Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 18

Archaeologists Search for Scotland’s Royal Dockyards

AIRTH, SCOTLAND—The Falkirk Herald reports that archaeologists led by historian John Reid are investigating a possible site for the sixteenth-century royal dockyards near Clackmannanshire Bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth. So far the team of researchers has found the foundations of mill buildings next to the channel, a millstone that had been reused as a paver, a corn-drying kiln, a well-built stone sea wall, and posts from a wooden pier. Ships known to have been serviced at the royal dockyards include the Great Michael, flagship of King James IV, and the Margaret, the second ship of the Navy, which was named for the queen, Margaret Tudor. Both ships are thought to have been at the docks in 1513 before sailing to the Battle of Flodden, where James IV was killed. “Although it’s impossible to say for now whether this dates to the right period for James’ docks, we’ve submitted samples of the wood for radiocarbon dating,” said archaeologist Elinor Graham of the University of St. Andrew’s. “We also had a coin from the stone pier, which will need to be looked at by experts, but which might give us a date for its construction, too.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

DNA Reflects History of Migrations in Southeast Asia

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Science News reports that a new genetic study supports archaeological and linguistic evidence for at least three major waves of migration into Southeast Asia over a period of 50,000 years. A team of researchers led by Mark Lipson of Harvard Medical School analyzed DNA from 18 individuals whose remains were unearthed at five different archaeological sites in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The bones ranged from 4,100 to 1,700 years old. The first wave of migration brought hunter-gatherers to Southeast Asia some 45,000 years ago. Then rice and millet farming spread into the region with migrants from southern China who mixed with the local hunter-gatherers some 4,500 years ago. The 4,000-year-old samples taken from the farmers who lived at Vietnam’s Man Bac site suggest their ancestors were hunter-gatherers and rice farmers from southern China. A third wave of migration arrived in Myanmar some 3,000 years ago, in Vietnam about 2,000 years ago, and in Thailand within the last 1,000 years. Each of these movements are believed to be associated with different languages spoken today. For more, go to “Settling Southeast Asia.”

Bronze Age Burial Excavated in England

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age burial mound in southwest England has yielded pottery, flint tools, two hammer stones, and a 4,000-year-old intact urn containing cremains, according to a Cornwall Live report. Catherine Frieman of Australian National University said analysis of pieces of bone in the urn could reveal the person’s gender, age, diet, and origins. A twelfth- or thirteenth-century pot containing traces of cooked food was also discovered in the mound. It had been buried under several layers of flat stones. Frieman explained that, by the Middle Ages, two monasteries had been built within view of the barrow, so she was surprised to find what appears to be evidence of non-Christian ritual activity. The nature of the ritual, however, is unknown. Traces of a round house dating to around 500 B.C. were also found near the barrow. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

Ancient Communities May Have Planted Evergreens

EXETER, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that South America’s forests of Araucaria, or monkey puzzle trees, naturally grow on south-facing slopes, but are found everywhere in areas where archaeological sites are found. Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and his colleagues measured levels of different forms of carbon in soil samples, concluding that many of today’s forests could have been planted by Southern Jê communities for their timber, fuel, food, and resin. The study indicates that the number of trees expanded between 4,480 and 3,200 years ago, when the region covered by Chile, Brazil, and Argentina experienced an increase in moisture, and again some 800 years ago, when conditions were drier, but when the population of the Southern Jê grew as well. Robinson thinks the communities may have modified the soil of the grasslands where they lived, protected seedlings, or even planted trees to establish the forests in places where they otherwise would not have flourished. He added that five of the 19 species of monkey puzzle trees are currently endangered by the practice of logging and encroaching farmland. For more on the relationship between people and the landscape, go to “Letter From California: The Ancient Ecology of Fire.”

Thursday, May 17

Two-Story Homes With Balconies Unearthed in Pompeii

POMPEII, ITALY—The Local reports that a row of two-story houses with balconies has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Pots of wine, found lying on their sides, were found on one of the balconies. Archaeologists think they may have been set out to dry in the sun. Unlike the nearby city of Herculaneum, which lies closer to Mt. Vesuvius and was buried under more than 65 feet of ash from the ground up, Pompeii was covered in about 13 feet of falling ash, which preserved fewer of the city’s second stories. The area where the building-lined street was found is being excavated in order to stabilize walls at risk of collapse. The houses will be restored and eventually opened to the public. To read more about Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Evidence of Iron-Age Farming Found in England

NIDDERDALE, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that evidence of farming before the arrival of the Romans has been found at three sites in North Yorkshire. Wheat and barley were found at the oldest of the sites, which is about 2,000 years old. This site also had hearths, storage pits, hazelnuts, and remains of trees that had been cut back to ground level to stimulate growth. Traces of houses at the sites include paved floors and walls, and two pieces of Romano-British pottery. For more on Iron-Age settlements in England, go to “A Night Out in Leicestershire.”

Early “ABCs” Identified on Artifact From an Egyptian Tomb

VANCOUVER, CANADA—An inscribed piece of limestone is thought to be the earliest example of our alphabet sequence, according to a Live Science report. Thomas Schneider of the University of British Columbia said three of the words in the 3,400-year-old inscription start with the equivalents of the letters B, C, and D. At the time, he noted, the letter “g” was used to produce the sound we now represent with the letter “c.” So in this case, “B” is for “bibiya-ta,” or “earth snail;” “C” is for “garu,” or “dove;” and “D” is for “da’at,” or kite. Symbols in front of the letters may mean “gecko,” or “lizard,” suggesting the whole phrase read, “and the lizard and the snail, and the dove and the kite.” The stone was discovered in the tomb of an Egyptian foreign affairs official named Sennefer, and although the text was written in hieratic, a form of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, Schneider said the words themselves were Semitic in origin. He thinks the artifact may have been used as a mnemonic device to help Sennefer remember the order of the letters in Eastern Mediterranean languages. Another alphabetic sequence that has since fallen out of use was found on the opposite side of the piece of limestone. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Evidence of Donkey Riding Found in Central Israel

WINNIPEG, CANADA—Microscopic indentations in a 4,700-year-old donkey’s lower premolars are thought to have been made by a metal bit, offering the oldest-known evidence of donkey riding using such equipment in the Near East, according to a report in Science Magazine. Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba, Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, and their colleagues say the animal had been slaughtered and buried as an offering before the construction of a mudbrick house at the site, in the foothills of central Israel. Horses are thought to have arrived in the region about 1,000 years later, relegating donkeys to beasts of burden led from a tether or a nose ring. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Wednesday, May 16

Pottery Inscription Provides New Dates for Java Sea Shipwreck

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—CNN reports that a team of researchers from the Field Museum of Natural History has analyzed the cargo of a shipwreck discovered in the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia in the 1980s. The ship is now estimated to have sunk in the late twelfth century, while carrying ceramics, cast iron, and luxury trade goods such as elephant tusks and resins used for incense. The wreckage had initially been dated to the late thirteenth century, based upon radiocarbon testing of a single resin sample. But the ocean water is now thought to have affected those test results. The new, more precise, dating of the cargo is significant, according to archaeologist Lisa Niziolek, because it reflects the increase in maritime trade in the twelfth century after the fall of the empire of Srivijaya, which controlled much of the trade in the region, and China’s change in trade policy. “Consequently, the Southern Song dynasty (A.D. 1127–1279) court encouraged Chinese traders to go abroad instead of relying on foreign missions traveling to China,” Niziolek said. New radiocarbon dates and inscriptions on two ceramic box bases helped the team to date the wreck. “This inscription provides a place name, Jianning Fu, which was only assigned that name by the Song government from 1162 until 1278, when it was changed to Jianning Lu by the Yuan dynasty,” Niziolek explained. To read about another Chinese shipwreck, go to “Pirates of the Marine Silk Road.

Ice Core Study Tracks Roman Lead Levels

RENO, NEVADA—According to a Science Magazine report, evidence of Roman-era air pollution trapped in Greenland’s ice cap has been analyzed in detail by an international team of researchers led by Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford and Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute. The experts examined layers of ice measuring some 1,300 feet deep, and obtained about 12 measurements of lead levels trapped in the ice for each year from 1100 B.C. to A.D. 800. The resulting 1,900-year timeline offers a detailed picture of pollution related to smelting silver, dust, and volcanic emissions. The study suggests that Roman lead pollution peaked in the first century A.D., during the height of the Empire when many silver coins were minted, and dropped dramatically around the year 165, likely due to the devastation brought by the Antonine Plague. A third-century drop has been attributed to the political instability brought on by the so-called Plague of Cyprian. The scientists also recorded dips in the level of lead pollution during times of war in Spain, where a lot of lead-silver smelting took place. For more on Roman use of silver, go to “Spain’s Silver Boom.”

Roman Villa Unearthed in Eastern Bulgaria

GURKOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a Roman mansion dated to the third or fourth century A.D. has been found in eastern Bulgaria, about 18 miles from the ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana. Archaeologists led by Mariya Kamisheva of the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History unearthed a bath with a well-preserved pool, and three of the house’s rooms, which covered more than 1,000 square feet, during rescue excavations after a looter’s tunnel was found at the site. The villa also had underfloor heating, and murals on its walls. Two Roman coins from the site date to the beginning of the fourth century A.D. The team also recovered a Turkish coin from the Ottoman period. Kamisheva thinks the house may have been partly destroyed at that time. The excavations will continue this year. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

Hill Fort Spotted Under Poland’s “Arian Tower”

KRYNICA, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, the tomb of an early seventeenth-century nobleman may have been built on top of an early medieval hill fort. Anna Kubicka of Wroclaw University of Science and Technology, and Konrad Grochecki of Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, collected data and created a map of the site using measurements made with airborne laser scanning equipment. The map revealed outlines of two lines of ramparts, one on the lower part of the hill, and one on the surface of the steeper, higher part, where the pyramid-shaped mausoleum had been built for Pawel Orzechowski, chamberlain of Chelm. At that time, the hill was referred to as a “horodysko,” or a place where a fort once stood. Other documents state that Orzechowski wanted to be buried in the mausoleum “together with his ancestors.” As an Arian, who rejected Christian Trinitarian doctrine, Orzechowski would not have been eligible for burial in a Catholic cemetery. Renovation of the mausoleum, which was damaged during World War II, and archaeological investigations of the possible fort are being planned. For more, go to “Off The Grid: Krakow, Poland.”