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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 14

Pictish Hillfort Unearthed in Central Scotland

DUNKELD, SCOTLAND— reports that a team of archaeologists and volunteers in central Scotland has excavated the site of a hilltop fort thought to have been inhabited by Pictish elites between the seventh and ninth centuries A.D. The researchers uncovered pottery imported from Europe, Anglo-Saxon glass beads, and pieces of Roman glass that had been recycled into gaming pieces, in addition to spindle whorls for spinning thread, crucibles and molds for working metal, and whetstones for sharpening cutting tools. “There must have been a lot of iron and other metal working going on here making the site an important center for production—not just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use,” explained Cathy MacIver of AOC Archaeology. For more on the Picts, go to "Game of Stones."

Prehistoric Clay Coffin Burials Uncovered in Northern Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that 83 graves dated to the first half of the fourth millennium B.C. have been discovered in the Nile Delta to the northeast of Cairo. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the burials belonged to the Naqada III period, and feature clay coffins and cylindrical jars. Archaeologists expect to uncover additional graves at the site. To read about thirty-six mummies of laborers unearthed at the necropolis of the ancient city of Memphis, go to "Saqqara's Working Stiffs."


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Thursday, February 13

Can Volcanoes Help Researchers Date Australian Oral Traditions?

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA—Science Magazine reports that geologist Erin Matchan of the University of Melbourne and her colleagues have dated volcanic rocks at southeastern Australia’s Budj Bim Volcanic Complex and the Tower Hill volcano, which is located about 25 miles away, to about 37,000 years ago. In the 1940s, archaeologists discovered a stone ax underneath the volcanic rocks at the Tower Hill volcano, indicating that people lived in the region before the eruptions occurred. Matchan explained that the structure of the volcanoes suggests they grew their peaks within a period spanning just days to months. The researchers think an ancient story told by the Aboriginal Gunditjmara people about four giant beings, one of whom transformed into the Budj Bim volcano, might reference this volcanic activity and could reflect an oral tradition that has lasted for tens of thousands of years. Previous analysis of hair samples indicate that many Australian populations have occupied the same regions for nearly 50,000 years. “As with all First Nations around the world, our stories, heritage, identity and survival are connected to our traditional homelands and waters,” said Damein Bell of Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. To read about native Hawaiian cowboys who lived on the slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano, go to "Letter from Hawaii: Ballad of the Paniolo."

Colorado Petroglyphs Mapped With High-Tech Tools

KRAKÓW, POLAND—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by archaeologist Radosław Palonka of Jagiellonian University employed laser scanning and photogrammetry to create highly detailed 3-D models of 800-year-old artworks inscribed on rock surfaces at southwestern Colorado’s Castle Rock Pueblo. At sunset on days around the time of the midwinter solstice and the spring and fall equinoxes, Palonka explained, the sunlight and shadows appear to move through the carved spirals and grooves of the petroglyphs. The researchers also noted that similar petroglyphs at nearby Sand Canyon are illuminated in the morning and early afternoons around the time of the summer solstice. Palonka thinks such engravings were probably used to mark the seasons. Several panels of previously unrecorded rock art were also studied, he added. To read about Cherokee ritual imagery in the deep caves of the American South, go to "Artists of the Dark Zone."

Possible African-American Burials Unearthed in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a DCist report, workers renovating the basement of a Georgetown townhouse discovered human remains thought to date to the early nineteenth century. City archaeologist Ruth Trocolli said the site may have been part of an unrecorded cemetery on the block, since other human remains have been recovered during construction projects in the past. Jerry McCoy of the D.C. Public Library said one of the graves might belong to Yarrow Mamout, who is also known as “Old Yarrow” from portraits painted by James Alexander Simpson and Charles Willson Peale. Mamout, a Muslim, was kidnapped in West Africa, enslaved in Georgetown, and won his freedom at the age of 60, when he became a successful investor. Mamout lived around the corner from the recently discovered burial site, but is known to have been interred in the garden where he prayed, which was located a few yards away from his home. “We don’t know where any of the black people in early Georgetown were buried,” added historian James H. Johnston. “There are all these other questions that this could help answer about the history of black Georgetown.” To read about excavations at one of the first communities built by newly freed African-Americans, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Early Roman Military Base Discovered in England

AYLESHAM, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that contract archaeologists have unearthed two ancient skeletons and traces of a Roman settlement at a building site on high ground overlooking Canterbury and the Roman ports of Richborough and Dover in southeast England. The human remains, which are being examined at the University of Kent, are thought to date to the Bronze or Iron Age. Paul Wilkinson of Swale and Thames Archaeology said artifacts from the site indicate the Romans also lived there and used the site as a military supply depot in the years immediately following the invasion of Britain. “Not all of them would have been fighting men but specialists in a range of support roles,” Wilkinson said of the Romans who lived at the site. The soldiers and support staff probably concentrated on building infrastructure, he explained. Three kilns for firing pottery made from local clay, pottery imported from what is now Germany, and glass items imported from what is now France have also been found. To read about the Roman military presence along Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."

Wednesday, February 12

Historic Boomerang Discovered in Southeastern Australia

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—The Canberra Times reports that a stone-carved boomerang was discovered in southeast Australia in a creek bed after a bushfire cleared the groundcover in the village of Cobargo. Dave Johnston, director of the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists’ Association, said that researchers will check with traditional landowners to see if they would like the artifact to be examined and possibly dated. Johnston thinks the boomerang was probably preserved in oxygen-depleted swamp conditions, but said it is unclear how it ended up in the creek bed. To read about the first known case of edged-weapon trauma in Australia, go to "Death by Boomerang."

Temple Complex Discovered Outside Jerusalem

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by Tel Aviv University, researchers including Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits of the university’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology and Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have found traces of two temples about four miles from Jerusalem, in the ancient city of Motza, which has been identified as an Iron Age administrative center where grain was stored and redistributed. The first temple on the site has been tentatively dated to the tenth century B.C., while the monumental temple complex built on top of it has been dated to the late tenth century to early ninth century B.C. Kisilevitz said the temple complex at Motza conformed to religious conventions in the Kingdom of Judah at the time, but according to biblical texts, King Hezekiah and King Josiah restricted worship to the structure known as Jerusalem’s First Temple. The presence of the temple complex in Motza, she added, therefore suggests that other temples continued to operate outside of Jerusalem. Motza’s local leaders may have built the temple complex to increase their control over the region and bolster the success of the growing grain distribution business, she explained. Cultic artifacts including human-shaped and horse figurines, a cult stand decorated with lions or sphinxes, a stone altar, a stone offering table, and a pit filled with ash and bones have been uncovered at the site. To read about ceramic figurines unearthed in Motza's temple complex, go to "Artifact."

Iron Age Bone Fragments Unearthed in Northeast England

DURHAM, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that bone fragments unearthed in central Durham have been radiocarbon dated to between 90 B.C. and A.D. 60, indicating that the region was inhabited during the Iron Age. The pieces of bone, identified as parts of an adult’s skull, radius, and tibia, had been cremated. “This adds to our knowledge of the history of Durham, showing that people were living and dying here long before the well-known medieval occupation of the city,” explained Natalie Swann of Durham University.