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From the Trenches Volume 59 Number 6, November/December 2006

Archaeologists in the Pacific are doing their part to keep radiocarbon-dating labs in business. A new analysis of charcoal from monumental temples on the island of Maui shows that Hawaiians were building the structures around A.D. 1200, 400 years earlier than previously thought. Another (unrelated) radiocarbon study shows that Polynesians reached the remote island of Rapa much later than previous estimates. This has led archaeologists to suspect they may have overestimated the abilities of early Polynesian seafarers. Don't tell that to the crew of the balsa raft Tangaroa, though. The Thor Heyerdahl-inspired craft reached French Polynesia after a nearly 5,000-mile voyage from Peru.

Archaeologists diving on the Hawaiian atoll of Kure made a find with connections to another long voyage. The discovery of the intact remains of Dunotter Castle, a British merchant vessel that sank in 1886, stirred up memories of the desperate 1,200-mile trip the survivors made in an open boat before their rescue. Artifacts recovered from Graf Spee, a German battleship scuttled in Uruguayan waters in 1939, will keep lawyers busy for a while. Salvors are planning to sell off the remains, including a massive eagle atop a swastika crest, but both the Uruguayan and German governments are trying to assert claims to the artifacts in advance of the auction. So far there's no controversy over the wreck of a Spanish galleon found off the coast of South Carolina. The remains are believed to be those of Chorruca, which sank in 1526 during an ill-fated expedition led by Spanish explorer Vasquez de Ayllon. Archaeologists are still looking for the location of his short-lived colony, thought to have been somewhere on South Carolina's coast.

Searchers for Ayllon's lost colony could use a lucky break of the sort British archaeologists caught this summer. A severe drought left much of the U.K. parched, though conditions were perfect for aerial photography. A number of surveys revealed scores of new sites, ranging from Bronze Age burials to the remains of medieval churches. The location of some 600 Celtic crosses in Cornwall's countryside may be a bit too well-known. A surge in Cornish nationalism has meant the granite crosses are now a hot commodity, and are being pilfered at an alarming rate. Authorities are taking the drastic step of hiding microchips on the crosses to aid in their recovery. The chips employ the same technology used to identify lost animals. Someone's wayward pet made an impression on archaeologists who built an experimental burial cairn in Scotland. A cat left a dead rabbit on the stone mound, which would likely have been interpreted as a burial "offering" if found during an excavation. The researchers are now wondering how many ancient cat "presents" may have crept into the archaeological record.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America