Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, March 07

Excavation Reveals Fortification Wall in Malta

VALLETTA, MALTA—Malta’s Infrastructure Ministry announced that an ancient fortification wall was uncovered at the site of a public bathroom located just outside Valletta’s city gate. According to the Times of Malta, the wall was part of the city’s landward defenses. The country’s Superintendence of National Heritage will investigate the wall. 

4,000-Year-Old Pollen Reflects Scotland’s Ancient Landscape

CAITHNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that pollen from medicinal and flowering plants has been identified on a decorated beaker placed in a young woman’s grave some 4,100 years ago. Dubbed “Ava,” the woman’s remains were unearthed 30 years ago at Achavanich, a site known for its megalithic horseshoe-shaped structure. “Of the pollen recovered the majority were from trees and shrubs including birch, pine—most likely Scots pine—hazel and alder,” said archaeologist Maya Hoole. Traces of heather, grasses, meadowsweet, and St. John’s wort were also found in the grave. Stable isotope analysis of Ava’s bones indicates that she lived in the area. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Secondary Roman Road Uncovered in Israel

BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a 164-yard section of ancient Roman road during salvage excavations ahead of the installation of a water line about 20 miles west of Jerusalem. The cobbled road is thought to have connected the ancient town of Bethletepha to the highway that stretched from Jerusalem to Eleutheropolis, a city located to the south. Several coins found at the site date to the first century A.D. and suggest that the road could be older than the highway, which is thought to have been built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country around A.D. 130. The road is situated near a cross-country hiking route and will be preserved for visitors. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

New Technique May Identify Vulnerable Temples at Angkor

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that a new technique could help scientists predict when buildings at Angkor and other UNESCO World Heritage sites are susceptible to collapse and even prevent small shifts in the structures that can cause damage. Fulong Chen of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a team of researchers used InSAR, or synthetic aperture radar interferometry, and high-resolution satellite imagery, to measure millimeter-scale changes to the monuments in an area measuring 14 miles by 11 miles. The scientists did not detect a threat over the two-year span of the study, but they suspect that erosion, temperature variations, and changes in the level of the groundwater, which is now being depleted by the millions of visitors to the ancient city each year, could contribute to the instability of Angkor’s ancient structures over time. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Monday, March 06

First World War Shipwreck Declared War Grave

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that the wreckage of the HMHS Anglia has been declared an official war grave, along with a dozen other British naval vessels. At least 160 people were killed when the HMHS Anglia sank off the southeastern coast of England after hitting a German mine on November 17, 1915. The hospital ship had been carrying nearly 400 soldiers wounded in World War I battlefields, as well as the team of doctors and nurses caring for them. It is now illegal to damage, move, remove, or unearth any of the human remains at the wreck site, or to open any hatch or other opening on the ship. “In protecting these historic wreck sites, the Ministry of Defense has recognized the significance of the ships as part of our national story, recognized the cultural importance of the First World War at sea, and honored the memory of those lost in the defense of our shores,” said marine archaeologist Mark Dunkley of Historic England. To read about another shipwreck, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

Rock Art Discovered in 4,000-Year-Old Dolmen

HULA VALLEY, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a dolmen containing the remains of an adult, a young adult, and a child has been found in a field of more than 400 ancient tombs in northern Israel. The underside of the tomb’s capstone, which is thought to weigh about 50 tons, had been decorated with engravings. At least four smaller dolmens had been built at its foot, and then the chambers were covered with a tumulus of stones. Researchers from the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of Hebrew University made a 3-D model of the engravings, which archaeologist Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority said are the first to be found in a dolmen in the Middle East. The patina inside the carvings matches the rest of the rock face, suggesting that the tomb was decorated when it was built. “It’s a problem to date [the dolmens] because they are very obvious on the landscape and people have been using them since they were built 4,000 years ago or a little bit more than that,” explained Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College. The scientists will attempt to radiocarbon date the bones discovered in the tomb. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Artifact: Middle Bronze Age Jug.”

Study Suggests Domesticated Trees Persist in Amazon Forest

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Science reports that ecologist Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Carolina Levis of Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research and Wageningen University in the Netherlands employed a database of information collected in earlier studies of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest to search for evidence of domesticated woody species near more than 1,000 archaeological sites in the Amazon basin and the Guiana shield. They found that common domesticated species, such as the Brazil nut tree and palm trees, made up as much as 61 percent of the trees near archaeological sites. Forests near archaeological sites also had more domesticated tree species than places without evidence of past human occupation. “The effect of Pre-Columbian people is much more pronounced than many of us believed,” said Ter Steege. Researchers cannot be sure, however, when domesticated trees became common. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Friday, March 03

Children’s Burials Unearthed in Historic St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—The remains of three children have been found among seven European burials under the floor of a hurricane-damaged shop in St. Augustine. First Coast News reports that two of the children were buried in the same grave, perhaps at the same time. “The bioarchaeologist will be able to tell us the precise age but he thinks—based on the bones—they probably are under seven years old,” said archaeologist Kathleen Deagan, who is assisting city archaeologist Carl Halbirt with the project. The graves are part of a church cemetery that dates to the earliest years of the European colony. The excavation team has also discovered foundations at the site that are not recorded on historic maps. The structures may have served as a seawall. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

19th-Century Military Trench Uncovered in New Zealand

MATAPIHI, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report by Radio New Zealand, workers installing a median barrier on a highway near the North Island’s city of Tauranga found musket balls in what appears to be a nineteenth-century military trench. Archaeologists are investigating the site, which is in an area known to hold the archaeological remains of three Maori settlements. But Niclas Johansson, a NZ Transport Agency spokesperson, said that even though there are other well-known battle sites in the Tauranga area, this military trench was a surprise. “This could be nationally significant so it’s important that we keep the site closed and take the time now to find out as much as we can so we can honor the tangata whenua [people of the land] who were affected by this part of our history,” he explained. To read about a recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Vast Burial Mound Found in Japan’s Ancient Capital

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a square burial mound measuring nearly 230 feet per side has been found in Asuka, the ancient capital of imperial Japan. The vast tomb is surrounded by a stone-lined moat, which was discovered in 2014. Researchers have also found remnants of a passage to the burial chamber, which they think could hold the remains of Emperor Jomei, who lived from A.D. 593 to 641, or Soga no Emishi, a warlord who died in 645. To read about another recent discovery, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”