Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 28

Bronze Age Boat Discovered in Southern England

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that a log boat dating to the Bronze Age was discovered in a boatyard in the town of Faversham in southern England. A portion of the 4,000-year-old boat was lifted out of the water and Paul Wilkinson of SWAT Archaeology was called in to examine it. The boat was then returned to the water to keep it from drying out. Archaeologists will investigate to see if any more of the vessel has survived. For a similar discovery, go to "Bronze Age Boats Found Near Flag Fen."

Revolutionary War Battlefield Surveyed

CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS—Researchers from the Parker’s Revenge Project are reconstructing the battle that took place on April 19, 1775, when the Lexington militia led by Captain John Parker laid down heavy fire on British soldiers marching from Concord to Boston. The site is part of what is now Minute Man National Historical Park. So far, the team has found a small cluster of battle-related artifacts all within 80 yards of each other. “What we have found to date is very significant. Due to the location and special patterning of the musket balls recovered, we now know the exact place where individuals were standing during the battle, allowing us to begin to paint a much clearer picture about what happened that day,” project archaeologist Meg Watters said in a press release. The team, with the support of the Friends of Minute Man National Park, will continue the high-tech survey of the 44-acre battlefield. “It is extremely gratifying to be able to use modern technology to reveal this history and heroism,” added Bob Morris, president of the Friends of Minute Man National Park. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

Artifacts Recovered From HMS Erebus

NUNAVUT, CANADA—CBC News Canada reports that underwater archaeologists diving on the wreck of HMS Erebus cleaned a lot of kelp off the ship, took detailed measurements of it, and recovered 39 artifacts this season during a period of good weather. Among the objects are a portion of the ship’s wheel, a sword hilt, and a boot. “We now have a really solid understanding of the site that will allow us to develop the best strategy for future investigations,” said Marc-André Bernier of Parks Canada. The team also recorded plates, mariners’ tools, and other artifacts made of wood, lead, copper, and glass at the site. “This shipwreck is proving to be very rich in artifacts. It will have many clues that will lead to the demise and what happened to the crew members,” added Adrian Schimnowski of the Arctic Research Foundation. Parks Canada underwater archaeologists are still looking for HMS Terror, the other Franklin Expedition ship lost in Arctic in the mid-nineteenth century. For more, go to "Saga of the Northwest Passage."

Could Early Humans Hear What We Hear?

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—An international team of scientists led by Rolf Quam of Binghamton University examined CT scans and virtual computer reconstructions of the internal anatomy of the ears of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. “We know that the hearing patterns, or audiograms, in chimpanzees and humans are distinct because their hearing abilities have been measured in the laboratory in living subjects. So we were interested in finding out when this human-like hearing pattern first emerged during our evolutionary history,” Quam explained in a press release. Modern humans have better hearing than other primates across a wider range of frequencies, generally between 1.0 and 6.0 kHz. The new research suggests that these early human ancestors had hearing that was more sensitive than modern humans or chimpanzees from about 1.0 to 3.0 kHz, which may have favored short-range vocal communication in open environments, but this does not indicate that they could speak. “We feel our research line does have considerable potential to provide new insights into when the human hearing pattern emerged and, by extension, when we developed language,” Quam said. For more, go to "Australopithecus' Best Foot Forward."

Friday, September 25

Stolen Olmec Carving Recovered in Paris

PARIS, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that a 3,000-year-old Olmec carving stolen from southern Mexico sometime between 1968 and 1972 has resurfaced in Paris. Parts of the stone, which was chipped out of the rock face, are missing, but the image, thought to depict a priest, is largely intact. “There’s no image like this anywhere else. You can see he’s wearing some sort of mask over his face. His clothes are unlike anything we’ve seen. There’s just enough clues in some of the clothing detail and the face detail to show it’s Olmec,” commented John Clark of Brigham Young University. For more on the Olmec, go to "The Cascajal Block."

Ancient Silver Belt Unearthed in Slovakia

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—According to a report in The Slovak Spectator, archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a sewage system have discovered more than 200 artifacts near Gerulata, a Roman military camp in suburban Bratislava. Among the jewelry, coins, and buckles is a unique silver belt dating to the second to fourth centuries A.D. “We believe that this belt once belonged to a lady, and since the goldsmith work in question is of cutting edge expertise, the lady probably belonged to a high class of society,” said Archaeological Agency general director František Žák Matyasowszky. Two rings were also found. The first, made of bronze, may have been worn by a woman. The other may have been made for a child. It features a small white disc in its center that depicts a gladiator or a warrior. For more, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."

Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Ancient Luxury Goods

WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of archaeologists and professional technical divers were able to spend 40 hours at the Antikythera shipwreck this year as part of the first-ever systematic excavation of the site. They recovered an intact amphora, a large lead salvage ring, two lead anchor stocks, fragments of lead hull sheathing, a small table jug, and a chiseled stone that may have been the base of a statuette. Nine carefully dug trenches yielded wooden remains of the hull of the ship, a piece of bronze furniture, part of a bone flute, a glass gaming piece, and bronze nails. “We were very lucky this year, as we excavated many finds within their context, which gave us the opportunity to take full advantage of all the archaeological information they could provide,” diving archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities said in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution press release. The ship, which dates to 65 B.C., was discovered by sponge divers in 180 feet of water off the coast of the Aegean island of Antikythera in 1900. At the time, marble statues, bronze sculptures, and the mechanical device known as the Antikythera Mechanism were salvaged. To read about a working Lego model of that famous ancient device, go to "Artifact: Lego Antikythera Mechanism."

The Search for “Mona Lisa” Ends

FLORENCE, ITALY—A research team that has been excavating beneath the Sant’ Orsola convent in Florence for several years claims to have found bone fragments that may have belonged to Lisa Gherardini, the silk merchant’s wife thought by some scholars to have been Leonardo da Vinci’s model for the Mona Lisa. Gherardini lived in seclusion at the convent during the last years of her life. Carbon-14 dating shows that the bones in question date to about the time that Gherardini died, in July 1542, at the age of 63, but they are too degraded for DNA testing. “Our biggest problem has been the fact that the fragments were very fragmented, very deteriorated,” Giorgio Gruppioni of the University of Bologna told The Guardian. If a skull had been found, there had been plans to reconstruct its face and compare it with the famous painting. To read about the excavation of an Etruscan necropolis, go to "Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Thursday, September 24

Moscow’s Oldest Road Uncovered

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—Excavations in Moscow’s central Zaryadie district have uncovered layers of wooden pavements thought to represent the city’s oldest road, known as Velikaya, “The Large One.” Although not named on historic city plans, it is mentioned in city chronicles, and is believed to have connected the old Kremlin and a wharf on the Moscow River. “We were very lucky to have reached the road. The district is full of the city’s infrastructure lines and old archaeological excavation sites,” Leonid Belyayev of the Archaeology Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Moscow Times. Most of the seventeenth-century road surface has been revealed, and in areas, the fifteenth-century road has been uncovered. The deepest layer of the road surface is thought to date to the twelfth century, when the Kremlin was established. For more, go to "Moscow Underground."

New Method Studies Human Lateralization With Stone Tools

BIZKAIA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of the Basque Country have developed a new method for determining if individual flint flakes were produced by right- or left-handed knappers. “We focus on the butt of the flake which is where part of the percussion platform has been preserved. The fractures that appear on the platform are oriented according to the direction of the impact made on it by the percussor. Once the direction of the impact is known, it is possible, with a high degree of reliability, to determine whether it was produced by the left hand or the right hand,” Eder Dominguez-Ballesteros said in a press release. Studying the origins and development of laterality, or the preference for one side of the body over another, helps scientists to understand the evolution of the organization of the human brain. Earlier methods of determining laterality required the study of more than one flake for comparison. For more, go to "Neanderthal Tool Time."

9,000-Year-Old Decapitated Skull Discovered in Brazil

  LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Fragments of a human body including a jaw, the first six cervical vertebrae, and two severed hands that had been laid over the face of a skull in opposite directions have been unearthed at Lapa do Santo, a hunter-gatherer rock-shelter site in east-central Brazil. According to a press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, v-shaped cut marks were found on the jaw and the sixth cervical vertebra. André Strauss of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues believe that the 9,000-year-old remains could represent the oldest case of decapitation in the Americas. Isotopic analysis of the bones and of other human remains at the site indicate that the individual had been a local member of the group, so the decapitation may have been part of a mortuary ritual, rather than a case of trophy-taking during war. To read about what might be the earliest known murder victim, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."