New Techniques for Finding Hidden Texts in Egyptian Coffins

Archaeology News - October 28, 2016

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Wired reports that Mike Toth, an expert in imaging techniques, is working with archaeologists, physicists, and engineers to develop ways to find and read the texts written on the layers of ancient papyri in cartonnage, coffins made for middle-class Egyptians. In the past, researchers dismantled the ancient coffins and funerary masks, and washed the paint, plaster, and gesso off the papyri to look for rare texts in the layers. “Apart from destroying a mummy, washing away is a reckless way to deal with something where the littlest thing can be really interesting,” said Derin McLeod of the University of California, Berkeley's Tebtunis Center. Multi-spectral imaging, X-ray phase contrast, and fluorescence offer new ways to look for signs of ink, and possibly even read the texts. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”

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Byzantine-Era Inn Found in Anatolia

Archaeology News - October 28, 2016

ÇANAKKALE PROVINCE, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports than an inn dating to the Byzantine period has been unearthed behind the western gate of the ancient harbor city of Assos, known for its Temple of Athena and large theater overlooking the Aegean Sea. “The existence of this complex is mentioned in ancient sources but it has never been unearthed,” said Nurettin Arslan of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. “Ancient resources from the Byzantine era provide information about the inn but none of them defined this structure and its location.” The team will look for additional sections of the inn, which may include a bakery, kitchens, cisterns, guest rooms, and a chapel. The excavation conducted by Arslan’s team is part of a larger restoration project to make the site more visitor friendly. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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Air Raid Shelter Found Under English Driveway

Archaeology News - October 28, 2016

LUTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a man in eastern England was backing out of his driveway when his wheel got stuck in a hole that opened up in the paving stones. At first Simon Marks thought it was a sinkhole, but he could see parts of a ladder, so he used a camera and a selfie stick to get a better look. He found what could be an air raid shelter dating to World War II that had been filled in with dirt and garbage. At the time of the war, the land was an empty plot. “It was so well structured with the concrete roof and the walls, it was quite clear what it was going to be,” Marks said. If found to be structurally sound, the family plans to keep the shelter under the driveway. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

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Geneticists Develop New Model for Ancient Human Relationships

Archaeology News - October 27, 2016

VANCOUVER, CANADA—ABC News Australia reports that statistical geneticist Ryan Bohlender of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and his team developed a new computer model to evaluate the possible relationships among the ancestors of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The tool varied estimations of population size and dates for when the populations stopped interbreeding, and accounted for inconsistencies in previous studies of genomes of modern and archaic humans. The analysis suggests that interbreeding occurred both within and outside of Africa, that the early population in Africa was 50 percent larger than had been thought, and that modern humans diverged from the family tree some 440,000 years ago. The study also suggests that the different populations may have interbred less frequently than previously thought, and in similar numbers in Europe and in East Asia. (It had been suggested that interbreeding occurred more frequently in East Asia.) And, according to Bohlender, Melanesians may carry a small amount of DNA from an unidentified, extinct human species. Future computer simulations will add additional populations into the mix to see how they affect the results. For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

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Ritual Use of Cave Lions May Have Contributed to Their Extinction

Archaeology News - October 27, 2016

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cosmos reports that human hunters may have contributed to the extinction of Panthera spelaea, the Eurasian cave lion, some 14,000 years ago. Marian Cueto of the Universidad de Cantabria and her team examined nine lion claws, or phalanxes, recovered in La Garma, a cave in northern Spain associated with human rituals during the Upper Paleolithic period. They found cut marks and signs of scraping on the bones similar to the ones made by modern hunters when they skin an animal in a way that keeps the claws attached to the pelt. The researchers add that the locations of the bones on the cave floor suggest that the pelt may have been used as a floor covering. For more on the relationship between ancient people and cats, go to “Baby Bobcat,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

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Ancient Beverage Brewed in Milwaukee

Archaeology News - October 27, 2016

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—NPR reports that archaeologist Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her research team worked with Lakefront Brewery to try to re-create an alcoholic beverage that had been placed in a bronze cauldron and buried in a grave sometime between 400 and 450 B.C. in what is now Germany. The recipe was based upon the research of paleobotanist Manfred Rösch, who analyzed the residues in the Iron Age cauldron. He found evidence of honey, meadowsweet, barley, and mint—ingredients in a type of beverage known as a braggot. The experimental mixture took seven hours to make. It was then left to ferment for two weeks, producing a smooth drink with an herbal, minty taste. “I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink,” commented Chris Ranson of Lakefront Brewery. To read about another find from the same time period, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

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What Motivated the Violent Burials of the Sonoran Desert?

Archaeology News - October 26, 2016

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that James Watson and Danielle Phelps of the University of Arizona examined unusual burials dating to the beginning of the agricultural period in the Sonoran Desert, around 2100 B.C. When a body was buried on its side, with its arms crossed and knees bent, the person is thought to have been buried with the respect of the community. But sometimes, bodies were tumbled headfirst into graves, with bones broken and limbs splayed. Watson and Phelps suggest that as people moved into settled communities and attempted to establish control over farming territories, tensions between different groups may have turned into feuds lasting generations. These tensions may be reflected in the violent deaths and disrespectful burials. Watson speculates that desecrating the corpse of an enemy may have been a way to gain prestige, but it also could have increased the risk of retaliation. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

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Sixth-Century Swords Discovered in Japan

Archaeology News - October 26, 2016

EBINO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two swords have been recovered from a sixth-century A.D. tomb on the island of Kyushu. One of the weapons, which has a wooden pommel, would have measured about 60 inches long and is said to be the longest sword ever found in an ancient tomb in Japan. The opening of its scabbard was covered with a valuable textile. The hilt of the other sword, which has a pommel decorated with silver, is covered with ray skin. It is said to be the oldest such item found in East Asia, and may have been made in the Paekche kingdom, on the Korean Peninsula. “The swords suggest there was a powerful person in southern Kyushu, who would have directly served someone in the upper rank close to the Yamato king, and would have gone overseas in charge of foreign politics,” said researcher Tatsuya Hashimoto of Kagoshima University Museum. The tomb has also yielded armor, horse harnesses, and human remains. To read about the discovery of another sword, go to “Viking Trading or Raiding?

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Photogrammetric Models Made of Black Sea Shipwrecks

Archaeology News - October 26, 2016

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Quartz.com reports that the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project found more than 40 Byzantine and Ottoman shipwrecks during geophysical surveys of the Black Sea seabed along the Bulgarian coast. Many of the hulls, masts, tillers, and other features of the ships are well preserved, due to the low oxygen levels in the deep waters. Principal investigator and University of Southampton marine archaeologist Jon Adams and his team of researchers recorded information about the ships with laser scanners, and they took thousands of high-resolution photographs and videos of the shipwrecks with remotely operated vehicles. The images were then assembled with photogrammetry to build 3-D models of the shipwrecks. To read about another archaeological project involving photogrammetry, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

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Great Basilica Yields Medieval Fresco Fragment

Archaeology News - October 25, 2016

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists excavating the northern nave of the Great Basilica in Plovdiv have uncovered a fragment of a medieval painting thought to depict Peter, the Christian saint. The original church on the site had been located in the center of the ancient city of Philippopolis, and dates to the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The structure is thought to have been destroyed by invaders in the sixth century. Eighteen medieval burials, including the remains of children and a possible priest, were recently found resting on the original building’s mosaic floors. The excavators think the fine quality of the medieval fresco suggests it was probably part of a mural painted in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries by a master from Constantinople. The excavation team also found a donor inscription near the mural, written in Greek, bearing the name “Avram.” For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

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2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Plants Found in Northwestern China

Archaeology News - October 25, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that 13 Cannabis plants were discovered covering a man’s body in a 2,500-year-old burial located in the large Jiayi cemetery in arid northwestern China. About 35 years old at the time of death, the man was placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow. The root-ends of the Cannabis plants were placed over his pelvis, so that the leaves reached his chin on the left side of his face. Hongen Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his team suggest the burial occurred in the late summer, since the plants bore immature fruit. They also suggest that the lack of hemp clothing and rope in the burial, and the large size of the plants’ seeds, indicate that they were grown for their psychoactive properties. Pottery from the cemetery suggests that it belonged to the Subeixi culture of the Turpan Basin. Processed Cannabis flowers were found in another Subeixi graveyard in 2006. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Child’s Rattle Unearthed in Siberia

Archaeology News - October 24, 2016

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that a child’s toy has been unearthed at the site of a Bronze Age settlement in Siberia. The 4,000-year-old rattle was made by sealing small stones in clay shaped as a bear’s head. Archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Russian Academy of Sciences explained that the artifact will be X-rayed to try to determine what kind of stones were used to make the rattle. He added that the rattle is believed to bear a stamp including a drawing made when the clay was still wet. The settlement has also yielded a figurine shaped like a bird that may have been used as an incense stand. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”

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Island Chiefdom May Offer Insight Into Complex Societies

Archaeology News - October 22, 2016

DALLAS, TEXAS—Fox News reports that Mark McCoy of Southern Methodist University and his team calculated the age of Nan Madol, a capital ruled by a single chief on the Pacific island of Pohnpei. Using uranium-thorium dating, the researchers found that the tomb where Nan Madol’s first chief was buried dates back to A.D. 1180, or about 100 years earlier than similar tombs elsewhere in the Pacific. McCoy described Nan Madol as the first site in the remote Pacific islands to serve as a seat of political power, religious rituals, and monumental burial. This information could help researchers understand how human societies evolved more complex, hierarchical systems. “The main finding here was the discovery of strong archaeological evidence of [the] rise of the first chiefs to rule the island,” McCoy said. “Something that of course is described in Pohnpei’s own oral histories, but with the results described in our new paper, can now be compared to other islands in the Pacific and societies around the world.” To read in-depth about another Pacific island, go to “Letter From the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

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Possible Third 16th-Century Ship Found in Florida Waters

Archaeology News - October 22, 2016

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—The Pensacola News Journal reports that archaeologists and students from the University of West Florida have found a third shipwreck in Pensacola Bay. All three ships are thought to have been part of Don Tristan de Luna’s expedition, which included 11 ships and 1,500 people sent to colonize Florida for Spain. One month after Luna arrived in 1559 on the northern Gulf Coast, a hurricane sank many of the ships and wiped out much of the expedition’s supplies. The newly discovered ship, found in shallower water than the two previously discovered, may have been La Salvadora, a smaller ship that had been built in the New World. “We’ll take the wood sample soon and see what it’s made out of,” said historian John Worth, who has been studying the Luna settlement, which was discovered last year. “Is it a New World species or Old World species? If it turned out to be [La Salvadora] that would be really exciting, because that would be the earliest ship built in the New World that’s documented,” he explained. So far, the team has found ballast stones, iron concretions, an articulated hull, planking, and ceramics. The Luna expedition ended in 1561, when Spanish ships rescued the surviving colonists and returned them to Mexico. For more, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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Homo Habilis May Have Been Right Handed

Archaeology News - October 22, 2016

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—HealthDay News reports that University of Kansas professor emeritus David Frayer has found evidence of right-handedness in a Homo habilis specimen. He and his team conducted experiments to re-create scratch marks similar to the ones found on 1.8-million-year-old Homo habilis teeth found in Tanzania. Most of the marks, located on the lip side of the specimen’s upper front teeth, veer from the left down to the right. The team members suggest that the marks were made when the hominin used a stone tool, held in the right hand, to cut food held with the teeth and the left hand. Frayer explained that Homo habilis was already thought to have had lateralization of the brain, meaning that each side of the brain has functional specializations for tasks such as handedness and language. Further research could show that how the brain is organized may be important in identifying the origins of human ancestors. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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Cache of 8,000-Year-Old Animal Bones Found in Mexico

Archaeology News - October 21, 2016

NUEVO LEÓN, MEXICO—Prensa Latina reports that archaeologist Araceli Rivera of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has found animal remains that may have been used in rituals some 8,000 years ago. The remains include the teeth, long bones, skulls, ribs, and vertebrae of mammoths, camels, horses, llamas, and prehistoric bison. The bones had been placed in a rock shelter and covered with a rectangular stone that researchers have dubbed La Boveda, or The Vault. The researchers think The Vault may have been illuminated during the winter solstice, at a time when food may have been scarce. For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”

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Possible Evidence of Roman Attack Found in Jerusalem

Archaeology News - October 21, 2016

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Guardian reports that Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib of the Israel Antiquities Authority have found evidence of a 2,000-year-old watchtower and a wall that protected a “new” area of Jerusalem that had developed outside of the city’s two existing defensive walls. The Jewish historian Josephus described Titus’s breach of such a third wall in A.D. 70, when Roman legions invaded, sacked the city, and destroyed the Second Temple. Large stones that the Romans may have fired from catapults at the sentries in the tower have also been uncovered. It is thought that Roman forces used battering rams on the wall while the catapults provided cover. To read about another discovery in Jerusalem, go to “Rubaiyat Pot.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Ancient Stone Flakes

Archaeology News - October 20, 2016

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that capuchin monkeys living in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been observed banging rocks against one another, an action that produces a cobble with a single flat side that is called a “unifacial chopper” by archaeologists. Unifacial choppers bear telltale scallop-shell-shaped breakages called conchoidal fractures. It had been thought that such modified stones were only made by hominins. According to observations made during the study, the monkeys sometimes lick the rocks, perhaps to ingest lichens or minerals, but they don’t use them as tools. Instead, they use other rocks to break open nuts. Researcher Tomos Proffitt of the University of Oxford says the study shows that modern primates can produce some types of artifacts that have until now been attributed to hominins alone, and will require scientists to rethink how they determine whether a stone tool was made by a human ancestor or human relative. For more, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

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Engraved Stone May Have Been a Neolithic Map

Archaeology News - October 20, 2016

BORNHOLM, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that an engraved stone fragment discovered at the Neolithic site of Vasagård on the island of Bornhom could be a map. Archaeologist Flemming Kaul of the National Museum of Denmark said that other stones inscribed with lines and rectangles have been found at the site, and it had been thought that the markings depicted the sun and its rays. This partial stone is now thought to show the details of an area of the island as it appeared between 2700 and 2900 B.C. Some of the markings may even represent ears of corn or plants with leaves. “These are not accidental scratches,” he said. “We see the stones as types of maps showing different kinds of fields.” To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

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Skara Brae Residents May Have Snacked on Rodents

Archaeology News - October 20, 2016

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Los Angeles Times reports that rodents may have been a source of food at Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement on the Orkney Islands. Biologist Jeremy Herman of the National Museums of Scotland and his team evaluated some 60,000 small mammal bones collected from four trenches at the site in the 1970s. The scientists found that the number of wood mouse bones was equal in all four trenches, but one of the trenches had a greater number of bones from the Orkney vole than the others. And, since voles, which are slightly bigger than mice, are thought to usually stay away from people, the animals may have been brought to the area. Some of the bones also bear burn marks. “The way they are burnt it’s pretty clear that they were pretty much whole when they were stuck on the embers of a fire,” Herman said. “I haven’t tried it myself, but I imagine they got pretty crisp on the outside.” He thinks the small rodents may have served as a snack, a food for lean times, or something that children caught and roasted. To read in-depth about excavations on Orkney, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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