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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 29

Pet Cemetery Survey Reflects Changes in Human Attitudes

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by Newcastle University, Eric Tourigny examined more than 1,000 animal headstones in pet cemeteries in Newcastle and London in order to study changing attitudes toward pets over a period of 100 years, beginning in 1881, when the first public pet cemetery opened in London. Tourigny found that throughout the study period, mourners compared death to sleep. Yet in the Victorian era, headstone inscriptions referred to pets as companions and friends, while more recent inscriptions called the buried pets family members and expressed the hope that the animals would be reunited with their owners more frequently. After World War II, references to animals as family members rose, a change that coincided with the increase in the use of family surnames on pet gravestones. Some of the earlier references put the surname in parentheses or quotation marks. Tourigny suggests this reluctance to acknowledge pets as full members of the family may reflect a conflict between personal feelings and societal norms. To read about ancient Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that researchers have discovered traces of 23 structures dated to as early as 800 B.C. on heavily plowed land in eastern Scotland, near the coast of the North Sea, ahead of a construction project. Archaeologist Ali Cameron said that more than 300 samples of charcoal had been recovered for dating purposes. It is not clear yet if the site was used as a domestic settlement or for industrial purposes. “If you get a lot of grain, you might be looking at a domestic site, for example,” she said. The samples could also indicate how individual buildings were used. “The site is higher up and you get this fantastic view over the bay,” she added. “It’s a great location and you can imagine why people wanted to settle there.” To read about new research on the Neolithic-period Maeshowe passage grave on the island of Orkney, go to "Around the World: Scotland."

Possible Slave Quarter Uncovered in Maryland

ST. MARY’S COUNTY, MARYLAND—WTOP News reports that the possible site of a 300-year-old slave quarter has been found near an eighteenth-century brick manor once inhabited by Jesuit missionaries. Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, and her colleagues have recovered clay pipes, ceramic cups, and nails where the cabins are thought to have stood. Schablitsky explained that although the Jesuits were prolific record keepers, very little information about the enslaved African Americans who worked their fields has survived. Historical documents do indicate that 272 enslaved people from Maryland were sold in 1838 at a site located near the manor. To read about a Union Army camp in Kentucky where enslaved men, women, and children fought to be free, go to "A Path to Freedom."


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Wednesday, October 28

World War II Execution Site Investigated in Poland

CHOJNICE, POLAND—Dawid Kobiałka of the Polish Academy of Sciences, with the assistance of an 88-year-old eyewitness, has found personal belongings, bullets, and charred human bone, including fragments of skulls, teeth, femurs, and a vertebra, just under the surface of the ground in an area of northern Poland dubbed “Death Valley,” according to a report by The First News. During World War II, German death squads carried out at least two mass killings at the site, Kobiałka said. In 1945, near the end of the war, an estimated 600 people, thought to have been members of the Polish resistance and Gestapo prisoners from the prison in Bydgoszcz, were shot and killed at the site. “According to historical records, the crime was committed by the Gestapo and members of the German police,” Kobiałka said. “The bullets and shells came from the Walther PPK and P08 Parabellum pistols, suggesting the victims were executed at close range.” The remains were then burned with gasoline-fueled fires, turning most of the bones to ash. “The gasoline barrels that still lie in Death Valley confirm it,” he said. Kobiałka and his colleagues are still combing historical records for information on the site. To read about a tunnel discovered at the Nazi death camp Sobibor, go to "World Roundup: Poland."

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Ink

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of chemists, physicists, and Egyptologists from the University of Copenhagen and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility used advanced X-ray microscopy equipment to analyze the chemical composition of the ink markings found on papyrus fragments from Egypt’s ancient Tebtunis temple library. The study suggests that as early as A.D. 100, the ancient Egyptians added lead to the ink to help it to dry. The lead is not thought to have been used as a pigment because only one type of lead was detected in the inks. It had been previously thought that this technique was first employed by Renaissance painters in the fifteenth century. Egyptologist Thomas Christiansen of the University of Copenhagen said that the priests in charge of the temple library probably acquired such complex ink from specialists or oversaw its production at a specialized workshop. To read about imaging technology that has helped researchers read erased papyrus texts from St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, go to "Recovering Hidden Texts."

Tuesday, October 27

Water Filtration System Found at Ancient Maya City of Tikal

CINCINNATI, OHIO—According to a statement released by the University of Cincinnati, evidence of a 2,000-year-old water-filtering system has been found at the Corriental reservoir in Tikal, which is located in northern Guatemala. Archaeologist Kenneth Tankersley said the crystalline quartz and zeolite detected in the reservoir’s sediments had been transported some 18 miles from the ridges around the Bajo de Azúcar. The Maya probably observed that the water bleeding out of these cliffs was clean and sweet, and associated it with the ridges’ exposed volcanic tuff, added researcher Christopher Carr. Tankersley said the Maya’s system would have removed microbes, nitrogen-rich compounds, heavy metals, and other toxins to produce pools of clean water. To read about how residents of Tikal used their land to feed the city's immense population, go to "Mapping Maya Cornfields."

Lost Medieval Villages Found in The Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that maritime archaeologist Yftinus van Popta has detected traces of four settlements in the Noordpoostpolder, an area to the northeast of Amsterdam flooded by the Zuiderzee in the late thirteenth century. It had been previously suggested that the bricks, bones, and pottery found in the area had fallen from passing ships. Van Popta pointed out that the objects date from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries A.D., but shipping did not begin to pass through the area until A.D. 1250. He plans to continue to look for remains of the villages, named Marcnesse, Nagele, Fenehuysen I, and Feneguysen II, with the help of old maps and other historical source materials. “We have found a lost piece of the Netherlands,” he said. To read about a sixteenth-century Dutch shipwreck, go to "Spring Boards."

Scientists Reevaluate Germany’s Bronze Age Battlefield

MECKLENBURG-WEST POMERANIA, GERMANY—According to a report in The Times, new genetic and chemical analyses of an estimated 145 sets of human remains unearthed in what had been thought to be a Bronze Age battlefield in northern Germany’s Tollense River Valley suggest that the dead were not members of a local army, but had come from many different regions. In addition, few of the individuals shared kinship ties. Wear and tear on the bones of the lower body also shows that some of the dead had been used to carrying heavy loads. “The picture that is emerging does not necessarily correspond to the picture of a warrior, but rather to the picture of people who spent their lives transporting things,” said Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist for the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. The remains of women have also been found among the bones, in addition to gold rings, cylinders made of bronze, and glass beads from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Jantzen and his team think the site could be the remains of a large caravan of merchants who were attacked by raiders. “These are luxury goods we have found here and they have a very long journey behind them,” he explained. For more on analysis of remains from this battle, go to "World Roundup: Germany."