Islamic City’s Port Structures Uncovered

Archaeology News - March 2, 2018

AMMAN, JORDAN—According to an ANSA report, the ancient port of Ayla has been found in the Red Sea, off the coast of the modern city of Aqaba. One thousand years ago, Ayla connected cities on overland trade routes to ports in India, Asia, and Africa. Ehab Eid of the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan said that, in addition to the port structures, the excavators found a pottery kiln and workshops for the maintenance and manufacture of ships and sails. For more on archaeology in Jordan, go to “Desert Life.”

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15th-Century Coin Cache Found in the Netherlands

Archaeology News - March 2, 2018

VIANEN, NETHERLANDS—The Netherlands Times reports that a cache of fifteenth-century coins was discovered during construction work in the central Netherlands. The collection of 12 gold and hundreds of silver coins was found in a glazed earthenware cooking pot. Fabric in the pot suggests the coins had been placed in textile bags or wrapped in cloth. The coins bear images of King Henry VI of England, Bishop of Utrecht David of Burgundy, and Pope Paul II. For more on archaeology in the Netherlands, go to “Letter From Rotterdam: The City and the Sea.”

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Burials Discovered Under 17th-Century Church in Poland

Archaeology News - March 2, 2018

RZESZÓW, POLAND—Traces of an older wooden church and human remains were found underneath the floor of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rzeszów during renovation and restoration work, according to a report in Science in Poland. Archaeologist Dariusz Bobak of the Rzeszów Archaeological Center Foundation said the current church had been built on a cemetery in the early seventeenth century. The older of two crypts found at the site predates the current church. It held the remains of four adults and a small child who had been placed in upright coffins within two rooms. Some elements of their clothing and a set of Rosary beads were also recovered. The second crypt, on the opposite side of the church’s transept, held several coffins, the contents of which have not yet been examined by anthropologist Joanna Rogóż. This crypt was built as part of the current church and so dates to the seventeenth century. Further research could help the archaeologists identify the distinguished occupants of the two crypts. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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Rain Reveals Ancient Artifacts in Iraq

Archaeology News - March 1, 2018

BAGDAD, IRAQ—Asharq Al-Awsat reports that heavy rains have uncovered pottery, coins, and pieces of metal in the region of ancient Babylon. The artifacts date back to the Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–A.D. 224) through the Islamic period. “Last year, 1,000 pieces were discovered this way, which proves that the ruins may be close to the surface and not always buried deep in the ground,” said Hussein Fleih, Babylon’s director of antiquities. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets from Babylon and other areas of ancient Mesopotamia, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

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Native American Burial Site Found in Gulf of Mexico

Archaeology News - March 1, 2018

VENICE, FLORIDA—According to a WTSP News report, a 7,000-year-old Native American burial site has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Manasota Key. The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research investigated the site with magnetometry, sub-bottom profiling, and side-scan sonar, and found peat, wooden stakes, and human remains. At the time of burial, the site is thought to have been a peat-bottomed freshwater pond about nine feet above sea level. “As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” said Timothy Parsons, director of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. “The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people.” For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

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Traces of Nicotine Detected in Ancient Dental Plaque

Archaeology News - March 1, 2018

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—The International Business Times reports that a team led by Shannon Tushingham of Washington State University, working in cooperation with members of the Ohlone tribe in the San Francisco Bay Area, used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to look for evidence of nicotine, caffeine, and atropine in plaque obtained from the teeth of eight people buried between 6,000 and 300 years ago in what is now California. In the past, archaeologists have relied upon the presence of pipes, charred tobacco seeds, and analysis of hair and fecal matter to trace the spread of tobacco in the ancient Americas. Two of the samples, collected from a man who had been buried with a pipe and an older women, tested positive for nicotine. Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis, said the woman’s age supports the idea that younger women may have avoided intoxicants in order to protect infants, while older women used the substances. The team plans to additional tests to look for other intoxicating chemicals in dental plaque. To read in-depth about research on ancient dental plaque, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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New Thoughts on Possible Hominin Communication

Archaeology News - March 1, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—Chimpanzees and bonobos both have repertoires of gestures that convey meaning to other members of their species. According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers led by Kirsty Graham of the University of York have concluded that about 90 percent of these gestures overlap between species and therefore were probably inherited. It is possible the apes developed the gestures independently, but the high correspondence suggests this is unlikely. Graham speculates that when humans see these gestures, many of them will also understand the meaning conveyed, suggesting the signals may have been passed down from the apes’ last common ancestor with modern humans. Further research will test how the gestures develop over an ape’s lifetime, and see whether people share any of the gestures. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”

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Churchyard Burials Revealed in England

Archaeology News - February 28, 2018

WARGRAVE, ENGLAND—The Henley Standard reports that construction work for a new church annex in a village in southeastern England has revealed human remains that appear to date from the early medieval period through the Victorian Age. As many as 90 individuals could be represented among the bones. “We can see many intercutting burials which cut through to the burial plot next to them,” said archaeologist Stephanie Duensing of John Moore Heritage. Remains of coffins and a shroud are helping the archaeologists date the remains, which are being cleaned in a shed at the site. Bone specialist Ceri Boston said she’s found evidence of scurvy, syphilis, arthritis, and poor dental health among the population. One man is thought to have been a bare-knuckle boxer due to a broken nose and rib fractures, though his unusual toe fractures also suggest he may have been a naval conscript. “They used to round up troublemakers and people in jail and shove them off to the navy,” Boston explained. To read about another recent discovery in southeastern England, go to “Caesar’s English Beachhead.”

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Cannons Unearthed at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

Archaeology News - February 28, 2018

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Star reports that two cannons were unearthed in an excavation of the moat and outer defensive structures at Fort Cornwallis that is part of a project to reconstruct the moat. The fort was built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century, and the cannons bear a symbol of King George III, who ruled Britain from 1760 to 1820. The weapons are thought to have been at the fort for at least 200 years. “One of the interpretations was that the fort was not involved in any war,” said Mokhtar Saidin of the University of Science Malaysia. “However, with the discovery of the cannons and cannonballs at the end of last year, we might have to take another look at the fort’s history.” Mokhtar notes that there is no mention of cannons at the star-shaped fort on a map of the site dating to 1877. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter From Singapore: The Lion City's Glorious Past.”

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Tiny Statue Revealed in China’s Yungang Grottoes

Archaeology News - February 27, 2018

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a small, 1,500-year-old statue has been found in a small hole in one of the caves of the Yungang Grottoes. Wang Yanqing of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute was conducting a survey of the Buddhist temples built in the fifth and sixth centuries into 53 major caves, and more than 50,000 niches, when he found the eroded statue. Measuring about six inches tall, the figure has wide shoulders, a muscular chest and abdomen, and outstretched arms. It had been placed in a small hole nearly 40 feet above the ground. “We guess the statue was carved by the craftsmen who cut the hole,” Wang said. “Due to its stealthy location, it was concealed when the wooden beams of the protective structures of the statue were plugged into the hole.” To read about another excavation in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

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Bronze St. Nicholas Ring Unearthed in Israel

Archaeology News - February 27, 2018

MOSHAV HAYOGEV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a gardener discovered a 700-year-old bronze ring while weeding a planting bed in Lower Galilee. The intact artifact bears an image of St. Nicholas, who is revered in Eastern Christianity as the patron saint of travelers. He is shown as a smiling bald man with a bishop’s crook. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovetz said the ring dates to sometime between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, and may have been dropped by a pilgrim. “We know that the main Roman road from Legio to Mount Tabor passed next to Moshav Yogev, and the road must have also have been used throughout the centuries by Christian pilgrims on their way to the sites on Mount Tabor, Nazareth, and around the Sea of Galilee,” added IAA archaeologist Yotam Tepper. For more, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

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Aphrodite Sculpture and Mosaics Found in Greece

Archaeology News - February 27, 2018

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—According to Greek Reporter, a headless statue of Aphrodite and floor mosaics dating to the fourth century A.D. were uncovered during excavations at the Hagia Sophia station on the Thessaloniki metro. The mosaics, made up of geometric designs, may have been part of a public building or a villa. Partial walls, the remains of a bath, and pieces of glass bottles that might have held oils for the bathers were also found. A total of some 300,000 artifacts have been recovered during the excavation. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

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26th-Dynasty Cemetery Discovered in Middle Egypt

Archaeology News - February 27, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Kaled el-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, announced the discovery of a 26th-Dynasty (664–525 B.C.) cemetery in Middle Egypt, according to an Ahram Online report. So far, the excavation team has found a tomb belonging to Hersa-Essei, a high priest of the god Thoth. Thirteen burials were found in the tomb, along with around 1,000 faience ushabti figurines. Four alabaster canopic jars holding mummified organs of the deceased were also recovered. The lids of the well-preserved jars depict the faces of the four sons of the god Horus. The names and titles of the deceased were written on the jars. The excavation team also found the mummy of the high priest Djehuty-Irdy-Es, which was decorated with blue and red beads, gilded bronze sheets, a bronze collar depicting the god Nut with outstretched wings, and two eyes made of bronze, ivory, and crystal. Four amulets engraved with hieroglyphic texts and bearing semi-precious stones were also found on the mummy. A total of 40 limestone sarcophagi have been recovered to date. El-Enany said the excavation of the cemetery is expected to last another five years. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

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Early Stone Tools Found in Eastern India

Archaeology News - February 24, 2018

ODISHA, INDIA—India Today reports that excavations near the River Jira, which is located in eastern India, recovered stone tools and weapons resembling those found in eastern and southern Africa. “This discovery will help us in understanding migration and subsequent colonization by human beings in this part of India,” said P.K. Behera of Sambalpur University. The artifacts include cores as well as projectile points and a hand ax, which are thought to have been used to hunt large animals. Soil samples from the site will be tested in order to date the artifacts and learn more about environmental conditions at the time the tools were used. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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Art May Have Helped Shape Human Cognition and Language

Archaeology News - February 24, 2018

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in The Boston Globe, linguist Shigeru Miyagawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues think that cave art could offer clues to the evolution of language. Ancient paintings are often found in acoustic “hot spots” in caves, where the artists may have experienced echoes of the sounds they generated. Miyagawa suggests modern humans would have had to use a cognitive process to convert the acoustic signal into a mental representation, and then externalize it as a symbolic drawing. For example, the artists might have recreated the sounds of hoof beats, experienced the echo, and then drawn images of hoofed animals. He notes that cave art has been found all over the world, just like human language. For more, go to “he First Artists.”

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Genetic Study Attempts to Find Origins of Modern Horses

Archaeology News - February 23, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in The Independent, a genetic study of 88 ancient and modern horses revealed Mongolia’s Przewalksi’s horse to be descended from horses domesticated by the Botai people on the Central Asian steppes some 5,500 years ago. It had been previously thought that Przewalksi’s horses were truly wild creatures. Modern domestic horses, on the other hand, inherited only about three percent of their DNA from the animals bred by the Botai. “Our findings literally turn current population models of horse origins upside-down,” said molecular archaeologist Ludovic Orlando of the French National Center for Scientific Research. The study also revealed that ancient Botai horses boasted “leopard spots,” a trait caused by a gene that was also associated with night blindness. It was probably weeded out of the feral population that became Przewalksi’s horses by natural selection. For more, go to “The Story of the Horse.”

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Neanderthals May Have Been Capable of Symbolic Thought

Archaeology News - February 23, 2018

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Science News reports that cave art in Spain has been tentatively dated to at least 64,800 years ago through analysis of uranium in the mineral deposits covering the painted areas. Archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux and his colleagues say the dates suggests the red horizontal and vertical lines and hand stencils were created by Neanderthals some 20,000 years before the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Possible jewelry made from eagle claws found in Croatia and pigment-stained seashells pierced with holes found in Spain have also been attributed to Neanderthals. “Neanderthal social life was as complex as that of [contemporaneous] humans in Africa,” said João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona. The scientists suggest the capacity for symbolic thinking could therefore have developed in a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans some 500,000 years ago. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Possible Ancient Banquet Hall Uncovered in Central Japan

Archaeology News - February 23, 2018

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—A seventh-century banquet hall measuring more than 60 feet long has been unearthed in the historic town of Asuka, according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. The building was found near the site of the one of the country’s oldest Buddhist temples. The hall is thought to have been part of a complex described in an eighth-century account of banquets and sumo tournaments hosted by the imperial court for dignitaries visiting from the outskirts of the Asuka kingdom. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Large-Scale Study Examines Spread of Beaker Culture

Archaeology News - February 23, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in The Guardian, an international team of more than 100 scientists sampled DNA obtained from more than 400 prehistoric skeletons in order to study the spread of Beaker culture some 4,500 years ago. Archaeologists have long wondered if the telltale bell-shaped pottery marked the spread of culture through trade and imitation, or if the pottery was spread by mass migrations. Ian Armit of the University of Bradford said that on the European continent, the DNA samples the team extracted did not closely match those from Beaker burials, so Beaker culture probably did not travel with Beaker genes. But in Britain, the DNA of the people buried with beakers was different from the DNA obtained from earlier Britons, who may have been dying out before the arrival of the Beaker people. The oldest-known beakers have been found on the Iberian Peninsula, but DNA from burials there did not match the DNA found in Central Europe. “This is the first clear example from ancient DNA that pots do not always go hand-in-hand with people,” said David Reich of Harvard Medical School. For more on the use of DNA in archaeological research, go to “A Viral Fingerprint.”

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Engravings Spotted on Medieval Spindle Whorl

Archaeology News - February 22, 2018

RZESZÓW, POLAND—Iwona Florkiewicz of the University of Rzeszów recently examined a spindle whorl unearthed more than 60 years ago in Czermno, a site in southeastern Poland, according to a report in Science in Poland. A spindle whorl adds weight to a spindle, prevents the thread from sliding off, and helps to maintain the spindle’s spin and control its speed. Florkiewicz said this whorl had been made of slate from what is now Ukraine. She also discovered that the whorl had been inscribed with Cyrillic letters. “Archaeologists probably did not expect spindle whorls to have inscriptions, so these objects were not analyzed in this respect,” she said. The letters spell the man’s name Hoten, and may have been a sign of ownership, or possible secondary use as an amulet. “The spindle whorl probably comes from the time when this area was a part of Kievan Rus,” she explained. “Remember that Czermno was a borderland town, where cultural influences from the east and the west mixed.” For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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