Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 28

Rain Reveals Ancient Artifacts in Iraq

BAGDAD, IRAQ—Asharq Al-Awsat reports that heavy rains have uncovered pottery, coins, and pieces of metal in the region of ancient Babylon. The artifacts date back to the Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–A.D. 224) through the Islamic period. “Last year, 1,000 pieces were discovered this way, which proves that the ruins may be close to the surface and not always buried deep in the ground,” said Hussein Fleih, Babylon’s director of antiquities. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets from Babylon and other areas of ancient Mesopotamia, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Native American Burial Site Found in Gulf of Mexico

VENICE, FLORIDA—According to a WTSP News report, a 7,000-year-old Native American burial site has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Manasota Key. The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research investigated the site with magnetometry, sub-bottom profiling, and side-scan sonar, and found peat, wooden stakes, and human remains. At the time of burial, the site is thought to have been a peat-bottomed freshwater pond about nine feet above sea level. “As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” said Timothy Parsons, director of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. “The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people.” For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

Traces of Nicotine Detected in Ancient Dental Plaque

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—The International Business Times reports that a team led by Shannon Tushingham of Washington State University, working in cooperation with members of the Ohlone tribe in the San Francisco Bay Area, used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to look for evidence of nicotine, caffeine, and atropine in plaque obtained from the teeth of eight people buried between 6,000 and 300 years ago in what is now California. In the past, archaeologists have relied upon the presence of pipes, charred tobacco seeds, and analysis of hair and fecal matter to trace the spread of tobacco in the ancient Americas. Two of the samples, collected from a man who had been buried with a pipe and an older women, tested positive for nicotine. Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis, said the woman’s age supports the idea that younger women may have avoided intoxicants in order to protect infants, while older women used the substances. The team plans to additional tests to look for other intoxicating chemicals in dental plaque. To read in-depth about research on ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

New Thoughts on Possible Hominin Communication

YORK, ENGLAND—Chimpanzees and bonobos both have repertoires of gestures that convey meaning to other members of their species. According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers led by Kirsty Graham of the University of York have concluded that about 90 percent of these gestures overlap between species and therefore were probably inherited. It is possible the apes developed the gestures independently, but the high correspondence suggests this is unlikely. Graham speculates that when humans see these gestures, many of them will also understand the meaning conveyed, suggesting the signals may have been passed down from the apes’ last common ancestor with modern humans. Further research will test how the gestures develop over an ape’s lifetime, and see whether people share any of the gestures. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”

Tuesday, February 27

Churchyard Burials Revealed in England

WARGRAVE, ENGLAND—The Henley Standard reports that construction work for a new church annex in a village in southeastern England has revealed human remains that appear to date from the early medieval period through the Victorian Age. As many as 90 individuals could be represented among the bones. “We can see many intercutting burials which cut through to the burial plot next to them,” said archaeologist Stephanie Duensing of John Moore Heritage. Remains of coffins and a shroud are helping the archaeologists date the remains, which are being cleaned in a shed at the site. Bone specialist Ceri Boston said she’s found evidence of scurvy, syphilis, arthritis, and poor dental health among the population. One man is thought to have been a bare-knuckle boxer due to a broken nose and rib fractures, though his unusual toe fractures also suggest he may have been a naval conscript. “They used to round up troublemakers and people in jail and shove them off to the navy,” Boston explained. To read about another recent discovery in southeastern England, go to “Caesar’s English Beachhead.”

Cannons Unearthed at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Star reports that two cannons were unearthed in an excavation of the moat and outer defensive structures at Fort Cornwallis that is part of a project to reconstruct the moat. The fort was built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century, and the cannons bear a symbol of King George III, who ruled Britain from 1760 to 1820. The weapons are thought to have been at the fort for at least 200 years. “One of the interpretations was that the fort was not involved in any war,” said Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science Malaysia. “However, with the discovery of the cannons and cannonballs at the end of last year, we might have to take another look at the fort’s history.” Mokhtar notes that there is no mention of cannons at the star-shaped fort on a map of the site dating to 1877. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter From Singapore: The Lion City's Glorious Past.”

Monday, February 26

Tiny Statue Revealed in China’s Yungang Grottoes

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a small, 1,500-year-old statue has been found in a small hole in one of the caves of the Yungang Grottoes. Wang Yanqing of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute was conducting a survey of the Buddhist temples built in the fifth and sixth centuries into 53 major caves, and more than 50,000 niches, when he found the eroded statue. Measuring about six inches tall, the figure has wide shoulders, a muscular chest and abdomen, and outstretched arms. It had been placed in a small hole nearly 40 feet above the ground. “We guess the statue was carved by the craftsmen who cut the hole,” Wang said. “Due to its stealthy location, it was concealed when the wooden beams of the protective structures of the statue were plugged into the hole.” To read about another excavation in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Bronze St. Nicholas Ring Unearthed in Israel

MOSHAV HAYOGEV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a gardener discovered a 700-year-old bronze ring while weeding a planting bed in Lower Galilee. The intact artifact bears an image of St. Nicholas, who is revered in Eastern Christianity as the patron saint of travelers. He is shown as a smiling bald man with a bishop’s crook. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovetz said the ring dates to sometime between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, and may have been dropped by a pilgrim. “We know that the main Roman road from Legio to Mount Tabor passed next to Moshav Yogev, and the road must have also have been used throughout the centuries by Christian pilgrims on their way to the sites on Mount Tabor, Nazareth, and around the Sea of Galilee,” added IAA archaeologist Yotam Tepper. For more, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Aphrodite Sculpture and Mosaics Found in Greece

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—According to Greek Reporter, a headless statue of Aphrodite and floor mosaics dating to the fourth century A.D. were uncovered during excavations at the Hagia Sophia station on the Thessaloniki metro. The mosaics, made up of geometric designs, may have been part of a public building or a villa. Partial walls, the remains of a bath, and pieces of glass bottles that might have held oils for the bathers were also found. A total of some 300,000 artifacts have been recovered during the excavation. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

26th-Dynasty Cemetery Discovered in Middle Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Kaled el-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, announced the discovery of a 26th-Dynasty (664–525 B.C.) cemetery in Middle Egypt, according to an Ahram Online report. So far, the excavation team has found a tomb belonging to Hersa-Essei, a high priest of the god Thoth. Thirteen burials were found in the tomb, along with around 1,000 faience ushabti figurines. Four alabaster canopic jars holding mummified organs of the deceased were also recovered. The lids of the well-preserved jars depict the faces of the four sons of the god Horus. The names and titles of the deceased were written on the jars. The excavation team also found the mummy of the high priest Djehuty-Irdy-Es, which was decorated with blue and red beads, gilded bronze sheets, a bronze collar depicting the god Nut with outstretched wings, and two eyes made of bronze, ivory, and crystal. Four amulets engraved with hieroglyphic texts and bearing semi-precious stones were also found on the mummy. A total of 40 limestone sarcophagi have been recovered to date. El-Enany said the excavation of the cemetery is expected to last another five years. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”