Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Evidence of Iron Age settlements and ancient burial mounds have been spotted for the first time by archaeologists after the prolonged dry weather turned the lush green landscape yellow. Archaeologists at Historic England have been taking to the skies to study “cropmarks” which have appeared in Britain’s parched fields. The marks expose the remnants of historic buildings because the grass or crop above them grows differently compared to plants in the surrounding soil. The resulting differences in colour or height of crops and grass can reveal the layouts of buried ditches or walls which once marked out settlements, field boundaries or funerary monuments.

Among the new discoveries in recent months are two Neolithic “cursus” monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes, one of which has been hidden until this year under a medieval bank which is gradually being ploughed away. The long rectangles, thought to be the remains of paths or processional ways, are among the oldest monument types in the country, dating from 3600 to 3000 BC. Other recent discoveries including an Iron Age round settlement at St Ives and a prehistoric settlement with concentric ditches at Lansallos in Cornwall.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’ as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture. “The discovery of ancient farms, settlements and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting. “The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just one or two fields and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.”

Experts have also spotted Iron Age square burial mounds or barrows in Pocklington, Yorkshire, a Bronze Age burial mound and a ditch and series of pits that could mark a land boundary in Scropton, Derbyshire, and a settlement or cemetery at Stoke by Clare, Suffolk.

A Roman farm has emerged in a field of grass at Bicton, Devon, while prehistoric farms have been found in Stogumber and an ancient enclosure has been revealed in Churchstanton, both in Somerset.

New details of the lost Elizabethan buildings and gardens associated with Tixall Hall in Staffordshire can be seen through the drought, revealing buried foundations of the hall built in 1555 and a new hall started during the First World War, but demolished in 1926.

Features of the already protected prehistoric ceremonial landscape near Eynsham, Oxfordshire, that have not been visible for years can also be seen, including a circle of pits.

Historic England uses aerial photography of cropmarks to produce archaeological maps which help to assess the significance of buried remains and can be used to make decisions about protecting them from development or damage caused by ploughing.


Science Magazine reports that biochemists Mélanie Roffet-Salque and Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and their colleagues analyzed the residues on pottery from the site of Çatalhöyük, which is located in central Turkey, for clues to how a shift in the climate some 8,200 years ago might have affected early farmers.

The scientists speculated that drought could have damaged crops and grazing lands, while cooler weather could have increased the food needs of the farmers’ sheep, goats, and cattle.

A technique called gas chromatography—mass spectrometry revealed that the fat residues on the pottery dating to the time of the climate shift contained about nine percent more heavy hydrogen—an isotope that correlates with lower levels of precipitation—than sherds from other periods. The researchers also note the higher number of cut marks on animal bones beginning about 8,200 years ago, suggesting that the farmers ate every morsel of available food, and a drop in the number of cattle bones and a rise in the number of goat bones. Goats may have been better at surviving in drought conditions.

To read about a figurine discovered at Çatalhöyük, go to “Figure of Distinction.”


A set of Roman-era tombs dating back some 2,000 years have been discovered near the West Bank city of Hebron during road works, an official said Thursday.

The cemetery dating to the first century AD, when the region was under Roman rule, was found in the Palestinian village of Idna in the southern West Bank around two weeks ago, August 2018.

It was discovered during road work in mountainous terrain in the area, said Taleb Jubran, director of the department of tourism and antiquities in Hebron.

Bones, pottery and some 32 tombs set into stone were found. It was clear to archaeologists that artifacts had been stolen from the site before it was officially discovered. “This discovery is very important for us to study it and to preserve it,” Jubran said. The tombs were set out over a space of some 50 meters.

Officials also hoped to turn the site into a tourist attraction, while further study of it would continue to turn up details of what was found and its importance, he said.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


The looting of ancient artifacts was so widespread in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that it became symbolic of the chaos that followed the American invasion. More than 15 years later, Britain returned a handful of objects, some up to 5,000 years old, that were seized by the police from an art dealer in London in 2003 and identified by staff from the British Museum only this year. The dealer, who has now gone out of business, had no documents to prove he owned the items legally, the museum said in a statement. They were held unclaimed by the London police for more than a decade, and passed to the British Museum for analysis this year. The artifacts were handed over to Iraqi officials during a ceremony in London on Friday. They will be displayed at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

The objects were not stolen in the notorious free-for-all at the National Museum in 2003, an event that Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, once brushed off with the words “stuff happens.” They came instead from Tello, in southern Iraq, the site of the Sumerian city of Girsu, which was abandoned about 2,000 years ago. Among the eight restituted objects were three fired-clay cones, around 4,000 years old, featuring Sumerian script that helped Sebastien Rey, an archaeologist at the British Museum, to identify them. Sebastien Rey, an archaeologist at the British Museum, worked with the Iraqi police in 2015 to identify areas of looting in Tello, Iraq. Mr. Rey was leading an excavation as part of a program at the museum, funded by the British government, that trains Iraqi archaeologists. He found identical cones in the mud-brick wall of a temple in Tello. The team also found traces of looting.

The cuneiform inscriptions all contain the name of the city, its king and the main god worshiped there, as well as a prayer “to make everything work as it should.” “These objects were magical objects,” Mr. Rey said of the cones in a telephone interview. “They protected the sacred space of the temple against outside evil forces.” “It’s a real historic event that happened this morning,” Mr. Rey said, adding that it was the first time in years that the museum was able to identify and restitute looted objects to Iraq.

The rest of the objects returned on Friday are 5,000 to 2,000 years old. They include a fragmentary white ceremonial weapon made from gypsum, a white marble pendant in the form of a seated four-legged animal, and a white quartz seal engraved with a seated sphinx.


A research team including Matthew Sanger, assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, State University at New York, has found a copper band that indicates ancient Native Americans engaged in extensive trade networks spanning far greater distances than what has been previously thought.

"Our research shows that Native Americans living roughly 3,500 years ago were engaged in extensive trade networks spanning far greater distances than we had previously assumed (more than 1,500 km) and across various regions that we did not know were connected (the Great Lakes and the coastal Southeast)," said Matthew Sanger, assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University. "While we still struggle to understand the nature of these trade networks, our findings suggest that they moved not only objects (such as the piece of worked copper we recovered) but may also be a pipeline through which belief systems, cultural values and societal norms were also exchanged. The possibility that information also traveled along trade networks is evidenced by the shared use of cremation found alongside the exchange of copper between the two regions."

Sanger and colleagues found a copper band, slightly wider than a bracelet, alongside the cremated remains of at least seven individuals at a burial site in coastal Georgia. Prior to their discovery, both copper and cremated human remains dating to the Archaic period (around 3,000-8,000 years ago) were rarely, if ever, found in the Southeast United States. The copper band and burials were located in the center of a Late Archaic shell ring—circular deposits thought to have been used by Native Americans as both residential sites and as places of ritual gatherings and feasting events. Radiometric dating using an Accelerated Mass Spectrometer indicate that the remains and band are both more than 3,500 years old. This is significant, as it pushes the practice of cremation, as well as the use of copper, in the region more than a millennium older than previously thought.

Remarkably, the copper band was not manufactured from local materials, but rather originated in the Great Lakes region, more than 1,500 km away. Copper sources each have their own unique chemical makeup, including very small amounts of trace elements. As such, archaeologists can match manufactured objects to their sources by comparing their chemical signatures, or "fingerprints." Using Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICPMS), researchers at Ball State, the Field Museum and the New Jersey State Museum determined the chemical makeup of the copper band was most similar to sources found near the Great Lakes. While archaeologists had long known copper was exchanged out of the Great Lakes region, the discovery made by Sanger and his colleagues extended previously documented boundaries of Archaic Period copper exchange by nearly 1,000 km.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-08-discovery-copper-band-native-americans.html#jCp

Monday, August 06, 2018


Nine thousand years ago, a group of men sat around a fire in what now is the NewBo neighborhood and repaired their hunting spears.
That’s what the evidence — ancient soil, spearheads and flint and charcoal fragments — tells research archaeologist David Benn. As one of the team members from Bear Creek Archaeology, he helped uncover the prehistoric remnants of human activity during an archaeological dig at the corner of Second Street SE and 11th Avenue SE.

The dig site was a 200-square-meter hole in the middle of a city parking lot, where for six weeks a team of archaeologists painstakingly scraped the soil, searching for chip stone — flakes of chert, or silica-rich rock sometimes called flint — used to make spearheads. They found hundreds of pieces, as well as a handful of intact spearpoints. Those elicited great excitement.

The dig was related to levee work planned as part of the city’s flood control system.

“We have to have environmental clearance before we get federal funding,” said Rob Davis, flood control system program manager with the city of Cedar Rapids. “We wanted to clear the corridors (along the river) and have them ready to go when funding becomes available.” The city is working with the Army Corps of Engineers, which did a study of the riverbanks in 2011 and reported there could be historically significant artifacts in the area. The city then hired Cresco-based Bear Creek Archaeology to do further studies. The archaeology work in the NewBo lot cost $300,000.

This isn’t the first work Bear Creek has done in the city since 2011. They did a geological map of the valley around the river, which has moved back and forth over the area throughout time, and drilled exploratory holes throughout the footprint. Last year, they excavated a site behind the African American Museum of Iowa, where they found arrows, pottery and other artifacts from about 2,200 years ago.

In the new site, their drilling found “postglacial soil,” from around 10,000 B.C., Benn said. They dug a test hole and turned up an ancient projectile point, from a time when humans were first settling this part of North America.


—At least some of the people buried at Stonehenge appear to have come from near the Preseli Hills in west Wales where the bluestones used to build the Neolithic monument were quarried, according to a report from The Guardian.

Testing of strontium isotopes from the cremated skull fragments buried at the monument showed that at least 10 of 25 individuals represented had come from at least 100 miles away, including the area near the Preseli Hills.

It’s not clear that the bones belonged to those who built the monument, but the earliest cremation dates—around 3000 B.C.—are close to when the bluestones that formed the first circle at Stonehenge were transported there. “The earliest dates are tantalizingly close to the date we believe the bluestones arrived, and though we cannot prove they are the bones of the people who brought them, there must at least be a relationship,” said archaeologist John Pouncett of the University of Oxford.

“The range of dates raises the possibility that for centuries people could have been brought to Stonehenge for burial with the stones.” The pieces of skull were found in a circle of 56 pits outside the stone circle that also contained bluestone chips and may have held the original circle of bluestones, which were then rearranged over the succeeding centuries. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”


—The Guardian reports that German archaeologists excavating in downtown Cologne have unearthed the foundations of a Roman building that may have been a library.

Dating to the middle of the second century A.D., the remains were found near what was once the forum of the ancient Roman city of Colonia. Niches in the building’s walls were likely intended to house up to 20,000 scrolls, and archaeologists believe an alcove adjacent to the possible library may have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva. To read about the only known Roman library of manuscripts to have survived antiquity, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”