Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 31

Three Hundred Years of History Uncovered in Quebec

L’ANCIENNE-LORETTE, QUEBEC—More than 50,000 artifacts dating back over more than three centuries have been uncovered on the grounds of a Catholic church just west of Quebec City, according to a CBC report. Members of the Huron-Wendat First Nation lived in the area along with Jesuit priests for several decades in the late seventeenth century, said lead archaeologist Stéphane Noël. Later, in the winter of 1759, the French were forced to leave the site to make room for the British army. Among the finds is a large collection of stone pipes, which show that the Huron-Wendat continued to carve their own even though they had access to European goods. Archaeologists have also unearthed evidence that the Huron-Wendat were using European gunflints as scrapers and drills, and that the First Nation peoples were connected to an extensive trade network. Among the remains of the 300 years of French occupation of the area is a nearly intact icehouse that would have been packed with snow to keep food from spoiling. A cannonball associated with the British army’s brief occupation of the area was found as well. For more on archaeology in Quebec, go to “Off the Grid: Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal.”

Early Agriculture in the Jordan Valley

TEL TSAF, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Times of Israel, a team led by University of Haifa archaeologist Danny Rosenberg has unearthed new evidence for the transition to agriculture at the village site of Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley around 7,500 years ago. Excavations at levels dating to this period have yielded evidence of agriculture in the form of the remains of olives, grains, and beans, but almost no evidence for hunting. “A thousand years earlier, the flesh of hunted animals is still a major component of our ancestors’ diet,” says Rosenberg. “A few hundred years later, we already find evidence that hunting is becoming more marginal.” This summer, Rosenberg’s team also uncover a roasting pit containing a nearly complete skeleton of a pig, possible evidence of a community-wide festival. To read about an unusual artifact excavated at Tel Tsaf, go to "World Roundup: Israel." 

18th-Century Water Pipes Discovered in Edinburgh

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A network of wooden water pipes has been found beneath Edinburgh’s city center, according to a report in the Edinburgh Evening News. Fifteen pieces of the elm piping were found at George Square as part of construction work on a new underground heating system at the University of Edinburgh. The pipes were part of an underground network built in 1756 to supply the city with clean drinking water from surrounding rural areas. “To uncover these water pipes preserved in situ beneath the cobbles was just incredible,” said Lindsay Dunbar of AOC Archaeology Group. “Whilst the use of such wooden pipes is well-documented and preserved examples exist within museums and collections, to find the pipes in situ is much rarer.” The pipes were extremely well preserved, allowing archaeologists to note details regarding their construction and joining techniques. The wood pipes, which were prone to rotting, were eventually replaced with cast iron ones. For more on the archaeology of water systems, go to “Rome’s Oldest Aqueduct,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.

Possible Roman Library Unearthed

COLOGNE, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that German archaeologists excavating in downtown Cologne have unearthed the foundations of a Roman building that may have been a library. Dating to the middle of the second century A.D., the remains were found near what was once the forum of the ancient Roman city of Colonia. Niches in the building’s walls were likely intended to house up to 20,000 scrolls, and archaeologists believe an alcove adjacent to the possible library may have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva. To read about the only known Roman library of manuscripts to have survived antiquity, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”   

Monday, July 30

Roman Villa in Lod Yields Another Ancient Mosaic

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, a 1,700-year-old mosaic depicting birds, fish, and complex geometric designs has been found in a Roman villa in the ancient city of Lod, which is located in central Israel. The mosaic was discovered by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists during the construction of a visitors’ center at the site, which will exhibit the many mosaics uncovered in the ancient city since 1996. The villa where this mosaic was found featured a mosaic-paved reception room, or triclinium, an internal columned courtyard that had also been decorated with mosaics, frescoes, and a water system. To read about mosaic inscriptions dating to the Byzantine period that were recently discovered in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Wildfire Revealed Hundreds of Sites in Canada

ALBERTA, CANADA—CBC News reports that a wildfire that burned about 50 percent of the ground cover in Waterton Lakes National Park last year has revealed more than 250 Blackfoot camps and foot trails dating back some 7,000 years. “We’re finding so much that we’re starting to rewrite what we thought we knew about Waterton history and indigenous camp history,” said archaeologist Bill Perry of Parks Canada. Flakes from the production of stone tools, arrowheads, projectile points, and bison remains have been found, in addition to artifacts dating to the time of European contact, such as glass trading beads. A Depression-era work camp has also come to light in the park. Rock foundations, cans for tobacco and evaporated and condensed milk, a metal sewing needle case, a Boy Scout pin, and a cold cream jar are among the artifacts recovered at the site. For more on forest fires, go to “Letter From California: The Ancient Ecology of Fire.”

Eighteenth-Century Rockets Unearthed in India

SHIMOGA, INDIA—According to an AFP report, a stockpile of more than 1,000 corroded eighteenth-century rockets has been found in an abandoned well in southern India. State assistant director of archaeology R. Shejeshwara Nayaka said the weapons, known as Mysorean rockets, were cylindrical iron tubes that contained propellant and black powder, and were developed by Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. This cache of weapons is thought to have belonged to Tipu Sultan himself, who was killed in 1799 during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War while fighting against the British East India Company. “Digging of the dry well where its mud was smelling like gunpowder led to the discovery of the rockets and shells in a pile,” Nayaka said. Tipu Sultan’s rockets are said to have been the first weapon of their kind, and to have influenced the development of the Congreve rocket, which was employed by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

Friday, July 27

Cinnabar Detected in Inca Burial

ARICA, CHILE—According to a Live Science report, a new study of a fifteenth-century grave in northern Chile has detected the presence of cinnabar, a highly toxic, fine-grained red pigment derived from mercury ore. Discovered in the 1970s, the grave of the Cerro Esmeralda mummies contained the remains of a young woman around the age of 18, and an approximately nine-year-old girl. The two are thought to have been killed in a ritual Inca sacrifice, before their bodies had been placed in the fetal position in the grave, along with more than 100 artifacts. Fabric in the grave was colored with bright-red pigment, which the Inca usually produced using the mineral hematite. Use of cinnabar among the Inca has been linked to high social status, but the scientists, led by Bernardo Arriaza of Chile’s Universidad de Tarapacá, do not yet know where this cinnabar came from or why it was used. They did note that the mineral has toxic effects on human health, however, pointing out that nervous, muscular, and gastrointestinal problems, and even death, can occur when the mineral powder is inhaled. The Inca may have scattered the red powder over their ceremonial burial sites in order to deter grave robbers, the researchers suggested. For more on mummies in Chile, go to “Atacama’s Decaying Mummies.”

Roof of Thracian Tomb Uncovered in Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that archaeologists led by Kostadin Kisyov of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology have discovered the roof of a monumental tomb in southern Bulgaria. Based upon the style of architecture, coins, and pottery found around the tomb, scientists have dated the burial to the third century A.D. The tomb sits within the Maltepe burial mound, which stood about 90 feet tall, and is said to be the largest ancient Thracian burial mound in the Balkan Peninsula. The top of the structure was found about 16 feet under the crest of the mound. Large stone blocks on the roof are thought to have supported a statue of the Thracian aristocrat resting inside the grave. “We are still at the beginning [of the tomb’s excavation],” said Kisyov. “Right now, we are on the roof of the tomb which has been partly destroyed by treasure hunters’ digging.” Scans of the tomb suggest it is similar to one discovered in the ancient city of Viminacium. That tomb is thought to have belonged to the emperor Marcus Aurelius Carinus, who reigned over Rome from A.D. 283 to 285. For more, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”