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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 28

Shells & Bones Found at Cahokia May Reflect Cosmology

COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS—Students from the University of Bologna unearthed a collection of artifacts that could represent the cosmological view of the Mississippians living at Cahokia Mounds. Whelk shells, imported from the Gulf Coast, a dog bone, and bird bones were found in a ceremonial pit, along with two toggles that may have tied the items together in a bundle. The shells are thought to represent the lower world of the cosmos, the dog bone the middle world where humans lived, and the bird bones the upper world. “Most of what we find are fragments of pottery shards and little bits of arrow points and things like that. So 95 percent of what we find are that kind of stuff. But when we find something that represents what we think, it was actually a bundle, a sack, with things laid in there in a very specific order related to their cosmological view, that’s a pretty significant find,” Cahokia Mounds Museum Society Executive Director Lori Belknap told The News Democrat

WTC Ship May Have Been Built in Philadelphia ca. 1773

  NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Researchers from the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University analyzed samples taken from the partial hull of a wooden ship discovered 22 feet below street level at the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan in 2010. Hickory in the keel helped them to narrow the search for the ship’s origins to the eastern United States. White oak in the ship is similar to samples from a study of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall. Philadelphia was one of the most—if not the most—important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there,” Dario Martin-Benito of Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab told Live Science. Most of the ship’s timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more on the discovery of the ship, read ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."   

Mass Grave Uncovered in Bolivia

  POTOSI, BOLIVIA—A mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of people was uncovered by construction workers in the El Minero district of Potosi in the Andes Mountains. Sergio Fidel of Tomas Frias University thinks that the site may have been an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants during the Spanish colonial era, when the ethnic Aymara were put to work in the silver mines, or victims of the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s. “We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters, and human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” Fidel told AFP.   

Friday, July 25

Historic Railroad Tools Found in Canada

CALGARY, CANADA—According to a report by Newstalk 770, a hand-stamped brick, metal pickax heads, rail spikes, and window glass that could date to the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway in the 1880s were uncovered by utility workers in downtown Calgary. The artifacts were found along the old railway line in what is now a power substation. Archaeologists have been called in to try to determine the exact age of the tools. 

Faces of Medieval Scots Reconstructed

  EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Forensic artists from the University of Dundee have rebuilt the faces of several of the nearly 400 men, women, and children whose remains were discovered in a medieval cemetery five years ago. “We have had a forensic pathology report done on all of the remains and that is allowing us to gain information about the population,” city archaeologist John Lawson told The Edinburgh Evening News. Most of those buried in South Leith Parish Church’s graveyard probably died of infectious diseases, and a small number of the women died in childbirth. Chemical analysis of a sample of the bones suggests that 80 percent of the dead had grown up in the Leith or Edinburgh area, eating a diet made up of predominately meat and dairy products with some marine fish. “It would have been a difficult life and it would have been hard for these folk because it was only a small hamlet,” added Jim Tweedie of Leith History Society.  

Excavation of The London Continues

  ESSEX, ENGLAND—Local divers and archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology continue to explore the wreckage of The London, a warship that was carrying 300 barrels of gunpowder when it blew up in 1665. Until now, the ship has been preserved in the silt and mud of the Thames Estuary, the ship’s timbers are now being destroyed by changing tidal patterns and dredging for the London Gateway port development. One woman and 24 men of the 350-member crew survived the explosion, but many of the human remains recovered so far have been women. “It’s a good question why there were so many women, and one on which I wouldn’t care to speculate,” archaeologist Dan Pascoe told The Guardian. The researchers have also recovered a clay pipe, tallow candles, a pistol, musket shot, spoons, and part of a scale. The team expects that many of The London’s guns are still buried in the silt.  

Thousands of Earlier Stone Age Artifacts Found in South Africa

  CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artifacts have been discovered at an archaeological site at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa by archaeologists from the University of Cape Town, the University of Toronto, and the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa. The site, which is estimated to be between 700,000 and one million years old, is located in a major mining center and development zone. “We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa,” Michael Chazan of the University of Toronto told Science Daily.   

Thursday, July 24

18th-Century Structure Excavated at College of William and Mary

  WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists excavating near the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William and Mary are investigating an early eighteenth-century structure thought to have been a brewery because of its central fire pit. The beer would have been safer for the college’s students and faculty to drink than contaminated water. And a trash deposit at the site could tell archaeologists about life at the Wren Building before it was gutted by fire in 1705. “With as much archaeological work as we’ve done in the College Yard over the years, it’s astonishing to find something like this—and to find so much of it still intact,” Louise Kale, director of the historic campus, told The Daily Press.  

Restored Image of Amun Discovered in Sudan

  NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to Live Science, archaeologists have found evidence of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s attempted religious revolution on a carved stone panel that had been reused as a bench at the site of Sedeinga, located in modern-day Sudan. The stone bears an image of Amun and his hieroglyph, and had been part of a temple at Sedeinga dedicated to Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother. During his reign (1353-1336 B.C.), Akhenaten had the name and images of Amun obliterated throughout Egypt, while he promoted the worship of Aten, the sun disk. After Akhenaten’s death, however, the god Amun was restored to prominence. “The name of Amun as well as his face were first hammered out and later carved anew, proving that the persecution of this god extended to this remote province during the reign of Akhenaton and that his images were restored during the following reigns,” Vincent Francigny of the American Museum of Natural History, and Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, wrote in Sudan and Nubia. For more on discoveries at Sedeinga, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."   

Ancient Village Unearthed in Illinois

MURPHSYBORO, ILLINOIS—A survey ahead of road construction near Southern Illinois Airport revealed a village between 700 and 900 years old. Pots, tools, mussel shells, and deer and fish bones have been recovered, and charcoal in the soil suggests that some of the homes burned down. “It’s sort of unclear if these groups spread out and became parts of what we know as the tribes today. Or if they stayed in this location and became something else, or if they moved away entirely,” Patrick Durst of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey told KFVS 12

3-D Imagery Examines Paleolithic Skull Trauma

  BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A 3-D reconstruction of the skull of a child who lived 100,000 years ago suggests that the 12 to 13-year-old suffered a blunt force trauma resulting in a compound fracture. There was a broken piece depressed in his or her skull, which was surrounded by linear fractures. The wound likely caused a moderate traumatic brain injury that may have resulted in personality changes, trouble controlling movements, and difficulty in social communication. The child eventually died and was buried at Qafzeh Cave in Israel’s lower Galilee with two deer antlers lying on the upper part of his or her chest. “Digital imaging and 3-D reconstruction evidenced the oldest traumatic brain injury in a Paleolithic child. Post-traumatic neuropsychological disorders could have impaired social life of this individual who was buried, when a teenager, with a special ritual raising the question of compassion in Prehistory,” Hélène Coqueugniot and her colleagues from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université de Bordeaux, and the École Pratique des Hautes Études, told Science Daily.