Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 12

Ice Age Ethiopia’s High-Altitude Hunter-Gatherers

HALLE, GERMANY—According to a Live Science report, archaeologist Bruno Glaser of Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and his colleagues have found evidence that large groups of hunter-gatherers camped for weeks or months at a time at a high-altitude rock shelter in southern Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains more than 30,000 years ago. The oldest of the objects among the stone artifacts, burnt animal bones, and clay fragments, which were unearthed at about 11,380 feet above sea level, have been dated to the last glacial period, between 47,000 and 31,000 years ago, when the Bale Mountains were covered with ice. “A high mountain area during a glacial period—normally, people escape such conditions,” Glaser explained. “People normally move downward during cold phases.” The hunter-gatherers may have been attracted to the area by melting water at the edges of the glaciers, a plentiful food source in the form of slow-moving giant mole rats, and deposits of obsidian for making tools. It had been previously thought that the region had been first inhabited very recently and for just brief periods, Glaser added. To read about another recent discovery in Ethiopia, go to “World Roundup: Ethiopia.”

Cache of Ritual Objects Discovered at Pompeii

NAPLES, ITALY—BBC News reports that a 2,000-year-old collection of possible ritual objects thought to have served as women’s “good luck charms” has been discovered under a layer of volcanic material in the high-status dwelling known as Pompeii’s House of the Garden. The artifacts include scarabs, crystals, amethysts, amber, carnelian, mirrors, and glass beads engraved with images of the Roman god Dionysus and a dancing satyr. The small treasures are thought to have been kept in a wooden box whose bronze hinges have survived. Indentations in the ash layer suggest the box had been placed next to a crate or piece of furniture in the corner of what may have been a storage room. Massimo Osanna, director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said the jewels and small objects may have belonged to a servant or slave, rather than the lady of the house, since none of them were made of gold, a material favored by Pompeii’s elite. For more on the new excavations in the ancient city, go to “Digging Deeper into Pompeii’s Past.”

Traces of Three Historic Structures Found in Iceland

MÝVATN, ICELAND—Iceland Review reports that researchers creating a detailed map of Hofstaðir, an archaeological site in North Iceland, recently discovered traces of three buildings and artifacts dating to the medieval and Viking periods. Orri Vésteinsson of the University of Iceland said the buildings at Hofstaðir were probably used for political and social activities. Earlier investigations identified a cemetery, a banquet hall, a farmstead with a large dwelling, and a lodge for pagan ceremonies that stood next to a Christian church. “This gives an indication that the conversion [to Christianity] may have taken longer and been more complex than we had imagined,” Vésteinsson said. To read about Viking Age outlaws in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

Friday, August 9

Noble Residence Discovered in Belarus

USHACHI, BELARUS—According to a report in Belarus News, archaeologists from the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus have unearthed an aristocratic residence in the north of the country that dates to the twelfth century. The estate seems to have belonged to the Polotsk princes, who ruled the Duchy of Polotsk, which comprised most of present-day northern Belarus during the medieval period. At the site, the archaeologists have so far unearthed household architecture, as well as the remains of an oven and a silver ring. National Academy of Sciences archaeologist Marat Klimov notes that this is the first time any Polotsk noble residence has been discovered outside an urban area, and that it could have been occupied by any of the princes, inclunding Vseslav the Sorcerer, an eleventh-century prince who was the most well-known ruler of the Polotsk dynasty. To read about a recent medieval discovery in Russia, go to "Medieval Russian Memo."  

Archaeologists Reveal Alberta's Ranching History

COCHRANE, CANADA—According to a Cochrane Today report, archaeologists working ahead of construction on Alberta's Highway 1A have been unearthing remains of Cochrane Ranch, the first large-scale cattle ranch in Alberta, which was founded in 1881. At its apogee, the ranch covered a span of over 350,000 acres and was home to thousands of cattle. In addition to remnants of nineteenth-century buildings—including a large barn and bunkhouse—in the ranch's former administrative center, the site is also home to a pre-contact First Nations campsite, where excavations have revealed a cooking hearth and stone tools. The team plans to consult early twentieth-century photographs and province records to learn more about the original layout of the ranch, which also featured a large brick quarry. At its height right before World War I, the quarry produced over 200,000 bricks a month and supplied nearly all the bricks to the growing city of Calgary. A wide range of artifacts from the 1880s through the twentieth century have been discovered, including the crucifix from a rosary and a turn-of-the-century stove door. To read more about the archaeology of ranching, go to "Letter from Texas: On the Range." 

Hermit’s Cabin in Idaho Wilderness Restored

SALMON, IDAHO—The Post Register reports that a 100-year-old cabin built by hermit Earl King Parrott in Idaho’s Salmon-Challis National Forest has been restored. Situated along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, the remote cabin is the only surviving of two buildings constructed by Parrott, whose main residence on the side of a steep canyon burned down in the late 1980s. Prior to his death in 1944, he lived in the wilderness for 30 years, panning for gold, hunting, and growing his own produce. To restore the log cabin, historic preservationist Joe Gallagher and archaeologist Camille Sayer used only manual tools, such as axes, handsaws, and chisels. First, they disassembled the structure, then laid a new foundation of river rock, and rebuilt the cabin with the aid of archival photographs from just after Parrott died. “We didn’t have a good picture of the roof but we did have pretty good pictures of two of the walls,” Gallagher said. “We used those to guide us.” They also replaced decaying logs and treated the new wood to prevent future rot. To read about a discovery at a historic home in Boise, go to “World Roundup: Idaho.”

Medieval Trash Dump Unearthed at English Castle

BISHOP AUCKLAND, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Northern Echo, excavations at Auckland Castle in northeast England have unearthed details about the leisure activities of medieval England’s prince bishops of Durham, high-ranking clergymen who also ruled over the territory between the Tyne and Tees rivers. For more than 700 years, the castle served as the bishops' country retreat, where they hunted and hosted guests. Durham University archaeologists have excavated a trash heap in an area that was once the castle’s Great Hall, which yielded evidence of sumptuous feasts. They recovered fragments of goblets, a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century French enameled object, and a seventeenth-century carved bone knife handle, as well as remains of meat and fish. In addition, they have uncovered a parlor, latrine, and stairs that led to to the top of the structure's substantial curtain wall. Supported by buttresses, the 23-foot-high wall appears to have been demolished by the late seventeenth century, affording a clear view of the castle from a distance. For more on English archaeology, go to "Letter from England: Building a Road Through History."

Thursday, August 8

Ancient Shipwrecks Discovered in the Aegean

LEVITHA, GREECE—According to a Proto Thema report, five ancient Greek shipwrecks containing amphoras have been discovered at the bottom of the eastern Aegean Sea, near the small island of Levitha. These are the first ships documented by a team from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, which plans to explore the area's isolated islands over the next three years to identify and record wrecked vessels. One of the ships, dating to just before the mid-third century B.C., was laden with amphoras from Carthage, Phoenicia, and the Aegean islands of Knidos, Kos, and Rhodes. The other wrecks contained cargoes dating from the second century B.C. through the second century A.D. Archaeologists also recovered an 881-pound granite anchor pole--the largest ever found in the Aegean--that likely belonged to a massive ship from the sixth century B.C. To read about a Greek merchant ship recently found in the Black Sea, go to “Ancient Shipwreck,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY’S Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.

Abalone Shell Unearthed at California Mission Site

LOMPOC, CALIFORNIA—According to an Edhat report, archaeology students from the University of California, Santa Barbara have discovered a large abalone shell during excavations at La Purisma Mission State Historic Park. The shell appears to have been deliberately interred at the site some 200 years ago by a member of the Chumash people, who are indigenous to the area. A population of over 1,000 Chumash lived at the mission during various times from its founding in 1787 through the 1830s. The team—in collaboration with tribal descendants from the contemporary Chumash community—is specifically investigating family apartments occupied between 1813 and 1833, a period when California passed from Spanish to Mexican colonial administration. Project director Kaitlin Brown hopes to learn more about how native people negotiated the two distinct colonial policies while continuing to maintain cultural traditions, such as the production of shell beads. To read more about the historical archaeology of California, go to "Letter from California: Inside a Native Stronghold." 

Catapult Stone Found in Welsh Castle

HAY-ON-WYE, WALES—BBC News reports the discovery of a large thirteenth-century catapult stone during renovation work in the east wing of Hay Castle on the border of England and Wales. The 1-foot-wide stone weighs nearly 63 pounds and would have been shot from a wooden catapult known as a trebuchet, a siege engine that was first employed in Britain around 1217. In addition to stones, assailants would also fire burning objects, human bodies and excrement, and dead animals at castle walls. According to the Hay Castle Trust, the stone might date to the Barons’ War (1263–1266), one of the documented sieges of the castle that occurred during the 1200s. To read about the recent discovery of a medieval fortification in Wales, go to “The Marks of Time: Medieval Castle.”

Burial Site Discovered in Jamaica

KINGSTON, JAMAICA—The Gleaner reports that miners working at a quarry in Jamaica's Hellshire Hills discovered a rockshelter that served as a burial site to the Taino, the island's original inhabitants. Archaeologists led by Selvenious Walters of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust were alerted to the discovery, and found that the miners had recovered a clay object representing a deity known as a zemi, as well as fragments of a bowl that would have contained food to sustain the Taino dead in the afterlife. The artifacts, along with human remains from the rockshelter, should help archaeologists better understand the nature of the Taino occupation of the island's interior, where few sites have been located. To read more about the Taino, go to “Spiritual Meeting Ground.”