CORVALLIS, OREGON—Live Science reports on the ongoing study of a 1,300-year-old carved and painted human mandible discovered in a ceremonial area at the Zapotec site of Dainzú-Macuilxó, located in southern Mexico. The jawbone is thought to have been worn as a pendant. The excavation team also recovered thousands of fragments of smashed ceramic whistles and figurines, figurine molds, and a kiln at the ceremonial site. The whistles may have made owl-like sounds, while the figurines may have represented Xipe Totec, a Mesoamerican god associated with human sacrifice and agriculture. But Pink and the researchers think the decorated human bones belonged to ancestors of the site’s residents, who were “probably going into the tombs of their ancestors and bring the remains of their ancestors out,” explained Jeremias Pink of Oregon State University.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Billy Ó Foghlú of Australian National University says that horns played in southern India today are almost identical to those from Iron-Age Europe. “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe’s prehistory. And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artifacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India’s past,” Ó Foghlú told Laboratory Equipment. Ó Foghlú’s research suggests that the ancient horns were often used as rhythm instruments, not for melody or harmony as modern Westerners might expect. He adds that almost identical instruments that have been unearthed together may be out of tune with each other, but the dissonance may have been intentional. To read more about music in the archaeological record, go to "Artifact: Chimu Funerary Idols."
NAPLES, ITALY—An international team of archaeologists from CNRS, the University of Glasgow, the University of Southampton, and the University of Naples Federico II, tested core samples from a nearly 20-foot deep deposit of sediments in the ancient port of Naples to study the effect of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 on the Aqua Augusta aqueduct and water system. According to a report in Phys.org, they analyzed the amount and type of lead in the layers of sediments, which accumulated in the harbor after passing through the water circulation system in Naples and neighboring towns. The geochemical analysis detected two different lead isotopes, one before and one after the eruption of the volcano. The team says this indicates the system was destroyed by the eruption and that the Romans replaced it over a period of about 15 years with lead from one or more different mines. The study also suggests that the water system had been expanding until about the beginning of fifth century, when the sediments in the harbor became less contaminated. This shrinking of the water system may have been caused by damage from invasions, new eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, or epidemics. To read about excavations in the city, go to "Naples Underground."
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Archaeologists have excavated “the first and oldest 5,000-year-old kurgan-style tomb that has been discovered and completely unearthed in Turkey,” according to the excavation report from The Istanbul Archaeology Museum quoted in The Hurriyet Daily News. The circular mound sat over an intact burial in the Silivri district of Istanbul. Evidence at the site suggests treasure hunters had attempted to dig it up several times, but had not been able to reach the main burial chamber, where researchers found the remains of a Bronze Age soldier or warrior who had been buried with a spear and two pots. To read about the discovery of a Thracian burial mound, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology have excavated the well-preserved remains of The Curtain, a sixteenth-century theater where Shakespeare performed as an actor. They found a rectangular building that could have held about 1,000 people, and segments of wall standing about five feet tall. Scholars think that Shakespeare may have staged the first performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V at The Curtain, which was assumed to have a circular shape, since the prologue of Henry V mentions a “wooden O.” “It now seems clear that the playhouse was a conversion of an earlier tenement—essentially a block of flats—and was later converted back into a tenement again,” explained archaeologist Julian Bowsher. Artifacts from the site include a lead token, a broken bone comb, a metal mount for cloth purse, and a piece of green pottery thought to be the base of a bird call, perhaps used for stage effects. Bowsher now thinks that the Henry V prologue mentioning the “wooden O” may have been added later, when the play was performed at The Globe. To read more about archaeology in London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—CBC Canada reports that researchers from Saint Mary’s University uncovered traces of what could be an eighteenth-century British fort at the site of the Lunenburg Academy. The professors and adult students first conducted a geophysical survey of the area where historical records place the fort in 1753. The subsequent excavation uncovered two rows of stones that may have been part of a fence post or a palisade. The star-shaped fort is thought to have been built of earth and wood and surrounded with a dry ditch, and may have been knocked down after the Seven Years War to make way for residential expansion. To read about the discovery of a similar site, go to "Lake George's Unfinished Fort."
ROME, ITALY—The construction of a subway line through the center of Rome has uncovered barracks for the Praetorian guards dating to the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D., according to an announcement made by Italy’s Culture Ministry. Archaeologists have reportedly found a long hallway and 39 rooms decorated with mosaic floors and frescoed walls. “It’s exceptional, not only for its good state of conservation but because it is part of a neighborhood which already included four barracks. And therefore, we can characterize this area as a military neighborhood,” Rossella Rea of the Culture Ministry said in an Associated Press report. The site has also yielded 13 skeletons in a collective grave, a bronze coin, and a bronze bracelet. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Evidence suggesting that humans lived in northwestern Florida more than 14,000 years ago has been re-examined by an international team of scientists, who also conducted an additional excavation. In 1983, stone artifacts and butchered mastodon remains were discovered at the Page-Ladson site, which is thought to have been a watering hole that is now located under 13 feet of sediment at the bottom of the Aucilla River. The sediments were dated to 14,400 years ago, but at the time, critics argued that the artifacts could have been carried to the site and deposited in the ancient sediments by river currents. The new excavation returned to the murky waters of the site and recovered more stone tools and the bones of extinct animals. “Artifacts are associated with the mastodon remains, including a tusk with tool marks. They were sealed in undisturbed geological deposits. Seventy-one new radiocarbon dates show the artifacts date to 14,500 years ago. The Page-Ladson site provides unequivocal evidence of human occupation that predates Clovis by over 1,500 years,” Michael Waters of Texas A&M University told Live Science. The new information also suggests that humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years.
CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of a Late-Roman period shipwreck in the ancient harbor of Caesarea by recreational divers. The ship had been carrying bronze statues, coins, and iron anchors, all thought to have been slated for recycling. Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA marine archaeology unit, and deputy director Dror Planer, think the ship sank during a storm that buried the objects, including a bronze lamp depicting the Roman sun god Sol, a sculpture of the moon goddess Luna, and fragments of three life-size bronze statues. “The sand protected them. They are in an amazing state of preservation—as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago,” Sharvit told Discovery News. The archaeologists explained that metal statues are rare finds because they were usually melted down. “Because the statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and thus were saved from the recycling process.” To read in-depth about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
MILAN, OHIO—An unusual ceremonial site dating to 300 B.C. has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Ohio's Huron River, reports Fox News. Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist Brian Redmond and his team unearthed an unusual oval ditch that enclosed the two-acre ridge top. They found that the ditch was in turn surrounded by clusters of freestanding poles that may have been as high as 12 feet tall. Excavation also revealed pits filled with charcoal deposits that suggest ceremonial feasting may have occurred at the site, which was built by a people archaeologists know as the Early Woodland culture. Redmond notes that most ceremonial sites in Ohio focus on burial rites or mound building. “To find evidence of life celebrations is an unexpected and exciting discovery,” says Redmond. “It gives us surprising insights about these prehistoric Ohioans that lived nearly 2,300 years ago.” To read about another Woodland site, go to "Off the Grid: Pinson Mounds."
EVESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists surveying a future development site in England’s West Midlands region were surprised to find a Bronze Age burial, reports the Worcester News. The team was following up on an earlier excavation at the site that revealed ditches thought to date to the Iron Age. In broadening their investigation to include a larger tract of land, the archaeologists discovered ditches with artifacts dating 1,000 years earlier than they expected, to the early Bronze Age. “The really unexpected find was a ‘beaker’ burial,” said Laurence Hayes of the environmental consulting firm RSK. “This large burial pit contained a near complete Early Bronze Age vessel known as a beaker, covered with intricate patterns, and a polished stone archer’s wrist guard.” The artifacts are being conserved and will eventually go on display at a local museum. To read in-depth about the Iron Age in the British Isles, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”
AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Emily Dickinson is known today as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, but in her lifetime she may have been more renowned for her gardening. At her family estate, she helped to tend an orchard, a greenhouse, and an expanse of flower and vegetable gardens. The size of these gardens was dramatically decreased in the decades after Dickinson died in 1886, but now a team of archaeologists is searching for their remnants. Last summer, they uncovered portions of a pathway leading to nineteenth-century flower and vegetable beds. “If we can follow out the historic path to its end, then theoretically we would find the location of past gardens,” Kerry Lynch of Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the New York Times. If they do locate these gardens, the archaeologists hope to find seeds or other botanical evidence dating back to when Dickinson was alive. For more on archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."
EL MALPAIS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEW MEXICO—Archaeologists have explored an Ancestral Pueblo village in northwest New Mexico that dates to 900 years ago and was built amid lava fields. Surrounding the village, called Las Ventanas, they found a detailed array of trails, whose purpose is unclear. The trails totaled 62 miles in all, and some had no apparent destination other than the lava itself. “What this means is the trails were built, primarily, as ritual features themselves, to access different points in the lava,” Paul Reed of Southwest Archaeology told Western Digs. Goods including ceramics and stone tools were also found along many of the paths, adding further evidence that they had a ceremonial purpose. The people who lived at Las Ventanas used the local black volcanic rock in their buildings, along with sandstone, which was traditionally used by Pueblo to the north at Chaco Canyon. The village comprises more than 100 separate sites, including a two-story great house with up to 85 rooms that is estimated to have been built between 1075 and 1125. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”
SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that an archaeological investigation in Bury St. Edmunds, located near the southeast coast of England, has uncovered a building with a foundation made of flint and mortar that probably had timber walls and a tiled roof and floor. The building may have been a kitchen or cold storage area in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, perhaps placed at a distance from the houses in the core of the medieval market town to protect them from potential kitchen fires. The site also yielded pits where chalk was quarried between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. (Lime for making mortar would have been extracted from the chalk.) The excavation team from Suffolk Archaeology found a gaming counter with wear marks suggesting it had been worn on a string, worked bone and antler waste, pottery, a chain, a spindle whorl, and roof tile fragments among the trash and food waste in the pits. To read more on medieval England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."
DENVER, COLORADO—Zooarchaeologist Jamie Hodgkins of the University of Denver thinks that climate change may have contributed to the demise of the Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago. According to a report in R&D Magazine, Hodgkins examined the remains of prey animals and found that bones of animals butchered by Neanderthals during colder periods showed higher frequencies of percussion marks. This suggests that they were processed to remove every bit of marrow. “As the climate got colder, Neanderthals had to put more into extracting nutrients from bones," Hodgkins said. "This is especially apparent in evidence that reveals Neanderthals attempted to break open even low marrow yield bones, like the small bones of the feet." For more, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—It had been thought that modern humans settled in southern Arabia with the development of agriculture, but a new genetic study by Francesca Gandini of the University of Huddersfield and colleagues suggests that people lived there some 20,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. According to a report in Sci-News, the researchers focused on a rare mitochondrial DNA lineage (R0a) that is found most frequently in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. They think this lineage is older than had been previously believed, and that when the Ice Age ended some 11,000 years ago, people migrated out of Arabia and into eastern Africa, through the Middle East, and into Europe. For more, go to "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."
ST. GEORGE, UTAH—Vandalism at archaeological and rock art sites is a growing problem in southern Utah. According to a report at Good4Utah.com, the Bureau of Land Management and Conserve Southwest Utah will create a “Petroglyph Patrol” as part of their Respect and Protect campaign. In particular, volunteers will monitor the Land Hill Heritage site during peak visitor times and educate visitors about appropriate behavior at rock art sites. “Losing these sites or having them destroyed to the point where we can’t read the stories that are there, is a huge loss to our culture, to everyone. It’s like burning down libraries,” said Susan Crook, land program manager/Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends director. For more, go to "North America’s Oldest Petroglyphs."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Egyptologists at the Fitzwilliam Museum reportedly expected to find the embalmed remains of an adult’s organs in a miniature cedar sarcophagus that was discovered in Giza in 1907 by the British School of Archaeology. However, a CT scan has revealed the remains of a human fetus, estimated to have been no more than 18 weeks old at the time of death, which occurred sometime between 664 and 525 B.C. “The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception,” Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the museum, told The Telegraph. The small-scale coffin had been carefully decorated, and the remains inside it had been wrapped in bandages. Molten black resin was poured over the tiny mummy before the coffin was closed.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Peter Hiscock and his team from the University of Sydney say that one tiny piece of worked stone is evidence of the world’s oldest ax. The fragment, thought to have come from the polished edge of an ax when it was re-sharpened, was excavated in the early 1990s by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University, along with other artifacts from Carpenter’s Gap, a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Hiscock and his team found the basalt fragment among the materials from the oldest levels of the site, which date to 45,000 to 49,000 years ago. The scientists think the ax may have been crafted by the first people to arrive in Australia. “We know that they didn’t have axes where they came from. There’s no axes in the islands to our north. They arrived in Australia and innovated axes,” O’Connor said in a report by BBC News. To read about finds from the same area dating to much more recently, go to "What's the Point?"
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery of 55 burials has been unearthed in southeast Wiltshire. The cemetery dates from the late seventh to early eighth centuries, and includes the remains of men, women, and children. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery from the same time period was found nearby on the Salisbury Plain last month. “We now have the opportunity to compare and contrast the burial practices of two communities living only a few miles apart. They would almost certainly have known each other,” project manager Bruce Eaton of Wessex Archaeology said in a Culture 24 report. The graves also contained iron knives, spears, a shield boss, bone pins, beads, coins pierced for necklaces, and combs. A large spear head and shield boss had been buried with a tall man who may have been a warrior; a high-status woman’s burial included bronze jewelry, beads, a bone comb, a chatelaine, and a bronze workbox. To read about another Anglo-Saxon discovery, go to "The Kings of Kent."