Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 14

Scientists Attempt to Replicate Mesolithic Headgear

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of archaeologists led by Aimée Little of the University of York recreated shamanic headdresses like the ones unearthed at Star Carr, an Early Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire, with ancient tools. But first, they examined the headdresses with 3-D laser scanning to analyze the cut marks made in the red deer crania. They think the first step in producing the headwear involved packing the skull with clay and baking it in embers to remove the skin and make the bone easier to work. Then some of the antler may have been removed to make the headdress lighter. Those antler pieces could then have been used to make barbed points for hunting and fishing. It’s also possible that the antler blanks were removed after the headdress had been worn as a way to recycle them. “This is the only site in Britain where they are found, and there are only a few other headdresses known from Germany. This work into how they might have been made has given us an important glimpse into what life was like 11,000 years ago,” Star Carr excavation co-leader Nicky Milner said in a UPI report on the project. To read about another discovery at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

New Thoughts on How Humans May Have Harnessed Fire

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Red Orbit reports that a team from the University of Utah has developed a new scenario for the early human use of fire. The scientists suggest that between two and three million years ago, as the climate became drier and woody plants gave way to grasses, fires naturally occurred more frequently. Fire would have exposed hidden animal holes and tracks, and would have burned seeds and tubers, making them easier to chew and digest, and providing early human ancestors with increased energy. The cleared land would have also made it easier to travel and perhaps colonize new habitats. “Evidence shows that other animals take advantage of fire for foraging, so it seems very likely that our ancestors did as well,” said team member Kristen Hawkes. For more, go to "Catching Fire and Keeping It."

Neanderthals May Have Used Toothpicks

YORK, ENGLAND--Anita Radini and a team of scientists examined Neanderthal teeth from Spain’s El Sidrón Cave and found traces of bark trapped in fossilized plaque, or dental calculus, on some of them. According to a report in Live Science, the researchers say the wood, which had not been charred and was nonedible, may have come from the use of toothpicks or wooden tools held in the mouth as a “third hand.” Previous studies of Neanderthal teeth have found grooves that may have been made by toothpicks, and marks on teeth from El Sidrón, found last year, suggest that these Neanderthals used them as tools. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

16th C. Grave in Mexico City May Belong to Spanish Priest

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—While digging foundations for lamp posts near Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, engineers discovered a stone slab thought to cover the tomb of one of the first Catholic priests in Mexico after the Spanish conquest in 1521. The slab, engraved with the name Miguel de Palomares, had been placed in the floor of what archaeologists think was once an Aztec temple. “The Spaniards, Hernán Cortes and his followers, made use of the pre-Hispanic structures, the temples, the foundations, the floors,” Raúl Barrera of the National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Associated Press. Palomares died in 1542 and is known to have been buried inside the city’s first cathedral, near an altar. This structure was torn down in the 1620s, after a larger cathedral had been built next to it. A hole is thought to have been drilled into the slab for a wooden pole or cross hundreds of years later. To read in-depth about archaeology in Mexico, go to "Under Mexico City."

Wednesday, April 13

German World War I Ships Photographed With Drone Technology

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—As part of a project called The Forgotten Wrecks of World War I, marine archaeologists with England’s Maritime Archaeology Trust used a high-definition video camera attached to a drone to scan two German warships, V44 and V82. After the war, the two ships were beached at the southern tip of Whale Island, located in Portsmouth Harbor, where they were used for target practice by the Royal Navy gunnery school. “Despite a brief mention in the Portsmouth News in 1921, the two destroyers have lain largely forgotten where they were beached—ironically in front of headquarters of today’s Royal Navy,” Lt. Paul Lane said in a report in Navy News. “The attentions of scrap dealers as well as the ravages of time and tide have taken their toll on the vessels, leaving them largely unrecognizable to all but the trained eye,” he added. For more, go to "Archaeology of World War II."

Nineteenth-Century Well Uncovered in St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report in The St. Augustine Record, Carl Halbirt, St. Augustine city archaeologist, and volunteers discovered house walls, a hearth, and a well at the site of the Mill Top Tavern, which was built in 1888 and demolished last month. Halbirt says the house stood on the site, located near historic St. George Street, in the early nineteenth century. When the well was no longer used, it was filled in with coquina stone. “This area has transitioned a great deal over time from the colonial era where there may have been small buildings near the ‘clear area’ of the Castillo to the period of early tourism in Florida and St. Augustine leading to construction of the Victorian period home and later ‘Old Mill’ building,” said Jenny Wolfe, the city’s historic preservation and special projects planner. To read in-depth about archaeology in Florida, go to "Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth."

Unmarked Grave Unearthed on School Grounds in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Construction work to build a new classroom at a school in the town of Leith, north of Edinburgh, has uncovered human remains. “This seems to be the site of an unknown, unmarked grave dating to the seventeenth century,” City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist John Lawson told BBC News. Lawson thinks the person may have been killed by the plague, but the skeleton will be analyzed for more information. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Viking Treasure Trove."

Tuesday, April 12

Lost Civil War Blockade Runner May Be the Agnes E. Fry

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA—A 225-foot-long shipwreck discovered off the coast of North Carolina has been tentatively identified as the Agnes E. Fry, a Confederate blockade runner, according to a report in Wired. Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris has researched ship records in Bermuda, where many blockade runners loaded supplies for the Confederacy, and found that among the three blockade runners that were missing, only the Agnes E. Fry was more than 200 feet long. The iron-hulled steamer is also missing its engine and paddlewheel, both of which had been removed by salvagers. An imaging sonar scan of the ship, which rests in water with extremely poor visibility, is planned for next week. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "Canada Finds Erebus," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Radiocarbon Dates Suggest New Timeline for Chauvet Cave

PARIS, FRANCE—A series of more than 250 radiocarbon dates of rock art samples, animal bones, and charcoal from Chauvet Cave suggests that people used it seasonally for cultural purposes during two distinct periods separated by several thousand years. According to the Los Angeles Times, the first period lasted from 37,000 to 33,500 years ago. The second period of occupation began between 31,000 and 28,000 years ago, and lasted for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Occupation of the cave may have ended due to rockfalls that blocked its entrance. Anita Quiles of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and Jean-Michel Geneste of the Ministry of Culture and Communication in Paris say that most of the drawings were created during the first period of occupation, while the torch marks were left by the second group of people. Bears left scratch marks on the walls between 48,500 and 33,300 years ago, but probably only used the cave during the winter months to hibernate. “Only the black paintings have been dated,” Quiles and Geneste wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The dating technique for the red paintings has yet to be developed.” For more on cave art, go to "The First Artists."

Handwriting Dating to the Seventh Century B.C. Analyzed

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Israel Finkelstein, Arie Shaus, and Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin of Tel Aviv University used computer programs to scan and analyze the handwriting on 16 ostracons dating to the seventh century B.C. All of the inscriptions were unearthed at the site of Arad, a frontier fort, and had been made within a span of a few months. The analysis suggests that at least six different people, ranging in rank from the commander of the fort down to the deputy quartermaster, had written these texts. All of the writers used proper spelling and syntax. Similar ostracons have been found at other border forts, suggesting that writing was widespread, at least within the Judahite army. Finkelstein thinks the ancient kingdom of Judah may have had an educational system, since literacy was not limited to the elite. “This is really quite amazing, that in a remote place like this, there was more than one person, several people, who could write,” he told Live Science. Finkelstein also claims that if literacy were widespread at the time, it would support the idea that portions of the Bible could have been compiled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "The Gates of Gath."