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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 22

Strange Burials in the Burnt City

SISTAN-BALUCHISTAN, IRAN—More than 1,000 burials have been excavated at the site of the Burnt City in Iran over the past thirty years, but few are stranger than two recent discoveries, according to a report in the Teheran Times. In one burial, archaeologists found the skeleton of an adult man with two dog skulls above his head and 12 human skulls on the side of his grave, and in another, a young man who died between 25 and 30 years old who was buried with his skull and two daggers or cutting tools sitting next to his head on his lower right side. Project director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi believes that the tools had been used to decapitate the man who was executed for some offense, and then buried with bowls and vases commonly used for funeral rituals. Another unusual burial contained six skulls and various human long bones, all of which lead Sajjadi to wonder what new insights can be gained into the burial practices of the ancient inhabitants of this region more than five thousand years ago.   

"Last of the Mohicans" Site Excavated

  LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—The AP reports that a team led by Plymouth State University archaeologist David Starbuck is digging at Lake George Battlefield Park, a stretch of ground south of Lake George that saw significant military action during the eighteenth century, particularly during the French and Indian War (1755-63). In 1755, Colonial troops and their Mohawk allies fought a battle there against French detachments, successfully fending off an ambush and subsequent attack. In 1757, British and Colonial troops camped at the site during the French siege of the nearby Fort William Henry. After the surrender of the fort to the French, the colonial forces began a retreat from the camp, but were ambushed by Indians, who killed some 200. The infamous massacre inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write the "The Last of the Mohicans." Starbuck hopes to find evidence related to both the 1755 battle and the camp associated with the massacre. So far, the team has uncovered mainly fragments of eighteenth-century wine bottles.   

Possible Celtic Inscription Deciphered in Spain

BETANZOS, SPAIN—A long-overlooked and enigmatic inscription on the buttress of a fourteenth-century church in Spain's Galicia region is attracting new attention thanks to researchers who claim to have deciphered it. The Local reports that a group of scholars believe the inscription was written in a Gaelic language, the first direct written evidence of the area's Celtic heritage, and reads simply "An Ghaltacht," or "Gaelic-speaking area." The researchers are part of the Gaelaico Project, a private effort that brings together linguists, geographers, and historians to search for evidence of Galicia's Celtic history and specifically its close ties to Ireland, which many specialists have hitherto dismissed as pseudo-history. "If our interpretation is right, the inscription isn't related to religious matters, but rather to the language that was spoken in Galicia at the time," said Gaelaico Project head Martín Fernández Maceiras. The team is hoping to get a second opinion on the inscription from outside epigraphists.     

Monday, July 21

Flint Tools Tell Story of Economic Territory

  DONOSTIA, SPAIN—The study of flint remains from the Ametzagaina site has revealed the economic territory of the people who made temporary camps there over a period of about 2,000 years some 25,000 years ago. Most open-air sites do not survive, but Ametzagaina was protected by earthworks dug in the nineteenth century during the Carlist Wars. The people who camped at Ametzagaina collected flint from the same territory where they hunted, gathered, and fished. “Flint was their steel, but it was not abundant, they had to know the locations where there were seams, they made their way there, they rough-hewed it on the spot and returned to their camps just with whatever they could make use of,” Álvaro Arrizabalaga of the University of the Basque Country told Phys.org.  

Medieval Graffiti Recorded in England’s Churches

  NORFOLK, ENGLAND—A volunteer project to record medieval graffiti in Norfolk is spreading across England. More than 28,000 images, perhaps doodled by churchgoers, have been recorded in Norfolk, and only one-third of Norwich Cathedral has been searched so far. “[Medieval graffiti] was believed to be rare—turns out it’s not,” Matt Champion, a medieval archaeologist who started the program in 2010, told BBC News. Images of compass designs, windmills, sundials, circles, and ships have been documented. “Are they thanksgiving for a voyage safely undertaken, or a prayer for safe passage on a journey yet to come? Some of these ship images appear to show deliberate damage, begging the question whether they are prayers for long overdue ships,” he explained.  

Scraps of Medieval Linen Unearthed in England

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The excavation of the site of Northamptonshire’s new county council headquarters has uncovered scraps of medieval linen and a piece of serpentine marble that may have been part of a portable altar. The pieces of linen were found in the base of a large, timber and stone-lined tank that was probably part of a tanning complex. “Some very nice pieces of antler, a lovely collection of honestones for sharpening knives, two scraps of medieval linen, and a good preservation of industrial features have been uncovered,” Jim Brown of the Museum of London Archaeology told BBC News. A medieval bread oven, an early thirteenth-century well shaft, and trading tokens were also recovered. 

Multicultural Cemetery Discovered at Ostia

ROME, ITALY—Current excavations at Ostia, Rome’s ancient port city at the estuary of the Tiber River, have uncovered a 2,700-year-old cemetery containing a variety of styles among its dozen tombs. Lead curse tablets warding off potential looters were also found. “What is original is that there are different types of funeral rites: burials and cremations,” Paola Germoni, director of Ostia, told Art Daily. The cemetery was found on the edge of the main excavated area of the town. 

Friday, July 18

Europe’s Oldest Footprints?

  KUTZTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA—Science News reports that human footprints found in a Romanian cave in the 1960s and initially dated to 15,000 years ago are actually 35,000 years old, making them some of the oldest such prints in Europe. Radiocarbon dating of cave bear bones found just below the prints allowed a team of anthropologists, led by Kutztown University’s David Webb, to re-date the tracks, which were left by six or seven people, including one child. Some 400 footprints were initially discovered, but over the years explorers and tourists have damaged the site, and only 51 now remain. Three-dimensional mapping of the prints has allowed the researchers to reconstruct human movement throughout the cave.   

"Revolutionary" Site Unearthed Near Mesa Verde

  CORTEZ, COLORADO—Archaeologists are excavating a 1,500-year-old village near Mesa Verde that appears to be the first settlement in the Four Corners region to have been occupied year-round by farmers. “This is the first population to move into the central Mesa Verde region and farm and be sedentary full time,” Susan Ryan, Director of Archaeology at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, told Western Digs. The site features ten pithouses built in a diversity of architectural styles organized around an underground ceremonial chamber, known as a great kiva. Dating to A.D. 570, the kiva is the earliest to be found in the region. “We think we’re at the very first site that has a village forming around public architecture in the central Mesa Verde region, and that’s unique,” said Ryan. Prior to the establishment of the village, which is known as the Dillard site, the area was populated by people who were still highly mobile and alternated between foraging and farming. The kiva would have helped socially integrate people of diverse backgrounds who were transitioning into a new, fully agricultural way of life. The Dillard site heralded a revolutionary change in Southwestern prehistory, but within a hundred years of being built, its great kiva was ritually burned and abandoned.     

World's Oldest Brain?

  STOKKE, NORWAY—Excavators on the site of a planned large conference center southwest of Oslo have uncovered the skull of a child aged between infancy and ten that they believe may be as much as 8,000 years old and may contain the oldest remains of a human brain, the Daily Mail Online reports. It is extremely rare to find organic material, such as human tissue, preserved for so many millennia. Archaeologists have thus far only removed the skull and surrounding soil, and examined only the parts of the skull that are exposed, so as not to damage it. The site appears to be a burial, as the bones of an adult, probably a man, were also found at the site, and will provide new information about the Mesolithic period in Norway, about which relatively little is known.   

Rare Coin Discovered in Israel

  BETHSAIDA, ISRAEL—An archaeological team working at the site of Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee has uncovered a rare example of a coin minted under the Roman emperor Domitian celebrating the Romans’ conquest of Judea in A.D. 70, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha press release. While the “Judea Capta” (“Conquered Judea”) coin series lasted for 25 years, this version is very unusual—only 48 similar coins have been found—and has confirmed the date of a large Roman building the team has been excavating for the past several seasons. Bethsaida was the site of an important biblical city (possibly identified with the city of Geshur in the Hebrew Bible) not only as the birthplace of the apostles Peter, Philip, and Andrew, but also the location of some of Jesus’ important miracles, including the healing of a blind man and a paralytic.