Face Reconstructed from 13,000-Year-Old Remains

Archaeology News - April 6, 2017

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that researchers led by Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong have reconstructed the face of a woman whose 13,600-year-old remains were found in the Tham Lod rock shelter in northwest Thailand. Standing just under five feet tall, the woman, who is thought to be descended from the first people to colonize Southeast Asia, was between the ages of 25 and 35 when she died. Hayes said that the team compared the measurements of the woman’s face to the average variation of measurements of skulls, muscles, skin, and other soft tissues from recent populations around the world, in order to try to keep the impression of her face from being biased toward one population. But Hayes acknowledges that no one’s face is average. “Facial reconstruction fascinates people, and it attracts a lot of enthusiasm from both artists and scientists,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, some are scientists without any understandings of the technicalities of artistic depiction, others are artists without any understandings of the technicalities of science.” To read about a recent attempt at facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Categories: Blog

Carnuntum’s “Entertainment District” Digitally Reconstructed

Archaeology News - April 5, 2017

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), has employed aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar systems, and magnetometers to study the Roman city of Carnuntum, according to a report in Live Science. The city, located on the southern bank of the Danube River, was home to as many as 50,000 people in the second century A.D. The latest survey suggests there was a shop-lined boulevard leading to the city’s 13,000-seat amphitheater. Neubauer and his team compared what they found to similar buildings in other Roman cities, and concluded that the shops likely sold souvenirs and ready-to-eat food. “It gives us now a very clear story of a day at the amphitheater,” he said. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

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Large Pit House Excavated in British Columbia

Archaeology News - April 5, 2017

MISSOULA, MONTANA—According to a report in The Vancouver Sun, a research team led by Anna Marie Prentiss of the University of Montana has uncovered a pit house in British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon that shows signs of periodic occupation over a period of about 1,500 years, ending in the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of European fur traders. Prentiss explained that, every 20 years or so, a new roof was put on the structure and a new layer of dirt was installed on the floor, creating 17 distinct layers in all. “We have exquisite detail, with all these floors,” she said. Among the artifacts, the team has recovered burned rocks, hide scrapers, stone points, and deer, dog, and fish bones. The house also changed size and shape over time. At its largest, the house may have met the needs of as many as 30 to 40 people living in the First Nations settlement. Venetian glass beads, an iron horseshoe, a ring, machine-made bone buttons, and three stone spindle whorls were found in the topmost layer. “The fur-trade material lets us see what life was like just before the onslaught of the Gold Rush,” Prentiss said. To read about another recent discovery in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

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Ice-Age Artifacts Discovered in Indonesia

Archaeology News - April 5, 2017

SOUTH EAST QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that art and jewelry dated to between 26,000 and 22,000 years ago has been found in Indonesia’s Leang Bulu Bettue. The cave is located on the island of Sulawesi in Wallacea, an archipelago of some 2,000 islands, where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in 2003, and rock art thought to be at least 40,000 years old was found in 2014. The jewelry includes beads made from tusks of babirusas, also known as “pig-deer,” and a pendant made from the finger bone of a marsupial known as a bear cuscus. The cave also yielded stone flakes incised with geometric patterns, pieces of ochre, and a long, pigment-covered, hollow bear-cuscus bone that may have been used as a tool for creating rock art. “The discovery is important because it challenges the long-standing view that hunter-gatherer communities in the Pleistocene tropics of Southeast Asia were less advanced than their counterparts in Upper Paleolithic Europe,” said archaeologist Adam Brumm of Griffith University. To read about early rock art found on Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

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Three Roman Sarcophagi Discovered in Turkey

Archaeology News - April 4, 2017

IZMIT, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a construction crew unearthed three Roman-period sarcophagi in the region of ancient Nicomedia, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries A.D. Adnan Zamburkan, president of the Kocaeli Culture and Tourism Directorate, said two of the sarcophagi may belong to children. The third is thought to belong to an adult. “We will bring the sarcophagi to the museum after consultations with the cultural and natural heritage conservation board,” he said. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”

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An Update on Virginia’s Colonial Ship

Archaeology News - April 4, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Dendrochronologists have determined that a 50-foot ship discovered along the colonial waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia, was constructed with wood from trees that had been chopped down sometime after 1741, according to a WTOP report. Benjamin Skolnik, a City of Alexandria archaeologist, said that the researchers were also able to determine that the trees had come from Boston. Eighteenth-century maps show the ship sunk in the river when the city expanded and filled in the waterway. “The early colonists banked out,” said Skolnik. “They cut down into the bluff that was along the river bank, filled into the river. Actually extended eastward into the Potomac River,” he explained. The excavation team also recovered the bulk head where the ship had been tied. The wood from the wharf dates to the winter of 1773-1774, which corresponds with historic records. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "Shipwreck Alley." 

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Medieval Village Yields Mutilated Bones

Archaeology News - April 4, 2017

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of researchers from Historic England and the University of Southampton studied a collection of human bones from at least ten individuals excavated from a medieval site in North Yorkshire more than 50 years ago. The remains were recovered from overlapping pits between houses in the village, and not near the church or in its graveyard. Scholars originally thought the burials were older than the medieval village. But the new research reveals that the broken bones, which belonged to adults, teenagers, and children, bear cut marks and evidence that some of the body parts had been burned. Isotopic analysis of the individuals’ teeth indicates that they had lived in the village where they had been buried, and so were not invaders. And, the cut marks are in unlikely places for butchery, such as the skulls and upper body. “The idea that the Wharram Percy bones are the remains of corpses burnt and dismembered to stop them walking from their graves seems to fit the evidence best,” said skeletal biologist Simon Mays of Historic England. “If we are right, then this is the first good archaeological evidence we have for this practice.” To read more about medieval archaeology in northern England, go to "Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

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Traces of a 3,700-Year-Old Pyramid Found in Egypt

Archaeology News - April 4, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a portion of a 13th-Dynasty pyramid has been discovered in the Dahshur royal necropolis, to the north of King Senefru’s Bent Pyramid. Mahmoud Afifi of Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry said that the remaining structure includes a lintel, an inside corridor, a hall that leads to a ramp to the south, and a room at the western end. The Egyptian archaeological team also found a block of alabaster engraved with ten lines of hieroglyphs. Further investigation at the site will focus on determining who owned the pyramid. To read about a similar discovery, go to "Miniature Pyramids of Sudan."

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Egyptian Cat Mummy Revealed With Digital Model

Archaeology News - April 1, 2017

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that researchers at the University of Aberdeen used photogrammetry technology and a CAT scanner to create a digital 3-D model of an ancient Egyptian mummified cat from the “outside and in.” The mummy, one of perhaps 70 million animal mummies produced by the ancient Egyptians, was recovered from the temple at Bubastis, and is thought to be at least 2,000 years old. The CAT scan revealed that the full-sized, cat-shaped wrappings contained the remains of a tiny kitten. “It looks like the cat’s neck had been broken,” said Neil Curtis, head of the university’s museums, “so it’s quite a gruesome tale really, but it gives some insight into what daily culture and customs existed around these temples in Egypt at that time.” To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers of the Gods."

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Mexico’s 12,000-Year-Old Skeleton Analyzed

Archaeology News - April 1, 2017

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report in Nature, the 12,000-year-old remains of a girl known as Naia, recovered from an underwater cave on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in 2007, have undergone new analysis by an international team of researchers, including scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, and the Autonomous University of Yucatán. Archaeologist James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience in Bothell, Washington, said Naia suffered from severe and repeated periods of nutritional stress, resulting in tell-tale marks on her bones and teeth. She is thought to have died between the ages of 15 and 17, perhaps because she fell into the pit where her remains were discovered. Chatters added that she had well-developed leg muscles, perhaps from walking over wide areas. She did not have the strong arm muscles, however, that are associated with the work required to grind seeds, work animal skins, and carry heavy loads. A pitted fragment of pelvic bone indicates that she had gone through labor and childbirth well before her death. “We get the sense that the lives of the first Americans were wonderful and easy,” Chatters said. “Well, it isn’t necessarily the case.” To read about an earlier DNA analysis of Naia's remains, go to "Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American."

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Third-Century A.D. Walls Unearthed in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - April 1, 2017

VARNA, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that walls thought to date to the third century A.D. have been uncovered in the ancient Roman city of Odessus, near the ancient baths, during a construction project. Archaeologist Igor Lazarenko said the surviving walls measure nearly ten feet tall, and suggest that the ancient building had been a massive one. The old walls may be incorporated into the new structure. “This is intrinsically important, because its exposure to the sun leads to destructive problems,” he explained. “Apart from that, there is a weed in Varna, wild walnut, which grows rapidly and destroys everything with its roots.” To read about a massive site in Rome that dates to the same period, go to "Trash Talk."

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Palace Excavated in Oaxaca

Archaeology News - March 31, 2017

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Science News reports that Elsa Redmond and Charles Spencer of the American Museum of Natural History have excavated a 2,300-year-old palace on the north side of the plaza at El Palenque, located in southern Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca. The archaeologists say that the purpose-built complex, complete with a rainwater collection system, could be one of the earliest centralized government buildings in the Americas. Its residential quarters, courts, and buildings where government officials may have conducted affairs of state covered an area of more than 20,000 square feet. Skull fragments in the courtyard indicate that ritual sacrifices may have been performed there as well. To read more about archaeology in Oaxaca, go to "Deconstruction a Zapotec Figurine."

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Coastal Canadian Site Dates to 14,000 Years Ago

Archaeology News - March 31, 2017

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—CBC News reports that excavations on Triquet Island have uncovered evidence of a 14,000-year-old settlement in traditional Heiltsuk Nation territory. “Heiltsuk oral history talks of a strip of land in that area where the excavation took place,” said William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation. “It was a place that never froze during the Ice Age and it was a place where our ancestors flocked to for survival.” Archaeologist Alisha Gauvreau of the University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute and her team recovered carved wooden artifacts, a “hearth-like feature,” and flakes of charcoal. The site’s age and location suggests that the first North Americans traveled south along the coast into the New World. To read more about the first people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."

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Roman Mosaic Unearthed in Southern France

Archaeology News - March 31, 2017

UZES, FRANCE—The International Business Times reports that a team led by Philippe Cayn of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research has uncovered traces of the Roman city of Ucetia, which dates back to the first century B.C. “Prior to our work, we knew that there had been a Roman city called Ucetia only because its name was mentioned on a stela in Nimes,” said Cayn. “It was probably a secondary town, under the authority of Nimes.” One large, four-roomed building, which stood until the end of the first century A.D., contained a large mosaic floor made up of geometric shapes and animals. Cayn explained that such mosaics usually date to the first and second centuries A.D., but this one is estimated to be about 200 years older. Two other rooms had cement floors and walls decorated with painted plaster. A colonnade suggests the building was a public space. The excavation will continue through this summer. To read about extraordinary wall paintings found at a nearby Roman house, go to "France's Roman Heritage."

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Stolen Islamic-Era Artifacts Recovered by Egyptian Authorities

Archaeology News - March 30, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—A door and decorative elements stolen from the Sultan Al-Kamel Al-Ayyubi shrine, one of four shrines in Al-Imam Al-Shafie Dome, have been recovered by Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police, according to a report in Ahram Online. Imam al-Shafie, one of the four Imams credited with developing the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence, died in A.D. 820. The dome was constructed over his grave in A.D. 1211 by the Sultan Al-Kamel Al-Ayyubi, who was buried in one of the shrines. Earlier this month, thieves broke through a lattice door covered in wire mesh in order to enter the sultan’s shrine and take the 27-inch-tall wooden door and the small decorations. Al-Saeed Helmi of the Ministry of Antiquities said that the artifacts had not been harmed. To read about discoveries made at a medieval Islamic castle, go to "Expanding the Story." 

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the “Neanderthal Aesthetic”

Archaeology News - March 30, 2017

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A fragment raven bone thought to have been carved with ridges by Neanderthals has been unearthed at a rock shelter in Crimea, according to a report in The International Business Times. The bone, which may be between 38,000 and 43,000 years old, is thought to have been carved with six irregular ridges at first. Two additional, shallow ridges may have been added later to improve the regularity of the pattern. The researchers speculate the ridges might have been intended to make the bone easier to grip, or as a mark of ownership. But, “if it was just a mark of ownership or to facilitate grip of object then they were not obliged to make them so clearly equidistant and similar,” explained Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux. The team members tried to replicate the incisions on turkey bones in order to determine how difficult it was to create a regular pattern. “So there is a will to produce something that can be recognized visually as consistent,” d’Errico concluded. “If consistency is an indication of aesthetics, then this supports the idea that Neanderthals did have a sense of the aesthetic.” To read more about our extinct cousins' artistic sensibilities, read "Neanderthal Necklace."

Categories: Blog

Viking-Era Toy Boat Discovered in Norway

Archaeology News - March 30, 2017

ØRLAND, NORWAY—According to a report in Live Science, a wooden artifact thought to have been a child’s toy some 1,000 years ago has been found in a well at a farming site in central Norway, by a team led by Ingrid Ystgaard of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. As many as seven farms are thought to have clustered in the area during the medieval period. The toy resembles an ocean-going Viking ship, with an uplifted prow and a hole in the center for a mast and sail. Its presence at the site suggests that people in the farming community were familiar with Viking vessels, despite living inland and away from major trade routes, and that the children had time and materials for play. To read about some of the earliest Norse raiders, go to "The First Vikings."

Categories: Blog

“Coffin Birth” Identified in Medieval Cemetery

Archaeology News - March 30, 2017

GENOA, ITALY—According to a report in Seeker, researchers have identified a rare “coffin birth” in a fourteenth-century cemetery at the hostel of San Nicolao di Pietra Colice in the Northern Apennines. The hostel and its church served as a rest stop for travelers headed to Rome. The woman’s remains, found in a grave with the skeletons of two children, had been placed on her side. “In this case, we have a partial expulsion of a 38- to 40-week-old fetus, which was found to be complete and to lie within the birth canal,” said Deneb Cesana of the University of Genoa. “Coffin birth,” or the expulsion of a fetus after death, is caused by the build-up of gas pressure from the decomposition of a pregnant woman’s body. The study also suggests the woman and the children had all been buried at the same time, directly into the ground, and all of them have tested positive for the antigen to the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague. DNA analysis could determine if the three were related. 

Categories: Blog

2,500-Year-Old Chariot Burial Unearthed in England

Archaeology News - March 30, 2017

POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the remains of two horses and an Iron Age chariot were discovered at a cemetery site in East Yorkshire by a team from MAP Archaeological Practice. The cemetery’s more than 75 square barrows, built by the Arras Culture, have also yielded human remains, swords, shields, spears, brooches, and pots. Further research could determine if the people buried at the Burnby Lane site were indigenous to northern England or if they had migrated from continental Europe. To read more about the Iron Age in Britain, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Categories: Blog

Assyrian Tomb Discovered in Iraq

Archaeology News - March 29, 2017

ERBIL, IRAQ—A vaulted brick tomb dating to between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. was discovered by construction workers in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, according to a report in Live Science. The tomb was situated near the ancient city of Arbela, where an important temple of Ishtar, the Assyrian goddess of war, was located. Goran M. Amin of the Directorate of Antiquities in Erbil, the modern name for Arbela, said that two skeletons were found in three ceramic sarcophagi within the tomb, while an additional eight skeletons were found on the ground. More than 40 intact jars of different shapes and sizes were also recovered. Similar tombs, built for elites, have been found in other Assyrian cities such as Nimrud. “Sometimes the tombs have been opened several times, when they wanted to bury new dead members of the family,” added Dishad Marf Zamua of Salahaddin University. To read in-depth about excavations in this area, go to “Erbil Revealed.”

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