Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 31

Lake Erie Shipwreck Excavated

MARBLEHEAD, OHIO—Underwater archaeologists led by Carrie Sowden of the National Museum of the Great Lakes have identified a nineteenth-century shipwreck that could be Lake Serpent, a schooner that sank in 1829. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the vessel lies at a depth of 40 to 50 feet, and that visibility is limited, which has made excavation challenging. Should the team ultimately prove that the vessel is Lake Serpent, it would be the oldest shipwreck yet discovered in Lake Erie. According to historical accounts, the ship was transporting stone from the Lake Erie islands to Cleveland when it sank with all hands aboard. To read more about underwater archaeology in the Great Lakes, go to "Shipwreck Alley." 

Medieval Tiles Unearthed at Bath Abbey

BATH, ENGLAND—A team from Wessex Archaeology has uncovered brightly decorated 700-year-old floor tiles during excavations at Bath Abbey, according to a Somerset Live report. The abbey has been a religious center for well over 1,000 years, and the current Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul—completed in the seventeenth century—is a renowned example of gothic archiecture. The tiles, however, provide a glimpse into an earlier Norman cathedral at the site that was constructed in the eleventh century but fell into decay in the late Middle Ages, and lay in ruins by 1500. They were discovered ahead of renovations to repair the abbey's floor and install a new heating system. Plans are now in place to preserve the floor in situ, where it will be covered by a protective layer before new flooring is put in. To read more about the archaeology of English abbeys, go to “Westminster Abbey's Hidden History.”

Hidden Cave Door Found Under Scottish Castle

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A team of volunteer archaeologists working with the National Trust for Scotland has uncovered a medieval doorway leading into caves beneath Culzean Castle, according to a report from The Scotsman. The castle was built in the late eighteenth century and is located on the Ayshire coast of southwestern Scotland. The caves underneath the castle are known to have been used by smugglers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The newly discovered doorway was found buried around three feet underground at a spot marked by stones on the surface. New radiocarbon dating of charcoal found in the caves has also established that they were occupied up to 1,800 years ago, during the Iron Age. To read about a recent discovery in another Scottish cave that may be tied to a legendary sixteenth-century massacre, go to “A Dangerous Island.”

Thursday, August 30

Queen's Edinburgh Residence Yields 800-Year-Old Artifacts

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC report, archaeologists have uncovered artifacts going back 800 years at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Queen Elizabeth II's official residence in Scotland. Discoveries include a twelfth-century jug fragment, a horse skeleton, and a medieval shoe, as well as a cache of oyster shells and wine bottles. The latter may provide insight into the diets of courtiers and ambassadors during the reigns of Mary, Queen of Scots, and James VI of Scotland, who became James I after being crowned king of England in 1603. Researchers also unearthed wine and spirit vessels, food remains, and fragments of children's games, which belonged to families living in nearby tenements during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. "The survey has provided a unique opportunity to understand more about the fascinating development of the Abbey Strand and its surroundings," says archaeologist Gordon Ewart, referring to the stretch of Edinburgh's Royal Mile that culminates at the palace, "and to explore how the site has been the historic and symbolic bridge between the palace and the city of Edinburgh for centuries." To read more about the archaeology of Britain's royals, go to "Westminster Abbey's Hidden History." 

Nomadic Herders Helped Increase Serengeti’s Biodiversity

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Ancient nomadic herders may have been a key catalyst to the development of biodiversity in Africa’s Serengeti grasslands, according to a report in New Scientist. A new study finds that dung left behind by herds penned in for the night appear to have provided important concentrations of nutrients in grassland that was otherwise barren. Grassy glades in the Serengeti had been thought to date back some 1,000 years. To see whether they dated back farther, Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St Louis and colleagues sampled layers of earth beneath five previously known ancient pastoral sites in southwestern Kenya. They uncovered dung deposits dating back between 1,550 and 3,700 years. Within the deposits, they found ample remains of plants the livestock had eaten. “Our findings show that African savannahs thought of as ‘untouched’ environments stretching back millions of years are more biodiverse as a result of the spread of the earliest herders,” said Marshall. To read about a massacre that occurred in what is now Kenya around 10,000 years ago, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

Iberian Amber Traced to Sicily

GRANADA, SPAIN— Newsweek reports that a team led by University of Granada archaeologist Mercedes Murillo-Barroso has found that the earliest examples of amber in Iberia date to the fourth millenium B.C., and came from Sicily, rather than the Baltic, as had been previously thought. Most of the amber samples discovered in Iberia come from the southern regions of the peninsula, suggesting that the gemstones may have come through trade with North African peoples. During the Late Bronze Age, amber from the Baltic began to replace the Sicilian variety, though the team believes it too came through Mediterranean trade routes, rather than direct exchange with Scandinavia. To read more about Iberian archaeology, go to "Spain's Silver Boom."  

London Excavations Reveal Theater Complex

LONDON, ENGLAND— Excavations at the site of Shakespeare's original London playhouse, the Theatre, suggest that the venue was part of a large complex for theatergoers designed by sixteenth-century actor and impresario James Burbage. According to a report in The Hackney Citizen, a team from Museum of London Archaeology has uncovered sections of an expansive gravel yard surrounding the polygonal playhouse—built in 1576—where patrons could eat, drink, and socialize during long performances. Artifacts uncovered include a complete Elizabethan goblet, a unique fragment of ceramic depicting a bearded man, and pieces of money boxes used to collect entry fees. The Theatre is believed to have been the first purpose-built theater in London since Roman times. Shakespeare performed there after first arriving in the city as a young man. The venue later hosted many of his iconic works, including Romeo and Juliet, which was staged the mid-1590s when he was resident playwright. In 1598, after losing a lease to the land, Shakespeare's company dismantled the playhouse, moved the timbers across the Thames to Southwark, and built the Globe, which opened in 1599. A new development at the site will include an exhibition center where the public can see the Theatre's foundation remains in situ and view objects unearthed at the site. To read about another Shakespearean venue excavated nearby, go to "Behind the Curtain."

Wednesday, August 29

Native American Fort Unearthed in Connecticut

NORWALK, CONNECTICUT—Archaeologists working ahead of railway construction on the Connecticut coast have found evidence of a seventeenth-century Native American fort, Newsday reports. Excavations on a small area of land adjacent to Amtrak and Metro North commuter train tracks have uncovered artifacts going back 3,000 years, including projectile points, stone tools, and trade goods such as wampum, glass beads, hatchets, and knives. The team has also identified postholes belonging to the fort's wooden walls. The site is believed to have been occupied by members of the Norwalk tribe from around 1615 to 1640 and used for trading with early Dutch settlers. Follow the link to "Off the Grid" to read about Pemaquid, Maine, another site of early interaction between European colonists and native people in New England. 

Ireland Dig Reveals Multiple Burials

DUNGARVAN, IRELAND—According to a report in the Irish Sun, volunteer archaeologists in County Waterford have uncovered human remains, including fragments of a skull, jaw, and teeth, which may date to between 300 and 400 years ago. The discovery was made during excavations at Gallow's Hill, a large mound in Dungarvan that was once the site of a twelfth-century Norman castle. Researchers believe that one of the burials likely dates to a period of warfare in the seventeenth-century—perhaps the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland or later Jacobite uprisings. Another interment may date to the period that gave the site its name, when it was used as a location for executions by hanging. To read more about the archaeology of Ireland, go to "The Vikings in Ireland.

Spanish Civil War Victims Discovered

PATERNA, SPAIN—In a town outside Valencia, forensic archaeologists have unearthed four fractured skulls from the site of a mass grave that is thought to hold the remains of some 100 prisoners who were buried just after the Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939. Sky News reports that the skeletons lay beneath caskets that were buried later. It is estimated that some 114,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War were interred in mass graves, and efforts to recover and identify these people have accelerated in recent years. To read more about the archaeology of the Spanish Civil War, go to “Battle of the Proxies” 

Mask May Depict Ancient Maya King

PALENQUE, MEXICO—Newsweek reports that archaeologists have discovered a stucco mask that could depict the ancient Maya king K'inich Janaab' Paka, also known as Pakal the Great, who ruled the city state of Palenque from A.D. 615 to his death in 683. During his reign, the longest known in the Maya world, Pakal was responsible for constructing many of the buildings that still survive at Palenque, which flourished under his leadership. The mask was discovered inside a building known as House E, where Pakal built his throne room. A number of ritual artifacts were found with the mask, including fragements of jade and obsidian, ceramic figurines, and the bones of animals such as lizards and turtles. To read in-depth about the ancient Maya, go to “The City at the Beginning of the World.”