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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 09

Early Neolithic Enclosure Found in England

BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a section of a 5,500-year-old causewayed enclosure, complete with encircling ditches and boundaries with gap entrances, has been uncovered at a quarry in southeast England. Wessex Archaeology researchers expect to find the rest of the oval-shaped monument intact. “So that will mean we’ve got a much better picture and an understanding of the site as a whole,” said fieldwork director John Powell. The bones of deer, foxes, cattle, pigs, and sheep or goats, and deliberately smashed, decorated pottery suggest the site was used as a ceremonial gathering place. Residues in the pottery vessels will be tested to try to determine what they held. Leaf-shaped flint arrowheads, serrated blades, stone axes, and grinding stones have also been found at the site, which may have been a seasonally wet landscape on the floodplain of the Thames River at the time the enclosure was in use. Human remains have also been recovered at the site. Osteoarchaeologist Jaqueline McKinley said the skull and left femur had been removed from one body, and cut marks were found on a skull placed in the bottom of a ditch. “Some causewayed enclosures don’t contain much in the way of artifacts,” Powell said, “whereas this one seems very rich in artifacts, which will be significant for the understanding of the Early Neolithic in Britain.” For more, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

New Thoughts on Ireland’s Book of Kells

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Independent, Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, has examined the Book of Kells, a 1,200-year-old illustrated copy of the four Christian Gospels, and offered new thoughts on its production. He thinks work on the four sections may not have begun at the same time, in Scotland, as had been previously thought. He says the handwriting of St. John’s Gospel, which was copied on the Scottish island of Iona, indicates it was made by a traditional scribe educated during the mid-eighth century. The book, traditionally the last of the four Christian Gospels, may have been intended to stand alone, since it was especially revered by medieval Celtic Christians. The same scribe’s handwriting has also been detected in the opening pages of St. Mark’s Gospel, however, suggesting that he may have died before completing that project. Meehan suggests a series of Viking attacks on the Scottish monastery, and possibly an epidemic, delayed production of the rest of the volume by about 50 years. Then, he believes, the remaining pages of St. Mark’s Gospel, and the entire texts of St. Luke’s Gospel and St. Matthew’s Gospel, were produced in Ireland, after the monks had moved to the safer, inland site at Kells. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

Thursday, February 08

Ancient Human Remains Detected in Australia’s Sand Mounds

CAPE YORK, AUSTRALIA—Human remains dating back perhaps 6,000 years have been detected with ground-penetrating radar in sand mounds located in Queensland’s Far North region, according to an ABC News report. Coral, flowers, and spears have also been detected in the graves. Archaeologist Mary-Jean Sutton of Veritas Heritage explained that the coral had been evaluated by a geomorphologist who said it was harvested and placed in the graves. Hundreds of such burial mounds are thought to be located across Queensland’s Western Cape. “It’s [important] to our identity and to our heritage, knowing that our ancestors did exist here and held ceremonial practice and rituals,” added Aunty Diane Nicholls, a member of the Mapoon Indigenous community. “The Elders always knew when they were growing up here in the dormitories in the mission days, they knew gravesites were here.” For more, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Iron-Age Souterrain Found in Scotland

NESS, SCOTLAND—Construction work on the Isle of Lewis revealed a 2,000-year-old underground chamber, according to a BBC News report. The well-preserved chamber had been lined with stone, and had a flat stone roof. Such chambers are thought to have been used for storing food, so there may have been a roundhouse nearby that has not survived. The souterrain will probably be filled in and covered over to preserve it when the new home is built. This chamber is the sixth to be discovered in the area. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “A Dangerous Island.”

4,500-Year-Old Buildings Unearthed in Upper Egypt

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—The International Business Times reports that two large mudbrick buildings dating to Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty have been unearthed at Tel Edfu by a team of researchers led by Nadine Moeller and Gregory Marouard of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. One of the structures still had its rare and expensive wooden door, and the outer façade of the larger one was designed with an unusual slope. The buildings were part of a larger complex of open courtyards, workshops, and storage areas where more than 200 broken clay seals, which were used to mark boxes, containers, and letters, were found. The researchers think areas in the structures might have been used for making beer and bread, and for smelting copper. The buildings may have also housed officials who came from the capital in Memphis to inspect the mining of metals and gems in the surrounding desert. Moeller said the unique finds suggest the city of Edfu may have been becoming more important during the late Fifth Dynasty, perhaps as a departure point for expeditions to the deserts to the east, and maybe even the Red Sea shore, which is about 125 miles to the east. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”

High-Quality Mosaic Uncovered in Caesarea

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—Reuters reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a mosaic dating to the second or third century A.D. while excavating a building dating to the Byzantine period in Caesarea's agora. The mosaic measures about 11 feet wide by 26 feet long, and is made up of multicolored geometric patterns, a long Greek inscription, and an image of three toga-clad men. Peter Gendelman, co-director of the excavation, said that if the earlier building had been a private home, the men may have been its owners, but if the mosaic were part of a public building, the men may have been donors or members of the city council. The high-quality floor was damaged during the construction of the Byzantine structure some 300 years later. To read in-depth about mosaics at another site in the area, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Wednesday, February 07

Large Roman Estate Found in England

WARWICK, ENGLAND—The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald reports that the sandstone foundations of a building thought to have been part of a large Roman estate were discovered along the Avon River during construction work in England’s West Midlands. The estate was in use from the second century through the fourth century A.D., and was connected to the Roman road system. Corn drying ovens, found inside and outside the structure, suggest it served an agricultural function, although people may have lived in the rooms built into one end. The archaeological remains will be conserved as part of the new school planned for the site. To read in-depth about the Roman presence in England, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

Fifth-Century Church Discovered Near Black Sea

KARABÜK, TURKEY—The International Business Times reports that the ruins of a fifth-century Christian church have been found near the Black Sea, in the ancient city of Hadrianopolis. Ersin Çelikbaş of Karabük University said the church measures about 65 feet long and is thought to be one of the oldest in Anatolia. Surviving floor mosaics in the church feature an image of a bull leaping over a row of plants, and depictions of rivers mentioned in the Bible. The building could be related to monasteries mentioned in ancient sources that were built by the Christian saint Alypius the Stylite, who was born and died in Hadrianopolis. He is remembered for building the Church of St. Euphemia and living on top of a pillar erected next to it. Çelikbaş and his team have also uncovered a second church, two baths, and a villa at the site, which was located on an early Christian pilgrimage route. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Scientists Map Cheddar Man’s Genome

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of University College London scientists led by Mark Thomas and Yoan Diekmann have mapped the genome of Cheddar Man, the skeletal remains discovered in Gough’s Cave at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cheddar Man stood about five feet, five inches tall, and died some 10,000 years ago in his early twenties. His DNA, which was extracted from bone powder drilled from his skull, revealed that he probably had blue eyes, dark brown skin, and dark hair that may have been curlier than average. In addition, the genetic study revealed he was lactose intolerant, and was related to migrants who walked across Doggerland, a landmass that connected Britain to mainland Europe, about 11,000 years ago, making him an ancestor of present-day Britons. He was also related to other Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary. Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis integrated the genetic information and skull measurements to create a sculpture of Cheddar Man’s face.  

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