Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, May 03

Study Suggests the Calusa Engineered Mound Key

ATHENS, GEORGIA—Researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, Pennsylvania State University, and Florida Gulf Coast University are studying Mound Key, an island built by the Calusa from hundreds of millions of shells, bones, and other discarded materials in Estero Bay. Extensive radiocarbon dates, taken from the island’s different layers, indicate that the younger building materials are found on the bottom, even though you would expect to find them on the top. “It appears that the island was occupied early in its existence, abandoned, and then reoccupied,” R&D Magazine reports. “During Mound Key’s second occupation, its inhabitants substantially altered the landscape by redepositing old midden to form at least the upper portions of the two largest midden-mounds.” To read about how modern-day Native Americans in Florida uphold ancient traditions, go to "People of the White Earth."

Scientists Examine Aircraft Carrier, Declassified Documents

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Live Science, researchers have compared sonar images of the wreck of USS Independence (CVL22) with declassified documents to determine how the aircraft carrier was used in the years following World War II. Marine archaeologist James Delgado of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the Independence was one of a fleet of vessels assigned to Operation Crossroads to examine the effects of shock waves, heat, and radiation from the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. The Independence survived the tests and so was used for decontamination studies, and then as a laboratory for testing ways to handle radioactive waste. In 1951, the Navy stored radioactive waste in steel and concrete drums on the cleaned ship and then sank it in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “Independence, by the time it was sunk, was at about a level that you would get with an average X-ray,” Delgado said. “Now we not only know what shape she’s in and where she lies, but also exactly what happened to the Independence.” To read more about USS Independence, go to "Wrecks of the Pacific."

New Thoughts on a Viking Runestone

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—Per Homberg of the University of Gothenburg suggests that the inscription on the Rök Runestone, which dates to the late A.D. 800s, does not refer to acts of heroism, kings, and wars, as had been previously thought, but honors the power of writing itself and harnesses it to honor the dead. Homberg says the Rök Runestone is unusual because its text is long, but its meaning is similar to that expressed on other runestones. “The riddles on the front of the stone have to do with the daylight that we need to be able to read the runes, and on the back are riddles that probably have to do with the carving of the runes and the runic alphabet, the so-called futhark,” he said in Laboratory Equipment. In this interpretation, the 24 “kings” mentioned at the bottom of the stone are not rulers, but the set of runes themselves. To read more about the Viking world, go to "The First Vikings."

Intact Pot Unearthed in St. Augustine, Florida

SAINT AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—KAGS TV reports that city archaeologist Carl Halbirt unearthed an intact pot at the site of the Mill Top Tavern, across from the Castillo de San Marcos. He thinks the pot was buried in a pit at least 300 years ago by Native Americans and may have had ritual significance. The pot contained pieces of another pot and soil that will be analyzed. To read more about the archaeology of Native Americans in Spanish Florida, go to "Off the Grid: Mission San Luis." 

Monday, May 02

Deer Park’s Cobbled Floors Revealed in Cornwall

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that restoration work at the Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park revealed the cobbled floor and central wall of the property’s upper deer house. The ground floor of the structure would have supported a timber manger to feed the deer that lived on the land; the hay was stored on the structure’s upper floor. The team also exposed the elaborate cobbled floor in the park’s stone seating area. Visitors would have been able to sit and look across the deer park and out to the sea from the seat. “Although the building had partially collapsed and its original form is uncertain—there are no known surviving photos—the team managed to clear away rubble and soil to reveal the original plan of the building along with a rear ledge which would have supported a wooden seat,” explained James Gossip of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit. Additional evidence suggests that the slate roof over the seat had cast iron gutters to carry water away from the structure. Both buildings are thought to be between two and three hundred years old. To read more about archaeology on an English estate, go to "The Many Lives of an English Manor House."

Medieval Cooling Tower Unearthed in Kuwait

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—According to a report in The Slovak Spectator, a joint Kuwaiti-Slovak archaeological team working at the Nestorian Christian settlement of Al-Qusur on Failaka Island in the Persian Gulf unearthed a palace dating from the seventh to ninth centuries, a sewerage system, and the base of a stone tower. “According to a preliminary analysis, it’s a unique so-called windcatch-tower, utilizing an ingenious interior cooling system based on the flow of air, caught by openings in the tower superstructure,” Matej Ruttkay, director of the Slovak Academy of Sciences’ Archaeological Institute, told the TASR newswire. Similar cooling systems have been found in the Middle East and North Africa. To read in-depth about the site, go to "Archaeology Island." 

Genetic Study of Ice Age Europeans Examines Migration Patterns

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—BBC News reports that a new genetic study of the remains of 51 Europeans between 45,000 and 7,000 years old has been led by David Reich at Harvard Medical School. The results suggests that beginning 37,00 years ago, all Europeans came from a single founding population that developed deep branches in different parts of Europe. At the end of the last Ice Age some 19,000 years ago, people thought to have come from Spain spread northward. Then some 14,000 years ago, populations from Turkey and Greece spread westward into Europe and replaced the first group. “We see multiple, huge movements of people displacing previous ones,” said Reich. The analysis also suggests that Ice Age Europeans had dark complexions and brown eyes until about 14,000 years ago, when blue eyes began to spread across the population. Pale skin began to appear after 7,000 years ago. Earlier populations also had more Neanderthal DNA than present-day people, which is consistent with the idea that it may have had harmful effects on modern humans and was lost over time through natural selection. To read about a masterpiece of Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man." 

Inscription in Anatolia Explains Racing Rules

KONYA, TURKEY—Rules for horse racing have been translated from a 2,000-year-old stone monument in central Anatolia. Written in Greek, the rules state that a horse that finishes first in a race cannot compete in another race, and an owner whose horse finishes first cannot enter another horse in additional races. The monument, located near a hippodrome, was dedicated to Lukuyanus, according to a report in The Daily Sabah. “Lukuyanus was a Roman jockey, and this structure here shows this was a place dedicated to horse racing and horse breeding," Hasan Bahar of Selçuk University explained. "Hittites used to build monuments here in a tribute to the mountains they deemed holy and we believe horse racing was a dedication to those holy mountains as well in the Roman era.” To read more about equine-related archaeology, go to "The Story of the Horse."

Friday, April 29

New Geoglyph Spotted in Peru’s Nazca Desert

LIMA, PERU—Andina reports that a geoglyph has been discovered at Pampa de Majuelos in the Nazca desert by archaeologists Masato Sakai and Jorge Olano of Yamagata University. Sakai claims that the image, which measures more than 90 feet long, depicts an imaginary animal whose head with a long tongue are on the left, and whose spotted body and many legs are to the right. He suggests the image was created by moving stones from the whitish-colored ground and piling them to shape the animal in low relief. “This is a characteristic technique of geoglyphs and [the find] may date back to 2,000 to 2,500 years ago,” he said. To read about another mysterious Peruvian feature, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

Molars Offer Clues to Dietary Strategies

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A team of researchers led by Sireen El Zaatari of the University of Tübingen examined the fossilized molars of 52 Neanderthals and modern humans from the Upper Paleolithic. They analyzed the microscopic wear and tear on the teeth to try to determine what the Neanderthals and modern humans ate, and how their diets related to the environment at the time. According to a report in International Business Times, the scientists found that the Neanderthals’ diet varied in response to what was readily available in the environment, while the diet eaten by modern humans was less affected by slight changes in climatic conditions. The Neanderthals are thought to have eaten more meat when they lived in open, cold steppe environments, and more plants, seeds, and nuts when living in forests. The modern humans are thought to have stuck with a more plant-based diet. “To be able to do this, they may have developed tools to extract dietary resources from their environment,” said El Zaatari. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Mysterious Iron Artifact Unearthed at Virginia’s James Fort

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—According to a report in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, archaeologists from Jamestown Rediscovery found an iron object, described by conservator Katharine Corneli as a “semi-circle with a squiggly line in it,” in a cellar that lies just outside the boundaries of the original 1608 James Fort. Researchers think that it could be a fragment of a tool for cooking and baking, which would have had small legs to support a pot or Dutch oven over a fire. A pot fragment in the Jamestown Rediscovery artifact collection has marks on its base that may have come from cooking on such a grill. This object may have been deposited in the cellar as filler when the structure was abandoned. The rest of it may have been recycled into another item, but archaeologists will keep an eye out for additional grill pieces. For more, go to "Jamestown’s VIPs," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain

TOMARES, SPAIN—Construction workers in southern Spain discovered 19 amphoras containing 1,300 pounds of Roman coins. The unused bronze and silver-coated coins date to the fourth century A.D. Ana Navarro of the Seville Archaeological Museum said that the coins studied so far bear images of the emperors Constantine and Maximian. She thinks that the coins may have been stored to pay soldiers or civil servants. “It is a unique collection and there are very few similar cases,” she said in a BBC News report. To read about a large collection of Roman coins found in England, go to "Seaton Down Hoard," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.