Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 06

Possible Revolutionary War Battlefield Found in South Carolina

BEAUFORT, SOUTH CAROLINA—Archaeologists and volunteers say they have found the site of the Battle of Port Royal Island, fought on February 3, 1779, in which American troops led by General William Moultrie defeated British troops led by General Augustine Prevost. Archaeologist Daniel Battle of Cypress Cultural Consultants located “a big field fire,” including cannonballs and canister shot, while searching the area with a metal detector. “We started finding these large amounts of artillery—leaded shot ... we could literally look at patterns forming on the ground from this shot. We could draw a geometric line back to the position of where we could predict the American artillery sitting,” Battle told Bluffton Today. Now the researchers are working to protect the site, located in part on privately owned land. “It was not a strategically important battle, but it was definitely something the Americans needed very badly psychologically,” Battle explained. For more, go to "Off the Grid: Colonial Dorchester, South Carolina."

1,000-Year-Old Butchered Bison Unearthed in South Dakota

MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—Students from the University of Exeter were excavating a pit at a prehistoric village site in South Dakota when they unearthed the remains of a bison. Their professor, Alan Outram, told The Mitchell Republic that the animal’s pelvis, spine, tail, and foot bones were found intact. The students also uncovered some of the bison's ribs and portions of the legs. Outram thinks hunters killed the bison in the summer, then threw the bones into a trash pit after it was butchered. The meat may have been cooked with hot rocks. “That sort of food culture is really a part of their identity,” he said. For more, go to "Bison Bone Mystery."

Harappan Workshops Excavated in Northwest India

RAJASTHAN, INDIA—A 5,000-year-old industrial production center featuring furnaces, hearths, and mud-brick structures has been found in northwest India between two channels of the Ghaggar River. According to a report in Frontline, the settlement, occupied for more than 1,000 years, lacked the fortification walls, streets at right angles, citadel, and area for traders and craftsmen usually seen in Harappan sites. One of the furnaces, used for smelting gold and copper, had a platform where the smith could sit and blow through an underground tube to the fire pit. Nearby hearths were used to produce gold jewelry and copper fish hooks and spear heads. Among the artifacts recovered by the team were a copper stylus wrapped with gold foil. Pottery, beads, and jewelry made of shells, carnelian, lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, steatite, and amazonite were also produced in the site’s workshops. Researchers from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) think the site may have been abandoned because of climate change or flooding. For more, go to "India's Village of the Dead."

Natufian Period Shaman’s Possible Funeral Rites Described

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have reconstructed the possible funeral rites of a 45-year-old woman thought to have been a shaman in northern Israel some 12,000 years ago. Leore Grosman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Natalie Munro of the University of Connecticut say the oval grave was first dug out of the bedrock floor of a cave called Hilazon Tachtit, and was then lined with layers of mud, limestone, and other sediments. Shells, gazelle horn cores, and tortoise carapaces were added and covered with a layer of ash and stone flakes. The body was placed in a squatting position, with tortoise shells propping the head and pelvis against the walls of the grave. Animal bones and additional tortoise shells, probably the remains of a ritual meal, were placed around and on top of the body, which was then covered with limestone blocks. The researchers think the grave was then filled with garbage from the funeral feast, before a large triangular block of limestone was finally placed over the grave. “The significant preplanning implies that there was a defined ‘to do’ list, and a working plan of ritual actions and their order,” Grosman said in a Live Science report. For more, go to "12,000-Year-Old Village Unearthed in Israel."

Tuesday, July 05

Polynesian Stone Tools "Fingerprinted"

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and colleagues analyzed the age and geological source of stone adzes discovered in the Tangatatau rock shelter on Mangaia Island. Adzes, used in Polynesian societies to clear land for farming and to build houses, canoes, and bowls, would have been necessary tools for colonizing new lands. The researchers found that the material for making the tools may have come from as far away as the Austral Islands, American Samoa, and the northern Marquesas. This trade contact, over as much as 1,500 miles, is thought to have lasted from A.D. 1300 to the 1600s. “The colonization of Oceania is the greatest maritime migration in human history and Polynesians were really at the top of the game of voyaging and return voyaging and ... bringing all the necessary items to settle and found a new colony,” Weisler told ABC News Australia. He thinks perishable items and marriage partners, goods not left in the archaeological record, may have also made the journey. For more, go to "Canoe & Climate Shed Light on Polynesian Sailing Technology."

Nineteenth-Century Hotel Excavated in Australia

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Excavation of the site of the Mistletoe Hotel, which opened in Melbourne in 1855 during a Gold Rush, has recovered some 250,000 artifacts. The colorful hotel had a long history and provided a pub, livery stables, and a meeting space to immigrants landing in the city. “The excavation has uncovered a variety of items—some not seen before—reflecting an explosion of wealth coming into Melbourne and providing a really dynamic picture of the hotel’s past,” Jeremy Smith of Heritage Victoria told the Herald Sun. The artifacts include a gold stick pin and other jewelry; silver coins; beer, wine, champagne, cognac, gin, and rum bottles; a handgun; a jar lid for “Highly Scented Russian Bear’s Grease;” ceramic figurines; utensils; pipes; and a rising sun hat pin badge from the Australian Commonwealth Military Services. An apartment building will be constructed on the site, which had been covered and protected with a parking lot. For more, go to "Rogues' Gallery: The Convicts of Early Australia."

How Old is Homo Naledi?

BURNABY, CANADA—While scientists continue to wait for a geological date for Homo naledi, Mana Dembo of Simon Fraser University and her colleagues estimate that the hominid, which had humanlike hands, feet, and teeth, lived some 912,000 years ago. According to Science News, Dembo and her team compared skull and tooth measurements of Homo naledi to the rate of change of skull and tooth features in hominids with known geological dates. She noted that the ages calculated for other hominids were close to dates obtained through the dating of fossils and sediments, but that in a few cases, the estimates were off by 800,000 years or more. Based upon skeletal similarities to Homo erectus, it had been thought that the newly discovered species, discovered in a remote underground cave in South Africa, lived between 2.5 and 1.5 million years ago. Dembo adds that further analysis of measurements of limb and trunk bones could help clarify how Homo naledi fits into the evolutionary tree. For more on Homo naledi, go to "A New Human Relative."

Friday, July 01

British Anatomists Placed High Value on Child Corpses

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—British anatomists made greater use of the remains of infants and stillborn or miscarried fetuses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than had been previously thought, according to a report in Live Science. The corpses most readily available to anatomists, those of criminals and the very poor, tended to be of adult men, which meant that younger corpses were more highly valued. Researchers have looked at a University of Cambridge collection including 54 infant and fetus specimens dating from 1768 to 1913 and concluded that cadavers of the young were more likely to be kept as part of medical collections than those of adults. Piers Mitchell, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, notes that special care was taken when preparing infant and fetal bodies and that researchers learned much about how the body develops through studying them. “They could see for the first time how the bones grow at different ages,” he said. Many of the infant bodies appear to have come from workhouses and poorhouses, while others may have come from illegitimate births, which were highly stigmatized, leading to instances of infanticide. For more on the study of cadavers, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

How Carthage Kept Charioteers Cool

CARTHAGE, TUNISIA—Haaretz reports that archaeologists digging at the site of the Roman-era Circus of Carthage have discovered a water system that was used to cool down charioteers and horses during races. Excavations led by Tunisia’s National Heritage Institute and the German Archaeological Institute have revealed water-resistant mortar at the median strip of the circus, suggesting water basins were placed there. It’s likely that circus workers would have dipped amphoras into the basins and then sprinkled water on passing horses and chariots. Similar basins have been found at a circus outside of Rome and they are depicted on a mosaic from Carthage that shows the circus. The team also has two other sections of the site under excavation, at the spectators section and at an older Punic-era building that was torn down to accommodate the circus. To read more about chariot racing in antiquity, go to “Artifact: Statuete of an Auriga (Charioteer).”

Possible Remains of the Buddha Found in China

NANJING, CHINA—A skull bone that may have belonged to the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was discovered in China hidden inside a model of a stupa, or Buddhist shrine used for meditation. A report in Live Science explains that the 1,000-year-old model, which measures around 4 feet by 1.5 feet, was found inside a stone chest in a crypt under the Grand Bao’en Temple in Nanjing. Inscriptions engraved on the chest explain that it was constructed during the reign of Emperor Zhenzong (r. A.D. 997-1022) during the Song Dynasty. An inscription found inside the chest explains that after the Buddha entered paranirvana, breaking the cycle of death and rebirth, his remains were divided into 84,000 shares, of which 19 were sent to China. These included the skull bone, which was found inside a gold casket, which was itself inside a silver casket. The archaeologists who made the discovery are agnostic as to whether the bone actually belonged to the Buddha. Buddhist monks have since buried the bone in another temple. For more, go to “Buddhism, in the Beginning.”

Medieval Burials Unearthed in Wales

PEMBROKSHIRE, WALES—Excavations at an early medieval chapel graveyard on a beach in southwest Wales have revealed Christian burials dating to the early sixth century, making them contemporaries of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. BBC News reports that analysis of skeletons found at similar sites in the region shows that some belonged to people who were not local to the area, but had been born in continental Europe and Ireland. Initial results of the recently discovered remains suggests similar diversity in the group. The Dyfed Archaeological trust is conducting the excavation of the cemetery because the burials are at risk of being washed out to sea. For more on archaeology in Wales, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."