Cistern Yields 13,000 Victorian Food Containers

Archaeology News - January 12, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that thousands of bottles, jars, and pots from the Victorian era were found in a cistern at the construction site of a new train station in the Soho area of London. The vessels came from a Crosse & Blackwell food factory that operated on the site from 1830 until 1921. Archaeologist Nigel Jeffries of the Museum of London Archaeology explained that the cistern had been used to power the steam engines that ran the factory until the 1870s, when the building was redesigned. After that, the cistern was used for storage. The vessels included bottles for mushroom catsup; preserved ginger; piccalilli, a relish of chopped pickled vegetables and spices; and jams and marmalade. Jeffries explained that the find has helped the investigators learn more about “the tastes and palates of the Victorians.” For more, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

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Anglo-Saxon Village Site Unearthed in Cambridge

Archaeology News - January 12, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that an Anglo-Saxon settlement was discovered during the construction of a new housing development. Brooches, glass and amber beads, rings, and hairpins dating to the sixth century A.D. were uncovered, in addition to tools, weaponry, and the remains of buildings. The excavation team from Oxford Archaeology East also recovered pottery vessels and a glass drinking vessel with claw-shaped decorations. Such “claw beakers” are usually found in areas to the southeast, and in northern France, the Netherlands, and Germany, where they are thought to have been made. “Evidence of the time period ... is almost nonexistent, so this gives us a highly important window into understanding how people lived in that era, their trade activities and behaviors,” said Duncan Hawkins of CgMs Archaeology. The team also found artifacts dating back to the Roman era. To read in-depth about evidence of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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New Kingdom Tombs Unearthed Near Aswan

Archaeology News - January 12, 2017

ASWAN, EGYPT—Mahmoud Afifi of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities announced in Ahram Online that more than 12 tombs in Gebel el-Silsila have been discovered by an Egyptian-Swedish team led by Maria Nilsson of Lund University and John Ward. Each of the 3,400-year-old tombs excavated so far contained multiple burials and may have belonged to families who lived during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. In general, the condition of the skeletal remains suggests that the people performed hard physical labor but were healthy. An adult crocodile had been placed in the courtyard at the entrance to one of the tombs. Another tomb contained the remains of sheep, goats, and Nile perch. Three infant burials were also found: one of the infants had been wrapped in textiles and placed in a wooden coffin, and two infants were found on their sides in overhangs in the site’s sandstone bluffs. Sandstone sarcophagi, painted cartonnage, painted pottery coffins, ceramic vessels and plates, jewelry, amulets, and scarabs were also recovered. Most of the tombs had been looted in antiquity. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Detailed Frescos Discovered in Central China

Archaeology News - January 11, 2017

HUNAN, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a multi-colored fresco depicting two maids has been discovered in a 1,400-year-old tomb in southern China. The tomb measures more than 45 feet long and six feet wide, and is thought to have been built during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, from A.D. 420 to 589. In the image, the young women are wearing long skirts and coats with open collars and exposed shoulders. “This is the oldest fresco tomb discovered in Hunan,” said Luo Shengqiang of the Chenzhou City cultural relic department. To read about another archaeological discovery in China, go to “Tomb from a Lost Tribe.”

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Soil Analysis May Push Back Origins of Silk Production

Archaeology News - January 11, 2017

HENAN PROVINCE, CHINA—Live Science reports that a team including archaeologist Decai Gong of the University of Science and Technology of China at Hefei discovered silk proteins in soil samples collected from two of three tombs at Jiahu, a 9,000-year-old archaeological site in central China. Silkworm breeding and silk weaving are thought to have begun in this region, which has a warm and humid climate suitable for growing mulberry trees, whose leaves are eaten by silkworms. One of the samples of silk proteins has been dated to 8,500 years ago, making it “the earliest evidence of silk in ancient China,” according to Gong. He and his team think the people buried in the tombs may have been wearing silk garments. “Jiahu’s residents possessed basic weaving and sewing skills,” Gong said, based on the discovery of bone needles and weaving tools at the site. “There is a possibility that the silk was made into fabric.” For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Well-Preserved Bacteria Found in Byzantine-Era Skeleton

Archaeology News - January 11, 2017

MADISON, WISCONSIN—An international team of researchers has identified a case of maternal sepsis in a skeleton unearthed near the site of Troy, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Henrike Kiesewetter of Tüebingen University found two calcified nodules below the ribs of a woman who died some 800 years ago at about 30 years of age. Kiesewetter sent the nodules to microbiologist Caitlin Pepperell of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who ruled out tuberculosis, and urinary or kidney stones, as possible diagnoses. She found well-preserved bacteria microfossils in the nodules, however, and sent them on to Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University for genetic analysis. Poinar identified Staphylococcus saprophyticus and Gardnerella vaginalis, which may have caused a fatal infection of the placenta, amniotic fluid, and membranes around the woman’s fetus. Pepperell explained that the high levels of calcium flowing through the pregnant woman’s body calcified the bacteria and formed the nodules. She added that this strain of Staphylococcus saprophyticus is usually associated with livestock, and may have been contracted through living in close quarters with animals. “I thought about what a short difficult life it must have been,” Pepperell said. For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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Plain of Jars Captured in Virtual Reality

Archaeology News - January 10, 2017

 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Archaeologists have produced a virtual-reality re-creation of the Plain of Jars site in Laos, according to a report by Live Science. The re-creation is based on video captured by drones and geophysical data and records from archaeological excavations of a portion of the site, which includes hundreds of carved stone jars measuring up to 11 feet tall and weighing many tons. They range across a landscape that is riddled with unexploded bombs dating to the Vietnam War, and researchers hope the 3-D video simulation of the site, based at Monash University in Australia, will aid in study of areas that are otherwise inaccessible. The virtual-reality project will create a step-by-step record of a five-year archaeological investigation of the Plain of Jars that began in February 2016 and has uncovered the remains of dozens of people buried near the largest jars, establishing that they were linked to an ancient burial practice. “Long after we leave the field,” said Monash University archaeologist Louise Shewan, “we can continue researching, and we can actually be there with all our team members and go through the excavation again, and pick up on things that we've missed.” The virtual-reality version of the dig will also be valuable for teaching students, as it allows one to view the excavation unfolding in fast motion, with the trench deepening in 4-inch increments. To read in-depth about the Plain of Jars, go to “Letter from Laos: A Singular Landscape.”

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Tomb Unearthed in Northern Iraq

Archaeology News - January 10, 2017

ROWANDUZ, IRAQ—A 2,400-year-old tomb containing the remains of at least six people has been excavated in northern Iraq. Boston University archaeologist Michael Danti told Live Science that the tomb probably dates to end of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, around 330 B.C. The bones were scattered, suggesting the tomb was likely robbed sometime in antiquity, although the team did find bronze earrings and a bronze bracelet depicting two serpents, a popular motif during the Achaemenid period. Despite those finds, Danti believes pottery from the tomb suggests it belonged to people of modest means. Sometime during the Islamic period the site was reused, and at least five skeletons were buried above the original six occupants of the tomb. To read more about archaeology in northern Iraq, go to “Erbil Reveled.” 

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Evidence of 15th-Century Throwaway Society Found in Germany

Archaeology News - January 10, 2017

WITTENBERG, GERMANY—Pieces of disposable ceramic cups dating to the fifteenth century have been found in an excavation of the courtyard of Wittenberg Palace in eastern Germany, according to a report in Deutsche Welle. Archaeologists believe that the sherds are evidence of outdoor parties at which guests ate wild venison and drank copiously. "We found entire layers of cups and animal bones," said archaeologist Holger Rode. “The parties took place in the summer here in the courtyard. The cups were simply thrown away. That's equivalent to paper cups today." These disposable cups were used only by those of extreme wealth, Rode adds. In addition to the scraps of cups, the excavation has unearthed parts of a curtain wall, remains of an earlier castle, and the original tiles from the later castle’s oven. To read about another discovery in Wittenberg, go to “Artifact: Tally Stick.”

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Neolithic Artifacts Discovered in Scotland

Archaeology News - January 10, 2017

KINCAPLE, SCOTLAND—The Courier reports that Neolithic pottery and stone tools were unearthed during installation of a pipeline connecting St. Andrews University to a satellite campus. According to archaeologist Alastair Rees of ARCHAS Ltd, the company monitoring the work, the tools were made from flint that was likely quarried far to the south, in England. “The artifacts provide more evidence of long distance trade, contacts, and especially ideas across the country,” said Rees. Preliminary analysis of the tools shows they were likely used for skinning hides or stripping bark from trees. In one large pit, the engineers also found 30 sherds of grooved pottery of a type thought to be associated with ritual offerings. To read in depth about the Neolithic people of Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe’s Remote Heart.” 

 

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New Dates May Push Back Possible Settlement of the Tibetan Plateau

Archaeology News - January 7, 2017

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by geologist Michael Meyer of the University of Innsbruck obtained new dates for hand and footprints left in the mud of a hot spring at the high-altitude Chusang site in Tibet. The 19 prints were discovered in 1998, and initial studies suggested they were left some 20,000 years ago. Meyer and his colleagues used uranium-thorium dating to date the sediments, optically stimulated luminescence to date quartz crystals in the layer containing the prints, and radiocarbon dating of microscopic plant remains. The new tests suggest that the prints were made between 7,400 and 12,600 years ago—a date range that encompasses the results of genetic testing indicating that people were living on Tibet’s high central plateau at least 8,000 to 8,400 years ago. Meyer thinks that hunter-gatherers may have lived in the region year-round, since traveling to Chusang would have been a long and arduous trip. “There is a chance that there are older sites up here,” Meyer said. “I think we have to keep exploring.” For more, go to “England's Oldest Footprints.”

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Archaeologists Investigate Mounds in Burkina Faso

Archaeology News - January 6, 2017

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of Polish researchers has been investigating archaeological sites in northern Burkina Faso, an area inhabited by the Kurumba people for the past several hundred years. The researchers found flint tools on the surface of the ground that could range in age from 15,000 to 50,000 years old. “This is one of the oldest known traces of human presence in this country,” said Krzysztof Rak of Jagiellonian University. The team also examined the remains of a settlement known as Damfelenga Dangomde, which was abandoned in the late nineteenth century, when the Kurumba people moved to their current capital of Pobé-Mengao. The site is likely to have been inhabited before the arrival of the Kurumba. The team also identified a necropolis near the Damfelenga Dangomde tell that had been thought to be the remains of an ancient village. “The mounds of stone and earth that we have studied are approximately 1,300 years old,” Rak said. To read about another recent discovery in Burkina Faso, go to “World Roundup.”

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Study Fails to Find Link in Brain and Tooth Size

Archaeology News - January 6, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a report in The International Business Times, a recent study suggests that the sizes of human ancestor brains and teeth did not evolve together. Modern humans differ from other hominins in that they have large brains and small posterior teeth. It had been previously thought that as brain size increased, and hominins began making stone tools to process food, the size of their teeth decreased. Aida Gómez-Robles of George Washington University and her colleagues analyzed eight different hominin species, and found a relatively constant rate of change for tooth evolution, but different rates of brain evolution. “The fastest rate in the evolution of the brain occurred in the branch of the evolutionary tree predating the divergence of Homo erectus from the lineage leading to Neanderthals and modern humans,” she said. The study did not investigate the possible behavioral and ecological factors that may have influenced tooth and brain sizes. For more on hominin brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

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Neolithic “Calendar Rock” Discovered in Sicily

Archaeology News - January 6, 2017

GELA, SICILY—Seeker reports that a research team conducting a survey on the southern coast of Sicily discovered a large hole carved in a 23-foot-tall rock. Archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina explained that the team set out to see if the hole could have been used to mark the seasons. At the winter solstice, La Spina and his colleagues found that the rising sun aligned precisely with the hole. They also found a 16.4-foot-tall stone on the ground to the east of the “calendar rock.” A pit at its base suggests that at one time, the stone, or menhir, had been placed upright in front of the hole in the calendar rock. The composition of the menhir is different from the calendar rock, which indicates that it was brought to the site from another place. “This obviously reinforces the sacrality of the site,” said La Spina. Two other similar holed stones have been found in Sicily—one marks the rising sun at the winter solstice, the other the rising sun at the summer solstice. “For this reason, I believe that another holed calendar stone, marking the summer solstice, may be found near Gela,” explained archaeoastronomer Alberto Scuderi of Italian Archaeologist Groups. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

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New Thoughts on Egyptian Pot Burials

Archaeology News - January 5, 2017

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Ronika Power and Egyptologist Yann Tristant of Macquarie University reviewed studies of burials in ceramic pots at 46 archaeological sites, most of which were found near the Nile River and dated to between 3300 and 1650 B.C. It had been thought that such pot burials were a make-do effort for poor children, but the researchers found that more than half of the sites in the study contained adult remains in pot burials. And of 746 children’s burials in the study, 338 employed wooden coffins, while 329 used pots. The rest of the children were buried in baskets or limestone containers. One pot held an infant along with beads covered in gold foil. Other pots held offerings of gold, ivory, clothing, and ceramics. Power and Tristant suggest that rather than a necessity, a pot may have been chosen as a burial vessel to represent the womb, and symbolize rebirth into the afterlife. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Scientists Look For New Sources of Ancient DNA

Archaeology News - January 5, 2017

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—NPR reports that Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology led a team of scientists searching for new sources of ancient human DNA for study. Since the fossil record is limited, the researchers have begun to analyze the dirt from floors of caves to look for the dust of degraded bones. Those samples could yield tiny DNA fragments, once DNA from recent cave visitors has been excluded. These additional DNA samples could help scientists learn about the lives of Neanderthals over time, and how often they may have interbred with modern humans. “Can we understand what happened to them in the end?” asked Janet Kelso, also of the Max Planck Institute. “That may not be something you can tell from the sequence, but it would be interesting to try.” For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Colonial-Era Cannon Recovered in North Carolina

Archaeology News - January 5, 2017

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA—According to a report in Port City Daily, a Colonial-era cannon was recovered from the Cape Fear River near the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site by a dredging company. The 93-inch-long cannon has been wrapped in burlap and is under a light spray of water to keep it wet until conservation can begin at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson. Site Manager Jim McKee said that the cannon has no visible markings, but it appears to have burst, perhaps as the result of a casting flaw. McKee added that he thinks the cannon was in use before 1756, and that it was found empty. For more on archaeology in the vicinity of North Carolina, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”

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900-Year-Old Murals Discovered in Northern China

Archaeology News - January 5, 2017

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that a 900-year-old tomb adorned with murals has been found in northern China. The tomb was robbed, and lacks any artifacts or human remains, but archaeologists suspect that the tomb was constructed for aristocrats. The upper part of the murals, which are painted on a white background, depict acts of filial piety, according to Zhang Guanghui of the Shanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. Images of people working and cooking make up the lower parts of the murals. Pictures of herdsmen and cattle were found at the gate of the tomb. Zhang added that all of the murals also have floral, animal, and cloud motifs. “We have seen several tombs with murals from the Jin Dynasty [A.D. 1115–1234], but such well-preserved ones are a rarity,” he said. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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19th-Century Potato Blight Analyzed

Archaeology News - January 4, 2017

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that scientists from North Carolina State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Museum have conducted a genetic study of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight that wiped out potato crops in Ireland and Europe in the 1840s. The team of researchers analyzed nuclear genomes and mitochondrial genomes of 183 modern and historic potato blight samples from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States, and found that the strain that caused the devastating blight probably originated in South America, and then through potato shipments and the seed trade, traveled to the United States and then on to Europe. The strain, known as FAM-1, remained the dominant strain of potato blight into the early twentieth century. To read about archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

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Crushed Murex Shells Unearthed at Ancient Paphos

Archaeology News - January 4, 2017

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—The Famagusta Gazette reports that a team of researchers from the University of Cyprus has unearthed an ancient rampart with two staircases and watchtowers at the ancient city of Paphos. The sixth-century B.C. rampart was found on the plateau of Hadjiabdoulla, where a palace and storage and industrial facilities were in use until the end of the fourth century B.C. Traces of olives, grapes, and wheat have been found in the complex. Additional samples have been taken for micro-morphological studies and the possible identification of additional crops. The team also found a thick layer of crushed murex shells on the floor of one of the storage rooms. Team leader Maria Iacovou noted that this is the first time that archaeological evidence for the production of the highly valued purple dye from murex shells has been found in Cyprus. To read about another archaeological discovery on Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!

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