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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 19

Record of Sixteenth-Century Still Discovered in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Drinks Business reports that Claire Hawes of the University of Aberdeen discovered a record for a still in Aberdeen’s municipal registers that dates to 1505. The still was used to make rose water and “aquavite,” or "water of life," the word used in Middle Scots for whisky. Jackson Armstrong of the University of Aberdeen noted that the reference is the earliest known record of an apparatus for distilling aquavite, and is contemporaneous with the founding of the university and the local growth of humanism, science, and medicine. Other early stills were used to prepare spirits for the preparation of gunpowder, he added, but because the Aberdeen still was also used to prepare rose water, it may have been used to produce spirits for consumption. The earliest known reference to aquavite itself dates to 1494. For more on Scottish archaeology, go to "Letter from Scotland: Living on the Edge."

Archaeologists Investigate Scotland’s “Great Drain”

PAISLEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a team of archaeologists has determined that a fourteenth-century drain beneath the 850-year-old Paisley Abbey extended some 320 feet to the banks of the River Cart. “We found the end of the drain and what was the boundary wall of the monastery,” said Bob Will of Guard Archaeology. “The river was wider and shallower in those days—much more than in the last couple of hundred years.” The drain was first unearthed in the nineteenth century, and was rediscovered in the 1990s. To read about another discovery at a Scottish monastery, go to "Fit for a Saint."

Roman Artifacts Found Off Coast of Southeast England

KENT, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a kayaker paddling off the coast of southeast England spotted an intact piece of Roman cobalt-blue glassware, pottery fragments, and a terracotta roof tile in clear, shallow water during low tide. Mark Dunkley of Historic England said such materials are unknown in Britain’s waters. The artifacts could point to a Roman shipwreck, he explained, or a land site that is now underwater because of coastal erosion. The objects could even have been deposited as a votive offering to the gods as a request for safe passage. Dunkley also noted that Roman troops led by Julius Caesar landed in the region and built forts nearby in 54 B.C. “This potential Roman site sits on the southern end of the Wantsum Channel [which the Romans used to connect the English Channel with the Thames estuary] and the material is dated to at least the late first or early second century A.D.,” Dunkley said. “That ties with the development of [the fort at] Richborough as the gateway to Roman Britain.” When the tides allow, archaeologists will return to the site for further investigation. For more on archaeology in England, go to "A Dark Age Beacon."  

Possible West-African Potting Designs Spotted in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The Post and Courier reports that a fragment of Colonoware from Charleston’s Heyward-Washington House, the eighteenth-century home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a similar fragment unearthed at Drayton Hall, a plantation on the Ashley River, may have been decorated with a West African decorative potting technique known as “rouletting.” Colonoware is low-fired, unglazed pottery that is thought to have been made primarily by Native Americans and enslaved Africans living in the southern American colonies. Rouletting is produced by rolling a tool over the clay surface, resulting in a honeycomb-like texture. “I am pretty sure these are the first identified instances of a clearly West African decorative potting technique on Colonoware in the United States,” said Jon Marcoux of Clemson University and the College of Charleston. He and his colleagues wonder if such designs on Colonoware, which is largely unadorned, could help researchers link pottery artifacts to different groups of people. “Charleston historically has a lot of people coming and going, and it gets more complicated all the time,” explained Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum. “That is what makes it exciting. As a trans-Atlantic port city, almost anything and everything can be in Charleston.” To read more about colonial Charleston, go to "Mapping the Past: Catawba Map."


More Headlines
Thursday, July 18

Baekje Kingdom Burial Mounds Recorded in South Korea

GONGJU, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Herald reports that 41 small burial mounds have been discovered near the tomb of King Muryeong, the 25th king of the Baekje Kingdom, who ruled from A.D. 501 to 523. Researchers from South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration said the mounds at Songsan-ri may cover additional underground royal tombs dating to the Baekje era, which spanned from 18 B.C. to A.D. 660. Another 29 tumuli were discovered between 1927 and 1933, when Korea was ruled by Japan, though records for only eight of these tombs survive. Bricks similar to those found in King Muryeong’s tomb were also recovered, and may mark the location of another brick tomb in the area. King Muryeong’s burial is the only Baekje Kingdom tomb whose occupant has ever been identified. To read about another recent discovery in South Korea, go to “Tigress by the Tail.”

Well-Preserved Mosaic Floor Found in Roman Egypt

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a team of Egyptian and Polish archaeologists discovered a well-preserved Roman mosaic floor in a house at the site of Kom El-Dikka, which features a small theater, an imperial bath, and a group of 22 lecture halls that may have been part of a university. Grzegorz Majcherek of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw said the mosaic floor, which includes six hexagonal panels decorated with images of lotus buds and flowers, showcases a distinctive Alexandrian style. “Overall, the design of the mosaic, additionally equipped with a transversal field in front decorated with astragals and rosettes, is typical for the triclinia—the most imposing of the dining rooms in a Roman house,” Majcherek explained. For more on Roman Egypt, go to “A Lost Sock's Secrets.”

Sixteenth-Century Ceramics Uncovered in Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—Located on the coast of northeastern Florida, the city of St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers. The St. Augustine Record reports that an archaeological investigation ahead of a construction project on Aviles Street in the city’s historic district has unearthed sixteenth-century ceramics, a lock, a pipe stem, and evidence of a print shop, including typeset letters for newsprint. A fire station and a city hall are also known to have once stood on the site, according to city archaeologist Andrea White. For more on archaeology in Florida, go to “Off the Grid: Mission San Luis.”

Possible 1,200-Year-Old Mosque Unearthed in Israel

RAHAT, ISRAEL—BBC News reports that the remains of a possible mosque dating to the seventh or eighth century A.D. were discovered in the Negev Desert during construction work. Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the rectangular structure features a “mihrab,” or prayer niche, facing south toward Mecca. Local farmers are thought to have built the structure shortly after the Arab conquest of the region in A.D. 636. Seligman and Zur said the mosque is the first to be found in region, and would be “a rare discovery anywhere in the world.” To read about other early Islamic structures from the area, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Wednesday, July 17

Battle of Waterloo Field Hospital Excavated

MONT-ST-JEAN, BELGIUM—The Guardian reports that the group Waterloo Uncovered, led by Tony Pollard of the University of Glasgow, has uncovered three human leg bones, one of which bears the marks of a surgeon’s saw, at the site of a farmhouse used as a field hospital on June 18, 1815, during the Battle of Waterloo. The field hospital served as many as 6,000 soldiers under the command of Britain’s Duke of Wellington who were wounded while fighting Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army. The excavators, some of whom are veterans themselves, also found musket balls fired by Brown Bess infantry muskets carried by British and Prussian troops, and others fired by smaller French weapons. The heavy concentration of musket balls suggests that a previously unrecorded fight took place on the farmhouse steps. For more on the archaeology of the Battle of Waterloo, go to “A Soldier's Story.”

Restoration of King Tut’s Large Golden Coffin Begins

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the largest of King Tutankhuman’s three coffins has been removed from his tomb and transported to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), where it will be restored for the first time. This wooden coffin is the only one to have been stored in Tutankhamun’s tomb since its discovery in 1922. The smallest coffin, carved from gold, and the middle-sized one, like the largest made of wood coated with layers of gold plaster, were put on display in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Eissa Zidan, GEM's head of first aid restoration, said the repair of cracks in the largest coffin’s layers of gold plaster and other damage is expected to take at least eight months. All three coffins will be put on display together when the GEM opens in 2020. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”