A sleeve button set from the 1780s discovered at Colonial Michilimackinac
A set of joined sleeve buttons, believed to be from the 1780s, was recently discovered on Colonial Michilimackinac.
According to a press release from Mackinac State Historic Parks, archaeologists continue to uncover incredible artefacts late into the 2022 archaeological field season.
“We are still finding interesting artifacts,” said Dr. Lynn Evans, Mackinac State Historic Parks Curator of Archaeology, in a press release.
“This set of joined sleeve buttons, like a modern cufflink, was found in the 1781 demolition rubble layer.
The green glass paste ‘stones’ are set in brass.”
The current excavation site is House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.
The house, according to Mackinac State Historic Parks, was first occupied by Charles Henri Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville.
Other finds this season have included a red earthenware bowl, a one-ounce brass weight marked with a crown over GR, for the king, a second brass weight from a set of nesting apothecary weights, stamped with a fleur-de-lis, and a King’s 8th button.
The dig at Michilimackinac began back in 1959; it’s reportedly one of the longest-running archaeology programs in North America.
(This August story corrects the 6th paragraph to state that Douglas Latchford was a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, not Thailand and the United States)
The United States will return to Cambodia 30 looted antiquities, including bronze and stone statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities carved more than 1,000 years ago, U.S. officials said on Monday.
The Southeast Asian country’s archaeological sites – including Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer empire – suffered widespread looting in civil conflicts between the 1960s and 1990s.
Cambodia’s government has since sought to repatriate stolen antiquities sold on the international market.
Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said the items being returned were sold to Western buyers by Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer who created fake documents to conceal that the items had been looted and smuggled.
Williams said the antiquities, including a 10th-century sandstone statue depicting the Hindu god of war Skanda riding on a peacock, were voluntarily relinquished by U.S. museums and private collectors after his office filed civil forfeiture claims.
“These statues and artefacts… are of extraordinary cultural value to the Cambodian people,” Williams said at a ceremony in Manhattan announcing the return of the antiquities.
U.S. prosecutors in 2019 charged Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, with wire fraud and smuggling over the alleged looting. He died in Thailand in 2020.
The antiquities will be displayed at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s U.S. ambassador Keo Chhea told Reuters at the ceremony.
In 2014, federal prosecutors returned the Duryodhana, a looted 10th-century sandstone sculpture, to Cambodia after settling with auction house Sotheby’s Inc, which had acquired it.
Last year, the Manhattan district attorney’s office returned 27 looted antiquities to Cambodia.
1,000-year-old bison skeleton unearthed in Mitchell
What a completely unusual find. Two students found the bones of an ancient bison while digging last week at the Prehistoric Indian Village. The estimated 1,000-year-old bones discovered by the University of Exeter students help reveal how the Ame…
What a completely unusual find.
Two students found the bones of an ancient bison while digging last week at the Prehistoric Indian Village.
The estimated 1,000-year-old bones discovered by the University of Exeter students help reveal how the American Indians butchered the animals they hunted.
Amy Chamberlain-Webber, 18, and Megan Stealey, 20, thought finding the bison bones was exciting. The women found the bones in a cache pit where American Indians stored food, weapons and other valuables.The cache pit later became a trash pit that the bones were thrown into.
Chamberlain-Webber and Stealey uncovered the pelvis of the bison, and they found other bones as they continued digging. The group found portions of the bison since its arrival in mid-June, but Friday realized the magnitude of the find.
It is unusual to find large portions of the animals still in tact, said Alan Outram, professor of archaeological science at the University of Exeter, located in South West England, United Kingdom. The pelvis, spine and tail were intact, as were the feet bones.
“It revealed itself slowly to us,” Outram said. “There were hints of it, and we sort of slowly discovered it.”
In total, the group found the pelvis, spine, articulations of the ribs, some ribs, portion of the tail, in-tact foot bones and the leg bones. The group did not find all of the ribs or the skull while they were excavating the trash pit.
According to Outram, the way a group butchers an animal reveals a lot about the group’s culture.
“That sort of food culture is really a part of their identity,” he said.
Outram believes the bison was killed in the summer and the bones were thrown into the pit after it was butchered. The meat of the bison was likely cooked using hot rocks.
This discovery, Outram said, brings understanding into the “daily activities” of the past. He notes that it is common to find remains mixed in with other objects, but this particular bison, found in the pit, is from “one day’s activities.”
“It’s a day frozen in time,” said Cindy Gregg, executive director of the Prehistoric Indian Village. “… It’s pretty exciting stuff.”
Stealey hopes the next part of the bison to be found is the skull, but Outram is unsure if it will be found. Many times, American Indians would cut off the head of the animal because it was heavy.
The group will continue searching the trash pit in hopes of finding the skull until its final day at the Prehistoric Indian Village on Aug15.
Maya rulers’ ashes turned into pelota balls – expert
Some Maya rulers may have been incinerated and their ashes mixed with rubber to make the balls used in the game of pelota, an archaeologist says. Burnt human remains uncovered at the ruins of a Maya city have led to a new theory about the death rites of the ancient civilisation.
Archaeologist Juan Yadeun Angulo came up with the hypothesis after finding urns containing human ashes, rubber and roots at a Maya temple in Mexico.
Pelota is among the oldest team sports.
Mr Yadeun, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has been studying a recently uncovered crypt underneath the Sun Temple at the Toniná archaeological site in southern Mexico.
Inside the underground crypt and its antechamber, archaeologists found 400 urns containing a mixture of human ashes, coal, rubber and plant roots.
Mr Yadeun believes the crypt was used to burn the bodies of the dead in a religious ritual.
The ashes were then added to other organic material to make the heavy balls used in pelota, the team game played in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago, the theory goes.
The Toniná archaeological site may not be as well-known as that of Mayan ruins in Palenque but it is an impressive complex built on a hill in the jungle of Chiapas.
Among the constructions preserved to this day is the sunken ballcourt where the Maya played pelota.
According to Mr Yadeun, stone carvings at key locations inside the ballcourt offer clues that back up his theory.
He says the stone carvings suggest that three rulers, all of whom died between 722AD and 776AD, were taken to the “cave of the dead” for their “transmutation”.
“Just as Egyptians tried to preserve [bodies], we know here they were transformed in another way,” Mr Yadeun told Reuters news agency.
The archaeologist thinks that the Maya wanted the bodies of their rules to “be converted into a life force, something to stimulate their people” and therefore worked their ashes into the rubber used to make balls for the game.
“We have evidence they were incorporated into balls, during the Classic Period the balls were gigantic,” Mr Yadeun explained.
A carved stone disc found at a different site in Chiapas suggests the size of the pelota ball in the 6th Century and how players propelled it with their hips.
Possible Hessian Remains Found at Revolutionary War Battlefield
Researchers believe they have uncovered in a mass grave in New Jersey the remains of as many as 12 Hessian soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary War, officials announced Tuesday.
The remains, found at the site of Fort Mercer and the 1777 Battle of Red Bank, rested for 245 years until a human femur was found in June during an archaeological dig of a trench system that surrounded the fort, scientists said.
The additional excavation yielded more skeletal remains and items including pewter and brass buttons and a King George III gold guinea, which would have been a soldier’s pay for a month.
A team of scientists from Rowan University and officials from Gloucester County presented their preliminary findings during a news conference at Red Bank Battlefield Park, just south of Philadelphia.
Officials believe the remains are part of a mass grave of Hessian soldiers—German troops hired by the British—who were part of about 377 troops killed by Colonial forces during the Battle of Red Bank. Americans lost 14, historians said.
The victory allowed Americans at the fort to delay the British from moving supplies up the Delaware River.
“Based on everything we’ve found and the context of what we’ve found, these appear to be Hessians,” Wade Catts, principal archaeologist for South River Heritage Consulting of Delaware, said in a statement.
The remains have been turned over to forensic anthropologists at the New Jersey State Police forensic unit to extract DNA from the bones and teeth to identify their origin. Additional studies are being conducted to examine life history, health and disease.
The scientists hope they can identify the remains and find their descendants.
“We’re hoping that eventually, perhaps, we can find some of these individuals,” Rowan University public historian Jennifer Janofsky said in a statement.
“If we can extract their stories, and if we can tell their stories, it lets us put a name to a face. And that, to me, is a very powerful moment in public history.”
Officials said the remains were excavated with “extraordinary attention” to preserving the dignity of the war dead.
When the study is complete, they will be interred at another site, and the trench will be refilled. The land will be incorporated into the park on a bluff overlooking the river.
“Archaeology is helping us better understand what happened on the battlefield,” Janofsky said.
Octopus lures from the Mariana Islands were found to be the oldest in the world
An archaeological study has determined that cowrie-shell artefacts found throughout the Mariana Islands were lures used for hunting octopuses and that the devices, similar versions of which have been found on islands across the Pacific, are the oldest known artefacts of their kind in the world.
The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that lures found on the Northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan were from about 1500 B.C., or 3,500 years ago.
“That’s back to the time when people were first living in the Mariana Islands. So we think these could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist with the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.
The study, titled “Let’s catch octopus for dinner: Ancient inventions of octopus lures in the Mariana Islands of the remote tropical Pacific,” is published in World Archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is the lead author of the study, assisted by Hsiao-Chun Hung from The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.
The fishing devices were made with cowrie shells, a type of sea snail and favourite food of octopuses, that were connected by a fibre cord to a stone sinker and a hook.
They have been found in seven sites in the Mariana Islands. The oldest lures were excavated in 2011 from Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 2016 from Unai Bapot in Saipan. Other locations include Achugao in Saipan, Unai Chulu in Tinian, and Mochom at Mangilao Golf Course, Tarague Beach, and Ritidian Beach Cave in Guam.
Known artefacts, unknown purpose — until now
“The artefacts have been known — we knew about them. It just took a long time considering the possibilities, the different hypotheses, of what they could be,” Carson said. “The conventional idea — what we were told long ago from the Bishop Museum [in Honolulu] — was that these must be for scraping breadfruit or other plants, like maybe taro. [But] they don’t look like that.”
The shells didn’t have the serrated edge of other known food-scraping tools. With their holes and grooves where the fibre cord would have been attached as well as the stone sinker components, they appeared a closer match to octopus lures found in Tonga from about 3,000 years ago or 1100 B.C.
“We’re confident they are the pieces of octopus lures, and we’re confident they date back to 1500 B.C.,” Carson said.
An invention of the ancient CHamorus?
Carson said the question now becomes: Did the ancient CHamoru people invent this adaptation to their environment during the time when they first lived in the islands?”
That’s a possibility, he said, the other being that they brought the tradition with them from their former homeland; however, no artefacts of this kind have yet been discovered in the potential homelands of the first Marianas settlers.
If the CHamoru people did invent the first octopus lures, it provides new insight into their ingenuity and ability to problem solve — having to create novel and specialized ways to live in a new environment and take advantage of an available food source.
“It tells us that […] this kind of food resource was important enough for them that they invented something very particular to trap these foods,” Carson said. “We can’t say that it contributed to a massive percentage of their diet — it probably did not — but it was important enough that it became what we would call a ‘tradition’ in archaeology.”
The next question to look at, Carson said, is whether there are similar objects anywhere else from an older time.
“Purely from an archaeology standpoint, knowing the oldest of something is always important — because then you can track how things change through time,” he said. “[…] The only other place that would be is in the overseas homeland area for the first CHamoru people moving to the Marianas. So we would look in islands in Southeast Asia and Taiwan for those findings.”
Oldest DNA from domesticated American horse lends credence to shipwreck folklore
An abandoned Caribbean colony unearthed centuries after it had been forgotten and a case of mistaken identity in the archaeological record has conspired to rewrite the history of a barrier island off the Virginia and Maryland coasts.
These seemingly unrelated threads were woven together when Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, set out to analyze ancient DNA recovered from cow bones found in archaeological sites. Delsol wanted to understand how cattle were domesticated in the Americas, and the genetic information preserved in centuries-old teeth held the answer. But they also held a surprise.
“It was a serendipitous finding,” he said. “I was sequencing mitochondrial DNA from fossil cow teeth for my Ph.D. and realized something was very different with one of the specimens when I analyzed the sequences.”
That’s because the specimen in question, a fragment of an adult molar, wasn’t a cow tooth at all but instead once belonged to a horse. According to a study published this Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, the DNA obtained from the tooth is also the oldest ever sequenced for a domesticated horse from the Americas.
An unexpected opportunity
The tooth was excavated from one of Spain’s first colonized settlements. Located on the island of Hispaniola, the town of Puerto Real was established in 1507 and served for decades as the last port of call for ships sailing from the Caribbean. But rampant piracy and the rise of illegal trade in the 16th century forced the Spanish to consolidate their power elsewhere on the island, and in 1578, residents were ordered to evacuate Puerto Real. The abandoned town was destroyed the following year by Spanish officials.
The remnants of the once-bustling port were inadvertently rediscovered by a medical missionary named William Hodges in 1975. Archaeological excavations of the site led by Florida Museum distinguished research curator Kathleen Deagan were carried out between 1979 and 1990.
Horse fossils and associated artefacts are incredibly rare at Puerto Real and similar sites from the time period, but cow remains are a common find. According to Delsol, this skewed ratio is primarily due to the way Spanish colonialists valued their livestock.
“Horses were reserved for individuals of high status, and owning one was a sign of prestige,” he said. “There are full-page descriptions of horses in the documents that chronicle the arrival of [Hernán] Cortés in Mexico, demonstrating how important they were to the Spanish.”
In contrast, cows were used as a source of meat and leather, and their bones were regularly discarded in communal waste piles called middens. But one community’s trash is an archaeologist’s treasure, as the refuse from middens often confers the clearest glimpse into what people ate and how they lived.
The specimen’s biggest surprise wasn’t revealed until Delsol compared its DNA with that of modern horses from around the world. Given that the Spanish brought their horses from the Iberian Peninsula in southern Europe, he expected horses still living in that region would be the closest living relatives of the 500-year-old Puerto Real specimen.
Instead, Delsol found its next of kin over 1,000 miles north of Hispaniola, on the island of Assateague off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Feral horses have roamed freely across the long stretch of a barrier island for hundreds of years, but exactly how they got there has remained a mystery.
Folklore meets science
According to the National Park Service, which manages the northern half of Assateague, the likeliest explanation is that the horses were brought over in the 1600s by English colonists from the mainland in an attempt to evade livestock taxes and fencing laws.
Others believe the feral herds descended from horses that survived the shipwreck of a Spanish galleon and swam to shore, a theory popularized in the 1947 children’s novel “Misty of Chincoteague.” The book was later adapted to film, helping spread the shipwreck legend to an even wider audience.
Until now, there has been little evidence to support either theory. Proponents of the shipwreck theory claim it would be unlikely that English colonists would lose track of valuable livestock, while those in favor of an English origin of the herds point to the lack of sunken vessels nearby and the omission of feral horses in historical records of the region.
The results of the DNA analysis, however, unequivocally point to Spanish explorers as being the likeliest source of the horses on Assateague, Delsol explained.
“It’s not widely reported in the historical literature, but the Spanish were exploring this area of the mid-Atlantic pretty early on in the 16th century. The early colonial literature is often patchy and not completely thorough. Just because they don’t mention the horses doesn’t mean they weren’t there.”
The feral herds on Assateague weren’t the only horses to revert back to their wild heritage after arriving in the Americas. Colonists from all over Europe brought with them horses of various breeds and pedigrees, some of which bucked their bonds and escaped into the surrounding countryside.
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates there are roughly 86,000 wild horses across the country, most of which are located in western states, such as Nevada and Utah.
Delsol hopes that future ancient DNA studies will help decode the complex history of equine introductions and migrations that occurred over the last several centuries and offer a clearer understanding of today’s diversity of wild and domesticated horses.
Human footprints believed to date from the end of the last ice age have been discovered on the salt flats of the Air Force’s Utah Testing and Training Range (UTTR) by Cornell researcher Thomas Urban in forthcoming research.
Urban and Daron Duke, of Far Western Anthropological Research Group, were driving to an archaeological hearth site at UTTR when Urban spotted what appeared to be “ghost tracks” – tracks that appear suddenly for a short time when moisture conditions are right, and then disappear again.
Stopping to look, Urban immediately identified what to him was a familiar sight: unshod human footprints, similar to those he has investigated at White Sands National Park, including the earliest known human footprints in the Americas.
“It was a truly serendipitous find,” said Urban, a research scientist in the College of Arts and Sciences and with the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory.
The researchers returned to the site the next day and began documenting the prints, with Urban conducting a ground-penetrating radar survey of one of the two visible trackways.
Since he previously refined the application of geophysical methods, including radar, for imaging footprints at White Sands, Urban was able to quickly identify what was hidden.
“As was the case at White Sands, the visible ghost tracks were just part of the story,” Urban said. “We detected many more invisible prints by radar.”
Duke excavated a subset of the prints, confirming that they were barefoot and that there were additional unseen prints. Altogether, 88 footprints were documented, including both adults and children, offering insight into family life in the time of the Pleistocene.
“Based on excavations of several prints, we’ve found evidence of adults with children from about five to 12 years of age leaving bare footprints,” Duke said in an Air Force press release. “People appear to have been walking in shallow water, the sand rapidly infilling their print behind them – much as you might experience on a beach – but under the sand was a layer of mud that kept the print intact after infilling.”
Since there haven’t been any wetland conditions in at least 10,000 years that could have produced such footprint trails in this remote area of the Great Salt Lake Desert, Duke said, the prints are likely more than 12,000 years old.
Additional research is being done to confirm the discovery.
“We found so much more than we bargained for,” Anya Kitterman, the Air Force Cultural Resource Manager for the area, said in a statement.
Urban was working at the request of Duke, who had previously found two open-air hearths in the UTTR dated to the end of the Ice Age. At one of these hearth sites, Duke found the earliest evidence of human tobacco use. Those hearths were about a half-mile from the newly discovered footprints.
The site has broader significance, according to Urban. “We have long wondered whether other sites like White Sands were out there and whether ground-penetrating radar would be effective for imaging footprints at locations other than White Sands since it was a very novel application of the technology,” he said. “The answer to both questions is ‘yes.’”
While the Utah site is not as old and may not be as extensive as White Sands, Urban said there might be much more to be found.