World news in brief: discoveries from Jerusalem, Wyoming, and South Australia

A round-up of some of the latest archaeology news from across the globe.

America’s oldest ochre mine

Investigations in Wyoming have identified the earliest known red-ochre mine in the Americas at a prehistoric quarry site known as Powars II.

Red ochre was used by prehistoric people across the Americas for a variety of activities, from the symbolic to the everyday, but Powars II is one of just five red-ochre quarries to have been discovered in the region to date.

The site, which is also the only red-ochre quarry currently known in the North American record above Mesoamerica, was initially identified in the 1980s, but its significance has only been confirmed following several decades of work.

Recent excavations and analysis of material recovered from the quarry indicate that Powars II had two phases of prehistoric occupation: the first c.12,800 years ago (associated with the Clovis and Plainview cultures) and the second c.11,600 years ago (associated with the Hell Gap culture).

Image: Spencer R Pelton.

The research was published in the journal PNAS (

Life and death in an Australian colony

Research into the development of St Mary’s-on-the-Sturt, a village established in the 1830s in the newly formed colony of South Australia, has revealed that the settlement got off to a difficult start.

Excavations carried out at St Mary’s Anglican Church in 2000 focused on the ‘free ground’ section of the village cemetery (allocated for burials paid for by the Government of South Australia), where parish records indicate most of the settlement’s occupants – made up largely of migrants from Britain – were interred across the first 30 years of the village’s existence.

Analysis of these skeletal samples revealed that the early village had a high infant mortality rate, and many individuals also showed signs of vitamin C deficiency – probably due to the scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables in the early days of the South Australian colony. The research was published in PLOS ONE ( and the International Journal of Paleopathology (

Medieval hand grenade?

Analysis of ceramic sherds from the site of a Crusader royal palace in the Armenian Garden, Jerusalem, has identified what is possibly a fragment of a medieval hand grenade.

Researchers examined ceramic sherds from vessels dating to the 11th-12th centuries, which were found among destruction debris above the city’s medieval surface. On one sherd, belonging to a sphero-conical vessel, they identified a residue with a composition possibly consistent with the vessel’s use as an explosive weapon, such as an incendiary or illumination grenade. Historical sources mention devices such as these being used against the city by Saladin’s forces during the Crusades, and the interpretation is further supported by the vessel’s thick walls, combined with its weight and shape, which are ideal for throwing by hand.

The results of the research have been published in PLOS ONE (