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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 19

Medieval Sword Recovered in Poland

HRUBIESZÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a medieval sword was recovered from a peat bog in southeast Poland and donated to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. The well-balanced weapon measures almost four feet long and is only missing the padding on its two-handed hilt, which was probably covered with wood, bone, or antler. An isosceles cross in a heraldic shield on the rear bar of the sword may have been the blacksmith’s maker’s mark. Conservators will look for additional marks on the blade. According to museum director Bartlomiej Bartecki, archaeologists will investigate the site where the sword was found to look for possible clues as to how it landed in the bog. Did a knight lose his weapon, or are his remains and the rest of his equipment still in the ground? “This is a unique find in the region,” Bartecki said. “It’s worth pointing out that while there are similar artifacts in museum collections, their place of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists.” The sword will be conserved in Warsaw and eventually returned to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”


More Headlines
Friday, June 16

Islamic Trade Center Uncovered in Ethiopia

EXETER, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a wealthy medieval city, complete with a twelfth-century mosque and Islamic burials and headstones, have been discovered at Harlaa, located in eastern Ethiopia. Pottery, glass vessel fragments, rock crystal, carnelian, glass beads, and cowry shells imported from Madagascar, the Maldives, Yemen, and China have been uncovered, along with bronze and silver Egyptian coins dating to the thirteenth century. Timothy Insoll of the University of Exeter explained that high-quality jewelry was made at the site with silver, bronze, semi-precious stones, and glass beads, using technology usually associated with jewelry made in India at that time. He thinks that jewelers from India may have been among the people who migrated to the cosmopolitan city at Harlaa. And, the mosque at the site resembles those built in Tanzania and Somaliland, which suggests that the people who lived at Harlaa also had contact with other Islamic communities in Africa. Human remains from the site are being analyzed for further information. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”

Timber on Oregon Coast May Represent 19th-Century Shipwreck

CANNON BEACH, OREGON—According to a report in The Daily Astorian, a walker discovered a piece of wood on the northern Oregon coast that may have come from a nineteenth-century shipwreck. The piece of wood, cut from old-growth timber, measures about 18 feet long and is marked with notches, square cut-outs, and square nails. “In general shipwrecks are pretty common on the coast, but if it were actually that old it would be a rare situation,” said Christopher Dewey of the Maritime Archaeological Society. A state archaeologist has been asked to evaluate the find. For more on the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

Bones of Shang Dynasty Sacrificial Victims Analyzed

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Live Science reports that researchers led by bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung of Simon Fraser University analyzed skeletal remains from the royal cemetery of Yinxu, the capital of Shang Dynasty China from the sixteenth century B.C. to the eleventh century B.C. The cemetery contains royal burials, and more than 2,500 pits holding the remains of sacrificial victims. Oracle bone inscriptions found at the site indicate that many of those who had been sacrificed were captured during wars. Cheung and her colleagues measured the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes in the bones of 68 sacrificial victims found in the pits, and compared them with the remains of 39 people who had been buried in a residential neighborhood of Yinxu. The results of the tests suggest that the locals and the sacrificial victims all ate a subsistence diet based on millet, but the locals also consumed, wheat, rice, and perhaps wild fish and deer. The composition of the victims’ larger bones also indicates that they had not always eaten food from the Yinxu area, and may have only lived there for a few years. Cheung thinks the captives probably spent their time in Yinxu working as enslaved laborers. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Thursday, June 15

Additional Hebrew Inscriptions Found on 3,000-Year-Old Pottery

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a new technique for performing multispectral imaging with readily available, relatively inexpensive materials, has revealed additional writing on a fragment of 3,000-year-old pottery unearthed at Tel Arad, where 91 ostraca were discovered on a floor in a single room in the 1960s. The visible inscriptions recorded lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters. Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, physicist Eli Piasetzky, and imaging lab and system manager Michael Cordonsky of Tel Aviv University were testing the new imaging system in an effort to improve the clarity of the texts on the ostraca, when Cordonsky flipped a piece of pottery and discovered writing on its opposite side that had been invisible to the naked eye. “It means that every university or archaeological dig can build the camera,” to look for faded inscriptions, explained applied mathematician Arie Shaus. To read about an ancient Egyptian ostracon, go to “Artifact.”

Viking-Age Burials Discovered in Northern Iceland

  PORT OF DYSNES, ICELAND—Iceland Magazine reports that four Viking-era burials have been discovered at Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland. Two of the intact burials, which date to the ninth or tenth centuries, appear to have been placed in a line. They both contain boats, but one of them has been badly damaged by ocean erosion and half of its boat is missing. Archaeologists led by Hildur Gestsdóttir recovered human bones, a Viking sword, and dog teeth from the grave. The second boat burial is also thought to contain the remains of a Viking chief who was buried with his dog and his sword. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Russia’s Shigir Idol Possibly Carved With Beaver Teeth

YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, the 11,000-year-old Shigir Idol, a wooden statue discovered in a peat bog in the Ural Mountains in 1890, was carved with stone chisels and the lower jaws of beavers. Mikhail Zhilin of the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences said that to create the sculpture, the surface of a larch tree was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, and then carved with at least three chisels of different sizes. The statue’s faces, one on the head at the top of the carving, and several placed along the sculpture, were carved with beaver teeth, held in place in the jaw. “If you sharpen a beaver’s cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces,” Zhilin explained. Such a beaver-jaw tool has been found at an archaeological site in the Ural Mountains region. For more, go to “Medieval Russian Memo.”

Sediments May Preserve Neanderthal, Modern Human Timeline

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens may have crossed paths some 40,000 years ago in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. Duncan Wright of Australian National University said that he and his team recovered more than 20,000 artifacts from Pod Hradem Cave. The oldest layers of the cave, dating back to 50,000 years ago, contained artifacts made from local stone, but in the layer dating to about 40,000 years ago, they found a bead made from a mammal bone. Wright said the bead could signal the arrival of modern humans, who are thought to have entered Europe about 45,000 years ago. Some of the artifacts in the cave dated to between 40,000 and 48,000 years ago were made of materials obtained more than 50 miles away. Could they have been crafted by Homo sapiens who had been exploring a new environment? Sediments from the cave will be tested for information about how the climate changed over time and for traces of Neanderthal and modern human DNA. For more on archaeology in the Czech Republic, go to “Off the Grid: Prague.”