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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 8

Rock Art Destroyed at Australia’s Baloon Cave

CENTRAL QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—ABC Australia reports that ancient rock art at eastern Australia’s Carnarvon National Park was destroyed in 2018 when a walkway made of recycled plastic exploded during a bushfire. “Unfortunately, that’s sort of like solidified petroleum, and if you have a hot fire underneath it, it melts and then it just explodes into a ball of flame and that’s exactly what happened,” said Paul Taçon of Griffith University. Pieces of rock sloughed off Baloon Cave’s walls, along with the artwork, which included ancient handprints and more recent images. Dale Harding, a member of the Baloon Cave working group, called the lost artwork a link between generations of Bidjara, Ghungalu, and Garingbal people. Taçon suggests that only steel, or concrete and steel, be used to construct walkways at Australia’s cultural heritage sites. Government officials continue to review such structures. To read about rock art in Australia's Northern Territory, go to "Off the Grid: Kakadu National Park."

Roman-Era Cemetery Discovered in Southwest England

SOMERSET, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a Roman-era cemetery containing the remains of some 50 adults and children has been discovered in southwest England. Most of the 2,000-year-old graves were lined and capped with slabs of local stone in a manner resembling local roof construction of the time. In one grave, the slabs were positioned to create a tent-like structure. The position of one woman’s skull in another grave suggests her head had been laid to rest on a pillow. Tiny nails recovered at the foot of many of the graves indicate that the occupants had been buried wearing hobnail boots. Jewelry, a coin minted during the first-century A.D. reign of the emperor Vespasian, a carved bone knife handle, and pottery were also recovered at the site. One of the pots contained a chicken wing bone. Steve Membery of the South West Heritage Trust said those who died during the Roman period may have lived and worked at a nearby villa. Older graves at the site, however, offer clues to the burial customs of local Britons before the Roman invasion. Analysis of DNA samples could reveal if Roman-era Britons adopted Roman burial customs, or if those buried in the Roman graves originated somewhere else. To read about another Roman cemetery in England, go to "Foreign Funeral Rites."

Tuesday, January 7

Seventeenth-Century Drain Discovered in Delhi

DELHI, INDIA—The Hindustan Times reports that a covered drain paved with stones and topped with an arch lined with thin, burnt clay bricks was discovered by members of the Archaeological Survey of India at the Red Fort, a fortress built of red sandstone by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in A.D. 1639. The drain once connected the fort’s Delhi Gate to the surrounding moat. Researchers are now removing silt from the drain, and then will strengthen it, so that it will once again be able to serve as a channel for rainwater. Historian Swapna Liddle suggests that all of the drainage collected in the fort was probably funneled to the moat, while water collected in the surrounding city was transported to another large drain. To read about trade routes maintained by the Mughal and Persian Empires in what is now Afghanistan, go to "Satellites on the Silk Road."

Fourteenth-Century Drawing of Venice Identified

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND—According to a statement released by the University of St. Andrews, the oldest-known drawing of the city of Venice has been found by historian Sandra Toffolo in a manuscript written by traveler Niccolò da Poggibonsi sometime after A.D. 1350. An Italian pilgrim, da Poggibonsi traveled to Jerusalem between 1346 and 1350, and is thought to have written about his travels, including his passage through Venice, upon his return home. His original drawing is marked by a series of small pinpricks, which suggest powder had been sifted onto the image, through the pinpricks, and onto another surface to create copies for circulation. Toffolo said she has indeed found other depictions of Venice in manuscripts and early printed books based upon da Poggibonsi’s work, which is now housed in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. To read about a man who was seemingly executed in eleventh-century Sicily, go to "Stabbed in the Back."

Medieval Artifacts Uncovered in English Town

GRIMSBY, ENGLAND—Grimsby Live reports that excavations in a shipping and fishing town on England’s eastern coast uncovered a pendant made from a medieval coin, medieval pottery, brick, tiles, and the outline of a Victorian-era cellar. Archaeologists were not able to find evidence of the town’s medieval waterfront. “We were, however, limited as to how much we could excavate,” explained Simon Savage of PCAS Archaeology. “The likelihood is that this is much deeper.” To read about a cache of silver pennies found in an English field, go to "Norman Conquest Coin Hoard," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019. 

Monday, January 6

Possible Revolutionary War Remains Studied

HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT—The Milford Mirror reports that three skeletons believed to date to the Revolutionary War period are being examined with computer tomography at Quinnipiac University. The bones were discovered during construction work near the site of the Battle of Ridgefield, which took place in late April of 1777. “There aren’t that many skeletons known from this time period, and certainly not from Connecticut,” said anthropologist Jaime Ullinger. “Hopefully, whether they’re soldiers or farmers, this can tell us about health at this time period.” The men are thought to have been hastily buried, which would suggest they were British. Five jacket buttons found with one of the skeletons could help scientists determine if they were British soldiers or perhaps colonists loyal to the British. DNA analysis could reveal if the men have any living descendants, the researchers added. To read about excavations at eighteenth-century forts in upstate New York, where thousands of British soliders were stationed iduring the French and Indian War, go to "Letter from Lake George: Exploring the Great Warpath."

Native American Remains Reinterred in Arizona

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS—According to a report by The Southern Illinoisan, human remains unearthed in Black Mesa, Arizona, between 1977 and 1983 by archaeologists from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, have been repatriated to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe for reburial, in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. The excavation, conducted ahead of strip mining for coal, uncovered nearly 2,500 archaeological sites over an area of about 100 square miles. Millions of Navajo, Hopi, and ancient Puebloan artifacts dating back as early as 8,000 years ago, in addition to more than 200 sets of human remains, were recovered. The project, which has been paid for by the mining company, has allowed scholars to study the cultural history of the region in depth. Representatives of the Navajo, the Hopi, and the university are now looking for a home in the Southwest for the artifacts. “It’s an amazing time, because the relationships between the tribes and the archaeological community are totally different than they were a decade ago,” commented Kim Spurr of the Museum of Northern Arizona. “People are complying with the tribes and understanding why this is important.” To read about a Puebloan tattoo needle found in the American Southwest, go to "Artifact."

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