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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 18

Roman Sarcophagus Uncovered in London

LONDON, ENGLANDBBC News reports that a 1,600-year-old Roman sarcophagus with an opened lid was unearthed at a construction site on Swan Street in central London. An infant’s bones and a broken bracelet were found in the soil near the sarcophagus. Archaeologists think the coffin was opened in the eighteenth century, but they are not sure if the infant’s remains were removed at that time. “We always knew this site had the potential for a Roman cemetery, but we never knew there would be a sarcophagus,” said Gillian King of Southwark Council. The sarcophagus will be taken to the Museum of London and the bones will be analyzed. To read more about the archaeology of the city's Roman past, go to "London's Earliest Writing."

Study of Dog Domestication Continues

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—A new study of the dog genome suggests the animals were domesticated from wolves just once, according to a report in Science News. Last year, another study indicated that dogs had been domesticated separately in Europe and in East Asia. An international team of scientists led by evolutionary geneticist Krishna R. Veeramah of Stony Brook University analyzed DNA obtained from the remains of two ancient dogs. The first dog lived some 7,000 years ago. Its remains were recovered in Herxheim, Germany. The second dog, whose remains were recovered from Germany’s Cherry Tree Cave, lived about 4,700 years ago. The team also used the DNA data of a 4,800-year-old dog from Newgrange, Ireland. The researchers suggest that dogs were domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, perhaps in Asia, and then split into genetically distinct eastern and western groups between 17,000 and 24,000 years ago. The study also reveals that the two ancient dogs unearthed in Germany had the same genes for digesting starches as wolves do. It had been suggested that early dogs may have been better able to digest starch, and therefore eat the food grown by early farmers, in contrast to their wild counterparts. To read in-depth about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Monday, July 17

French and Indian War Cannonball Uncovered in Quebec

MONTRÉAL, CANADA—A cannonball fired in 1759 by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was unearthed by construction workers in Old Québec. CBC News reports that archaeologist Serge Rouleau alerted the authorities after he realized the 200-pound ball still contained a charge of gunpowder. “With time, humidity got into its interior and reduced its potential for exploding, but there’s still a danger,” said Master Warrant Officer Sylvain Trudel. Such large cannonballs were used to set fire to buildings. This ball is thought to have been fired at Quebec City from Lévis, which is located on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River. If Trudel’s team can neutralize the weapon without destroying it, it will be preserved and sent to a museum. To read about a fort built in New York during the French and Indian War, go to "Off the Grid: Roger's Island, New York."

Roman Coin Unearthed on Orkney Island

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A Roman coin dating to the fourth century A.D. has been found in a small roundhouse at the Knowe of Swandro on the island of Rousay, according to a report in BBC News. “The bust on the coin is clearly visible although much of the lettering isn’t at present clear,” said Steve Dockerill, co-director of the project. “The reverse contains a standing figure, possibly representing the emperor with what might be an image of Victory at the side.” The coin is one of just seven Roman coins to have been found on the Orkney Islands. To read in-depth about Roman archaeology in Britain, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."

Archaeologists Will Study the International Space Station

ORANGE, CALIFORNIA—Space.com reports that archaeologists Justin Walsh of Chapman University and Alice Gorman of Flinders University will study astronaut culture aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has been continuously occupied by rotating crews of scientists since 2000. Walsh and Gorman will use databases storing information on all of the objects sent to the ISS, and photographs taken on board, to create a 4-D digital model of the vessel. They will then use the virtual ISS to try to recreate patterns of life in space. The researchers think this archaeological approach could help space agency managers improve the design of the vessel’s furnishings and how the international team of astronauts shares them. The ISS is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024. To read an interview with Alice Gorman, go to "Saving Space Junk."

Friday, July 14

Trade Silver Unearthed at Colonial Fort in Michigan

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—Michigan Live reports that a 250-year-old piece of trade silver was discovered at the site of a fur-trader’s home in Colonial Michilimackinac, which is located on an island in the straits connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The triangle-shaped piece of silver has a small hole in one corner, so it may have been worn as a pendant or an earring. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks, said that only one other piece of British trade silver has been recovered at Fort Michilimackinac to date. To read about the nautical archaeology of Lake Huron, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

Pictish Man’s Face Reconstructed

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Daily Record, the face of a Pictish man, whose remains were discovered in a cist burial in Highland Perthshire in the 1980s, has been recreated by forensic artist Hayley Fisher and Bob Will of GUARD Archaeology. The man is thought to have lived between A.D. 340 and 615, and to have died in his 40s. Additional study of the skeletal remains could reveal information on his diet and where he lived. The scientists will also try to recover a DNA sample. To read about another facial reconstruction, go to "Neolithic FaceTime."

The Search for an Ornamental Garden in Colonial Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The Daily Press reports that Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary are conducting a joint excavation in the unusual, terraced backyard of the Robert Carter House, which is located off the outdoor living history museum's Palace Green. Built in the early eighteenth century for his daughter by Robert “King” Carter, the colonial governor and the wealthiest man in Virginia, the property’s outbuildings are located to the sides of the main two-story building, rather than directly behind it. Additionally, the house's dining room is located in the rear— when in most houses in Williamsburg, the dining room was located in the front— prompting speculation about the importance of the house's back yard. “We think there was an ornamental garden here, but we want to know for sure,” explained teaching assistant Alexis Ohman. The team, led by Colonial Williamsburg archaeologist Mark Kostro, is looking for ephemeral garden features under the landfill dumped on the site in the early twentieth century. So far, the excavators have found a long, dark stain in the soil that could be evidence of a planting bed, and a six-foot stretch of crumbled white shell that may have been a path. To read about archaeology at nearby Jamestown, go to "Colonial Cannibalism."

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