ROME, ITALY—Researchers have discovered distinct patterns in the facial features of individuals buried at three separate Roman grave sites in Italy, LiveScience reports. Employing a statistical technique often used in criminal forensics called geometric morphometrics, anthropologists were able to precisely map the shape of skulls found at each site in order to determine if the people buried there showed evidence of being related or resembling one another. Of the three cemeteries chosen for the project, one is located on Isola Sacra, a tiny island southwest of Rome, which was mostly used by the city's middle class, another is at Velia on the southwestern Italian coast, where researchers expected to see evidence of the Greek origin of the region's Roman-era population, and the third is at Castel Malnome on the outskirts of Rome, which was used for lower class laborers. In individuals from Isola Sacra and Velia, the team was indeed able to discern visible similarities that confirm the common genetic background of both communities, but in Castel Malnome, a burial ground for itinerant workers and veterans from around the Roman Empire, such patterns were absent. To read more about the population of ancient Rome, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Archaeologists working at Borgring, a Viking ring fortress on the island of Zealand in Denmark, have uncovered evidence that challenges conventional wisdom about the site's lifespan and purpose, according to a report by ScienceNordic. One of five famous ringed fortifications in Denmark, Borgring was likely built around A.D. 980 by the Viking King Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, who, perhaps under pressure from the Holy Roman Empire, agreed to be baptized in the year 965, and is credited with the Christanization of the Danes. While many scholars have traditionally understood Borgring as a single-purpose structure meant to project Bluetooth's power or cement the spread of Christrianity, recently uncovered ceramic sherds at the site dating to the eleventh century suggest that the fortress continued as a settlement for hundreds of years. To read more about Harald Bluetooth, go to "Bluetooth's Fortress."
GEZER, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at the Canaanite site of Gezer have unearthed the remains of inhabitants who appear to have perished when Egyptians destroyed the city in the thirteenth century B.C. Haaretz reports that the remains belonged to two adults and one child, and were found in a room full of ash and collapsed mud brick that was part of a large building thought to be the residence of a Canaanite prince. Gezer was one of many Canaanite cities that fell under Egyptian control during the New Kingdom period, and that eventually rebelled. According to Egyptian inscriptions, the pharaoh Merneptah reconquered the city. “The heavy destruction suggests that the Egyptian pharaoh encountered much resistance from the Gezerites," says excavation co-director Steven Ortiz of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology. To read in-depth about the Egyptian occupation of Canaan, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The discovery of a lead musket ball suggests that archaeologists in Charleston, South Carolina, may have located a Revolutionary War–era trench, The Post and Courier reports. Excavations are ongoing behind the city's historic Aiken-Rhett house, where a team from the College of Charleston hopes to uncover British military earthworks used in the 1780 Siege of Charleston. The ball and trench constitute the first physical evidence of British lines from the battle, which have eluded researchers for years. To read more about archaeology in the Low Country, go to “Off the Grid: Colonial Dorchester, South Carolina.”
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Archaeologists working in St. Louis have uncovered evidence that contradicts convential understandings of the city's founding, according to a report by St. Louis Public Radio. A team led by archaeologist Michael Meyer of the Missouri Department of Transportation has conducted excavations ahead of construction on the Poplar Street Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and connects the city to East St. Louis, in Illinois. They have uncovered evidence, including trade beads, brass goods, and ceramics, which indicates both French and Native settlement in the area prior to 1764, the recorded year of St. Louis' founding by French fur trader Pierre Lacléde. While the region is famed for the Mississipan mound cities that flourished for centuries before European arrival, it has been previously accepted that the area of St. Louis was sparsely populated when Lacléde and his followers arrived. To read more about archaeology in Missouri, go to "Digging the Scorched Earth."
LUXOR, EGYPT—Thousands of stone blocks being kept in storage near Luxor turn out to be remains of the temple of the 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose I (r. ca. 1504-1492 B.C.), according to a report from Science & Scholarship in Poland. Egyptologist Jadwiga Iwaszczuk of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences first identified some of the fragments, which were housed in a tomb that is used as a storage facility by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The fragments were excavated in the 1970s, and at the time were thought to belong to a temple built during the reign of Hatshepsut, who was Thutmose I’s daughter. In fact, that temple was discovered in recent years in the Ramesseum, the memorial temple of Ramesses II. Iwaszczuk identified the fragments as belonging to the temple of Thutmose I because the temple’s name appeared on some of them. Iwaszczuk and her team have now identified thousands of stone blocks that are part of the temple. Among their notable finds is an early portrayal, for the area, of a battle scene featuring chariots. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”
SILSDEN, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging at a future construction site in northern England have unearthed the remains of a large collective burial monument known as a barrow, reports Keighley Online. Measuring around 100 feet wide, the barrow consists of two ditches and was in use around 5,000 to 4,500 years ago, during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. At the center of the site, the team unearthed an incised funerary urn containing cremated remains, likely the barrow's primary burial. The team plans to X-ray the urn before removing its contents. Other finds included pottery, stone tools, and another cremated burial dating to the early Bronze Age. To read in-depth about this period in British prehistory, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”
KRAPINA, CROATIA—Evidence found in teeth at a Neanderthal site in Croatia points to rudimentary attempts at dentistry 130,000 years ago, according to a report in The Independent. David Frayer of the University of Kansas analyzed the teeth—found in the early 20th century at the site of Krapina—and observed grooves, scratches, and chips consistent with the use of a simple toothpick-like tool. Based on the pattern of markings on the individual's teeth, Frayer believes the Neanderthal may have been attempting to ease the pain of an impacted molar. To read more on the archaeology of dentistry, go to “Not So Pearly Whites.”
BERLIN, GERMANY—At a 12,000-year-old temple in southeastern Turkey, researchers have discovered parts of human skulls stripped of flesh and carved with deep grooves, according to a report from Science Magazine. The temple, known as Göbekli Tepe, is well-known for its structures and carved reliefs, which predate the development of agriculture. Starting in the mid-1990s, researchers discovered tens of thousands of animal bones at the site, with around 700 fragments of human bone mixed in. More than half of the human bone fragments analyzed so far have been parts of skulls. A detailed study of three of these skull fragments found that their flesh had been removed and grooves carved from front to back. One fragment also had a hole drilled in it. “The carvings consist of many deep cuts—somebody clearly did it intentionally,” said Julia Gresky of the German Archaeological Institute. The site’s stone artwork includes depictions of heads that are missing or lopped off, and the heads of some stone statues appear to have been intentionally removed. To read in-depth about Göbekli Tepe, go to “The World's First Temple.”
AVEBURY, ENGLAND—Archaeologists working at Avebury, the Neolithic stone circle in Wiltshire thought to be the world's largest, have uncovered a mysterious square formation at the site's center, according to a report in The Guardian. Using radar technology, a team led by University of Leicester's Mark Gillings uncovered hidden stones marking the footprint of what they believe was a wooden building dating to around 3500 B.C. Gillings and his colleagues have concluded that the square, which measures nearly 100 feet on each side, formed a monument to what must have been a very important structure. The find may also solve a riddle that has challenged researchers since the 1930s, when the marmalade magnate Alexander Keiller conducted major exavations at Avebury. Keiller found several buried standing stones placed in a line leading to an upright obelisk, as well as postholes and grooves indicating the existence of a building. Gillings now believes that what Keiller assumed to be a medieval structure was in fact the original Neolithic building around which the entire circle developed over centuries. To read more on Neolithic henges, including Avebury, go to “The World of Stonehenge.”
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A team led by Tel Aviv University archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef has discovered colorful Iron Age textiles at the site of the Timna copper mines in Israel's Negev Desert. Haaretz reports that the textiles, which include more than 100 fragments of both wool and linen, date to the tenth century B.C. and would likely have been worn by copper workers. It had been previously believed that workers at the mines, which were associated with the Kingdom of Edom, were relatively low-status or even slaves. But the the discovery of richly decorated fabrics suggests they belonged to the upper reaches of Edomite society. “If a person had the exceptional knowledge to ‘create copper,’ he was considered well-versed in an extremely sophisticated technology,” says Ben-Yosef. “He would have been considered magical or supernatural, and his social status would have reflected this.” To read in-depth about early textiles, go to “Dressing for the Ages.”
RZESZOW, POLAND—While while on vacation in the village of Kosina in southeastern Poland, an archaeologist stumbled upon a clay figurine that he believes dates back to around 5000 B.C. Science and Scholarship in Poland reports that Piotr Alagierski was walking in a cultivated field when he came across the nearly 3-inch-long clay figure that appears to have been made by some of the first farming communities in the region. According to Alagierski, the figurine is reminiscent of similar artifacts found in Slovakia and Romania but differs from known Polish examples in its lifelike rather than exaggerated depicition of the human form. Alagierski plans to conduct excavations at the site, where he also found fragments of ceramic vessels and obsidian, and the object will undergo chemical tests that may help to determine the origin of the clay. For more on archaeology in Poland, go to “Letter from Poland: Warsaw Remembers.”
DEVON, ENGLAND—New radiocarbon dating at a site in southwest England suggests it was in use for 1,200 years longer than had been thought, according to a report from BBC News. Evidence at the rural site, called Ippleden, indicates it was occupied from the fourth century B.C. Sherds of pottery uncovered by archaeologists from the University of Exeter show that the site’s residents traded with people from afar and enjoyed delicacies such as wine and olive oil. According to archaeologist Stephen Rippon, the researchers initially believed the site was only used during the Roman period, but now recognize that it was occupied during the pre-Roman Iron Age as well. They believe it was a farming community, based on the discovery of remains of a granary. In addition, debris from iron working was unearthed near the settlement’s edge, suggesting it may have hosted industrial activity. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”
PUNO, PERU—A site discovered in Peru at 12,500 feet above sea level suggests that hunter-gatherers lived all-year-round at very high altitudes beginning at least 7,000 years ago. USA TODAY reports that archaeologists uncovered the remains of 16 individuals at the site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa in the Andean Highlands, as well as stone points, animal bones—likely of the vicuña, a relative of the llama—and evidence of wild tubers. According to the researchers, several factors point to the group's permanent residence in upper altitudes, including the lack of any imported materials found at the site, the great distance to lower elevations in the area, and the results of stable isotope analysis on their bone material, which yielded low oxygen and high carbon isotope ratios, indicating a life spent in thin air and dizzying heights. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”
EVESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a fourteenth-century abbey wall in the West Midlands of England, reports the Evesham Observer. The wall was built on the orders of Abbot William de Chyryton between 1317 and 1344 to mark the boundary between lands held by Evesham Abbey and the nearby town. The archaeologists also discovered pieces of an unusually decorated medieval cooking pot, along with the surface of a Roman road or yard. The latter find suggests the Anglo-Saxon settlement that became the medieval town of Evesham was founded on the site of an earlier Roman-era site. To read in-depth about medieval English churches, go to “Writing on the Church Wall.”
DUBLIN, IRELAND—Archaeologists have used the remarkably well-preserved skull of a young Dubliner, who died during the Tudor period (1485-1603), to reconstruct the man's face using 3-D digital technology. The Irish Times reports that the man's skeleton, which was found in 2014 during construction to extend Dublin's light rail system, indicates that he was in his late 20s or early 30s at the time of death and likely spent his whole life in Dublin under conditions of poverty and hard labor. According to Rónán Swan, an architect with Transportation Infrastructure Ireland, the remains of approximately 5,000 individuals have turned up during road and rail excavations in Ireland, but few have been intact enough to allow for reconstruction. To read more about facial reconstruction, go to "Neolithic FaceTime."
BOLOGNA, ITALY—A study of populations from around the Mediterranean that combines ancient DNA (aDNA) and genomic analysis of modern people evidences a divison between Greeks hailing from the country's mainland and those from its islands. According to a report in Haaretz, an Italian team from the University of Bologna looked at 23 populations from around the region in order to map their genetic relationship and found that modern continental Greeks, especially in the north, show more genetic similarity with Albanians and other Slavic peoples, while Greek islanders show more affinity with southern Italians and Sicilians. Because all of the populations tested shared a genetic inheritance from Neolithic farming populations, the team believes it will be possible to point to historic migrations documented in the written record to determine when genetic shifts such as the one in Greece began to occur. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Worlds Within Us."
NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—The remains of what may be among the oldest Saxon churches in Northumbria have been discovered on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, according to a report from Chronicle Live. An excavation led by Richard Carlton of Newcastle University has uncovered sandstone blocks that are around three feet long, foundations that measure more than three feet wide, what appears to be an altar base, and the division between the church’s nave and chancel. The church was located on the Heugh, a ridge on the island offering a vantage on Bamburgh, where the Northumbrians had their royal capital. The church is thought to date to between A.D. 630 and 1050, most likely on the earlier end of the span, and may have been built on the same site where St. Aidan raised a wooden church in A.D. 635. “There are not many churches of potentially the Seventh or Eighth Centuries known in medieval Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber to the Forth,” said Carlton. “It adds another chapter to the history of Holy Island.” To read in-depth about the Northumbrians’ royal seat at Bamburgh, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”
KODIAK ISLAND, ALASKA—A prehistoric stone fish trap has been found on northern Kodiak Island, reports Alaska Native News. Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall identified the rare trap, known as a corrall, at the mouth of a stream. At high tide, salmon would swim above the corrall, but at low tide the fish would be trapped within its stone walls. “The fish trap took a lot of work to build and maintain. I imagine that it was reused year after year and that it was owned by a community or an extended family,” says Saltonstall. “Many lines of archaeological evidence indicate that Alutiiq ancestors developed tools to efficiently harvest large quantities of fish. A fish trap is another great example.” Next to the trap Saltonstall also discovered previously unidentified petroglyphs. To read in-depth about the archaeology of native Alaskan peoples, go to “Cultural Revival.”
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Science News reports that hunter-gatherers and early farmers living in the central Mediterranean may have been drawn to rock shelters with special acoustic properties. Margarita Díaz-Andreu of the University of Barcelona and her team investigated echoes produced by caves in the Baume Brune cliff face in southeastern France, and in the Valle d’Ividoro on Italy’s eastern coast. Each location consists of multiple rock shelters, but only some of them were decorated with paintings between 6,500 and 5,000 years ago. The researchers connected a special microphone to a digital recorder to measure the direction, intensity, and timing of sound waves generated by popped balloons at different distances outside each of the decorated and undecorated caves. In France, those distances ranged from 70 to 120 feet from the entrance to the caves, and in Italy, where the terrain was rougher, from 250 to 1,000 feet. The acoustic data was then used to create 3-D, slow-motion depictions of the echoes as moving circles originating from the place where the sound was reflected. Díaz-Andreu and her colleagues suggest that the sites decorated with rock art produced audible echoes, and the sites with the most paintings reflected the best echoes. For more, go to “The First Artists.”