“Thinker” Statuette Uncovered in Israel

Archaeology News - November 24, 2016

YEHUD, ISRAEL—A seven-inch-tall clay figurine of a pensive man attached to a Middle Bronze Age pot was unearthed in the central Israel town of Yehud, The Times of Israel reports. The 3,800-year-old was discovered during the excavation of a future construction site carried out by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Association along with a group of high school students. “It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” said archaeologist Gilad Itach, who led the excavation. Also found at the site were other ceramic vessels, daggers, arrowheads, an ax head, and animal bones, all of which Itach believes may have been funerary objects for an important member of the Canaanite community. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

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Plymouth Settlement Excavated

Archaeology News - November 24, 2016

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is part of the original settlement of the Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in 1620, The Boston Globe reports. A team from the University of Massachusetts Boston excavated a seventeenth-century trash pit at Burial Hill, the location of a cemetery dating back hundreds of years. The site had long been thought to be part of the Pilgrims’ first settlement, but archaeological work had been delayed due to concerns that it would disturb graves. Taking care not to do so, the team found discolored soil indicative of a post hole, and calf’s bones under a layer of discarded items dating to before 1650. The Pilgrims raised domesticated cattle, while Native Americans in the area did not, so the findings suggest the remains were part of the original settlement. “People have never found part of the seventeenth-century settlement in downtown Plymouth,” said David Landon, a University of Massachusetts Boston archaeologist who led the dig. “For the first time, we found part of the built environment.” The team also found a stone-tool workshop, pottery, and other artifacts indicating that Native Americans used Burial Hill before the Pilgrims’ arrival. For more on the archaeology of colonial America, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

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Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

Archaeology News - November 24, 2016

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt's First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs. Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

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1,500-Year-Old Remains of Domesticated Turkeys Found in Mexico

Archaeology News - November 23, 2016

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that the remains of domesticated adult and juvenile turkeys; whole, unhatched eggs; and eggshell fragments have been found in two residential structures dating to between A.D. 300 and 1200 at a Zapotec site known as Mitla Fortress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say the turkeys were used for food and in domestic rituals. Archaeologist Heather Lapham of the University of North Carolina uncovered five intact eggs alongside the remains of seven turkey hatchlings that are thought to have been left as an offering. The remains of adult turkeys were found nearby. In addition to the two houses, the team unearthed a grave containing three turkey skeletons, and two obsidian blades that may have been used to slaughter them. Turkey bones were also used to make tools and jewelry. Today, the Zapotec people prepare meat from animals introduced by the Spanish, such as chickens, cows, and pigs, but they prepare turkeys for special events such as birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals. For more, go to “Zapotec Power Rites.”

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Bronze Age Burnt Mound Excavated in Scotland

Archaeology News - November 23, 2016

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that road construction in Inverness has uncovered burned mounds dating to the Bronze Age. The mounds, made up of piles of burned waste, ash, and stones shattered by heat, were formed by repeated burning. Researchers from AOC Archaeology Group explained that the mounds are usually horseshoe shaped and found close to streams. The heated stones are thought to have been placed in pits filled with water in order to to heat it for cooking, washing wool, or as saunas. The excavation team also uncovered kilns that were used to dry grain, as well as Neolithic pottery fragments. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

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Neolithic Ceremonial Site Uncovered Near Stonehenge

Archaeology News - November 23, 2016

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that a ceremonial site dating to 3650 B.C. has been found at Larkhill, about one and one-half miles north of Stonehenge. The causewayed enclosure measured about 220 yards in diameter, and was surrounded by ditches. Pottery, worked flint, animal bones, and human skull fragments have been found in the ditches. Excavators also uncovered a stone saddle quern used for grinding grain. The site is thought to have been used as a temporary settlement, where animals and goods could be exchanged, and for feasting, ritual activity, and disposal of the dead. The site is thought to be about 700 years older than Stonehenge, and to have been built by the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge. The discoveries have the potential to transform our understanding of prehistoric Wiltshire and the Stonehenge area specifically, according to Martin Brown, principal archaeologist for WYG, the firm in charge of archaeological work at the site. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

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Possible Trade Center Unearthed in Northern China

Archaeology News - November 23, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—The Xinhua News Agency reports that the remains of a 20-foot-wide road flanked by traces of 1,000-year-old buildings have been unearthed at the site of Haifeng Town in China’s northern Hebei province. Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Cultural Relics Institute said that the excavation team has unearthed a hearth, fire pits, wall footings, bricks, tiles, and pieces of porcelain thought to date to the Jin (A.D. 960–1276) and Yuan (A.D. 1271–1368) dynasties. The town is thought to have been a port located at the mouth of a river, at the northern tip of the Maritime Silk Road, and may have been a trade center for porcelain and salt. Further excavations are being planned. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Genetic Studies Investigate Maize Domestication

Archaeology News - November 22, 2016

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science reports that two teams of scientists examined ancient cobs from Mexico for clues to the transformation of a grass called teosinte into domesticated maize. Jean Philippe Vielle-Calzada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity and his colleagues returned to the caves in Tehuacán Valley where tiny maize cobs were found in the 1960s. They recovered several 5,000-year-old cobs, reconstructed more than 35 percent of the ancient maize genome, and identified eight genes for key traits that indicate the plant was partially domesticated. It had cobs on branches for an easier harvest, and starchier, sweeter kernels—but they were covered in a hard sheath, like teosinte. Meanwhile, a team led by Nathan Wales of the University of Copenhagen analyzed a 5,300-year-old cob from a Tehuacán Valley cave that had been in a museum collection. They were able to sequence about 20 percent of the cob’s genome. These kernels are thought to have lacked a hard seed coat, which made them simpler to eat, but they may have fallen from the cob very easily, perhaps like the kernels of a wild plant, making them difficult to harvest. “I’m really amazed to see how convergent the results are,” Vielle-Calzada said. For more, go to “How Grass Became Maize.”

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Segments of Roman Road Found in Ancient Dalmatia

Archaeology News - November 22, 2016

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that archaeologists have found previously unknown sections of Roman road in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in what was the Roman province of Dalmatia. The team of scientists, from the University of Warsaw and the University of Mostar, is conducting field surveys in heavily farmed areas, and analyzing aerial and satellite images, in order to locate and verify archaeological sites and enter them into a new database. “This is the first application of modern, non-destructive archaeological methods in the area,” said Tomasz Dziurdzik of the University of Warsaw. The researchers confirmed the position of 34 archaeological sites, including a Roman fort, a settlement, and a cemetery dating to the first and second centuries A.D. They also learned that the Roman soldiers who settled in the region when they left the army usually built their homes on the edges of river valleys and close to the network of roads. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

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Rock Art Recorded in Jordan’s Black Desert

Archaeology News - November 22, 2016

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Live Science reports that researchers from the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project are recording thousands of inscriptions and petroglyphs in the Jebel Qurma region of Jordan’s Black Desert. Peter Akkermans of Leiden University explained that the inscriptions were written in a script known as Safaitic some 2,000 years ago by the people of Jebel Qurma, who are thought to have been nomads. “I am on the lookout for the Nabataeans,” reads one inscription. (The Nabataeans inhabited Jordan’s ancient rock-cut city of Petra.) Analysis of charcoal dating to the third century A.D. suggests that it came from several types of trees that needed water year-round. The images of lions, gazelles, horses, and large birds (possibly ostriches) also suggest that the region supported a wide range of life in the past. Akkermans and his team plan to retrieve ancient pollen samples to learn more about the environment. For more, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

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Early Indus Valley Farmers Grew Rice

Archaeology News - November 22, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—It had been thought that domesticated rice was introduced to India and Pakistan from China in 2000 B.C., but The Telegraph India reports that farmers in the Indus civilization cultivated rice as much as 430 years earlier. Researchers from Banaras Hindu University and the University of Cambridge have found a progressive increase in the proportion of domestic rice, and a decrease in wild rice, between 2430 and 2140 B.C. at archaeological sites in the central Ganges basin. The study also suggests that early Indus farmers grew a diverse range of crops, such as rice, millet, and beans during the summer, and wheat, barley, and pulses during the winter, in order to take advantage of summer and winter rains. “Until now, many had argued that the Indus people had not routinely cultivated rice,” said Ravindra Nath Singh of Banaras Hindu University. “Our findings suggest that rice domestication had already occurred in South Asia before the arrival of Oryza [sativa] japonica [the Chinese variety].” For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

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46,000-Year-Old Bone Ornament Found in Australia

Archaeology News - November 19, 2016

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—New Scientist reports that a piece of bone jewelry dated to more than 46,000 years ago has been discovered in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University. Microscopic analysis, conducted by her colleague Michelle Langley, revealed that the pointed kangaroo leg bone bears traces of red ochre on its ends and scrape marks made by stone tools. The ornament was probably worn through the nasal septum. “I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” said Langley. Depending upon the group, nose bones may have been worn by everyone, or may have been limited to elders. Langley explained that before the nose bone was found, it had been thought that the oldest bone tools and ornaments in Australia were only about 20,000 years old. Some scholars had suggested that bone-tool technology had been lost on the journey from Africa some 60,000 years ago. “This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions,” commented Ian Lilley of the University of Queensland. To read about early rock art in Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

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New Scan Spots Dozens of Mummified Hatchling Crocodiles

Archaeology News - November 19, 2016

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—A scan in the 1990s showed that a nearly ten-foot-long crocodile mummy housed at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden since 1828 contains the remains of two juvenile crocodiles, who were preserved nose-to-tail in the wrappings. BBC News reports that a new 3-D CT scan, conducted by the Swedish company Interspectral, has revealed 47 mummified crocodiles hatchlings tucked into the mummy’s exterior bindings. “You can’t see them very well on the old scans unless you know they’re there—and we never expected to find this,” said museum curator Lara Weiss. She explained that the mummy could reflect the Egyptian belief in life after death, and was probably an offering to the crocodile god Sobek. A similar crocodile mummy of a large adult with 20 young on its back is housed at the British Museum. To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

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Kukulkan’s Inner Structure Detected at Chichén Itzá

Archaeology News - November 18, 2016

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report by the Associated Press, archaeologists have detected what may be the original 30-foot-tall structure within the pyramid of Kukulkan with tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography, or ERT-3D. Previous research at the Maya site of Chichén Itzá had detected a 65-foot-tall “intermediate” pyramid beneath Kukulkan’s last construction stage, which dates to A.D. 900 and is now visible. The innermost pyramid is thought to date to between A.D. 500 and 800, before the Maya came into contact with other civilizations. The computer-generated image suggests the first pyramid is not perfectly aligned with the outer layers. Archaeologist Denisse Argote of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History explained that the pyramid may have been refurbished when new groups came to power, or as the building deteriorated. Minimal fill was used to cover the inner temple, however, perhaps out of respect for its sacred space over an underground water source. The new images could help scientists find a way into the inner temple. They may have to reinforce an unstable tunnel first opened in the early twentieth century, when the third platform was first found. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

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Denture Made of Human Teeth Found in Tuscany

Archaeology News - November 18, 2016

PISA, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a team of paleopathologists from the University of Pisa found a denture dating to between the late fourteenth and early seventeenth centuries in the mass grave of more than 200 members of the Giunigi family in Lucca’s convent of San Francesco. The denture consists of five canines and incisors obtained from different people, covered in a layer of metal. A strip of gold was attached at the base for wearing over the lower gums. A layer of tartar over the surface of the device indicates that it was used for a long period of time. Team member Simona Minozzi explained that scholars know about dentures from this period through historical descriptions, but this is the first known example of them. The team has not been able to match the prosthesis with a jaw from the grave. To read in-depth about the study of microbes in dental calculus, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Early Farmers Kept Dairy Animals 9,000 Years Ago

Archaeology News - November 18, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that researchers from the University of York, the University of Bristol, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique dated more than 500 Neolithic pottery vessels recovered in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and analyzed their contents for traces of dairy products and fat residues. The team members also examined animal bones found at the more than 80 archaeological sites to compare the types of fats found in the pots with the kinds of animals that were kept by the farmers. They found that in the eastern and western areas of the northern Mediterranean, dairying was commonly practiced, but not in northern Greece, where meat production was more popular. Cynthianne Spiteri of the University of Tübingen explained that milk was probably an important resource for early farmers, who may have turned milk into yogurt and cheese to make it easier to digest. Genetic testing of human bones at the sites could reveal if the early farmers were able to digest lactose. The team also found that that Neolithic communities living in rugged terrain were more likely to raise sheep and goats, while open landscapes with plenty of water were better for keeping cattle herds. To read more about food in the archaeological record, go to “A Prehistoric Cocktail Party.”

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Possible Early Christian Cemetery Unearthed in England

Archaeology News - November 17, 2016

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a cemetery containing more than 80 Anglo-Saxon burials arranged in rows has been unearthed in eastern England. Based upon pottery found in the fill, James Fairclough of Museum of London Archaeology says the cemetery dates from the seventh to the ninth centuries A.D. Fairclough added that the cemetery appears to be Christian, since there are no grave goods, and the burials were arranged on an east-west grid. Many of the wood coffins, made from split and hollowed oak trees, were found intact, due to the waterlogged environment. Six of the graves had been lined with planks, and may be the earliest such graves in Britain. Fairclough’s team also found the remains of a timber structure that may have been a chapel. The skeletons from the cemetery will be analyzed for information on sex, age, and possible family connections. To read in-depth about an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Reflects Drop in Native Canadian Population

Archaeology News - November 17, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—The Independent reports that a team of researchers including members of the Canadian aboriginal communities of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nation, analyzed the genomes of 25 people who lived on the north coast of British Columbia between 1,000 and 6,000 years ago, and compared the results with the genomes of 25 of their descendants. The study suggests that there was a steep drop in the size of the population some 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were introduced to the region. Nearly six out of ten people are thought to have died. Biologist Michael DeGiorgio of Pennsylvania State University added that a gene variant associated with survival, and helping the body identify diseases, may have been beneficial before the arrival of Europeans, but then became disadvantageous upon European contact. The variant was found to be 64 percent less common in the descendant community than in the ancient remains. For more, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

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Did Autism Fuel Human Success?

Archaeology News - November 17, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in ZME Science, Penny Spikins of the University of York and her colleagues argue that collaborative morality, or a group-oriented attitude, emerged in humans some 100,000 years ago, and changed how individuals with autism, a condition thought to have a long evolutionary history, were integrated into society. Spikins thinks people who may have been ostracized before the emergence of collaborative morality came to be seen as valuable to group survival due to their heightened senses, exceptional memory skills, and attention to detail. Those traits may have helped groups of hunter-gatherers navigate the landscape, understand the behavior of prey animals, and recognize different plants and animals. According to Spikins, people with diverse abilities took on specialized roles, which helped lead to human success. Some scholars have argued that identifying traits of autism can even be seen in Paleolithic cave art. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

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Mesolithic Settlement Mapped in the Baltic Sea

Archaeology News - November 17, 2016

LUND, SWEDEN—The International Business Times reports that researchers from Lund University have mapped an underwater site off the southern coast of Sweden with multibeam echosounder technology. Geologist Anton Hansson explained that 9,000 years ago, the sea level was more than 30 feet lower than it is today. The people who lived in this Mesolithic settlement, which was located near a lagoon, are thought to have had access to abundant fish. The archaeologists found stationary fish traps, and a 9,000-year-old pickax made of polished antler that may have been used to mount the traps. “We are not really sure how it’s used, as it’s the only one we have found,” Hansson said. “There’s been finds of stone axes looking similar which people think were replicas of this horn.” The ax had a crack in its shaft hole, and was found discarded in the refuse layer. For more, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

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