ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Archaeologists and students from Istanbul University unearthed a bronze pestle, tiles, pellets, Venetian glass, perfume bottles, coins, and pipe bowls at Yoros, a Byzantine castle that overlooks the Bosphorus. Foreign coins and the various pipe bowls found at the site offer information about visitors to the strategic location. “We found damage in some parts of the castle. Our architectural team worked on them. Also, a 3D plan of the castle was drawn using lasers,” said Asnu Bilban Yalçin, head of the excavations.
KIEL, GERMANY—An analysis of pig bones from the site of Ertebølle in northern Germany shows that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers owned pigs about 500 years earlier than previously thought. The pigs had both European and Near Eastern ancestry, suggesting that they were domesticated pigs brought to Europe by migrating Neolithic farmers. “Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers [in] about 6000 B.C.,” said Ben Krause-Kyora of Christian-Albrechts University. The two groups, which occasionally exchanged artifacts, may also have traded pigs.
HUARAZ, PERU—Two sculpted heads thought to date to between 1200 and 1500 B.C. have been discovered at the Chavín de Huántar archaeological site. Many such heads were found inside the site’s temples—more than 100 of them are held at the National Chavín Museum—but many more were lost in a flood in 1940. “The last time we found a Chavín head was back in 2006. Before that we found one in 2004, and before that it had been 60 years,” said John Rick of Stanford University. He thinks the two new heads, which have large eyes, wrinkles, pronounced nostrils, and are covered with snakes, depict people who are in a drug-induced trance. They may have been toppled from a wall during an earthquake.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Scholars think the seven late Iron Age buildings at Lejre, including a large hall that may have been used for feasting, inspired the Beowulf legend. The buildings, thought to have marked the site of the earliest Danish royal capital, were in use between A.D. 500 and 1000. The bones from hundreds of pigs, cows, sheep, goats, deer, chickens, ducks, and geese have been uncovered, along with a silver figure of the Nordic god Odin, jewelry, gold, and pottery. “For the first time, archaeology is giving us a glimpse of life in the key royal Danish site associated with the Beowulf legend,” said Tom Christensen of the Roskilde Museum and director of the Lejre project. The epic tale of Beowulf is thought to have been set in the fifth or sixth century, and brought to England by Anglo-Saxons in the eighth century.
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Over the past five years, a partnership between the village of Quinhagak, located near the Bering Sea, and Scotland’s
University of Aberdeen has uncovered thousands of artifacts from an Alaskan village dating to the days before European contact. Many of the objects date between 1350 and 1670, a time little understood by scholars. “This is easily the largest collection of pre-contact Yup’ik material anywhere,” said anthropologist Rick Knecht. “Because it’s been in permafrost until now, the level of preservation is just marvelous. Eighty percent of what we’re finding is wood or other organics. A lot of them are preserved to the extent that they still have original paint on them,” he explained. Some of the remarkable finds include sealskin clothing, grass basketry, and ropes made from grass and roots. Knecht estimates that only a quarter of the site remains because of the shifting banks and eroding shoreline of the Arolik River. “It’s kind of an emergency,” he added.
LINCOLN, ENGLAND—The excavation season at Lincoln Castle is closing as archaeologists make plans to lift a sarcophagus thought to contain the remains of a Saxon king or a bishop out of the earth. The grave was discovered alongside the remains of an unknown church thought to be at least 1,000 years old. “Logistically it’s quite a difficult job because the trench is deep and the sarcophagus obviously weighs a lot,” said archaeologist Cecily Spall. The area where the sarcophagus and other skeletons were unearthed will serve as a new exhibition space to house Lincoln’s copy of the Magna Carta.
QUEBEC, CANADA—Artifacts estimated to be between 4,000 and 7,000 years old have been found on Waskaganish territory in northern Quebec, in an area that the local Cree know as a traditional fishing site. The rough-looking stone blades and arrowheads had been ground into shape. Further excavations may reveal if the land was used as a campsite. “It’s pretty exciting, because we don’t have a lot of sites in Quebec that are that old, if it’s as much as 7,000 years,” said James Chism of the Waskaganish Cultural Institute.
CYRENAICA, LIBYA—Archaeologist and blogger Areej Khattab reports that people living near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cyrene have destroyed part of its necropolis. Using earth movers, the farmers allegedly cleared the land, which traditionally belongs to them, and then threw the artifacts into a nearby river. Khattab adds that the land will be sold to developers for homes and shops. “I have been trying everything to stop this disaster. I appealed, in vain, to the archaeological authorities as well as the local authorities. I contacted one of the brigades in charge of the city’s security, who informed me that they could intervene only if the authorities made an official request, but they haven’t made the slightest move to get involved… I even called the Culture Minister on his mobile phone. I left a message but I haven’t heard anything yet,” she writes.
CATANIA, SICILY—A team of archaeologists has followed techniques outlined in ancient texts to plant a vineyard of local grapes that they hope will produce wines approximating what the Romans drank. They planted the vines with wooden tools, and are supporting them with canes and woven juniper leaves. Eventually, the juice will ferment in large, open terracotta pots that are lined with beeswax and buried up to their necks in the ground. “We will not use fermenting agents, but rely on the fermentation of the grapes themselves, which will make it as hit and miss as it was then—you can call this experimental archaeology,” said project manager Mario Indelilcato. The archaeologists should have some wine to taste in about four years.
FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY—Renovations at the Florham Park campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University revealed a Prince Albert tobacco can containing a note left behind by plumbers and tile workers in 1932. The letter recorded their names and the work they had done in the building, which at the time was part of the Vanderbilt-Twombly estate. It also expressed their desire for a drink and the end of Prohibition. “If only those workers had known in 1932 when they placed that time capsule in the wall that FDR’s ‘wet’ victory that November had swept away the ‘dry’ consensus that dominated the 1920s. Indeed, Prohibition ended by ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 12, 1933,” commented historian Gary Darden of the University’s Department of Social Sciences & History.
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINA—Traces of ten furrows have been discovered at the site of James Fort, built by English settlers in 1607. The furrows were found under a wall that was built in 1608 to extend the structure, so archaeologists think they were dug soon after the colonists’ arrival. Without the help of animals for farming, the labor-intensive rows were hoed by hand. “That system of farming with bending over and hoeing up the ground dominates the Virginia landscape for centuries,” said archaeologist David Givens of Jamestown Rediscovery. Soil samples will be tested to see what crops were grown in the furrows.
YORK, ENGLAND—An analysis of charred residues collected from pottery fragments in Denmark and northern Germany shows that Europeans were seasoning their food at least 6,000 years ago. In particular, phytoliths from the seeds of the garlic mustard plant, which have no nutritional value, were identified in meals that also consisted of red deer or shellfish and fish. Bioarchaeologist Hayley Saul of the University of York tried cooking dishes using cod and pork—foods that would have been available to northern Europeans 6,000 years ago—spiced with garlic mustard. “They went down very well,” she said.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, has been found in ten out of 27 flasks collected from five archaeological sites in Israel. The spice, which was only found in southern India and Sri Lanka 3,000 years ago, indicates that there may have been a long-range spice trade in place at the time. The dry spice would have been imported and mixed with a liquid, then stored in the thick-walled flasks with narrow openings that had been made by the Phonecians living in northern coastal Israel. “We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the sixteenth century A.D.,” said Dvory Namdar of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University.
PRICE, UTAH—Twenty-five years ago, a well-preserved hairless Columbian mammoth was discovered in an airtight bog in the Manti La-Sal National Forest. Research continues on the 10,500-year-old bull, which is housed in the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum. “This was most likely one of the last of its kind,” said Tim Riley, curator of archaeology. This animal’s mitochondrial DNA shows that one of its great-grandmothers was a Woolly mammoth, and while there is no direct evidence to suggest that this Columbian mammoth was killed by hunters, Paleoindian archery points have been found about a half-mile away from the place where it was discovered. “While that doesn’t sound like much, that is an incredible Paleoindian site density. It shows that this area was very important near the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene,” Riley added.