Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 22

Sweden’s Seventeenth-Century Mummy Examined

LUND, SWEDEN—The well-preserved mummy of Peder Winstrup, a bishop who had been buried in a crypt at Lund Cathedral a year after his death in 1679, has been examined by scientists from Lund University. CT scans show that the 74-year-old Winstrup suffered from fluid in his sinuses and had been bedridden for a long time, and he may have had both tuberculosis and pneumonia. He also had plaque in his arteries, gallstones, osteoarthritis in the knees and hips, dental cavities, and had lost teeth. “His right shoulder was slightly higher than his left, due to an injury to a tendon in the shoulder. This would have limited Winstrup’s mobility, making it difficult for him to carry out simple everyday tasks such as putting on a shirt or combing his hair with the comb in his right hand,” osteologist Caroline Ahlström Arcini said in a press release. The scan also revealed the remains of a fetus that had been concealed under Winstrup’s feet. “You can only speculate as to whether it was one of Winstrup’s next of kin, or whether someone else took the opportunity while preparing the coffin. But we hope to be able to clarify any kinship through a DNA test,” said Per Karsten, director of the Historical Museum at Lund University. To read about a recent discovery made in Sweden, go to "One Ring to Bind Them."

England’s Bradgate Park Yields Medieval Moated Dwelling

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Students from the University of Leicester are conducting excavations at Bradgate Park, located near Bradgate House, the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen in 1553. So far, they have recovered 10,000-year-old flint blades, Roman pottery, a musket ball, and a toy gun dating to the 1960s. They have also found two outbuildings and a medieval moated site that may have been the home of the park keeper. “We have uncovered the building on top of the moat which we expected, and recovered some pottery and glazed floor tile that are consistent with a medieval date. What is new, is that we have identified that the building has at least two different phases of construction—the original building with a later extension,” archaeologist Richard Thomas explained to the Leicester Mercury. To read more about recent discoveries in England, go to "Artifact: Medieval Chess Pieces." 

Early Christian Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Nazareth

WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT—An early Christian mosaic floor has been unearthed at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth by a team of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, Duquesne University, the University of Wisconsin, and Haifa University. Tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary at the site where the church was built and rebuilt over time. The ancient floor, thought to date to the fourth century, was discovered with ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. “The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said in a press release. The floor and the original church may have been constructed as a Christian pilgrim site when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. To read about the excavation of an early Christian community in Kuwait, go to "Archaeology Island."

Early Modern Humans Interbred With Neanderthals in Europe

MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Friday, June 19

Huge Chimney Discovered at Bacon’s Castle

SURRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA—An excavation to install a handicapped parking space at Bacon’s Castle uncovered an H-shaped chimney base with two 11-foot-wide fire boxes. Bacon’s Castle is a four-story Jacobean brick house built in 1665 by Arthur Allen, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. “This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia,” archaeologist Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute for Archaeology told Daily Press. Arthur Allen II, who was himself elected as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1686 and 1688, is known for planting one of the first pleasure gardens in the English colonies. The recent excavation also uncovered a large, brick-lined root cellar that butts up against the fireplace. “What we’re seeing here is that Bacon’s Castle continued to grow and develop after the original house was completed,” added Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations. To read about another archaeological discovery in the area, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

12,000-Year-Old Puppy Preserved in Siberian Ice

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) have autopsied the remains of a three-month-old female dog thought to have died during a landslide near the Syallakh River some 12,450 years ago. (Two twigs in her stomach suggest that she tried to grab onto nearby plants with her teeth.) The puppy, whose fur, skin, bones, and internal organs are intact, was discovered in permafrost by two men who were looking for mammoth tusks in an area where hikers have found stone and bone tools and weapons. Was the puppy an early domestic breed? “Our task is to estimate the preservation of the ancient animal tissues at the macro and micro level. What is of real interest is the fact the animal has a completely preserved carcass, which is unique by itself, with nothing like it in the world. Although the tissues are mummified, they have no post-mortem decomposition, as it usually happens with biological material,” Darima Garmaeva of the NEFU Medical Institute told The Siberian Times. Members of the dog research project will return to the site with archaeologists this summer to look for evidence of early dog owners. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend." 

Kennewick Man Is Closely Related to Native Americans

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—DNA analysis conducted by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and Morten Rasmussen of Stanford University suggests that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world. It had been thought that the 8,500-year-old skeleton, known as the Ancient One by Native American groups, was more likely to be related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples, based upon anatomical data. “Although the exterior preservation of the skeleton was pristine, the DNA in the sample was highly degraded and dominated by DNA from soil bacteria and other environmental sources. With the little material we had available, we applied the newest methods to squeeze every piece of information out of the bone,” Rasmussen said in a press release. The study also reveals that Kennewick Man is more closely related to some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, located in Washington State, than to many other contemporary Native American groups. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Thursday, June 18

Dog Catacomb at Saqqara Surveyed

SAQQARA, EGYPT—Researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University conducted a new survey of the dog catacomb near the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, at Saqqara. The catacomb is thought to have been dug in the fourth century B.C. “It’s a very long series of dark tunnels. There is no natural light once you’ve gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It’s really quite a spectacular thing,” Nicholson told Live Science. More than 90 percent of the millions of mummies in the catacomb were of dogs, as expected, but the team also found the mummies of jackals, foxes, falcons, cats, and mongoose. Many of the dogs were very young puppies that were likely bred for the cult and separated from their mothers shortly after birth. “It would have been a busy place. A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults,” Nicholson explained. To read more about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Pigs Were the Focus of Iron Age Feasting in South Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—Analysis of more than 70,000 fragments of animal bone from a midden at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, reveals an usual preference for imported pork. “Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favored meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were just one quarter of the animal—the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast—that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honor of the feast,” osteoarchaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University said in a press release. To read about a recent Bronze Age discovery in Wales, see "Artifact: Gold Lock-Rings." 

Excavation Continues at Maryport Roman Temples

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Maryport Roman Temples Project has entered its final year of excavation. “By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” archaeologist Ian Haynes of Newcastle University told Culture 24. The team has uncovered a second-century A.D. building that had red sandstone walls, yellow sandstone decorations, a grey slate roof, and a columned entrance. This temple stood near the area where a collection of Roman altars was unearthed in 1870. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected,” he said. Earlier excavations revealed that the altars had been reused in the foundation of a Roman timber building, and had not been ritually buried, as had been thought. The team also found another complete altar, inscribed by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison. The altars are housed at the Senhouse Roman Museum. To read about an intriguing Roman discovery made in northern England, go to "Artifact: Roman Party Invitation." 

Team Seeks Building Foundation at Enfield Shaker Museum

ENFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A team from Plymouth State University is conducting an excavation in front of the Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum, where a Shaker religious community settled in 1793 and lived for more than 100 years. “I am standing in what we believe is the cellar of the Shakers’ trustees office. The trustees were the business leaders of the community. They conducted business transactions with the outside world,” Michael O’Conner, the curator of the Shaker Museum, told The team is working to uncover the building’s foundation. “From an architectural standpoint, from a religious history, from a communal studies standpoint—yes, this site and this group are of great relevance to our society,” O’Connor added. There had once been 100 structures on the 3,000-acre property. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."