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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 20

Study Suggests Pompeii’s Artifacts Were Well Worn

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—USA Today reports that a team of researchers including Theodore Peña of the University of California, Berkeley, is analyzing street trash and storage containers preserved at Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Peña said that in a farmhouse near Pompeii the team found beat-up kitchen gear on the shelves, including a dented bronze bucket, pots with broken rims, and a cracked casserole dish. The stove was full of ashes, suggesting that the people “just basically didn’t take out the garbage.” The researchers also found that the amphoras at a wine-bottling facility had been patched before reuse. And the lack of pieces of glass and ceramic in street trash suggests that the material was being repaired and recycled. “We’re actually starting to see evidence of people’s choices and how they dealt with their objects,” said graduate student Caroline Cheung. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Roman refuse, go to “Trash Talk.”

Sediment Core Offers Clues to Fate of Australia’s Megafauna

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that scientists led by Sander van der Kaars of Monash University and Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder collected a sediment core in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia. The core contained layers of dust, pollen, ash, and spores from a fungus that grew on the dung of plant-eating mammals that had blown or washed into the ocean. The scientists used this information to construct a model of the climate and ecosystems in southwest Australia over the past 150,000 years. The number of fungus spores in the layers of the core suggest the herbivores were plentiful in the region between 150,000 and 45,000 years ago. But then the megafauna population collapsed over a period of just a few thousand years, even though the climate remained relatively stable. Miller explained that if modern human hunters had killed even one juvenile male per year, it could have limited the ability of the species to reproduce and led to extinction in just a few hundred years. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Burials at Medieval Monastery in Sudan Analyzed

ONTARIO, CANADA—Live Science reports that the remains of more than 120 individuals exhumed from four 1,000-year-old cemeteries at the medieval site of the al-Ghazali Christian monastery in Sudan have been analyzed. In one of the cemeteries, almost all of the skeletons belonged to males, who may have been monks from the monastery. People who lived in nearby settlements are thought to have been buried in two of the other cemeteries. The most recently discovered cemetery contained only 15 burials. Robert Stark of McMaster University explained that stone structures and tombstones found in all of the cemeteries were engraved in Greek or Coptic with prayers and information about the people buried in them. Some of the burials contained well-preserved burial shrouds that had been placed over the skulls of the deceased. Post-mortem cut marks were found on the bones of two of the individuals. Another person seems to have been placed in a grave in a haphazard way, even though the grave itself was neatly dug and a stone structure was placed on top of it. For more on archaeology in Sudan, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

Viking Manor House Discovered in Sweden's Oldest Town

KORSHAMN, SWEDEN—The Local Sweden reports that Johan Runer of the Stockholm County Museum, Sven Kalmring of the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, and Andreas Viberg of Stockholm University used ground-penetrating radar to conduct geophysical surveys at the site of the ancient Viking trade center of Birka, located on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. They think they have found a Viking manor hall that may have belonged to the king’s royal bailiff. The hall measured more than 130 feet long and dates to the period after A.D. 810. The research team also found a fenced area connected to the hall that may have been used for religious activities, including the first known Christian mission to Sweden, in the early ninth century, by Saint Ansgar, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Thursday, January 19

British Woman Returns Souvenir Jug to Turkey

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Daily Sabah reports that a British citizen who purchased an ancient artifact at the site of the ancient city of Ephesus in the 1960s has returned it to Turkey. The artifact, a jug thought to have been produced by the Yortan culture some 4,500 years ago in western Turkey, will be handed over to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Possible Seat of “Lost” Dark Age Kingdom Found in Scotland

GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists Ronan Toolis and Christopher Bowles of Guard Archaeology began excavating the Trusty’s Hill Fort site in southern Scotland to investigate Pictish carvings they found there, according to a report in BBC News. But instead of uncovering evidence of Picts, the team found traces of a royal stronghold thought to have been built by local Britons around A.D. 600. The hill was fortified with a high-status timber-laced stone rampart, and enclosures on lower-lying slopes. In the citadel, there was king’s hall and a smith’s shop for working gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The inhabitants of the citadel ate a diet rich in beef, oats, and barley grown in the surrounding countryside. Toolis and Bowles think this stronghold may have been the royal seat of the kingdom of Rheged, which had been thought to have been located further to the south, in the Cumbria region of northwestern England. They now think the rock carvings may have been adopted from the Picts as symbols of royalty. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Bones of Medieval Horse Recovered at Roman Colosseum

ROME, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that the remains of a horse dating to between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was unearthed near the steps to the basement of the Colosseum. Francesco Prosperetti, Rome’s superintendent for archaeology, said that tests will be conducted on the bones to try to determine how old the horse was at the time of death and the state of its health. That information could help archaeologists figure out what it was doing at the ancient site. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

Wednesday, January 18

Rock in Croatia Cave May Have Been Collected by Neanderthals

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—According to a report in Seeker, a team led by David Frayer of the University of Kansas and Davorka Radovčić of the Croatian Natural History Museum found an unusual piece of brown limestone with reddish corners and black stripes among artifacts recovered from a Neanderthal cave site more than 100 years ago. The stone measures about five inches long, four inches high, and about a half inch thick. Had the researchers come across the rock, “we would have likely taken it home with us,” Frayer said. The stone was never flaked, and does not show any signs of wear that would suggest it had been used as a tool. The researchers think the rock was collected “as a curiosity” some 130,000 years ago and stored by Neanderthals at the Krapina cave site. An outcropping of similar rock has been found about a mile away from the cave, where it could have been picked up, or it may have been carried closer to the site by a nearby stream. Neanderthals are also known to have collected teeth, shells, and bird talons and feathers as materials for jewelry. To read about another recent discovery involving Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Neolithic Long House Discovered in Moldova

CHISINAU, MOLDOVA—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that an international team of researchers has found traces of a 7,000-year-old long house in the Eastern European country of Moldova. Similar houses, built by what is known as the Linear Pottery culture, have been found in other parts of Europe, but this is the first one to be found in Moldova. Such long houses were made of wooden posts driven into the ground to support wattle-and-daub walls topped with gabled roofs. “Commonly, on both sides of the houses we discover cavities from which clay was taken to cover the walls,” said Maciej Dębiec of the University of Rzeszów and the University of Regensburg. Early European farmers are thought to have lived in long houses with their animals. Dębiec, Stanislav Terna of Chisinau University, and their team will return to the newly discovered site this spring for further investigation. They expect the Moldavian long house will be similar in size to other structures built by the Linear Pottery culture, or about 65 feet long 20 feet wide. The team has found two additional sites in Moldova where additional long houses may have stood. For more, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

2,400-Year-Old Basement Unearthed in Northwest China

XI’AN, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a basement dating to the Warring States Period (476–221 B.C.) has been discovered at the site of Yueyang City, the ancient capital of the Qin state, in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. The rare brick room had stone pillar bases, measured about 16 feet long by about 13 feet wide, and sat about three feet below ground level. It is thought to have been part of the ruler’s residential palace, and may have been used for storage. A fireplace was also found in the structure, according to Liu Rui of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Fireplaces are also thought to have been limited to residential palaces during the Warring States Period. The strength of the Qin state eventually gave rise to China’s first emperor, who established the Qin Dynasty and united China in 221 B.C. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”