Additional Homo naledi Fossils Found

Archaeology News - May 9, 2017

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—The Guardian reports that the fossils of additional Homo naledi individuals have been found in the Rising Star Cave system, in a chamber some 300 feet away from the site were the first specimens were discovered in 2013. That brings the total number to at least 18 individuals, including the nearly complete skull of an adult. Homo naledi stood nearly five feet tall, weighed about 100 pounds, and had a small brain and curved fingers, but wrists, hands, legs, and feet resembling those of Neanderthals and modern humans. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand said that the bones show few signs of stress or disease, which suggests Homo naledi may have been the dominant species in the area between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago—a time when Homo sapiens also lived in the region. Berger thinks stone tools attributed to modern humans may have been made by Homo naledi, although no tools have been found with the hominin fossils. He also speculates that they were able to control fire, since they were able to navigate the underground cave. “I think the discovery of this second chamber adds to the idea that Homo naledi deliberately disposed of its dead in the deep underground chambers of the Rising Star cave system,” he said. For more on Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Categories: Blog

Airborne Laser Scans Detect Ancient Structures in Poland

Archaeology News - May 9, 2017

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of researchers from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University used airborne laser scanning to find ancient barrows, mounds, fields divided by raised earthen strips, tar extraction facilities, and charcoal piles in the Bialowieza Forest. Once the sites were spotted with from the air, the archaeologists visited the sites to try to determine their age and function. Some of the sites were also examined with GPR georadar. “Because of the strict regulations concerning the protection of the natural heritage in the Bialowieza National Park and the adjoining reserves, we cannot conduct excavations there,” said Joanna Wawrzeniuk. One cluster of 25 barrows, located in the northern section of Bialowieza National Park, is thought to have been made by the Iron Age Wielbark culture. The team also discovered a fortified settlement near the Orlówka River. This circular fortification measured about 100 feet in diameter and was surrounded by marshes. It may have served as a watch outpost during the Middle Ages. For more on the use of airborne laser scanning, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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Brains of Two-Sided Stone-Tool Makers Scanned

Archaeology News - May 9, 2017

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that Shelby Putt of the Stone Age Institute and her team scanned the brains of volunteers with functional near-infrared spectroscopy while they produced two-sided stone weapons, such as hand axes and cleavers. It had been thought that such stone tool production, first undertaken some 1.75 million years ago, would be linked to the evolution of language. But the scientists instead found that the same areas of the brain were activated in the tool makers as in those who play the piano in a rock-and-roll style. Both skills require a combination of visual memory, hearing, movement awareness, and action planning. “We think this marked a turning point in the evolution of the human brain, leading to the evolution of a new species of human,” Putt said. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.

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Nineteenth-Century Urban Trash Uncovered in Iowa

Archaeology News - May 9, 2017

DAVENPORT, IOWA—According to a report in The Globe Gazette, John Hedden of the University of Iowa and his team uncovered a small section of what may be a city trash pit dating to the early nineteenth century. They recovered more than 30,000 artifacts, all from working-class homes, including a chamber pot, animal bones, broken china, shoe soles, pipes, medicine and liquor bottles, and an ink well. “You never see this dense (amount of material in) an early deposit,” Hedden said. “We were just astounded as we dug into it.” Hedden explained that in the early nineteenth century, the site, located along Western Avenue, was a swampy area that was unsuitable for development, and so was probably used as a local dumping ground. He added that sanitary conditions in the neighborhood were so poor that in 1839 a ditch was constructed in the middle of Harrison Street to carry waste to the river. Davenport officials eventually passed an ordinance that made it illegal to throw manure, spoiled meat, animals and their entrails, and decayed vegetables into public spaces, streets, or alleys. To read about another discovery in the Midwest, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

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Project Aims to Catalog Prehistoric Hand Paintings

Archaeology News - May 6, 2017

A team of archaeologists is attempting to catalog all of the prehistoric hand paintings in European caves, according to a report in Seeker. The team, led by Hipolito Collado, head of archaeology for the government of Extremadura, Spain, is taking scans and high-resolution photos of the hand paintings and then posting them in a 3-D format in an online database where researchers around the world can access them. “It’s about making inaccessible art accessible,” said Collado. Among the questions he hopes to answer are: Why did early people paint hands in caves? Were they trying to mark territory? Do the paintings have anything to say about the role of Paleolithic women? Why are fingers missing from the hands in some of the paintings? According to Collado, painted hands have been found in 36 caves in Europe—all in France, Spain, and Italy. To read more about hand stencils found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

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Chinese Mural Tomb Unearthed

Archaeology News - May 5, 2017

XINZHOU, CHINA—Live Science reports that a team from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology has excavated a large tomb dating to ca. A.D. 600. A long corridor in the tomb was decorated with an unusual array of murals, including depictions of fantastical creatures, such as a winged horse carrying a tiger in its mouth, a blue monster-like figure that appears to be leaping or falling, and a nearly naked god known as the Master of the Wind running in the direction of the burial chamber. In additional to fantastical themes, the murals depict scenes from everyday life, such as horse trading and hunting. Though the tomb had been looted recently, the murals were undamaged. To read more about how Chinese archaeologists are dealing with looting, go to “Tomb Raider Chronicles.” 

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Nomad Tombs Excavated in Central China

Archaeology News - May 5, 2017

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 90 burials have been excavated to date at the Yinxu archaeological site in central China. Most of the graves are thought to date to the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 B.C.). Another 18 brick tombs are thought to be about 1,800 years old. Grave goods from these burials include two-handled bronze and iron pots, iron short swords, and strings of agate beads, which resemble objects used by nomads from the north who settled in central China, according to Shen Wenxi of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Anyang Station. The skeleton of a man, recovered from one of the graves, could shed additional light on these people's origins. For more on archaeology in China, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

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Rock Art Discovered in Costa Rica

Archaeology News - May 5, 2017

GUANACASTE, COSTA RICA—The Tico Times reports that a petroglyph was discovered on the banks of the Blanco River by a crew from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. The engraving is thought to depict a hummingbird, a symbol of fertility, and two compound parallel spirals in opposite directions, which are thought to represent the flow of the river at the site. The engraving has been dated to between A.D. 300 and 800. The site may have been part of a cemetery complex, but it has been heavily looted. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Diquis Delta, Costa Rica.”

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18th-Century Garden Walls Uncovered at Scottish Castle

Archaeology News - May 5, 2017

AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The National, traces of an eighteenth-century walled kitchen garden were found below the manicured grass of the Fountain Court at Culzean Castle during work to improve the drainage at the site. The garden is thought to have been built on the east side of the castle by Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, second Baronet, in 1733. It appears on a map of the castle, drawn in 1755, which records rows of planted beds and fruit trees. The fruits and vegetables are thought to have been moved to the southeast of the castle in order to open up the views to the picturesque landscape by Scottish architect Robert Adam, who began a 15-year renovation of the castle in 1777. About six courses of the stone wall remain. Most of the stone was probably reused to reconstruct the garden walls in the new location. To read about another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Archaeologists Search for Civil War Earthworks

Archaeology News - May 4, 2017

FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE—The Tennessean reports that archaeologists are looking for a missing piece of the Union Army’s front line earthworks in land recently acquired for Carter Hill Battlefield Park. On November 30, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood attacked fortified positions held by Union troops led by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield in what is known as the Battle of Franklin. Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson said that archaeologists recovered fired bullets from an area of disturbed soil, including traditional Minie balls and Williams Patent “cleaner” bullets, which were used by Federal troops to clean musket barrels. “If you’re finding a fired Williams cleaner, that means they were so desperate they were using them and then it was hitting something: a Confederate,” Jacobson said. The Confederates “busted through this line and that’s why the fighting is so awful here.” The Confederates suffered heavy losses in both men and leadership at Franklin. The Union Army retreated to Nashville, where another battle wiped out Hood’s army about two weeks later. For more, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”

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Middle-Kingdom Garden Discovered in Luxor

Archaeology News - May 4, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a 4,000-year-old funerary garden has been found in the Dra Abul Naga necropolis by a team of Spanish archaeologists. The garden was placed in the open courtyard of a rock-cut tomb. Measuring about ten feet long by six and one-half feet wide, the garden was separated into sections about one foot square. Each square is thought to have contained different kinds of plants and flowers. An elevated area in the middle of the garden may have supported a small tree or bush. A corner of the garden contained the roots and trunk of a small tree, and a bowl of dried dates and other fruit. “The discovery of the garden may shed light on the environment and gardening in ancient Thebes during the Middle Kingdom, around 2000 B.C.,” said Jose Galan of the Spanish National Research Council. Galan added that this is the first time that a funerary garden has been uncovered in ancient Thebes. His team also unearthed a small mud-brick chapel holding three 13th-Dynasty steles at the site of the rock-cut tomb. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Early 19th-Century Canal Boat Found in New York Lake

Archaeology News - May 4, 2017

OSWEGO COUNTY, NEW YORK—Syracuse.com reports that scuba divers assisted by maritime archaeologist Ben Ford of Indiana University of Pennsylvania investigated the wreckage of an early nineteenth-century canal boat in Oneida Lake. Known as a Durham boat, the vessel measured about 60 feet long and ten feet wide, and could carry about 20 tons of cargo in shallow waters. The vessel’s frame and bottom planks were made of white oak, while the siding was made of eastern white pine. A mallet, a wooden scoop, and a stoneware jug were found in the boat’s cabin. The cargo consisted of more than five tons of small stones from the south shore of Oneida Lake. The research team suspects the vessel sank in a storm while crossing the lake. To read about maritime archaeology in the Great Lakes, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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Reindeer Herders Participate in Experimental Archaeology

Archaeology News - May 3, 2017

ALBERTA, CANADA—Radio Canada International reports that Robert Losey of the University of Alberta and colleague Tatiana Nomokonova are investigating possible uses for reindeer-bone artifacts recovered from Russia’s Ust’-Polui archaeological site. They think the objects may be pieces of a 2,000-year-old reindeer bridle or harness, and will ask the Nenets reindeer herders of the Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia to test them. The researchers used a 3-D laser scan to produce digital models of the artifacts, which they then printed in plastic. They then attempted to replicate those objects in actual reindeer antler for use in the field. Losey and Nomokonova will live with the Nenets for a period and hope to learn how Arctic people may have interacted with herds of reindeer in the past. “It’s really unknown though when reindeer keeping first began, when people first started taming and breeding reindeer,” Losey said. “So the question is really were people harnessing and working with reindeer 2,000 or 3,000 years ago in the Arctic or are these objects something else entirely?” For more on archaeology in Siberia, go to “Squeezing History from a Turnip.”

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Restoration of Mausoleum of Augustus Underway

Archaeology News - May 3, 2017

ROME, ITALY—The Associated Press reports that the mausoleum of the Emperor Augustus, which has been closed to the public since the 1970s, will be restored with funding provided by the city of Rome, the culture ministry, and a private company. Located in the historic city center, the monument was constructed in 28 B.C. at a site along the Tiber River, and originally had a bronze sculpture of Augustus on its roof. The structure also holds the remains of the emperors Vespasian, Nero, and Tiberius. “I hope the mausoleum will be given back as soon as possible to the people,” said Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi. Workers have already cleaned out the garbage and cut back the trees and weeds that had grown over it. The restoration is scheduled to be completed in 2019. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

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1,700-Year-Old Underground Temple Found at Roman Fortress

Archaeology News - May 3, 2017

DIYARBAKIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a 1,700-year-old underground temple of Mithras has been found near Zerzevan Castle, which was located on what was the eastern border of the Roman Empire. The strategic Roman border garrison town, surrounded by fortress walls, was situated on a high, rocky hill, overlooking a valley to protect an ancient trade route. Aytaç Coşkun of Dicle University thinks the mystery religion practiced at the Mithraeum may have been popular among the Roman soldiers at the castle until the fourth century, when Christianity arrived. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

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Mycenaean Chamber Tomb Discovered on Greek Island

Archaeology News - May 3, 2017

SALAMINA, GREECE—Sewerage repairs on the Greek island of Salamis have led to the discovery of a Mycenaean chamber tomb, according to The Greek Reporter. Archaeologist Ada Kattoula of the Western Attica, Piraeus, and the Islands Antiquities Ephorate said another project in 2009 uncovered two other tombs in the area, which is part of a Mycenaean-era cemetery first investigated in 1964. “The excavation conditions are extremely difficult because there are many springs in the area and the specific tombs, being carved into the rock, are prone to flooding,” she explained. At least five people were buried in the chamber tomb, along with pottery vessels, at different times. The remains will be studied. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

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Can Fossil Fractures Be Linked to Hominin Behavior?

Archaeology News - May 2, 2017

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—According to a report in Science News, Libby Cowgill and James Bain of the University of Missouri evaluated injuries found in Neanderthal fossils, and the possibility that comparing them to injuries experienced by modern humans could offer insights what Neanderthal lives were like. About 30 percent of known Neanderthal fractures affect the face and head, a far greater ratio than almost all modern causes of injury. In an earlier study, a team of researchers, including Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, compared Neanderthal injuries, perhaps inflicted by large prey, to those suffered by rodeo riders. Trinkaus later suggested that these upper-body injuries could reflect clashes with other Neanderthals, or even Homo sapiens. Alternatively, many Neanderthals with lower-body injuries may have died before reaching rock-shelters, where fossils are usually found. In their follow-up, Cowgill and Bain compared the record of Neanderthal injuries to fracture data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, and found similar patterns in Neanderthal injuries and those caused by accidents involving golf, water tubing, and games involving Frisbee and boomerangs, rather than rodeo riding. Cowgill and Bain concluded that it may not be meaningful to compare injury patterns experienced by modern humans and extinct hominins. This is especially the case since Neanderthals' fractures may have occurred during the fossilization process, as Trinkaus explained. To read more about Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Renovations Uncover Empty Jars at Thailand’s Wat Daeng Temple

Archaeology News - May 2, 2017

AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND—Archaeologists renovating the chapel of Wat Daeng temple in the Tha Rua district of Ayutthaya found 32 jars buried beneath the chapel’s main Buddha statue, according to a report in The Bangkok Post. The empty jars, buried bottom up in rows, were spotted when a brick was removed from a wall in the statue’s base. Archaeologist Chaiyos Charoensantipong of the Third Fine Arts Office explained that the jars were probably added as a structural support for the 300-year-old statue, and will help researchers understand how the chapel was constructed. The heads of four of the six Buddha statues in the chapel were stolen in 2009. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Categories: Blog

Vikings May Have Grown Their Own Grapes

Archaeology News - May 1, 2017

COPEHAGEN, DENMARK—It had been thought that grapes were not grown in Denmark before the medieval period, but The Local, Denmark, reports that strontium isotope analysis of two grape seeds recovered at the site of the Viking settlement at Tissø suggests they may have been grown on the main Danish island of Zealand. One of the pips has been dated to the Iron Age, the other to the late Viking period. “We do not know how [the grapes] were used—it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example—but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine,” said archaeological botanist Peter Steen Henriksen of Denmark’s National Museum. The Vikings probably first encountered grapes and wine in their travels. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Categories: Blog

Genomes of Scythian Horses Mapped

Archaeology News - April 29, 2017

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The New York Times reports that Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen and an international team of scientists analyzed DNA extracted from the bones of 11 male horses buried in a mound some 2,300 years ago by the Scythians in what is now Kazakhstan; two male horses buried in a royal Scythian tomb some 2,700 years ago in southern Siberia; and the 4,100-year-old remains of a Sintashta mare found in Russia, near the border of Europe and Asia. The researchers were able to identify several characteristics selected by the Scythian breeders, including robust forelimbs, increased milk production, and bay, black, chestnut, cream, and spotted coat colors. Some of the Scythian horses carried a gene variant associated with short-distance sprinting. And only two of the horses were related, which supports Herodotus’ description of sacrificed horses in funerary rituals as gifts from tribes across the steppes. The study also noted that none of the horses were inbred. Orlando suggests this indicates that the Scythians maintained natural herd structures, rather than limit the number of stallions, as is often the case in modern breeding programs. For more, go to “Rites of the Scythians.”

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