A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
NORTH CAROLINA: A tavern in Brunswick Town that burned down in the 1760s may have been a popular watering hole for rebellious colonials. A small cufflink found among the tavern’s remains was inscribed with the words “Wilkes Liberty 45,” a cryptic rallying cry used by those opposing King George III. The phrase refers to seditious English politician and pamphleteer John Wilkes. In edition no. 45 of his paper, he criticized the English monarch—which got him arrested, but endeared him to American patriots.
VIRGINIA: Divers exploring the York River identified burned wooden timbers and cannons that may belong to a British ship that sank during the Siege of Yorktown. In this, the Revolutionary War’s decisive battle, George Washington’s army attacked the British by land, while the French navy assaulted them from the sea. More than 40 British ships went down during the onslaught, either from enemy fire or because they were deliberately scuttled by Lord Cornwallis in an attempt to stop a French landing.
BELIZE: The Maya’s dependence on maize may have ultimately led to their collapse. Isotope analysis of bones from 50 burials at the site of Cahal Pech illustrates how the Maya diet changed between 745 B.C. and A.D. 850. Early communities had a more diverse diet that included maize as well as animals and wild plants. By the 9th century A.D., though, a strong preference for maize, driven by upper-class tastes, led to intensive farming of and overreliance on the crop, leaving it susceptible to drought.
ENGLAND: The stone foundations of an early phase of Lady Jane Grey’s childhood home were uncovered in Bradgate Park, in Leicestershire. The Greys were one of the most prominent English families during the Tudor period and lived in Bradgate House for more than 200 years. Grey famously ruled England as queen for nine days before being deposed—and executed—in 1554 by Henry VIII’s daughter Mary I.
ROMANIA: In 1941, when a 33,000-year-old human skull was discovered in southern Transylvania’s Cioclovina Cave, it was recognized as the remains of one of the earliest modern humans in Europe. New research suggests it is also evidence of a Paleolithic murder. Forensic investigation and experimental simulation concluded that two fractures on the skull were inflicted premortem, and not postmortem as originally thought. The individual appears to have been killed by bluntforce trauma to the head with a club-like object wielded by a left-handed suspect.
EGYPT: The wild African watermelon has white flesh and is largely inedible due to its bitterness. However, wall paintings from ancient Egyptian tombs depict what appear to be watermelons, which has led experts to speculate that the fruit may have been domesticated in a manner that made it more palatable. Now, DNA sequencing from a watermelon leaf found in a 3,500-year-old tomb in Luxor has shown that two of the melon’s genes were manipulated, causing it to develop red flesh and a sweet taste. This confirms that New Kingdom Egyptians did indeed cultivate watermelons similar to the ones we enjoy today.
ISRAEL: The walled site of Tel Shikmona has long puzzled archaeologists. Despite its rocky coastline and lack of arable land, a community seemingly thrived there between the 11th and 6th centuries B.C. Recent reevaluation of ceramic material indicates the site housed a facility that produced purple dye, one of the ancient Mediterranean’s most sought-after commodities. The valuable dye was extracted from murex marine snails in a labor-intensive process that is still not fully understood.
RUSSIA: Some 200 years after Napoleon’s unsuccessful invasion of Russia, residents of Smolensk unknowingly danced on the grave of one of the emperor’s most trusted generals. The body of Charles Étienne Gudin was recently discovered beneath an outdoor dance floor in the city. The skeletal remains were consistent with records showing that Gudin’s left leg was amputated after the 1812 Battle of Valutino. Upon his death, Gudin’s heart was removed, brought back to France, and interred in Paris’ Pere Lachaise cemetery.
CHINA: Long before it was popularized in the West by the 1960s counterculture, cannabis was an important part of Central Asian rituals. Researchers have detected trace amounts of the drug on several 2,500-year-old wooden braziers from the Jirzankal cemetery in far western China. This is the oldest scientifically verified evidence of cannabis smoking. The samples contained higher levels of psychoactive chemicals than most wild cannabis varieties, suggesting that locals may have cultivated the plant for its mind-altering effects.
INDONESIA: When the 2004 tsunami hit the northwestern coast of Sumatra, it caused almost unimaginable destruction. It also unearthed evidence that a previous tsunami had struck some 600 years earlier. A survey along 25 miles of coast near Banda Aceh revealed that at least 10 medieval communities once thrived there as part of the maritime Silk Road. A 1394 tsunami destroyed all but one of them. Thousands of recently recorded 15th-century Muslim gravestones suggest that Islamic traders eventually resettled the abandoned coast.
Egyptian watermelons, a Sumatran tsunami, Siege of Yorktown shipwrecks, and the house of the nine-day queen
Just a fleeting impression