Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 15

Bog Clothing Analyzed

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A new method has demonstrated an ability to determine what types of animal were used to make clothing worn by people preserved in bogs for thousands of years, according to a report in ScienceNordic. The method, tested by a team including Luise Brandt of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, involves examining proteins in the garments to determine the species of animal used to make them. The researchers looked at 12 samples from the National Museum of Denmark’s collection of garments discovered in bogs, all of which are around 2,000 years old. They identified two samples as coming from cattle, three from goats, six from sheep, and one from either sheep or goat. The results indicate that Iron Age garments were largely made from domesticated animals, not wild ones as suggested by popular lore. One garment was determined to have been made from calf leather based on the presence of a type of hemoglobin found only in the final months of pregnancy and the first three months after birth. “We can see that they went to great lengths to make the garments and choose the right skin,” says Brandt. To read more about bodies preserved in bogs, go to “Bog Bodies Rediscovered.”

Chariot Racing Mosaic Discovered in Cyprus

  NICOSIA, CYPRUS—Archaeologists have fully unearthed a fourth-century A.D. Roman-era mosaic depicting a chariot race, reports the Cyprus Mail. Discovered outside the modern capital of Nicosia, the mosaic depicts four chariots competing against one another. Each rider and team of horses is accompanied by two inscriptions, which may be the names of the charioteer and one of the horses. The mosaic also depicts a man on horseback and two standing figures, one bearing a whip and the other holding a water vessel. According to Marina Ieronymidou, the director of the country's Department of Antiquities, the mosaic is the only one found in Cyprus depicting a chariot race. Excavations at the site will continue, and a temporary structure will be erected over the mosaic to protect it from the elements. To see more ancient depictions of horses, go to “Sport and Spectacle.”  

Heated Roman Villa Excavated in England

  LUFTON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating a Roman villa in Southwest England have unearthed a semi-circular room that was equipped with a heating system under its floor. According to SomsersetLive, researchers suspect the villa was used as a country retreat by several generations of officials from the nearby Roman town of Ilchester, who would have expected a certain level of comfort. Previous excavations showed the villa had a bath surrounded by elaborate mosaics, and revealed evidence that after the Roman period ended squatters probably lived there. The team currently working at the site, led by University of Newcastle archaeologist James Gerrard, hopes to discover another mosaic soon when they remove the fallen roof now lying atop one of the villa's rooms. To read about another discovery dating to Britain’s Roman era, go to “A Villa under the Garden.” 

Friday, August 12

Sword Tip Found Near Alamo’s South Gate

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—The tip of a sword manufactured in France has been unearthed at the Alamo, according to a report in the Star-Telegram. Nesta Anderson, lead archaeologist of the excavation at the Alamo, said that the sword, known as a briquette, is of a type that was issued to non-commissioned officers in the Mexican infantry around 1835. “We’re really excited to have evidence of military action here at the south wall,” she said. Anderson also suggested that the sword may have been in use during the fortification of the south wall, or even during the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. For more, go to "Artifact: Viking Sword."

No Evidence of Standing Stones Found at Durrington Walls

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the excavation of two possible features at Durrington Walls has failed to uncover evidence of a stone “Superhenge.” A survey conducted last year with ground-penetrating radar detected underground anomalies thought to represent more than 100 buried stones lying on their sides. But the excavation team uncovered two pits for wooden posts. “They have got ramps at the sides to lower posts into,” said Nicola Snashall, a member of the excavation team. She thinks a timber monument may have been raised at the site, which is located about two miles away from Stonehenge, when the Neolithic settlement there went out of use. The timbers were eventually removed. “The top was then filled in with chalk rubble and then the giant henge bank was raised over the top,” she explained. For more, go to "Quarrying Stonehenge."

Thursday, August 11

Biological Evidence Favors Coastal Route for Ice-Age Migrants

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Traveling south from Alaska to the region now known as the continental United States via an inland route would have been impossible for the earliest Ice-Age migrants, according to a report by the Associated Press on recent research led by Eske Willerslev of Cambridge University and the University of Copenhagen. Willerslev and his team tested cores taken from nine former lake beds in northeastern British Columbia for the presence of pollen, fossils, and animal DNA. They found that when a passable corridor through Canada’s ice sheets opened up some 13,000 years ago, it would have been unable to support human life. “The land was completely naked and barren,” said Mikkel Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen. The analysis of the core samples also suggests that bison, hare, and sagebrush began to appear in the corridor around 12,600 years ago, when archaeological evidence indicates people were already inhabiting the Americas. The first migrants likely traveled along the Pacific coast, Willerslev explained. To read in-depth about evidence of early settlement of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Excavation of Montpelier’s Slave Quarters Continues

ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA—NBC reports that the foundation of the North Dwelling, which housed enslaved people in the nineteenth century, has been found in the South Yard at Montpelier, James Madison’s estate. The building was one of six structures in the South Yard that together housed around 100 enslaved African-American workers during Madison’s lifetime. Senior research archaeologist Terry Brock explained that two other dwellings unearthed in the South Yard were “double quarters” that had central chimneys with two rooms on either side. The North Dwelling consisted of a single room with a chimney on the end. “We’re trying to capture the authenticity of Montpelier in terms of what existed here in the nineteenth century,” said Matthew Reeves, director of archaeology. To read more about excavations relating to slavery, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Human Remains Unearthed at Temple of Zeus at Mount Lykaion

ATHENS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that the 3,000-year-old skeleton of a teenager has been discovered at the remote sanctuary of Zeus on the summit of Mount Lykaion. Thousands of animals were sacrificed to Zeus at the site, beginning around the sixteenth century B.C. The human remains were found among the ashes of the animals. The body had been laid between two lines of stones on an east-west axis. Stone slabs covered the pelvis, and the upper part of the skull was missing. Pottery placed with the bones dates them to the eleventh century B.C. “Several ancient literary sources mention rumors that human sacrifice took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” said David Romano of the University of Arizona. Only about seven percent of the altar has been excavated. For more, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

New Technique Could Identify Markers of Starvation in Teeth

BRADFORD, ENGLAND—Evidence of starvation could be found through the analysis of the levels of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in teeth, according to a report in The Guardian. The composition of dentine collagen reflects the diet during childhood, at the time the tooth was growing. Julia Beaumont of the University of Bradford and Janet Montgomery of Durham University tested one tooth from each of 20 adults and children whose remains were unearthed from a workhouse cemetery in Kilkenny, Ireland, where almost 1,000 victims of the Great Famine were interred. Some of the adults had lived through earlier periods of food shortages before the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852. The scientists also examined bone collagen from the skeletons’ ribs, which reflects the diet during the few years before death. Because the residents of the workhouse had been given maize, imported from America, to eat, the researchers were able to identify this change in the diet and mark the condition of the teeth just before the change took place, when the people were starving. “We’re seeing evidence here of the body virtually eating itself as starvation gets a grip,” Beaumont said. For more, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."