Rare Roman-Era Coffin May Have Been Reused

Archaeology News - September 24, 2016

DORSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a limestone sarcophagus holding the remains of a Roman man was uncovered in a quarry in southwest England by a team from Thames Valley Archaeologist Services. The researchers said that the burial was unusual because the man’s feet had been bent backwards so that his body would fit in the coffin. “In the Roman period, burial in a sarcophagus was moderately common in Italy but very unusual in Britain, where even wooden coffins seem to have been rare,” said archaeologist Steve Ford. He thinks the sarcophagus, which would have been a prestigious item, may have been reused. An initial examination of the bones did not reveal any signs of disease. Further investigation into the cause of death are underway. For more on Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."

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Geoglyphs Mapped in Southern Peru

Archaeology News - September 24, 2016

TORONTO, CANADA—Live Science reports that dozens of circular geoglyphs of varying sizes have been recorded in southern Peru, near the ancient town of Quilcapampa. Many of the images, dated to between A.D. 1050 and 1400, were created by removing stones from the surface of the ground. Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum and his colleagues mapped the intertwined rings with satellite imagery, aerial drones, and ground surveys, and found that they had been placed near trade routes. The researchers suggest that the circular images may reflect the continuous movement of people, goods, and food along the route linking the coast and the highland. Some of the geoglyphs are accompanied by cairns, or rock piles, as part of the design. To read about another massive site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

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Possible Iron Age Broch Discovered in Scotland

Archaeology News - September 24, 2016

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Shetland News reports that Michael Stratigos of the University of Aberdeen and underwater archaeologist Sally Evans think they may have found the remains of an Iron Age broch—a type of hollow-walled stone roundhouse found only in Scotland on an islet in the Loch of Strom. The site consists of a large mound with a small, circular depression in its center. Possible stone piers have also been found. “If it’s not a broch and is an Iron Age house, then it’s still significant because we don’t have many large Iron Age houses, and we should have more,” commented archaeologist Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust. Stratigos said that part of the broch may have already been lost to erosion. “It is difficult to say how well preserved the site is without taking back some or all of the vegetation, something that would undoubtedly speed up the decay of the site,” he explained. To read more, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age." 

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Cambodia’s Forestry Officials Foil Suspected Looters

Archaeology News - September 24, 2016

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that forestry official Mom Bun Lim, chief of the Banteay Srei division, seized two tenth-century sandstone sculptures after pursuing a car on rural roads for several hours. He noted that the vehicle seemed overloaded, and suspected the two occupants were carrying a load of illegal timber. He called for reinforcements to cut the driver off when he neared a populated area. The illegal cargo turned out to be two ancient sandstone sculptures that may have been stolen from the remote site of the Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province, which is located about 75 miles away, since the region around the Angkor Archaeological Park is well guarded. Anthropologist Ang Choulean of the Royal University of Fine Arts said that antiquities thefts were “a pretty frequent occurrence in the 1990s, but it’s been years since we’ve heard talk of thieves.” To read more, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear."

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Computer Model Simulates Ancient Climate Change, Migration

Archaeology News - September 23, 2016

MANOA, HAWAII—Live Science reports that scientists led by Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii at Manoa have developed a new computer simulation, spanning a period of 125,000 years, of how rainfall, temperature, sea levels, glacial ice, vegetation, carbon dioxide levels, and the migration patterns of modern humans might have been affected by Milankovitch cycles, or wobbles in the planet’s orbit and tilt that occur every 21,000 years. The model suggests that modern humans may have traveled between northeastern Africa and other parts of the world through periodic “habitable green corridors” in the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Timmermann says these results align with archaeological and fossil data from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. “If the climate had been constant over the past 125,000 years, we would have evolved in a very different way,” he said. A future version of the simulation will add Neanderthals, interbreeding, cultural exchange, and competition for food into the mix. For more on modern human origins, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

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Genetic Study Links Indigenous Australians to First Arrivals

Archaeology News - September 23, 2016

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen conducted a population analysis of 83 Indigenous Australians and 25 Papuans, and found that their ancestors can be traced back 50,000 years, to the first arrivals on the continent. “They are probably the oldest group in the world that you can link to one particular place,” he said. The study also suggests that about four percent of the Indigenous Australian genome came from an unknown human relative. Willerslev added that Indigenous populations in Australia remained almost totally isolated until about 4,000 years ago, about the same time that the languages now spoken by these populations began to spread. “You see a movement of people spreading across the continent and leaving signatures across the continent,” he said. “That is the time that this new language has spread.” For more on the prehistory of Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

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Scientists Successfully Image Ancient, Charred Bible

Archaeology News - September 23, 2016

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY—Live Science reports that a team from the University of Kentucky has “virtually unwrapped” the En-Gedi scroll using X-ray-based micro-computed tomography scans. The scroll was discovered in the Holy Ark at the synagogue at En-Gedi, which was destroyed by fire around A.D. 600. The team, led by computer scientist Brent Seales, first identified each of the five layers of parchment in the scroll. Then they created a virtual geometric mesh for each of the layers to help make the text, written with an ink containing metal, more visible. In the last step, the researchers digitally flattened the scroll and merged the layers into one, 2-D image. The text, placed in two columns, consists of 35 lines of Hebrew. Biblical scholars now know that the En-Gedi scroll contains the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, the third of the five books in the Jewish Torah. And the text is identical to the text of the Book of Leviticus in medieval Hebrew Bibles. “This is quite amazing for us,” said Emanuel Tov, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “That in 2,000 years, this text has not changed.” To read about a similar project, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."

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Drone Photos Reveal Ancient Settlement

Archaeology News - September 22, 2016

LE PIANELLE, ITALY—Live Science reports that airborne drones have been used to discover traces of a possible Samnite community in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, where rugged terrain has prevented scientists from taking conventional aerial photographs. Tesse Stek of Leiden University and his colleagues wanted to look for villages, farms, villas, and cemeteries that may have been connected to two ancient temples uncovered by construction projects in the region. So, they programed aerial drones to take photographs in areas where they had found artifacts on the ground. Strong winds in a narrow valley caused the loss of one drone, but other flights revealed several archaeological complexes surrounding the once-mysterious temples. “We have a very complete overview of the internal organization of the settlement, including its disposition along the road, storage spaces, domestic areas, and so on,” Stek said. The villages were denser and better organized than had been anticipated, he added. For more on the Samnites, go to "Pompeii Before the Romans."

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Large Hominin Teeth Found in Hobbits’ Cave

Archaeology News - September 22, 2016

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in Nature, archaeologist Thomas Sutikna and geochronologist Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong say that two teeth from modern humans have been found in the Indonesian cave where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in 2003. The teeth have been dated to 46,000 years ago, making them slightly younger than the estimated date for the extinction of the hobbits some 50,000 years ago. The upper premolar and lower molar are larger than the teeth of H. floresiensis, but some scholars are not convinced that they belonged to a modern human. Other evidence for the presence of modern humans in the cave after the hobbits disappeared includes fireplaces and freshwater mollusk shells. “What we don’t yet know is whether there was at least a short overlap in the populations, thus raising the question once again of the possible role of modern humans in the extinction of floresiensis,” commented paleoanthroplogist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to "The First Artists."

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Ancient Cat DNA Examined for Clues to Domestication

Archaeology News - September 22, 2016

PARIS, FRANCE—Nature reports that evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl of the Institute Jacques Monod and her colleagues Claudio Ottoni and Thierry Grange investigated the origins of domesticated cats by sequencing mitochondrial DNA obtained from more than 200 sets of cat remains recovered from more than 30 archaeological sites in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The cats lived between about 15,000 years ago and the eighteenth century A.D. The researchers found that wild cats from the Middle East are likely to have traveled with early farmers into the eastern Mediterranean. The feline hunters may have been drawn to the rodents attracted to new grain stockpiles. A mitochondrial lineage found in later Egyptian cat mummies was also found in the remains of cats in Eurasia and Africa, and in cat remains from a Viking site in northern Germany. Geigl suggests that seafaring peoples probably kept cats on their ships to keep rodents at bay as well. The team also found evidence indicating that the tabby coat variation first appeared in the medieval period. For more, go to "Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt."

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Possible Anglo-Saxon Palace Discovered at Rendlesham

Archaeology News - September 21, 2016

SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a large structure at the Anglo-Saxon site at Rendlesham have been detected with aerial photography and geophysical surveys. Researchers think Rendlesham may be the “king’s village” described by the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk, who also mentioned a palace in the village. “We have discovered what we think is a large Anglo-Saxon Hall, which could be the palace itself, if you could call it that,” said Faye Minter of Suffolk County Council’s archaeological unit. The building measures 75 feet by 30 feet. Helen Geake of the British Museum explained that Anglo-Saxon kings probably had many palaces and halls in East Anglia so that they would have places to stay when they toured the kingdom. Scholars also think that the king at Rendlesham was buried in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, located about four miles away. To read about other discoveries in Suffolk, go to "Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall."

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New Technique Identifies Neanderthal Bone Proteins

Archaeology News - September 21, 2016

CHÂTELPERRON, FRANCE—Science reports that bioarchaeologist Matthew Collins of the University of York analyzed ancient proteins in hominin bone fragments that were discovered in the Grotte du Renne cave in central France between 1949 and 1963. Some of the many bone fragments, which were reportedly found in the same archaeological layer as bone tools and tiny beads made of animal teeth, shells, and ivory, appeared to be Neanderthal. But some researchers argued that the delicate artifacts must have been made by modern humans, who were entering Europe at about the same time that the artifacts were produced. The new study, conducted by Collins and an international team of scientists, dated and identified proteins and mitochondrial DNA in the bone fragments from the site, and determined that they probably are the remains of a single breast-fed Neanderthal infant. In addition, the bones were dated to about 42,000 years old—the same age as the beads and tools. “You can invent all sorts of stories,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “But the simplest explanation is that this assemblage was made at least in part by Neanderthals.” For more, go to "Neanderthal Necklace."

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Sunken World War I Warship Found Near Norway

Archaeology News - September 21, 2016

THYBORON, DENMARK—Live Science reports that the wreckage of the HMS Warrior has been discovered near Norway by marine archaeologist Innes McCartney of Bournemouth University and an exploration firm sponsored by the Sea War Museum Jutland. The Warrior is the last of the 25 British and German ships sunk during the Battle of Jutland, fought in the North Sea on May 31 and June 1, 1916, to be found. “It’s completely upside down, and it sank down into an area of very soft seabed, right to the level of the upper deck—so everything inside it is completely sealed in,” McCartney said. The British armored cruiser was heavily damaged during the battle by German gunfire. A British aircraft carrier attempted to tow the Warrior, but the vessel was eventually abandoned after the crew was moved to safety. McCartney explained that shipwrecks from the Battle of Jutland, many of which are war graves, have been looted for their valuable bronze fittings. The Warrior has been protected by its partial burial and because its location, away from the site of the battle, was unknown. “It’s the only wreck left from the Battle of Jutland that we can categorically say is completely unspoiled,” McCartney added. For more, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."

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Ottoman-Era Fisherman’s House Found in Israel

Archaeology News - September 21, 2016

ASHKELON, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that an Ottoman-era fisherman’s house and a lookout tower have been uncovered on the Mediterranean coastline by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, who were assisted by boys and girls who live in the area. Excavation directors Federico Kobrin and Haim Mamliya said that the house had three rooms, and contained metal fish hooks, lead weights, a large bronze bell, and a stone anchor. Its door was placed on the north side of the building, presumably to keep wind and sea water out. The tower, situated on a hilltop, may have served as a lighthouse. To read about another recent discovery on the coast of Israel, go to "Sun and Moon."

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Were Ancient Dogs Really Hunting Companions?

Archaeology News - September 20, 2016

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Science reports that Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology zooarchaeologist Angela Perri surveyed excavations of prehistoric sites in Japan for evidence that early dogs helped people to hunt. She focused on the hunter-gatherers of the Jōmon culture who lived off the dense forest on the east coast of the island of Honshu, and found that beginning about 9,000 years ago, the Jōmon buried their dogs in shell middens in much the same way that they buried human hunters. Some of the 110 dog burials in the literature provided evidence of broken legs and teeth, injuries that the dogs may have sustained while hunting. And some of those injuries had healed, suggesting that humans had cared for the dogs. But after the Jōmon began farming about 2,500 years ago, dog remains appeared in the archaeological record as random piles of bones, and sometimes were even butchered. Perri suggests that the Jōmon revered dogs while they served a valued purpose as hunting companions, but when they were no longer needed to flush prey out of the forest cover and protect human hunters, dogs may have become a source of food. Jōmon groups located to the north and the south of Honshu, and who lived on foods from the sea, treated dogs like food all along, she added. To read in-depth about dogs in the archaeological record, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

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Excavation of de Luna’s 16th-Century Settlement Continues

Archaeology News - September 20, 2016

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—WUWF.com reports that a team led by archaeologist John Worth of the University of West Florida has found a large garbage pit at the site of Spanish colonist Tristan de Luna’s 1559 settlement in the western Florida Panhandle. One month after de Luna’s arrival, a hurricane destroyed most of the expedition’s ships and supplies. So far, the team members have recovered a deer antler and the remains of shellfish, conk, oysters, and scallops, which suggests the 1,500 Spaniards in the expedition hunted and fished for food. The pit also contained pieces of iron from the straps and hoops of wooden barrels. Worth thinks de Luna’s men may have recycled the iron for nails, or may have traded it for food with local Native Americans. The team has also found floor surfaces and post molds from structures, and a balance scale weight that may have been used by the expedition’s treasurer to weigh pay for the soldiers. The hurricane “may have even changed the entire history of the continent, by altering what could have been a successful Luna Expedition, and which would never have led to St. Augustine and never have led to the southeast becoming dominated by the English,” Worth said. For more, go to "Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth."

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Human Remains Recovered at Greece’s Antikythera Shipwreck

Archaeology News - September 20, 2016

ANTIKYTHERA, GREECE—Nature reports that a set of human remains has been found at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck, known for the discovery of a clockwork device thought to have been used to track the motions of celestial bodies some 2,100 years ago. The remains of at least four people were recovered at the site in the 1970s. The newly discovered bones, which are red in color due to corroded iron artifacts at the site, include a partial skull with a jaw and several teeth, long bones from the arms and legs, and ribs. They were found under about 18 inches of sand and pieces of pottery by underwater archaeologists from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Over the years, the sand and debris protected the remains from hungry fish and sea currents. Hannes Schroeder of the Natural History Museum of Denmark says that the size and condition of the bones suggest that they belonged to a young man. Schroeder also explained that both petrous bones—small, dense bones located behind the ear—have been recovered by the excavation team. “If there’s any DNA, then from what we know, it’ll be there,” he said. To read about another underwater discovery in Greek waters, go to "The City That Wasn’t."

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Early Fish Hooks Unearthed in Okinawa

Archaeology News - September 19, 2016

OKINAWA, JAPAN—CNN reports that a team of Japanese researchers led by Masaki Fujita of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum has found 23,000-year-old fish hooks made from sea snail shells in Sakitari Cave, located on the south side of the island of Okinawa. These fish hooks are older than hooks unearthed on Timor, which are thought to be at least 16,000 years old, and hooks found in Papua New Guinea, which have been dated to at least 18,000 years ago. The team also found evidence that early inhabitants of Okinawa cooked and ate frogs, birds, small mammals, eels, and perhaps even lobster. Human skeletal remains, beads, and an artifact that may be a grindstone have also been found in the cave. "We found fish and human bones that dated back some 30,000 to 35,000 years," Fujita said. "We don't know what kind of tools were used to catch these fish, but we're hoping to find some even older fishing tools." For more on the history of fishing, go to "Off With Their Heads."

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Monumental Burial Mound in Ukraine Reconstructed

Archaeology News - September 17, 2016

POZNAŃ, POLAND—A report in Science & Scholarship in Poland describes a 5,000-year-old burial discovered and reconstructed by a team led by Danuta Żurkiewicz of Adam Mickiewicz University. Żurkiewicz said the evidence suggests the people buried in this cemetery, located on what is now the border between Ukraine and Moldova, were nomads who built monumental burial mounds. One mound in particular contained the remains of a man who stood over six feet tall. “This is not a typical height for the contemporary community. The man had to stand out with his stature,” Żurkiewicz explained. His body had been placed on a woven mat in a rectangular pit with a wooden roof that was covered with four limestone slabs. Analysis of the man’s bones suggests that he died between 35 and 50 years of age, and that he suffered from spinal degeneration, perhaps brought on by frequent horseback riding. To read about another group of nomads, go to "Rites of the Scythians."

Categories: Blog

Nineteenth-Century Boston Reflected in Privy’s Artifacts

Archaeology News - September 17, 2016

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—WCVB.com reports that an excavation in the Washington Garden at Boston’s Old North Church has recovered artifacts reflecting the lives of English, Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century. City archaeologist Joseph Bagley said that the artifacts, which include pottery, toys, a clay pipe emblazoned with a shamrock, wooden clothespins, animal bones, religious figurines, and medicine bottles were recovered from a tenement privy. To read about another discovery in a privy, go to "World’s Oldest Pretzels."

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