1,000-Year-Old Hunting Weapon Found in Melting Yukon Ice

Archaeology News - February 1, 2018

CARCROSS, CANADA—CBC News reports that a barbed antler arrow point with a copper end blade discovered in melting ice last summer has been radiocarbon dated to 936 years ago. Yukon archaeologist Greg Hare discovered the hunting artifact in an area frequented by caribou during the summers on the traditional territory of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. The blade had been pointed into the earth, with the arrow half buried in ice, as if it had just been shot from a bow. “This is one of the oldest copper elements that we [have] ever found in the Yukon,” Hare said. The copper used to make the weapon was locally sourced, probably from a creek in southwest Yukon. Hare explained that in addition to representing the development of metallurgy in the Yukon, the arrow also marks the period when First Nations hunters were changing from atlatl (throwing dart) technology to bows and arrows. He thinks it may have taken two weeks to make the artifact, and that it would have been a significant loss for the hunter. For more, go to “Where the Ice Age Caribou Ranged.”

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Ancient Shell Midden Uncovered in British Columbia

Archaeology News - January 31, 2018

WHITE ROCK, CANADA—The Vancouver Sun reports that an ancient midden made up of shell, charcoal, and animal bones has been discovered in British Columbia. Joanne Charles, a council member of the Semiahmoo First Nation, said oral history marks the site, which has been disturbed by construction, as an ancient village. The site is currently part of the city of White Rock’s Memorial Park. “The midden was found when they started digging to locate the utility lines to the washrooms,” she said. An archaeological impact assessment will be conducted, and cultural monitors from the Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen First Nations have been brought onto the project to evaluate the situation before the expansion of the park resumes. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to “Coast over Corridor.”

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Bronze Age Skeleton Found in Northeast England

Archaeology News - January 31, 2018

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that skeletal remains were found in a burial cist on farmland in northeast England. The body and a beaker had been placed in the stone-lined grave and covered with what appears to be a horsehair blanket. Sanita Nezirovic of the University of Derby evaluated the bones. She thinks they belonged to a young man who was between the ages of 17 and 21 when he died some 3,500 years ago, and added that his teeth were in good condition. “The shape of his head is beautiful, and you can see from the teeth he would have had a perfect smile,” she said. Nezirovic also noted that he probably stood somewhere between five feet, six inches, and five feet, nine inches tall. For more, go to “Bronze Age Traveler.”

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Two-Bladed Knife Unearthed at Polish Castle Site

Archaeology News - January 31, 2018

PASYM, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a rotary knife that may have been used by a medieval scribe was found in a hearth in a building at a castle site in northern Poland. The four-inch-long knife has two blades and is estimated to date to the eighth or ninth centuries A.D. “No similar object has been found in Poland until now,” said Slawomir Wadyl of the University of Warsaw. Similar knives have been found in the British Isles, Frisia, and Norway, however, and have been depicted in illustrations of scribes. But such knives may also have been used by other types of craftspeople. Evidence of antler processing was also found in the building where the knife was discovered. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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2,200-Year Old Department of Music Found in China

Archaeology News - January 30, 2018

XI’AN, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a Qin-Dynasty office building has been uncovered in northwest China. The building’s four rooms had clay walls measuring nearly ten feet thick, possibly made from tiles and bricks. According to Xu Weihong of the Shaanxi Province Research Institute of Archaeology, 23 pieces of chime debris inscribed with the word “beigongyuefu,” which translates to “musical department of the north palace,” have been recovered. Evidence of fire was also found in the structure, but two of the building’s rooms were empty, possibly suggesting that the building was looted and then burned during the uprising that ended the Qin Dynasty in 207 B.C. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

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Medieval Chess Piece Unearthed in Southern Norway

Archaeology News - January 30, 2018

TØNSBERG, NORWAY—According to a Live Science report, a game piece recovered from a thirteenth-century house in southern Norway is believed to be a knight from a shatranj, or ancient chess set, since it is carved with circles on the bottom, sides, and top, and a protruding snout bearing dotted circles, causing it to resemble a horse. Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research suspect some lead inside the thimble-shaped piece of carved antler helps it to stand upright. Lars Haugesten, project manager of the excavation, says similar game pieces are found in Arabia, where chess was first played in the seventh century. In addition, a twelfth-century chess piece has been found in Lund, Sweden. For more, go to “The Church that Transformed Norway.”

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Two Well-Preserved Shipwrecks Discovered in Baltic Sea

Archaeology News - January 30, 2018

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, two wooden shipwrecks have been found in the Baltic Sea, near Sweden. One of the vessels is thought to be a single-masted cog dating to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The other ship, thought to date to the sixteenth century, was carrying 20 barrels of osmond iron, a type of wrought iron, and tar when it sank. Maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson said he had never seen such well-preserved shipwrecks. They will be featured in a new maritime museum in Stockholm. To read in-depth about discoveries on the Swedish island of Gotland, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Fourth-Century B.C. Crown Repatriated to Turkey

Archaeology News - January 30, 2018

ANKARA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily  News reports that an ancient gold crown, stolen from the Aegean site of Milas, has been returned to Turkey. The 2,400-year-old crown is said to have been taken from the burial chamber of Hecatomnus in 2008. It was found in Edinburgh, Scotland, two years later, when Scottish police pursued a lead from auction house officials. In addition, a sixteenth-century Quran is in the process of being recovered. “We will not stop pursuing the artifacts that belong to our country,” said Numan Kurtulmuş, Turkey’s culture and tourism minister. The crown will be put on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. To read about a discovery in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

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Modern Human Fossil in Israel Pushes Back Migration Dates

Archaeology News - January 27, 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a New York Times report, a fossilized portion of a modern human upper jaw, complete with seven intact teeth, has been found in Israel’s Misliya Cave by a team led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. The maxilla has been dated to between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, which suggests that modern humans were present in the Levant at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought. Paleoanthropologist Gerhard W. Weber of the University of Vienna and his team used high-resolution micro-CT scanning equipment to create a 3-D replica of the jaw, examine its features, and compare them with fossils of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and other hominins from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. “It’s not a little bit modern, or on the border of being modern,” Weber said. “It is really modern human.” The fossil is said to be the oldest-known evidence of modern humans living outside of Africa, and it could push back the evolution of Homo sapiens by 100,000 to 200,000 years, suggesting they originated in Africa some 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Stone-Age Woman’s Likeness Recreated

Archaeology News - January 27, 2018

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Live Science reports that Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson has recreated the face of an 18-year-old woman who lived some 9,000 years ago in central Greece. The young woman’s remains were discovered in Theopetra Cave, where footprints, fireplace ashes, stone tools, and bones have also been found. Evidence of human occupation of the cave spans a period of about 45,000 years, from the Middle Paleolithic to the Neolithic period. Nilsson based his recreation on 3-D printed reproductions of the skeletal remains and scientists’ estimations of the woman’s age, ethnicity, and weight at the time of her death. He added muscles and flesh to a replica of her skull in the form of sculpted layers of clay topped with silicone skin. “When you reconstruct a face, it’s very important not to project a face from your inner fantasy,” Nilsson explained. “You must let the face grow from the technique, from the skull.” Nilsson’s sculpture is on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. To read about a recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

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10,000-Year-Old Ochre “Crayon” Discovered in England

Archaeology News - January 27, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that researchers from the University of York have studied two pieces of ochre recovered in North Yorkshire, in an area near the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, where more than 30 red deer antler headdresses and a pendant were found in 2015. The first piece of ochre, described as a crayon by archaeologist Andy Needham, measures less than one inch long, and is rounded on one end and pointed at the other. The second piece of ochre is shaped like a pebble. Its surface is heavily striated, suggesting it had been scraped to produce red pigment powder. Needham suggests the ochre may have been used by Mesolithic artists to apply color to decorative works or animal skins. To read about another discovery at Star Carr, go to “Mesolithic Markings.”

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Social Network Theory Applied to Medieval Irish Text

Archaeology News - January 26, 2018

COVENTRY, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that researchers from Coventry, Oxford, and Sheffield Universities have used the mathematical techniques of social network theory to analyze a nineteenth-century translation of Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, a medieval Irish text describing warfare between an army led by Irish king Brian Boru, regional Irish kingdoms, and Viking invaders. Boru succeeded in unifying Ireland by 1011, but rebellion in Leinster and Viking-controlled Dublin led to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Boru’s army was victorious, although the king was killed during the battle. Recent scholarship has suggested that most of the fighting during this period could be characterized as civil war among the Irish. Yet statistical analysis of the contacts between the hundreds of Irish and Viking characters, and the more than 1,000 connections between them in Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, indicates that overall, the conflict was between the Irish and Vikings. Ralph Kenna of Coventry University said the network was complex, however, and Irish-on-Irish conflict did exist. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

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New Thoughts on Human Brain Evolution

Archaeology News - January 26, 2018

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Simon Neubauer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues say rounded heads rising above the forehead and globe-shaped brains appeared in modern humans between 100,000 and 35,000 years ago, according to a Science News report. The researchers used micro-CT scans of the inner surfaces of the skulls in the test sample to create digital approximations of the size and shape of the individuals’ brains. The sample included 20 ancient Homo sapiens skulls, the oldest of which date to 315,000 years ago. Four of the skulls date to between 120,000 and 115,000 years ago, and the remainder between 36,000 and 8,000 years ago. The ancient brains were compared with 89 present-day modern-human brains, and the brains of 10 members of other ancient Homo species ranging in age from 1.78 million years to 200,000 years. Eight Neanderthal brains, dating to between 75,000 and 40,000 years ago, were also used for comparison. The study suggests that over a period of about 250,000 years, the human brain remained the same size, but transitioned from a flatter, elongated shape to a rounder one, due to changes in the parietal and cerebellar areas. Those parts of the brain are involved in orientation, attention, imagery, self-awareness, memory, numerical processing, language, balance, spatial processing, and tool use. For more on the evolution of the human brain, go to “Hungry Minds.”

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Cairo's Colossal Moving Project

Archaeology News - January 26, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the 91-ton statue of Ramesses II was moved some 1,300 feet, from a storage area to the atrium of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to open fully in 2022. The statue is said to have been moved four times: the first trip, from the Aswan quarry where it was carved to the Memphis necropolis, where it was part of the façade of Ptah’s temple, took place some 3,000 years ago. In 1955, the statue was moved to Cairo, and placed in what is now known as Ramesses Square. It was moved to the headquarters of the new Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau in 2006 to protect it from pollution. Since then, it has been studied and reinforced in preparation for the most recent journey over a specially treated road. Egypt’s Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces and the Arab Contractors Company created an iron cage in which the colossus was hung for the trip, so that it would be able to move freely. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

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Inca Farming Terraces Restored in Peru

Archaeology News - January 25, 2018

CUSCO, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that traces of buildings, an aqueduct, walls, and agricultural terraces built by the Inca have been found near the city of Cusco, at Chinchero Archaeological Park. Felix Vilca of the Decentralized Culture Directorate of Cusco said the aqueduct probably carried water to crops. One of three large, rectangular buildings on one of the terraces had a stone floor and is thought to date to the colonial era. The four-year project to restore the farming terraces is expected to be completed this year. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

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Teotihuacan May Have Been Renamed by the Spanish

Archaeology News - January 25, 2018

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to an Associated Press report, archaeologist Veronica Ortega of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History thinks the city known as Teotihuacan, or “city of the gods,” may have originally been called Teohuacan, or “city of the sun,” by the Aztecs. Some 700 years after the city was abandoned, Aztec rulers traveled there in an effort to legitimize their rule. Ortega says the word “Teohuacan” had been written beneath an Aztec pictogram referring to the city with the sun, temple, and ruler signs in the Xolotol Codex. Later Aztec documents drawn up after the arrival of the Spanish use the word “Teotihuacan” for the same city, however. Ortega suggests Spanish colonists changed the city’s name because the sun was used as a symbol for rulers, and they wanted to change the seat of power in the region to Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. “They wanted people to see Teotihuacan as a place of worship, but not as a place where rulers were anointed, because they wanted to keep the political center in Tenochtitlan,” Ortega explained. For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf.”

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Prehistoric Artifacts Recovered From Norway’s Glaciers

Archaeology News - January 25, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Newsweek reports that more than 2,000 artifacts dating back to as early as 4000 B.C. have been recovered from mountain passes in the glaciers of Oppland, Norway, by an international team of researchers. The artifacts include weapons and arrows, the remains of pack horses, and skis. Lars Pilø of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council said the skis are broader than modern skis, and may have been partly covered in fur. A tunic dating to the Iron Age, one Bronze-Age shoe, and the remains of sleds were also found. Pilø said that during the Late Antique Little Ice Age, a period stretching from A.D. 536 to 660, harvests failed and populations fell, but the number of artifacts from that time period suggests the survivors intensified other means of gathering food in the mountains. “This is sort of a dark archaeology, where we benefit from climate change that’s making this ice high in the mountains melt,” Pilø said. “There’s not much we can do to stop it, but at least we can be up there trying to find what we can.” For more on the relationship between archaeology and climate change, go to “Letter From Norway: The Big Melt.”

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Sub-Saharan Glass Analyzed

Archaeology News - January 24, 2018

HOUSTON, TEXAS—According to a report in The Independent, chemical analysis of 52 glass beads unearthed in Nigeria suggests the glass was produced locally. Abidemi Babatunde Babalola of Harvard University said it had been previously believed that glass imported from the Mediterranean and the Middle East was melted and reworked in glass workshops at the site of Igbo Olokun, which is located within Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba people of West Africa. But Babalola and his team said the composition of the glass is unique and reflects the local raw materials: some of the glass beads had high levels of lime and alumina, while a second group had low levels of lime and high levels of alumina. Babalola added that the glass was dated to between A.D. 1100 and 1500, before Europeans established trade networks in West Africa. For more about the glass workshops of Igbo Olokun and this project, go to “The Glass Economy.”

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Possible Slave Ship Found in Alabama

Archaeology News - January 24, 2018

MOBILE, ALABAMA—According to an Associated Press report, a wooden shipwreck exposed by particularly low tides in a river delta in southwestern Alabama may be the Clotilda, said to be the last ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States in 1860. The importation of slaves was outlawed in the United States in 1807, but a plantation owner who had made a bet that he could sneak African slaves into the country, past the federal troops guarding Mobile Bay, in the days leading up to the start of the Civil War, employed an Alabama steamboat captain to do so. The Clotilda’s captain, William Foster, wrote that he burned the ship after it delivered its cargo of 110 captives. “[T]he location is right, the construction seems to be right, [it's] from the proper time period, it appears to be burnt,” said archaeologist Greg Cook of the University of West Florida, who examined the wreckage. Cook and his colleagues will attempt to further verify the ship’s identity. To read in-depth about a group of enslaved people who were marooned on an Indian Ocean island, go to “Castaways.”

Categories: Blog

Scholars Translate Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

Archaeology News - January 24, 2018

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Eshbal Ratson and Jonathan Ben-Dov of the University of Haifa have pieced together and deciphered 60 tiny fragments of one of the last two unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran. Notes made in the margins of the scroll by a scribe helped Ratson and Ben-Dov to read the text, which was written in code. It describes a 364-day lunar calendar, and festivals of New Wheat, New Wine, and New Oil. Today, the Jewish festival of Shavuot celebrates the festival of New Wheat. According to the newly translated text, the members of the Jewish sect that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls celebrated the festival of New Wine 50 days after Shavuot, and the festival of New Oil 50 days after that. The text also described a festival that marked the transitions between the four seasons of the year on special days known as Tekufah, a word in modern Hebrew that translates as “period.” For more, go to “Scroll Search.”

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