Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, May 18

2,300-Year-Old Engraved Block Recovered in Egypt

ABYDOS, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a stone engraved with the cartouche of the 30th-Dynasty king Nectanebo II (r. ca. 360-342 B.C.) was recovered from an illegal excavation by the Tourism and Antiquities Police during a house inspection in the Beni Mansour area of Abydos. According to Hani Abul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Antiquities of Upper Egypt, subterranean water at the site has made it difficult to determine whether the block was part of the king’s royal shrine, or part of a temple that he had built. Further excavations are planned. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

17th-Century English Earthwork Investigated

NEWARK, ENGLAND—The Newark Advertiser reports that an English Civil Wars–era military earthwork, one of a network of 12 seventeenth-century earthworks placed around the strategic city of Newark in the East Midlands, is being excavated. The earthwork is thought to have been a cannon battery used by the Scots who joined a force of Parliamentarian troops during their third attack on the city in 1645. The Parlimentarian forces were eventually defeated by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Royalists in a battle known as the Relief of Newark. This earthwork “is quite a distance from central Newark, so it is possible the battery was built to protect the Great North Road and cut off all hope of rescue for the beleaguered Royalists,” said archaeologist Rachel Askew of the University of Central Lancashire. Askew and her team are also looking for evidence that the redoubt had been built long before the English Civil Wars by Henry VIII, who had an interest in protecting the Great North Road during the rebellion against his religious reforms. “We have also found pottery from that period on site and if we could prove the Henry VIII link that would be an amazing discovery of national significance,” Askew said. To read about another recent discovery relating to the English Civil Wars, go to “After the Battle.”

First Farmers May Have Practiced “Unconscious Selection”

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—ZME Science reports that scientists from the University of Sheffield examined the possible origins of agriculture by analyzing the sizes of the seeds of a range of crops thought to have been domesticated thousands of years ago. According to Colin Osborne and his team, the size of the seeds would not be directly affected if hunter-gatherers selected vegetable plants for their food value—leaves, stems, roots, or fruit. Changes in these seed sizes could have been the result of natural selection acting on cultivated crops, or genetic links between seed size and other plant characteristics such as the overall size of the plant, or the size of the crop yield. The researchers found that the seeds of seven vegetables did get bigger due to domestication, even in the case of crops such as sweet potato, which is propagated with tubers. Osborne noted that the sizes of grains, lentils, and beans, where the seed is eaten, were significantly larger than the seeds of vegetable crops. He also suggests that early changes to crops raised by the first farmers were unintended, and may have been the result of sowing wild plants in cultivated soil and then caring for them. For more on the archaeology of agriculture, go to “Mapping Maya Cornfields.”

Wednesday, May 17

New Thoughts on Hopewell Metal Beads

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nature reports that tube-shaped beads found in a 2,000-year-old Native American grave in Illinois were made from shards of the Anoka meteorite, which landed in central Minnesota, more than 400 miles away. The 22 beads, found in 1945, were made by people of the Hopewell culture, and were found along with more than 1,000 shell and pearl beads. An earlier study had ruled out the Anoka meteor as the source of the material for the iron-nickel beads. But Timothy McCoy and his colleagues at the National Museum of Natural History compared the beads to a second chunk of the meteor and found that both the beads and the new piece of space rock contain micrometer-sized granules of iron enriched with nickel. Further tests indicated that the beads and the meteor were a near-perfect match. McCoy added that bands of a brittle mineral that extend through the Anoka meteorite would have made it possible to break off a lump of it. He also experimented with producing beads with a piece of the metal, a wood fire, and a stone hammer—and noted that making the beads must have been a very slow process. “You wonder how many failed experiments there were,” he commented. To read about another discovery associated with the Hopewell culture, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

Graves Exhumed at 19th-Century Georgia Cemetery

ATHENS, GEORGIA—The Athens Banner-Herald reports that a portion of a cemetery was unearthed at the campus of the University of Georgia in 2015 by archaeologist Laurie Reitsema and her students and colleagues. About one third of the 105 graves that were excavated contained enough material to attempt mitochondrial DNA analysis. The tests revealed that most of the people buried in the cemetery were of African descent, and were probably enslaved, since the cemetery closed about ten years before the start of the Civil War. One burial is known to date to after the Civil War, however, since it included two nickels minted sometime between 1867 and 1883. Two of the children buried in the cemetery suffered from syphilis, which can be passed from mother to child. A low rate of arthritis was also observed, when compared to the remains of enslaved people whose remains were uncovered at a nineteenth-century plantation in Charleston. Reitsema suggests this could indicate the difference between the work performed by those living on plantations and those living in towns. For more on the archaeology of slavery, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

Students Uncover 1,400-Year-Old Buddha Statue in India

ODISHA, INDIA—The Odisha Sun Times reports that students from Utkal University have discovered a 1,400-year-old statue of the Buddha with a seven-headed snake in eastern India. They found the statue buried three feet beneath a banyan tree whose roots had grown over it. “The recent discovery shows that the Buddhists were residing in the Banapur area in Khurda district earlier [than had been previously thought],” said team leader Anam Behera. The seven-headed snake is said to have protected the Buddha while he meditated over a period of seven rainy days. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

New Dates Obtained for Al Badiyah Mosque

FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—According to a report in Gulf News, the Al Badiyah Mosque may be more than 150 years younger than had been previously believed. Geochemist Julie Retrum of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi and archaeologist Michele Ziolkowski sent samples of the farush blocks used to construct the mosque to the University of Minnesota, where trace amounts of uranium preserved in the coral were tested with a technique known as uranium-thorium radiometric dating. The scientists also tested blocks from two coastal watchtowers. The test results suggest the mosque was built in the sixteenth century. Earlier excavations at the site recovered charcoal fragments dated to between 1450 and 1655, and pottery and porcelain fragments dated to the sixteenth century. Retrum and Ziolkowski think the mosque was probably standing by 1599, when the Portuguese controlled trade in the Arabian Sea, and Portuguese documents refer to the presence of a fort in Bidiya. “This research has helped to throw new light on the ages of some of Fujairah’s historic buildings,” Ziolkowski said. To read about a recent discovery in the area, go to “Bronze Age Bling.”

Tuesday, May 16

Human Bones Found Under South Korea’s Wolseong Palace

  SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The AFP reports that the bones of two people were found side-by-side under a western corner wall of Wolseong Palace, the capital of the Silla Kingdom, established in 57 B.C. The people are thought to have been sacrificed sometime during the fifth century A.D., and then to have been buried under the foundation. “This is the first archaeological evidence that folklore about humans being sacrificed for the foundations of buildings, dams, or walls were true stories,” said spokeswoman Choi Moon-Jung of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage. The human remains will be examined in order to try to determine the health, diet, and characteristics of the individuals. DNA tests will also be attempted. For more on Korean archaeology, go to “Guide to the Afterlife.”

Early Silk Road Settlement Found in Uzbekistan

MING-TEPE, UZBEKISTAN—The Daily Sabah reports that a 2,000-year-old Silk Road settlement, including a tomb, a workshop, and a garrison for travelers, has been discovered in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley by a team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Institute of Archaeology of Uzbekistan. The city is thought to have been part of the Hellenistic Dayuan Kingdom, said in ancient accounts to have linked the descendants of Greek colonists and Chinese civilization. “Chinese and foreign archaeologists are carrying out collaborative work for the re-exploration of the Silk Road,” explained Chen Xingcan, director of CASS. For more on archaeology of the Silk Road, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

East African Hominin Diet Studied

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in The International Business Times, a study by Joshua Robinson, John Rowan, Christopher Campisano, and Kaye Reed of Arizona State University, and Jonathan Wynn of the University of South Florida, analyzed animal and hominin fossils to learn about the environment in areas of East Africa between 3.5 and one million years ago, since it has been suggested that a change from woody forests to cooler grassy plains might be connected to the emergence of the genus Homo. Stable isotopes preserved in fossilized teeth indicate whether animals fed on the leaves of woody trees, or if they ate grasses from arid, open plains. The researchers analyzed these isotopes in a 2.8 million-year-old Homo fossilized jaw, which was discovered at the site of Ledi-Geraru in Ethiopia, and is about 400,000 years older than the previously oldest known Homo fossil. The test results suggest this individual ate a diet similar to other animals that lived in the region during the same time period, even though some of those animals ate a diet based on tree leaves prior to 2.8 million years ago. The early Homo diet, however, was also similar to that eaten by Australopithecus, implying that a change in diet did not coincide with the origin of Homo. For more, go to “The Human Mosaic.”