Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 25

Castle Moat Uncovered in Nottinghamshire

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Nottingham Post reports that a ten-foot-deep moat was discovered at Newark Castle’s castle gate during work to improve Nottingham’s water and sewer systems. Newark Castle was first built of timber and then later reconstructed of stone in the twelfth century. The castle’s moat held animal bones and pottery dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, suggesting the ditch had begun to fill in as the castle began to fall into decay, according to archaeologist Vicky Owen. “We have read about there being a moat and mention it as part of tours so to have this find confirming the existence of the moat brings it to reality,” said castle warden Floss Newman. The castle was partially demolished in 1648, during England’s Civil War. To read in-depth about excavations at another castle, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

New Dates Obtained for Russia’s Shigir Idol

YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA—Science Magazine reports that the so-called Shigir Idol, a 16-foot-tall sculpture discovered in a peat bog near the border of Europe and Asia in the late nineteenth century, was carved from a single log some 11,600 years ago. Archaeologist Thomas Terberger of the University of Göttingen said the new dates, obtained from wood samples taken from the interior of the log, indicate that the monumental structure was carved by hunter-gatherers, and not members of a farming society, as had been previously thought. Archaeologist Mikhail Zhilin of the Russian Academy of Sciences and his excavation team recently explored Shigir and another bog site about 30 miles away. The researchers recovered small bone points, daggers, elk antlers carved with animal faces, wood-working tools, and a pine log that had been smoothed with an adze. “They knew how to work wood perfectly,” Zhilin said. He speculates that the Shigir Idol was created to depict spirits or demons thought to have lived in the new forests that were spreading across Eurasia at the close of the Ice Age. To read about another discovery in Russia that has been recently revisited, go to “Alternative Deathstyles.”

Child’s Remains Discovered in Pompeii

ROME, ITALY—A child’s skeleton has been discovered in a previously unexcavated corner of Pompeii’s central public bath complex, according to a report in The Telegraph. Archaeologists detected the remains with the use of sophisticated scanning equipment. The seven- or eight-year-old is presumed to have taken shelter in in the baths during the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius some 2,000 years ago. The building did protect the child from falling debris, but he or she most likely suffocated in the clouds of ash produced by the eruption. The pyroclastic flow eventually entered through the building’s windows and sealed the space. DNA analysis may reveal more information about the child. To read about gardens at Pompeii, go to “Food and Wine Gardens.”


More Headlines
Tuesday, April 24

Switzerland Repatriates Ancient Coins to Serbia

BERN, SWITZERLAND—Expatica reports that Yves Fischer of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture handed over more than 500 coins dating to the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods to Danijela Vanusic, Serbia’s deputy minister of culture. The coins had been listed online, and Swiss officials seized them before they were sold. A second-century sesterce bearing the likeness of the Roman Empress Faustina, and a gold solidus depicting the Byzantine emperor Heraclius dating to the seventh century are among the recovered coins. For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

New Thoughts on Shovel-Shaped Teeth

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—A genetic mutation linked to shovel-shaped incisors may have had a more consequential impact on breastfeeding, according to a report in Science Magazine. Researchers led by Leslea Hlusko of the University of California-Berkeley suggest a genetic mutation that became prevalent among the ancestors of Native Americans some 20,000 years ago may have helped them survive the dark, cold Arctic climate of Beringia by enhancing mothers’ milk ducts and increasing the amount of fat and vitamin D passed to infants. This gene is also linked to growth of thicker hair, increased development of sweat glands, and the shift to shovel-shaped incisors. The gene mutation is thought to have first occurred some 30,000 years ago in China, which had a hot, humid climate, leading researchers to speculate that the increased sweat glands offered a particular advantage. Hlusko says the shovel-shaped incisors seen in both East Asians and Native Americans were incidental to the benefits brought by natural selection through the sweat glands and improved infant nutrition. It had been previously thought that the shovel-shaped incisors themselves provided some sort of benefit to early Native Americans since their presence was widespread in known populations. For more, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

Denmark's Roman-Era Burial Rites

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Science Nordic report, chicken and geese served as status symbols in Denmark during the Early and Late Roman Iron Age, ranging from the first through the fourth centuries A.D. Graves in Denmark from the period that contained hens also contained valuable artifacts, while expensive imported Roman goods were only found in graves that contained geese. “In the Roman Empire, hens and geese were a common burial gift, while in Denmark they were new and exotic species,” explained Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen of the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. Gotfredsen also pointed out that chicken and goose bones were not found among domestic waste. Geese were considered holy in Roman culture, added Mogens Bo Henriksen of Odense City Museums, because they represented the goddess Juno, who was married to Jupiter, the supreme god of the Roman pantheon. To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to “Messengers to the Gods.”

Scientists Evaluate Claims of Carib Cannibalism

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of researchers led by Reg Murphy of Syracuse University is looking for evidence of the foods eaten by the Caribs who lived on a 12-acre site in Indian Creek on the island of Antigua from about A.D. 1300 until they were displaced by Europeans. Colonial-era historians claimed that the Caribs were cannibals who wiped out the Arawak people who had inhabited Antigua before them. The excavation has uncovered tiny bones, pollen, and stone tools bearing residues of fish and corn. “From analyzing their diet we have found no evidence that Caribs ever ate humans,” Murphy said. The researchers are now investigating why the Caribs and Arawaks chose to live in an inland area, away from marine resources, for some 2,000 years. “We don’t know what was so special about here, or how they could have survived in this scrubby area,” Murphy said. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Tracing Slave Origins.”

Monday, April 23

Footprints Suggest Early Humans May Have Walked Upright

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary anthropologist David Raichlen of the University of Arizona led a team of researchers who compared footprints made by volunteers and those left some 3.6 million years ago in Laetoli, Tanzania, by members of the genus Australopithecus. Some of the volunteers walked normally, and some walked with bent knees and bent hips, otherwise known as BKBH. Raichlen suggests the Australopithecus footprints resemble those made by modern human upright walkers. “Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back four to five million years,” he said. To read about previous research on the Laetoli footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

Researchers Return to Wreckage of Australia’s First Sub

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to ABC News, a team of Australian and American researchers has returned to the site of HMAS AE1, discovered last December near Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York Island, to create a 3-D map of the World War I wreckage site. The vessel, Australia’s first submarine, and its crew of 35 were lost in September 1914 while patrolling the area for German naval vessels. Rear Admiral Peter Briggs said the submarine’s stern cap, on the rear torpedo tube, had been fully opened. “It’s certainly a deliberate action from the crew,” he said. “It requires quite a few turns on a hand wheel to physically open it, it’s the first step in preparing a torpedo tube for firing.” The researchers suggest the crew may have been prepared for an encounter with a German ship when it ran into trouble on a dive and was crushed by water pressure, but they will continue to examine the high-definition video of the wreckage to try to determine what happened. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Shrine and Sculpture Unearthed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that excavations in Upper Egypt have uncovered a fragment of a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius and a shrine dedicated to Osiris. While working to reduce the level of water under the Kom Ombo temple in Aswan, archaeologists discovered the sculpture of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities described the head as having wavy hair and a beard. The rare depiction of the emperor, who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180, will be cleaned and conserved. At the Karnak Temple in Luxor, archaeologists discovered the entrance, foundation, columns, inner walls, and floor paving stones to a shrine dedicated to Osiris-Ptah-Neb. It is thought to have been constructed during Egypt’s Late Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., and to have been expanded during later periods. Essam Nagy, head of the excavation, said pottery, statues, and a relief depicting a sheep and a goose and bearing the names of the kings Taharka and Tanut Amun, the last ruler of the 25th Dynasty, were also recovered. To read in-depth about Egyptian tomb paintings, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”