean-Denis Vigne of France’s National Center for Scientific Research-National Museum of Natural History, also unearthed stone tools and vessels, shell beads and pendants, a millstone, the remains of domesticated dogs and cats, and bones of hunted boar and birds. The scientists also found evidence that the village inhabitants cultivated emmer wheat. For more, go to "Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus."

Evidence Suggests Brazil’s Capuchins Have Long History of Tool Use

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Capuchin monkeys living in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been using stone tools to open cashew nuts for at least 700 years, or about 100 generations, according to an investigation conducted by a team from Oxford University and the University of São Paulo. Michael Haslam, head of Oxford’s Primate Archaeology project, said in a Los Angeles Times report that the tools changed little over time, suggesting that the capuchins “are very good at transmitting the behavior over and over again.” The tools include small, hard stone hammers and sandstone anvils, which are left in caches at cashew processing sites. Haslam and his colleagues say the tools are the oldest non-human tools found outside of Africa, and the oldest-known tools not made by humans or chimpanzees. “It may be that part of the reason that capuchins were able to colonize this area is that they found a technological solution—stone tool use—to overcome these plant defenses,” Haslam said. Capuchins are thought to have arrived in the region a half-million years ago. Further excavation could reveal a long history of capuchin tool use. For more, go to "Earliest Stone Tools."

Monday, July 11

Anglo-Saxon Grave Marker Found

LINDISFARNE, ENGLAND—A volunteer working on an excavation on Lindisfarne Island off England’s northeast coast has discovered an Anglo-Saxon grave marker dating to the mid-seventh or eighth century A.D. According to the BBC, the team is searching for evidence of the earliest monastery on the island, and the marker may prove to be an important clue to its location. "It's unimpeachable evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity and confirms we're hot on the trail of the very earliest monastery here in Lindisfarne," says Durham University archaeologist David Petts, who is the project’s co-director. The name on the stone appears to end in “frith,” which is common in Anglo-Saxon names. Scholars are still deciphering the rest of the letters on the grave marker. To read more about Anglo-Saxon archaeology in this part of England, go to “Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

New Findings at a Royal Danish Castle

VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Excavations at a twelfth-century castle on the south coast of the Danish island of Zealand have shown much of its fortifications were built during the reign of a king who was previously not believed to have had a role in its the construction. The Local reports that Vordingborg Castle was originally built by King Valdemar the Great, and that scholars believed subsequent construction at the site was conducted by the Danish kings Valdemar II and Valdemar IV. But now archaeologists have dated extensive wood remains at the site to the late twelfth century, when Denmark was ruled by King Canute VI. "He didn't just build over the castle, he expanded it continuously," says Aarhus University archaeologist Lars Sass Jensen. "He was, in other words, a king that invested heavily in the site as well as in its political function as a base for Baltic Sea expansion." For more on medieval archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”

Ancient Roman Bathhouse Discovered

ROME, ITALY—Construction of a new Orthodox church in a Roman suburb has led to the discovery of an ancient Roman bathhouse and a number of tombs dating to between the first and fourth centuries A.D. The Local reports that archaeologists found the bathhouse's heating and plumbing systems intact, as well as its tile floor mosaics. The bathhouse may have once been part of a villa, but it was built near to a heavily trafficked road that led to Rome’s port, so it might have been frequented by travelers. “The baths could have been a stop-off point along the road," says archaeologist Renato Sebastiani. "We know of the existence of others.” The tombs belonged to lower-middle class Romans, and while the earliest individuals were cremated, later ones were interred according to early Christian practices. To read in-depth about archaeology in the area, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.”  

Philistine Cemetery Unearthed in Israel

ASHKELON, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists have excavated a 3,000-year-old Philistine cemetery at the site of Ashekelon in southern Israel. The first such necropolis to be discovered, it consists of more than 150 burials, some of which follow Aegean funerary practices, rather than Near Eastern ones. That supports the idea that the Philistines originated in the Aegean and were not indigenous to the Levant. “This forms a baseline for what 'Philistine' is," says Wheaton College archaeologist Daniel M. Master, who is the dig's co-director. "We can already say that the cultural practices we see here are substantially different from the Canaanites and the highlanders in the east." Small ceramic perfume vials were found near the skulls of many of the skeletons, and a pottery sherd inscribed with Crypto-Minoan writing dating to the eleventh century B.C. was also discovered. To read more about the Philistines, go to “Temple of the Storm God.”