Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 21

Eighteenth-Century Graves in Canada Threatened by Erosion

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, NOVA SCOTIA—The Cape Breton Post reports that a team of excavators led by Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick and David Ebert of Parks Canada is removing human remains from an eighteenth-century cemetery at the reconstructed Fortress of Louisbourg before the bones erode into the Atlantic Ocean. Built by the French and named for Louis XIV, the fortress was captured by British colonists in 1745, then returned to the French as part of a 1748 treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession. Captured by the British again in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War, the original fortifications at the site were dismantled by the British, who kept a garrison there until 1768. The cemetery, estimated to hold the remains of 1,000 people, is located on a peninsula known as Rochefort Point, up to half of which is thought to have worn away over the past 300 years. “They may have had tough lives,” Ebert said, “but these people were laid to rest with a great deal of care and affection—in some cases, for example, people would have invested in beautiful shroud pins to enclose the shroud around their loved ones when they are laid to rest.” Scott said examination of the bones will help researchers learn about those who built and lived in the fortress. To read in-depth about the discovery of a legendary 19th-century shipwreck in Canada, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Excavation in Australia Recovers 1,000 Human Teeth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—The Age reports that the archaeological investigation at the site of a new subway station on Swanston Street, one of the city’s original nineteenth-century thoroughfares, has uncovered a half-million artifacts, along with more than 1,000 human teeth. Buildings that once stood on the site housed a girls’ school, a hotel, and a hardware store. The artifacts include clay pipes, glass bongs made from beer bottles for smoking opium, a jet earring modeled after Queen Victoria’s mourning wear, a child’s slingshot, and a bone-handled fork. Many of the teeth had massive cavities, and are thought to have been pulled by dentists who had offices on the block. Most of teeth were found in the sediments or in pipes, suggesting they were flushed or washed down drains. To read about excavations at Pentridge Prison, in the Melbourne suburbs, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

5,000-Year-Old Cemetery Excavated in Kenya

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—According to a report in The Guardian, Elisabeth Hildebrand of Stony Brook University says a 5,000-year-old communal cemetery in northwestern Kenya is evidence that early pastoralists who lived without social hierarchies were able to work together to achieve common goals. At least 580 individuals were buried in a mortuary cavity placed in the center of a platform measuring 90 feet across and marked by pillar-like megaliths at the Lothagam North site. The arrangement of the bodies, Hildebrand said, suggests the men, women, and children were buried without any indication of social ranking, and, she noted, all of them were buried with elaborate personal ornaments. The monument may also have been served as a meeting place to renew ties and exchange information. The burial cavity was eventually filled in and capped with thousands of stones. “We don’t know why or what happened next,” said project co-director Katherine Grillo of the University of Florida. To read about a massacre that occurred near Lake Turkana around 10,000 years ago, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

Monday, August 20

Rickets and the Roman Empire

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—CNN reports that researchers from McMaster University, Historic England, and the English Heritage Trust examined the remains of children who had been buried in cemeteries ranging from northern England to southern Spain and were surprised to find that more than one in 20 of those who lived between the first and sixth centuries A.D. showed signs of rickets, or weakened bones caused by vitamin D deficiency. The scientists suggest the disease may have resulted from the weaker sunshine in northern Europe, which can make it harder for the body to absorb vitamin D, and the fact that parents in the northern parts of the Roman Empire probably kept their children inside more of the time in an effort to protect them from the cool, cloudy climate. Children who lived near the Mediterranean Sea would have likely been exposed to more sunshine throughout the year, which would have helped to strengthen their bones, unless they lived in crowded apartment buildings, such as those found in the Rome’s seaport of Ostia. Megan Brickley of McMaster University said the small windows, closed-in courtyards, and narrow streets found there could account for the cases of rickets detected in Ostia’s ancient cemetery. For more on the detection of medical problems in ancient remains, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

3,500-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Crete

CRETE, GREECE—A farmer on the island of Crete discovered a carved tombstone dated to the Late Minoan period when his vehicle got stuck in the mud under an olive tree, according to The Greek Reporter. Archaeologists and archaeology students were called to the scene, where they unearthed an intact, vaulted tomb measuring about 13 feet long, complete with carvings, two skeletons, and about two dozen vases. Chrysa Sofianou of the Lassithi Ephorate of Commerce said the rare find will offer more information about a “common mortal” who lived between 1500 and 1400 B.C. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

Skeletons From Alexandria’s Granite Sarcophagus Analyzed

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Ahram Online report, Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced that preliminary studies of the three skeletons discovered in a massive granite sarcophagus in Alexandria suggest the bones belonged to a young woman and two men. The woman is thought to have died between the ages of 20 and 25, and stood about five feet, four inches tall. One of the men, who was about as tall as the woman, lived to between 35 and 39 years of age, while the second man died between the ages of 40 and 44, and stood about five feet, eleven inches tall. Zeinab Hashish, director of the Department of Skeleton Remains Studies at the Ministry of Antiquities, said a healed hole in this man’s skull may have been the result of surgical trepanation, which is thought to have been a rare practice in Egypt. The people are thought to have been buried in phases, since the skeletons were stacked inside the sarcophagus. Examination of the contents of the coffin also yielded several small, intricately decorated gold panels, Waziri said. The liquid found inside the granite sarcophagus is thought to be wastewater that seeped into the tomb, but it is undergoing analysis. To read in-depth about new findings related to the Hyksos, foreigners who ruled Egypt for a century, go to “The Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

Friday, August 17

Traces of 17th-Century Battle Found at Scotland’s Castle Fraser

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Scotsman, volunteers who assisted in excavations at Castle Fraser, the historic stronghold of the Fraser Clan, uncovered large quantities of broken window glass that could date to an attack on royalist supporters in the structure by Oliver Cromwell’s forces sometime between 1653 and 1655. “The mid-seventeenth century was a volatile time in the northeast,” commented archaeologist Daniel Rhodes of the National Trust for Scotland. The investigation also recovered two coins—one made of a copper alloy, and a Turners, or two pence piece, marked with the image of Charles I and dated to between 1632 and 1639. Charles I had been executed by Cromwell and the English Parliament in 1649. His son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660. To read about the aftermath of a battle in which Cromwell's forces defeated the Scottish Covenanting army, go to “After the Battle.”

Carved Adobe Mural Uncovered in Peru

BARRANCA PROVINCE, PERU—DW News reports that a 3,800-year-old mural has been found at the Caral site of Vichama in Peru’s central coastal region. The mural, which consists of images of snakes and human heads carved into an adobe wall, measures about three feet tall and nine feet long, and stands at the entrance to a ceremonial hall. Archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís, director of the Caral excavations, said the four human heads in the mural are shown side-by-side with their eyes closed. The two snakes pass between and around them, with their heads pointed to what may be a humanoid seed symbol digging into the soil. Shady Solís thinks the serpents could represent a water deity who irrigated the earth. The mural may have been created during a drought and subsequent famine, since other reliefs at the site depict emaciated people. To read about a previous discovery relating to the Caral civilization, go to “Peruvian Woman of Means.”

Bronzes Found in Germany Show Reach of Roman Empire

BERLIN, GERMANY—According to an Artnet News report, a court has ruled that a farmer who owned the land in central Germany where a 2,000-year-old bronze sculpture was discovered in 2009 should receive greater compensation from the government. Archaeologists discovered the well-preserved Roman sculpture of a horse’s head adorned with gold leaves at the bottom of a 36-foot well, where it had been covered with water and protected from the air. Bronze sandals, found nearby, indicate the statue had a rider. Scholars now suspect the bronzes, which date to about A.D. 9, were part of a large statue depicting Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. To read in-depth about the excavation in which the sculpture was discovered, go to “The Road Almost Taken.”

3,300-Year-Old Cheese Found in Saqqara

CAIRO, EGYPT—Researchers from Cairo University and the University of Catania claim they have found a hunk of the world’s oldest solid cheese in a broken jar in a tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, according to a Live Science report. The tomb belonged to Ptahmes, a government official who was in charge of the ancient city of Memphis and served during the reigns of Seti I and Ramesses II. The cheese—a powdery, whitish mass discovered in one of the jar fragments—is thought to have been covered with a scrap of canvas that was found nearby. Chemical analysis of the substance detected five proteins commonly found in milk from cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo. Two of those proteins only come from cows. The researchers think the “cheese-like product” was made from a mixture of cow’s milk and the milk of either sheep or goats. The scientists also identified a protein associated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes the disease brucellosis, which is characterized by fever, nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. To read about another recent discovery in Saqqara, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”