Subscribe to Archaeology

Top 10

Richard III’s Last Act

Leicester, England


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Richard-III-skeleton-Top-10In September 2012 a skeleton discovered beneath a parking lot by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) offered tantalizing but circumstantial clues—including its location, battle wounds, and spinal deformity—connecting it with King Richard III (r. 1483–1485). “Of course we had to prove it through proper scientific analysis,” says Richard Buckley, director of ULAS. So the remains were subjected to radiocarbon dating, stable isotope analysis, and detailed osteological examination.


All results were consistent with historical accounts, and genetic comparison with two descendants of Richard’s bloodline provided a final verdict in February. “We could say that beyond reasonable doubt it was Richard III,” says Buckley.


Shortly after the identity of the remains was confirmed, another group of archaeologists announced that they had pinpointed the precise location of Bosworth Field, where Richard met his end, a mile away from the location where the battle was originally believed to have taken place. Among the finds there were a cache of weapons, cannonballs, armor, and a silver badge that may have been carried by one of Richard’s knights.


Cast by both historians and Shakespeare as twisted in both mind and body, Richard III hasn’t received this much attention in more than 500 years. “Of course, what we can’t do is say anything about his character,” says Buckley. “That’s what everybody always wants to know.”



Parking Lot Pay Dirt

Homo erectus Stands Alone

Dmanisi, Georgia


Tuesday, December 10, 2013



The analysis by paleoanthropologists of a skull dated to 1.8 million years ago, found at the site of Dmanisi in Georgia, could result in the recategorization of ancient hominin species. The skull, originally excavated in 2005, is the fifth one to be found within a 100-square-foot area. Taken together, these five individuals, although highly variable in appearance, are believed to provide a snapshot of Homo erectus, the first human species to migrate out of Africa.


The most recently discovered skull has a small brain case, roughly half the size of that of the average modern human, but a very large face. According to existing standards of classification, if those two parts of the skull had been found as fragments at separate sites, they may have been assigned to two different species, says Christoph Zollikofer, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Zurich. Now, he says, the fact that the five skulls differ widely shows that Homo erectus individuals were far more diverse in appearance than many scientists had thought.


Based on the range of skull shapes and sizes from Dmanisi, Zollikofer believes that all Homo fossils that date to roughly 1.8 to 1.5 million years ago likely belonged to a single human species. All African fossils of that time period, he explains, variably attributed to Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Homo ergaster, should be considered part of the species Homo erectus.

A Wari Matriarchy?

Castillo de Huarmey, Peru


Tuesday, December 10, 2013



At the center of Castillo de Huarmey in northern Peru is a burial complex where Milosz Giersz and a team of archaeologists from the University of Warsaw and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru uncovered chambers containing the remains of three, or possibly four, royal women of the Wari Empire. They were accompanied by 40 noblewomen buried in a sitting position, seven sacrificed individuals whose bodies had been thrown over the seated burials, and more than 1,300 artifacts, including ear ornaments typically worn by royal men and weaving tools made of gold and silver.


“This is the first time in an archaeological excavation that we have found a tomb full of prestige goods related to Wari women,” Giersz says, adding that cotton and camel-wool textiles also found as grave goods were considered by the Wari to be more valuable offerings than gold. Giersz estimates that the tomb dates to A.D. 750. Burials of royal men have been found at the site, but thus far not in chambers of this size. The tomb could answer questions about the roles that women played at the highest levels of Wari society.

Roman Buildings Grow Up

Gabii, Italy


Tuesday, December 10, 2013



Eleven miles east of Rome, in the ancient city of Gabii, archaeologists unearthed a building complex that may represent the earliest instance of Roman monumental architecture. This enormous structure, dating to the fourth or third century B.C., was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan and predates most of the grand monuments of Rome itself. The large stone–block construction sprawls across three man-made terraces, enveloping a space of more than 22,000 square feet—roughly an entire ancient city block. The exceptional design features colonnades, geometrically patterned floors, wall paintings, and a grand staircase.


Because the site has not yet been fully excavated, it remains to be determined whether this complex served a public or private function. Regardless of the outcome, according to Marcello Mogetta, managing director of the Gabii Project, this structure is unprecedented within the archaeology of the Roman Republic—a period traditionally esteemed for its rejection of opulence and grandeur. If the complex is a private residence, its sheer size makes it unlike any contemporary aristocratic Roman house in Italy, and larger than even those of Pompeii and Rome.


“If the interpretation as a public building were confirmed, we would be moving into uncharted territory,” says Mogetta, adding that political buildings of the time were still being built with wooden posts and perishable materials. “The Gabii structure would provide a much earlier example of the desire for monumental architecture in a civic context.”

Oldest Bog Body

County Laois, Ireland


Tuesday, December 10, 2013



When radiocarbon dating results came in on a body discovered by a peat cutter in the middle of Ireland’s Cashel Bog, they elicited surprise. “Cashel Man” is the oldest fleshed bog body in Europe, predating the former holder of that title by at least 600 years. Cashel Man lived in the Early Bronze Age, around 2000 B.C., and clearly died a violent death. CT scans revealed that his spine was shattered in two places, a sharp blow had broken his arm, and he had been struck multiple times in the back with an ax. Archaeologist Eamonn Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland believes that Cashel Man’s burial on an ancient regional border, and the nature of his injuries, are evidence that the practice of sacrificing young men—a ritual connected with kingship and sovereignty well known from the Iron Age (500 B.C. to A.D. 400)—is 1,500 years older than previously thought.





Recent Issues