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Archaeology News - December 8, 2015

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A team of German and Iranian researchers announced that they have found the source of the diorite and gabbro used to carve statues of Mesopotamian rulers some 4,000 years ago in the Iranian province of Kerman. They also discovered deposits of chlorite, which was used to make vessels that have been found in Mesopotamia and the Levant. Early Bronze Age settlements of the Jiroft Culture were found close to the raw materials. “This shows that the civilizations of Mesopotamia and southeastern Iran were in direct contact in the Early Bronze Age. The Persian Gulf most likely served as a trade route,” Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies said in a press release. Pfälzner and Nader Soleimani of the Iranian Center of Archaeological Research are also looking for overland trade routes with aerial photography. So far they have spotted 42 possible settlements along what may have been roads linking the mountains to the coast of the Persian Gulf. To read in depth about trade in Bronze Age in Iran, go to "The World in Between."

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Archaeology News - December 8, 2015

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Christopher Guiterman of the University of Arizona used the collections housed at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and a technique called dendroprovenance to determine the origins of the wooden beams that were used to build the monumental great houses in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Over a period of four years, he compared the tree-ring patterns on 170 different beams with archived tree-ring patterns from nearby mountain ranges. “We pulled stuff out of the archive that hasn’t been looked at in 30 or 40 years. It was pretty cool to open those boxes,” Guiterman said in a press release. He found that before A.D. 1020, most of the wood used in construction came from the Zuni Mountains to the south. The Chacoans then switched around the year 1060 and harvested trees from the Chuska Mountains to the west. These results agree with the chemical and archaeological evidence. “There’s a change in the masonry style—the architectural signature of the construction. There’s a massive increase in the amount of construction—about half of ‘downtown Chaco’ houses were built at the time the wood started coming from the Chuska Mountains,” Guiterman said. 

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Archaeology News - December 7, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND—The bluestones at Stonehenge came from outcrops of natural pillars at Carn Geodog and Craig Rhos-y-felin in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, according to research conducted by a team of scientists from several institutions in the United Kingdom. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face,” Josh Pollard, University of Southampton, said in a press release. Dates have been obtained from burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ campfires. “We have dates of around 3400 B.C. for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 B.C. for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 B.C. It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire,” explained project director Parker Pearson of University College London. The team has a likely spot in mind for this earlier monument. “The results are very promising—we may find something big in 2016,” added Kate Welham of Bournemouth University. For more, go to "Under Stonehenge."

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Archaeology News - December 7, 2015

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—It had been previously thought that the Vikings colonized Greenland during a period of well-documented good weather known as the Medieval Warm Period (A.D. 950-1250) and disappeared with the onset of the Little Ice Age (1300-1850). However, a new analysis of chemical isotopes in debris marking the advance of glaciers in southwest Greenland and Baffin Island suggests that the glaciers had neared or reached their later maximum Little Ice Age positions between 975 and 1275, during the period of the Viking occupation. “If the Vikings traveled to Greenland when it was cool, it’s a stretch to say deteriorating climate drove them out,” Nicolás Young of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in a press release. “It’s becoming clearer that the Medieval Warm Period was patchy, not global,” he explained. Scholars now think that the Vikings may have abandoned Greenland because of hostilities with the Inuit, a decline in the ivory trade, soil erosion brought on by grazing their imported cattle, or a return to European farms after the depopulation brought on by the Black Plague. For more, go to "The First Vikings."

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Archaeology News - December 7, 2015

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—A study of facial growth patterns, led by Rodrigo Lacruz of New York University has, has found a developmental difference between Neanderthals and modern humans. The international team of scientists used an electron microscope and a portable confocal microscope to examine the outer layer of facial skeletons of young Neanderthals from Gibraltar and from the La Quina site in southwestern France. These results were compared with the 400,000-year-old faces of hominin teenagers discovered in the Sima do los Huesos in north-central Spain, who are thought to be likely Neanderthal ancestors. The study found that in modern human children, the outermost layer of bone in the face has many osteoclast cells, which break down bone. The faces of young Neanderthals have many osteoblasts, or bone forming cells. “We always considered Neanderthals to be a very different category of hominin. But in fact they share with older African hominins a similar facial growth pattern. It’s actually humans … that deviated from the ancestral pattern,” Lacruz explained in a press release. For more, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"  

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Archaeology News - December 7, 2015

PERUGIA, ITALY—A farmer working in his fields near the town of Città della Pieve discovered an Etruscan tomb dating to the late fourth century B.C. “It was a totally unexpected discovery. The area is away from the sites visited by tomb robbers and indeed the burial is undisturbed,” Clarita Natalini of the Archaeological Superintendency of Umbria told Discovery News. Natalini’s team excavated a corridor leading to a dromos, or stone double door, and found a rectangle-shaped chamber containing two sarcophagi, four alabaster marble urns containing cremains, and grave goods including pottery, miniature votive vases, two intact jars, and a marble head broken at the neck. One of the sarcophagi had been marked with the male first name “Laris” and other inscriptions yet to be translated. The other sealed sarcophagus had been covered with painted plaster. “Unfortunately a collapse which occurred in antiquity damaged the plaster. The inscription is now lost in thousands of fragments. Piecing them together won’t be an easy task,” Natalini said. To read about a similar discovery, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

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Archaeology News - December 4, 2015

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—An artifact dating to the Late Chalcolithic period, known for the smelting of copper and copper alloys, is being called the oldest-known evidence of smelted lead in the Levant. Found in a burial chamber in the Negev’s Ashalim Cave, the roughly 6,000-year-old object is made up of a piece of wood that measures nearly nine inches long and a 1.4-inch piece of lead. Analysis of the lead suggests that it came from the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia, so either the finished artifact or the raw materials may have been imported. “In this respect, it fits very well with what we know about the Chalcolithic culture, which was a highly developed culture with amazing abilities in art and craft,” Naama Yaholom-Mack of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Live Science. It is not clear how the artifact was used, however. “Its eventual deposition in the deepest section of Ashalim Cave, in relation to the burial of selected individuals, serves as evidence of the symbolic significance it possessed until the final phase of its biography,” Yaholom-Mack and the research team wrote in PLOS ONE. To read about the town in the Levant thought to have been home to the Philistines, go to "The Gates of Gath."

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Archaeology News - December 4, 2015

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Archaeological work conducted by Allen Archaeology ahead of the construction of a new building at the University of Lincoln has uncovered hundreds of flint tools that are thought to date to the Mesolithic period, when the site was a sandbar at the edge of a body of water. The 11,000-year-old tools include tiny cutting blades and blades for hunting, butchering, and preparing plants. “There’s a known Mesolithic flint scatter close to this particular site from somewhere between 9000 B.C. and 5000 B.C. and we have found a continuation of that,” project manager Gavin Glover told The Lincolnshire Echo. To read about early carpentry, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

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Archaeology News - December 4, 2015

AGRIGENTO, ITALY—An international team of scientists has conducted a survey of Sicily’s Valley of the Temples. It had been thought that the 2,500-year-old Greek temples were aligned with the rising sun, but the new measurements suggest that at least four of the ten buildings, including the Temple of Zeus, were aligned with the town’s grid along the cardinal directions. “For such temples, only a general rule imposing the façade towards the eastern horizon was applied,” Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan’s Polytechnic University, told Discovery News. The study also revealed that the Temple of Juno was aligned to the stars in the Delphinus constellation, and the Temple of Demeter and Persephone—dedicated to goddesses who were key to the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries—was aligned with the setting full moon near the time of the winter solstice. “We know very little about the relationship between astronomy and those secret religious rites. A connection with the moon-orientated temple is possible and will be at the center of further research,” Magli said. To read about the decades-long effort to restore the Acropolis, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

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Archaeology News - December 4, 2015

OAHU, HAWAII—Students from the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program conducted a detailed archaeological survey of a Catalina PBY-5, one of 27 U.S. Navy “flying boats” that were damaged during the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Research groups have attempted to study the long-range patrol bombers in the past, but murky waters prevented them from completing the task. Led by maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the students had better conditions for their expedition this year. They used improved camera equipment to map the entire site, which includes the three pieces of the plane resting at a depth of 30 feet in Kāne’ohe Bay. “The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack. The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7,” Van Tilburg said in a press release. He thinks that the plane’s crew may have died while attempting to take off during the attack. To read more about underwater archaeology, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

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Archaeology News - December 3, 2015

TIMOR LESTE, VIETNAM—Vietnamnet Bridge reports that a well-preserved bronze drum measuring about three feet in diameter was discovered at a construction site in the city of Baucau in East Timor. Such drums were produced by the Vietnamese Dong Son culture, which dates between 700 B.C. and A.D. 100. Local experts think that this drum is at least 2,000 years old, but a sample has been sent to France for analysis. Excavations are being planned for the area where the drum was found. To read about a Peruvian depiction of musicians, go to "Artifact."

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Archaeology News - December 3, 2015

NARA, JAPAN—Takeshi Oishi of the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science led a team that used laser technology to create a 3-D map of the colossal Great Buddha statue in Nara’s Todaiji Temple. A document dating to the Heian Period, between A.D. 794 and 1185, records that 966 rahotsu, the ball-like curls on the statue’s head, had been produced for the statue when it was completed in A.D. 752. Temple officials had not been able to count the statue’s actual curls, which are used as a symbol of enlightenment, because the ornaments behind the seated statue’s head blocked the view. But the use of lasers helped the researchers to determine that the Buddha had been adorned with just 492 curls, and nine of those had fallen off. “This is something we could even call ‘cyber archaeology,’” Oishi told The Asahi Shimbun. “We believe the technology can be applied in various fields.” To read about the Buddha's birthplace, one of the Top Discoveries of 2014, go to "Buddhism, in the Beginning."

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Archaeology News - December 3, 2015

OTTAWA, CANADA—Newspaper archives have yielded information on forgotten nineteenth-century archaeological excavations in the region that became Canada’s capital city. Randy Boswell of Carleton University and Jean-Luc Pilon of the Canadian Museum of History say that the work of Edward Van Cortlandt, who investigated the area’s 4,900-year-old Indigenous burial ground in 1843 and 1860, had been recorded in the local papers at the time. The Canadian Museum of History now sits on the site. “Thanks to the old newspaper finds and Jean-Luc Pilon’s deep knowledge of the ancient history of this region, we now have a new understanding of the enduring importance of the Chaudière Falls and the nearby burial place in relation to various shoreline archaeological sites around the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau, and Rideau rivers,” Boswell said in a press release. “This region was a seasonal hub for Indigenous peoples for millennia, long before it was settled by Euro-Canadians in the nineteenth century and became Canada’s political capital,” he added. To read about the discovery of a nineteenth-century shipwreck in Canadian waters, one of the Top 10 Discoveries of 2014, go to "Canada Finds Erebus."

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Archaeology News - December 2, 2015

BIZKAIA, SPAIN—An ancient engraving may depict a hunter-gatherer campsite, according to Marcos García-Diez of the University of the Basque Country, and Manuel Vaquero of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), who published their study in PLOS ONE. The image, carved onto a schist slab some 13,800 years ago, has seven semicircular motifs decorated with internal lines and arranged in two rows. Microscopic and comparative analysis of the motifs suggests that they had been engraved with a similar technique and instrument in a short amount of time. The researchers think the motifs represent huts. Vaquero explained in a press release that this “Paleolithic engraving from northeastern Spain brings us the first representation of a human social group.” 

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Archaeology News - December 2, 2015

HELSINKI, FINLAND—Researchers from the University of Helsinki and the University of Edinburgh have discovered evidence of parvovirus in about half of the skeletal remains of 106 World War II casualties recovered from the battlefields of Karelia, located in what is now Russian territory. This is the first time that traces of virus have been found in old bones, which are the part of the body most likely to be preserved after death. “Human tissue is like a life-long archive that stores the fingerprint of the viruses that an individual has encountered during his or her lifetime,” professor of clinical virology Klaus Hedman said in a press release. In fact, two of the deceased carried a type of parvovirus that has not circulated in Nordic countries. When combined with other genetic information, this suggests that these were likely Russian soldiers, and not Finnish ones. “Such a combination of human and viral DNA can help us both identify the recently dead—making it a new tool for forensic identification or ancestry investigation—and determine how ancient humans migrated around the globe,” explained Antti Sajantila, professor of genetic medicine. To read about how the tuberculosis bacterium may have first arrived in the Americas, go to "Across the Atlantic by Flipper."

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Archaeology News - December 2, 2015

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Excavation of the basement of the Convent of the Jacobins in Rennes, France, yielded several elite burial vaults from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, and five heart-shaped lead urns, each of which contained a preserved human heart. After embalming materials were removed from the hearts and they were rehydrated, the organs were studied by a team of researchers who also used MRI and CT technology to create images of them. One heart showed no signs of disease, and another one was too poorly preserved to be studied. “Since four of the five hearts were very well preserved, we were able to see signs of present-day heart conditions, such as plaque and atherosclerosis, [in three of the hearts],” radiologist Fatima-Zohra Mokrane of the University Hospital of Toulouse said in a press release. To read more about the heart burials in Rennes, go to "For the Love of a Noblewoman."

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Archaeology News - December 2, 2015

STAVANGER, NORWAY—As part of a project to learn about prehistoric migration patterns in Scandinavia, scientists in a Swedish laboratory will attempt to extract and analyze DNA from the skull of “Viste Boy,” the 8,200-year-old remains of an adolescent discovered in southwestern Norway. They will also test 6,000-year-old human remains from Sømmevågen, which is also located in southern Norway, and other human bones that were discovered in the cave at Viste where “Viste Boy” was found. “It’s very exciting to have two Stone Age skeletons from areas that are as close to each other as Viste and Sømmevågen, but where there is approximately a 2,000-year age difference,” osteoarchaeologist Sean D. Denham from the Museum of Archaeology at the University of Stavanger said in a press release. The analysis may also reveal if Viste Boy is actually a girl. “It will be an exciting process, and the Viste Individual may require extra time as we know so little about its history since its discovery. Some preservation may be necessary, and we can actually see that one bone is not real. But we don’t know why, how, or when the copy was made,” added conservator Hege Hollund. To read about new findings regarding a well-known burial in Denmark, go to "Bronze Age Traveler."

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Archaeology News - December 1, 2015

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Erosion of an ancient coastal burial ground near Cedar Key sent archaeologists led by Ken Sassaman of the University of Florida to excavate the graves and move the human remains before they were lost. He found, however, that the 32 graves had been moved to that location long ago from somewhere else. “They’re digging up their dead that are washing away into the Gulf of Mexico and relocating them to the place they’re going to move to. These guys, they never abandoned the coast. They were adaptive,” Sassaman told the Tampa Bay Times. He noted that shell mounds in the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuges show that when the sea levels were higher, people ate oysters, then switched to clams when the seas receded and more freshwater was present. Sassaman also thinks that ancient coastal dwellers used shells to build mounds and rings around their villages to protect them from rising waters. Those structures could have been used for generations. “They came back and used the places their predecessors used,” he explained. To read about an excavation in Florida that unearthed artifacts spanning a period of 10,000 years, go to "Florida History Springs Forth."

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Archaeology News - December 1, 2015

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A 3,200-year-old Egyptian mummy currently housed at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco was transported to the Stanford University School of Medicine for a computed tomography (CT) scan. The mummy, known as Hatason, was brought to the United States in the late nineteenth century in a wooden coffin that depicts a woman wearing everyday clothing. “When mummies came into the collections of most museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were dated and sexed based upon the coffin the mummy was found in. We now know that rampant reuse of coffins means these assumptions may be wrong,” Stanford Egyptologist Anne Austin told the Stanford Medicine News Center. The scans revealed the mummy’s brain had been left intact. The researchers also saw that the body had disintegrated within the wrappings. The size of the skull, however, suggests that this was indeed a young woman. Jonathan Elias, director of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, thinks this mummy dates to the New Kingdom period, between the sixteenth and eleventh centuries B.C. “In mummies manufactured after a certain time, there is excerebration almost 100 percent of the time. But we have no excerebration,” he explained. To read more about CT scanning and other investigations of mummies, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

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Archaeology News - December 1, 2015

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—A passageway with two sealed chambers that may hold the cremated remains of Aztec emperors has been found in the 27-foot-long tunnel under the Templo Mayor complex. The passageway, which is about 18 inches wide and five feet tall, leads deep into the ceremonial platform known as the Cuauhxicalco, where rulers’ remains are thought to have been cremated. “What we are speculating is that behind these sealed-up entrances there could be two small chambers with the incinerated remains of some rulers of Tenochtitlan, like Moctezuma I and his successors, Axayacatl and Tízoc, given the relative dating of the surrounding constructions,” Leonardo Lopez Lujan of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Associated Press. To read more, go to "Under Mexico City: Templo Mayor."

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