DNA From Neanderthal Dental Plaque Analyzed

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Nature reports that scientists from the University of Adelaide and the University of Liverpool analyzed DNA obtained from the dental plaque of five Neanderthals whose remains were recovered in northern Spain’s El Sidrón Cave, and compared the results to a study of the plaque obtained from four Neanderthals buried in Belgium’s Spy Cave. The results suggest that while the Neanderthals from Spy Cave enjoyed rhinoceros and sheep meat, the Neanderthals living in Spain ate a vegetarian diet. One of the individuals, who suffered from a dental abscess, also carried an intestinal parasite. His plaque contained traces of poplar, which contains the active ingredient in aspirin, and a natural antibiotic mold. Neither of these substances were detected in the other plaque samples, which suggests he may have been treated with medicinal plants. The genome sequence of one of the types of ancient mouth bacteria in the samples suggests it was transferred to Neanderthals from modern humans. “If you’re swapping spit between species, there’s kissing going on, or at least food sharing, which would suggest that these interactions were much friendlier and more intimate than anybody ever possibly imagined,” said Laura Weyrich of the University of Adelaide. To read in-depth about the study of ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Decorated Stone Age Clothing Studied

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

PESSAC, FRANCE—The International Business Times reports that Aurélie Zemour of Bordeaux Montaigne University and her colleagues examined traces of the 7,000-year-old clothing of a man whose burial was unearthed in southern France in the 1970s. Both ends of the skeletal remains had been damaged by disturbance in the modern and medieval eras. “But the materials worn by the dead here are obvious and ornaments are visible,” Zemour said. “The burial is exceptional.” The cloth of the man’s jacket or tunic did not survive, but the researchers were able to see that it had been embroidered with 158 Columbella rustica shells. The shells had been arranged in patterns, with the conical shells either pointed all up, pointed all down, or up and down in alternating pairs. Sixteen canine teeth from red deer had also been sewn to the garment at chest level. Chemical analysis of the teeth indicates they may have been painted red. For more, go to “World's Oldest Pants.”

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Search for Maritime Silk Road’s Starting Point Continues

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that archaeologists with the State Underwater Cultural Heritage Protection Center and Huanghua City Museum will continue to look for evidence that the starting point of the ancient maritime Silk Road was located in what is now northern China’s port city of Huanghua. “The ongoing excavation is to determine the functions of the port ruins’ different zones,” explained Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics. Previous excavations near the ruins of the ancient town of Haifeng have uncovered traces of an ancient port, including a river, a layer of coal ash, roads, and trampled earth. Archaeologists have also recovered large amounts of different styles of porcelain from north and south China, suggesting that Haifeng had been a center for the porcelain trade as early as the Jin Dynasty (A.D. 1115–1234). For more, go to “Letter from China: Tomb Raider Chronicles.”

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Toppled Statues Discovered at Luxor Temple

Archaeology News - March 9, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a black granite statue of Amenhotep III has been unearthed at the pharaoh's temple, which is located on Luxor’s West Bank. “It is a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian sculpture: extremely well carved and perfectly polished,” said Hourig Sourouzian, director of the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple Conservation Project. The statue depicts the king as a young man and is thought to have been commissioned early in his reign. Once it has been conserved, that statue and a similar one discovered in 2009 will be returned to the temple site for display. The excavation team has also recovered 66 parts of statues representing the powerful lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. All of the sculptures, which had been toppled by an earthquake, were uncovered while the researchers were looking for the remains of a wall that separated the temple’s Peristyle Court and Hypostyle Hall. For more on archaeology of Egypt, go to “Royal Gams.”

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Excavation Reveals Fortification Wall in Malta

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

VALLETTA, MALTA—Malta’s Infrastructure Ministry announced that an ancient fortification wall was uncovered at the site of a public bathroom located just outside Valletta’s city gate. According to the Times of Malta, the wall was part of the city’s landward defenses. The country’s Superintendence of National Heritage will investigate the wall. 

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4,000-Year-Old Pollen Reflects Scotland’s Ancient Landscape

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

CAITHNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that pollen from medicinal and flowering plants has been identified on a decorated beaker placed in a young woman’s grave some 4,100 years ago. Dubbed “Ava,” the woman’s remains were unearthed 30 years ago at Achavanich, a site known for its megalithic horseshoe-shaped structure. “Of the pollen recovered the majority were from trees and shrubs including birch, pine—most likely Scots pine—hazel and alder,” said archaeologist Maya Hoole. Traces of heather, grasses, meadowsweet, and St. John’s wort were also found in the grave. Stable isotope analysis of Ava’s bones indicates that she lived in the area. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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Secondary Roman Road Uncovered in Israel

Archaeology News - March 8, 2017

BEIT SHEMESH, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a 164-yard section of ancient Roman road during salvage excavations ahead of the installation of a water line about 20 miles west of Jerusalem. The cobbled road is thought to have connected the ancient town of Bethletepha to the highway that stretched from Jerusalem to Eleutheropolis, a city located to the south. Several coins found at the site date to the first century A.D. and suggest that the road could be older than the highway, which is thought to have been built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the country around A.D. 130. The road is situated near a cross-country hiking route and will be preserved for visitors. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

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New Technique May Identify Vulnerable Temples at Angkor

Archaeology News - March 7, 2017

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that a new technique could help scientists predict when buildings at Angkor and other UNESCO World Heritage sites are susceptible to collapse and even prevent small shifts in the structures that can cause damage. Fulong Chen of the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a team of researchers used InSAR, or synthetic aperture radar interferometry, and high-resolution satellite imagery, to measure millimeter-scale changes to the monuments in an area measuring 14 miles by 11 miles. The scientists did not detect a threat over the two-year span of the study, but they suspect that erosion, temperature variations, and changes in the level of the groundwater, which is now being depleted by the millions of visitors to the ancient city each year, could contribute to the instability of Angkor’s ancient structures over time. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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First World War Shipwreck Declared War Grave

Archaeology News - March 7, 2017

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that the wreckage of the HMHS Anglia has been declared an official war grave, along with a dozen other British naval vessels. At least 160 people were killed when the HMHS Anglia sank off the southeastern coast of England after hitting a German mine on November 17, 1915. The hospital ship had been carrying nearly 400 soldiers wounded in World War I battlefields, as well as the team of doctors and nurses caring for them. It is now illegal to damage, move, remove, or unearth any of the human remains at the wreck site, or to open any hatch or other opening on the ship. “In protecting these historic wreck sites, the Ministry of Defense has recognized the significance of the ships as part of our national story, recognized the cultural importance of the First World War at sea, and honored the memory of those lost in the defense of our shores,” said marine archaeologist Mark Dunkley of Historic England. To read about another shipwreck, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

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Rock Art Discovered in 4,000-Year-Old Dolmen

Archaeology News - March 7, 2017

HULA VALLEY, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a dolmen containing the remains of an adult, a young adult, and a child has been found in a field of more than 400 ancient tombs in northern Israel. The underside of the tomb’s capstone, which is thought to weigh about 50 tons, had been decorated with engravings. At least four smaller dolmens had been built at its foot, and then the chambers were covered with a tumulus of stones. Researchers from the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of Hebrew University made a 3-D model of the engravings, which archaeologist Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority said are the first to be found in a dolmen in the Middle East. The patina inside the carvings matches the rest of the rock face, suggesting that the tomb was decorated when it was built. “It’s a problem to date [the dolmens] because they are very obvious on the landscape and people have been using them since they were built 4,000 years ago or a little bit more than that,” explained Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College. The scientists will attempt to radiocarbon date the bones discovered in the tomb. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Artifact: Middle Bronze Age Jug.”

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Study Suggests Domesticated Trees Persist in Amazon Forest

Archaeology News - March 7, 2017

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Science reports that ecologist Hans ter Steege of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Carolina Levis of Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research and Wageningen University in the Netherlands employed a database of information collected in earlier studies of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest to search for evidence of domesticated woody species near more than 1,000 archaeological sites in the Amazon basin and the Guiana shield. They found that common domesticated species, such as the Brazil nut tree and palm trees, made up as much as 61 percent of the trees near archaeological sites. Forests near archaeological sites also had more domesticated tree species than places without evidence of past human occupation. “The effect of Pre-Columbian people is much more pronounced than many of us believed,” said Ter Steege. Researchers cannot be sure, however, when domesticated trees became common. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

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Children’s Burials Unearthed in Historic St. Augustine

Archaeology News - March 4, 2017

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—The remains of three children have been found among seven European burials under the floor of a hurricane-damaged shop in St. Augustine. First Coast News reports that two of the children were buried in the same grave, perhaps at the same time. “The bioarchaeologist will be able to tell us the precise age but he thinks—based on the bones—they probably are under seven years old,” said archaeologist Kathleen Deagan, who is assisting city archaeologist Carl Halbirt with the project. The graves are part of a church cemetery that dates to the earliest years of the European colony. The excavation team has also discovered foundations at the site that are not recorded on historic maps. The structures may have served as a seawall. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

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19th-Century Military Trench Uncovered in New Zealand

Archaeology News - March 4, 2017

MATAPIHI, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report by Radio New Zealand, workers installing a median barrier on a highway near the North Island’s city of Tauranga found musket balls in what appears to be a nineteenth-century military trench. Archaeologists are investigating the site, which is in an area known to hold the archaeological remains of three Maori settlements. But Niclas Johansson, a NZ Transport Agency spokesperson, said that even though there are other well-known battle sites in the Tauranga area, this military trench was a surprise. “This could be nationally significant so it’s important that we keep the site closed and take the time now to find out as much as we can so we can honor the tangata whenua [people of the land] who were affected by this part of our history,” he explained. To read about a recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Vast Burial Mound Found in Japan’s Ancient Capital

Archaeology News - March 4, 2017

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a square burial mound measuring nearly 230 feet per side has been found in Asuka, the ancient capital of imperial Japan. The vast tomb is surrounded by a stone-lined moat, which was discovered in 2014. Researchers have also found remnants of a passage to the burial chamber, which they think could hold the remains of Emperor Jomei, who lived from A.D. 593 to 641, or Soga no Emishi, a warlord who died in 645. To read about another recent discovery, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Students Recreate Japan’s Nintoku-ryo Kofun in Lego Bricks

Archaeology News - March 3, 2017

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that students in Osaka University’s Lego club assembled a 1:560-scale model of the keyhole-shaped Nintoku-ryo burial mound and the moat that surrounds it with more than 10,000 plastic bricks. The students examined the shape of the fourth-century mound at the Osaka Prefectural Chikatsu-Asuka Museum, and used 3-D computer images, aerial photographs, and Lego’s modeling software to plan the miniature replica. Half of it was covered with white bricks to simulate what the tomb may have looked like when it was built. The other half was covered in green bricks to represent the trees that now grow over the mound. A stone coffin, swords, and glassware were placed inside the model. “Our (model) burial mound ended up being more realistic than we had ever thought,” said engineering student Satoshi Osako, deputy head of the Lego club. The project was commissioned by the local government in an effort to interest children in the bid to have Japan’s Mozu and Furuichi burial mound clusters added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. To read about a Lego model of the Antikythera Mechanism, go to “Artifact.”

Categories: Blog

100,000-Year-Old Skulls Exhibit Mix of Features

Archaeology News - March 3, 2017

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Live Science reports that two partial skulls dated to more than 100,000 years ago appear to share traits of modern humans, archaic humans, and Neanderthals. The bones, discovered at the Lingjing site in Xuchang, central China, exhibit a large brain size, lightly built cranial vaults, and modest brow ridges, similar to late archaic and early modern humans found across the Old World. But the braincase is low and broad, resembling that of earlier hominins from eastern Eurasia, and the inner ear bones and the rear of the skulls resemble those of western Eurasian Neanderthals. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, and Xiu-Jie Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, say that the fossils suggest that these groups were not separate lineages. “We’re seeing a general interconnectedness of all these populations across the Old World,” Trinkaus said. Traits that are usually associated with fossils from one region or another may occur have occurred there in greater frequency, he explained. The scientists are hoping to find a complete skull “so we can tell what they looked like,” Wu said. For more, go to “Homo erectus Stands Alone.”

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Archaeologists Return to 19th-Century Shipwreck Survivors’ Camp

Archaeology News - March 3, 2017

SITKA, ALASKA—The Capital City Weekly reports that an international team of archaeologists led by Dave McMahan returned to Kruzov Island, where 26 survivors of the wreck of the Russian-American Company ship Neva are thought to have awaited rescue for three weeks in the winter of 1813. The campsite yielded a large piece of a ship’s iron yard brace entwined in the roots of a tree; a fragment of a scabbard made of bronze or brass; additional scraps of copper hull sheathing remade into survival tools; cooking fires; remains of fish and deer; Russian axes; and cannon grapeshot. The team also found rows of mismatched iron nails at the edge of the camp. The nails, oriented east to west, may have held together a coffin made of salvaged wood. The burial, thought to hold the remains of one of the two survivors of the wreck who died after reaching the island, has been left in place. For more on archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

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17th-Century Artifacts Found Under English Mansion’s Floor

Archaeology News - March 3, 2017

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—The Midhurst and Petworth Observer reports that conservationists recovered artifacts dating to the late seventeenth century while repairing marble tiles in Petworth House. The tiles had been laid on a bed made up of layers of sand, gravel, and marble chippings on the floor of the formal entrance to the mansion, which was built by the sixth Duke of Somerset in the 1690s. The floor has not been disturbed since the 1920s, when a few of the tiles were moved to install electricity in the house. The artifacts include a fragment of a seventeenth-century pottery drinking vessel thought to have been imported from Germany; an oyster shell that may have been part of a worker’s lunch; and a piece of a lead window frame that may have been part of the medieval house that stood on the property before Petworth House was built. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

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Ancient Staircase Examined in Cambodia

Archaeology News - March 2, 2017

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Cambodia Daily, researchers led by Im Sokrithy of the Apsara Authority’s Angkor International Center of Research and Documentation and Jean-Baptiste Chevance of the Archaeology & Development Foundation are investigating the nearly 2,000-foot-long stone staircase known as Pleu Cere that climbs the sacred mountain Phnom Kulen. The 50-foot-wide staircase is interspersed with four flat rest areas that offer access to spring water. The archaeologists explained that the lack of carvings and artifacts along the staircase make it difficult to estimate its age, but it is thought to have been constructed sometime between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to reach the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, which has been recently mapped with Lidar technology. Little has been done until now to study the ancient route because it had been mined by Khmer Rouge forces. For more on archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Brick-Lined Tombs Unearthed in Southwest China

Archaeology News - March 2, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—According to a report in China.org, two connected brick tombs dating to the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279) have been found near a village in southwest China. Inscriptions in the tombs suggest they belonged to an official named He Tan, who had been buried with his wife and parents. The tombs also contained records of ownership of the land, and painted brick figurines. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Zinc Zone.”

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