Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 22

New Thoughts on Mexico’s First Domesticated Turkeys

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers suggests turkeys were not domesticated in Mexico as a food source, but to fulfill a symbolic and cultural role, according to a report in the International Business Times. Aurélie Manin of the University of York and her colleagues analyzed the remains of 55 turkeys that lived in Mesoamerica between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1500. They found that modern European domesticated turkeys are descended from Mexican ancestors. But, ancient turkey bones are rarely found amid domestic garbage at archaeological sites in Mesoamerica. Instead, the bones are usually found buried in temples and in human graves, and do not bear any marks suggesting the birds had been eaten. And, some of the bones came from birds found outside their natural range, which suggests Mesoamericans may have traded live birds. Manin also said turkeys were often depicted as gods or used as symbols in Mesoamerican iconography. A study of the carbon isotope ratios in the turkey bones suggests that one type of turkey was likely to have been domesticated and fed a diet of grains like corn from cultivated crops, while another, more ornate wild type, remained free to eat bugs and wild plants. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

4,500-Year-Old Clam Processing Site Examined in Japan

YOYOHASHI, JAPAN—According to a report in the Japan Times, archaeologists have analyzed the Sakatsuji Shell Midden, which is one of seven prehistoric shell middens in Honshu’s Aichi Prefecture. The researchers said that some 4,500 years ago, Sakatsuji Shell Midden was located along the sea coast, and was likley to have been a clam processing site. The mound currently measures about five feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 80 feet long, and has at least four layers and 55 possible furnaces made of stones. During the mid-Jomon period, people are thought to have traveled to the site to dig clams and boil them in the furnaces. After the clammers stripped the meat from the shells, the researchers suggest they leveled the piles of shells so that the site could be used again. Since so many clams were prepared at a time, the stripped meat may have been dried after cooking so that it would last longer and could perhaps be traded. The team also determined that the Sakatsuji midden is at least 700 years older than the other middens in the region. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Iron Age Skull Found in England

SOMERSET, ENGLAND—The Telegraph reports that a skull discovered last spring on a riverbank in southwest England belonged to a woman who lived sometime between 380 and 190 B.C. Cut marks suggest the 45-year-old woman had been decapitated, either before or after death, and her head deposited in the River Sowy. “We have found similar severed heads like this in other water places,” said archaeologist Richard Bunning of South West Heritage Trust, “so it seems that they were sacred places, rather than just where people were living.” The rest of the woman’s body is missing, but investigators did recover the remains of posts that had been driven deep into the riverbed and may have supported a raised walkway for ritual activity at the river. The posts are being radiocarbon dated to see if they are the same age as the skull. Bunning added that analysis of the skull indicates the woman had severe osteoarthritis in the joint of her right jaw, gum disease, and tooth loss. “We don’t know if she was a victim or a revered member of a tribe, but it was clearly an important ritual site,” Bunning concluded. To read about another site nearby, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”


More Headlines
Friday, January 19

18th-Century Inn Excavated in Scottish Highlands

SUTHERLAND, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that the site of an eighteenth-century inn in the Scottish Highlands has been investigated by a team of archaeologists and volunteers. The Wilkhouse Inn dates to the 1740s and is thought to have been used by travelers and drovers moving cattle to market. The excavators uncovered remains of the inn’s thick, lime mortared walls and a piece of window glazing. Fragments of wine and beer bottles were also recovered, along with pieces of porcelain, buttons, and a sheep bone. Historic accounts record that visitors were served cold meat, eggs, new cheese, and milk, by the innkeeper, Robert Gordon, and his wife. Coins found at the site include a French Louis XIII Double Tournois dating to between 1610 and 1643, suggesting that travelers may have stopped at the site before the inn was built. The inn was abandoned in 1819, when the land was cleared for sheep farming. Nick Lindsay of Clyne Heritage Society said timber rafters, slates, glass, and building stones would have been removed from the inn at that time. “It was then likely left as a ruin, which gradually collapsed over the decades and centuries to a broad pile of rubble,” he said. To read more about the archaeology of Scotland, go to "Letter From Scotland." 

11,000-Year-Old Burial Uncovered in China

GUIYANG, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that the 11,000-year-old burial of a child who was under the age of two at the time of death has been found in a cave in southwest China. Zhang Xinglong of Guizhou Province’s Institute of Archaeology said tone tools, bone objects, and hunting tools dating to the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras were also found at the site. Researchers are now working to determine whether the tomb is the oldest to be recorded in the province. To read more about Neolithic and Paleolithic discoveries in China, go to "The First Pots." 

Neolithic Ritual Cave Site Discovered in Ireland

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND—The Journal reports that human remains discovered on Ben Gorm Mountain in 2016 have been dated to as early as 3600 B.C. Upon excavating the natural boulder chamber where a hiker spotted scattered bones, researchers found the remains of at least ten adults, teens, and children that had been placed in a pit over a period of 1,200 years. Their skulls may have been ritually removed after the bodies had decomposed. “Large pieces of quartz had been placed in and around the bones,” explained Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, the archaeologist in charge of the investigation. “Only a very small portion of each skeleton was found, with the majority of bones apparently deliberately removed.” Dowd added that the site indicates a highly complex practice of processing the dead during the Neolithic period. To read more about the prehistory of Ireland, go to "Samhain Revival."

Traces of Bronze Age Beer Found in Greece

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—According to the Greek Reporter, Soultana-Maria Valamoti of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and her team have uncovered evidence of beer brewing during the Bronze Age, between the third and second centuries B.C. The researchers recovered cereal residues, germinated cereal grains, and pieces of milled cereals inside two houses at the archaeological site of Archontiko, which is located in northern Greece. They suggest that the grains had been malted and charred. Similar evidence has been found in central Greece, at the site of Argissa. Valamonti said the practice of brewing beer may have spread to Greece from the eastern Mediterranean. To read more about ancient drinking, go to "Recreating Nordic Grog." 

Thursday, January 18

Rock-Hewn Tombs Uncovered in Northern Egypt

NEW ALAMEIN CITY, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a first- or second-century tomb containing several burial cavities has been discovered at the site of Al-Alamein on Egypt’s northern coast. Naema Sanad, director of the site, said there is a rock-cut staircase leading to the tomb’s main chamber. Its southern wall had been decorated with a Greek “welfare horn” adorned with flowers and leaves. Coins, pottery, and lamps have also been found. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Ancient Cliff Tombs Discovered in Southwest China

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 200 burial sites have been found in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, on cliffs overlooking the Jinjiang River. The tombs date from 206 B.C. to A.D. 420. Pan Shaochi of the Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute said some of the tombs have as many as seven chambers, and tunnels measuring up to 65 feet long. Evidence suggests some of the tombs have been looted, but as many as 1,000 gold, silver, and bronze artifacts have nonetheless been recovered. “The discovery of the tomb cluster has provided rich materials for archaeological research on the Han and Wei-Jin dynasties,” Pan said. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Dried Flower May Be Linked to President Lincoln

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—The Illinois News Network reports that a dried rose discovered in a box of artifacts at the Will County Historical Society may have adorned the funeral bier of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in April 1865. Sandy Vasko, director of the historical society, said she thinks the flower had been given to General Isham Haynie of Illinois, who was a friend of Lincoln’s and may have been by his bedside when he died of a gunshot wound. General Haynie is thought to have given the rose to Mrs. James G. Elwood, whose husband was mayor of Joliet, Illinois. Elwood’s possessions were given to the historical society and stored away after it moved to its current building in 1971. The delicate dried flower will be put on limited display. Vasko added that the only other known flowers from Lincoln’s funeral are held in the Library of Congress. For more, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”

Early Bronze Age Architecture and Technology Studied in Greece

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, an international team of researchers has uncovered drainage tunnels and metal workshops on the small island of Dhaskalio, which was first modified by people more than 4,000 years ago. Back then, the island was a heavily populated promontory connected to the Cycladic island of Keros—and its prehistoric sanctuary—by a narrow causeway. A network of terraces and stairways was carved into the surface of the pyramid-shaped promontory, which was then covered with white stone imported from Naxos. “What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanization,” explained Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge. Colin Renfrew, also of the University of Cambridge, suggests the development of the site may have been spurred by its expansive views of the Aegean Sea and by the fact that it had the best harbor on Keros. Traces of grains, grapes, olives, figs, almonds, and pulses have been found in the soil on Dhaskalio. Much of the food is thought to have been imported. The drainage system may have been used to pipe in fresh water or to carry away sewage. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”