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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 22

Medieval Village Unearthed in Denmark

TOLLERUP, DENMARK—Traces of three medieval farm buildings have been unearthed in eastern Denmark, reports Science Nordic. The structures were built between A.D. 1400 and 1600, but the site itself probably dates to at least the eleventh century. King Canute IV deeded a village in the vicinity of the excavations to a local bishop in 1085, and tax records from the period suggest there were six farms and a manor at that site. Archaeologists suspect the newly discovered village is the same one mentioned in the medieval documents. National Museum of Denmark archaeologist Nils Engberg says that merely finding any traces of buildings dating to this period is exceedingly rare. Because of a chronic timber shortage in the Middle Ages, buildings were made from stone, which was often reused in later buildings. “We have lots of excavations from earlier periods” says Engberg. “For example from the Stone Age and Bronze Age. But unfortunately not from the Middle Ages.” To read more about medieval Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”

New Research on Viking Army Camp at Repton

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have turned up new evidence about a ninth-century Viking overwintering camp in the Derbyshire village of Repton, according to a report from Yahoo News. The site, which was occupied by a Viking army in the winter of 873-4, was previously excavated starting in the 1970s and was thought to have been limited to a fortified D-shaped enclosure measuring just a few acres. Now, a team from the University of Bristol has found evidence of structures and activities including metalworking and ship repair in the area outside this enclosure. Among the items found there were lead gaming pieces, fragments of battle-axes and arrows, and nails with roves, which are a telltale feature of Viking ship nails. The finds show that the Viking camp was larger and host to a wider range of activities than had been previously known, said Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when the Vikings arrived in Repton in 873, they drove the Mercian king Burghred overseas. The researchers also confirmed that a mass grave at the site containing at least 264 people dates to the time of the overwintering camp and likely holds Viking war dead. For more on the Vikings in England, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

Lioness Relief Discovered in the Galilee

  SEA OF GALILEE, ISRAEL—A well-preserved basalt relief of a lioness has been uncovered by archaeologists at El-Araj in the Galilee, according to a report from Haaretz. The 1,320-pound relief includes a three-dimensional representation of the head, including mane, fangs, and tongue, and a two-dimensional representation of the body, including a tail hanging down between the legs. The carving dates to the fourth to sixth centuries A.D., said Mordechai Aviam, director of excavations at the Kinneret Academic College in the Galilee. “This relief looks very much like other statues of lions and lionesses discovered in synagogues in the Golan Heights,” he said. However, Aviam believes the site is Julias, a Roman-era town, and the carving could have been featured on a non-Jewish public building. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”

Ancient Plaque Used to Track Migrations

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—The Atlantic reports that researchers are using plaque from the teeth of ancient Polynesians to track prehistoric human migrations in the Pacific. University of Adelaide biologists Laura Weyrich and Raphael Eisenhofer collected samples of plaque from the uncleaned teeth of skulls stored in a number of museums. The samples contained the DNA of a number of common mouth bacteria and by studying the mutations in these bacteria’s genes, the team hopes to be able to infer the timing and exact routes of several migration events. “The traditional means of looking at human migrations might be too coarse,” says Eisenhofer. “Hopefully, the rapid rate of evolution in that bacteria will allow us to answer some of the questions.” To read in-depth about ancient microbial DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”


More Headlines
Tuesday, November 21

Ancient Shipwrecks Discovered in Alexandria’s Harbor

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that three Roman shipwrecks and an ancient Egyptian barque dedicated to Osiris were discovered in ancient Alexandria’s eastern harbor in the Mediterranean Sea. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the joint team of researchers, made up of scientists from the ministry’s department of underwater archaeology and the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, recovered a crystal head thought to represent Marc Antony, and gold coins dating to the reign of Emperor Augustus. Wooden beams and pottery may represent the site of a fourth shipwreck. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Port.”

Viking King’s Bones Recreated With 3-D Printer

JELLING, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that the heavily damaged bones of a Danish Viking king, Gorm the Old, have been 3-D printed by a team led by archaeologist Adam Bak of the National Museum of Denmark. Gorm the Old died in A.D. 958, and he is thought to have been buried in at least one other location before his remains were deposited under the floor of Jelling Church, where they were recovered in 1978. Computer tomography scans were made of the bones before they were reburied in 2000. The new 3-D model has been adjusted to correct the pressure damage that occurred during the long period of the burial, according to Marie Louise Jørkov of the University of Copenhagen. “We can then re-analyze the skeleton and study the bones to look for any signs of disease, which can’t be seen at the surface,” she said. The reconstruction of the flattened skull revealed a lump on the back of the king’s head, which may have been caused by a load on the muscles and ligaments connected to the protuberance. “It can best be compared to a bunion,” concluded Carsten Reidies Bjarkam of Aarhus University. For more on the Vikings of Denmark, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Neanderthals Appear to Have Lasted Longer in Southern Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have survived in parts of Spain for 3,000 years longer than they did in the rest of Western Europe, according to a Newsweek report. An international team of researchers working at three newly discovered Neanderthal sites in southern Iberia recovered stone tools thought to have been used about 37,000 years ago. João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona said Neanderthals are thought to have gone extinct in northern Spain and southern France between 40,000 and 42,000 years ago. He suggests the Ebro River acted as an effective barrier to the migration of modern humans into the region. For more on Neanderthals in Spain, go to “Neanderthal Medicine Chest.”

Monday, November 20

What Did Virginia's James Fort Colonists Eat?

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists are analyzing food waste left behind by the James Fort colonists and recovered in 2006 from a ground water well. The bones are thought to reflect the period after the Starving Time, the winter of 1609-1610, until 1617, when the governor’s residence was built on the site. “We know a lot about 1607 through 1610, we know a lot about the 1620s on, but this has been a period that has been largely absent from our record to date,” explained assistant curator Hayden Bassett of Jamestown Rediscovery. A “rough sort” of the tens of thousands of bones suggests the colonists ate horses, rats, and venomous snakes during the Starving Time. Cattle bones were scarce in the years before 1610, when meat was shipped from England in barrels, but became more common after live cattle arrived in Virginia in 1610 or 1611. The fact that the team has found few remains of wild deer could reflect the pressure Native Americans put on the colonists, and their reluctance to leave the safety of the fort. To read more, go to "Jamestown's VIPs."

Southern Song Dynasty Tombs Excavated in China

ZHEJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, two 800-year-old tombs have been unearthed at a construction site in eastern China. Inscriptions identify the tomb occupants as Lord Hu Hong of the Southern Song dynasty, and his wife, née Wu, who was known as the Lady of Virtue. Jianming Zheng of the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said that Hu Hong’s tomb had been robbed, but his wife’s tomb was intact, although the inscription in her tomb was illegible. Hu Hong was remembered as a self-educated man who rose through the ranks of government service. In 1193, he was named the “best county magistrate of the year, and later was described as the “Investigating Censor prosecuting the treacherous and the heretical, with awe-inspiring justice,” at a time when the government cracked down on a religious group who criticized Chinese officials for consuming alcohol and having multiple wives. Hu Hong retired from service in 1200, and died in 1203. His wife died in 1206. In the Lady’s tomb, the excavators found gold jewelry, gold combs, gold and silver hairpins, a crystal disc, and a large amount of mercury which may have been intended to preserve her body. Both tombs contained porcelain jars decorated with elephant designs. To read more about the Song Dynasty, go to "Pirates of the Marine Silk Road."

Smuggled Egyptian Artifacts Recovered in Cyprus

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that 14 artifacts illegally smuggled out of Egypt were seized in Cyprus by Interpol agents. The items, thought to have arrived in Cyprus in 1986, include ushabti figurines, an alabaster vase inscribed with the cartouche of Ramses II, and 13 amulets depicting the goddesses Sekhmet, Neith, and Isis, and the Udjat and Djed symbols. The artifacts will be handed over to an antiquities official at the Egyptian Embassy in Cyprus. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."

Male Skeletons Unearthed at Qumran

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Science News reports that 33 skeletons recently unearthed at Qumran could offer clues to the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 11 nearby caves between 1947 and 1956. Anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the bones were radiocarbon dated to 2,200 years ago, or about the same time that the texts were written. Thirty of the newly excavated skeletons have been identified as males, based upon body size and pelvic shape. A sex has not been assigned to the remaining three skeletons, due to lack of evidence. The men were found to be between the ages of 20 and 50 at the time of death, and none of them bore any signs of war-related injuries. Nagar said the information supports the theory that a sect of celibate men, perhaps the Essenes, lived at Qumran. Small samples of bone were taken before the skeletons were reburied. Scientists may try to obtain DNA from the samples. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Qumran, go to "Scroll Search."