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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 7

Foundations of Medieval Friary Found

KINGUSSIE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that human bones dating to the Middle Ages have been found in the Scottish Highlands, near the foundations of what may have been a Christian chapel built by Carmelite friars, who arrived in Britain in the thirteenth century. Archaeologist Steven Birch of West Coast Archaeology Services said the bones, which are jumbled together, may have been exhumed when a chapel was built for a Carmelite friary at the site sometime before the beginning of the sixteenth century, and then reinterred within structure. After they have been examined, the bones will be reburied in a nearby historic cemetery. To read about the remains of Scottish soldiers who died in the 1650 Battle of Dunbar, go to "After the Battle."

Excavation of Scotland’s Mote of Urr Revisited

DALBEATTIE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that the 1950s excavation of the Mote of Urr, a motte-and-bailey castle in Scotland’s Southern Uplands, has been published by a team of researchers from Guard Archaeology. The structure was first built in the late twelfth century and is thought to have been destroyed by fire. When it was rebuilt, a large, central stone-line pit was dug for use as an oven, furnace, or kiln, and the hill, or motte, on which the structure stood was made taller and a double palisade was built to enclose its summit. The excavation team, led by artist and archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor, also found traces of a trench and a timber bridge across the moat that surrounded the motte. In all, the castle was occupied for more than 200 years. “Urr was probably partly destroyed during the Wars of Independence in the early fourteenth century,” said Richard Oram of Stirling University, who researched the history of the site. “There is a large gap in the documentary record for the latter part of the fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries, by which time the estate was being rented out to tenant farmers,” he said. To read in-depth about medieval British fortifications, go to "Inside the Anarchy." 

Looted Middle Kingdom Burials Unearthed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Egypt Today report, a team of researchers has investigated three burial chambers in a tomb in a Middle Kingdom (1842-1799 B.C.) cemetery in the southern Fayoum. Ayman Ashmawy, head of the archaeological mission, said the chambers were probably looted in antiquity and later reused. The site is then thought to have been damaged by an earthquake. The upper part of a sandstone statue of a human figure holding his hand on his chest was found in one of the chambers. The middle part of a basalt statue measuring about 12 inches tall, pottery, and the tops of three canopic jars were also recovered from the chambers. To read in-depth about a decorated Middle Kingdom burial chamber, go to "Emblems for the Afterlife."

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Thursday, December 6

New Strain of Plague Found in Neolithic Remains in Sweden

MARSEILLE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that a new strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague, has been identified in human remains from a Neolithic tomb in Sweden by a team of researchers led by biologist Nicolás Rascovan of Aix-Marseille University. The bacterial DNA came from the dental pulp of a 20-year-old woman who is thought to have died about 4,900 years ago from the deadly pneumonic form of the disease. Based upon comparisons with other strains of Yersinia pestis, Rascovan and his colleagues suggest this one diverged about 5,700 years ago, making it the oldest known strain of plague. It had been previously thought that plague first traveled to Europe from the Eurasian steppe as people migrated west and replaced European farmers, but the age of the plague strain found in Sweden suggests that European farmers may have already suffered from the infection and been in decline when the Eurasians arrived. Karl-Göran Sjögren of the University of Gothenburg said the presence of the plague in Sweden could reflect the growth of bigger settlements and poor sanitary conditions, use of wheeled transport, and increased contact among groups of people through trading networks in the Neolithic world, all of which may have helped spread the pathogens. The scientists have not yet found direct evidence of plague in any of these large Neolithic settlements, however. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

Mammoth Tusk “Tiara” Discovered in Denisova Cave

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, archaeologists have found a 50,000-year-old piece of worked woolly mammoth tusk in the southern gallery of Denisova Cave. Alexander Fedorchenko of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography suggests the curved ivory object is a fragment of an ornament whose large size indicates it was worn by a Denisovan man. A cord would have been threaded through holes in either end of the piece and then tied around the wearer's head in order to keep his hair out of his eyes. There is evident wear and tear on the artifact, which was eventually discarded. Such ivory “tiaras,” as they are called, have been found in other parts of Siberia, but those decorated items were created between 20,000 and 28,000 years ago by modern humans. The Densiovan tiara suggests the tradition could be older than previously thought. For more, go to “Denisovan DNA.”

Gold Coin Discovered in Slovenia

ČRNOMELJ, SLOVENIA—STA reports that archaeologists excavating one of 15 Celtic burials at the Pezdirčeva Njiva site, which is located in southeastern Slovenia, discovered a bronze belt adorned with a gold coin dating to the third century B.C. The coin bears images of the goddesses Nike and Athena and is thought to be a copy of a Greek coin known as an Alexander the Great stater. “A golden coin as such is a rare find in Slovenia,” said Lucija Grahek of the Academy of Sciences and Arts. “As far as I know, this is the third golden coin found at Slovenian sites, and as it seems, the oldest.” Some organic material making up the belt was also preserved. To read about another discovery in Slovenia, go to “Fixing Ancient Toothaches.”

Wednesday, December 5

Possible Remains of Extinct “Hobby Horses” Uncovered in Ireland

COUNTY KILDARE, IRELAND—The Leinster Leader reports that traces of an Anglo-Norman medieval village and what may have been a large horse-breeding farm were discovered in the mid-east region of Ireland ahead of roadway construction. Scholars knew of the village from historic sources, but its exact location had been lost. Test excavations in the settlement revealed a high number of horse remains. Some of the horse bones were smaller and lighter than the others, and may represent animals that had been bred for use in war by light cavalry called hobelars. Their agile mounts, bred in Ireland and exported to England and Scotland, came to be known as hobby horses. The breed is now extinct. Skeletal remains of cattle, sheep, and pigs were also found, in addition to the bones of dogs, cats, deer, pheasants, crows, geese, ducks, and squirrels. For more on medieval Irealnd, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

3,000-Year-Old Leather Bag Full of Jewelry Found in Slovakia

POPRAD, SLOVAKIA—An excavation in northern Slovakia has uncovered Bronze Age jewelry, a spur, a needle, coins, and horseshoes, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. Archaeologist Matúš Hudák of the Spiš Museum said the jewelry includes bronze spirals and tin funnel-shaped hangers that were buried some 3,000 years ago in a leather bag, the top of which was decorated with three bronze disks. “The remains of leather straps were also preserved inside of [the] spirals and hangers,” explained archaeologist Mária Hudákova. “We saw at the beginning that close to the jewelry there was a darker soil that indicated the possible decomposition of organic material.” To read about the discovery of a range of items dating to the second to fifth century A.D. in Slovakia, go to “World Roundup.”

Hundreds of Cannonballs Unearthed in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, hundreds of seventeenth-century cannonballs in various sizes have been found in central Stockholm, in an area where iron was once produced in large quantities for export. Grenades, hand grenades, and parts of cannons were also uncovered. Archaeologists led by Michel Carlsson think the cannonballs may have been dumped when the city grew and its fortifications were moved in the early seventeenth century, or when the city’s iron-weighing facilities were moved in the 1660s. “One question we are considering and have not yet found the answer to is why the cannonballs were not saved—if nothing else than for the sake of the metal value,” Carlsson said. To read about a sixteenth-century Swedish warship that sank in the Baltic Sea, go to “Mars Explored.”

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