Footprints Suggest Early Humans May Have Walked Upright

Archaeology News - April 24, 2018

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary anthropologist David Raichlen of the University of Arizona led a team of researchers who compared footprints made by volunteers and those left some 3.6 million years ago in Laetoli, Tanzania, by members of the genus Australopithecus. Some of the volunteers walked normally, and some walked with bent knees and bent hips, otherwise known as BKBH. Raichlen suggests the Australopithecus footprints resemble those made by modern human upright walkers. “Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back four to five million years,” he said. To read about previous research on the Laetoli footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

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Researchers Return to Wreckage of Australia’s First Sub

Archaeology News - April 24, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to ABC News, a team of Australian and American researchers has returned to the site of HMAS AE1, discovered last December near Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York Island, to create a 3-D map of the World War I wreckage site. The vessel, Australia’s first submarine, and its crew of 35 were lost in September 1914 while patrolling the area for German naval vessels. Rear Admiral Peter Briggs said the submarine’s stern cap, on the rear torpedo tube, had been fully opened. “It’s certainly a deliberate action from the crew,” he said. “It requires quite a few turns on a hand wheel to physically open it, it’s the first step in preparing a torpedo tube for firing.” The researchers suggest the crew may have been prepared for an encounter with a German ship when it ran into trouble on a dive and was crushed by water pressure, but they will continue to examine the high-definition video of the wreckage to try to determine what happened. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

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Shrine and Sculpture Unearthed in Egypt

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CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that excavations in Upper Egypt have uncovered a fragment of a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius and a shrine dedicated to Osiris. While working to reduce the level of water under the Kom Ombo temple in Aswan, archaeologists discovered the sculpture of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities described the head as having wavy hair and a beard. The rare depiction of the emperor, who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180, will be cleaned and conserved. At the Karnak Temple in Luxor, archaeologists discovered the entrance, foundation, columns, inner walls, and floor paving stones to a shrine dedicated to Osiris-Ptah-Neb. It is thought to have been constructed during Egypt’s Late Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., and to have been expanded during later periods. Essam Nagy, head of the excavation, said pottery, statues, and a relief depicting a sheep and a goose and bearing the names of the kings Taharka and Tanut Amun, the last ruler of the 25th Dynasty, were also recovered. To read in-depth about Egyptian tomb paintings, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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When Did Humans First Use Symbols?

Archaeology News - April 21, 2018

AARHUS, DENMARK—According to a report in Science Magazine, cognitive scientist Kristian Tylén of Aarhus University led a team of scientists who investigated the possibility that markings found on rocks at sites in South Africa could have been used as symbols by early humans. If the marks, which ranged in age from 52,000 to 109,000 years old, were made as decorations, Tylén reasoned, modern humans should be able to recognize the patterns, and if the marks had been reproduced as local cultural traditions to convey meaning, they should still be memorable. The scientists took 24 images found on stones and shells in Blombos Cave and another site in South Africa, cleaned them up, and showed them to 65 Danish university students, who were asked to distinguish between the marks and reproduce them after a brief glimpse. Tylén’s team found that the students were better able to remember and reproduce the more recent markings, but they were not able to distinguish them from each other, or sort them into groupings based upon where they had been found. Thus, Tylén thinks it is unlikely the markings were made as symbols with individual meanings. To read more about research at Blombos Cave, go to "In Style in the Stone Age." 

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Traces of Neolithic Henge Exposed

Archaeology News - April 21, 2018

 

RAUNDS, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a Neolithic monument known as Cotton Henge, which was discovered through the use of aerial photography in the 1970s, has been completely exposed for study in advance of a construction project in Northamptonshire. The henge’s outer ditch measures about 330 feet in diameter, and although the henge never contained any standing stones, it did have associated external banks. Researchers led by archaeologist Liz Mordue of Northamptonshire County Council discovered a possible entranceway to the enclosure on the southern side of the outer ditch. It may have been closed as a way of marking the end of its use. No entrance has been found in the inner ditch. The structure is thought to have been part of a Neolithic ceremonial landscape on the floodplain of the River Nene. To read more about the British Isles during that period, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

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New Dates Reveal North America’s Oldest-Known Dogs

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Dog remains recovered at two archaeological sites in Illinois have been dated to 10,000 years ago, according to a report in Science News. Angela Perri of Durham University said the three dogs had been buried individually, and that their bones did not bear any stone tool marks, which suggests they had died of natural causes. Examination of the animals’ lower jaws and teeth indicate the one of the dogs, from the Stilwell II site, and one of the dogs from the Koster site, resembled modern wolves. The second dog from Koster shared traits with today’s coyotes. The previously oldest-known dogs in North America lived some 9,300 years ago, before they were eaten by people living in what is now Texas. To read about the earliest New World settlers, go to "The First Americans." 

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Dragon Tiles Recovered in Vietnam

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnam Net reports that recent excavations in Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel of Thang Long have uncovered traces of large buildings dating from about A.D. 1000 to 1400 in an area to the east of the Kinh Thien Palace. The researchers uncovered the stone bases of columns and foundations, building and perimeter walls, courtyards, and drainage structures. They also unearthed pieces of the palace’s distinctive roof tiles shaped like dragons and decorated with bright yellow and green enamel. Archaeologist Tong Trung Tin said the dragon-shaped tiles, which date to the early Le Dynasty (A.D. 980 to 1009), “are exactly how they have been described in history.” The line of tubular “body” tiles began with a dragon’s head and ended with its tail. The beasts on the roof of the king’s palace had legs and feet with five claws each, while the dragons on the crown prince’s palace sported legs and feet with four claws. The excavation team members also found pottery from the Mac Dynasty dating to the early sixteenth century, but no traces of Mac architecture. Tin says this reflects the historic record, which suggests Mac Dynasty rulers repaired the palaces of their predecessors, rather than building new ones. The palace was eventually torn down by French colonialists. To read more about archaeology in Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Laos: A Singular Landscape."

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Looted Artifacts Repatriated to Romania

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA—Romania Insider reports that Austria has repatriated a collection of first-century A.D. Dacian coins and bracelets to Romania. The gold and silver artifacts, including more than 450 coins and 18 bracelets, are thought to have been plundered from western Romania’s Orastie Mountains between 2000 and 2001. They were discovered in Austria in 2015. A joint investigation resulted in the convictions of 21 people for the theft. To read about archaeology in the Balkans, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest." 

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Neolithic Surgeons May Have Practiced on Animals

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—Paleontologists Alain Froment and Fernando Ramirez Rozzi of the French National Center for Scientific Research suggest a hole in a cow skull uncovered at the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand in southwestern France could be evidence of a surgical procedure. According to a Gizmodo report, their analysis of the hole found no trace of fracturing or splintering, indicating it was not caused by goring from another cow, or a puncture from a powerful blow with a stone tool. The wound does, however, resemble holes found in human skulls attributed to the practice of trepanation. The hole in the cow skull shows no signs of healing, so either the animal did not survive the procedure, or it was already dead when the procedure was performed. Froment and Rozzi note that cows were common during the Neolithic period, so it was unlikely the surgeon needed to save the life of a food animal. They think the operation may have been practice for trepanation on humans. To read more about Neolithic technology, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit." 

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Pigments Detected on Roman Stone in Scotland

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that traces of red and yellow pigments have been detected on the Antonine Wall’s distance stones with x-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy technology. Built on a stone foundation in the second century A.D., the turf wall sat about 99 miles to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, and stretched about 37 miles from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. Louisa Campbell of Glasgow University said the bright colors on the engraved stones in the wall would have enhanced the impact of Roman propaganda on the local population. Red was used to paint images of Roman officers’ cloaks, and drops of blood on their captives. Ochre was used to give color to skin tones in the pictures. “The local population might not have been able to read the Latin inscriptions on the stone but they would certainly have been able to understand the sculptures and the context behind them,” Campbell said.  To read in-depth about Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire." 

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World War II Submarine Found Near Denmark

Archaeology News - April 20, 2018

THYBORØN, DENMARK—CBS News reports that researchers from the Sea War Museum Jutland have found the wreckage of U-3523, a Nazi submarine sunk by a British aerial assault on May 6, 1945, the day after Nazi forces surrendered in Denmark. The extremely quiet Type XXI vessel was said to have been capable of travel from Europe to South America without surfacing. Historic records indicate the U-3523 had been carrying a crew of 58, but its mission is unknown. The submarine was found in the North Sea, about nine miles from the site where the British navy reported the hit, partially buried in the sea bed on a diagonal. The researchers have documented more than 450 wrecks while scanning the areas of the North Sea and the Skagerrak strait, which flows between Denmark and Norway. Nine of those wrecks have been identified as German submarines. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II." 

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New Thoughts on Classic Maya Kingdoms

Archaeology News - April 19, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—The Maya site of La Corona in Guatemala was part of a Classic-era kingdom ranging from southern Mexico to Central America, according to a Science News report. Marcello Canuto of Tulane University and Tomás Barrientos of the University of the Valley of Guatemala reviewed Lidar mapping of the Guatemalan lowlands, excavation data, and studies of Maya hieroglyphics, and found that the remote city of La Corona was ruled by the Kaanul rulers, or Snake Kings, who were based in Mexico at the city of Calakmul. La Corona may have served as a relay center for precious goods traveling in and out of the Kaanul capital to sites further south. “Our work supports the idea that the ancient Maya formed interconnected political systems, not largely separate city-states as traditionally thought,” Canuto said. To read about a pioneering Lidar study of a major Maya site, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

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Egyptian Papyrus Retells Biblical Story of Abraham and Isaac

Archaeology News - April 18, 2018

 

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that Michael Zellmann-Rohrer of Oxford University has translated a 1,500-year-old papyrus discovered near the pyramid of Pharaoh Senwosret I in 1934 by researchers from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Zellmann-Rohrer said the “magical papyrus” describes the biblical story of the binding of Isaac, in which God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. As the story is told in the biblical book of Genesis, God stopped Abraham from completing the sacrifice, but Zellmann-Rohrer said that in this text, written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, the sacrifice was completed. Other known texts from antiquity relate the story in this way, Zellmann-Rohrer said. He also explained that the story had been copied onto the papyrus by multiple writers who were not likely to have been professional scribes. To read about early medieval Christian manuscripts in Egypt, go to "Recovering Hidden Texts."   

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4,000-Year-Old Urn Discovered in England

Archaeology News - April 18, 2018

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an intact collared urn, flint tools, and additional pieces of pottery were found under just ten inches of dirt in a Bronze Age burial mound overlooking the English Channel in southwestern England. The urn stands about 12 inches tall, and may contain cremains. “It’s almost a miracle that a plow has never hit it,” said archaeologist Catherine Frieman of Australian National University. Frieman’s team discovered the burial mound during a geophysical survey of farmland in the coastal area, which she suggests was important for the trade of metals such as Cornish tin during the Bronze Age. The surface of the mound is dotted with several features that look like pits, and is surrounded by a circular ditch with a single entrance. It had been previously thought that barrows in Cornwall had been constructed without ditches. To read more about this period in the British Isles, go to "Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold." 

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Coin Hoard Discovered in Germany

Archaeology News - April 18, 2018

BERLIN, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that metal detectorists investigating Germany’s Rügen Island helped archaeologists to discover a trove of silver artifacts that may be linked to Harald Bluetooth, who ruled Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden, and parts of Norway from about A.D. 958 to 986. The pair found a piece of silver and alerted the regional archaeology service, who investigated an area covering 4,300 square feet, and recovered braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings, and as many as 600 coins. More than 100 of the coins date to the reign of Harald Bluetooth, while the oldest in the cache dates to A.D. 714. “This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” said archaeologist Michael Schirren. The treasure is thought to have been buried in the late 980s, when Bluetooth fled to Pomerania in the wake of a rebellion led by his son. To read in-depth about Viking coin hoards on another island in the Baltic Sea, go to "Hoards of the Vikings."

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Medieval Egyptian Pottery Found in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - April 17, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The site of an opulent medieval building in southern Bulgaria has yielded a lusterware plate made in Egypt, fragments of colorful murals, and ancient roadways, according to a report in Archaeology in Bulgaria. The pottery, decorated with a human form and a metallic glaze, has been dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century A.D. The cellar in which the plate was recovered had been decorated with murals painted in red, green, and blue. “Pieces which haven’t been pieced together yet show floral motifs as well as scenes,” said archaeologist Kamen Stanev. “We hope to find more pieces from the murals, which were laid on wooden planks.” Coins, belt appliques, weights, and fragments of glass bracelets have also been recovered during the rescue excavation. The building was found near six layers of a roadway that had been reused over the centuries. Stanev explained that in antiquity, the road had been paved with large stone slabs, but during later periods, it was covered with fragments of ceramics, small stones, and bits of mortar from ancient buildings. During the city’s poorer periods, its roads were just “a river of mud,” she added.

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Skeletal Study of Custer’s Men Questions Suicide Claims

Archaeology News - April 17, 2018

MISSOULA, MONTANA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Genevieve Mielke of the University of Montana reviewed accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn made by Native Americans and soldiers of General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry, and data on soldiers whose remains were unearthed at the battlefield in the 1980s and 1990s. Fourteen of the 30 accounts claimed that Custer’s men killed themselves with their revolvers in order to avoid death at the hand of the Native American warriors who had defeated them on June 26, 1876. But the data on 31 soldiers’ skeletal injuries suggests that only three of them committed suicide by shooting themselves in the head. Twenty-two of the men had skeletal damage consistent with dismemberment, scalping, or other wounds. “No doubt suicides happened among Custer’s men, but perhaps not on the grand scale previously suggested,” Mielke said. A larger study of the remains of the 268 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who died during the battle would be required to get an estimate of how many of them actually committed suicide, she explained. To read in-depth about the historical archaeology of Plains Indians, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire." 

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Stone Foundation May Mark Copenhagen’s Oldest Church

Archaeology News - April 17, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a report in the Copenhagen Post, the foundations of a building or a dyke have been found in Copenhagen’s City Hall Square, near the remains of 20 people thought to have lived some 1,000 years ago. The foundations may have supported the city’s first Christian church. It had been thought that Copenhagen had been a fishing village at the time. “If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” said archaeologist Lars Ewald Jensen of the Museum of Copenhagen. The museum will continue to study the skeletons. To read about a discovery from a later period of the city's history, go to "Kidnapped in Copenhangen." 

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Asian Ancestors Detected in DNA Study in Mexico

Archaeology News - April 14, 2018

IRAPUATO, MEXICO—According to a report in Science Magazine, population geneticist Juan Esteban Rodríguez and his advisor, Andrés Moreno-Estrada, of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, used data collected from the genomes of 500 living Mexicans to look for traces of Asian immigrants to Mexico. The scientists expected to find traces of nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants who lived in northern Mexico, and so were surprised to find that about one-third of the people in the sample who live in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero also had significant Asian ancestry. Their DNA resembled that of present-day populations from the Philippines and Indonesia. Historic records suggest their ancestors may have been enslaved and carried from Asia to Mexico in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on Spanish galleons. “We’re uncovering these hidden stories of slavery and people who lost their identities when they disembarked in a whole new country,” Moreno-Estrada said. For more on the colonial history of Mexico, go to “Conquistador Contagion.”

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Medieval Skeleton Found With Possible Arm Prosthesis

Archaeology News - April 14, 2018

ROME, ITALY—Science Alert reports that the remains of a man whose partially amputated right arm appears to have been replaced with a knife has been found in a Lombard necropolis in northern Italy. Archaeologist Ileana Micarelli of Sapienza University said the man died between the ages of 40 and 50 sometime during the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. He had been placed in the grave with his right arm bent at the elbow and laid across his torso. A knife blade, a D-shaped buckle, and decomposed organic material—probably leather—were found aligned with the arm. Micarelli said the man’s hand may have been amputated after an injury from a fall or combat. He survived, and the ends of the arm bones had formed a callus and a bone spur on the ulna, perhaps from wearing a prosthesis. Micarelli also noted that the teeth on the man’s right side were very worn, possibly from using them to tighten straps that held a prosthesis in place. A ridge of bone on his shoulder may have also been caused by frequent tightening movements. For more on archaeology in Italy, go to “Rome’s Oldest Aqueduct.”

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