Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 25

Cave Lion Bones May Represent Stone Age Sacrifices

BASHKIRIA, RUSSIA—Some 500 giant cave lion bones, ten stone spearheads, and the skull of a cave bear pierced by a spear have been recovered from Imanai Cave in the Ural Mountains. “Such a large quantity of giant cave lion bones at one site is really unique, the only one in the world so far discovered,” Pavel Kosintsev of the Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Science told The Siberian Times. He says that the bones were found deep in the cave, which is unusual for lions, so the bones may represent the remains of sick or injured animals that were brought into the cave by humans. The spearheads are the only signs of human activity found in the cave so far, however. “The recent findings, from the lower layers, can be older, up to 60,000 years ago. If we will get older data, it could be the world’s most ancient sanctuary of this type. But of course we must wait for the exact data,” he said.  To read about Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man."

Mycenaean Palace Complex Excavated

ATHENS, GREECE—Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced that the ongoing excavations at Laconia have uncovered a palace complex dating to the fifteenth or early fourteenth centuries B.C. reports that a fire destroyed several of the buildings, but preserved Linear B tablets and seals, which were found in what is thought to have been the palace’s archive. Records of commercial transactions, sanctuary offerings, male and female names, and names of places were among the documents written on unbaked clay. The site has also yielded a sanctuary containing clay and ivory figurines, decorative objects, and bronze swords. Another building contained fragments of colorful murals. To read more about the Bronze Age, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

18th-Century Shipwreck Discovered in Maryland River

CALVERT COUNTY, MARYLAND—Workers removing debris while repairing the US 50 Bridge over the Nanticoke River discovered timbers and alerted archaeologists with the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration. The intact keel, frames, and other timbers from an eighteenth-century vessel were lifted from the river and transferred to the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Laboratory. Researchers found that the ship was held together with wooden pegs and a few iron fasteners, and it had been built with wood from local oak trees. “The inadvertent discovery of this shipwreck is an amazing opportunity to study early maritime history. It reminds us how Marylanders used to move goods and people across the region,” SHA Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky said in a press release. A virtual reconstruction of the vessel will be produced with 3-D laser scans of the timbers. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

3-D Map Made of Lincoln’s Presidential Cottage

CORTLAND, NEW YORK—Scott Stull of the State University of New York, Cortland, and Michael “Bodhi” Rogers of Ithaca College have used lasers to create a 3-D map of President Lincoln’s Cottage, located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. The cottage, a 34-room Gothic revival mansion, served as Lincoln’s summer retreat from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, and was where he finished writing the Emancipation Proclamation. “This was a very important place for Lincoln because you could get away from the press of the crowd. And the design of the house was very well situated to get the summer breezes. The whole south side of the house opens up for some accentuated cross breezes from off this long hill,” Stull said in a press release. The house was also used by Presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. The team will next assist with the mapping of President Ulysses S. Grant’s retreat near Saratoga Springs, New York. “Looking at two presidential cottages is like looking at a very specific aspect of society, but they are one of the manifestations of how the political elite lived,” Stull explained. To read more about laser mapping, go to "The Past in High-Def."

Monday, August 24

Drought Reveals Wreckage of Soviet Plane in Poland

KAMION, POLAND—Human remains have been removed from a World War II-era Soviet plane that crashed into a lake in central Poland after it was hit with German artillery. “For now we have managed to find the instrument panel, the engine, a wheel and a well-preserved radio,” Zdzislaw Leszczynski, director of the Museum of the River Vistula, told Radio Poland. The wreckage was revealed in Bzura Lake as the water level dropped during the recent heatwave and lack of rain. “The plane was so battered that it’s impossible to determine which model it is for the time being,” Leszczynski added. To read more, go to "Archaeology of WWII."

Bones of Cholera Victims Unearthed in Dublin

DUBLIN, IRELAND—The disarticulated remains of victims of the Great Cholera Epidemic of 1832 have been unearthed in northern Dublin during the construction of a new line on the Luas light rail system. According to The Irish Times, most of those who died in Dublin during the outbreak were buried in a cemetery near the seventeenth-century Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, but there was not enough space there to meet the need, and an overflow burial ground was opened. That cemetery, however, was moved in the 1870s when the Midlands Great Western Railway at Broadstone was extended. “I think that is what we are looking at,” said principal archaeologist Maria Fitzgerald. “It’s just all the bones placed in what we think is a trench going down the center of the site. There seems to be quite a few burials; we have come across quite a number of skulls,” she said. Fitzgerald and her team are working with the designers of the new train line to try to preserve the bones where they are now. To read more about archaeology in Ireland, go to "Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."

“The Rhynie Man” May Have Guarded a Pictish Fort

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen and his team have returned to the site where an image of a man with a large, pointed nose wearing a headdress and carrying an ax on his shoulder was discovered on a six-foot-tall stone in 1978, near the village of Rhynie. They think the area may have been a high-status or royal Pictish site, and that the so-called Rhynie Man’s ax may have been a type that was used for ceremonies and animal sacrifice. “We found many long-distance connections such as pottery from the Mediterranean, glass from France and Anglo-Saxon metal work with evidence to suggest that intricate metalwork was produced on site,” Noble said in a press release. The fifth or sixth-century Rhynie Man stone may have stood at the entrance to a fort. “We want to try and identify exactly where he was standing as this will give us a better idea how he fits into the high status site and what his role may have been,” Noble explained. To read more about Picts, go to "Game of Stones."

Yup’ik Wooden Mask Discovered in Alaska

QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—This season’s excavation at Nunalleq, or the well-preserved Yup’ik “old village” on the coast of the Bering Sea, has uncovered a mask depicting a half-human, half-walrus face. “It’s got amazingly lifelike contours with the cheek bones, and the nose, and the forehead and so on,” Rick Knecht of the University of Aberdeen told Alaska Public Media. The team also found a bentwood bowl among other household items, jewelry, and weapons in the 500-year-old sod house, which was burned and abandoned around 1640. “On the bottom of the bentwood bowl is an ownership mark left by the person who carved that and these ownership marks were inherited between families. We have about six or seven ownership marks we see consistently throughout this site, which we believe was a very large sod house divided up into compartments which were domestic spaces for women and children,” he added. The excavation is being conducted with the support of local Yup’ik people to retrieve the artifacts and record the site before it erodes into the sea. To read in-depth about the excavations at Nunalleq, go to "Cultural Revival."

Friday, August 21

Unusual Mars Figurine Found in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeologists excavating in the Early Byzantine city of Missionis have discovered a figurine depicting Mars that they believe was desecrated during an anti-pagan ritual. The figurine had its head deliberately removed, as well as parts of its legs and arms. “This is a way in which the owner of this figurine demonstrated that they had renounced the old pagan gods, and had adopted Christianity,” Targovishte Regional Museum of History archaeologist Angel Konakliev said at a press conference reported by Archaeology in Bulgaria. A number of other artifacts were also unearthed this season, including Early Byzantine bone combs that were likely used for decoration, and a silver coin depicting the thirteenth-century Bulgarian Tsar Georgi I Terter, the only known coin of its type to be discovered. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Tuskegee Airman's Plane Found In Lake Huron

PORT HURON, MICHIGAN—The wreckage of a P-39 fighter plane piloted by one of the Tuskegee Airmen has been found at the bottom of Lake Huron, says The SFGate. On April 11, 1944, a plane piloted by 2nd Lt. Frank Moody crashed into the lake during a training mission. Although Moody’s body was found several months later, his aircraft was not spotted until recently by a helicopter pilot and his son, who alerted archaeologists from the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A seven-person team dove the site and have documented the wreckage, which includes the engine, tail, gauge panel, wings, and a radio. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II and were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. To see a slideshow of more wrecks found in the Great Lakes, go to “The Wrecks of Thunder Bay.”

Aztec Skull Rack Unearthed in Mexico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—In the ruins of the great Aztec site of Templo Mayor, archaeologists have unearthed a massive tzompantli, or trophy skull rack, that was built between 1485 and 1502. These racks were used by the Aztecs to display the heads of their enemies, who may have been sacrificed atop nearby pyramids. Paintings and descriptions of the racks from the early colonial period suggest the Aztecs used wooden poles to suspend the skulls between vertical posts. The recently discovered tzompantli differs from others that have been depicted and discovered in that rows of skulls seem to have been mortared to one another and formed a circle in which the skulls were arranged to look at the center. “There are 35 skulls that we can see, but there are many more,” National Institute of Anthropology and History archaeologist Raúl Barrera told The Guardian. “As we continue to dig the number is going to rise a lot.” To read in-depth about the excavations, go to “Under Mexico City.” 

15,000-Year-Old Funeral Rites Revealed

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Some of the largest hewn stone artifacts in the ancient Middle East may have been used for a surprising purpose. According to a new study released by the University of Haifa, these large stone boulder mortars—some of which are almost three feet high and weigh as much as 200 pounds—were used to pound food and were also an integral part of funeral rituals of the Natufian culture that inhabited this region between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. Researchers believe that the sound made by the pounding of the food would have signaled to members of surrounding communities that an important ceremony was underway, and that this was a crucial part of building social and community cohesion and identity. To read more about burial customs in the Natufian period, go to “World Roundup.”