Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 19

50,000-Year-Old Site Discovered in Australia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that a remote cave on Barrow Island, located off the coast of northwestern Australia, has yielded evidence of human occupation, including charcoal, marine and land animal remains, and other artifacts dating back to more than 50,000 years ago. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, the University of Adelaide, the University of Waikato, and Oxford University say the cave served as a hunting shelter between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, and then became a dwelling for groups of families after about 10,000 years ago. The cave was then abandoned around 7,000 years ago, when the island is thought to have been separated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Revolutionary War–Era Musket Ball Tests Positive for Blood

MANALAPAN, NEW JERSEY— reports that a lead musket ball recovered from Monmouth Battlefield Park has tested positive for human blood protein. Members of the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization collect musket balls in an effort to learn more about the positions of the Continental Army and British troops during the battle, fought in June 1778. This musket ball in particular is thought to have been used as canister shot—one of many balls stuffed in a tin canister and fired from a cannon. Dan Sivilich, president of the group, sent the ball for testing because it bears an impression resembling coarsely woven fabric, suggesting it had hit a person. He later learned the impression was probably made by a corn stalk after the ball was plowed under the surface of the soil. “It’s very exciting in the fact that we’ve identified a projectile that hit a human target, which tells us definitively that we found the battlefield,” Sivilich said. For more on the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

Massive Viking Camp Recreated

TORKSEY, ENGLAND—According to a report in Lincolnshsire Live, a 135-acre Viking camp located along the River Trent in Lincolnshire has been investigated by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield and the University of York. Artisans, traders, women, and children are believed to have lived alongside the invading Viking Great Army, described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, during the winter of A.D. 872-73. As they prepared to continue their battles against Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Vikings are thought to have spent the winter processing their plunder and trading in goods and possibly slaves. Evidence for metalworking includes pieces of chopped up silver and hack-gold ready to be melted down into ingots. More than 100 Arabic silver coins, and 300 gaming pieces used to pass the time, were also recovered, along with iron tools, spindle whorls, needles, and fishing weights. There’s also evidence the Vikings spent time repairing their longships. The new research was compiled and used to recreate the camp through a virtual reality experience now traveling throughout England. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Thursday, May 18

2,300-Year-Old Engraved Block Recovered in Egypt

ABYDOS, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a stone engraved with the cartouche of the 30th-Dynasty king Nectanebo II (r. ca. 360-342 B.C.) was recovered from an illegal excavation by the Tourism and Antiquities Police during a house inspection in the Beni Mansour area of Abydos. According to Hani Abul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Antiquities of Upper Egypt, subterranean water at the site has made it difficult to determine whether the block was part of the king’s royal shrine, or part of a temple that he had built. Further excavations are planned. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

17th-Century English Earthwork Investigated

NEWARK, ENGLAND—The Newark Advertiser reports that an English Civil Wars–era military earthwork, one of a network of 12 seventeenth-century earthworks placed around the strategic city of Newark in the East Midlands, is being excavated. The earthwork is thought to have been a cannon battery used by the Scots who joined a force of Parliamentarian troops during their third attack on the city in 1645. The Parlimentarian forces were eventually defeated by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Royalists in a battle known as the Relief of Newark. This earthwork “is quite a distance from central Newark, so it is possible the battery was built to protect the Great North Road and cut off all hope of rescue for the beleaguered Royalists,” said archaeologist Rachel Askew of the University of Central Lancashire. Askew and her team are also looking for evidence that the redoubt had been built long before the English Civil Wars by Henry VIII, who had an interest in protecting the Great North Road during the rebellion against his religious reforms. “We have also found pottery from that period on site and if we could prove the Henry VIII link that would be an amazing discovery of national significance,” Askew said. To read about another recent discovery relating to the English Civil Wars, go to “After the Battle.”

First Farmers May Have Practiced “Unconscious Selection”

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—ZME Science reports that scientists from the University of Sheffield examined the possible origins of agriculture by analyzing the sizes of the seeds of a range of crops thought to have been domesticated thousands of years ago. According to Colin Osborne and his team, the size of the seeds would not be directly affected if hunter-gatherers selected vegetable plants for their food value—leaves, stems, roots, or fruit. Changes in these seed sizes could have been the result of natural selection acting on cultivated crops, or genetic links between seed size and other plant characteristics such as the overall size of the plant, or the size of the crop yield. The researchers found that the seeds of seven vegetables did get bigger due to domestication, even in the case of crops such as sweet potato, which is propagated with tubers. Osborne noted that the sizes of grains, lentils, and beans, where the seed is eaten, were significantly larger than the seeds of vegetable crops. He also suggests that early changes to crops raised by the first farmers were unintended, and may have been the result of sowing wild plants in cultivated soil and then caring for them. For more on the archaeology of agriculture, go to “Mapping Maya Cornfields.”

Wednesday, May 17

New Thoughts on Hopewell Metal Beads

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nature reports that tube-shaped beads found in a 2,000-year-old Native American grave in Illinois were made from shards of the Anoka meteorite, which landed in central Minnesota, more than 400 miles away. The 22 beads, found in 1945, were made by people of the Hopewell culture, and were found along with more than 1,000 shell and pearl beads. An earlier study had ruled out the Anoka meteor as the source of the material for the iron-nickel beads. But Timothy McCoy and his colleagues at the National Museum of Natural History compared the beads to a second chunk of the meteor and found that both the beads and the new piece of space rock contain micrometer-sized granules of iron enriched with nickel. Further tests indicated that the beads and the meteor were a near-perfect match. McCoy added that bands of a brittle mineral that extend through the Anoka meteorite would have made it possible to break off a lump of it. He also experimented with producing beads with a piece of the metal, a wood fire, and a stone hammer—and noted that making the beads must have been a very slow process. “You wonder how many failed experiments there were,” he commented. To read about another discovery associated with the Hopewell culture, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

Graves Exhumed at 19th-Century Georgia Cemetery

ATHENS, GEORGIA—The Athens Banner-Herald reports that a portion of a cemetery was unearthed at the campus of the University of Georgia in 2015 by archaeologist Laurie Reitsema and her students and colleagues. About one third of the 105 graves that were excavated contained enough material to attempt mitochondrial DNA analysis. The tests revealed that most of the people buried in the cemetery were of African descent, and were probably enslaved, since the cemetery closed about ten years before the start of the Civil War. One burial is known to date to after the Civil War, however, since it included two nickels minted sometime between 1867 and 1883. Two of the children buried in the cemetery suffered from syphilis, which can be passed from mother to child. A low rate of arthritis was also observed, when compared to the remains of enslaved people whose remains were uncovered at a nineteenth-century plantation in Charleston. Reitsema suggests this could indicate the difference between the work performed by those living on plantations and those living in towns. For more on the archaeology of slavery, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

Students Uncover 1,400-Year-Old Buddha Statue in India

ODISHA, INDIA—The Odisha Sun Times reports that students from Utkal University have discovered a 1,400-year-old statue of the Buddha with a seven-headed snake in eastern India. They found the statue buried three feet beneath a banyan tree whose roots had grown over it. “The recent discovery shows that the Buddhists were residing in the Banapur area in Khurda district earlier [than had been previously thought],” said team leader Anam Behera. The seven-headed snake is said to have protected the Buddha while he meditated over a period of seven rainy days. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

New Dates Obtained for Al Badiyah Mosque

FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—According to a report in Gulf News, the Al Badiyah Mosque may be more than 150 years younger than had been previously believed. Geochemist Julie Retrum of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi and archaeologist Michele Ziolkowski sent samples of the farush blocks used to construct the mosque to the University of Minnesota, where trace amounts of uranium preserved in the coral were tested with a technique known as uranium-thorium radiometric dating. The scientists also tested blocks from two coastal watchtowers. The test results suggest the mosque was built in the sixteenth century. Earlier excavations at the site recovered charcoal fragments dated to between 1450 and 1655, and pottery and porcelain fragments dated to the sixteenth century. Retrum and Ziolkowski think the mosque was probably standing by 1599, when the Portuguese controlled trade in the Arabian Sea, and Portuguese documents refer to the presence of a fort in Bidiya. “This research has helped to throw new light on the ages of some of Fujairah’s historic buildings,” Ziolkowski said. To read about a recent discovery in the area, go to “Bronze Age Bling.”