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From the Trenches

Splendid Surprise


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Denmark Iron Age Jewlery1

At Vestervang, on the Danish island of Zealand, archaeologists and metal detectorists have uncovered 20 stunning pieces of Iron Age jewelry. While most of the adornments date to the Viking period and are made of bronze, some of them are gilded or covered in gold foil. All but two pieces are Scandinavian in origin.


Denmark Iron Age Jewlery2Vestervang was, for many centuries, a fairly modest farmstead. Thus, archaeologist Ole Kastholm of the Roskilde Museum was surprised to find such lavish artifacts there. “My explanation for the richness of the finds is that the farmstead was owned by one of the Viking king’s retainers. Furthermore, the site is close to the town of Lejre, which was the capital city of Zealand between A.D. 500 and 1000.”

Off the Grid


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kansas ElQuartalejo DigsYou might say, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” when you first lay eyes on El Cuartelejo. But you’d be wrong. Built in western Kansas in the 1600s by the Taos Indians, El Cuartelejo is the northeasternmost pueblo in North America and the only one in the Jayhawk State, according to Robert J. Hoard, state archaeologist. The high plains of Kansas are known for being dry and flat, but the site is surrounded by canyons and bluffs, shielding it from adverse weather and making it an appealing place for a pueblo. El Cuartelejo also has good access to water and to stone for construction and tool-making. Even today, Hoard says, the area is so lush that it supports grapevines. The pueblo was inhabited by the Taos Indians for several years before Spanish soldiers escorted them back to their Southwestern homeland, and later by a group of Picuris Indians between 1696 and 1706. 





The site

In the mid-1890s, the site now known as El Cuartelejo was excavated by two professors from the University of Kansas. They found the lower portions of stone walls that formed the foundation of a pueblo, inside of which were artifacts such as stone and bone tools, ornaments, and pottery sherds, some of which came from the pueblos of the Southwest. In 1970, Tom Witty of the Kansas State Historical Society excavated further, and unearthed the entire pueblo floor, hearths, and postholes. He also found evidence of an Apache roasting pit that predates the pueblo ruins. El Cuartelejo, which means “old barracks” or “old building,” was a seven-room pueblo, and visitors (the site is in Scott State Park and open to the public) can see its reconstructed foundation covering about 1,600 square feet. Archaeologists have found postholes in pairs, indicative of ladders that allowed access to doorless rooms in typical pueblo style. There are several related sites nearby. The El Quartelejo Museum in Scott City has exhibits that include artifacts and fossils, early Native American camp scenes, and a replica of the pueblo. 



While you’re there

The nearby landscape doesn’t look like Kansas at all, but more like the Southwest, with rock formations carved by sand and wind. Some of the Monument Rocks, also known as the Chalk Pyramids, are more than 70 feet tall. In addition to these natural wonders, be sure to check out Punished Woman’s Fork, where the last Native American battle in Kansas was fought. There, a monument overlooks the cave, canyon, and bluffs where the Northern Cheyenne waited to ambush the United State cavalry. For a bite, stop by Charlie’s Mexican restaurant in Leoti, just southwest of El Cuartelejo, which has served family-recipe Mexican fare for 50 years. 

An Imperial Underworld


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hadrians Villa Baths


A group of Italian caving enthusiasts, investigating a small hole in the ground concealed by bushes, discovered surprising information about the inner workings of ancient Rome’s most impressive imperial residence. Hadrian’s Villa is located in Tivoli, 15 miles east of Rome. Construction on the site began in A.D. 118, a year after Hadrian became emperor, and was completed a decade later. Some time ago, archaeologists realized that there was a network of roads under the estate, says Marco Placidi, director of Underground Rome, the group that made the discovery. “As we explored the roads, we discovered another world,” he says. “The villa’s grandeur is reflected underground.”


Many parts of the estate, which once covered 600 acres, were designed by Hadrian himself, and were based on famous buildings in Egypt and in Greece. The site is organized like a city, complete with palaces, libraries, thermal baths, theaters, courtyards, and landscaped gardens watered by canals and fountains. In its day, the villa’s subterranean world would have bustled with the activity of people charged with running the sprawling imperial palace as smoothly and quietly as possible. Tunnels and passageways allowed thousands of slaves to move discreetly from the basement of one building to that of another, enabled the movement of ox carts loaded with food and goods destined for underground storage, and accommodated sewers and water pipes. “These underground passageways have long been known,” says Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site. But Placidi’s team has discovered a new tunnel double the width—an astonishing 19 feet wide—of any previously found. This roadway would have allowed for two-way traffic.


hadrians villa underground join


Although the newly discovered tunnel is filled with debris nearly to the roof, the team, using a remote-controlled robot equipped with a camera, determined that it runs nearly straight, at least as far as the robot can go. “But,” says Placidi, “we can only imagine where this new road ends.”


Consisting of volunteer speleologists trained in archaeological research, Placidi’s group has worked at Hadrian’s Villa since 2001, thanks to an agreement with Italian heritage authorities. The team’s results demonstrate that amateurs and archaeologists can collaborate successfully—so long as it is done carefully. “Sometimes amateurs can do damage, but that’s not our experience. These volunteers are certified speleologists who scrupulously follow scientific protocol and work under the direction of our archaeologists,” Adembri says. Given the lack of funding plaguing Italian archaeological projects, Placidi’s group “provides valuable help, indeed,” he adds. Adembri hopes to open part of the tunnels to guided tours this year.