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From the Trenches

Common Ground

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches Cambridge Medieval Friary Excavation

 

Archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit have uncovered an Augustinian friary that occupied what is now Cambridge University property from the 1280s to 1538. In addition to buildings and artifacts, they have discovered nearly 40 burials. These will be analyzed as part of an ongoing project that compares human remains from throughout the city, including around 400 skeletons found at Cambridge’s Hospital of St. John in 2010. It will be interesting, site director Craig Cessford says, “to know if the friars had different diets or origins, were healthier, or lived longer than the rest of the Cambridge population.”

Aurignacian School of Art

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches France Aurignacian EngravingNew excavations at Abri Blanchard in southwestern France have uncovered a limestone block engraved with a series of dots and the image of an aurochs, a wild ancestor of modern cattle. Pieces of bone found with the artifact were radiocarbon dated to 33,000 years ago, the period when the Aurignacian people, Europe’s first anatomically modern humans, made the first representational artwork. In addition to the aurochs tablet, the research team reanalyzed 38 engraved limestone blocks that had been found at Abri Blanchard between 1910 and 1912. One of those tablets was decorated with a feline figure that was drawn using the same distinctive technique that an artist used for a painting of a feline at Chauvet Cave, about 200 miles away. While some techniques are shared between such early artistic sites, there are interesting differences, too. Randall White of New York University says, “Each region had its own particular medium of expression: engraving in southwestern France, miniature sculpture in Germany, and deep cave painting in southeastern France.”

Bronze Age Bling

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches Kuwait Falaika Jasper Seals horizontal

 

On a windblown island in the Persian Gulf, archaeologists have found a 3,500-year-old jewelry workshop that may hold secrets to the collapse and rebirth of a major trade network. By 2100 B.C., Failaka—now part of Kuwait—was home to the Dilmun culture, a seafaring society whose trade economy fueled the cities of Bronze Age Mesopotamia, or present-day Iraq (“Archaeology Island,” March/April 2013).

 

Suddenly, around 1730 B.C., the Dilmun trade network collapsed. Cities and temples were abandoned, leading to a period scholars know little about. Now, a team led by researchers from Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum has uncovered fragments of semiprecious stones not native to the island and likely imported from India and Pakistan. “The presence of carnelian and jasper on Failaka indicates that shipping through the Gulf had picked up [a few hundred years later],” says Flemming Højlund, senior scientist and curator at the museum. “It indicates that Dilmun had emerged again as a political entity.”

Squeezing History from a Turnip

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches Siberia House Excavation

 

Founded in 1594, the garrison town of Tara was one of the first Russian settlements in Siberia. Archaeologists led by Tomsk State University’s Maria Chernaya are now discovering what life was like there for the earliest Russian pioneers. In addition to wooden fortifications, the team has unearthed the remains of burned log houses that held toys, chess pieces, leather shoes, and knitted stockings that show that life on the Siberian frontier wasn’t as austere as some might imagine. Chernaya says the most unexpected discovery was a clay pot containing a charred turnip. “It was likely part of the winter stocks, so the house probably burned in the winter or spring.” She thinks the fire must have started just as someone was preparing to cook the root vegetable for a meal.

A Cornucopia of Condiments

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trenches London Condiment Jars Block

 

More than 13,000 jars and ceramic pots that once held jams and other condiments from the Victorian era were unearthed during construction of a new railway station on Tottenham Court Road in London’s West End. The containers—four tons in all—were found in a cistern at the site of a Crosse & Blackwell factory and warehouse that operated from 1830 until 1921.

 

The cistern probably held water used to provide steam power and was rendered unnecessary due to renovations carried out in the 1870s, according to Nigel Jeffries, an archaeologist with Museum of London Archaeology. “I think it was a very swift accumulation,” he says. “The cistern was probably filled over the course of a couple of weeks.” Most of the containers appear to have been discarded intact, and the labels of many remain legible. The range of condiments represented—from marmalades and jams to mushroom catsup, piccalilli, and chutneys—illustrate how once-conventional British tastes at the time were broadening to include flavors from India.

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