Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 22

8th-Century Settlement Discovered Southwest of Dublin

SALLINS, IRELAND—Archaeologists working at a bypass construction site near the village of Sallins in County Kildare have made a host of discoveries dating back over 1,000 years, according to a report in the Leinster Leader. Excavations have revealed layers of the area's history from post-medieval roads to prehistoric cremations, including evidence of an 8th-century settlement on the banks of the River Liffey. According to Noel Dunne, an archaeologist with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the enclosure complex is marked by a series of roughly six-and-a-half-foot-deep ditches and has produced artifacts such as rings, pins, a book clasp with a design similar to the St. Brigid's cross, and the remains of a very large guard dog. To read more about the archaeology of early medieval Ireland, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

Egyptian Solar Boat Beam Damaged During Excavation

CAIRO, EGYPT—Archaeologists and restorers traveled to the Giza Plateau to investigate the condition of one of the beams of a solar boat buried along with the pharaoh Khufu, which was damaged during an excavation, according to a report from Ahram Online. A Japanese-Egyptian team has been working since 2010 to lift, restore, and reconstruct the boat, which was buried around 4,500 years ago as part of Khufu’s burial rites. In all, 745 out of 1,264 pieces of the boat have been removed so far from the excavation pit. One of the boat’s beams was damaged by a malfunctioning crane. According to Ayman Ashmawi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, the damage appears to be easily reparable. The boat will ultimately be reconstructed and put on display alongside a previously excavated Khufu boat. Both boats were part of the pharaoh’s extensive grave goods, intended for use in the afterlife. To read about another discovery dating to the reign of Khufu, go to “World’s Oldest Port.”

Ritual Canaanite Artifacts Unearthed in Israel

TEL BURNA, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists digging at the ancient Canaanite city of Libnah have unearthed artifacts that they say demonstrate a large building served as a temple there some 3,200 years ago. Led by Ariel University archaeologist Itzhaq Shai, the team first unearthed the fifty-foot-long building in 2009 and speculated at the time that it might have had a ritual role. This summer, during further excavation of the structure, the team discovered a ritual stone pillar, ceramic masks, and cultic vessels that have bolstered their initial interpretation, says Shai. In addition to goblets and zoomorphic vessels, the team also unearthed ceramic vessels from Cyprus, including two pithoi, or massive ceramic storage jars. “Since the pithoi were discovered in the same context as the cultic vessels, we assume these were also part of this activity,” said Shai. To read more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Monday, August 21

Wreckage of USS Indianapolis Discovered in Philippine Sea

PHILIPPINE SEA, NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN—The Indianapolis Star reports that a group sponsored by the billionaire Paul Allen has succeeded in discovering the wreckage of USS Indianapolis, which sank following a Japanese torpedo attack on July 30, 1945. The 13-person team working from Allen's 250-foot research ship, R/V Petrel, said the wreckage was found at a depth of more than 18,000 feet. Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser carrying 1,197 sailors and Marines, was sailing back to the Philippines after delivering components for "Little Boy," the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan on August 6, 1945. While 900 crewmen appear to have made it through the initial sinking, only 316 survived to be rescued when help arrived five days later on Aug. 2, 1945. The find comes after a recent break in the search, in July of 2016, when the Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division reported that a sailor had confirmed that a tank landing ship, LST-779, had passed the Indianapolis 11 hours before the torpedo struck. That account was confirmed by deck logs and narrowed the search area to just 600 square miles of open sea. According to the report, Allen’s team is still surveying the site of the wreckage and plans to conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks. The crew is also working with the Navy on plans to honor the remaining 22 USS Indianapolis crew members and families of crew members. To read more about underwater recovery efforts, go to "Naval Mystery Solved.

220-Year-Old Refugee Camp Found Near Galway

GALWAY, IRELAND—Accoring to a report in the Irish Times, archaeologists working in southeast Galway’s Slieve Aughty Mountains have discovered the remains of a refugee camp dating to the 1790s, when a group of Catholics from the island's northern Ulster province, the majority of which remains a part of the United Kingdom, were forced south during a sectarian war within the linen industry. Galway community archaeologist Christy Cunniffe believes a series of circular ditches dug around hut foundations on land owned by a local farmer, which researchers initially thought might date back to the Bronze age, are evidence of temporary camps built by Ultachs, Catholics who fled persecution by a group of violent Protestant agitators known as the "Peep-O-Boys" or "Peep o' Day Boys." According to Cunniffe, as many as 7,000 Catholics, mostly from County Armagh, are believed to have been discplaced after intense competition in the linen industry exploded across sectarian lines, resulting in one of the largest internal migrations in recent Irish history. For more on the archaeology in Ireland, go to "Samhain Revival."

Ancient Trade Network Identified in Vietnam

MEKONG DELTA, VIETNAM—Archaeologists excavating a site in southern Vietnam have discovered evidence for a previously unknown 4,500-year-old trading network, reports VnExpress. Led by Australian National University archaeologist Catherine Frieman, the team discovered stone axes at a site in the region of Rach Nui, which has no stone resources of its own. “We knew some artifacts were being moved around, but this shows evidence for a major trade network that also included specialist tool-makers and technological knowledge,” said Friema. “This isn't a case of people producing a couple of extra items on top of what they need. It's a major operation.” For more on archaeology in Southwest Asia, go to “Letter from Laos: A Singular Landscape.”

Portrait of Young Woman Revealed in Herculaneum

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A previously unstudied portrait of a Roman woman in Herculaneum, which was destroyed in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, has been revealed using a portable X-ray fluorescence machine, according to a report from Seeker. Excavations in the nineteenth century uncovered much of Herculaneum, including the “House of the Mosaic Atrium,” where the portrait was found. Analysis by Eleonora Del Federico, a chemistry professor at Pratt Institute, showed that a young woman was sketched with an iron-based pigment and then her eyes were highlighted using a lead-based pigment. High levels of potassium detected in the woman’s cheeks suggest a green earth-based pigment was used to help create a flesh-toned color. “We were very surprised at the complexity and sophistication of the painting technique, the use of color, mixture of pigments and layering,” Del Federico said. For more, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”

Friday, August 18

Maori Settlement Discovered During Roadwork

  TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND—Extensive remains of a Maori village were unearthed during road construction in Papamoa, according to a report from the New Zealand Herald. Archaeologists Ken Phillips and Cameron McCaffrey were called in when the first evidence of the settlement was uncovered, and their excavation uncovered more than 300 archaeological features. These included large postholes, cooking pits, and sweet potato pits. The settlement appears to have been home to a large number of people and to date to between 1600 and 1800, though more precise information will be provided by radiocarbon dating. Several of the cooking pits had evidence of fire reddening at the bottom and sides, as well as concentrated deposits of charcoal and fire-cracked rocks. In addition, pieces of obsidian, all apparently from an island known as Tuhua, were found, providing evidence that tool manufacturing took place on the site. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Fifth-Century Monks’ Complex Uncovered in Egypt

  CAIRO, EGYPT—An excavation in Minya has turned up an ancient settlement that may have been a monks’ complex, according to a report from Ahram Online. The complex features a residential area measuring 320 by 425 feet that includes a mud-brick house once inhabited by a monk. Also discovered was a collection of burial chambers measuring 165 by 230 feet in all, as well as the lower part of a monk’s tombstone and a collection of metal coins and clay pots. Previous discoveries at the site have included the remains of a fifth-century mud-brick church, a shrine, a prayer hall, and chambers with walls on which Coptic hymns were written. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Dutch Shipwreck Excavated off English Coast

KENT, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from Historic England and the Netherland’s Cultural Heritage Agency have returned to the site of the 18th-century Dutch East India ship Rooswijk. The ship sank off the coast of Kent in January 1740, and all 250 aboard perished. So far this season, the team has recovered artifacts that include a sailor's shoe, glass bottles, an onion jar, and Mexican silver dollars, as well as pieces of eight. The first scientifically excavated Dutch East India ship, Rooswijk was excavated in 2005, and a quantity of silver was discovered and returned to the Netherlands. But much about the wreck remains mysterious. “We have many questions,” said Dutch maritime expert Martijn Martens. “We do not even know what this ship really looked like.” To read more about nautical archaeology, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks.”

Poisonous Chemical Found in Pompeii Water Pipe

POMPEII, ITALY—Researchers have analyzed a fragment of a lead water pipe from Pompeii and found that it contained toxic levels of the chemical element antimony, reports the International Business Times. Previously, scholars had suggested that widespread lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. “They used it for work pipes, for sweetening the wine, for filling out small holes in aqueducts,” said University of Southern Denmark archaeochemist Kaare Lund. “There was a lot of lead in the Roman Empire.” But Lund and his team are proposing that lead by itself didn’t pose much of a health risk, since most pipes were lined with chalky deposits that would have kept significant amounts of lead from leaking into water. But Lund notes that antimony is much more toxic than lead, and if even trace amounts of it leached into the water supply it would have had disastrous consequences, leading to kidney and liver damage and even contributing to heart attacks. The team hopes to test more Roman lead in the future to determine how common the use of antimony-laced pipes was. To read more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”