Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 12

Fifth-Century Gold Artifacts Found at Ring Fort in Sweden

ÖLAND ISLAND, SWEDEN—Gold rings and a coin have been discovered at Sandby Borg, a ringfort on an island off Sweden’s southeastern coast, according to a report in The Local. The site is known for the large number of unburied bodies that have been uncovered there, suggesting a massacre occurred in the fifth century A.D. Archaeologists Clara Alfsdotter and Sophie Vallulv said the gold artifacts are evidence of a link to the Roman Empire. The coin was minted between A.D. 425 and 455, during the rule of Emperor Valentinian III, who is depicted on one side of the coin with his foot resting on the head of a barbarian. The size of the rings suggest they belonged to a woman. The gold objects were found in an area where a house once stood. “It seems to have had a special purpose, and it may have been the house of a chieftain or a minor king,” said team leader Helena Victor. To read in-depth about the massacre at Sandby Borg, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Prehistoric Burials and Artifacts Unearthed in Wiltshire

LARKHILL GARRISON, ENGLAND—Prehistoric burials were uncovered during construction work at a military base located about a mile and a half from Stonehenge, according to a report in Salisbury Journal. One of the burials contained the remains of an infant who had been placed in a grave dug in an existing ditch. “Prehistoric pottery was found in the ditch fill which sealed the grave, which suggests the burial was also prehistoric,” said archaeologist Ruth Panes of Wessex Archaeology. A second body was identified as a male aged between 15 and 17 at the time of death. A third had been buried in a crouched position, probably sometime between 2400 and 1600 B.C. Postholes from a roundhouse measuring about 14 feet in diameter were also revealed, as well as prehistoric pits and ditches, and worked flint. The excavators said they think the area under investigation was once a woodland, since they have uncovered a large number of hollows formed by fallen or removed trees. More recent features include five zig-zag-shaped air-raid trenches, and the foundations of three military buildings that probably date to World War II. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Arabic Words Detected in Viking Silk Garments

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a report in BBC News, textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University found Arabic words woven into tiny geometric designs on garments made from imported silk recovered from Viking graves in Birka and Gamla Uppsala more than 100 years ago. Larsson said she had not previously encountered designs similar to the ones embroidered on the garments in Sweden. “I couldn’t quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs—in Spain, on Moorish textiles,” she recalled. Looking at the designs under magnification and at different angles, Larsson spotted the word “Ali,” the name of the fourth caliph of Islam and cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic Kufic script, along with the word “Allah,” written in mirrored lettering, in at least 10 of the 100 pieces of clothing she has examined. Islamic ideas of an afterlife may have influenced Viking-age burial customs, Larsson explained, though “the possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,” she said. Scientists will now try to establish the origins of the people who were buried in the graves. To read about a gem engraved with the word “Allah” found in a Viking woman's grave, go to “One Ring to Bind Them.”

Wednesday, October 11

Inca Site Reportedly Discovered in Peru

CUSCO REGION, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that villagers living in Peru’s southern rainforest discovered a remote Inca site while grazing their animals near the Megantoni National Sanctuary. After alerting local authorities, they returned to the site with government officials. The team members revealed platforms, passages, walls, and a stone dwelling that had been covered in heavy foliage. Wilfredo Alagon, mayor of La Convencion, said measures will be taken to protect the structures. For more on archaeology in Peru, go to “Painted Worlds.”

Archaeologists Investigate Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

BEDFORD COUNTY, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists are investigating land once owned by Thomas Jefferson before a new two-lane parkway is constructed at Poplar Forest, his private retreat and plantation. According to a report in The News & Advance, Jack Gary, director of archaeology for Poplar Forest, said more than 30 sites were found. Some of the sites contained daub, which was used as a material in the construction of log cabins and to fireproof wooden chimneys. These sites are thought to have been the homes of enslaved people. A broken horse bit was uncovered in the area of a roadbed. The researchers also recovered stone weapons thought to be about 8,000 years old, and burned chestnut wood dated to the mid-1600s. The fires may have been set by Native Americans to clear the land. To read about a recent discovery at Jefferson's Monticello, go to “Close Quarters.”

Evidence of Domesticated Rice Found in South America

EXETER, ENGLAND—Rice was domesticated in South America’s wetlands at least 4,000 years ago, according to a report in Science Magazine. Archaeobotanist José Iriarte of the University of Exeter examined a collection of rice phytoliths, or bits of silica made by plant cells, from Monte Castelo, an archaeological site in Brazil’s southwestern Amazon basin inhabited for more than 9,000 years. The study suggests that as the rice grains grown by the people living at Monte Castelo increased in size over time, they played a larger role in the diet. Iriarte says the crop, grown at lake and river edges, would have ripened during the flooding season, when other food was scarce. Evidence of different species of domesticated rice has also been found near China’s Yangtze River and in West Africa. Rice is thought to have been domesticated in Asia some 11,000 years ago, and in West Africa about 2,000 years ago. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

World War II Lifeboat Discovered Near Orkney Islands

ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Herald Scotland, underwater archaeologists with the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project have found a small vessel lost on October 13, 1939, after a German submarine attacked HMS Royal Oak, which was moored in Scapa Bay. More than 800 of the 1,200 battleship’s crew were lost in the attack. About 100 of the men escaped to the small steam-powered pinnace, which had been tethered to the side of HMS Royal Oak. But the small lifeboat, designed to carry 59 people, capsized and sank. It was found about 1,000 feet from HMS Royal Oak. “The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowledge surrounding the sinking of HMS Royal Oak,” said Pete Higgins of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. To read about the underwater archaeology of the attack on Pearl Harbor, go to “December 7, 1941.”

Tuesday, October 10

Traces of a Neolithic Longhouse Uncovered in Denmark

VINGE, DENMARK—The postholes of a 4,000-year-old dwelling have been uncovered at a construction site in Denmark, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post. Found on the northern island of Zealand, the outline of soil stains indicates the house measured nearly 150 feet long and more than 20 feet wide. It had two aisles, where archaeologists think a wealthy family lived with their farmhands and livestock. “It proved to be a gigantic farmhouse from the Late Neolithic Period,” said Jens Johannsen of the Roskilde Museum. “The house is nearly three times as big as other houses from this period, and it is the only one like it in the area.” For more on archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

1,100-Year-Old Iron Objects Discovered in Slovakia

BOJNÁ, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a treasure trove of iron objects was discovered in a stone oven in western Slovakia. Karol Pieta of the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences said that some 1,100 years ago, the items, including bits for horses’ bridles and two keys, were placed in an earthenware pot and hidden in the oven, which was located in a system of Great Moravian hill forts guarding a pass through the mountains. “We can assume that the inhabitants hid the precious iron objects in a functioning oven when the fortification was suddenly invaded,” Pieta said. The forts are thought to have been burned down and abandoned in the tenth century. The fortifications are being reconstructed to look as they did in the ninth century. For more, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Luwian Scholar Translates Possible Sea Peoples Inscription

BEYKÖY, TURKEY—According to a report in Live Science, Fred Woudhuizen, a Dutch scholar of the ancient language known as Luwian, has translated a 3,200-year-old inscription discovered in the late nineteenth century on a 95-foot stretch of stone at an archaeological site in Beyköy, a town located near Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The ancient stone, said to have been recycled in local building project, no longer exists, but a copy of the inscription was reportedly found in the estate of archaeologist James Mellaart, remembered for his excavation of Turkey’s 9,500-year-old city of Çatalhöyük. Assisted by Swiss geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, Woudhuizen says the inscription describes how King Kupantakuruntas came to rule the kingdoms of Mira and Troy, and how the two kingdoms engaged in naval campaign, led by the Trojan prince Muksus, against Ashkelon. Woudhuizen and Zangger think it would have been difficult for Mellaart, who was part of an earlier translation team as an expert on the archaeology of western Turkey, to forge such a long text in Luwian. They cannot be certain that the text is authentic, however, until records of the inscription are found apart from Mellaart’s estate. To read in-depth about another ancient inscription discovered in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”