Early Hominin Footprints May Reveal Children’s Activities

Archaeology News - February 17, 2018

POOLE, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that footprints left some 700,000 years ago at Ethiopia’s site of Melka Kunture offer insight into the parenting techniques of Homo heidelbergensis. The footprints suggest a group made up of adults and children had been at the site, where stone tools and the butchered remains of a hippo were also found. “Clearly the adult members of the groups were getting on with normal activities,” said Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University. He says children tagged along with the adult hunting group, and thus learned firsthand about toolmaking, hunting, and butchering from an early age. For more, go to “Our Tangled Ancestry.”

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Gas From Turkey’s Gate to the Underworld Analyzed

Archaeology News - February 17, 2018

DUISBURG, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that volcano biologist Hardy Pfanz of the University of Duisburg-Essen and his colleagues measured the concentration of carbon dioxide emitted from the cave-like grotto at the temple dedicated to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, in Hierapolis. The visible mist still pours from deep fissures in the earth under the Plutonium into an open-air arena surrounded by raised stone seating. Pfanz and his team found that the warmth of the sun during the day dissipates the gas, but in the cool of the night, the gas, which is slightly heavier than the air, collects on the floor of the arena. At dawn, the concentration of carbon dioxide on the arena floor would have been strong enough to kill animals and people within a few minutes. Pfanz suggests the temple priests probably led bulls and other animals into “the gates of hell” for sacrifice in the morning, when their heads would not have risen above the layer of gas, while the priests themselves would have been safe. As the animals became dizzy, their heads would have dropped even lower into the carbon dioxide layer until they suffocated. For more, go to “Portals to the Underworld.”

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World War I Belt Buckle Found at Scotland’s Stirling Castle

Archaeology News - February 17, 2018

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that a belt buckle dating to World War I was unearthed at the site of an eighteenth-century footpath known as the Back Walk near Scotland’s medieval Stirling Castle. The buckle, which bears an image of the double-headed imperial eagle and the Austrian coat of arms, was the type issued to soldiers in the Austrian Army. During World War I, the castle was a working barracks and a military prison. The lost buckle may have been a souvenir collected by a Scottish soldier, or it may have belonged to a prisoner of war. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century clay tobacco pipes, a small knife, and a lead musket ball were also found in the area of the Back Walk. A midden closer to the castle yielded pottery and stoneware dating to the medieval period. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

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When Were Rabbits Domesticated?

Archaeology News - February 16, 2018

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Evan Irving-Pease is investigating the domestication of rabbits, according to a Science News report. He and his colleagues tried to trace the origins of a tale alleging that Christian monks in Southern France first tamed the creatures in A.D. 600, after Pope Gregory issued a proclamation stating that fetal rabbits, known as laurices, were fish, and could therefore be eaten during Lent, a time when meat consumption is traditionally restricted. Pease says there’s no evidence to back the story, and that DNA evidence suggests that the history of rabbit domestication does not have a distinct beginning. The scientists will turn to ancient rabbit bones for more information. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

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Tomb in Japan Yields 1,500-Year-Old Breastplate

Archaeology News - February 16, 2018

SHIBUSHI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tunnel tomb containing a stone coffin, human remains, and armor was discovered during road work in southern Kyushu. The tomb consisted of a burial chamber measuring about nine feet long, six feet wide, and three feet deep, and was connected to a nine-foot-long vertical shaft. Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum said the Kofun Period tomb is thought to have belonged to a local chieftain who received the breastplate, known as a tanko, from the Yamato imperial court. The breastplate was found standing beside the coffin. An iron arrowhead, a spear, and an iron ax were also recovered. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Scholars Analyze Russia’s Sunghir Burials

Archaeology News - February 15, 2018

 

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Live Science reports that researchers led by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, and Alexandra Buzhilova of Lomonosov Moscow State University, re-examined the contents of 34,000-year-old graves excavated in western Russia in the mid-twentieth century. Known as the Sunghir burials, the graves included the remains of two boys, aged ten and 12 years old, who had been buried together with more than 10,000 mammoth ivory beads, more than 20 armbands, some 300 pierced fox teeth, 16 ivory mammoth spears, carved artifacts, and deer antlers. In addition, two human fibulas had been laid across the boys’ chests. Trinkaus noted that a 40-year-old man had been buried with similar items, but far fewer of them. “From the point of view of the mortuary behavior, the burial of the adult is, in fact, very different from the burial of the children,” he said. The children’s skeletons suggest they had experienced periods of nutritional stress, and would not have been able to contribute to the highly mobile community in the way the full-grown man may have. The ten-year-old had short, bowed thigh bones, but he was physically active. The 12-year-old, however, had been bedridden, and the lack of wear on his teeth suggests he had been fed soft foods. To read about another recent discovery in Russia, go to “Nomadic Chic.”

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Head Shapes May Have Marked Status in Pre-Inca Peru

Archaeology News - February 15, 2018

ITHACA, NEW YORK—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Matthew Velasco of Cornell University examined the 600-year-old skulls of 211 members of Peru’s Collagua ethnic community, and found that intentional head-shaping of the young may have helped to bind together powerful elites. High-ranking elites are thought to have been buried in structures built against a cliff face, while non-elites were buried in caves and under rocky overhangs. Some of the bones and sediments were radiocarbon dated, so that Velasco could track how skull shapes changed over time. He found that about three-quarters of the 114 elite skulls dating to the late pre-Inca period, between A.D. 1300 and 1450, had been modified, and more than 60 percent of the modified skulls had been elongated. Velasco thinks the elongated style may have been preferred by elites, and speculates that their unity may have helped the Collaguas negotiate a peaceful integration into the Inca Empire. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

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Roman-Era Temple Unearthed in Upper Egypt

Archaeology News - February 15, 2018

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the students of the Egyptian Excavation Field School have uncovered a second-century temple at the Kom Al-Rasras archaeological site. Cartouches of the Roman emperors Domitian, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius have been found engraved in its sandstone blocks. The temple, called “Khenu” in hieroglyphics, was made up of a three-chambered sanctuary, which led to a cross-sectional hall, and a second hall with a sandstone ramp. Stones engraved with stars that may have been part of the temple’s ceiling were found inside its walls. “The discovered site might be connected to [the quarries of the] Gebel el-Silsila area and the temple was most probably a part of the residential area of the quarry workers,” said Ayman Ashmawy of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. The excavators will continue to search for the residential area of the el-Silsila quarries. To read about a discovery at Gebel el-Silsila, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

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Ice-Age Artifacts Dated in the Netherlands

Archaeology News - February 15, 2018

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—A piece of bison bone recovered from the North Sea by a Dutch fishing vessel in 2005 has been radiocarbon dated to 13,500 years ago, according to a report in the International Business Times. The bone had been carved with a zig-zag pattern. An adult human skull fragment, also recovered from the North Sea, has been dated to 13,000 years ago. The bison bone is said to be the oldest piece of art found in the Netherlands, and the skull fragment is said to be the oldest modern human remains found there. Pinprick-sized pits in the skull fragment indicate the person may have suffered from anemia in childhood or have had a vitamin deficiency that caused scurvy or rickets. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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Sweden’s Underwater Hunter-Gatherer Burial

Archaeology News - February 14, 2018

VÄSTERÅS, SWEDEN—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists have excavated the site of an unusual burial of 11 adults and an infant in east-central Sweden. Some 8,000 years ago, the burial, now in a forested region, was at the bottom of a lake. The skulls of seven of the hunter-gatherer adults bore signs of partially healed blunt-force trauma. “Somebody gave them love and care after this [trauma] and healed them back to life again,” said Fredrik Hallgren of the Cultural Heritage Foundation in Västerås, Sweden. Two of the skulls, one of which contained a piece of brain tissue, were found mounted on wooden stakes that may have served as handles, and may have broken through the water’s surface after the skulls were placed on top of the large stones at the base of the burial site. The surviving brain tissue suggests the person was placed in the water shortly after death, but some of the other skulls may have been placed there long after the deaths of the individuals. The carefully arranged bones of wild boar, red deer, moose, and roe deer were also found. “It’s a very enigmatic structure,” Hallgren said. “We really don’t understand the reason why they did this and why they put it under water.” For more, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

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Copper Ax Fragment Found at Neolithic Site in Denmark

Archaeology News - February 14, 2018

BORNHOLM, DENMARK—According to a report in Live Science, a small piece of copper has been found at the 5,000-year-old Vasagard archaeological site, which may have been a center of sun worship during the Neolithic period. The site consists of traces of several round timber structures within an earthen-wall enclosure. Hand-sized, polished stones inscribed with connected radiating lines resembling spider webs, and fragments of stones that may have been inscribed with symbolic maps, have also been recovered from the site. The piece of copper was found in what had been one of ten postholes for the largest timber structure. Michael Thorsen of the Bornholm Museum said the metal may have been part of a larger ax that had been buried as part of a sacrifice. He suggests the ax had not been made locally, but was imported from the Mediterranean or the Balkans, where people were producing copper objects at that time. The building may have been used for rituals or as a place for housing the dead before it was ceremonially demolished and its postholes filled in with burned grain, burned stone axes, and the copper ax. “For me, it just makes the structure even more important, because they were offering a rare piece of copper like this,” Thorsen said. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

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Ancient Camel Sculptures Discovered in Saudi Arabia

Archaeology News - February 14, 2018

AL JAWF, SAUDI ARABIA—Haaretz reports that 12 panels of life-sized reliefs of 11 camels and two other equids have been discovered on three rocky spurs in remote northwest Saudi Arabia by a team of scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. The sculptures are estimated to be about 2,000 years old, and have been damaged by erosion and construction projects. Only one or two of the images are shown with what may be a rope—otherwise, the animals are said to have been lovingly depicted in their natural state. Such artworks are rare on the Arabian Peninsula, and usually consist of geometric forms, scenes of war or hunting, or other animals. Flakes of flint tools have been found at the so-called Camel Site, but they have not been associated with the carvings. The researchers speculate the site may have been used as a boundary marker, a rest stop for caravans, or a place to venerate Al-Lat, a goddess associated with camels. To read about another recent discovery in Saudi Arabia, go to “Hot Property.”

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Medical Writings From Ancient Mesopotamia Studied

Archaeology News - February 13, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Science Nordic report, Troels Pank Arbøll of the University of Copenhagen studied 2,700-year-old texts written on clay tablets by Kisir-Ashur, a medical student who lived in the Neo-Assyrian Empire at the end of the seventh century B.C. Kisir-Ashur described how he was trained, and his writings offer insights into how the Assyrians understood the concept of illness. “It’s an insight into some of the earliest examples of what we can describe as science,” Arbøll said. During the earlier stages of his education, Kisir-Ashur practiced his skills on animals, then progressed to treating babies, and finally adults. The texts also reveal that disease was thought to have been caused by sinful or objectionable behavior by the sick person, or the result of witchcraft performed against the sick person. After the power that caused the disease was identified, it was treated with medical agents, incantations, prayers, and rituals. Healers also treated economic and social problems, which were thought to have the same origins as illnesses. “He does not work simply with religious rituals, but also with plant-based medical treatments,” Arbøll added. Kisir-Ashur also experimented with the venom of scorpions and snakes, and observed patients who had suffered bites or stings. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

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Close Human-Dog Relationships Date Back 14,000 Years

Archaeology News - February 13, 2018

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Veterinarian Luc Janssens of Leiden University recently examined the dog remains discovered in a Paleolithic grave in western Germany in 1914, and found that the younger of the two animals in the grave had suffered from canine distemper, according to a Live Science report. Analysis of the pup’s teeth revealed it had suffered from two or three bouts of the serious viral illness, which is marked by symptoms such as fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting in its first phase, to be followed by stuffy nose, laryngitis, and pneumonia. If a dog survives the second phase of the disease, it can then experience neurological problems and seizures. Janssens says the animal would have required intensive care from its human companions, and would not have been of any practical use as a working animal while it was ill. When combined with the fact that the dogs’ remains had been included in a human grave, which also contained a bone pin, a sculpture of an elk made from elk antlers, a bear’s penis bone, and a red-deer tooth, the pup’s condition suggests there had been an emotional bond of care between the species. To read about a Roman dog statue discovered in England, go to “Artifact.”

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Early Neolithic Enclosure Found in England

Archaeology News - February 10, 2018

BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a section of a 5,500-year-old causewayed enclosure, complete with encircling ditches and boundaries with gap entrances, has been uncovered at a quarry in southeast England. Wessex Archaeology researchers expect to find the rest of the oval-shaped monument intact. “So that will mean we’ve got a much better picture and an understanding of the site as a whole,” said fieldwork director John Powell. The bones of deer, foxes, cattle, pigs, and sheep or goats, and deliberately smashed, decorated pottery suggest the site was used as a ceremonial gathering place. Residues in the pottery vessels will be tested to try to determine what they held. Leaf-shaped flint arrowheads, serrated blades, stone axes, and grinding stones have also been found at the site, which may have been a seasonally wet landscape on the floodplain of the Thames River at the time the enclosure was in use. Human remains have also been recovered at the site. Osteoarchaeologist Jaqueline McKinley said the skull and left femur had been removed from one body, and cut marks were found on a skull placed in the bottom of a ditch. “Some causewayed enclosures don’t contain much in the way of artifacts,” Powell said, “whereas this one seems very rich in artifacts, which will be significant for the understanding of the Early Neolithic in Britain.” For more, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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New Thoughts on Ireland’s Book of Kells

Archaeology News - February 10, 2018

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Independent, Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, has examined the Book of Kells, a 1,200-year-old illustrated copy of the four Christian Gospels, and offered new thoughts on its production. He thinks work on the four sections may not have begun at the same time, in Scotland, as had been previously thought. He says the handwriting of St. John’s Gospel, which was copied on the Scottish island of Iona, indicates it was made by a traditional scribe educated during the mid-eighth century. The book, traditionally the last of the four Christian Gospels, may have been intended to stand alone, since it was especially revered by medieval Celtic Christians. The same scribe’s handwriting has also been detected in the opening pages of St. Mark’s Gospel, however, suggesting that he may have died before completing that project. Meehan suggests a series of Viking attacks on the Scottish monastery, and possibly an epidemic, delayed production of the rest of the volume by about 50 years. Then, he believes, the remaining pages of St. Mark’s Gospel, and the entire texts of St. Luke’s Gospel and St. Matthew’s Gospel, were produced in Ireland, after the monks had moved to the safer, inland site at Kells. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

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Ancient Human Remains Detected in Australia’s Sand Mounds

Archaeology News - February 9, 2018

CAPE YORK, AUSTRALIA—Human remains dating back perhaps 6,000 years have been detected with ground-penetrating radar in sand mounds located in Queensland’s Far North region, according to an ABC News report. Coral, flowers, and spears have also been detected in the graves. Archaeologist Mary-Jean Sutton of Veritas Heritage explained that the coral had been evaluated by a geomorphologist who said it was harvested and placed in the graves. Hundreds of such burial mounds are thought to be located across Queensland’s Western Cape. “It’s [important] to our identity and to our heritage, knowing that our ancestors did exist here and held ceremonial practice and rituals,” added Aunty Diane Nicholls, a member of the Mapoon Indigenous community. “The Elders always knew when they were growing up here in the dormitories in the mission days, they knew gravesites were here.” For more, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Iron-Age Souterrain Found in Scotland

Archaeology News - February 9, 2018

NESS, SCOTLAND—Construction work on the Isle of Lewis revealed a 2,000-year-old underground chamber, according to a BBC News report. The well-preserved chamber had been lined with stone, and had a flat stone roof. Such chambers are thought to have been used for storing food, so there may have been a roundhouse nearby that has not survived. The souterrain will probably be filled in and covered over to preserve it when the new home is built. This chamber is the sixth to be discovered in the area. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “A Dangerous Island.”

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4,500-Year-Old Buildings Unearthed in Upper Egypt

Archaeology News - February 9, 2018

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—The International Business Times reports that two large mudbrick buildings dating to Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty have been unearthed at Tel Edfu by a team of researchers led by Nadine Moeller and Gregory Marouard of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. One of the structures still had its rare and expensive wooden door, and the outer façade of the larger one was designed with an unusual slope. The buildings were part of a larger complex of open courtyards, workshops, and storage areas where more than 200 broken clay seals, which were used to mark boxes, containers, and letters, were found. The researchers think areas in the structures might have been used for making beer and bread, and for smelting copper. The buildings may have also housed officials who came from the capital in Memphis to inspect the mining of metals and gems in the surrounding desert. Moeller said the unique finds suggest the city of Edfu may have been becoming more important during the late Fifth Dynasty, perhaps as a departure point for expeditions to the deserts to the east, and maybe even the Red Sea shore, which is about 125 miles to the east. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”

Categories: Blog

High-Quality Mosaic Uncovered in Caesarea

Archaeology News - February 9, 2018

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—Reuters reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a mosaic dating to the second or third century A.D. while excavating a building dating to the Byzantine period in Caesarea's agora. The mosaic measures about 11 feet wide by 26 feet long, and is made up of multicolored geometric patterns, a long Greek inscription, and an image of three toga-clad men. Peter Gendelman, co-director of the excavation, said that if the earlier building had been a private home, the men may have been its owners, but if the mosaic were part of a public building, the men may have been donors or members of the city council. The high-quality floor was damaged during the construction of the Byzantine structure some 300 years later. To read in-depth about mosaics at another site in the area, go to “Expanding the Story.”

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