Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 31

Sealskin Processing Site Investigated in Newfoundland

PORT AU CHOIX, NEWFOUNDLAND—Patricia Wells of the Port au Choix Archaeology Project and her team are exploring a now-waterlogged campsite occupied by the Groswater people sometime between 2,800 and 2,000 years ago, according to a report in the Northern Pen. So far they have uncovered stone tools thought to have been used for processing sealskins, and they have taken a sediment core from nearby Bass Pond. “We hope to assess whether the Groswater had any impact on the pond ecology, and look into the long ecological history of the region as a whole,” Wells said. Wells explains that the Groswater people probably did not use the site as a base camp for hunting, however, because there’s no view of the ocean and no place to land game on the shore. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?

2,500-Year-Old Sarcophagus Found in Turkey

BALIKESIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—A sarcophagus containing the skeletal remains of two people has been found at the ancient Greek city of Antandrus, which is located in northwestern Turkey, according to a report in the Daily Sabah. Gürcan Polat of Ege University said the sarcophagus dates to the fifth century B.C. “The bones probably belonged to people from the same family,” Polat added. The excavation also uncovered an imported bowl, two amphoras, and two strigils, tools used to scrape sweat and dirt from the skin. To read about another recent discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

16th-Century Crypt Discovered in New World’s First Cathedral

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—According to a report in El País, a brick vault that could hold the remains of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo has been found at the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral built in the Americas. Oviedo wrote Summary of the Natural History of the Indies, the first account of the New World, and served as governor of the fortress of Santo Domingo from 1532 until his death in 1557. “We know that up to middle of the sixteenth century there was an altar dedicated to Santa Lucía built on Oviedo’s instructions, and that right underneath he ordered a vault to be constructed, where he was buried,” said Esteban Prieto Vicioso, head of the conservation project at the cathedral. Christopher Columbus had also been buried at the cathedral for a time, but his body was later moved. Prieto Vicioso explained that there is no documentary evidence that Oviedo’s body was ever exhumed, however. The restoration team plans to open the crypt, which, in addition to Oviedo’s remains, might hold an iron key to the fortress of Santo Domingo. A head injury received during a knife fight could help Prieto Vicioso’s team identify Oviedo’s remains. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Finding Lost African Homelands.”

Friday, July 28

Fifth-Century Baptismal Font Found in Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Christian baptismal font has been found at a basilica site in the ancient city of Philippopolis, which is located in southern Bulgaria. “Some time in the second half or towards the end of the fifth century, there was a Constantinople Patriarch Makedonii, who had been deported and who was sent to our Black Sea in exile,” said archaeologist Zheni Tankova. Tankova thinks this exiled bishop may have given the font as a gift to the basilica. Other architectural elements uncovered in the basilica include mosaic flooring, architraves, and friezes. The team has also uncovered some of the street that led from the bishop’s residence to the basilica. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

2,300-Year-Old Carpentry Tool Discovered in Japan

ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE, JAPANThe Asahi Shimbun reports that an intact carpenter’s tool has been unearthed at the Yokaichijikata site on the island of Honshu. The 2,300-year-old tool is made up of an iron yariganna, or cutting pike plane, measuring about six inches long. The iron is thought to have been imported from overseas, since the tool predates known iron production in Japan. The upper part of the iron bar was inserted into a carved haft, the top of which resembles the handle of a baseball bat, and was affixed with tape made of Japanese cherry bark. The small tool may have been used with just one hand to smooth wooden surfaces. Much larger yariganna would have been used with two hands. The tool could provide information on how iron was traded throughout the Japanese archipelago. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

18th-Century Cemetery Excavated on Nova Scotia

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, CANADA—Students from the University of New Brunswick are assisting with the effort to exhume approximately 1,000 eighteenth-century graves near the Fortress of Louisbourg before they erode into the Atlantic Ocean, according to a report from CBC News. The settlement began in 1713 as a French fishing village, but it grew into a commercial port and was surrounded by fortification walls by 1740. The site changed hands several times with the British over the following tumultuous 30 years. “What we’ll be looking at is overall health patterns,” said Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick. “We will also be looking at elements of trauma, infectious disease, migration patterns, even potentially ancient DNA,” she said. The remains will be reburied when the project is completed. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

Medieval Child’s Burial Unearthed in Northern Russia

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a medieval burial containing the remains of a young child has been discovered in northern Russia, above the Arctic Circle. Researchers spotted a fragment of a bronze bowl exposed by wind erosion while on an expedition to monitor permafrost on the Gydan Peninsula. The turquoise-colored piece of bronze is thought to have been made in Persia, and was about 200 years old when placed over part of the child’s head some 1,000 years ago. The lone burial could have been left by traders who camped at the site while hunting for walrus, birds, and furs. “He or she was from some wealthy family, judging by the things laid in the grave,” said archaeologist Andrey Gusev of the Arctic Research Center. A ceramic vessel, fragments of fur clothing, a ring, and the decorated handle and sheath of a knife were also recovered. The iron blade itself was not preserved. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

Thursday, July 27

Monumental Tomb Discovered Near Pompeii

NAPLES, ITALY—A monumental tomb with a long funerary epigraph describing the life of the deceased has been discovered in Porta Stabia, according to a report in ANSAmed. The inscription is missing the man’s name, but it says he was a duoviro, or Pompeii city magistrate, and describes his coming of age, his wedding, and his sponsorship of banquets and games. The inscription also contains information about an armed brawl at a gladiator show in Pompeii in 59 A.D., in which the tomb’s occupant may have been killed. We know from an account left by the Roman historian Tacitus that after a Senate investigation into the brawl, ordered by Emperor Nero, that the residents of Pompeii were forbidden to hold gladiator games for ten years, and those who organized the games and incited the clash were exiled. Pompeii’s general director, Massimo Osanna, said the newly found inscription complements the account left by Tacitus and mentions that some of the city’s magistrates were also exiled. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

New Imaging Technique Reveals Sixth-Century Text

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that a sixth-century text has been found hidden in the binding of a sixteenth-century book of poetry. A team led by Emeline Pouyet and Marc Walton of the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies developed a technique combining visible hyperspectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence to examine the binding of a 1537 copy of Works and Days, a book written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, when they noticed writing beneath the parchment covering the book board. They suspect the sixteenth-century bookbinder tried to remove the text on the board by washing and scraping it, but some of the ink remained and over time, it degraded the parchment placed over it. The new imaging technique revealed the recycled materials had originally been pages of the Roman law code, annotated with references to the church’s canon law in the margins, perhaps by a medieval university student. Pouyet and Walton say the new imaging technique will make it easier to examine delicate, recycled books when the powerful X-rays of a synchrotron are not available. For more on using new technology to read ancient texts, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”

Scientists Analyze Ancient Canaanite DNA

HINXTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Science News, researchers led by Marc Haber of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute mapped the genomes of five 3,700-year-old Canaanite skeletons uncovered in Sidon, Lebanon, and compared the results with other ancient and modern populations. Little is known about the Canaanites, who left few written records. Scholars have had to rely upon second-hand accounts written by ancient Hebrew, Egyptian, and Greek sources for historical information on the origins and supposed demise of the Canaanites. The results of the DNA study suggest that the Canaanites descended from early farmers who settled in the Levant some 10,000 years ago, and migrants from Iran who arrived between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago. The spread of the Akkadian Empire between 4,400 and 4,200 years ago could account for the large contribution of migrants from the east to Canaanite ancestry. In fact, a similar mixture of genes has been found in ancient skeletons unearthed in Jordan. The researchers also found that modern Lebanese people received about 93 percent of their DNA from the ancient Canaanites. The remaining seven percent likely came from Eurasians who arrived in the Levant some 3,700 to 2,200 years ago. To read more about ancient Canaan and its time as an Egyptian colony, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."