Just a quick round-up of archaeological news stories from various sources.
**Oldest Writing in the New World**
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this, though I’m sure anyone with any interest in archaeology has already read it elsewhere. The news stems from a research article in Science, Oldest Writing in the New World (RodrÃguez MartÃnez et al. 2006). In this article, the authors describe a 26.5 pound block of serpentine referred to as the Cascajal block, which has “a hitherto unknown system of writing” that the authors have dated to about 900 BCE, the San Lorenzo phase of the Pre-Classic in Mesoamerica. The site where the Cascajal block is reported to have been found is a gravel quarry in Veracruz, Mexico (Cascajal is the site, Veracruz is the state), but the exact context is probably a bit questionable since researchers didn’t catch up to the block until after it had been removed from the site.
Alun at Archaeoastronomy writes, “This makes the discovery of earlier writing from the New World interesting, because it shows that these advances do not lead to inevitable consequences despite the claims of the Meierist school of history.” He goes on to link and cite Hooded Hawk, who “notes that Oldest Writing in the New World was offered to an antiquities dealer first which suggest that none of the words on the slab were Olmec for ‘context’.” LA Times has a decent graphic adapted from the article in Science.
RodrÃguez MartÃnez et al (2006). Oldest Writing in the New World . Science, 313 (5793), 1610-1614.
**250 Year-Old Convenience Store Found**
And it’s not a 7-11. The French and Indian War meant soldiers. Soldiers get paid. And where paid soldiers go, close by are merchants willing to part them with their hard-earned cash in exchange for goods and services. Take it from an old soldier.
Along the Hudson River, 40 miles up-river from Albany, NY, David Starbuck leads an archaeology project comprised of volunteers and students that has been on-going for the last 5 years. Recently unearthed is the remains of a “sutler’s” establishment that sold rum, wine, tobacco and sundries to soldiers of the largest British military post in North America at the time, Fort Edwards. “Sutler” perhaps refers to the perspective that authorities or customers had on the profession of the merchants, since it comes from a Dutch word that describes “someone who performs dirty work.” I wonder if was the soldiers or the military officials that allowed their presence that perceived them as an exploitive but necessary evil? Evidence found at the site indicates that at least one sutler store may have doubled as a tavern.
**Map a Wreck Contest In the UK**
The Nautical Archaeology Society in the United Kingdom has a contest called WreckMap Britain 2006, which ends in a couple of weeks. The idea is to encourage amateur divers to record and document wrecks they dive on and submit the data to a contest that will reward the best reports with a chance to win prizes that include: a SeaLife DC500 camera including strobe and underwater housing; a dive torch (flashlight for those of us in the “colonies”) and BCD ( Buoyancy Control Device – that vest that really cool divers wear) or Dive computer; and the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles by Richard & Bridget Larn.
NAS will submit biological data to the Marine Conservation Society for inclusion in its SeaSearch project and archaeological data to “the appropriate National Archive or local Historic Environment Record Archive (eg. the local Sites and Monuments Record).”
**War shatters Lebanon’s Roman Legacy**
The recent conflict in Lebanon has caused damage to a Roman tomb in Tyre and a medieval tower in Byblos. Roman architecture at Tyre suffered direct damage, most notably a fresco that collapsed on a tomb and the Israeli government bombed a depot near Byblos, causing a oil spill that has stained archaeological sites in the harbor as well as damaging the tower, which dates back to the time of the Crusades. This damage assessment carried out by UNESCO serves to remind us that wars fought in and by countries we don’t live in still affect us. The cultural heritage sites in the lands belong to the world in some regard. The earliest evidences of the Phoenician culture is found in the Levant where much of the fighting and destruction is occurring between people who think only of the present and little of the past. It pains me to even think of the sites that are being destroyed, looted, and ignored in Iraq, arguable a cradle of civilization, where centuries old ziggurats, temples, cities, tombs, and in situ records of the some of the earliest cultures to use writing still wait to be discovered.