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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 24

Historic Cabin Excavated in Maryland

DORCHESTER COUNTY, MARYLAND—According to a Baltimore Sun report, state archaeologist Julie Schablitsky and a team of researchers recovered a pill bottle, a whetstone, broken tea cups, buttons, combs, crab claws, chicken bones, and toy parts from beneath the floor boards of a cabin behind the historic Caile-Bayly House, which was built in the 1740s in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region. Schablitsky said the whetstone was found in the cabin’s southwest corner, which correlates with a West African spiritual practice intended to protect a home from lightning strikes. Researchers have also found a newspaper ad dating to 1857 that requests the return of Lizzie Ambie, who was enslaved by Alexander Bayly. Researchers think Ambie and others may have lived in the cabin. DNA testing of tobacco pipe stems from the site could offer more information about who lived there.

Roman Army Camp Uncovered in Scotland

AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Herald, evidence of a Roman army marching camp has been found at a construction site in southwest Scotland. Archaeologist Iraia Arabaolaza said the camp may date to the first century A.D., and the victory of Agricola, the Roman governor of Britain, over an army of Caledonians in the Battle of Mons Grampius. It had been previously thought that the Romans only traveled a route further to the east for the invasion. This camp, Arabaolaza explained, would have been strategically located just a day’s march from other Roman camps in the region. Evenly distributed fire pits at the site are thought to have been used for baking bread. “The location of the oven was recognized by the scorching of the subsoil base, stone slabs, and burnt clay fragments, some with wood imprints and with dome molding,” Arabaolaza said. Much of the camp has been destroyed by construction and landscaping projects over the years, she added.

Artifacts and Remains of Korean War Dead Found at DMZ

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—Stars and Stripes reports that South Korean excavations in the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer area between North and South Korea created by the Korean Armistice Agreement at the end of the Korean War in 1953, have recovered more than 20,000 artifacts, including five pieces of body armor that belonged to American soldiers, Chinese gas masks, French dog tags, and hundreds of bone fragments. The two Koreas agreed to remove land mines from the area, which was known as Arrowhead Ridge, or Hill 281, during the war, in order to conduct the investigation.

300,000-Year-Old Fossils of Discovered in China

HEFEI, CHINA—Xinhua reports that 300,000-year-old fossils of as many as 16 individual human ancestors, other mammals, and stone tools have been found in a collapsed cave in east China. Wu Xiujie of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said a large rock had fallen at the entrance of the cave, and may have protected the remains from predators and erosion. The fossils include a nearly complete skull and partial mandible. Teeth from the jaw suggest the skull belonged to a boy about 14 or 15 years of age. “What we have found in the site could just be the tip of the iceberg,” added research team member Liu Wu. “We will continue our excavation work until the very end.”

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Thursday, May 23

Large Roman Structure Uncovered in England

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that traces of a 150-foot-long, 50-foot-wide Roman agricultural building in use for about 400 years have been uncovered in southeastern England. “It was divided into zones of activity, so the west end was a bathhouse with furnace, and then as you moved to the east it turned more into the agricultural activity,” said Paul Wilkinson of the Kent Archaeological Field School. The structure had stone walls, and polished terracotta floors with underfloor heating. Hot air was directed up through box flue tiles in the interior walls, which were covered with painted plaster. The roof was also covered with ceramic tiles. The building was extended by about 50 feet in the fifth century, possibly to make room for a Christian altar, Wilkinson said. To read in-depth about a grand estate in Kent, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

Burned Wreckage in Alabama May Be Lost Slave Ship

MOBILE, ALABAMA—USA Today reports that a search of the Mobile River has yielded burned wreckage of a ship that researchers say matches the characteristics of Clotilda, the last known vessel to bring enslaved people from Africa to America. “We are cautious about placing names on shipwrecks that no longer bear a name or something like a bell with the ship’s name on it,” says maritime archaeologist James Delgado, who led the assessment of the evidence, “but the physical and forensic evidence powerfully suggests that this is Clotilda.” The ship is known to have sailed its final voyage in 1860, a half century after the importation of enslaved people to the United States had been outlawed, and to have been burned after its illegal cargo was delivered. The more than 100 enslaved people on board Clotilda remained enslaved until they were freed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Some of the survivors and their descendants then founded a new community in Mobile that is known today as Africatown. To read about a group of illegally enslaved people who were marooned on an island in the Indian Ocean, go to “Castaways.”

Wooden Shield Dating to Iron Age Discovered in England

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a 2,300-year-old wooden shield was discovered in a waterlogged pit in England’s Midlands by a team of archaeologists led by Matt Beamish of the University of Leicester Archaeological Service. Beamish said it had been previously thought that shields made from tree bark, which were unknown in the Northern Hemisphere, might have been too flimsy for use in war. Tests with replica shields, however, suggest they were tough and light. The researchers recreated the shield, which measured just one-tenth of an inch thick, with green bark from alder and willow trees, and stiffened it with internal wooden laths. As the green wood dried, it tightened and became stronger and the shield rounded slightly. The ancient shield also had wooden edging around its rim, a woven boss to protect its wooden handle, and was painted and scored in a red checkerboard pattern. “This is a lost technology,” Beamish said. “It has not been seen before as far as we are aware, but presumably it is a technique that was used many ways for making bark items.” For more on archaeology in this area, go to “A Night Out in Leicestershire.”

Wednesday, May 22

Scientists Attempt to Recover DNA in Turkey’s Neolithic City Site

POZNAŃ, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that an international team of researchers led by Maciej Chyleński of Adam Mickiewicz University attempted to recover and analyze genetic material from the remains of nearly 40 people who were buried some 8,500 years ago under the floors of four houses in Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement in central Turkey. The analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, suggests that the women buried next to children were not their mothers. “For now, we know that the dead buried under the same house were not related in the maternal line,” Chyleński said. The team members are still attempting to sequence nuclear genomes, which contain genetic material inherited from both parents, from the bones in order to look for other kinship relationships among the dead. Chyleński thinks that the social structure at Çatalhöyük may have been more complex than previously thought, and that more than one family may have lived in each of the site’s mudbrick houses. To read more about DNA research of Neolithic societies, go to “Seeds of Europe's Family Tree.”

17th-Century Fort Uncovered on Scottish Island

STORNOWAY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a seventeenth-century fort were unearthed on the island of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides during construction work. The stone fort is thought to have been built by the order of Oliver Cromwell, who was named lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1653. Archaeologist Mary Peteranna said one section of the surviving wall stands about five feet tall and six feet wide, with a slightly sloped outward face. “The structure was built for a more substantial purpose, and we believe it formed part of the Cromwellian defensive rampart,” she explained. Cromwell died in 1658 and was succeeded by his son, Richard. The exiled king, Charles II, returned to the throne in 1660. To read about the fate of a Scottish army that challenged Cromwell, go to "After the Battle."

Archaeologists Brew Drinks With Revived Ancient Yeast

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to an Associated Press report, archaeologists and microbiologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and their colleagues extracted yeast from tiny pores in nearly two dozen ancient pottery fragments recovered from Egyptian, Philistine, and Judean sites in Israel and brewed beer and mead with it. The caramel-colored beer, which incorporated ingredients not available in the ancient Middle East, is said to have had a thick white head and a complex flavor, while the mead was bubbly and dry. Michael Klutstein of Hebrew University said the experiments show that yeast can survive for as long as 5,000 years without food. Genetic analysis of the ancient yeast suggests it was similar to strains still used today to make traditional beer in Zimbabwe and tej, an Ethiopian honey wine. The technique used to extract the microorganisms may help scientists identify foods such as cheese, wine, and pickles in ancient vessels, added Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University. To read about the brewing of Bronze Age ale in Ireland, go to "Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."  

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