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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 25

Does Equinox Sunset Highlight Egypt’s Sphinx?

GIZA, EGYPT—Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities suggests that the Sphinx, a 241-foot tall sculpture of a lion’s body with a man’s head carved in limestone bedrock on the Giza Plateau, was strategically placed so that the sun sets over its right shoulder on the spring and fall equinoxes, when day and night are equal in length, according to a Live Science report. It had been previously suggested that the sculpture, which is thought to have been built around 2500 B.C. during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre, simply took advantage of the position of a limestone outcropping. Egyptian authorities add that at the summer solstice in June, the sun sets between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre. To read about a plaster sphinx head unearthed in California that was made for a 1920s Hollywood film, go to "Head in the Sand."

Beer Bottles Found Under Cellar Stairs in Northern England

LEEDS, ENGLAND—The Drinks Business reports that while working at a construction site in central Leeds, researchers from Archaeological Services WYAS found more than 600 beer bottles stacked under a set of cellar stairs at the site of what had been the Scarborough Castle Inn. The bottles came from several brewers, but most are labeled “J.E. Richardson of Leeds,” according to archaeologist David Williams. The bottles are thought to date to the 1880s, he added. “This excavation is giving us a great opportunity to uncover a part of Georgian and Victorian Leeds,” Williams said. “The results so far are giving a real insight to the daily lives of the former residents of Leeds during this period.” Several of the beer bottles still contained liquid. Williams and his team members originally thought the liquid might have been ginger beer, but analysis showed that it contained alcohol and high levels of lead. Water used to make the beer is thought to have been contaminated by lead piping. To read about the discovery of an illicit whisky distillery in the forests of Scotland, go to "Still Standing."

Conservators in India Treat Historic Palm-Leaf Manuscripts

KAKINADA, INDIA—The Hindu reports that conservators from India’s State Department of Archaeology and Museums are treating some 1,600 palm-leaf manuscripts held at the Andhra Sahitya Parishad Archaeology Museum and Research Institute in southeastern India to protect them from insects. Each of the manuscripts, which date to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, is about 500 pages long. The texts include the fields of Ayurveda, mathematics, astrology, music, and literature such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once the manuscripts have been chemically treated they will be covered in cotton fabric for additional protection in storage. To read about efforts to preserve the medieval city of Hampi, go to "Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk."

Neolithic Drainage System Uncovered in China

HENAN PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a drainage system made of clay pipes has been unearthed in central China at the Longshan Culture site known as Pingliangtai Ancient City, a 4,000-year-old village discovered in 1980. “The pottery pipes were connected with drainage ditches in the city,” said Cao Yanpeng of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Cao added that jade artifacts and wheel ruts thought to be at least 4,200 years old have also been uncovered at Pingliangtai Ancient City. To read about a jar of 2,500-year-old eggs discovered in a Chinese tomb, go to "Picnic for the Afterlife."

Tuesday, March 24

Dugout Canoe Dated in New Hampshire

HOLDERNESS, NEW HAMPSHIRE—The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that a dugout canoe discovered in central New Hampshire’s Squam Lake has been radiocarbon dated to the mid-seventeenth century. Malcolm Taylor of the Holderness Historical Society said the Native American vessel was recovered from 14 feet of water by three fisherman 80 years ago and had been stored in Vermont’s Shelburne Museum until last year, when it was transferred to the Holderness Historical Society. Such canoes were made by burning the surface of a felled tree trunk and scraping away the charred wood with stone tools, then repeating the process. Dugout canoes were eventually replaced by more maneuverable birch bark canoes by the mid-seventeenth century. Further research will identify the species of tree used to make the vessel, Taylor added. To read about a prehistoric Caddo Indian canoe, go to "World Roundup: Louisiana."

19th-Century Kitchen Site Uncovered in Maui

LAHAINA, MAUI—Excavation at the oldest standing home on the Hawaiian island of Maui has uncovered the possible remains of its nineteenth-century kitchen, according to a Maui News report. Now known as the Baldwin Home Museum, the house was built in 1834 out of sand, coral, and lava rock over a timber frame by a physician named the Rev. Dwight Baldwin, who lived there from 1836 to 1868, and is remembered for his work to control a smallpox outbreak in 1853 through the use of quarantine and vaccination. The kitchen was constructed out of adobe bricks on a stone foundation as an outbuilding. Director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation Theo Morrison said that food prepared in the kitchen would have fed as many as 20 people per day, including the family’s six children, visitors, sea captains, missionaries, and travelers. The archaeologists have unearthed shells of the opihi, a type of edible limpet or aquatic snail; clam shells; animal bones; pieces of porcelain; and a bone button dated to the mid-nineteenth century, Morrison added. The researchers have also found evidence of a fire pit in the backyard that may have been used for cooking and washing. For more on archaeology in Hawaii, go to "Letter from Hawaii: Ballad of the Paniolo."

Tests Could Reveal Age of England’s Cerne Abbas Giant

DORSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that Phillip Toms of the University of Gloucestershire will test soil samples collected from the elbows and feet of the Cerne Abbas Giant, a figure carved into a chalk hillside in southwest England, with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). The technique determines when minerals in the soil were last exposed to sunlight, according to archaeologist Martin Papworth of England’s National Trust. “It is likely that the tests will give us a date range, rather than a specific age, but we hope they will help us better understand, and care for, this famous landmark,” Papworth said. The Cerne Abbas Giant was first recorded in 1694, but researchers do not know if was created at that time or in antiquity. To read about another chalk geoglyph in southern England, go to "White Horse of the Sun."

Direct Dating of New York Settlements Offers New Timeline

ITHACA, NEW YORK—According to a report in the Olean Times Herald, Sturt Manning of Cornell University and John Hart of the New York State Museum have obtained new radiocarbon dates from Native American sites in upstate New York and created a new timeline for the occupation of the Mohawk and Hudson River Valley regions at the time of European contact. Because Europeans traveled by river from the coast into New York in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, timelines for Native American settlement of these areas had relied upon the arrival of European goods such as metal items and glass beads. But Manning noted that not all Native American groups accepted contact or goods from Europeans. The researchers thus analyzed metal goods from the settlements with portable X-ray fluorescence to see if they may have been crafted from local materials, collected new radiocarbon dates of organic materials such as maize kernels, and conducted a statistical analysis of archaeological and historical information. The results of the study suggest that the shift to larger, fortified communities at some Iroquoian sites did not occur in the mid-fifteenth century, as previously thought, but between the mid-sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. To read about a site that was once home to eastern Native American tribes that might have included the Iroquois, go to "Letter from Philadelphia: City Garden."

Monday, March 23

Submarine Wreckage Detected Off Hawaiian Island of Oahu

OAHU, HAWAII—Live Science reports that a private group of researchers led by Tim Taylor, founder of the Lost 52 Project, has discovered the wreckage of the USS Stickleback, which sank on May 28, 1958, after an accidental collision with destroyer escort USS Silverstein during a Cold War-era antisubmarine warfare exercise. All of the sailors aboard the vessel were rescued, but Navy ships were not able to keep the damaged submarine afloat. The search for the vessel started with a review of the historical record. “Sometimes those positions aren’t entirely accurate … especially when things are happening rapidly, people can make mistakes with numbers,” explained Robert Neyland of the Naval History and Heritage Command of the U.S. Navy. The submarine was found under some 11,000 feet of water in two main pieces lying almost 1,000 feet apart from each other about 19 miles from the southern coast of Oahu, near the location of the collision. Neyland said such great depth preserved the vessel’s painted name and hull numbers. To read about the underwater archaeology of the attack on Pearl Harbor, go to "December 7, 1941."

Traces of Buddhist Monastery Discovered in Bangladesh

JESSORE, BANGLADESH—The Dhaka Tribune reports that a Buddhist monastery temple complex has been discovered in southwestern Bangladesh by researchers from the regional archaeology departments of Khulna and Barisal. The temple complex includes two temples, courtyards, and 18 rooms with unusually thick walls where monks are thought to have lived between the ninth and mid-eleventh centuries. Remains of another temple are thought to have been lost to more recent construction. “After excavating the site, we have found fragments of ornamented bricks, terracotta plaques, and clay pots,” said research assistant Urmila Hasnat. “The fragments of terracotta bricks and plaques have engravings of lotus flowers and geometric shapes.” Traces of stucco decorated with flowers and geometric shapes were also recovered, in addition to a type of clay pot only found in Buddhist monasteries dating to between the seventh and eleventh centuries, she added. To read about the excavation of a possible Buddhist monastery in India, go to "Early Buddhism in India."