Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 29

Native American Fort Unearthed in Connecticut

NORWALK, CONNECTICUT—Archaeologists working ahead of railway construction on the Connecticut coast have found evidence of a seventeenth-century Native American fort, Newsday reports. Excavations on a small area of land adjacent to Amtrak and Metro North commuter train tracks have uncovered artifacts going back 3,000 years, including projectile points, stone tools, and trade goods such as wampum, glass beads, hatchets, and knives. The team has also identified postholes belonging to the fort's wooden walls. The site is believed to have been occupied by members of the Norwalk tribe from around 1615 to 1640 and used for trading with early Dutch settlers. Follow the link to "Off the Grid" to read about Pemaquid, Maine, another site of early interaction between European colonists and native people in New England. 

Ireland Dig Reveals Multiple Burials

DUNGARVAN, IRELAND—According to a report in the Irish Sun, volunteer archaeologists in County Waterford have uncovered human remains, including fragments of a skull, jaw, and teeth, which may date to between 300 and 400 years ago. The discovery was made during excavations at Gallow's Hill, a large mound in Dungarvan that was once the site of a twelfth-century Norman castle. Researchers believe that one of the burials likely dates to a period of warfare in the seventeenth-century—perhaps the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland or later Jacobite uprisings. Another interment may date to the period that gave the site its name, when it was used as a location for executions by hanging. To read more about the archaeology of Ireland, go to "The Vikings in Ireland.

Spanish Civil War Victims Discovered

PATERNA, SPAIN—In a town outside Valencia, forensic archaeologists have unearthed four fractured skulls from the site of a mass grave that is thought to hold the remains of some 100 prisoners who were buried just after the Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939. Sky News reports that the skeletons lay beneath caskets that were buried later. It is estimated that some 114,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War were interred in mass graves, and efforts to recover and identify these people have accelerated in recent years. To read more about the archaeology of the Spanish Civil War, go to “Battle of the Proxies” 

Mask May Depict Ancient Maya King

PALENQUE, MEXICO—Newsweek reports that archaeologists have discovered a stucco mask that could depict the ancient Maya king K'inich Janaab' Paka, also known as Pakal the Great, who ruled the city state of Palenque from A.D. 615 to his death in 683. During his reign, the longest known in the Maya world, Pakal was responsible for constructing many of the buildings that still survive at Palenque, which flourished under his leadership. The mask was discovered inside a building known as House E, where Pakal built his throne room. A number of ritual artifacts were found with the mask, including fragements of jade and obsidian, ceramic figurines, and the bones of animals such as lizards and turtles. To read in-depth about the ancient Maya, go to “The City at the Beginning of the World.”  

Tuesday, August 28

Scottish Clan Seal Discovered on Islay

ISLAY, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Herald, a field school student has unearthed the seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, a leader of the Campbell clan who took control of the Scottish island of Islay—famed for its Scotch whiskies—in 1615. The find was made during excavations at Dunyvaig Castle, the site of combat between the Campbell and MacDonald clans, who were engaged in a violent struggle over Scotland’s islands in the early seventeenth century. “This is a remarkable find," says project director Steven Mithen of Islay Heritage and the University of Reading. "Not only is it a beautiful and well-preserved object, but it comes from the floor of a building that we can now confidently date to the Campbell occupation." The object would have been used to sign and seal legal documents and bears the inscription "IOANNIS CAMPBELL DE CALDER" (an original spelling of Cawdor), as well as the Cawdor coat of arms. Researchers speculate that the seal may have been lost in 1646, when a MacDonald descendent reclaimed the castle. To read more about the archaeology of seventeenth-century Scotland, go to "After the Battle."

Large Roman Villa Uncovered in Oxfordshire

BANBURY, ENGLAND—A metal detectorist has teamed up with archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology to uncover a Roman villa dating to around A.D. 99, which measures 278 feet square, and may have  been as large as Buckingham Palace, Metro reports. The team believes the site may reveal one of the grandest Roman villas ever discovered in Britain. They have identified the building's bath complex, including tile from a hypocaust used to pipe in hot water, as well as evidence of a domed roof, a dining room, and kitchen areas. Artifacts unearthed include a coin depicting the mythological twins Romulus and Remus. Detectorist Keith Westcott says he was inspired to look for villa foundations in the area after learning that a local farmer had accidently plowed into the burial of a high-status woman, who is believed to have died in the third or fourth century A.D. Plans for comprehensive investigations at the site, possibly involving English Heritage and nearby universities, are under consideration. To read more about the archaeology of Roman houses in Britain, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

Cold Spells May Have Doomed Neanderthals

COLOGNE, GERMANY—According to an Associated Press report, a new study suggests that periods of cold, dry climate may have helped modern humans displace Neanderthals from Europe. Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, just a few thousand years after Homo sapiens arrived in Europe. Scientists have proposed a number of explanations, including an epidemic that targeted Neanderthals and competition for scarce resources. The new study draws on previously available data along with new findings on the ancient climate from two caves in Romania. It focuses on two cold, dry periods: One beginning around 44,000 years ago and lasting 1,000 years, and another beginning around 40,800 years ago and lasting 600 years. Both climate events coincided with the disappearance of Neanderthal artifacts and the appearance of signs of modern humans in sites in the Danube River valley and France. Climate shift would have likely replaced forest with shrub-filled grassland, to which modern humans may have been better adapted than Neanderthals. “Whether they moved or died out, we can’t tell,” said Michael Staubwasser of the University of Cologne in Germany. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Remains of a Slovak Manor House Unearthed

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that archaeologists have unearthed the foundations of a sixteenth-century manor house on the grounds of the Rusovce Mansion, a nineteenth-century neoclassical manor built in imitation of the English gothic style. Traces of the older manor house, whose existence was previously known but whose precise location had been lost, were found beneath the site where a fountain once stood. During the excavation, archaeologists also recovered artifacts dating to Roman period, as well as the Bronze Age. To read about a similar excavation in England, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.” 

Monday, August 27

Cape Cod Dig Reveals 17th-Century Settlement

CHATHAM, MASSACHUSETTS—Wicked Local reports that archaeologists are excavating what they believe is the site of a seventeenth-century homestead on Cape Cod's southeastern tip. The site dates to 1656 and was once home to English settlers William and Anne Nickerson, who are considered the founders of Chatham. The team, directed by Craig Chartier of the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project, has uncovered a number of seventeenth-century artifacts on land adjacent to the town's 1829 Caleb Nickerson Homestead, including Native American and European ceramics, pipe fragments, window glass, pieces of flint, and what Chartier believes is a fragment from a sharpening wheel. Perhaps most importantly, they have also identified one of the building's hearths, which, along with postholes and foundation remains can help determine the orientation and footprint of the original structure. According to Chartier, the house was at least 36 feet long by 18 feet wide and might have even been larger. He now plans to excavate more of the property to determine whether it also included a cellar, barn, or other outbuildings. For more on the archaeology of Colonial America, go to “Off the Grid: Dorchester, South Carolina.”

Early Roman Settlement Discovered in Yorkshire

YORK, ENGLAND—Silver coins dating back 2,000 years that were unearthed by metal detectorists in 2015 have led archaeologists to one of the earliest Roman settlements in northern Britain, according to a report in The Guardian. “All the coins date back to the time of the emperor Vespasian [A.D. 69-79], when the Romans marched north and established a center at York,” says project manager Lisa Westcott Wilkins. The team has uncovered evidence that the settlement was the home of high-status families, including more silver coins, decorated ceramic bowls and amphoras that would have held imported wine, as well as an infant buried with a small brooch. They also identified postholes, foundation trenches, and the possible remnants of one or two villas. The location of the site is currently being withheld to protect it from looters. “We have many settlements from later periods—3rd and 4th centuries—but this one is much earlier and much higher status,” Wilkins says. “This is why it is so rare.” For more on the Roman period in York, go to “Off with Their Heads.”

Mass Grave Unearthed in Sri Lanka

MANNAR, SRI LANKA—The BBC reports that archaeologists in Sri Lanka have unearthed more than 90 skeletons at the site of a mass grave in the northern town of Mannar. Construction work near a bus terminal initially revealed the site earlier this year. The remains are assumed to have belonged to people who were killed during the country's recent civil war, which lasted 26 years and ended in 2009. According to University of Kelaniya forensic archaeologist Raj Somadeva, who leads the team, not all the people were buried at the site in the same manner. "In one segment we have a proper cemetery," says Somadeva. "In the second part, you have a collection of human skeletons which have been deposited in an informal way." Several mass graves found since the war came to an end, but the Mannar site is one of the biggest yet discovered. To read about the work of forensic archaeologists at the border of the United States, go to “The Journey to El Norte.” 

Viking Town Was an Immigrant Mecca

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Analysis of human remains from the Viking town of Sigtuna dating to the tenth to twelfth century finds that at least half the population consisted of immigrants, according to a report in The Local. Researchers from Stockholm University studied DNA and strontium isotopes from the remains of 38 people to determine where they originated. They found that around half came from the nearby Lake Mälaren area, but the other half came from areas as far off as Ukraine and the British Isles. The evidence suggests that Sigtuna was the Viking Age equivalent of London or Shanghai today, says Anders Götherström of Stockholm University, a place that attracted ambitious people interested in working their way up in the world. Sigtuna was one of Sweden’s first cities, founded in 980, and soon reached a population of 10,000, roughly the same as London at the time. Maja Krzewinska of Stockholm University points out that the Vikings are generally thought of as travelers and adventurers, but the new findings suggest they also played host to those who came from afar. To read in-depth about an island in Sweden that grew extremely wealthy during the Viking Age, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.“