Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 22

Archaeologists Search for Oxford's Ancient Past

OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM—Researchers from Oxford Archaeology have uncovered a 6,000-year-old stone flake that a neolithic hunter may have whittled from a flint tool, according to a report in the Oxford Mail. They will seek to discover more clues to Oxfordshire's ancient past as they begin to excavate 200 trenches across South Oxford ahead of construction of a flood alleviation channel. The area that is now Oxford has history that goes back millenia and was mostly wet marshland until the Normans drained much of it sometime in the 11th and 12th centuries. The team also hopes to learn more about the Oxen Ford, the original route that gave Oxford it's name, long thought by scholars to have been covered by the city's Medieval-era North Hinksey Causeway. To read more about archaeology in England, go to “The Scientist's Garden.

Black Sea's Dead Zone Reveals Shipwrecks

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—Underwater archaeologists have spotted dozens of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman shipwrecks in the Black Sea off the coast of Bulgaria, Newsweek reports. The Black Sea Maritime Project (MAP), a two-year investigation of Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, seeks to document shipbuilding and port activity in the waters dating back 2,500 years. Since beginning the project in 2015, researchers have ventured as deep as 5,900 feet and have benefited from the unique composition of the Black Sea. The lower levels of the sea are anoxic, meaning that they do not contain oxygen and therefore provide an ideal environment for preserving wood, metal, and other materials that are damaged in oxygenated water. In addition to remaining uniquely well preserved, according to the team, the diverse range of styles of the vessels they have found attests to Bulgaria's location as a geographic and cultural crossroads throughout the centuries. To read more about the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks.”

Nero Tiles Discovered in England

ENGLEFIELD, ENGLAND—A number of artifacts bearing the stamp of the Roman emperor Nero have been discovered at a tile production site at the Englefield Estate in southern England, according to a report from the Basingstoke Observer. The three Nero tiles were found during excavation of a series of Roman kiln structure that include large brick and tile production facilities. The project’s director, Mike Fulford, of the University of Reading, noted that the kilns were very well preserved and the scale of the operation suggested the Roman military had a role in running it. Nero was emperor from A.D. 54-68 and renowned for his extravagance and tyranny. There is no record of Nero having visited England, but the new discoveries at the site suggest a link to the nearby Roman town of Silchester. To read more about Roman England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Thursday, September 21

Teotihuacán’s Grid System Analyzed

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Michael Smith of Arizona State University compared the city of Teotihuacán with other Mesoamerican cities built before and after it, and found Teotihuacán to be unique, according to a report in The International Business Times. Mesoamerican cities usually had a well-planned central area of temples, a palace, a ball court, and a plaza surrounded by a residential area. Smith says the residential areas were often haphazardly arranged, but all of Teotihuacán was arranged on a grid system, making it easier to navigate. Between A.D. 100 and 650, Teotihuacán was home to as many as 100,000 people, making it the largest city in the Americas at the time, yet it seems to have lacked a royal palace, a ball court, and central areas. Teotihuacán also had well-planned residential areas with spacious, well-designed apartment buildings. Some 1,000 years after it was abandoned, Teotihuacán was revered by the Aztecs, who gave the city its name, which means “the birthplace of the gods.” The Aztecs repeated many of Teotihuacán’s innovations in their capital, Tenochtitlan, founded in the early fourteenth century. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

“Ancient Genomics Revolution” Now Includes Africa

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of scientists has extracted fragments of DNA from the remains of 16 ancient sub-Saharan Africans and compared them to the genomes of living Africans and populations on other continents, according to a report in The New York Times. The oldest sample in the study, which also included the genome extracted from 4,500-year-old bones found in a cave in Ethiopia in 2015, came from 8,100-year-old bones recovered in caves in the highlands of Malawi. Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues think the branches on Africa’s family tree may be older than previously thought. The study also suggests that genes did not flow between Africans and non-Africans for tens of thousands of years. But the 3,100-year-old genes of a girl whose remains were found in Tanzania have been linked to early farmers in the Near East. “This puts a time stamp on this connection,” explained team member Pontus Skoglund. Eventually the Near Eastern farmers reached Africa’s southern edge, where their DNA was found in a 1,200-year-old skeleton. Archaeologists had previously tracked the migration of the Bantu through their iron tools. The new genetic study suggests they may have pushed hunter-gatherers off prime farming land as they traveled. To read about another application of genetics to study of the past, see “The Heights We Go To.”

Neanderthal Children May Have Matured Slowly

MADRID, SPAIN—Live Science reports that the paleoanthropology group at Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences studied the rate of Neanderthal development by analyzing the nearly complete skeleton of a young male Neanderthal discovered at the site of El Sidrón. The scientists estimated the boy’s age at 7.7 years old at the time of death, some 49,000 years ago, based upon the growth layers in his teeth. They also noted that the boy’s skull was still growing when he died. “We think this Neanderthal boy’s brain was still growing in volume,” said Antonio Rosas. The team estimated that the boy’s brain was about 87.5 percent of the size of the brain of a fully grown Neanderthal adult. In contrast, Rosas said modern humans of the same age have brains about 95 percent of the size of an adult’s brain. The team of researchers also noted that some veterbrae in modern human children have fused between the ages of four and six, but those same bones had not yet fused in the Neanderthal boy’s remains. The study suggests that, overall, Neanderthals shared a common pattern of growth with modern humans, which may have been inherited from a common ancestor. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Neolithic House Unearthed in Southern Scotland

EAST AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a 6,000-year-old dwelling has been found in a field in southwestern Scotland. Kenneth Green of GUARD Archaeology said the building’s post holes indicate it measured about 45 feet long by 25 feet wide. Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shells, and charcoal were also recovered at the site. Green noted that just the deepest sections of some post holes remain after thousands of years of plowing, but that the width and depth of the holes suggest they once held very large upright posts. Early farmers are thought to have lived in the structure with extended family or groups of families. They probably grew wheat and barley, and kept cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The excavation also uncovered evidence of a stream that ran by the house. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”

Wednesday, September 20

15th-Century Epitaph Tablet Returned to South Korea

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The widow of a Japanese collector has returned a rare Joseon-era epitaph tablet, or myoji, to South Korea, according to a report in the Korea JoongAng Daily. “This myoji will act as a crucial material for studies on the history of ceramics,” said Lee Su-kyung of the National Museum of Korea. The blue-gray tablet, made of buncheong celadon, stands 11 inches tall, and is inscribed on all four sides with the biographical information of a scholar named Yi Seon-je, who lived from A.D. 1390 to 1453. It would have been placed in his grave, as was customary during the Joseon Dynasty. To read about another recent discovery in South Korea, go to “Doll Story.”

Temple of Artemis Found on Greek Isle of Euboea

  AMARYNTHOS, GREECE—Swissinfo reports that a team of Swiss researchers led by Karl Reber of the University of Lausanne has discovered the lost temple of Artemis at the foot of the Paleoekklisies hill, on the Greek island of Euboea. The site, identified with artifacts inscribed with the name “Arthemidos,” is located about six miles from the place where the temple was previously thought to have stood. Archaeologist Denis Knöpfler of the University of Neuchâtel found a key clue to the temple’s location in a nearby Byzantine church that had pieces of the temple’s Doric columns and blocks in its façade. So far, the foundations of the building’s portico and inner courtyard have been uncovered. The temple was the end point of an annual procession from the city of Eretrea and home to a festival in honor of the goddess of hunting. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

Possible Viking Boat Burial Uncovered in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a report in Live Science, a possible boat burial dating to between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. has been discovered in a market square in Trondheim. The burial, which may have at one time been covered with a mound, was damaged by later construction. Ian Reed of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage said nails and lumps of rust are all that remain of what could have been a flat-bottomed, wooden boat built to travel the shallow waters of the Nidelven River. Two long bones were found in the boat, but they were not well preserved. DNA tests may be able to determine whether the bones came from a human. A piece of bronze, part of a spoon, and the remains of a key that would have opened a chest were also found in the grave. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”