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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, May 24

Tiny Metal Bird Unearthed at Bamburgh Castle

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A tiny copper-alloy representation of a bird has been discovered at Bamburgh Castle, according to a report from the Northumberland Gazette. The discovery was made last year during ongoing excavations of the castle, which was the headquarters of the medieval Anglo-Saxon kings of Northumbria. Measuring just an inch by a half-inch, the mount is extremely detailed. Experts believe it dates to the eighth century and that its design may draw on bird-of-prey motifs from the sixth and seventh centuries. According to Graeme Young, Bamburgh research project director, the object was found on a cobbled surface, and it is so far unclear whether it was deposited inside a building or on a yard surface or a path. To read in-depth about excavations at Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Paleolithic Obsidian Transported Long Distances

YABROUD, SYRIA— Analysis of an obsidian flake excavated in Syria and dating to between 41,000 and 32,000 years ago shows it was made out of rock that came from an outcropping in Turkey more than 400 miles away. According to a report in Science News, archaeologists Ellery Frahm of Yale University and Thomas Hauck of the University of Cologne used a portable X-ray device to determine the source of the flake, as well as 230 other obsidian samples from throughout the Near East. Previously, scholars had thought the earliest long-distance transport of obsidian in the region happened during the Natufian period, between 14,500 and 11,500 years ago, when hunter-gatherers first began living in permanent settlements. To read more about the technology Frahm pioneered to source obisidian, go to “High-Definition Obsidian.”

WWII Bombers Discovered Off Papua New Guinea

NEWARK, DELAWARE—The wreckage of two World War II–era B-25 bombers has been located in waters off Papua New Guinea, according to a report from Philly.com. The discoveries were part of ongoing surveys by the nonprofit organization Project Recover, which includes researchers from the University of Delaware and the University of California, San Diego. The location of the first plane, in Madang Harbor, was previously known. Five of its six crewmembers survived the crash and were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Based on military and historic records, the team narrowed down the location of the second plane to a several square mile area and used an underwater robot equipped with sonar to scan the ocean floor. The tail was located first, and additional debris was found several hundred yards away. “The aircraft was moving at a pretty fast clip when it hit the water,” said Mark Moline of the University of Delaware. All six of its crewmembers were declared missing in action after it was shot down by the Japanese more than 70 years ago. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

Neolithic Site in Malta Conserved

VALLETTA, MALTA—The underground Neolithic necropolis known as the Hypogeum has reopened to the public after a months-long conservation project. The Times of Malta reports that the site, which consists of three levels of rock-cut chambers and dates to between 4000 and 25000 B.C., was the subject of a large-scale effort to stabilize its climatic conditions. Created around the same time as Malta's aboveground megalithic temples, the Hypogeum once held the remains of some 7,000 individuals. Its intricately carved walls closely resemble those of the contemporary megalithic temples, and are still decorated with the remnants of ochre paintings, the preservation of which was one of the conservators' chief concerns. To read about another massive site dating to the same period, go to “Neolithic Europe’s Remote Heart.” 

Tuesday, May 23

Sacred Burial Ground in England Dates Back 4,000 Years

SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND—A sacred burial site recently unearthed in Shrewsbury is more than 4,000 years old, according to a report from BBC News. The site, where researchers from Baskerville Archaeological Services have found evidence of use in every era since the Neolithic, may be the oldest-known continuously used sacred ground in England. Radiocarbon dating of a wooden post uncovered in the dig indicated that it was put in the ground around 2033 B.C. Also discovered were garment pins, as well as a calf, a pig, and a dog that died while giving birth. The church that currently stands at the site was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Church from the Church of England in 1994. “The dates have shocked us all,” said lead archaeologist Janey Green. “It appears the current Medieval church is built over the site of an ancient pagan burial ground that's been in use from the late Neolithic period through the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and through to today.” For more, go to “Letter from England: The Scientist’s Garden.”

Unusual Burial Found in Russia’s Far East

UST-IVANOVKA, RUSSIA—According to the Siberian Times, archaeologists have unearthed an unusual medieval-era burial in the Primorski Region of Russia’s Far East. Dating from the seventh to ninth centuries, the remains belonged to a man in his twenties who was buried in a manner that seemed to the team to resemble a dance pose, with his feet crossed and knees wide open. No similar examples of such an orientation are known from burials found nearby, and physical anthropologists speculate it could be the result of the man's feet having been bound prior to burial. His arms also appear to have been tied up in some way. Archaeologists recovered arrow tips that were laid on top of the body, perhaps as part of a burial ritual, although one tip might have actually penetrated the bone, and could have been the cause of the man's death. To read about the excavation of a medieval site in Siberia, go to “Fortress of Solitude.” 

Huge Collection of Alaskan Artifacts Preserved

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—More than 50,000 artifacts recovered from a site on the southwestern coast of Alaska will be sent back to the area after having been preserved by archaeologists at the University of Aberdeen, according to a report from BBC News. The artifacts, most made of wood and other organic materials, were in danger of degrading due to melting permafrost and coastal erosion at the site, known as Nunalleq. The materials date back hundreds of years and include extraordinarily well-preserved wooden masks used by the local Yup’ik people in dance rituals. The team, led by archaeologist Rick Knecht, spent seven years unearthing and preserving the artifacts. Once they are returned to Alaska, they will be displayed at a new culture and archaeology center. According to Knecht, the collection is among the largest ever to have been recovered from a single site in Alaska—and perhaps the Arctic as a whole. To read in-depth about the excavation at Nunalleq, go to “Cultural Revival.”

18th-Century Scottish Woman's Face Reconstructed

  EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a facial reconstruction has been made of an eighteenth-century woman whose remains were discovered on the grounds of Lady Yester’s Church. The graveyard was directly opposite of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and it appears that her body was autopsied at the hospital, which at the time was developing a reputation for advanced medical research. But it also seems that many of her teeth were removed after her autopsy by hospital staff, who likely sold them on the black market. “As the move towards grave-robbing in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries tell us, such readily available bodies for research were in great demand,” says Edinburgh city archaeologist John Lawson. “This led medics and hospital staff to meddle with Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.” To read in-depth about the dubious origins of early modern medical science in Great Britain, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Monday, May 22

4,000-Year-Old Burials Uncovered in England

STRATFORD, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Stratford Observer, five burials were found at a possible henge site in England’s West Midlands during construction work. “The henge survived as a shallow, segmented circular ditch with an internal diameter of around [30 feet],” said Nigel Page, a project officer with Archaeology Warwickshire. “The five people had been buried within a segment of it.” Three of the burials faced west, or out from the henge. The two outer burials faced east, or into the henge. Page added that the ditch was probably surrounded by a bank to close off its interior. Further study of the rare, 4,000-year-old skeletons may reveal their ages and sexes, and possibly even a family connection between them. To read about another discovery in the area, go to “Secret Spaces.”

Medieval Brewery Unearthed in East England

LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that a possible medieval brewery has been discovered amid the rubble of several 800-year-old buildings in the path of a new highway. Church records indicate that the land was worked by the monks of Kirkstead Abbey, who farmed and raised sheep during the twelfth century. A team from Network Archaeology uncovered two rectangular structures with sloping sides and stepped-out limestones that may have supported a wooden floor. They think the buildings may have been malt kilns, since the bottom of the structures, and a gap in the stones that could have acted as a flue, had been blackened by smoke. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Embalming Materials Recovered in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a cache of 3,900-year-old embalming materials has been recovered in the courtyard under the tomb of Ipi, a 12th-Dynasty vizier of Thebes, by a team of researchers led by Spain’s University of Alcalá. The deposit, which had been covered with sand in Deir El-Bahari, included inscribed pots and bowls, bandages, oils, scrapers, a shroud, wide sheets of linen, small pieces of cloth for wrapping fingers and toes, and a mummification board bearing the ankh symbol. All of the materials are thought to have been used during Ipi’s mummification. “The identification of these materials is of great importance for understanding the mummification techniques used in the early Middle Kingdom and the assessment of the kinds of items, tools, and substances involved in the process of embalming,” said Antonio Morales, head of the Spanish mission. The team has also identified what appears to be the vizier’s mummified heart. The jars were discovered in the early 1920s by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock and left in situ. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

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