Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, January 28

Babylonian Astronomers Described Jupiter’s Motion

BERLIN, GERMANY—Historian of science Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, using the texts from three published and two unpublished cuneiform tablets from the British Museum, realized that the Babylonians calculated the position of the planet Jupiter with geometrical methods between 350 and 50 B.C. It had been thought that Babylonian astronomers used only arithmetical methods, and that such geometrical computations were not carried out until the fourteenth century. Ossendrijver had been studying four tablets with texts that describe trapezoids when Hermann Hunger of the University of Vienna brought him a photograph of a fifth, uncatalogued tablet that does not describe a trapezoid, but does describe an astronomical computation that is mathematically equivalent to the others, and can be assigned to Jupiter. “The crucial new insight provided by the new tablet without the geometrical figure is that Jupiter’s velocity decreases linearly within the 60 days. Because of the linear decrease a trapezoidal figure emerges if one draws the velocity against time,” Ossendrijver explained in a press release. “It is this trapezoidal figure of which the area is computed on the other four tablets.” To read more about ancient people's perceptions of planetary motion, go to "An Eye on Venus." 

Evidence of Ceremonial Bridge Found in Japan

SAKAI, JAPAN—Five new boreholes for piers thought to have supported a massive bridge have been found at the Nisanzai Kofun burial mound in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture. The bridge is estimated to have been nearly 40 feet wide, 150 feet long, and aligned with the center of the keyhole-shaped mound. “It seems likely that people stood by on both sides of the bridge while a temporary casket for the body was taken into the tomb. It gives us clues as to how ancient burial rites were performed at giant burial mounds,” Taichiro Shiraishi of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum told The Asahi Shimbun. The bridge, thought to have been used in the late fifth century, would have been torn down after the ceremony. “It is unlikely that a structure of this kind was unique to this burial mound. If they get the chance, we hope researchers will investigate other large tombs as well,” Shiraishi said. To read more about archaeology and Japanese history, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

18th-Century Artifacts Discovered at Fort Lawrence

FORT LAWRENCE, NOVA SCOTIA—Parks Canada archaeologist Charles Burke has found an intact, eighteenth-century surface at the site of Fort Lawrence, a British defensive structure overlooking the Isthmus of Chignecto, which connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. “Just inside the walls of the fort we encountered what we call essentially a 1750 walking surface,” Burke told CBC News. Fort Lawrence was abandoned in 1755 after the British took the French Fort Beauséjour, located across the border, and renamed it Fort Cumberland. Burke’s team also uncovered the brick-lined cellar of a large home built by Col. Joseph Morris at the site in 1762. “It would be the first house built in the area after the British military abandoned the property,” he said. The home was burned in 1776 after American sympathizer Jonathan Eddy’s failed attack on Fort Cumberland. Eddy was father-in-law to Morris’s daughter. “It seems likely and you can’t help but imagine that discussions about planning for the attack on Fort Cumberland in 1776 very likely occurred in or near that house,” Burke said. To read more about Canadian archaeology, go to "Canada Finds Erebus."

Historic Graves Unearthed in St. Augustine, Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—A routine archaeological investigation before the construction of a new water line revealed at least four graves dating from the sixteenth through the early eighteenth century at the site of the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios on Charlotte Street. The heavily used grave site was covered with roads in the early nineteenth century. “So far, we have uncovered four partial human remains, and probably a fifth one in very bad condition. We haven’t recovered any good material with the graves yet, but we have found a lot of loose teeth with extreme wear; some of them with cavities,” city archaeologist Carl Halbirt told Historic City News. A water main break in the area has made the excavation more difficult. The crushed and fragmented remains may be reburied at a church cemetery. To read more about archaeology in Florida, go to "Off the Grid."

Wednesday, January 27

Final Report Issued on Burials at Florida Reform School

TAMPA, FLORIDA—A team led by Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida, has released its final report on archaeological work at the site of a reform school in the Florida panhandle that has been closed since 2011. Almost 100 boys aged six to 18 died at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys between 1900 and 1973, according to NPR. Since 2012, the researchers have exhumed 51 sets of remains, many of which were unidentified and located in unmarked graves. Just 13 of the burials were in the school’s cemetery, while the others were found elsewhere on the school’s grounds. In all, the researchers have made seven positive DNA matches and 14 presumptive identifications. The remains of four individuals who have been positively identified have been returned to their families for burial. Those who attended the school say many were sent there simply because they were orphans or for minor infractions and that, once there, they were subjected to beatings and other mistreatment. The report includes evidence of a possible bullet wound as well as unequal treatment of African-American boys, who were three times as likely to be unnamed in records and to be buried in unmarked locations after they died. To read more about forensic archaeology, go to “The Journey to El Norte.”

Ancient Medicinal Clay Could Fight Bacterial Infections

VANCOUVER, CANADA—A team of microbiologists has found that clay from Kismet Bay, British Columbia, which has been used for centuries by indigenous people for medicinal purposes, seems to show promise in fighting drug-resistant pathogens. According to a press release from the University of British Columbia, the greenish gray clay is found in a five-acre granite basin in the territory of the Heiltsuk people, some 250 miles north of Vancouver. Traditionally the Heiltsuk used the clay to treat such ailments as arthritis, skin irritations, and burns. Kismet Glacial Clay, a business formed to explore uses for the clay, approached University of British Columbia microbiologist Julian Davies to test the clay's properties. He found that when suspended in water the clay killed 16 strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria that are prevalent in modern hospitals. The discovery could lead to the development of new antimicrobial agents. To read in-depth about archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Landscape." 

Numerous Children Unearthed in English Graveyard

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have uncovered around 800 bodies belonging to children younger than six years old at a future road construction site in Lancashire. They are among 1,967 bodies unearthed at St. Peter’s Burial Ground in Blackburn, which was first used in 1821. Bodies have been removed from around a third of the graveyard, which saw a great deal of use up to the 1860s. The high proportion of children in the graveyard is attributed to poor sanitation and medical care at the time. Analysis of the skeletons has only just begun, but according to Dave Henderson of Headland Archaeology, many of the children are likely to have died due to infection. “They would have died quite quickly so the signs may not turn up in their skeletons,” he told the BBC. Coins dating to the nineteenth century have also been found, as well as inexpensive brass wedding rings still on people’s hands and glass jewelry buried with children. Some burials continued at the graveyard until 1945, but St. Peter’s Church grew run-down in the twentieth century and was razed in 1976. For more on nineteenth-century English graveyards, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

1,700-Year-Old Inscriptions in Galilee

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have uncovered three 1,700-year-old funerary inscriptions that seem to name rabbis at the Roman-era cemetery of the city of Tzippori, near the Sea of Galilee. The Jewish Press reports that two of the inscriptions were written in Aramaic, the language that was in widespread use in the region, and one in Greek. “The importance of the epitaphs lies in the fact that these reflect the everyday life of the Jews of Tzippori and their cultural world,” said archaeologist Moti Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology. Tzippori was the capital of Galilee during the Hasmonean Period, which lasted from 140 to 37 B.C., after which the capital was moved to the city of Tiberias. Interestingly, an inscription mentions that one of the dead is called "The Tiberian," which the researchers say could mean he was a resident of Tiberias who was brought to Tzippori to be buried by an important rabbi. To read in-depth about another excavation in Galilee, go to “Excavating Tel Kedesh.”  

Tuesday, January 26

Statues of Artemis and Apollo Unearthed at Aptera

CRETE, GREECE—Kathimerini reports that a pair of statues and their pedestals have been unearthed at the site of a villa in Aptera. The statues are thought to date to the second half of the first century or early second century A.D. The first statue, made of bronze, is an intact depiction of the hunting goddess Artemis. She is posed on a bronze base as if she had been shooting an arrow. The second statue, carved from marble, represents Artemis’s twin brother, Apollo. There are traces of red paint on this statue’s pedestal. To read more about Greek archaeology, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

Study Links Population Collapse and Ecological Changes

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A team of researchers from Harvard University, the University of Arizona, and Southern Methodist University used airborne remote sensing LiDAR technology to estimate the number of people who once lived in Ancestral Jemez village ruins. They think that the population of Native Americans living in what is now northern New Mexico dropped from 6,500 in the 1620s, to less than 900 after Spanish priests established missions in their communities. “Think of what that means for their social structure, if they’re losing the people who know the traditional medicine, their social and religious leaders, think of the huge impact it would have on their culture and history,” Matt Liebmann of Harvard University said in a press release. The team members also collected tree-ring data to assess the impact of the population collapse on forest fires in the region. “When people are living in these villages, they need timber for their roofs, and for heating and cooking. In addition, they’re clearing the land for farming, so trees weren’t growing there when these archaeological sites were inhabited. But as people died off, the forests started re-growing and we start to see more forest fires,” he explained. To read more about archaeology in New Mexico, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire."  

China’s First Farmers Also Domesticated Cats

PARIS, FRANCE—A study of cat remains dating to the fourth millennium B.C. suggests that the animals were domesticated in China, in addition to the Near East and Egypt. According to a press release, a team of scientists from France’s National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), the French Natural History Museum (MNHN), the University of Aberdeen, the Chinese Academy of Social Science, and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology analyzed the mandibles of five cats unearthed at archaeological sites in Shaanxi and Henan provinces. The bones, which all dated to between 3500 and 2900 B.C., belonged to the leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis—a wild cat that still lives in Eastern Asia at the edge of human settlements. Prionailurus bengalensis was a distant relative of Felis silvestris lybica, the ancestor of all of today’s domestic cats. Felis silvestris lybica is thought to have replaced the domesticated descendants of the leopard cat in China at the end of the Neolithic period with the opening of the Silk Road and trade with the West. To read about Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."