Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, November 10

Roman Mithras Temple Reconstructed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The remains of a Roman temple dedicated to the bull-slaying god Mithras, which dates to the third century A.D., are set to be reopened to the public in Bloomberg's new European headquarters, according to a report in The Guardian. Mithraism was a cult religion devoted to Mithras practiced across the Roman Empire from about the first to the fourth centuries A.D. and was especially popular among soldiers. While their beliefs and rituals remain largely a mystery, followers of Mithraism had a complex system of initiation and met in underground temples called mithraea, many of which survive. The London Temple of Mithras was first discovered in 1954 and, for a time, was partially (and poorly) reconstructed for visitors on a nearby car park roof. Now in its original location, the mithraeum will be displayed alongside artifacts uncovered at the site. To read more about Roman Britain, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

Medieval Mass Graves Unearthed

KUTNA HORA, CZECH REPUBLIC—While excavating beneath a Catholic chapel in the central Czech Republic, archaeologists have unearthed some 1,500 skeletons from 30 medieval mass graves, reports the Prague Daily Monitor. Experts believe the remains belong to people who likely died during a famine in 1318 and a plague epidemic that began in 1348. "We must realize that such a mass grave represents a sample of a population within a very short period, which is extremely valuable to us," says the Czech Institute of Archaeology's Jan Frolik, who supervised the dig. The burials were probably unmarked and while the team found some buckles and coins in the cemetery, the people were largely buried without any grave goods. To read more about medieval mass graves, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

Luxury 17th-Century Items Uncovered Near Paul Revere House

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Evidence of a sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by a seventeenth-century family has been uncovered near the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End, according to a report from The Boston Globe. The finds include a shard of a ceramic bowl of a type known as “sgraffito” probably produced between 1630 and 1640 in the Pisa region of northern Italy, making it the oldest known piece of European ceramic to have been discovered in the city. Also found at the site were decorated pieces of expensive Italian glass, animal bones suggesting a rich diet, and a clasp from a woman’s bodice. “They’ve got glassware that would make Liberace blush,” said Joe Bagley, Boston city archaeologist. The items were apparently discarded by the family of John Jeffs, a mariner active in the Atlantic trade, and suggest that people living in Puritan Boston were comfortable acquiring ostentatious and luxurious items. Bagley expected to find a large number of nineteenth-century artifacts in the excavation, which is being carried out in advance of construction work, and was surprised to find insights into life two centuries earlier as well. To read about a Revolutionary War–era discovery made near Boston, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

8th-Century Skeleton Discovered at Hereford Cathedral

HEREFORD, ENGLAND—The Hereford Times reports that a skeleton discovered underneath Hereford Cathedral dates back to the origins of the city. Excavations ahead of construction work to improve the cathedral’s cloisters found three skeletons nearly seven feet underground. According to archaeologists, one of the skeletons belonged to a man who died in middle age, potentially due to several apparent blade injuries. Radiocarbon dating determined that the man lived sometime between A.D. 680 and 780, a period when the city was still a dangerous Anglo-Saxon frontier settlement in the Kingdom of Mercia, in the Welsh borderlands. To read more about Anglo-Saxon England, go to “The Kings of Kent.”

Thursday, November 09

Medieval Jewish Cemetery Excavated in Italy

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, more than 400 graves at the site of a medieval Jewish cemetery have been uncovered as part of a construction project near Bologna’s Via Orfeo. In 1569, after Pope Pius V banished Jews from most papal territories, he reportedly turned the cemetery’s land over to the nuns of a nearby cloister and told them to destroy the graves. Archaeologists recovered the remains of adults and children, and artifacts made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and amber. No tombstones were found, and 150 of the graves showed signs of intentional desecration. To read about another recent discovery in Italy, go to “Itinerant Etruscan Beekeepers.

Teenager’s Bones Recovered from Scottish Cave

EIGG, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that tests have confirmed that some 50 human bones discovered in Frances Cave on the island of Eigg belonged to a single teenager who lived between 1430 and 1620. The cave is also known as Massacre Cave, after a story of clan warfare said to have wiped out as many as 400 members of the Macdonald clan by their Macleod rivals in 1577. The Macdonalds are said to have retreated to the cave when the Macleods arrived on the island seeking revenge after several of their young men were tied up and returned to their boats for reportedly harassing the local girls. The Macleods are accused of setting a turf fire at the entrance to the cave that suffocated the hiding Macdonalds. “When post-excavation analysis has been completed we will discuss what happens next with the community on Eigg,” said archaeologist Kirsty Owen of Historic Environment Scotland. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Cuneiform Tablet From Anatolia Records Infertility Plan

KAYSERI PROVINCE, TURKEY—Daily Sabah reports that a 4,000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet found in Anatolia records a marriage agreement that includes a plan for how to proceed in case of infertility. Researchers led by Ahmet Berkiz Turp of Harran University said the agreement provided for a hierodule, or a female slave, who would serve as a surrogate if the couple were not able to produce a child within the first two years of marriage. “The female slave would be freed after giving birth to the first male baby and ensuring that the family is not left without a child,” Turp said. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Study Suggests Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers Coexisted

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in Seeker, a new genetic study indicates that most of today’s Europeans still carry hunter-gatherer DNA. Mark Lipson and David Reich of Harvard Medical School and their team of international colleagues analyzed samples taken from the remains of 180 people who lived in what are now Hungary, Germany, and Spain between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago. The farmers, who migrated into Europe from the Near East, could be differentiated from the hunter-gatherers based on the different isotope ratios in their bones and teeth, due to the differences in their diets. The researchers then constructed mathematical models to describe how farmer and hunter-gatherer populations might have interacted with each other. The data suggests that after an initial exchange, the two groups continued their contact over a long period of time. And, the farmers moved around a lot, perhaps searching for arable land as their populations grew. “During this period, it seems likely that hunter-gatherers were not migrating such long distances, but our knowledge is not complete,” Lipson said. Overall, the scientists think farmers and hunter-gatherers coexisted for some time before hunter-gatherers were completely integrated into farming populations. To read about evidence of early conflict among hunter-gatherers, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

Wednesday, November 08

Rome’s Lead Pipes May Have Added Antimony to Water Supply

NANTERRE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that an international team of scientists led by Philippe Charlier of Max Fourestier Hospital tested a lead water pipe from a home in Pompeii and found it carried highly toxic levels of antimony. The metal is thought to have been added to lead to strengthen it. To begin the investigation, the researchers dissolved a fragment of the metal pipe in concentrated nitric acid, and then heated it to more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to ionize the elements so that they could be identified within a mass spectrometer. The analysis suggests the possible levels of antimony in city’s water supply could have caused antimony intoxication, diarrhea, and vomiting, leading to severe dehydration and eventually liver and kidney damage. Antimony has also been found in the groundwater close to volcanoes, possibly increasing the exposure of Pompeii’s population to the toxic element. The researchers suggest testing additional pipes throughout the Roman Empire, and looking for traces of antimony in the bones and teeth of ancient Romans, for more information on how antimony poisoning might have affected their health. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Glass Fragment from Calligraphy Set Found in Japan

KYOTO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a fragment of a twelfth-century glass vessel was unearthed in an area of nobles’ homes in Heiankyo, Japan’s ancient capital. Researchers from the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property in Nara say the bluish-green fragment may have been part of the spout of a “suiteki” container, which would have been imported from China during the Heian Period, from A.D. 794 to 1185, for dropping water onto ink-grinding stones. The site may have been a base to distribute imported suiteki to aristocrats in Kyoto. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

2,000-Year-Old Sundial Unearthed in Roman Town

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 2,000-year-old sundial has been discovered in a roofed theater at the site of the ancient town of Interamna Lirenas, which is located in central Italy. An inscription on the sundial names Marcus Novius Tubula, a plebeian tribune to Rome, and dates the artifact to the first century B.C. Alessandro Launaro of the University of Cambridge said the sundial and its inscription suggest the small town was more aware of and involved in the affairs of the capital than had been previously thought. Additional engravings on the face of the timepiece mark the seasons with respect to the winter solstice, equinox, and summer solstice. Only part of its needle, which cast the shadow necessary to show the time, was preserved. To read about a 3,300-year-old sundial discovered in Egypt, go to “Artifact.”