Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 01

An Update from the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The Chronicle Live reports that researcher Pam Graves, a member the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project team at the University of Durham, has been investigating what happened to the Scottish soldiers who survived imprisonment by Oliver Cromwell’s forces after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. (The team has recovered and studied the remains of some of the 1,700 Scottish soldiers who died while imprisoned.) Graves’ research indicates that the survivors went on to do a range of things, including working in the salt pans in England’s South Shields, draining the Fens in eastern England, being sent to Ireland and France for military service, and being sold into indentured servitude in America. Some of those sent to America ended up working at the Saugus ironworks in Lynn, Massachusetts, and at sawmills in Maine. “Tracing their names through history also shows us what these men did once they were released from indenture,” said Graves. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

4,000-Year-Old Grave in Wales Yields Intact Beaker

GWYNEDD, WALES—The Daily Post reports that a 4,000-year-old cemetery has been unearthed by contract archaeologists at the Cefn Graianog Quarry. They found two graves lined with stone slabs, the larger of which contained two pots known as beakers. The smaller of the two pots was found damaged and had to be carefully reconstructed, explained Iwan Parry of Brython Archaeology, while the larger pot was found intact. The site has also yielded Bronze Age pits containing charcoal and pottery. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

“Rapid and Irreversible” Decay Possible at Wetland Sites

YORK, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that a study conducted by chemists Kirsty High and Kirsty Penkman of the University of York simulated recent conditions at Star Carr, a waterlogged Mesolithic archaeological site, to see how environmental changes could affect ancient artifacts made from organic materials. Scientists had noticed that bone and wood recovered at Star Carr was deteriorating—the wood was crumbly, and the bone had demineralized. The change in preservation status at the site was thought to be due to a drop in the water table, which made the soil much more acidic. High and Penkman placed samples of bone and wood in peat from Star Carr, garden compost, and sand to see how they reacted in saturated, fluctuating, or dry conditions. After 12 months, they found that both the wood and bone placed in the peat from Star Carr had deteriorated rapidly. Penkman explained that pollution and changes in land use place wetlands and waterlogged archaeological sites at risk. As a result, she thinks that leaving organic remains in situ may no longer be the best way to protect them for future research. To read about a recent discoery at Star Carr, go to “Mesolithic Markings.”

Ostrich Eggshell Beads Found in Denisova Cave

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that beads made of ostrich eggshells were discovered in Denisova Cave, which is located in the Altai Mountains. The beads measure less than one-half inch in diameter and are thought to be between 45,000 and 50,000 years old. “This is an amazing piece of work,” said researcher Maksim Kozlikin of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. “The ostrich eggshell is quite robust material, but the holes in the beads must have been made with a fine stone drill.” He thinks the beads could have been part of a bracelet or a necklace, or may have been sewn into clothing. The presence of the beads in Denisova Cave suggests that the people who lived there had trade contacts to import either the eggshells or the finished beads. The jewelry items were found in the same archaeological layer where a bracelet made of dark green stone was found in 2008. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”

Monday, October 31

Ancient Egyptian Boat Images Discovered in Abydos

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—More than 120 images of boats have been found on the walls of a building in Abydos, Egypt, that dates back 3,800 years, according to Live Science. The building was built near the tomb of the pharaoh Senusret III (r. 1836–1818 B.C.). The images, which range in size from four inches to five feet across, would have overlooked a real wooden boat, only a few planks of which remain. The researchers, led by Josef Wegner of the University of Pennsylvania, believe there were even more images on the walls in ancient times. Inside the building, they also found more than 145 ceramic vessels. It appears that the boat images were drawn quickly by a number of people, possibly as part of a funerary ceremony for Senusret III. The pottery vessels may have been used to spill water on the ground during such a ceremony to symbolically float the boat. Further excavations are planned to learn more about the site. For more about archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Notorious Coin Discovered in Deadwood

DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA—The Rapid City Journal reports that a notorious and rare nineteenth-century U.S. coin known as a “Racketeer Nickel” has been identified in the archaeological collections of the Historic Preservation Committee of Deadwood. In 1883, the U.S. Mint issued a five-cent nickel that bore a design similar to five-dollar gold coins then in circulation. Grifters quickly began to gold plate the nickels and passed them off as five-dollar coins. The Racketeer Nickel was recently identified by coin experts Kevin and Margie Akins during their analysis of coins discovered in a 2001 excavation of Deadwood’s Chinatown district. According to Kevin Akins, today fake versions of the nickel abound in online auctions. “It’s pretty easy to plate a nickel,” says Akins. “It makes such a great story, but they’re fakes. None of them has the provenance of this particular coin, the Deadwood Racketeer Nickel.” To read more, go to “America’s Chinatowns.”

Researchers Return to a Phoenician Shipwreck

ISLAND OF GOZO, MALTA—An international team of underwater archaeologists returned this year to the site of a Phoenician shipwreck off the coast of the Maltese island of Gozo. The Times of Malta reports the researchers discovered a unique jug at the site that was made locally, demonstrating that the ship had docked somewhere on the Maltese archipelago. “We now have a ship that was actually leaving the Maltese islands before it sank off Gozo, because the island was one of its port calls,” says University of Malta archaeologist Timmy Gambin. “A shipwreck without any local items could mean that the ship just happened to sink close to Malta during its voyage.” Amphoras from North Africa and western Sicily were also found, demonstrating the Maltese islands were part of an international trade network. To read about a Phoenician shipwreck found off the coast of Spain, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks: Bajo Campagna.”

Friday, October 28

Cemetery May Hold Victims of a 17th-Century Epidemic

MIŃSK MAZOWIECKI, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that more than 100 shallow burials in a “hastily prepared necropolis” were found in eastern Poland during road improvement work. Based upon coins found in some of the graves, the burials are thought to date to the seventeenth century. Cholera, which is spread through contaminated water and food, spreads easily during war and after natural disasters, and is suspected to be the cause of this epidemic. “We have found only a few artifacts in the graves, while generally there are considerably more in the necropolises from this period—such as clothing accessories, for example studs, buckles and pins,” said contract archaeologist Szymon Lenarczyk. “In this case, everything indicates that the dead were buried in the graves naked or in shrouds. The skeletons were buried without funerary objects.” Some of the graves contained more than one body, and some of the bodies may have been burned before burial in an attempt to prevent the spread of infection. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

Cave Burial Found in Mexico May Be 2,000 Years Old

CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO—Western Digs reports that a cave in the Chihuahuan Desert has yielded stone points, textiles, an ear of corn, a squash, the partial skeleton of a young child, large human leg bones that had been tied together, and the remains of a scarlet macaw, all estimated to be about 2,000 years old, based upon a lack of pottery and other artifacts usually associated with farmers and traders. “If we confirm the hypothesis [that this burial dates from] the Late Archaic, we could have a site with information about the transition to agricultural, sedentary communities in the region,” said archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. The human remains were probably first buried somewhere else, and then moved to the cave for reburial. It is not known if the bones represent relatives, but they were placed near each other and surrounded with baskets, textiles, a bag or dress made of deer hide, and a large sea shell. The bird and seashell are not found locally, and suggest that the trade in exotic goods and wildlife began centuries earlier than had been previously thought. Carbon dating of material from the site is underway. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Eighth-Century Pictish Cross Slab Recovered in Orkney

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a carved stone has been recovered from an eroding cliff face by Nick Card and a team from the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA) at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Historic Environment Scotland. The stone, located on the East Mainland coast, was uncovered by powerful wind and waves and spotted by archaeologist Hugo Anderson-Whymark, who investigated the area after a storm. Closer examination of the stone revealed it to be a weathered Pictish cross slab carved with a dragon or similar beast that probably dates to the eighth century, when the people of Orkney were beginning to convert to Christianity. The reverse side of the stone bears a carving of a beast grasping what may be a staff in its open beak. Only two similar carved stones have ever been found in Orkney. The team is seeking additional funding to investigate the rest of the site. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”