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Science Notes – Bridging the divide: the role of science in archaeology

This month we are doing something a little different, exploring a wider theme rather than a specific technique. A recent public-interest piece in Nature – published in response to their research paper about the Bell Beaker culture (for more on this research, see CA 338) – discusses the ‘sometimes straining’ relationship between archaeologists and geneticists.

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Deciphering the Anglo-Saxon diet

The 6th and 7th centuries in England were defined by great social change. Along with the gradual conversion to Christianity in many areas, there is also evidence for increasing social stratification, most clearly seen through the emergence of prominent princely burials such as Sutton Hoo. It seems the rich were getting richer, and the poor poorer. A new study by Emma Hannah (Queen’s University Belfast) and Susanne Hakenbeck (University of Cambridge) has analysed how this upheaval may have affected diet during this period. Early Christian proscriptions involving meat suggest that, as more of the population converted, they may have become increasingly reliant on fi sh. At the same time, with the development of a clear social hierarchy, a distinct dietary difference between social classes may also be expected.

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Revealing the archaeology of Ramsey Island

Just off St David’s Head in Pembrokeshire, Wales, lies Ramsey Island. It is currently owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as the island is home to many avian species and, in particular, is a Special Protection Area for the chough. Historically, though, Ramsey Island was also home to humans – and a new study involving detailed airborne laser-scanning technology (LiDAR; see CA 215) is revealing this intricate archaeological landscape, highlighting the island’s use over the past 5,000 years.

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Early evidence for St Albans Cathedral emerges

The decision to build a new visitors’ centre at St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire – part of the Heritage Lottery-funded project, Alban, Britain’s First Saint – offered the excellent opportunity to explore some of the site’s archaeology. From August 2017 to February this year the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, with Professor Martin Biddle, carried out extensive excavations between the current presbytery and the south-east transept. In the process, they revealed the cathedral’s long history, from its foundations as a Norman abbey in the 11th century through to its restoration and conversion to a proper cathedral in the modern era.

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Living at Star Carr in the face of climate change

New research analysing palaeoclimate data in conjunction with archaeological findings has provided evidence for how resilient the community of Star Carr – the famous Mesolithic occupation site in North Yorkshire (CA 282) – was in the face of extreme climate change.

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Meticulous metric survey of the Antonine Wall

A detailed LiDAR survey of the Antonine Wall – the Roman military structure that ran east–west between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde (see CA 215 and 289) – was recently carried out in a collaborative research project between Canterbury Christ Church University and Historic Environment Scotland.

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Mathematically modelling Bronze Age hoards

There has been a longstanding debate among archaeologists over the purpose of Bronze Age (c.2500-800 BC) hoards, particularly those including objects that appear to have been deliberately broken. early theories suggested that they were purely functional: created either for temporary storage, recycling, or for actual ‘hoarding’ in times of strife. More recently, though, many archaeologists have ascribed a more ritualistic meaning to the practice: perhaps buried as religious offerings or as displays of social status. until now these ideas have mostly been based on the descriptive analyses of hoards’ characteristics. A new study, however, addresses this debate using mathematical modelling.

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Science Notes – Palaeolithic cave art and uranium-thorium dating

In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we are discussing yet another form of dating: uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating, also known as uranium-series dating. Readers may already be aware of the technique, as it has featured a few times in research covered by CA over the years (see CA 83, 93, and 259), but recently it made international headlines for its use in determining that cave paintings in Iberia pre-date the presence of modern humans.

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Medieval ‘suburbs’ of Dublin uncovered

Dublin is known for the exceptional anaerobic conditions that have preserved swathes of medieval archaeology there (see CA 328), and a recent dig at Dean Street in the Coombe area, just to the west of the city centre, was no exception. An investigation in advance of the construction of a new hotel had indicated that the site was likely to be archaeologically significant, and in October, when Aisling Collins Archaeology Services (ACAS) were brought in to fully excavate the site, this was proved correct after the remains of medieval building foundations were uncovered.

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Packing a punch: boxing gloves found at Vindolanda

Vindolanda, the Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, is known for its treasure trove of well-preserved Roman archaeology, and this past excavation season has proved to be one of the most successful yet. The team has been excavating a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barracks, where they uncovered finds including complete swords, copper-alloy horse gear, leather shoes, bath clogs, combs, dice, and a small hoard of wafer-thin writing tablets, many of which bore fine examples of ancient cursive script (see CA 330).

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