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From the Trenches

Can You Dig It, Man?


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trenches Woodstock Stage Fieldwork BlockAlmost five decades after Woodstock, archaeologists from Binghamton University’s Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) are investigating the site of the iconic music festival. Although the grassy hill in Bethel, New York, once accommodated around 400,000 concertgoers, almost nothing remains visible today to indicate that greats such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead once played there. The work is a collaboration between the PAF and the Museum at Bethel Woods in anticipation of the festival’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in August 2019. “It is the essence of a public archaeology project,” says PAF director Nina Versaggi. “Woodstock was a defining moment in the American experience, and it created a counterculture revolution that changed a whole generation.”


The team has successfully identified the area of vendors’ booths known as the Bindy Bazaar, as well as the site of the sound and light towers and the “Peace Fence” that once ran parallel to the stage. Versaggi hopes that this new information, coupled with period photographs, will help pinpoint the legendary stage’s exact location, which is not known. “Archaeologists are trained to find the ephemeral as well as the amazing,” she says, “and the ephemeral traces of Woodstock are pretty amazing.”

Please Wash Your Hands


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trenches Denmark Wine Barrel LatrinesA pair of wine barrels that served as latrines in the late 1680s has been excavated in central Copenhagen, offering detailed insights into the diet and cleanliness of those who used them. Employing a range of techniques, including DNA and pollen analysis, archaeologists have identified foods including fish, meats, various grains, cherries, coriander, lettuce, mustard, and hazelnuts. “It’s a varied and quite healthy diet,” says Mette Marie Hald of the National Museum of Denmark. “They were consuming locally sourced products as well as exotic products from a global trading network.”


The imported items include cloves from Indonesia’s Moluccan islands and figs, grapes, and bitter orange or lemon, most likely from the Mediterranean. In order to afford these imported delicacies, Hald says, the people who used these latrines must have been quite wealthy. However, their hygiene could have used some improvement: Varieties of whipworm, roundworm, and tapeworm known to infect humans were also found. “They didn’t wash their hands very often, and they didn’t cook their food thoroughly,” says Hald, “and naturally you would get parasites from that.”

Ancient Foresters


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trenches Monkey Puzzle TreeWhen the hardy evergreen trees of the Araucaria genus were first shipped from Australia and South America to the gardens of nineteenth-century Europe, they were dubbed “monkey puzzle” trees because of the challenge their needle-like leaves were said to pose to monkeys that attempted to climb them. University of Exeter archaeologist Mark Robinson and a team of ecologists recently discovered that the human relationship with these trees is a long and intimate one, dating back some 1,400 years. By studying carbon isotopes from archaeological sites in southern Brazil, Robinson’s team found that Araucaria forests began to expand well beyond their natural habitat at the same time the ancestors of today’s indigenous groups experienced a growth in population. Researchers could isolate no environmental explanation for the expansion, and concluded that ancient forestry practices were most likely responsible for the massive growth of the Araucaria forests.


These trees are still a critical source of timber, fuel, and edible seeds for indigenous people and play a central role in their cosmology. “They are often considered to embody ancestors,” says Robinson. Today, because of modern logging, there has been a 95 percent reduction in the range of Araucaria species, and most are now endangered. Robinson notes that since their ancestors played such a critical role in the growth of monkey puzzle forests in the ancient past, native peoples should be permitted to play a larger role in conservation efforts.

Indian Warrior Class


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trenches India Sanauli Chariots Mirror CombDuring excavations at Sanauli in the Baghpat district of western Uttar Pradesh, a team from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed the remains of three chariots, along with a number of coffins and other objects they believe are almost 4,000 years old. “The discovery of chariots in burial pits is extremely important, as they put India on par with ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Greece where chariots were extensively used,” says S.K. Manjul, director of the ASI’s Institute of Archaeology. The three chariots are two-wheeled open vehicles that can be driven by one person. The dig has also unearthed eight burial sites and additional artifacts, including three coffins, swords, daggers, combs, and ornaments. The burial pits indicate that a warrior class thrived in this region, according to Manjul. “These excavations,” he says, “have proved that the chariots, swords, and helmets were used in wars, as they were in Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.”

Hand Picked


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Trenches Rome Constantine Statue PartsThe 1.2-foot-long bronze index finger of a massive fourth-century statue currently on display at Rome’s Capitoline Museums, thought to depict the Roman emperor Constantine, has been rediscovered in the Louvre. Aurélia Azéma, now of the French Laboratory for Research on Historical Monuments, made the discovery after studying the finger—which came to Paris from a private collection in 1861 and was originally cataloged by curators as a “Roman toe”—for a doctoral dissertation on ancient bronze techniques. “The finger was an interesting case to illustrate manufacturing techniques, particularly the welding of colossal bronzes,” Azéma says.


Trenches Constantine Statue Finger HorizMeanwhile, the pieces of the Constantine statue in Rome—which is thought to have stood nearly 40 feet tall—include an enormous head, a sphere, a left forearm, and a hand missing its palm, and were also important for her research. “In looking at the finger and comparing technological features with those of the Constantine statue, the similarities were everywhere,” she explains, “in size, casting, repairing, welding, and gilding.” The link between the finger and the statue was confirmed beyond all doubt when a team of Azéma’s colleagues from the Louvre and the French Center for Research and Restoration of Museums constructed a 3-D model of the finger and brought it to the Capitoline Museums for a fitting. “It was like two pieces of a puzzle,” Azéma says.