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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 12

1719 Battlefield Site Surveyed in Scotland

WEST HIGHLANDS, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a team of researchers from the National Trust for Scotland are surveying the well-preserved site of the Battle of Glen Shiel, the only conflict of the 1719 Jacobite uprising. On the day of the battle some 1,150 Highlanders were joined by soldiers sent by Spain, which was also at war with Britain at the time. The Spanish government had sent around 5,000 troops to Scotland, but a storm off England’s south coast prevented all but 300 from reaching the West Highlands. Archaeologist Derek Alexander said he and his colleagues are using documents created by British Army soldier John-Henri Bastide to guide their investigation. “Apart from some forestry, the landscape has really remained unchanged,” he said. “There have been changes to the road layout but you can still see pretty much the whole battlefield.” Alexander added that the battle was also noted as the first time the British Army used small, portable weapons known as coehorn mortars, which lobbed explosives high into the air, and made it possible to hit the hillside positions taken by the Jacobites and the Spanish. “After 1719, a recommendation was made that the government garrison forts should be equipped with a number of these guns,” he said. To read about a 1650 battle in Scotland, go to “After the Battle.”

Medieval Ossuary Unearthed in Slovakia

ŠAMORÍN, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that an ossuary dating to the twelfth or thirteenth century has been uncovered in the town of Šamorín in western Slovakia. Bones were put in the circular, underground room, which was dedicated to the Christian Saint Nicholas, to free up space in the nearby Romanesque church’s cemetery. A chapel made of bricks sat on top of the stone-lined structure. “Within Slovakia, it is a discovery of important cultural and historic value,” said archaeologist Peter Grznár of the Regional Monument Institute. Similar ossuaries have been found in Bratislava, Trnava, Banská Štiavnica, and Kremnica, indicating that the town of Šamorín was also an important town during the years of the Hungarian monarchy. For more on Romanesque structures, go to “Off the Grid: Historic Prague.”

India’s Ancient Capital of Nandivardhan Investigated

NAGARDHAN, INDIA—The Indian Express reports that archaeologists from Deccan College have excavated the ancient capital of Nandivardhan. The city was home to the Vakataka dynasty, which ruled from A.D. 250 to 550, and is known for building the rock-cut Buddhist monuments in the Ajanta Caves of western India. The excavation, led by Shrikant Ganvir, has recovered the bones of domesticated animals including goats, sheep, pigs, cats, horses, and fowls; ceramics; ear studs made of glass; inscribed copper plates; votive shrines; an iron chisel; terracotta bangles and figurines; and a stone figurine of a deer. The artifacts have helped to confirm that Prithvisena, a Vataka king, moved the capital to Nandivardhan from Padmapura. The team also recovered a clay seal naming Prabhavatigupta, the chief queen of the Vakataka king Rudrasena II, which established that she became head of state after the king's death. An intact image of Ganesha, made without ornaments, is thought to have been used privately, and suggests the elephant-headed god was widely worshiped. For more, go to “Early Buddhism in India.”

Monday, June 11

Scotland’s Neolithic Rock Art Mapped

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that Tertia Barnett of Scotland’s Rock Art Project and her colleagues have found evidence of a “ring” of settlements dating back 5,000 years in the area around Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire. She suspects there were probably more settlements, but they have been lost over the years. “It is likely the [River] Clyde was an important artery, connecting different areas to the sea and to the islands,” she said. “People would have traveled by water instead of through the wooded interior of the country and people were generally concentrated in the coastal regions.” Discovered in the late nineteenth century, the Cochno Stone, a Neolithic cup and ring rock art panel, is one of the 30 markers in West Dunbartonshire. Another 36 carvings in Inverclyde to the north have also been recorded. The next step is to plot the rock art sites on a map of other Neolithic remains. Barnett said the project could help scholars understand how rock art was used, and if it may have marked meeting points for trade and the sharing of news. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

3,000-Year-Old Road Will Be Preserved in Ireland

COOLE, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a 3,000-year-old log road endangered by peat milling will be preserved under a new agreement approved by Ireland’s High Court. The agreement establishes a buffer zone around the 20-foot-wide oak road, which cuts through a bog in Ireland’s Midlands region. An embankment will also be built to keep the area around the ancient road and its support structures moist. For more on archaeology in Ireland, go to “Irish Vikings.”

Byzantine-Era Winepresses Discovered in Israel

TZIPPORI, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that two winepresses constructed in the fourth century A.D. have been unearthed in northern Israel, in Zippori National Park. The presses are unusual in that they were found inside a repurposed water cistern built with five arches sometime during the first or second centuries A.D. “[The] winepresses were found in the largest of two arched-reservoirs in the Zippori National Park, which are part of the impressive water system at the site, including long aqueducts that provided water to the ancient city of Zippori,” explained archaeologist Zvika Tzuk of Israel’s National Parks Authority. He also said that it is impossible to know who built the roofed winepresses, since during the Byzantine period, Tzippori was home to Jews, Christians, and pagans. To read about another recent discovery in Israel dating to the Byzantine period, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Possible Forgotten Illyrian City Found in Albania

SHKODER, ALBANIA—Science in Poland reports that a 2,000-year-old archaeological site covering about 50 acres has been found in northwestern Albania. The city is thought to be Bassania, which was described by the Roman historian Livy in his discussion of battles with Gentius, the last king of Illyria. Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw said the city’s gate, two bastions, and wide stone walls have been uncovered. The ten-foot wide walls were constructed of stone blocks and filled with small stones and earth. Coins and pottery found near the walls have been dated to as early as the fourth century B.C. Dyczek thinks the city was forgotten after the defeat at the hands of the Romans, since it is not known to have been mentioned in the writings of later travelers. Erosion of the site’s stone features eventually blended them into the site’s rocky surroundings. For more on archaeology in Albania, go to “Letter From Albania: A Road Trip Through Time.”

Friday, June 08

Peru’s Ancient Skull Surgeries Studied

CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA—Neurologist David Kushner of the University of Miami and bioarchaeologist John Verano of Tulane University conducted a study of skulls from throughout Peru bearing evidence of trepanation, and found that during various periods as many as 80 percent of the pre-Columbian patients survived the procedure, according to a report in Science Magazine. The earliest skulls in the study to show signs of trepanation—the act of drilling, cutting, or scraping a hole in a skull for medical reasons—dated back to 400 B.C., and came from Peru’s southern coast. The latest skulls in the study, from the Inca Empire, dated to the sixteenth century A.D. If the surgical hole showed no signs of healing, the researchers concluded that the patient had died either during surgery or shortly thereafter. Smooth bone around the opening was taken to indicate the patient survived long enough for the bone to heal. The study suggests that about 40 percent of the earliest patients survived, but by the Inca period, between 75 and 83 percent of the patients recovered. Kushner also noted that the trepanation technique appears to have improved over time—the holes became smaller with less cutting and drilling of bone, and thus less risk of brain injury. For more on archaeology in Peru, go to “Unknown Elites.”

Bronze Age Bubonic Plague Bacteria Found in Russia

JENA, GERMANY—The Independent reports that Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague, has been detected in 3,800-year-old skeletons in southwestern Russia, pushing back the origins of the disease by at least 1,000 years. Maria Spyrou of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said other samples of the bacteria dating to the Bronze Age have been found, but they did not have the genetic components necessary to transmit the bubonic form of the disease, which is thought to have been spread by fleas, rats, humans, and other mammals. This form of the disease probably spread easily along emerging trade networks, leading to the plague outbreak in A.D. 541 that devastated Europe and the Eastern Roman Empire. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

Remains of Possible Executed Man Found in England

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a well-preserved skeleton dating to the early eleventh century was unearthed in southeast England during an investigation ahead of the construction of a wind farm. The man, who died sometime between the ages of 25 and 35, had been buried without a coffin and on his own, rather than in a Christian cemetery, as would have been expected. Two cut marks found on the vertebrae in his neck would have been fatal, according to Jim Stevenson of Archaeology South East. He thinks the man was executed during the later Anglo-Saxon period. The man’s bones also show evidence of a healed fracture on his left arm, and stress on the vertebrae from repeated bending and twisting motions. For more on the Anglo-Saxon period in England, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Napoleonic War Graves Exhumed in Austria

DEUTSCH-WAGRAM, AUSTRIA—According to a Live Science report, archaeological investigations ahead of highway construction through the area where the Battle of Wagram was fought on July 5 and 6, 1809, have uncovered mass graves of Austrian and Napoleonic troops. “We are in the hotspot of the battle,” said Alexander Stagl of Novetus, a cultural resources firm conducting rescue excavations at the site. Many of the soldiers were buried fully clothed, leaving behind their uniform buttons in the graves. Archaeologist Slawomir Konik said the research team may eventually be able to identify a French officer whose buttons were recovered. Anthropological study of the bones has detected scurvy, a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency; inflammation of the joints from carrying heavy loads over long marches; pneumonia and other respiratory diseases; and “a lot of impressive trauma,” said Michaela Binder of the Austrian Archaeological Institute. “These were the men that bore the brunt of the battles…55,000 people dead in two days—that’s hard to imagine,” she added. For more on excavations of soldiers who took part in the Napoleonic Wars, go to “The Grand Army Diet.”