Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 22

DNA Analysis Identifies Irish Nationalist’s Remains

DUBLIN, IRELAND—The remains of Thomas Kent, one of 16 men executed in 1916 after the Easter Rising, have been identified by archaeologists and geneticists at University College Dublin (UCD) through DNA analysis. Kent’s body, which had been covered with quicklime at the time of burial, was exhumed from a shallow grave at Cork Prison earlier this year. The quicklime is thought to have helped preserve Kent’s DNA, which was compared with samples from his two surviving nieces. “Now we have the three samples. We have Thomas Kent, or Mr. X as we called him, and we have the two nieces. That meant that we had three different tests to sort. The first test was between the two sisters. The second test between Sister 1 and Mr. X, and the third test between Sister 2 and Mr. X. And then we estimated the degree of relatedness between these individuals. By doing that we can be very sure in this case that Thomas Kent has a relatedness to the siblings which is consistent with being an uncle,” Jens Carlsson of the UCD Earth Institute said in a video clip press release. Kent was given a state funeral last week. For more on historical archaeology and DNA, go to "Finding Lost African Homelands."

New Thoughts on the Construction of Monks Mound

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI—A new study of seeds and spores taken from the interior of Monks Mound suggests that the ten-story earthwork, the largest structure at Cahokia, was built more quickly than had been previously thought. Timothy Schilling and Neal Lopinot of Missouri State University collected the soil samples when repairs were conducted on the 1,000-year-old earthworks in 2005. “We were hoping to understand the source for the sediments in the mound,” Schilling told Western Digs. They found that all of the seeds in the 22 samples, except for plants such as elderberry, which were used for food, were annual plants. This suggests that the borrow pits, where the soil was collected, were disturbed frequently. “If there was a substantial time lapse between the use of the borrow pits, we would have a different environmental profile—more well established perennials versus weedy annuals,” Shilling said. The seeds in the samples were also well preserved and unburned, suggesting that they had not been exposed on the surface for very long. Earlier researchers had concluded that it had taken some 250 years to build the mound, but Schilling thinks that a period of about 20 years is more likely. For more, go to "Mississippian Burning."

Early North American Colonists May Have Fished for Salmon

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—A team of scientists has found 11,500-year-old chum salmon bones in an ancient cooking hearth at the Upward Sun River site in Interior Alaska. The fragile bones suggest that Ice age Paleoindians were fishing at a time when it had been thought that people living in North America were primarily big-game hunters. “Salmon fishing has deep roots, and now we know that salmon have been consumed by North American humans at least 11,500 years ago,” University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropologist Carrin Halffman said in a press release. Analysis of the bones shows that they were sea-run chum salmon that had migrated upriver from what is now the mouth of the Yukon River. “We have cases where salmon become landlocked and have very different isotopic signatures than marine salmon. Combining genetic and isotopic analyses allow us to confirm the identity as chum salmon, which inhabit the area today, as well as establish their life histories. Both are necessary to understand how humans used these resources,” added UAF anthropologist Ben Potter. For more, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Monday, September 21

First Nations Crafted Stone Tools From Glacial Deposits

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA—It had been thought that First Nations peoples living on British Columbia’s Galiano Island between 600 and 1,500 years ago traveled to find volcanic rock for tool making, but a new study by archaeologist Colin Grier of Washington State University suggests that the volcanic rock, which kept a better edge than other stones, may have been deposited on the island by a moving glacier some 12,000 years ago. Grier and his team collected tool-making debris from the site at Dionisio Point and stones from the island’s beach. The chemical fingerprint of the stones matched that of volcanic rock from Mount Garibaldi on the British Columbia mainland, more than 60 miles away. “You could go down to the local corner hardware store rather than having to pick up and pack the canoe up and head off to the Super WalMart on the mainland,” Grier quipped to Global News, Canada. Other studies have shown, however, that the First Nations people of Dionisio Point did travel from these winter villages to summer salmon fishing sites. For more on the archaeology of the region, go to "The Edible Seascape."  

Civil War Cannon Recovered from the CSS Georgia

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—Marine archaeologists have recovered a second 9,000-pound Dahlgren rifled cannon from the site of the CSS Georgia, an ironclad warship scuttled in the Savannah River in 1864. The cannon had been missed by several high-tech multibeam sonar surveys of the dregs of the river and was an unexpected find. The surveys did reveal the presence of shells for a Dahlgren cannon however, and according to Jim Jobling of Texas A&M University, there was a discrepancy between two manifests from the CSS Georgia. The original listed two Dahlgren cannons, but no Dahlgren cannons were listed on a later manifest, dated October 1864. “I’m very, very pleased,” he said in a press release. The team has also brought leather shoes, wrenches, ceramic bottles, and an anvil to the surface. To read more about maritime archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Platform in Eastern Turkey May Have Supported First Throne

ROME, ITALY—Marcella Frangipane of La Sapienza University told Discovery News that she has found the remains of a 5,000-year-old throne room at the site of Aslantepe, located in eastern Turkey. The room is in a monumental structure, opens onto a courtyard, and has an adobe platform reached by three steps. Burned wooden fragments were found on the platform. “The burned wooden fragments are likely the remains of a chair or throne,” she said. She thinks the chief or king used the throne room to meet with the public, gathered in the large courtyard. The people may have approached the ‘king’ and stood on two small, low platforms unearthed in front of the possible location of the throne. “This reception courtyard and building were not a temple complex, they rather appear as the heart of the palace. We do not have religious rites here, but a ceremony showing the power of the ‘king’ and the state,” Frangipane said. The throne room is the first evidence of the change in power from the religious authorities to a state governing system, she added. To read more, go to "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."

2,400-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Pompeii

NAPLES, ITALY—An intact tomb dating to the fourth century B.C. has been discovered in Pompeii by French archaeologists from the Jean Bèrard Center. The tomb was constructed by the Samnites, who lived in south-central Italy and fought against the Romans. “It is an exceptional find for Pompeii because it throws light on the pre-Roman city about which we know so very little,” archaeological superintendent of Pompeii Massimo Osanna told The Local, Italy. An adult woman had been buried in the tomb with amphoras that originated in other regions of Italy. The contents of the jars will be analyzed, but are thought to contain cosmetics, wine, and food. The research team will look for additional tombs in the area, which was heavily shelled during World War II. “It’s a miracle that this has survived,” Osanna said. To read more about Pompeii, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Friday, September 18

Human Populations Adapted to Different Diets

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—An international team of scientists has identified a set of genetic mutations involved in fat metabolism in nearly 100 percent of the Inuit, whose traditional diet is high in marine animal fat. The mutations are thought to be at least 20,000 years old, and may have helped people adapt to high-meat, high-fat diets. “We think it is a quite old selection that may have helped humans adapt to the environment during the last Ice Age, but the selection is far stronger in the Inuit than anywhere else. It’s fascinating that Greenlanders have a unique genetic makeup that lets them better use their traditional food sources,” Matteo Fumagalli of University College London said in a press release from the University of California, Berkeley. Only two percent of Europeans and 15 percent of Han Chinese carry these mutations. For more about the archaeology of the High Arctic, go to "Cultural Revival."

More on Maryland’s 18th-Century Ship

VIENNA, MARYLAND—Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the Maryland State Highway Administration, notes that the late eighteenth-century merchant ship raised from the Nanticoke River last month may have been built by enslaved workers or indentured servants. “The workmanship isn’t that of professional builders,” she told The Dorchester Banner. “At least three curious or strange carvings have been found. We don’t know what they mean. Usually when you see carvings on a ship, they were put there during the construction process, usually Roman numbers, but these were different. There are two geometric patterns (carvings) that no one in our team of underwater archaeologists and maritime historians had ever seen before,” she said. The small ship may have been used to move tobacco, farm goods, or even livestock from larger ships to plantations and merchants. For more on nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Graves of Napoleonic Troops Uncovered in Germany

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that a construction project in Frankfurt has found the remains of 200 French soldiers thought to have died in 1813 after returning from Russia with Napoléon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée. The men may have been killed in battle or may have died in a typhus epidemic. According to Andrea Hampel, director of heritage and historic monuments in Frankfurt, their bodies had been placed in coffins and buried hastily without funeral articles. As many as 15,000 people are thought to have died in battles in the Frankfurt area in October 1813. To read about archaeology at the Waterloo battlefield, go to "A Soldier's Story."

Aboriginal Stories Transmit Knowledge of Australia’s Landscape

SIPPY DOWNS, AUSTRALIA—Geographer Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast and linguist Nick Reid of the University of New England studied Aboriginal stories from 21 different places around the coastline of Australia. The stories described a time when sea levels were significantly lower than they are today, some 7,000 years ago. “These stories talk about a time when the sea started to come in and cover the land, and the changes this brought about to the way people lived—the changes in landscape, the ecosystem, and the disruption this caused to their society,” Nunn said in a press release. “It is important to note that it’s not just one story that describes this process. There are many stories, all consistent in their narrative, across 21 diverse sites around Australia’s coastline.” Nunn thinks that the information survived for so long because it was vital. “I believe these stories endured that long partly due to the harshness of Australia’s natural environment, which meant that each generation had to pass on knowledge to the next in a systematic way to ensure its survival,” he concluded. For more, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."