Nineteenth-Century Graves Exhumed in New Zealand

Archaeology News - April 13, 2018

LAWRENCE, NEW ZEALAND—Radio New Zealand reports that eight sets of skeletal remains have been exhumed from a nineteenth-century cemetery in Otago, located on the South Island of New Zealand. Three other possible graves at the site are being investigated. The cemetery was believed to have been cleared of human remains before it was closed in 1997. As part of the Otago Historic Cemeteries Bioarchaeology Project, the team is also excavating a second cemetery in Lawrence where Chinese immigrants and other marginalized people are thought to have been buried. “We want to create a detailed picture of what life was like at the time of the gold rush in the early 1860s,” said Hallie Buckley of the University of Otago. Isotopic and DNA analyses of the bones will be conducted. The remains will eventually be reinterred. For more, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

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Indonesian Rock Shelter Possibly Occupied During the Ice Age

Archaeology News - April 13, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Xinhua reports that hominins appear to have reached the Indonesian island of Sulawesi at least 50,000 years ago, or at least 15,000 years earlier than previously thought. Adam Brumm of Griffith University led a team of archaeologists who conducted new excavations at the Leang Burung 2 rock shelter, and dug about ten feet deeper than previous excavations. In the deepest part of the site, the researchers found stone tools, which were dated to the time of the Ice Age through uranium series analysis, and bones of animals probably killed by the hunter-gatherers. But the lack of hominin remains means the hunter-gatherers may have been Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, or early modern humans. The excavators note that they have not yet reached the bottom of the rock shelter’s deposit. To read about earlier discoveries on Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

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Unusual Die Unearthed in Norway

Archaeology News - April 13, 2018

BERGEN, NORWAY—Live Science reports that a 600-year-old die found along a wooden street lined with inns and pubs in southwestern Norway may have been designed for cheating during gambling. Archaeologists led by Ingrid Rekkavik of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research said this die is different from other medieval dice recovered in Bergen, which usually have the numbers one through six represented on their six sides. This particular die has two fives and two fours—the extra five and four replace numbers one and two on two sides. It is possible the die was used to play a special game, but the researchers speculate the die was tossed into the street by a cheater trying to avoid getting caught, or by an angry opponent. For more on dice in the archaeological record, go to “No Dice Left Unturned.”

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Genetic Study Offers New Thoughts on Sweet Potatoes

Archaeology News - April 13, 2018

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a New York Times report, a new analysis of sweet potato DNA has determined neither where the tuber was first domesticated, nor when it arrived in the Pacific, but it does suggests that humans had nothing to do with its spread around the world. Botanist Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez of the University of Oxford and his colleagues collected samples of Ipomoea batatas and its wild relatives from around the world. They then sequenced the DNA of the samples using powerful tools. The study suggests the modern sweet potato has one wild ancestor, which most closely resembled today’s wild Ipomoea trifida, a plant with an inedible, pencil-thick root found in the Caribbean. The researchers said the ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida some 800,000 years ago. The team members also studied eighteenth-century samples of sweet potato leaves collected in Polynesia by Captain Cook’s crew and stored in London’s Natural History Museum. Muñoz-Rodríguez said those tubers were different from the other samples, and had split from other sweet potatoes some 111,000 years ago. People are thought to have only reached the remote Pacific islands in the last few thousand years, so the tubers may have gotten to them by floating on the ocean’s waters, or by being carried in small quantities by birds. For more on Polynesia, go to “Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past.”

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Cache of Meroitic Texts Recovered in Sudan

Archaeology News - April 12, 2018

KHARTOUM, SUDAN—Live Science reports that a cache of Meroitic funerary texts has been found at the Sedeinga necropolis in Sudan. Meroitic is the oldest known written language from south of the Sahara. It borrows characters from the ancient Egyptian language, but is not fully understood. Archaeologist Vincent Francigny of the French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service explained that although scholars can translate much of the known funerary texts written in Meroitic, there are so few Meroitic texts overall that each one has the potential to yield new information. “Every text tells a story—the name of the deceased and both parents, with their occupations sometime[s]; their career in the administration of the kingdom, including place names; their relation to extended family with prestigious titles,” Francigny said. To read in-depth about excavations at Sedeinga, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

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1,500-Year-Old Onion Discovered in Sweden

Archaeology News - April 11, 2018

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, a burned lump recovered near a fireplace at Sandby Borg on the island of Öland is a 1,500-year-old onion. However, archaeologist Helena Victor explained that onions were not grown in Scandinavia at the time. She thinks the vegetable may have been imported from the Roman Empire as an exotic vegetable. “An onion doesn’t sound very interesting,” Victor said, but she notes that the next-oldest onion to have been found in Scandinavia dated to A.D. 650. The inhabitants of Sandby Borg were killed and the settlement burned by unknown attackers. Victor suggests imported items such as the onion, as well as Roman gold rings and coins found in the ancient ring fort, may have been a motive for the massacre. To read in-depth about the massacre at Sandby Borg, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

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Additional Fragments of Colossus Found in Cairo

Archaeology News - April 11, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that an excavation in the ancient city of Heliopolis has uncovered thousands of fragments of a colossal statue of King Psamtek I, who ruled in the seventh century B.C. This discovery adds to the more than 6,000 pieces of the statue, which had been deliberately destroyed, that were recovered last year. “The new fragments confirm that the colossus once depicted King Psamtek I standing, but it also reveals that his left arm was held in front of the body, an unusual feature,” said Ayman Ashmawy of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. “A very carefully carved scene on the back pillar shows the kneeling King Psamtek I in front of the creator-god Atum of Heliopolis.” The quartzite colossus was part of a temple dating back to Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.) that had been remodeled by later pharaohs until it was eventually dismantled in the tenth or eleventh century A.D. Fragments of a frieze of falcons and a colossal red granite sphinx were among the objects recovered from the temple ruins. To read about another recent Egyptological discovery, go to “We Are Family.”

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Red-Figure Krater Unearthed in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - April 11, 2018

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a dwelling dating to the sixth century B.C. has been discovered in the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, located on the Skamni Peninsula of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Among the artifacts in the house, archaeologists found a krater decorated with red figures depicting the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and an askos, or small jug, for pouring small amounts of liquids. The site was situated about six feet underneath the foundations of a home built in the nineteenth century. Layers of soil in between the two homes contained Classical Period artifacts such as pottery, loom weights, spindle parts, coins, seals, and game pieces, and a medieval necropolis in use during the eleventh century and the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. One of the eleventh-century graves yielded a small cross made of bronze and one made of bone. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

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Possible Royal Palace Uncovered in Cambodia

Archaeology News - April 10, 2018

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Nation (Thailand), archaeologists led by Jean-Baptiste Chevance have been excavating a site they think may be the ninth-century royal palace of Jayavarman II in Phnom Kulen National Park, located in a mountain range some 20 miles north of Angkor Wat. Jayavarman II was the first ruler of the Angkor Empire. The massive compound was investigated with lidar technology in 2012. “It’s obviously one of the most important buildings because of the quality of the construction,” Chevance said. The square building, made of high-quality brick, was surrounded by a series of concentric walls. Radiocarbon dates obtained from the site suggest the building was abandoned late in the ninth century, which corresponds with inscriptions relating to the reign of Jayavarman II. No inscriptions have been found to date in the well-made building, however. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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Why Do Modern Humans Have Expressive Brows?

Archaeology News - April 10, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in Vox, evolutionary anthropologist Penny Spikins and anatomist Paul O’Higgins of the University of York and their colleagues think modern humans may have evolved smooth, long foreheads with agile eyebrows as a way to communicate emotions, and thus, enhanced the ability to survive. The researchers created a 3-D computer model of Kabwe I, a Homo heidelbergensis skull, and manipulated it to see whether shaving back its heavy brow ridge affected simulations of chewing meat, or how the brain case and eye sockets fit together. The analysis suggests that reducing the creature’s thick brow ridge would not have caused any functional problems. Spikins and O’Higgins speculate that the brow ridge may have instead served as a social signal of strength and dominance. Larger foreheads and smaller brow bones may have evolved along with more complex muscles for controlling subtle eye and eyebrow movements capable of expressing the modern human state of mind. For more on the evolution of the human face, go to “Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?

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Historic Slaughterhouse Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeology News - April 10, 2018

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC News report, a slaughterhouse dating to the nineteenth century has been uncovered at a construction site in Edinburgh. The site, which is located just outside the historic city walls, is in an area where cattle and horse markets were held as early as the fifteenth century. Traces of a well that may have been used to water the cattle at the slaughterhouse were also found. “Now this gives flesh to the bones of what we already know,” said archaeologist Bruce Glendinning of CFA Archaeology. “It tells us how it looked inside with cobbled floors and the different floors and how the drains worked so they could sluice the blood away.” The features will be filled, capped, and preserved under the new construction. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

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Stone Age Scandinavians May Have Relied on Fish

Archaeology News - April 10, 2018

LUND, SWEDEN—Science Nordic reports that scientists from Lund University analyzed the isotope levels in 82 sets of Stone Age skeletal remains found in Sweden and Denmark, and fish and animal bones uncovered at four Stone Age sites in Sweden spanning a period of about 3,000 years. The study suggests that people in the region heavily relied on fish, which made up just over half of their protein intake, and that they ate locally sourced foods. Those who lived by lakes and rivers ate carp, perch, and pike regularly, while those who lived by the sea ate mostly cod, but also herring, pollock, haddock, and dogfish. Adam Boethius of Lund University said the prevalence of fish in the Stone Age diet could indicate that people living in Scandinavia were not as mobile as previously believed. Seal meat made up 10 percent of the diet, and land animals, such as wild boar and red deer made up about 37 percent, while plants, mushrooms, berries, and nuts accounted for only about three percent of the foods eaten by Stone Age Scandinavians at one settlement. The prevalence of fish in the diet may have been underestimated in the past because the delicate bones are difficult to detect at archaeological sites. For more on archaeology in Scandinavia, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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Early Migrants May Have Traveled Beyond the Levant

Archaeology News - April 10, 2018

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A finger bone unearthed at the Al Wusta site in Saudi Arabia suggests that modern humans migrated out of Africa and into a widespread area as early as 85,000 years ago, according to a BBC News report. Huw Groucutt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues identified the bone by comparing a 3-D model of it to the finger bones of other modern humans and Neanderthals, whose finger bones are usually shorter and squatter. The age of the bone was determined with a technique called uranium series dating, which measures the ratio between radioactive elements in bone. The fossils of other African animals found at the site, such as those of hippos, wild cattle, and antelope, also dated to the same time period, suggesting that at the time it had a far more inviting and hospitable climate than it does today. But genetic studies have indicated that today’s living non-Africans are descended from people who dispersed from Africa some 60,000 years ago. Groucutt said the earlier human populations may have gone extinct, or may have been replaced by later waves of migrants. “The interesting thing,” Groucutt said, “is that in the past some people have said we couldn’t really spread into Asia until we had complex tools. [Our findings] suggest that that kind of migration didn’t really reflect a technological breakthrough, but reflects climate change.” To read about other recent discoveries in Saudi Arabia, go to “Hot Property.”

Categories: Blog

Geoglyphs Found in Southern Peru

Archaeology News - April 7, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Live Science reports that approximately 50 geoglyphs have been newly discovered in Peru’s Palpa Province with the use of low-flying drones carrying high-resolution cameras. Similar glyphs, known as Nazca Lines, were first discovered in 1927 on flat lands in adjacent Nazca Province. The newly identified images are thought to have been laid down on hillsides by the Paracas and Topará cultures between 500 B.C. and A.D. 200, and are therefore slightly older than the Nazca glyphs, which were crafted between A.D. 200 and 700. Many of the once-visible lines have become just faint depressions in the soil that were not visible in satellite imagery. The lines are already within a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will be submitted to Peru’s Ministry of Culture for registry. To read about another feature in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Categories: Blog

James Madison’s Home Mapped With Lidar Technology

Archaeology News - April 7, 2018

ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA—NBC 29 reports that archaeologist Matthew Reeves is employing lidar technology to produce a high-resolution map of the landscape at Montpelier, the home of James Madison, the United States' fourth president. So far, the technology has revealed paths through the woods created by Madison’s enslaved servants. “What we’re able to do is capture some really subtle features on the landscape that nobody has known about since the 1820s,” Reeves said. The infrared light beams may also detect buildings along the foot paths. Once the routes are known, Reeves said his crew will use metal detectors to look for artifacts and additional features. Eventually, the paths will be recreated so visitors to Montpelier can walk on them. To read about the use of lidar in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Ayutthaya Period Pottery Recovered in Thailand

Archaeology News - April 7, 2018

TRANG, THAILAND—According to a report in the Bangkok Post, several pieces of pottery and porcelain were recovered from a rice field in southern Thailand. The artifacts are estimated to be more than 300 years old, based upon blue floral patterns on the porcelain that were popular during the Ayutthaya Period. The artifacts may have been brought closer to the surface when an irrigation canal was dug into the field some 40 years ago. Archaeologists will continue to study the vessels and the area where they were found. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter From Cambodia: The Battle Over Preah Vihear.”

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Roman Tomb Unearthed in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - April 6, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—According to a report in The Sofia Globe, a Roman tomb dating to between the second and third centuries was discovered in the western necropolis of Philippopolis, during repair work at the Medical University of Plovdiv. The tomb was made of bricks and capped with a granite slab. The large, intact structure is thought to hold the remains of a family. “By examining the skeletons, we will get information about the gender and age of the buried, their health, whether they have suffered from illness, and what kind of medical interventions they have had,” said Georgi Tomov of the Medical University. The western necropolis was the largest of four burial areas in the prosperous ancient city. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

Categories: Blog

Computer Model Tests Sunstone Navigation

Archaeology News - April 6, 2018

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Science Magazine reports that Gábor Horváth and Dénes Száz of Eötvös Loránd University created computer simulations of 3,600 Viking sea voyages from Bergen, Norway, westward to Hvarf, Greenland, in order to test the possible use of sunstones in navigation. Scholars speculate the Vikings may have used ultrapure crystals of calcite, cordierite, and tourmaline to split sunlight and spot the rings of polarized light around the sun. This would make navigation possible on a cloudy day, when the sun is otherwise hidden. Sunstones are mentioned in Viking literature, but no such crystal has been found at any Viking shipwreck site. The simulation tested travel between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and varied in the amount of cloud coverage, the type of crystal, and how often a navigator might have used a sunstone to find the sun and adjust the ship’s course. The simulations suggest that if the Vikings had checked the position of the sun every three hours or less, in an equal number of morning and afternoon readings, they could have successfully navigated to their destinations more than 90 percent of the time. Slight differences were found in the performance of the different minerals as well. Cordierite was found to be the most reliable overall. For more, go to “The Viking Great Army.”

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Museum Returns Sculptures to Nepal

Archaeology News - April 5, 2018

KATHMANDU, NEPAL—The Himalayan Times reports that representatives from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art handed over two sculptures to officials from Nepal’s Department of Archaeology and the Consulate General of Nepal. The sculptures disappeared from Nepal in the 1980s. The first, a stone slab carved in the twelfth or thirteenth century, depicts the god Shiva and goddess Parvati. The second statue, of the Buddha, dates to the eleventh or twelfth century. The statues have been sent to the National Museum in Chauni, but there are plans to return them to their original locations. “We hope the move will discourage illegal trade of archaeological and historical artifacts,” Madhu Marasini, consul general of Nepal, said in his praise of the Metropolitan Museum. For more on archaeology in Nepal, go to “Buddhism, in the Beginning.”

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New Thoughts on Neanderthal Nasal Passages

Archaeology News - April 5, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—Neanderthal facial structure may have been an adaptation to an energetic lifestyle in cold climates, according to a report in The Guardian. A new study led by Stephen Wroe of Australia’s University of New England and Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum suggests Neanderthal nasal passages, which were about 29 percent larger than those of modern humans, could warm and moisten large volumes of air. Using virtual reconstructions from CT scans, the researchers compared the skulls of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Homo heidelbergensis. And while modern human nasal passages were found to be the most efficient at warming and humidifying air breathed in through the nose, Neanderthals would probably have been able to move air at a greater rate. “The calorific demands of Neanderthals were huge compared with ours,” Stringer said. “They were moving around a lot, they probably had less efficient clothing and therefore they are having to burn a lot more of their body fat to keep warm.” The study also suggests that Neanderthals did not appear to have a more powerful bite than modern humans, which had been suggested as a possible explanation for their facial structure. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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