Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 24

Remains in James Fort Church May Belong to Governor

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily reports that an unusually wide seventeenth-century grave near the chancel of the 1617 church at James Fort may contain the remains of Sir George Yeardley, one of the first governors of Virginia, who served in that capacity three different times, including overseeing the first English legislative assembly in the New World in 1619. “You have to really be a prominent member of the society or in the clergy to be buried in the chancel of the church,” explained Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologist Kaitlyn Fitzgerald. The skeletal remains in the grave are of a man in his 40s, which is consistent with Yeardley, who was born in 1587 and died in 1627. The excavation is being conducted under a tent, and excavators are wearing protective gear, to try to prevent any contamination of the skeletal remains, which could interfere with future DNA analysis. To read about the discovery of a tombstone that may have marked Yeardley's grave, go to “Knight Watch.”

Pictish Smithy Excavated in Orkney

BRADFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologists led by Stephen Dockrill and Julie Bond of the University of Bradford are excavating the site of a Pictish copper smithy dating from the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. on the Scottish island of Rousay, according to a report in The Scotsman. “The analysis of the floor enables us to say with confidence where the smith worked, next to a hearth and two stone anvils,” Dockrill said. He added that carbon marks on the larger stone anvil could be marks from the smith’s knees and hands. The amount of light in the smithy was controlled by a door from the workshop onto a curved corridor. The lack of sunlight would have allowed the smithy to assess the temperature of the metal by its color, Dockrill explained. The smithy's pivot stone, door jamb, and bar hole for the door are intact. An upright stone near the door is thought to have protected the large hearth from drafts. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Colonial-Era Artifacts Uncovered in Michigan

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—According to a Michigan Live report, a collection of trade goods and other artifacts has been uncovered in the root cellar of a row house in Colonial Michilimackinac, the site of a fort and trading post built in the eighteenth century by the French on the Straits of Mackinac. Most of the items, which include a large fishhook, a silver brooch, a brass button, fragments of about half of a creamware plate and part of a saucer, date to the period of British occupation of the fort, between 1760 and 1770. Archaeologist Lynn Evans said the team of excavators also uncovered a Catlinite MicMac pipe. A reed would have been inserted into the stone bowl of such three-part pipes, which were used by Native Americans and some French Canadians. A French military button, parts of a bone-handled table knife, and the brass ramrod pipe to a gun have also been recently unearthed. To read about another discovery in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Monday, July 23

Unique Assemblage of Stone Tools Unearthed in Texas

KILLEEN, TEXAS—According to a Texas Standard report, some 150,000 stone artifacts have been found at the Gault archaeological site in central Texas, in the layers below the sediments that contained Clovis artifacts. First discovered in the 1920s in Clovis, New Mexico, Clovis-style tools were thought to have been made by the earliest Americans some 13,000 years ago. The sediments surrounding the newly discovered artifacts were dated with optically simulated luminescence, which measures the amount of time that has lapsed since the sediments were last exposed to heat or sunlight. Archaeologist Tom Willliams of Texas State University said the tests suggest the projectile points in the Gault site’s lower layers are between 16,000 and 20,000 years old. “Right now we find no other technology that looks like this assemblage,” he added. The research team therefore suggests that the people who made Clovis-style tools migrated into a region that already had an established population. To read more about the Gault site, go to "Destination: The Americas."

Medieval Site Found in Iceland

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—Iceland Monitor reports that occupation layers dating from the ninth century to the fourteenth century A.D. were discovered during the construction of a parking lot in western Iceland’s Mosfellsdalur Valley. Archaeologist Ragnheiður Traustadóttir said a church had been built in the area in the twelfth century, but an earlier church may have stood on nearby Mosfell Hill. She thinks there could have been an early Icelandic village in the area. “We didn’t dig much, but we discovered three items, among them a baking plate, imported from Norway,” she said. The items are thought to have been imported in the eleventh century and used into the thirteenth century. “We also found a Norwegian sharpening tool and a piece of red jasper for making fire,” she added. To read in-depth about archaeology in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

New Dates for Ancient Arctic Fibers

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—It had been previously believed that the ancient Dorset and Thule peoples of the Arctic learned to spin yarn from the Vikings who arrived in Newfoundland some 1,000 years ago, but according to a Canadian Press report, new radiocarbon dates suggest that pieces of yarn recovered from Baffin Island and the Ungava Peninsula could be much older. Gorill Nilsen of Tromsø University developed a way to cleanse the Arctic fibers of the seal and whale oils that had made them impossible to radiocarbon date in the past. The new tests indicate the pieces of yarn were crafted by Arctic peoples between 500 and 1,000 years before the Norse arrived in the New World. “There’s a lot we don’t know,” said Michele Hayeur Smith of Brown University. But she pointed out that the Arctic yarns do not resemble those made by the Vikings. “The idea that you would have to learn to spin something from another culture was a bit ludicrous,” she said. “It’s a pretty intuitive thing to do.” To read about use of textiles in another part of the world, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”

Private Roman Bath Discovered in England

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, archaeologists have uncovered a private bath at one of two townhouses discovered in southeast England. The bath, made of bricks, tiles, and mortar, would have been large enough to hold four people. “It would have been filled with really hot water, and for the owner to be able to use the bathhouse throughout the year, it would have required staggering amounts of charcoal for the furnace, and a considerable amount of tending and stoking to keep it going,” said Chichester District Council archaeologist James Kenny. The bath is thought to have been supplied with water from a main supply accessible only to the wealthiest people in the city. For more on the Roman presence in England, go to “Caesar’s English Beachhead.”

Friday, July 20

Civil War Submarine Update

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Archaeologist Michael Scafuri of The Hunley Project announced that the levers controlling the keel blocks on the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley were still locked in the regular position, according to an Associated Press report. Corrosion, silt, and shells have accumulated on Hunley since it disappeared in Charleston Harbor shortly after its crew of eight placed explosives on the hull of USS Housatonic, a ship in the Union blockading squadron. Scientists have been carefully removing concretions from the inside and outside of the vessel and looking for possible clues as to why it sank. Scafuri explained that releasing the 1,000-pound keel blocks, which helped to keep the hand-cranked vessel upright while underwater, would have helped the Hunley crew to surface quickly in the case of an emergency. “It’s more evidence there wasn’t much of a panic on board,” he added. For more on the submarine, go to “History's Greatest Wrecks: USS Monitor and H.L. Hunley.”

Researchers Return to Wreckage of Swedish Warship Mars

ÖLAND, SWEDEN—Science Nordic reports that a team of underwater archaeologists from Södertörn University, the Västervik Museum, and other organizations recently found human remains, cannons, and a hand grenade while investigating the wreckage of the Swedish warship Mars. Discovered in 2011 off the coast of Öland Island, Mars sank in the deep waters of the Baltic Sea in 1564 after a violent gunpowder explosion while under attack during the Northern Seven Years’ War, fought between Denmark and Sweden from 1563 to 1570. “We can see from the wreckage that it was a very intense and tough battle,” said researcher Rolf Fabricius Warming. The human remains include a femur bearing trauma on the knee end that may have been caused by a sharp-edged weapon. Historical sources indicate Mars had a large anti-boarding net covering its deck, but the net failed to prevent as many as 400 Danish and Lübeckian soldiers from jumping aboard the ship and attacking the crew. Large guns, another recent innovation at the time, had been intended to engage the enemy at long distance, also in an effort to prevent such close-quarter fighting. “Soldiers fought with hand grenades, lances, and spears, which they threw down from the masts,” Warming explained. “The fighting was structured and carefully calculated, but an absolute ruckus.” To read in-depth about a massacre that occurred on Öland Island, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Old Kingdom Pottery Workshop Unearthed in Egypt

ASWAN, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, a 4,000-year-old pottery workshop has been discovered close to the Nile River in southern Egypt. Mostafa al-Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the site, which contains a pottery wheel made of a limestone turntable and a hollow base, will offer information about the development of pottery manufacturing during the Fourth Dynasty, in the middle of the third millenium B.C. To read about another discovery at Aswan, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”