Rantin' and Rovin'

This Week in Archaeology: 4 – 10 May 2014

Note that most of this is news within the last week, but some of the work has been going on for much longer. This is because we often find things and have no idea what it is, or don’t know when it dates to, etc. So while the exact discoveries may have happened a year or two ago in some cases, we’ve only just figured out what it actually is to the point where we can report it.

Every week, archaeology uncovers some pretty awesome things. Last week, we learned more about Stonehenge and its origins through extensive radiocarbon dating! Archaeologists also discovered not one, but two medieval villages (one in the Scottish Borders and another in Wales), a 13,500 year-old tool-making site in Idaho, a 19th century prison block in Australia, a New Kingdom tomb at Saqqara and a 5,600-year-old tomb (pre-dynastic) in Egypt, the burials of those who built the Qin Dynasty tomb famous for the terracotta warriors in China, an early Roman basilica in Turkey, and an 18th century tavern in New York City. We also found out more about the Black Death, the coastal heritage of Qatar, the conditions of US Civil War prison camps, and the meaning of geoglyphs in Peru’s Chincha Valley. We also found a preserved 9th century wooden notebook on a Byzantine ship!

As you can see, it was a busy week, so let’s get started!

New Discoveries

Idaho, USA: Archaeologists at the University of Idaho have found evidence of tool-making dating to 13,500 years ago along a riverbank in northern Idaho. Chemical analysis of some points even found traces of rabbit protein left on the blades!

New York, USA: Excavations at the Bowery have uncovered the remains of Atlantic Garden, a German beer garden established around 1860 and some pieces of wall from the Bull’s Head Tavern, opened in the 1740s and supposedly visited by George Washington and his troops in 1783. Finds include hundreds of 19th-century bottles, plates, mugs, and also some medicinal bottles.

Scottish Borders: A medieval village was found near Selkirk, dating from the 14th to 16th centuries. Farmyards, walls, buildings, hearths, and lots of artefacts have been uncovered over the past two years, including possible gaming pieces.

Wales: Veterans no longer able to serve in the military have teamed up with the Defense Infrastructure Organisation, the Defence Archaeology Group, and the University of Leicester on a 2-week dig in Dinham and found medieval buildings from the village, including a manor house that stood on the site until 1938!

Egypt: Egypt boasts two new discoveries this week. The first is what archaeologists believe to be the tomb of Paser, the royal ambassador during the late Ramesside period. The tomb was discovered at Saqqara and adds quite a lot to our understanding of Egypt’s political relationships at the time. The second discovery is a tomb at Hierakonpolis in Kom al-Ahmar, dating to pre-dynastic Egypt. The finds from within the tomb provide new insight into pre-dynastic mortuary rituals.

Turkey: A Roman basilica was discovered in Bursa, Turkey and may be one of the oldest structures discovered in the province. Some wall decorations are still preserved, and the basilica sheds new light on Bursa’s position in the Roman world.

China: Archaeologists have uncovered 45 tombs that they believe house the workers who constructed Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum. These individuals are associated with the township of Li, which was established in 231 BC to house those engaged in the mausoleum’s construction, best known for the famed Terracotta Warriors.

Australia: An 1850s panopticon has been unearthed at the former Pentridge Prison, one of three at the site. The design was meant to keep prisoners in isolation and under constant surveillance. No panopticon has been exactly true to Jeremy Bentham’s original concept, but the remains at Pentridge Prison are still unsettling.

New Research

Stonehenge: New radiocarbon research on aurochs bones found at Amesbury (the site of Stonehenge) has discovered it is the longest continually occupied site in the United Kingdom – with the continuous human activity since 8820 BC. That’s nearly 11,000 years of continuous life at Amesbury. These dates show that local populations built the first monuments at Stonehenge around this time (with the famous stones being erected later, around 3000 BC). The interesting part about this is that the stones at Stonehenge are now understood to be building on top of an already sacred site, rather than completely new construction in empty space. In other words, it’s a completely new type of interaction with the landscape and with the past. It also questions the distinction between Mesolithic and Neolithic in a number of exciting ways.

Black Death: New research has discovered that many of those who survived the Black Death in London not only survived, but also went on to live very long lives. This is partly because the Black Death eliminated those most susceptible to disease, but it may also be due to improved living conditions. Since so many people had died, wages increased for those who survived due to changes in the availability of workers. Better wages meant better diets and better housing, which led to longer lifespans.

Qatar: Research on the coastal heritage of Qatar has shown intensive connections with South, East, and Southeast Asia beginning sometime before the 18th century. A certain amount of work has also been done using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to carry out survey work and create 3D models of the landscape. More about these UAV in my post on Saturday…

US Civil War Prison Camps: Having worked on archiving material from the US Civil War, I am well aware that more soldiers died of disease and starvation than gunfire. New research across several sites and organisation around the US has given new insight into the conditions of POW camps during the war, particularly the living conditions.

Peruvian Geoglyphs: Research into the relationship between 2,000-year-old geoglyphs carved by the Paracas people in Peru and the remains of their settlements and ceremonial mounds has demonstrated that these glyphs were pointing the was to these destinations. According to the research, the glyphs were made by different political or ethnic groups, almost like advertising to get people to go to one place or another.

Byzantine Notebook: <ahref= “http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/byzantine-ancestors-of-tablet-computers-found-in-yenikapi-diggings.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66056&NewsCatID=375”>A ninth century notebook was discovered on a Byzantine ship in the Yenikapi part of Istabbul. The notebook had a few pages equipped with wax, so you could take notes, and a small set of weights to use as an assay balance!

Feel free to comment on any of the stories below, and if you’ve come across anything from the 4-10 of May that I’ve missed, let me know!

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