A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 27

Human Remains Offer New Information on Ancient Lives

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Teams of scientists have been analyzing skeletal material of people who lived in the Sahara Desert and other parts of Africa as long as 8,000 years ago. Ronika Power and Marta Mirazon Lahr of the Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge University, and Tamsin O’Connell from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research are focusing on individuals who lived in pre-Dynastic Egypt. David Mattingly of the University of Leicester is studying skeletons from the farmers and traders of the Garamantes civilization, who lived in the Sahara from 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Isotope levels from tooth enamel indicate where an individual grew up, and isotopes from bones reveal where a person had been living in the last ten years before death. “Discontinuities between what the teeth tell us and what the bones tell us may provide evidence that the individual migrated. This in turn opens up questions about the interconnectedness of peoples—the movement of individuals, ideas, knowledge, and material culture at very early stages of civilization,” Power told Phys.org. “Did they adopt the customs of their hosts or did they maintain their immigrant identity?” she asked.

Byzantine-Era Gold Coins Discovered in Egypt

LUXOR, EGYPT—German archaeologists excavating a tomb at the necropolis in the Deir Beikhit area of Draa Abul Naga unearthed a collection of 29 gold coins dating to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that the Byzantine coins had been wrapped in linen and placed in a decorative column in the tomb. 

19th-Century Cistern Excavated at the University of Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—A cistern near the Rotunda at the University of Virginia may have been a source of water for fighting fires in the nineteenth century, according to archaeologist Steve Thompson. He and his team have removed some four tons of earth to reach the bottom of the cistern, which would have held 75,000 gallons of water collected from the Rotunda’s roof gutters. “The structure itself is of interest because it informs us about the water supply here at UVA through the entire nineteenth century. Getting water to the university was an enormous and continual problem,” he told NBC 29

Shipwreck Off the Coast of Florida Identified

ST. AUGUTSTIINE, FLORIDA—Archaeologists have identified a shipwreck off the coast of St. Augustine, as the Deliverance, named for a ship built by English explorers wrecked in Bermuda in the seventeenth century. “We first visited this wreck site in 2008, and we’ve kept an eye on it since then as numerous storms over the years have exposed the ribs and keel in the sand,” Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program told News 4 Jax. A January storm uncovered enough of the schooner that Meide and his team were able to compare the wreckage to historical information. An article in an English-language newspaper in Singapore helped them narrow the search down to the Deliverance, which traveled between Jacksonville, Florida, and Bermuda, until it ran aground during a storm in 1947. 

Wednesday, March 26

Slice of Vanderbilt Groom’s Cake Found in Family Trunk

ASHVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA—A piece of the groom’s cake from the wedding of heiress Cornelia Vanderbilt to English aristocrat John Cecil in 1924 was found by 96-year-old Frederick Cothran in a trunk left to him by an aunt who’d been a cook at Biltmore House, a palatial Vanderbilt home. The small piece of cake, which now resembles very old cheese, had been packed in a small box labeled with the name of a bakery in Washington, D.C. The lid was decorated with the words “Biltmore House” and the monograms of the bride and groom. “We can’t find anything in our records about the kind of wedding cake Cornelia had, but it was a tradition for the groom to have fruitcake,” Laura Overbey, collections manager in Biltmore’s Museum Services department, told the Citizen Times.

Vikings Tools for Sunset Navigation Explained

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Researchers from Eötvös Loránd University believe that a piece of a small wooden disc discovered in an eleventh-century convent in Greenland may have been used as a “twilight compass” by the Vikings on their 1,600-mile journey across the North Atlantic from Norway to Greenland. Discovered in 1948 and known as the Uunartoq disc, some scholars originally thought it was a decorative object. But when used with a pair of crystals, or sunstones, to pinpoint the position of the sun below the horizon, and a wooden slab to help determine cardinal direction, the disc would have worked within four degrees of error. “Not the best, maybe, but it would have been a really big help,” Balázs Bernáth told Live Science.

Hungary Purchases Seven Pieces of Sevso Silver

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Seven of the 14 pieces of the Sevso Treasure have been purchased by Hungary from unidentified sellers for 15 million euros. The attempted auction of the silver hoard was halted in 1990 due to false documentation on the treasure’s provenance. The fourth-century Roman silver is thought to have been unearthed illegally in the 1970s near Lake Balaton in western Hungary. “Hungary’s family silver is coming home,” Prime Minister Vikto Orbán told the Budapest Business Journal.

Excavation Will Recover 18th-Century Yacht

CASTLETOWN, ISLE OF MAN—An eighteenth-century vessel named Peggy is being excavated from the cellar of its wealthy owner’s home. It is thought that George Quayle, a politician and bank owner, had built a private dock underneath his home, and that he used Peggy for pleasure cruises and transporting important mail to Liverpool. “To remove the boat we have to move more than 50 tons of nineteenth-century landfill which then fills up with water,” Caroline Raynor of Oxford Archaeology North told BBC News. An eighteenth-century leather pistol holster, boat-building materials, and perfume bottles have also been recovered. 

Tuesday, March 25

Ancient Village Discovered at Arizona Construction Site

MARANA, ARIZONA—A construction project at the edge of the Santa Cruz River floodplain in southern Arizona has unearthed traces of an ancient village, including an irrigation canal, 37 pit houses, and six burials that could be 4,000 years old. The construction of an outlet center will be delayed while the site is investigated, as required by law. Peter Steere, historic preservation officer for the Tohono O’odham Tribe, told The Arizona Daily Star that he thinks the excavation will uncover additional features and require monitors from the tribe. “We think it likely that significantly more than 18 burials will be identified,” added Mary Ellen Walsh of the State Historic Preservation Office. 

Emperor Claudius Dressed as Pharaoh in Newly Uncovered Carving

  SWANSEA, WALES—A recently uncovered carving on the western exterior wall of the Temple of Isis at Shanhur shows the Roman emperor Claudius, dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh, raising the pole of a tent to create a cult chapel for Min, a god of fertility, in what was even then an ancient ritual. Min, in return, is depicted giving Claudius control of southern lands, perhaps the mineral-rich deserts surrounding the Nile River. In another engraving on the temple, Claudius is shown giving an offering of lettuce to Min to ensure Egypt’s continued fertility. “Although we know that Claudius, as most Roman emperors, never visited Egypt, his rule over the land of the Nile and the desert regions was legitimized through cultic means,” Martina Minas-Nerpel of Swansea University and Marleen De Meyer of KU Leuven University wrote in the journal Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. Because the image is dated, the scholars surmise that such a ritual actually took place, using a stand-in for the emperor and a statue for Min. “What we see depicted on the temple scene is the ideal scenario,” Minas-Nerpel explained in Live Science

Fourth-Century Contract Translated

CINCINNATI, OHIO—A document written in Greek on papyrus some 1,600 years ago has been deciphered by Kyle Helms of the University of Cincinnati. The partial document is a labor contract for a guard hired to protect a vineyard in Egypt, which is known to have been a difficult job from other sources that describe thieves who beat watchmen in order to obtain ripe fruit. “I agree that I have made a contract with you on the condition that I guard your property, a vineyard near the village Panoouei, from the present day until vintage and transport, so that there be no negligence, and on the condition that I receive in return pay for all of the aforementioned time…” reads Helms’ translation, according to Live Science. The amount the guard would have been paid is lost, but the contract does include the first mention of the village of Panoouei. Scholars do not know exactly where the village was located.

Government Official’s Skeleton Found in Abusir

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the skeleton of a government official named Nefer has been found in a limestone sarcophagus in his unfinished tomb in Abusir. The tomb was discovered last year by a team of Czech archaeologists led by Mirislav Barta of the Czech Institute of Egyptology. Nefer was priest of the funerary complex of the fifth-dynasty king Nefereer-Ka-Re, and supervisor of the royal document scribes. His head had been set upon a stone head rest.