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From the Trenches

Alone, but Closely Watched

Monday, August 11, 2014

Australia-Prison-Yard-Panopticon

Pentridge Prison, in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, saw continuous use as a place of confinement and punishment for almost 150 years, from the 1850s until its closure in 1997. Portions of the sprawling complex have been slated for development, so recent years have seen a flurry of archaeological excavation, which turned up, among other things, the remains of the country’s most notorious outlaw and bushranger, Ned Kelly (“Final Resting Place of an Outlaw,” September/October 2012).

 

The latest finds include the foundations of three panopticon-style exercise yards. These rare, pie-shaped structures would have allowed prisoners in solitary confinement—who were forbidden any form of communication—to walk outside for brief periods, observed at all times by guards in a central tower. The concept was based on the theories of English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who characterized this constant observation as a means to control inmate behavior, calling it “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind.” “The ‘separate system’ [as the solitary punishment was known] was short-lived, mainly because it was very expensive, as well as sending all the inmates nuts, so these very unusual buildings are few and far between,” says archaeologist Adam Ford of consulting firm DIG International.

 

Australia-Prison-Yard-ExcavationsThe excavations have also revealed the foundations of the prison’s C Division (left), where the prisoners allowed to use the panopticons were held alone in 3-by-10-foot cells—among them a young Kelly. “These give a vivid image of the tiny and squalid conditions of the condemned in the 1880s,” says Ford, “and were still used until the mid-1970s.”

Off With Their Heads

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cod-Medieval-England-StudyA team of archaeologists has determined that the source of cod consumed in London shifted abruptly in the early thirteenth century when locally caught fish gave way to imports. The evidence for this change is almost 3,000 fish bones from 95 archaeological sites across the city, and specifically their heads. Cranial bones found in London archaeological deposits would have come from locally caught fish, because imported fish arrived without them. At the time, in order to preserve them for long-range shipping, fish were decapitated. Other bones, such as vertebrae, could have come from either local or imported cod. By studying the ratio of cranial bones to vertebrae in archaeological deposits, the researchers could see the relative importance of imports in the city’s cod supply.

 

In deposits dating to before 1200, a relative abundance of cranial bones means that most of the fish consumed in the city was local. But in later deposits the ratio flips, suggesting an increased reliance on imported cod. The ratio also fluctuated in the late fourteenth century, possibly indicating that the Black Death of 1348–1350 interrupted cod imports. Isotopic analysis, which can indicate where the fish came from, provided further evidence for the medieval shift. Bones from the eleventh and twelfth centuries appear to have come from fish from the southern North Sea, close to London. After 1250, however, the majority of bones were associated with fish from far-off regions, such as Norway, Iceland, and the Scottish islands. “What we don’t know is what’s the chicken and what’s the egg here,” says David Orton of the University College of London Institute of Archaeology. “Do we have something that’s affecting the local industry and therefore stimulating the import trade, or do we have the arrival of an import trade which is then damaging the local industry?”

 

Further research may yield an answer. For example, if the bones of locally caught cod became smaller in the centuries leading up to the shift, that could provide evidence of an impending collapse of the local fishery, which would have created demand for imports.

Modern-Day Ruin

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, August 11, 2014

NY-World-Fair-PavilionA half-century after it was built for the forward-looking 1964 New York World’s Fair, the New York State Pavilion in Queens is at once iconic and run-down. The site consists of three parts—the Tent of Tomorrow, three observation towers, and the “Theaterama.” The city has just budgeted millions for restoration work that will change the site forever. A team led by Lori Walters of the University of Central Florida has stepped in and is using 3-D laser scanners to record the structures’ current state. Ninety-six highly detailed laser images will be stitched together to produce a digital replica—and to help preserve past notions of what the future might be like.

World's Oldest Pants

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, August 11, 2014

Worlds-Oldest-Pants

Radiocarbon dating of two pairs of trousers discovered in a cemetery in western China has revealed they were made between the thirteenth and tenth centuries B.C., making them the oldest known surviving pants by almost 1,000 years. German Archaeological Institute scholar Mayke Wagner, who led the study, says the dates amazed his team. “In most places on Earth, 3,000-year-old garments are destroyed by microorganisms and chemicals in the soil,” he says. The two people who were buried wearing pants were likely prestigious warriors who functioned like policemen and wore trousers while riding on horseback. “The trousers were part of their uniform and the fact that they were made between 100 and 200 years apart means it was a standard, traditional design,” says Wagner, whose team worked with a fashion designer to re-create the garments. “They are surprisingly good-looking, but they are not particularly comfortable for walking.”

They're Just Like Us

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, August 11, 2014

England-Roman-Pawprints

Next time you’re walking down a city sidewalk and see a dog’s paw print in the concrete, remember that, despite the passage of centuries or even millennia, the ancient and modern worlds are not nearly as different as you might think. Archaeologists working at a site called Blackfriars in Leicester, England, have recently found several clay roof and floor tiles with the prints of not only dogs, but also those of a cat and a sheep or goat, who all ran across the tiles as they were drying sometime in the second or third century A.D. While not an especially rare discovery, as such imprints have been unearthed at many Roman sites, “they are always a lovely find as they are such a unique snapshot into the past,” says project archaeologist Nick Daffern. “I think these kinds of finds bring the archaeology to life and give emotional engagement—you can imagine how the person reacted when they found their lovely batch of tiles had been disturbed.”

 

The animal prints are not the only evidence that the neighborhood’s ancient inhabitants shared many of the same obsessions as modern people. Daffern’s team identified, along with the stone foundation of a sizeable building dating to the second or third century, several phases of earlier, Late Iron Age/early Roman timber construction. According to Daffern, the site presents “an interesting mix” of high-status and utilitarian items. “There is almost a feeling of keeping up with the Joneses here,” he says. “They tried to develop the building from timber origins to a more impressive stone structure, but, for whatever reason, they couldn’t go all the way. The original masonry is very impressive, but some of the repairs and adjustments look botched, and we have even joked that maybe they encountered a Roman credit crunch!”

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