Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 19

1,000-Year-Old Islamic Amulet Uncovered in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a Haaretz report, a 1,000-year-old Islamic amulet has been found in one of the oldest areas of the city of Jerusalem. “Kareem trusts in Allah—Lord of the Worlds is Allah,” reads the amulet’s Arabic inscription. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the amulet would have been used to gain personal protection. It was recovered from between layers of plaster flooring in a poorly preserved structure, but it is not clear whether it was placed there as a talisman, or whether it was lost by its owner. “We found some foundation walls and floor tiles,” said Shalev. “It was a simple structure, possibly residential with some small industry.” Shalev explained that there may have been more of the small, clay amulets, but they have not survived. Similar dedications dating from the eighth through tenth centuries A.D. have been found along the Darb al-Haj, the pilgrimage route to Mecca. To read in-depth about an Umayyad desert castle in the vicinity of Jerusalem, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Possible Viking Color Palette Revealed

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Conservators Line Bregnhøi and Lars Holten of the National Museum of Denmark have reproduced the bold colors thought to have been used to decorate the largest Viking building known in Denmark, according to a Science Nordic report. The researchers analyzed samples of pigments taken from the remains of the building, known as the Royal Hall at Sagnlandet Lejre. “On the rare occasion that we excavate a piece of painted wood, the color looks nothing like the original,” explained archaeologist Henriette Syrach Lyngstrøm of the University of Copenhagen. Parts of the structure were painted with linseed oil paint, which was the most durable of the binding agents used by the Vikings, but they also used milk products and eggs as binders on other projects. For more, go to “The Viking Great Army.”

New Dates Obtained for Clovis Burial Site

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—The Billings Gazette reports that continued analysis of the remains of the so-called Anzick-1 child and the more than 100 antler and stone tools found near his grave in Montana has shown that they all date to the Clovis period, between 13,000 and 12,700 years ago. Discovered on the Anzick family property in 1968 during construction work, the body and the tools had all been covered with red ochre. Previous study of the remains indicated the child died some 12,700 years ago, but questioned whether the tools had been buried at the same time. Some scholars thought the antler artifacts may have been handed down over generations, thus accounting for their older dates. The new tests, conducted from samples retrieved before the remains were reburied in 2014, isolated the amino acid hydroxyproline from the human bones and the antler artifacts, in order to conduct a test that would not be affected by contamination with modern carbon. This time, both the human remains and the antler artifacts were dated to between 12,725 and 12,900 years old. “It’s reassuring,” said molecular biologist Sarah Anzick, whose parents own the property where the child was found. “It’s a Clovis burial.” For more on the Anzick burial, go to “First American Family Tree.”


More Headlines
Monday, June 18

Mutilated Bodies Uncovered in England

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeological investigation ahead of road construction in Cambridgeshire has uncovered the graves of two men whose legs were chopped off at the knees, according to The Guardian. The men’s skulls were also smashed in. Archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec of the Cambridge County Council said the men are thought to have lived in the late Roman or early Saxon period. Their bodies were buried in graves placed at right angles to each other. The upper part of another body was found in a timber-lined well about 165 feet from the graves. The well had fallen out of use, and had been partially filled in with rubbish when the torso was deposited with its head intact. “People talk about the archaeology of conquest, but I have never felt it as strongly as here,” said Gdaniec. “The Romans arrive, the people who were here are completely subjugated, everything changes and is never the same again.” For more on the Roman period in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

3-D Models Made of Neolithic Carvings

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Hugo Anderson-Whymark of National Museums Scotland has created 3-D models of balls of stone intricately carved during the Neolithic period using photogrammetry, according to a Live Science report. Sixty models are now available to the public online. More than 500 such regularly sized carved balls of stone have been found in northeast Scotland, the Orkney Islands, England, and Ireland. A single one has even turned up in Norway. Scholars have suggested the objects may have been used as parts of weapons, standardized weights for traders, rollers for moving megalithic monuments, or wound with twine or sinew and thrown. Some of the balls bear carved motifs that are also seen in carvings at Neolithic passage tombs. Anderson-Whymark said the similarities could indicate that people living in different regions interacted and shared common ideas. The new, detailed photographs of the carvings have revealed marks on some of the balls that had been hidden, and could offer new insight into their possible use. “We might be able to get a little bit more of that story out in the future by more detailed analysis of these things,” Anderson-Whymark said, “but they’re always going to be slightly enigmatic.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Bronze Age Village Discovered in China

HOHHOT, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 3,000-year-old village covering about four acres has been found in northern China. Pottery, ditches, and three tombs are currently under excavation. “The discovery will provide new reference for studies on archaeology and culture in [the] southeast region of Inner Mongolia during the Bronze Age,” said Cao Jian’en of the Inner Mongolia Regional Institute of Archaeology. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Possible Palace Found in Japan

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, traces of a large structure built during the first half of the eighth century A.D. have been found at the Miyataki archaeological site in central Japan, near the banks of the Yoshinogawa River. Archaeologists think it may be the main building of the Yoshino no Miya palace, mentioned in historic records and poetry as a place frequented by emperors, based upon its size and design. Scholars have been looking for the palace for years, and assumed it had been placed safely far away from the river, in the mountains, with views of the river. “I previously thought the poem depicts the palace in an exaggerated way,” said Makoto Ueno of Nara University, “but Yoshino no Miya was likely a detached palace to enjoy the beauty of the Yoshinogawa just as depicted in the poetry.” Michio Maezono of the Nara College of Arts added that the placement of this building could have facilitated religious services to honor the river god. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to “Samurai Nest Egg.”

Friday, June 15

Seventh-Century Inscription Found at Tintagel Castle

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that words and letters were found carved into a seventh-century slate window ledge in a building at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall. The inscription, thought to have been a doodle or a scribe’s practice work, include the Roman name Tito and the Celtic name Budic. The Latin words fili, or son or sons, and viri duo, or two men, were also carved into the two-foot ledge. A triangle may represent the Greek letter delta. There is also monogram made up of a letter “A” with a “V” inside it and a line across the top. The combination may have been a Christian symbol, since “A,” or “alpha,” was often associated with a Christian description of God. Some of the words were written in the formal script found in illuminated gospel works, while others are informal in style. Win Scutt of English Heritage said the letters support the interpretation of Tintagel as a literate, Christian port with trade ties to Europe and the Mediterranean. Further study will try to determine whether the scribe was left or right handed, and what sort of tool might have been used to carve the letters. To read about another site in Cornwall, go to “By the Light of the Moon.”

Tobacco Use in North America Pushed Back 1,500 Years

TROY, ALABAMA—The Cherokee One Feather reports that tobacco use in southeastern North America could date back 4,000 years, or about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. Stephen B. Carmody of Troy University and his colleagues detected traces of nicotine in a smoking tube dated to the Late Archaic Period, when the residents of the Flint River archaeological site were beginning to domesticate plants. The smoking tube was unearthed in the late 1930s by Tennessee Valley Authority archaeologists in northern Alabama who conducted excavations before the area was submerged by the damming of the Tennessee River. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Imperial Villa Discovered in Rome

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists announced the discovery of an imperial Roman villa on the banks of the Tiber River near the Milvian Bridge in northern Rome, according to an ANSA report. The archaeologists said it was unusual to find a villa so close to the river. The building had a multicolored marble floor laid out in the opus sectile style, which uses larger pieces of colored stones to create pictures or patterns. The extravagant floor suggests the rest of the building could also contain precious decorations. To read in-depth about the excavation of another Roman villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”