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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 15

Site of Rhode Island’s First Orphanage Excavated

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—The Rhode Island State Home and School Project, led by E. Pierre Morenon of Rhode Island College, has collected oral histories, video, state records, and conducted excavations on the grounds of the state’s first orphanage, which operated from 1885 to 1979. Its last remaining wooden building, known as Yellow Cottage, and two other buildings still stand on the Rhode Island College campus. Morenon and his team uncovered a toy soldier, pieces of roller skates and toy guns, a toy tow truck, buttons, little purses, and many marbles. “For me, there’s a lot of meaning attached to objects. I tend as an archaeologist to think that they are not just functional things, but part of a child’s life,” Morenon told The Providence Journal

Tests of Chilean Mummies Suggest Arsenic Poisoning

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—New research suggests that contaminated water caused chronic arsenic poisoning among the Incas and the Chinchorro who lived in northern Chile between A.D. 500 and 1450. The skin, hair, clothes, and soil encrusting a naturally preserved mummy from the Tarapacá Valley of the Atacama Desert were examined by with nondestructive instruments by archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli of the University of California Los Angeles and her colleagues. The condition of the mummy’s skin suggested arsenic ingestion, so the scientists imaged the hair samples with a very high resolution scanning electron microscope, and analyzed the distribution of elements and minerals in the hair sample with the synchrotron light source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They found that the arsenic had been uniformly distributed through the hair, and that the soil contained much lower concentrations of the toxic element. “The results are consistent with modern epidemiological studies of arsenic poisoning by ingestion,” Kakoulli told Live Science.  

Sod House Dissected in Nebraska

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—A multidisciplinary team of researchers is dissecting a section of wall removed from a sod house in the Great Plains to learn about the lives of nineteenth-century homesteaders. Weighing in at nearly two tons, the wall was carried to The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the “autopsy” is taking place. The wall itself comes apart easily, but the bricks, composed of dirt held together with the roots of prairie grasses, are very sturdy. “It’s a laboratory that we can kind of look to see over the course of a hundred years, what happened as people dealt with changing economic situations and as droughts came and affected them,” archaeologist LuAnn Wandsnider told NET Nebraska.

Court Rules Clay Tablets Remain at Chicago’s Oriental Institute

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Nine American survivors of a 1997 terrorist attack in Jerusalem were awarded damages in a U.S. court for more than $300 million from the Republic of Iran. When Iran refused to pay the damages, the plaintiffs claimed a collection of Achaemenid Tablets on loan to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. But a U.S. court has ruled in a second appeal that the tablets are classified as noncommercial property and are therefore not subject to seizure. The tablets are currently being digitized and cataloged as part of the university’s Persepolis Fortification Archive Project. “We will return them [to Iran] when we are done recording, analyzing, and publishing them,” Matthew Stolper, head of the project, told The Chicago Maroon.  

Monday, April 14

Wall Suggests Rome Is 200 Years Older Than Previously Thought

ROME, ITALY—Excavations in the Lapis Niger, a black stone shrine in the Roman Forum, have uncovered ceramics, grains, and a wall made of a type of limestone known as tufa. “Examination of the recovered ceramic material has enabled us to chronologically date the wall structure to between the ninth century B.C. and the beginning of the eighth century B.C. So it precedes what is traditionally considered the foundation of Rome,” archaeologist Patrizia Fortuni of Rome’s cultural superintendency told The Telegraph.  

An Update on the Iraq Museum

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—Work continues on the exhibition halls and the main gate at The Iraq Museum, but it may soon open to all Iraqis. “We have coordinated with Baghdad security officials to secure the museum in a better manner than before, and we hope that we will succeed in opening the museum in the first half of 2014. We are determined to reopen to the public—to families and everybody. Not like last time, when it was open only for officials and for a limited time,” museum director Qais Hussein Rashid told The Christian Science Monitor. Archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani is cataloging the museum’s collections, and examining its archives. “People probably thought these archives don’t exist. These are treasures that no one knows about,” she said. 

New Tests Planned for Bronze Age “Racton Man”

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—A Bronze-Age dagger and jaw bone discovered in 1989 by a metal detectorist led to the excavation of a skeleton known as Racton Man. Staining on the bones suggests that the supposed man, who had been buried in a crouched position, was holding the dagger. Rivets were also found in the grave. Recently, scientists have begun to clean the bones and further investigate the remains. Osteological analysis, isoptopic analysis, and carbon dating are planned. “We’re calling him the Mystery Man because we’re waiting for all this analysis to try and find out more about him,” Amy Roberts, collections officer at The Novium, told Culture 24.

Police Recover 5,000-Year-Old Treasure in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sophia News Agency reports that a marble relief dating to the second or third century, two guns, 100 coins, and three necklaces made up of some 15,000 gold beads have been recovered from suspected artifact smugglers by Bulgaria’s Agency for National Security. The necklaces are estimated to be 5,000 years old. “Such things don’t have a price tag, because this is not a supermarket. Those golden artifacts are 1,500 years old than the Trojan War and 2,500 years older than all Thracian treasures that we know of,” said Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of Sofia’s National History Museum.

Friday, April 11

Two Islamic-Era Settlements Unearthed in Qatar

LAMPETER, WALES—The Wales Qatar Archaeological Project, led by archaeologist Andrew Peterson of the University of Wales Trinity St David, is using an unmanned aerial vehicle to survey Islamic-period sites in Qatar. Excavations have revealed a large settlement called Rubayaqa, made up of large courtyard homes, a mosque, and two cemeteries. “Finds from the site were as diverse as iron cannon balls to wooden chess pieces and large quantities of ceramics,” Peterson told BBC News. A second town, named Ruwayda, had a mosque complex, workshops, warehouses, and a tomb, and was dominated by a large fortress. “Other finds, such as ceramics, indicate long-distance trade with nations such as China, Oman, Iran, and India,” he added. 

Archaeologists Return to Oklahoma’s Spiro Mounds

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA—Researchers will return to Spiro Mounds to investigate a prehistoric building identified with remote sensing technology last fall. The building and other formations are part of a settlement that was inhabited between 800 and 1450 A.D. and is now in danger of eroding from a creek bank. “Almost all of what we know about Spiro comes from excavation of the Craig Mound in the 1930s—both by looters and by professional archaeologists. And we know next to nothing about what’s happening in other parts of the site and around it, and so we’re just sort of shifting focus away from mounds into the rest,” Scott Hammerstedt of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey told The Tribune

Lake Minnetonka Canoe is Much Older Than Previously Thought

LONG LAKE, MINNESOTA—Radiocarbon tests have shown that a canoe recovered from the silt of Lake Minnetonka in 1934 is 1,000 years old. Housed in a small museum run by volunteers, the canoe attracted the attention of nautical archaeologists Ann Merriman and Chris Olson, who gathered information on dugout canoes in Minnesota. It had been thought that the canoe dated to the 1750s. It is in good condition, but has been split by a crack and lost a few small pieces. “It is [the main attraction] now. We hope it will draw visitors,” Russ Ferrin, head of the Pioneer Museum, told The Star Tribune.

Replica of Tutankhamun’s Tomb Nearly Finished

LUXOR, EGYPT—A full-sized replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb, crafted with the help of new technology that recorded every inch of the original in its present state, will soon open at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. Built by Madrid’s Factum Foundation and Zurich’s Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt, the replica gives visitors the ability to view the tomb without threatening its conservation. Brown spots on the original tomb’s wall paintings are thought to have been caused by the increased warmth and moisture brought into the tomb by breathing humans. New exhibits will also inform visitors about the challenges of preserving ancient tombs. “The aim is to create a relationship between the visitors and the long-term management of the archaeological sites,” Adam Lowe, founder of Factum, told Ahram Online. Replicas of the tombs of Queen Nefertari and Seti I are in the works.