Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, December 5

Possible Remains of Extinct “Hobby Horses” Uncovered in Ireland

COUNTY KILDARE, IRELAND—The Leinster Leader reports that traces of an Anglo-Norman medieval village and what may have been a large horse-breeding farm were discovered in the mid-east region of Ireland ahead of roadway construction. Scholars knew of the village from historic sources, but its exact location had been lost. Test excavations in the settlement revealed a high number of horse remains. Some of the horse bones were smaller and lighter than the others, and may represent animals that had been bred for use in war by light cavalry called hobelars. Their agile mounts, bred in Ireland and exported to England and Scotland, came to be known as hobby horses. The breed is now extinct. Skeletal remains of cattle, sheep, and pigs were also found, in addition to the bones of dogs, cats, deer, pheasants, crows, geese, ducks, and squirrels. For more on medieval Irealnd, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

3,000-Year-Old Leather Bag Full of Jewelry Found in Slovakia

POPRAD, SLOVAKIA—An excavation in northern Slovakia has uncovered Bronze Age jewelry, a spur, a needle, coins, and horseshoes, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. Archaeologist Matúš Hudák of the Spiš Museum said the jewelry includes bronze spirals and tin funnel-shaped hangers that were buried some 3,000 years ago in a leather bag, the top of which was decorated with three bronze disks. “The remains of leather straps were also preserved inside of [the] spirals and hangers,” explained archaeologist Mária Hudákova. “We saw at the beginning that close to the jewelry there was a darker soil that indicated the possible decomposition of organic material.” To read about the discovery of a range of items dating to the second to fifth century A.D. in Slovakia, go to “World Roundup.”

Hundreds of Cannonballs Unearthed in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, hundreds of seventeenth-century cannonballs in various sizes have been found in central Stockholm, in an area where iron was once produced in large quantities for export. Grenades, hand grenades, and parts of cannons were also uncovered. Archaeologists led by Michel Carlsson think the cannonballs may have been dumped when the city grew and its fortifications were moved in the early seventeenth century, or when the city’s iron-weighing facilities were moved in the 1660s. “One question we are considering and have not yet found the answer to is why the cannonballs were not saved—if nothing else than for the sake of the metal value,” Carlsson said. To read about a sixteenth-century Swedish warship that sank in the Baltic Sea, go to “Mars Explored.”

Tuesday, December 4

Skeletons Reveal Hardships of London’s Industrial Poor

LONDON, ENGLAND—Excavation of an early nineteenth-century cemetery in southwest London has revealed evidence that the population endured disease, deformities, malnutrition, violence, dangerous working conditions, and pollution, according to a report in The Guardian. Osteoarchaeologist Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy of Wessex Archaeology said the people who were buried in the cemetery at the church of St. George the Martyr led “a life of drudgery and just-about surviving.” The bones of one of the women, she explained, showed that she suffered from congenital syphilis. Her shoulders and upper arms showed signs of strenuous work, her nose was broken, and a wound in her skull made with a thin blade is thought to have been fatal. A flattened nose, a depression in his left brow, and battered knuckles suggest that one man, who also suffered from syphilis, had “several violent altercations,” Dinwiddy said. Many of the graves in the cemetery contained the remains of children under the age of 12, she added. For more on discoveries in London dating to the nineteenth century, go to “A Cornucopia of Condiments.”

Skeleton Wearing Leather Boots Recovered From River Thames

LONDON, ENGLAND—Londonist reports that a 500-year-old male skeleton still wearing a pair of thigh-high leather boots has been discovered in the mud of the River Thames in south London. The man is unlikely to have been buried in the river wearing such valuable footwear, according to Beth Richardson of MOLA Headland. She thinks he may have died while working as a fisherman, a sailor, or someone who scavenged for items of value in the river mud. Examination of the bones indicates he was under the age of 35 at the time of death. His teeth bear grooves worn from repetitive action, perhaps passing a rope between them, and his boots were equipped with layers of soles and stuffed with moss for protection in rough terrain. For more on archaeology in London, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Technology Detects Name “Pontius Pilate” on Seal Ring

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK—According to a New York Times report, the name “Pilate” has been found inscribed on a simple ring that was made of copper alloy some 2,000 years ago and unearthed at the ancient fortress and palace of Herodium in the 1960s. Pieces of glass and pottery, arrowheads, and coins were also recovered from the room where the ring was discovered. Herodium Expedition researchers detected the inscription, written in Greek letters set around an image of a wine vessel, on the piece of jewelry using advanced photographic techniques. Pontius Pilate, credited in the Christian New Testament with presiding over a trial of Jesus Christ, was governor of the province of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36. Archaeologist Roi Porat of the Hebrew University and his colleagues said that although the name Pilate was not a common one at the time, they think it is unlikely that such a high-ranking official would have worn such a simple seal ring. For more on excavations at Herodium, go to “Autumn of the Master Builder.”

Monday, December 3

1,100-Year-Old Engraved Pagoda Fragment Found in Japan

NONOICHI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a piece of pottery dating back at least 1,100 years and inscribed with the figure of a smiling woman with long hair was unearthed at the site of a Buddhist temple on the island of Honshu, near the coast of the Sea of Japan. Officials from the Nonoichi City Board of Education said the temple dates to the Asuka Period, between A.D. 592 and 710, while the piece of pottery, which measures about seven inches long and four inches wide, is thought to have been part of the first floor of a gato, or earthen pagoda, built in the ninth century. The image may represent a celestial nymph who served Miroku Bosatsu, a Buddhist deity. She holds a ritual implement called a hossu and wears a dress with vertical stripes. The tips of her shoes curve upwards. To read about another recent discovery in Japan, go to “Samurai Nest Egg.”

Fresh DNA Analysis Revises Bronze Age Woman’s Appearance

CAITHNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that analysis of DNA obtained from the bones of a woman who died in what is now Scotland more than 4,250 years ago offers a new interpretation of her possible appearance and ancestry. The remains of the woman, now known as Ava, were discovered in a rock-cut tomb during road construction in 1987. An earlier reconstruction suggested she had red hair and blue eyes, but the latest analysis of her genome indicates she actually had brown eyes and black hair. The data also suggests she was lactose intolerant, and was descended from northern European migrants to Britain. “The revelation that her ancestors were recent northern European migrants is exciting, especially as we know that she has no, or very few, genetic connections with the local Neolithic population who resided in Caithness before her,” said archaeologist Maya Hoole of Historic Environment Scotland. To read in-depth about another site in Scotland dating to this period, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Crusader-Era Gold Coins Unearthed in Israel

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—BBC News reports that a small bronze pot holding a cache of 900-year-old gold coins and a gold earring has been found hidden in the wall of a well, at a house located in the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the eleventh-century coins may have been hidden during the Crusader conquest of the city in 1101, when historic sources note that the most of the city’s inhabitants were killed by the army led by Baldwin I, the king of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Gendelman and Hatar explained that the well-to-do owner of the coins probably either died in the massacre or was sold into slavery and so was unable to return for the coins. For more, go to “Reimagining the Crusades.”