Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 15

Seventh-Century Inscription Found at Tintagel Castle

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that words and letters were found carved into a seventh-century slate window ledge in a building at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall. The inscription, thought to have been a doodle or a scribe’s practice work, include the Roman name Tito and the Celtic name Budic. The Latin words fili, or son or sons, and viri duo, or two men, were also carved into the two-foot ledge. A triangle may represent the Greek letter delta. There is also monogram made up of a letter “A” with a “V” inside it and a line across the top. The combination may have been a Christian symbol, since “A,” or “alpha,” was often associated with a Christian description of God. Some of the words were written in the formal script found in illuminated gospel works, while others are informal in style. Win Scutt of English Heritage said the letters support the interpretation of Tintagel as a literate, Christian port with trade ties to Europe and the Mediterranean. Further study will try to determine whether the scribe was left or right handed, and what sort of tool might have been used to carve the letters. To read about another site in Cornwall, go to “By the Light of the Moon.”

Tobacco Use in North America Pushed Back 1,500 Years

TROY, ALABAMA—The Cherokee One Feather reports that tobacco use in southeastern North America could date back 4,000 years, or about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. Stephen B. Carmody of Troy University and his colleagues detected traces of nicotine in a smoking tube dated to the Late Archaic Period, when the residents of the Flint River archaeological site were beginning to domesticate plants. The smoking tube was unearthed in the late 1930s by Tennessee Valley Authority archaeologists in northern Alabama who conducted excavations before the area was submerged by the damming of the Tennessee River. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Imperial Villa Discovered in Rome

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists announced the discovery of an imperial Roman villa on the banks of the Tiber River near the Milvian Bridge in northern Rome, according to an ANSA report. The archaeologists said it was unusual to find a villa so close to the river. The building had a multicolored marble floor laid out in the opus sectile style, which uses larger pieces of colored stones to create pictures or patterns. The extravagant floor suggests the rest of the building could also contain precious decorations. To read in-depth about the excavation of another Roman villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

Thursday, June 14

Study Offers Clues to Ireland’s Bronze Age Environment

VANCOUVER, CANADA—The Vancouver Star reports that researchers led by Eric Guiry of the University of British Columbia have tracked the effect of deforestation and farming practices on the nitrogen cycle through the chemical analysis of Bronze Age animal bones from Ireland. The nitrogen cycle is the process of how the element circulates through the atmosphere, land, and oceans. The more than 700 bones in the study came from some 90 archaeological sites across Ireland. The test results suggest significant changes to the nitrogen composition of soil nutrients—and therefore the food chain—occurred when land use became more intensive through deforestation, agriculture, and grazing some 2,000 years ago. Guiry thinks small-scale agriculture up until that point was likely to have had little impact on nutrients in the environment. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

Turquoise May Have Been Mined in Mesoamerica

CARLISLE, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a New York Times report, geochemical analysis of Aztec and Mixtec turquoise artifacts conducted by geochemist Alyson Thibodeau of Dickinson College suggests the turquoise used in them had been mined in Mesoamerica, and not imported from the American Southwest, where ancient turquoise mines have been found. It had been previously thought that turquoise traveled south to Mesoamerica along a long-distance trade network before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. “Not only do they have isotopic signatures that are absolutely consistent with the geology of Mesoamerica,” Thibodeau said, “but they are completely different from the isotopic signatures of the Southwestern turquoise deposits and artifacts that we have seen so far.” Thibodeau's colleague David Killick of the University of Arizona argues that the test results suggest there may have been no organized contact between Mesoamericans and people living in the American Southwest. For more on archaeology in Mesoamerica, go to “Circle of Life.”

Possible Prehistoric Settlement Found in Northern Scotland

THURSO, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a prehistoric site, including a hearth made of stone slabs, a hammer stone, rubble, and tools, has been found in the Scottish Highlands. The possible building may have been part of a larger settlement, according to Pete Higgins of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. Further investigation could reveal if the structure was a broch—a monumental, tower-like roundhouse made of drystone walls, or a wag—a semi-underground dwelling featuring a central aisle made of stone slabs that support a stone slab roof. A well-preserved pig’s tooth suggests someone of high status could have lived there. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Wednesday, June 13

Geoglyphs Studied in Northern Peru

CHAO VALLEY, PERU—According to a Live Science report, three geoglyphs have been found at a ceremonial landscape called Pampa de las Salinas in northern Peru in addition to two that were discovered in the 1970s. Ana Cecilia Mauricio of Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru said the ceremonial site is thought to have been shared by nearby communities, but researchers are not sure how it was used. Mauricio explained that the five known circular geoglyphs were made with piles of small, angular rocks within larger quadrangular spaces measuring at least 164 feet wide by 164 feet long. The geoglyphs may have been intended to depict astronomical constellations—one of them has been identified as the Southern Cross—“although we haven’t [made] this interpretation yet since we are still recording them,” Mauricio said. Thermoluminescence dating could help date the structures. The oldest area of the Pampa de las Salinas was built about 6,000 years ago, and the site ceased to be used about 3,000 years ago. To read about a mysterious structure in Peru that may have been a geoglyph, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Discovery of Tuqan Man Announced

SAN MIGUEL ISLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS—The Ventura County Star reports that the discovery of ancient human remains on San Miguel Island in 2005 has just been announced to the public. Researchers spotted a piece human bone near an eroded ancient Chumash camp site during a survey in Channel Islands National Park. Because the grave was vulnerable to erosion, the National Park Service (NPS) alerted the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who have ties to the Channel Islands, to the discovery. The Chumash decided to allow the excavation of the site. Dubbed “Tuqan Man,” for the traditional name of the island, the remains were removed from the grave, which had been marked with stones, and taken to the mainland for DNA testing and study. Radiocarbon dating revealed the man died between 9,800 and 10,200 years ago, and was between 40 and 50 years of age at the time of his death. Isotope analysis suggests he lived in the interior of California, not on the islands. Scientists were not able to obtain a DNA sample from the bones, however, so they were not able to find a genetic link to modern Chumash people. That meant the NPS had to publish legal notices in local newspapers before handing the bones over to the Santa Ynez Band for reburial. But no other tribe came forward to claim Tuqan Man’s remains. “We’re very happy that we could lay this man to rest,” said tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn. For more on early Americans, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Rock Art Discovered in Egypt’s Eastern Desert

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, rock art panels and extensive flint-working areas have been discovered in Egypt’s Eastern Desert by a team of Egyptian archaeologists and researchers led by John Coleman Darnell of Yale University. Bulls, donkeys, Barbary sheep, an addax, and a giraffe are said to be among the images found in three areas in the Wadi Umm Tineidba. The oldest of the panels is thought to date to the Predynastic period, between 3500 and 3100 B.C. The team also found an ancient well, burial tumuli, and a previously unrecorded settlement dating to the Late Roman period. One of the burial tumuli contained the remains of a woman who had been buried with a strand of carnelian beads and shells from the Red Sea. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Honoring Osiris.”