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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 11

Epidemic of Violence in the Ancient Southwest

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON— A new study of human remains from southwest Colorado suggests that ancestral Pueblo people living in the Mesa Verde area between 1140 and 1180 experienced a particularly violent era, reports Washington State University News. Archaeologist Tim Kohler and his colleagues found that almost nine out of ten sets of human remains dating to this period show evidence of skull and arm trauma from violent blows. “If we’re identifying that much trauma, many were dying a violent death,” says Kohler. However, human remains from the nearby northern Rio Grande area that date to the same time show much less evidence of trauma. According to Kohler, cultural differences between the two areas may explain the discrepancy in levels of violence. In the Rio Grande area, people did not rely on kin groups as much as in Mesa Verde, and joined larger groups such as medicine societies that spanned separate villages and promoted links between family groups. Kohler also sees more specialization of crafts in the Northern Rio Grande, which could be significant. "When you don’t have specialization in societies, there’s a sense in which everybody is a competitor because everybody is doing the same thing,” he notes. By the late thirteenth century, the Mesa Verde region was completely abandoned. 

When to Stop Digging?

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—How do archaeologists decide when to call it a day? At the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, modern Silchester, project director Mike Fulford of the University of Reading says it’s time to stop digging more than 100 years after Victorian archaeologists first began to explore the site, reports the Guardian. “Nothing left there except gravel and natural geology," says Fulford, "nothing of any interest whatsoever." But that has certainly not been the case over the four decades that Fulford has been digging at Silchester, one of the best-preserved and completely excavated towns in Roman Britain. In addition to impressive standing remains, the site has produced some of the most important and compelling ancient Roman artifacts in Britain including the island’s oldest olive pit, dog, raven and cat burials, a spectacular knife depicting two mating dogs, a soldier’s folding skillet, as well as important pre-Roman finds including what may the largest Iron Age hall ever found in Britain. Yet despite the extensive excavations, archaeologists have not yet been able to figure out why was this major town abandoned in the sixth century. With the last digging season over and 6,000 tons of excavated soil waiting to use as backfill, Fulford is content to let that question remain a mystery.  

Excavations begin at the Temple of Artemis

Hurriyet Daily News reports that archaeologists are preparing to restart excavations at the site of the Temple of Artemis at the ancient city of Ephesus. Once considered one of the seven wonders of the world, the massive temple was completeted in 550 B.C and constructed completely of marble. Little remains of the temple on the surface, and digs at the site are hampered by the area's high water table. A regional drought will actually help the effort, according to Sabine Ladstatter, director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute and excavation director at Ephesus. "This year we are lucky because the ground water withdrew," she says. "We normally do it with pumps. Now we will progress faster. We are planning to work until the rainy season." The last dig at the site took place twenty years ago and archaeologists still have a number of questions about the temple. "We will seek [the] answer to questions like was there a church in the area of the Temple of Artemis?" says Ladstatter, who hopes the team will reach the site's Roman levels.   

Friday, August 08

Medieval Manor House and Buildings Unearthed in England

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A tithe barn and shop buildings have been discovered at the site of a medieval manor house in central England’s village of Croxton Kerrial. “We have the house and when we stripped off the topsoil, we found a tithe barn measuring 85 feet long by 23 feet wide which we are in the process of excavating. We have also excavated an area of cobbled stones surrounded by buildings, which we believe would have been a dairy, a blacksmiths, and a bakery,” Tony Connolly, chair of the Framland Local Archaeology Group, told BBC News. The team also recovered a metal strap end for a belt engraved with a dragon, and the pieces of a twelfth-century jug from a well containing “beautifully clear water.”  

14th-Century Polynesian Settlement Found in New Zealand

WHITIANGA, NEW ZEALAND—The Waikato Times reports that a temporary Polynesian settlement that was reused over the course of the fourteenth century has been unearthed at the site of a new housing development, located on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island. Evidence of cooking, gardening, making tools, and repairing waka, or canoes, has been found. A large, greasy earth oven lined with stones may have been used for cooking seals. Moa fish hooks, basalt and chert, and a midden were also uncovered. Makere Rika-Heke, Heritage New Zealand Maori heritage advisor, said that the discovery is a reaffirmation of some of the old traditions kept by local people. 

First Identification Made of Remains From Florida Reform School

TAMPA, FLORIDA—The first set of remains of the children buried at the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys has been identified. Records from the reform school, which closed in 2011, listed only 31 burials on the property, but additional graves were found under roads and overgrown trees, away from the crosses that marked the recorded graves. George Owen Smith was 14 years old when he disappeared from the school in 1940. His remains, wrapped in a shroud and buried in an unmarked grave, were identified through a DNA match to his sister. “We may never know the full circumstances of what happened to Owen or why his case was handled the way it was. But we do know that he now will be buried under his own name and beside family members who longed for answers,” Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida told CBS News.

Etruscan Artifacts Found Well Preserved in Tuscan Well

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—A well at the site of Cetamura del Chianti in Italy has yielded artifacts from the Etruscan, Roman, and medieval periods. “The rich assemblage of materials in bronze, silver, lead, and iron, along with the abundant ceramics and remarkable evidence of organic remains, create an unparalleled opportunity for the study of culture, religion, and daily life in Chianti and the surrounding region,” Nancy de Grummond of Florida State University told Science Daily. Her team recovered an Etruscan wine bucket decorated with figurines of the marine monster Skylla, and another Etruscan vessel adorned with a bronze finial of the head of a feline with the mane of a lion and the spots of a leopard. Many objects made of wood, including parts of buckets, a spatula or spoon, a spool, and an item that might have been a child’s top were also found. Grape seeds from the well should offer information about wine in Tuscany between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D. “Offerings to the gods were found inside in the form of hundreds of miniature votive cups, some 70 bronze and silver coins, and numerous pieces used in games of fortune, such as astragali, which are akin to jacks,” she added.

Thursday, August 07

New Images Seen in Peru’s Nazca Desert

NAZCA, PERU—Sandstorms are thought to have exposed what may be previously unknown geoglyphs in Peru’s Nazca desert, according to a report in El Comercio and translated in Phys.org. Spotted by pilot Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, the new figures depict a snake, a bird, an animal that may be a llama, and some zig-zag lines. The some 700 known geoglyphs, created between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., also depict natural objects and geometric designs. Archaeologists think that Nazca lines were created with wooden stakes by removing a layer of iron-oxide rich pebbles on the surface to a depth of four to six inches, revealing the lighter, contrasting sand that can be seen from nearby mountains and hills. Some of the geoglyph images are also found on pottery from the same time period. Archaeologists will investigate the new images.  

Egyptian Mummies From Tulane’s Collection Studied

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Melinda Nelson-Hurst has been investigating Egyptian artifacts that have been housed at Tulane University since 1852, when they were donated by an associate of collector George Gliddon. It was not known if the two ancient coffins and two items identified as funerary masks belonged to the two mummies in the school’s collection. Nelson-Hurst has been able to determine that one of the coffins does belong to the male mummy, a man named Djed-Thoth-iu-ef-ankh, who was a priest and overseer of craftsmen at the temple of Amun in Thebes. “I’m amazed at the amount of detail I’ve been able to find out about this man,” she announced. The second mummy, of a teenaged girl, has yielded less information. But Nelson-Hurst’s research identified the second coffin as belonging to a woman named Djed-Mut-iu-es-ankh. Her mummy was unwrapped and dissected by Gliddon in Philadelphia, and her skull is now part of the collection at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum. It turns out that the two supposed funerary masks are in fact part of the innermost mummy cases belonging to Djed-Thoth-iu-ef-ankh, and Djed-Mut-iu-es-ankh.  

Scotland’s Dandaleith Stone May Be Unique

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—A large, pink granite boulder carved with symbols on adjacent faces was discovered last year by a farmer after it broke his plow. The stone was carved by the Picts, who lived in the region between the third and ninth centuries, with a large eagle, crescent and V-rod, notch rectangle and Z-rod. The Picts are thought to have created such stones between the sixth and eighth centuries as markers or commemorations. “The presence of two sets of symbols on a single stone is itself a very unusual feature relative to the corpus of symbol-bearing stones,” David V. Clarke, former Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, told Culture 24. Archaeologists will investigate the field where the stone was found to try and determine if that was its original setting, or if it had been deposited there during a large-scale flood.   

Gibraltar’s Neanderthals Enjoyed Rock Doves

GIBRALTAR—The examination of more than 1,700 pigeon bones from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar suggests that Neanderthals butchered and even possibly cooked the birds, which nest in cliff ledges and cave entrances, as a regular part of their diet. “Neanderthals exploited Rock Doves for food for a period of over 40 thousand years, the earliest evidence dating to at least 67 thousand years ago,” according to a paper by Ruth Blasco of The Gibraltar Museum and colleagues, published in Scientific Reports and reported in Phys.org. It had been thought that modern humans were the first to hunt and eat birds on a regular basis. Scorch marks on the bones may have been made by cooking, or perhaps by waste disposal or accidental burning.