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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 27

New Guinea Artifacts Point to Neolithic Culture

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Science News reports that Ben Shaw of the University of New South Wales and his colleagues have uncovered artifacts that suggest a transition to farm-village life occurred in the highlands of New Guinea between 4,200 and 5,050 years ago. The artifacts include mortars; pestles bearing traces of yam, fruits, and nuts; a piece of a sculpture of a human or animal face; club heads; cutting or chopping tools; a stone marked with deep incisions and pigment stains; and a rock fragment that may have been struck with other stones to light fires. Chemical analysis of a worked piece of obsidian at the site indicates it was imported from at least 500 miles away. It had been previously thought that village life and the cultural changes associated with it were introduced to New Guinea with the arrival of Lapita farmers from Southeast Asia some 3,000 years ago. To read about decorated stone statues that may have been placed in a New Guinea cemetery more than 3,000 years ago, go to "Honoring the Ancestors."

Possible Use of Copper Cookware Detected in Bones

ODENSE, DENMARK—According to a statement released by the University of Southern Denmark, chemical analysis of the levels of copper in human bones can indicate the use of copper cookware in the past. Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his colleagues measured the level of copper in 55 skeletons ranging from 200 to 1,200 years old that were recovered from nine cemeteries in rural and urban areas in Denmark and northern Germany. The researchers found high levels of copper in the bones of people who lived in towns during the Viking and medieval periods, which they believe came from copper pots scraped by metal cooking utensils. Acidic foods stored in copper vessels may have absorbed the metal as well, Rasmussen explained. People who lived in rural areas did not ingest enough copper for it to be detectable in their bones, however. Rasmussen suggests country-dwellers were likely to have prepared their food in pots made of other materials, despite the popular historic image of a country kitchen equipped with a copper pot. Rasmussen thinks a copper pot may have been so unusual in rural areas that it may have been talked about and recorded. To read about the unusual diet of wild boars roaming Denmark's Jutland Peninsula some 5,000 years ago, go to "Mild Boars."

Civil War-Era Letter Found in West Virginia Museum

CEREDO, WEST VIRGINIA—The Wayne County News reports that Isabella Carpintero, a student at Morehead State University, discovered a letter written by President William McKinley in a book at the Z.D. Ramsdell Civil War House. Located near the Ohio River, Ramsdell House is thought to have served as one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before escaped slaves crossed into the North. The letter is addressed to Zophar D. Ramsdell, an abolitionist who served as a captain and quartermaster for the Union Army, and dated June 27, 1862, when McKinley was a lieutenant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. McKinley is thought to have written the letter himself, and not dictated it to a scribe. A copy has been sent to the McKinley Presidential Museum and Library for authentication. To read about one of the first self-contatined communities established by African-Americans, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Colonial-Era Shipwreck Identified in Maine

YORK, MAINE—Researcher Stefan Claesson has determined that the remains of a ship that periodically appear in the shifting sands of southern Maine date to the mid-eighteenth century, according to a Seacoast Online report. The hull currently measures about 50 feet long, but Claesson thinks the narrow vessel was about 60 feet long when it was built. “I believe it is the sloop Defiance,” Claesson said. “I think the ship is a pink, a type of cargo ship.” Claesson said he mapped the site with a drone and geographic information system technology. Wood samples analyzed by the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory were found to be from trees cut down in 1753. Using that information as a starting point, Claesson then examined notary records kept by Daniel Moulton between 1750 and 1794, and found that the Defiance ran aground in Cape Neddick Cove in 1769. “Defiance fit every description,” he explained. Additional research revealed that on its last journey, the Defiance left Salem, Massachusetts, and was headed for Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay, carrying a crew of four, flour, pork, and other supplies when it hit rocks in Cape Neddick Cove during a storm. The crew survived, but the ship was lost. Claesson has also recommended procedures to protect the wreckage from further damage. Photographs taken of the ship in the 1950s and the 1970s show that its mast has since been cut off. To read about Maine's Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, go to "Off the Grid."


More Headlines
Thursday, March 26

Survivor of Transatlantic Slave Trade Identified

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, research conducted by Hannah Durkin of Newcastle University has identified Matilda McCrear as one of the last survivors of the transatlantic slave trade. Captured by slave traders in West Africa at the age of two, McCrear arrived in Alabama on the slave ship Clotilda in 1860. The ship is thought to have been scuttled shortly after its arrival in Mobile Bay in an effort to destroy evidence of the journey, because the importation of slaves to the United States had been outlawed in 1808. McCrear, her mother, and one of her three sisters who made the journey were purchased by the same plantation owner, Memorable Walker Creagh. After the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, the family worked as share croppers. Durkin said McCrear changed her surname, and had a common-law marriage with a white German-born man. They had 14 children. At the age of 70, McCrear was interviewed by the Selma Times-Journal after she and Sally “Redoshi” Smith, another Clotilda survivor, made a claim for compensation for their enslavement at the county courthouse, which was dismissed. McCrear died in Selma, Alabama, in January of 1940. Sally “Redoshi” Smith died in 1937, and Oluale Kossala, also known as Cudjo Lewis, another known Clotilda survivor, died in 1935. For more, go to "The Case for Clotilda."

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

RYE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement from Flinders University, an international team of researchers investigated the wreck of the Barbara, which sank near the coast of southeastern Australia in 1853. The Barbara was constructed in Tasmania in 1841 to carry lime for brickmaking, which was an early industry practiced in southern Australia. Analysis of wood samples revealed the ship was built from timbers grown in Victoria, New South Wales, Northern Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmanian blue gum, a type of eucalyptus tree. “This is possibly the first time such a wide variety of timbers have been found in an Australian built vessel,” said Wendy Van Duivenvoorde of Flinders University. “It indicates that early shipbuilders had developed a detailed knowledge of the properties of indigenous timbers appropriate for shipbuilding.” Analysis of metal and fiber samples taken from the wreck is still underway, she added. To read about excavations at a nineteenth-century prison in the suburbs of Melbourne, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Japanese Internment Camp Considered for National Park Status

GRANADA, COLORADO—UPI reports that Camp Amache, a World War II-era Japanese internment camp located in southeastern Colorado, could become part of the National Park system. Between 1942 and 1945, some 10,000 people were detained at Camp Amache, where they lived in 29 blocks of military-style barracks surrounded by barbed wire fence, six watch towers, and armed guards. Local teacher John Hopper, with the assistance of the city of Granada and his high school students, have worked to maintain and restore the site since 1993. Archaeology field school students under the direction of Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver have uncovered traces of gardens kept by the detainees, building foundations, and artifacts now kept in a student-run museum. The students’ work could become the basis of a National Park interpretive center, Clark explained. “I hope it helps people remember that this happened,” added her student, Kylie Dillinger. To read about the remains of a Japanese village in Canada that was abandoned when its residents were forced into internment camps, go to "World Roundup: Canada."

Wednesday, March 25

Does Equinox Sunset Highlight Egypt’s Sphinx?

GIZA, EGYPT—Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities suggests that the Sphinx, a 241-foot tall sculpture of a lion’s body with a man’s head carved in limestone bedrock on the Giza Plateau, was strategically placed so that the sun sets over its right shoulder on the spring and fall equinoxes, when day and night are equal in length, according to a Live Science report. It had been previously suggested that the sculpture, which is thought to have been built around 2500 B.C. during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre, simply took advantage of the position of a limestone outcropping. Egyptian authorities add that at the summer solstice in June, the sun sets between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre. To read about a plaster sphinx head unearthed in California that was made for a 1920s Hollywood film, go to "Head in the Sand."

Beer Bottles Found Under Cellar Stairs in Northern England

LEEDS, ENGLAND—The Drinks Business reports that while working at a construction site in central Leeds, researchers from Archaeological Services WYAS found more than 600 beer bottles stacked under a set of cellar stairs at the site of what had been the Scarborough Castle Inn. The bottles came from several brewers, but most are labeled “J.E. Richardson of Leeds,” according to archaeologist David Williams. The bottles are thought to date to the 1880s, he added. “This excavation is giving us a great opportunity to uncover a part of Georgian and Victorian Leeds,” Williams said. “The results so far are giving a real insight to the daily lives of the former residents of Leeds during this period.” Several of the beer bottles still contained liquid. Williams and his team members originally thought the liquid might have been ginger beer, but analysis showed that it contained alcohol and high levels of lead. Water used to make the beer is thought to have been contaminated by lead piping. To read about the discovery of an illicit whisky distillery in the forests of Scotland, go to "Still Standing."

Conservators in India Treat Historic Palm-Leaf Manuscripts

KAKINADA, INDIA—The Hindu reports that conservators from India’s State Department of Archaeology and Museums are treating some 1,600 palm-leaf manuscripts held at the Andhra Sahitya Parishad Archaeology Museum and Research Institute in southeastern India to protect them from insects. Each of the manuscripts, which date to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, is about 500 pages long. The texts include the fields of Ayurveda, mathematics, astrology, music, and literature such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once the manuscripts have been chemically treated they will be covered in cotton fabric for additional protection in storage. To read about efforts to preserve the medieval city of Hampi, go to "Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk."

Neolithic Drainage System Uncovered in China

HENAN PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a drainage system made of clay pipes has been unearthed in central China at the Longshan Culture site known as Pingliangtai Ancient City, a 4,000-year-old village discovered in 1980. “The pottery pipes were connected with drainage ditches in the city,” said Cao Yanpeng of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Cao added that jade artifacts and wheel ruts thought to be at least 4,200 years old have also been uncovered at Pingliangtai Ancient City. To read about a jar of 2,500-year-old eggs discovered in a Chinese tomb, go to "Picnic for the Afterlife."