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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA—A construction crew working in front of Wilmington’s Federal Courthouse has uncovered a colonial-era cannon. Weighing up to 800 pounds, the weapon probably dates to between 1700 and 1750, says Chris Southerly of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Office of State Archaeology. “It’s been probably buried, maybe used as backfill or just an old cannon that was non-functional,” Southerly told Port City Daily. “More than likely it could have been off an armed vessel at the time. We have a lot of shipwrecks here in the vicinity, especially the Cape Fear River, that date from colonial times right on up to modern wrecks.” Archaeologists plan to conserve the cannon and search for maker’s marks that could help date it with more precision. To read more about colonial-era archaeology in America, go to “American Refugees.” 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

ABU DHABI, UAE—At the site of a 7,500-year-old village on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a team of archaeologists has unearthed a collapsed stone house that was subsequently converted into a burial chamber. The team found human remains inside the structure, which may be the earliest example of stone architecture found in the Persian Gulf. “This partial skeleton was inserted into one of the already semi-collapsed rooms of the house, indicating that the structure had originally been used as a house for the living, and then later as a ‘house for the dead’,” Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority director Mohammed Al Neyadi told the National. To read more about excavations in the Persian Gulf, go to “Archaeology Island.” 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists reexamining artifacts unearthed in a 1970 excavation in London’s Brentford neighborhood have discovered a fourth-century piece of pottery decorated with a Christian symbol. Culture 24 reports that the sherd was unearthed with a number of other artifacts when the line of a Roman road was discovered running between ancient Londinium and the west of Britain. Close examination of the sherd showed it bears a monogram of first two letters of the Greek Khristos (Christ). “Christian symbols from the Roman period are rare, especially from sites within Londinium’s surrounding Hinterland,” says archaeologist Adam Corsini of the Museum of London. “There are only a few examples within our collections relating to London.” To read about another rare Roman artifact unearthed in London, go to “Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture.” 

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

STRATFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologists carrying out a ground-penetrating radar survey of Shakespeare’s grave at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford have discovered that the playwright’s skull is likely missing, reports the BBC. The radar data show that there was a major repair to the head end of Shakespeare’s grave, which lends new support to a previously dismissed 1879 magazine story claiming that trophy hunters stole his skull. "We have Shakespeare's burial with an odd disturbance at the head end and we have a story that suggests that at some point in history someone's come in and taken the skull of Shakespeare,” said Staffordshire University archaeologist Kevin Colls. "It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all." The survey also revealed that Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway and his other relatives were buried in shallow graves beneath the church’s floor. To read more about archaeology in England’s medieval churches, go to “The Writing on the Church Wall.” 

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

KYOTO, JAPAN—Paleontologists have found Australopithecus afarensis fossils in a part of Kenya that suggest that the early hominin species lived much farther east then previously believed. Fossilized teeth and a forearm bone from an adult male and two infants were found in an area eroded by the Kantis River in Ongata-Rongai, a settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi. These are the first A. afarensis fossils to be found east of the Great Rift Valley. The species is thought to have lived between 3.7 and 3 million years ago, based on fossils such as “Lucy,” found in Ethiopia. Stable isotope analysis has shown that the Kantis area was humid with a plain-like environment and fewer trees than the areas where A. afarensis fossils have previously been found. "The hominid must have discovered suitable habitats in the Kenyan highlands,” says Masato Nakatsukasa of Kyoto University in a press release. “It seems that A. afarensis was good at adapting to varying environments.” For more, go to “Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Conservators have finished work on artifacts from a metal vessel containing the so-called Galloway Viking Hoard, discovered in 2014, reports the BBC. Dating to the ninth or tenth century A.D., the lidded pot held artifacts that Vikings likely looted from monasteries in England and Ireland. They include silver Anglo-Saxon and Irish brooches, a gold ingot, and even silk from Byzantium. ”The complexity of the material in the hoard raises more questions than it answers, and like all the best archaeology, this find doesn't give any easy answers," said National Museums Scotland archaeologist Stuart Campbell. “Questions about the motivations and cultural identity of the individuals who buried it will occupy scholars and researchers for years to come." Officials expect the hoard to go to a Scottish museum. To read more about the history of the Vikings in the British Isles, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The USS Conestoga, a U.S. Navy tugboat, has been discovered in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, 95 years after it sank with 56 officers and sailors aboard, according to an announcement from NOAA and the U.S. Navy. "After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga's disappearance no longer is a mystery," said Manson Brown, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator. The boat departed the Golden Gate on March 25, 1921, en route to American Samoa via Hawaii. When it failed to reach Pearl Harbor, a large-scale search was mounted in its vicinity. Later, when one of its lifeboats was found off the coast of Mexico, a search was undertaken there as well. In 2009, a likely shipwreck was identified several miles off Southeast Farallon Island under 189 feet of water, and in October 2015, it was confirmed to be the Conestoga. When the ship set out, it faced increasing wind speeds and high waves. Based on the location and orientation of the wreck, it appears that the crew was attempting to take shelter in a protected cove when it sank. For more, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."

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Archaeology News - March 23, 2016

ONTARIO, CANADA—A project to build a light rail system in the city of Waterloo has unearthed a corduroy road, made with logs sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, beneath King Street. “They would have put the trees down to help vehicles not get stuck in the mud,” Kate Hagerman, cultural heritage specialist with the Region of Waterloo, told CBC News. “That’s been a road for a long time, so there’s layers and layers of what people have done to keep it and maintain it. It would have been from the earliest historic development of the region,” she explained. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to "Canada Finds Erebus," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

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Archaeology News - March 23, 2016

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Jesse Ballenger of the University of Arizona and archaeologist Jonathan Mabry decided to reinvestigate Cave Creek Midden in southeastern Arizona, where an excavation in 1936 uncovered evidence of corn farming dating to between 4000 and 500 B.C. “[This site] is a huge deal, because it defined about 40 years of how people conceptualized that vague moment in prehistory,” Ballenger told Western Digs. They found a deep layer of dark soil from a spring-fed wetland, or cienega, that contained cobbles, poorly preserved bison bones, and stone artifacts. They did not find, however, the butchering and cooking tools that are usually found at bison kill sites. “And any butchery marks that may be present on the bones are obscured due to the poor preservation of the bone surface,” said Meredith Wismer of the University of Iowa. “This may have been an area on the landscape that bison frequented, and it is possible that at some times in the site’s history they were hunted and used by people, but at other times bison may have gotten trapped in the cienega, died of natural causes, and were not used by people,” she explained. To read more, go to "Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers."

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Archaeology News - March 23, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Researchers led by Dominic Powlesland of Cambridge University have created a 3-D print of one of the 614 inscribed Chinese oracle bones held in the Cambridge University Library. The oracle bones date to between 1339 and 1112 B.C., and are thought to be the oldest extant documents written in the Chinese language. The inscriptions are questions about warfare, agriculture, hunting, medical problems, meteorology, and astronomy, that were written on ox shoulder blades and the flat parts of turtle shells. The answers to the questions were sought through divination. “The oracle bones are three-dimensional objects, and high-resolution 3-D imagery reveals features which not only all previous methods of reproduction (such as drawings, rubbings, and photographs) have been unable to do, but which are not even apparent from careful examination of the actual items themselves,” Charles Aylmer, head of the Chinese Department at Cambridge University, said in a press release. “In particular, the reverse sides of the bones, which are crucial to understanding the process of divination but have hitherto been neglected because of the difficulty of representing them adequately, can now be studied in detail thanks to this new technique,” he said. For more, go to "Artifact: Oracle Bone."

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Archaeology News - March 23, 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Team members from University of Leicester Archaeological Services have used photogrammetry software to create a rotatable model of the grave said to belong to King Richard III. The interactive model, available on the 3-D sharing platform Sketchfab, was made with photographs taken during the 2012 excavation of the grave. “Photographs and drawings of the grave, whilst dramatic, are only two-dimensional and do not always best show nuances in special relationships that a three-dimensional model can,” site supervisor Mathew Morris said in a press release. For example, the team says that viewers can see how Richard had been buried in a grave with sloping sides and an uneven base. The grave was also too short for him, so his body leaned to one side with his head propped up. They add that this fits with accounts of the burial, which record that Richard III had been buried without pomp or a solemn funeral. “These photos were not taken with photogrammetry in mind but the software is incredibly versatile and can be applied retrospectively to create this superb model,” Morris added. For more, go to "Richard III’s Last Act."

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Archaeology News - March 22, 2016

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Traces of Partick Castle have been uncovered in Glasgow by a team from GUARD Archaeology. It had been thought that any archaeological remains in the area, which had once been the site of a royal estate, an ecclesiastical center, and the country seat of the Bishops of Glasgow, had been destroyed by industrial works in the nineteenth century. On higher ground at the site, however, the archaeologists found ditches, a well, and several stone walls, in addition to pottery, metalwork, leather, glass, and animal bones ranging in age from the twelfth or thirteenth century to the seventeenth century. “This fits well with the historical references to the original Bishop’s residence being erected no earlier than the twelfth century and demolished in the early seventeenth century prior to a new tower house being constructed on the site,” excavation leader Beth Spence said in a press release. “So the archaeology we are encountering is probably the remains of both of these residences and what we will need to do once we have completed our excavation is disentangle the remains of the later tower house from the earlier castle,” she explained. For more, go to "Treasures of Rathfarnham Castle."

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Archaeology News - March 22, 2016

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—An international team of scientists has detected metal, including a large amount of lead, in the ink on two papyrus scrolls recovered from Herculaneum in the eighteenth century. It had been thought that Greeks and Romans used the carbon-based ink described by Pliny the Elder until metallic inks came into use in the fourth century A.D. The team examined the documents, which were badly damaged by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, with several non-invasive synchrotron X-ray techniques at the European Synchrotron (ESRF). “This discovery is a new step in the exciting adventure of studying the papyrus of Herculaneum. The different phases of the present study on the ink will allow us to optimize the next experiments on the reading of the invisible text within papyri,” Emmanuel Brun of ESRF-INSERM said in a press release. For more, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."

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Archaeology News - March 22, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—Pottery is thought to have originated with hunter-gatherers in Japan some 16,000 years ago. It was also thought that as the climate warmed at the end of the last Ice Age some 11,500 years ago, their use of pottery expanded as more foods became available. But when an international team of researchers examined lipids extracted from 143 ceramic vessels from Torihama, a site in western Japan, they found that the pots were routinely used for cooking marine and freshwater animals over a 9,000-year period. Little evidence of plant processing or the cooking of animals such as deer was found, although there was an increase over time in the amount of freshwater fish that was cooked. “Here, we are starting to acquire some idea of why pottery was invented and became such a successful technology. Interestingly, the reason seems to be little to do with subsistence and more to do with the adoption of a cultural tradition, linked to celebratory occasions and competitive feasting, especially involving the preparation of fish and shellfish,” Oliver Craig of the University of York said in a press release

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Archaeology News - March 22, 2016

EUGENE, OREGON—According to researcher Daphne Gallagher of the University of Oregon, shea butter has been used in West Africa since A.D. 100. Carbonized fragments of nutshells from shea trees, found at the archaeological site at Kirikongo in western Burkina Faso, were found in multiple layers of households at the site. “Our findings demonstrate the antiquity of the use of this particular resource. It demonstrates the importance of wild foods in early agricultural diets, and that its importance has continued through time,” she said in a press release. The trees continue to grow in a narrow belt of fertile, well-drained soils in the savannah stretching from West Africa to East Africa. Millet and sorghum crops have been grown around the valuable trees. “We are seeing the continual integration of the farming system. Farmers leave the trees in place. They are respected, loved, maintained, and pruned. People have rights to particular trees, which may or may not be on the land they are farming,” she said. Shea butter is rich in antioxidants, and is used as cooking oil. It is also exported for use in making soap, moisturizers, and lotions. For more on West Africa, go to "The Nok of Nigeria."

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Archaeology News - March 21, 2016

BANGKOK, THAILAND—Human remains believed to date back 2,500 years have been uncovered on the Plain of Jars, located in the central plain of Laos, by a team of archaeologists from Australia and Laos. It has been difficult to study the Plain of Jars in recent years because of unexploded ordnance dating to the 1970s. These remains were found in an ancient burial ground in a region with more than 300 stone jars, stone discs, and markers. Some of the bodies had been buried whole, some burials consisted of bundled bones, and other bones had been placed in ceramic vessels. “With our research, because we’ve been able to uncover a fair amount of human bone—we’ve got seven burials and four probable burials with ceramic jars—so a total of 11 mortuary contexts. We’re hoping we’ll be able to get some really good information about the people,” Dougald O’Reilly of Australian National University told Voice of America News. The researchers plan to conduct isotopic and chemical analysis of the bones. “This discovery marks a significant milestone since archaeological excavations began in the area in the 1930s in collaboration with a French archaeologist,” added Thonglith Luangkhoth, archaeology division director of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism. To read more about Southeast Asia, go to "Letter from Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

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Archaeology News - March 21, 2016

SLIGO, IRELAND—A butchered brown bear bone discovered in Alice and Gwendoline Cave in County Clare in 1903 has been dated to 12,500 years ago. The knee bone, or patella, had been stored with other bones and artifacts from the cave in the National Museum of Ireland since the 1920s. “Archaeologists have been searching for the Irish Palaeolithic since the nineteenth century, and now, finally, the first piece of the jigsaw has been revealed. This find adds a new chapter to the human history of Ireland,” archaeologist Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology Sligo said in a press release. Until this date had been confirmed for the knee bone, the oldest known site on Ireland had been at Mount Sandel in County Derry, which dates to 8000 B.C. “Yes, we expected a prehistoric date, but the Palaeolithic result took us completely by surprise,” Dowd said. And three separate bone specialists confirmed that the cut marks had been made on fresh bone. “The bone was in fresh condition meaning that people were carrying out activities in the immediate vicinity—possibly butchering a bear inside the cave or at the cave entrance,” Dowd explained. For more, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

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Archaeology News - March 18, 2016

DORDOGNE, FRANCE—Archaeologists working at the Cantalouette site in southwestern France have discovered a stone engraving dating to 31,000 to 35,000 years ago that they believe depicts a bird, according to a press release from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap). The engraving was carried out during the Aurignacian period, when modern humans arrived in western Europe. The image was engraved using a “sunk relief” technique that was rarely used in Paleolithic art and was identified through microscopic and 3D analyses. The archaeologists, who include Illuminada Ortega and Laurence Bourguignon of Inrap, argue that the bird’s posture in the image suggests it is either drinking, courting, or about to fly off. To read about Paleolithic cave paintings in France, go to “A Chauvet Primer.”

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Archaeology News - March 18, 2016

RANDERS, DENMARK—A gilt bronze buckle dating to more than 1,000 years ago has been found buried with a woman in a Viking grave in west Denmark. Determining the origin of the 2.4-inch-wide buckle has been a major challenge, according to archaeologist Ernst Stidsing of the Museum of East Jutland. Stidsing sent photos of the buckle to a colleague who was stumped and who sent them on to other experts. They agreed that it was from the British Isles, but were divided on exactly which part—some said Ireland, others the south of Scotland. They agreed, however, that the disc was originally a decoration on a religious box and was only used as a buckle after it was stolen. "It’s from a monastery or a church, and not necessarily Christian. But it’s very likely stolen goods—such objects were not traded,” Stidsing told ScienceNordic. “The Vikings didn’t come to own this sort of thing by honest means." The grave was dated to the tenth century A.D., and experts believe the buckle is from around 800 A.D. It is unclear how the buckle got to Denmark, though it is possible the woman was originally from Norway and obtained it there. To read more about archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

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Archaeology News - March 18, 2016

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A new genetic study of Melanesians shows that they retain traces of archaic DNA inherited from both Neanderthals and Denisovans, a recently discovered extinct human species. Known from sparse skeletal remains found in Siberia's Denisova Cave, the Denisovans probably interbred with modern humans over a relatively short time span. “Denisovans are the only species of archaic humans about whom we know less from fossil evidence and more from where their genes show up in modern humans,” University of Washington evolutionary geneticist Joshua Akey said in a press release. He and his colleagues have shown that Denisovan genes make up between two to four percent of a native Melanesian’s DNA. Thus far, Denisovan DNA has only been detected in the genomes of people from Oceania. To read more about our extinct relatives, go to "Denisovan DNA."

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