Drones Used to Map the Plain of Jars in Laos

Archaeology News - October 20, 2016

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Canberra Times reports that CAVE2 technology, based at Monash University, has been used to map three excavation sites on the Plain of Jars, an archaeological site in a remote area of Laos with carved stone jars that stand nearly ten feet tall. Drones are being used to collect the footage for the project. The team of researchers will then create a 3-D replica of the excavations and the entire Plain of Jars landscape. “It hasn’t really been researched on this scale since the 1930s and what our project hopes to show is exactly what the jars were for, when they were produced, and who made them,” said Dougald O’Reilly of Australian National University. Information collected with ground-penetrating radar was fed into the CAVE2 system to create the underground view of the excavation area. O’Reilly also plans to evaluate the site with lidar technology, which can detect archaeological remains beneath heavy foliage, and add that information to the virtual 3-D reconstruction. For more, go to “Drones Enter the Archaeologist's Toolkit.”

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German WWI Submarine Found Off the Coast of Scotland

Archaeology News - October 20, 2016

STRANRAER, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a German U–boat dating to the First World War was discovered off the coast of Scotland by a team laying subsea power cables. The vessel is thought to be UB-85, one of two UBIII-Class submarines known to have been lost in the Irish Sea. After being picked up by HMS Coreopsis, the captain and crew of UB-85 claimed to have done battle with a sea monster that damaged the vessel so badly that it could no longer submerge. But nautical archaeologist Innes McCartney says that when the British ship approached the submarine on the surface at night, the crew of the German vessel may have tried to submerge quickly, started taking on water, and had to resurface and surrender. Identifying the newly discovered wreck with confidence may be impossible, however, as the UBIII-Class submarines were all very similar. “Unless a diver can find a shipyard stamp, we cannot say definitively, but yes, we’re certainly closer to solving the so-called mystery of UB-85 and the reason behind its sinking—whether common mechanical failure or something that is less easily explained,” McCartney said. To read about attempts to identify another recently discovered shipwreck, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

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Unusual Graves Discovered in Poland

Archaeology News - October 19, 2016

SASINY, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that ten monumental tombs discovered in northeastern Poland resemble Neolithic burials, even though they date to the eleventh to thirteenth centuries and are thought to contain the remains of Christians. “All members of the local community were buried in the study graveyard—both poorer and richer, including the elite,” said archaeologist Michal Dzik of the University of Rzeszów. “Funeral rites were common to all. Each of the deceased was placed in a large burial structure, the edges of which [were] marked by big boulders.” After the body had been placed inside, the rectangular-shaped graves were filled with layers of stones. The burials, however, were not covered with mounds of dirt, as had been the case before the arrival of Christian customs. Dzik also found glass beads, silver temple rings, crescent moon and cross pendants, evidence of vessels placed near the deceased, and bonfires that had been lit in the tombs. He thinks there may have been other, similar cemeteries in the area that retained elements of pre-Christian burials, but their distinctive boulders were reused in later periods as building materials. To read about the burial of a medieval knight in England, go to “Surely You Joust?

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Mastodon Found in Michigan May Have Been Butchered

Archaeology News - October 19, 2016

MAYVILLE, MICHIGAN—The Detroit News reports that a team from the University of Michigan, assisted by teachers from Tuscola County, has recovered about 60 to 70 percent of the remains of a 30-year-old male mastodon thought to have been processed by human hunters or scavengers between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. The long limb bones, both shoulder blades, the pelvis, the skull, many vertebrae, and most of the ribs were found. Some sections of the carcass had been separated from other sections. The tusks, lower jaw, and most of the foot bones were missing from the site. Daniel Fisher, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, estimates the likelihood that humans were involved in processing the carcass at 80 percent. He thinks that humans may have stored the sections of mastodon meat in cold, low-oxygen pond sediments to help preserve them. The team will now radiocarbon date the remains and examine them for signs of butchery. The animal’s wisdom teeth will also be analyzed to try to determine in which season it died. To read about another discovery in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

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Medieval Artifacts Unearthed in Southwest England

Archaeology News - October 19, 2016

DEVON, ENGLAND—The Herald Express reports that fifteenth-century artifacts have been found in the town of Newtown Abbot by a team from Cotswold Archaeology. The excavation site along Wolborough Street includes the rear areas of long, narrow plots of land that would have been rented from the local lord during the medieval period. The red mud of the region preserved a child’s shoe, an iron spur, and three wooden barrel bases. The excavators have also uncovered a granite millstone in the bottom of one of two wells at the site. The front areas of these plots of land were disturbed by the construction of two large townhouses in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The archaeologists think that they may find evidence of a sixth- or seventh-century settlement under the medieval remains. To read about another find in the area, go to “Seaton Down Hoard.”

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Genetic Study of Bison Offers Clue to Cave Painting Conundrum

Archaeology News - October 19, 2016

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—The Christian Science Monitor reports that the ancestor of the modern European bison, the wisent, may have descended from a cross some 120,000 years ago between the extinct ancestor of modern cattle and the Ice Age steppe bison. Alan Cooper of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide led a team that was examining bison fossils to study climate change. Surprisingly, DNA extracted from the bones suggested the animal was actually a hybrid between an aurochs and a steppe bison. “We contacted French cave art researchers who happily told us that you can see two quite different forms of bison in the cave art,” Cooper said. “They’d been put down to regional artistic differences or cultural differences.” Cooper and his team radiocarbon dated the bones and found that the unknown hybrid bison and the steppe bison each had an ecological niche, which was recorded in cave art. The hybrid bison seems to have thrived in colder conditions, while the steppe bison dominated during warmer periods. For more, go to “Bison Bone Mystery.”

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German Castle Yields Possible 17th-Century Murder Victim

Archaeology News - October 18, 2016

LUND, SWITZERLAND—Motherboard reports that human bones discovered at Leine Castle in Niedersachsen, Germany, are thought to belong to Philip Christoph Königsmarck, a Swedish count who disappeared in 1694 after visiting his mistress, Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle. She was unhappily married to Georg Ludwig, prince elector of Hanover, who later became King George I of England. More than 300 love letters, some of which were written in cipher, between Königsmarck and the princess have been preserved at Lund University. The two had planned to run away together, but their affair was revealed and Königsmarck disappeared. Many suspected that Ludwig had the count murdered, but Königsmarck’s body was never found. (Ludwig exiled Sophia Dorothea to Castle Ahlden, where she died, 32 years later.) A team of researchers from the University of Göttingen will try to match DNA samples from the bones with samples from Königsmarck’s living relatives. To read about another discovery in Germany, go to “World’s Oldest Pretzels.”

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Cancer-Causing HPV May Have Come From Interbreeding

Archaeology News - October 18, 2016

BARCELONA, SPAIN—According to a report in Laboratory Equipment, a new study of a cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV16) suggests that its variants evolved separately with archaic and modern humans. HPV does not leave any trace of infection in the bones, so it was not possible to extract ancient forms of the virus from human remains. Instead, scientists Ville Pimenoff of the Catalan Institute of Oncology and Ignacio Bravo of the French National Center for Scientific Research sequenced the genome of the HPV16 virus and its five main lineage subtypes, then reconstructed its evolution over thousands of generations with computer algorithms. Their results suggest that variant A evolved with archaic humans, while three other variants evolved with modern humans. Migrating modern humans then may have been infected with viral variant A through sexual contact with Neanderthals and Denisovans. The study suggests that variant A was able to thrive in the modern human population because the modern human immune system had not evolved the mechanisms necessary to keep it in check. The researchers say that this could explain why the HPV16A variant is rarely found in sub-Saharan Africa, while it is the most common variant in the rest of the world. To read in-depth about the study of microbes in the archaeological record, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Shipment of 16th-Century Chinese Porcelain Unearthed in Mexico

Archaeology News - October 18, 2016

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Xinhua reports that thousands of fragments of a 400-year-old of shipment of Chinese porcelain have been discovered by Mexican archaeologists in the Old Quarter of Acapulco. The white and blue rice bowls, cups, plates, and platters are decorated with images from nature, including birds, beetles, swans, ducks, and deer, and date to the reign of the Ming Dynasty emperor Wanli, who ruled from 1572 to 1620. Archaeologist Roberto Junco of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said that the pottery was made in southern China, in the city of Zhangzhou, and in the city of Jingdezhen, known as the “Porcelain Capital.” The luxury goods were probably carried to Mexico by Spanish ships that traveled between the port of Acapulco and Manilla in the Philippines. The cargo may have been destroyed by pirates. For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”

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Previously Unknown Compounds Identified in Frankincense

Archaeology News - October 18, 2016

NICE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that researchers led by Nicolas Baldovini of the Institute de Chimie de Nice have identified two molecules responsible for the unique scent of frankincense, often recognized today as “old church” smell. Frankincense comes from the resin of gum trees from the Boswellia genus, and was a key element in perfumes from Mesopotamia and Egypt dating back to the fourth millennium B.C. The chemical structures of the two new compounds, named olibanic acids, are mirror images of each other, and are found in extremely low levels in the essential oil of frankincense. The team was also able to synthesize synthetic versions of the molecules. “We patented the use of these compounds for fragrance formulation,” Baldovini said. For more on the relationship between archaeology and chemistry, go to Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.

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Looking Beneath the Surface of Greek Pottery

Archaeology News - October 15, 2016

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—The Daily Mail reports that a team of researchers from the Cantor Arts Center’s Art + Science Learning Lab and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory examined a 2,500-year-old Athenian oil flask with a technique called synchrotron X-ray fluorescence. The results of the test produced a chemical map of the paint on the vase, which suggests that an extra step was required to apply a calcium-based additive for the color white. “Under what they thought was a single coat, they found other instances of painting that the naked eye could not see,” said Jody Maxmin of Stanford University. In addition, it had been previously thought that zinc was added to produce black figures during the heating process on Greek vases, but the chemical map failed to show any zinc in the black regions of the pot. For more on Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

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“Spectacular” Rock Art Discovered in Spain

Archaeology News - October 15, 2016

LEKEITIO, SPAIN—BBC News reports that some 50 Paleolithic etchings thought to be between 12,000 and 14,500 years old have been found in a difficult-to-access area of Armintxe Cave, located in northern Spain. The images include depictions of bison, goats, and horses, one of which measures nearly five feet long. Researchers also identified two lion images, which have not been seen before in the Basque country, and semi-circles and lines similar to those found in the French Pyrenees. Taken together, the lions, the semi-circles and lines, and the etching technique suggest that these artists in Biscay province might have been linked to those in the French Pyrenees. “It is a wonder, a treasure of humanity,” commented Biscay province official Unai Rementeria. For more on cave art, go to “The First Artists.”

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Badger Unearthed 4,200-Year-Old Bones in Ireland

Archaeology News - October 14, 2016

COUNTY CAVAN, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a badger unearthed ancient human remains at a burial site in Cavan Burren Park, known for its prehistoric monuments, megalithic tombs, rock art, and dwelling sites. A group of historians and archaeologists found the small pieces of cremated human bone and charcoal near a collapsed tomb. “Our badger just threw out the bones,” said historian Séamus Ó hUtlacháin. “They were no bigger than my nail, just scraps of bone. It is the oldest discovery in this region, a wonderful discovery.” Part of a femur from the site has been carbon dated by scientists at Queen’s University to between 2438 and 2200 B.C. To read more about animal excavators, go to “Critter Diggers.”

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Ancient Footprints Studied in Tanzania

Archaeology News - October 14, 2016

ENGARE SERO, TANZANIA—The Washington Post reports that Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce of Appalachian State University led a team of researchers in the study of some 400 ancient Homo sapiens footprints that were discovered in northern Tanzania, near the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, about 10 years ago. The footprints are thought to have been made by men, women, and children in flood deposits that dried and then were covered with another layer of mud. Minerals in the footprint layers were dated to between 19,000 and 10,000 years ago with the argon-argon dating technique. Once the excavation team exposed the footprints, each one was photographed, 3-D scanned, and mapped. The researchers have found evidence of at least 24 individuals who crossed the mud in two directions. Some of the travelers were walking, and some may have been jogging. A subgroup of the researchers continues to investigate the size and composition of the group that left the footprints. “For people who work in prehistory, it’s incredibly rare to get that kind of snapshot in time,” said paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner of the National Museum of Natural History. For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

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Roman Settlement Uncovered in Rugby, England

Archaeology News - October 14, 2016

RUGBY, ENGLAND—The Rugby Observer reports that an archaeological investigation ahead of the construction of a housing development in England’s West Midlands unearthed a 2,000-year-old Roman settlement, a well, and kilns where pottery was produced. They also found a waterlogged pit alignment dating to the late Bronze Age, between 1000 and 500 B.C. Samples from the pit will be tested for information about the local landscape, forest clearance, and agriculture. To read about other discoveries in this area, go to “They're Just Like Us.”

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Australia’s Early Astronomers

Archaeology News - October 14, 2016

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—ABC News Australia reports that the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in southeast Australia may have been used to track the movements of the sun some 11,000 years ago by early farmers, who, according to Duane Hamacher of Monash University, had a complex understanding of astronomy and the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars throughout the year. Traces of villages and evidence of farming terraces and eel traps have been found near the stone circle and a water source. “If you’re going to have a stone arrangement where you mark off the seasons throughout the year with the solstices and equinoxes, it kind of makes sense if you’re at least most of the year in one specific location to do that,” said custodian Reg Abrahams. He added that people may have navigated by the stars and traveled at night to avoid the heat of the day. Plans are being made for archaeological investigation and dating of the site. For more on ancient astronomy, go to “An Eye on Venus.”

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Cameras Catch Chimpanzees Teaching Tool Use

Archaeology News - October 13, 2016

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Laboratory Equipment reports that anthropologists led by Stephanie Musgrave of Washington University in St. Louis used video cameras equipped with infrared sensors to document wild mother chimpanzees in the Republic of Congo teaching their young to use tools to gather food. The cameras allowed the researchers to observe the wild chimpanzees without disrupting them or exposing them to disease. The extensive footage revealed that the mothers chose specific branches to make brush-tipped probes to poke holes in termite mounds and collect the insects, then gave the tools to their offspring when asked. “By sharing tools, mothers may teach their offspring the appropriate material and form for manufacturing fishing probes,” said Musgrave. The scientists note that just as different groups of chimpanzees use different tools, their teaching and learning styles may also be customized. Musgrave also explained that such studies could help us to understand the origins of human culture and technology and how early humans transferred knowledge to the next generation. For more, go to Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use.

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Live Civil War Ordnance Uncovered by Hurricane Matthew

Archaeology News - October 13, 2016

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that a pile of 16 Civil War–era cannonballs was discovered on Folly Island by a beach walker the day after the winds and waves of Hurricane Matthew attacked the shoreline. Although the cannonballs were heavily corroded, a cylindrical notch where a timed fuse would have been placed was still visible on one of them. “Initially, the city wished to display them,” said Andrew Gilreath, Folly Beach's director of public safety. “However, they were inspected and a large number of them were [found to be] explosive cannonballs, and thus contained old and very unstable gunpowder.” Local officials and the U.S. Air Force Explosive Team destroyed most of the cannonballs. The remaining examples were taken to the nearby Navy base. For more, go to “A Civil War POW Camp in Watercolor.”

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New Thoughts on the Tomb of China’s First Emperor

Archaeology News - October 13, 2016

XIAN, CHINA—According to a report in BBC News, archaeologists at the Emperor Qin Shihuang Mausoleum Site Museum in central China speculate that the 8,000 life-sized sculptures known as the Terracotta Warriors were inspired by the work of artisans from the West. Senior archaeologist Li Xiuzhen explained that before the tomb of China’s first emperor was built in the third century B.C., Chinese sculptures measured only about eight inches tall. Xiuzhen suggests the enormous change in the style of the tomb’s sculptures was due to an outside influence. “We now think that Terracotta Army, the Acrobats, and the bronze sculptures found on site have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art,” she said. Another study establishes that mitochondrial DNA attributed to Europeans has been discovered at archaeological sites in northwest China. “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals,” said Lukas Nickel of the University of Vienna. For more, go to “An Opportunity for Early Humans in China.”

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Mud-Brick Study Illuminates Fire at Tel Megiddo

Archaeology News - October 12, 2016

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, Ruth Shahack-Gross and Mathilde Forget suggest that it may have only taken two to three hours for fire to have destroyed the entire city of Tel Megiddo some 3,000 years ago. A previous study found that mud bricks at the site had reached 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. While working at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Shahack-Gross and Forget made new mud bricks, and then tried to determine how quickly the bricks would catch on fire by placing them in a hot oven and timing how long it took the bricks’ cores to reach 1,112 degrees. The scientists found that the larger bricks took longer to heat than smaller bricks, and that wood beams, furniture, mats, stored food and oil, and bedding probably helped the fire at Tel Megiddo to spread. Critics point out that in an actual fire, a home’s bricks would probably have been heated only on one side. “We are totally aware of the fact that the experiment, [which was done] in controlled conditions in the lab, does not mimic what happened in the past,” responded Shahack-Gross. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

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