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Archaeology News - February 24, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—It had been thought that children only learn to use tools from other humans, but a new study conducted at the University of Birmingham by Eva Reindl and Claudio Tennie has shown that, like wild chimpanzees and orangutans, human children can invent tool behavior. The researchers asked 50 children between two-and-a-half and three years old to solve 12 problems similar to those faced by great apes, such as retrieving objects from a small box with a stick. They found that in 11 of the tasks, the children, who were provided with the raw materials but not told they would need to use a tool, invented the correct tool behavior. “While it is true that more sophisticated forms of human tool use indeed require social learning, we have identified a range of basic tool behaviors which seem not to. Using great ape tasks, we could show that these roots of human tool culture are shared by great apes, including humans, and potentially also their last common ancestor,” Reindl said in a press release. For more on tool use by great apes, go to "Cultured Cousins?"

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Archaeology News - February 24, 2016

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A collection of 3,000-year-old textiles, including fragments of imported linen and sheep’s wool, has been discovered in the copper mines at ancient Timna by a team from Tel Aviv University. “We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes, and cords,” team leader Erez Ben-Yosef said in a press release. “The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process,” he explained. Seeds were also well preserved in the arid conditions of the mines. Ben-Yosef adds that it is the first time that seeds from this period have been discovered uncharred and in large quantities. “This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been,” Ben-Yosef said. For more on textiles, go to "Peru's Mummy Bundles."

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Archaeology News - February 24, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—Thomas E. Emerson and Kristin M. Hedman of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey-Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois suggest that internal conflict between social, political, ethnic, and religious factions living at Cahokia may have been responsible for its collapse. They say that osteological evidence and information from isotopic analysis collected from human remains unearthed at the pre-Columbian city indicate that as many as one-third of the people living at Cahokia were immigrants. “There is no smoking gun if you want to pin Cahokia’s dissolution on environmental factors.…It makes more sense, given the heterogeneous population with differences in language, and social, religious, and political cultures to look to internal dissension at Cahokia as the underlying reason,” Emerson said in a press release. For more on Cahokia, go to "Mississippian Burning."

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Archaeology News - February 23, 2016

PANAMÁ CITY, PANAMÁ—According to a press release from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a new genetic study of 408 Panamanian men reveals that overall, only 22 percent of them carry Y-chromosomes of native origin. Sixty percent of the men’s Y-chromosomes, which are inherited from fathers, originated in West Eurasia and North Africa. Six percent of the Y-chromosomes came from sub-Saharan Africa, and two percent came from South Asia. In contrast, most of the men’s mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the maternal line, was of indigenous origin. Very few of the men had European mitochondrial DNA. The team of geneticists, including Antonio Torroni of the University of Pavia, also found that the percentage of Panamanian men with Eurasian Y-chromosomes varied regionally. In the early sixteenth century, most of the Spaniards who came to Panama settled on the Pacific coast, driving the indigenous groups that survived the invasion to the mountains and the Caribbean coast. Today, as many as 70 percent of Panamanian men living on the Pacific coast have Eurasian Y-chromosomes. Yet on the Caribbean side, as many as 88 percent of men carry indigenous Y-chromosomes. And as many as 44 percent of the men living in a region inhabited by escaped slaves now carry sub-Saharan Y-chromosomes. To read in-depth about archaeology in Panama, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."

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Archaeology News - February 23, 2016

DORSET, ENGLAND—Human remains have been unearthed at the site of Dorchester Prison, where the writer Thomas Hardy, who was 16 years old at the time, witnessed the hanging of Martha Brown in August 1856. Brown had been convicted of killing her violent husband, and some think that her story inspired Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which was published in 1891. Hardy enthusiasts reportedly think that the newly discovered remains may be Brown. “At this stage, it is not possible to determine whether the remains are male or female, as the remains have not been removed for recording or analysis,” a spokesperson for Cotswold Archaeology told The Guardian. To read more about historical archaeology in Britain, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."

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Archaeology News - February 23, 2016

CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of American archaeologists led by Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, working with Egyptian archaeologists, discovered the 12th Dynasty tomb of King Senusret I’s stamp bearer to the south of his pyramid. “The mission has been working on documenting and preserving the result of illicit digs which took place after the 25th of January 2011 turmoil,” Ministry of Antiquities Mamdouh El-Damaty told the Luxor Times. Mohamed Youssef, director of the Dahshur necropolis, told Ahram Online that the tomb had been carved into the bedrock and has a mud brick ramp. Engravings on the tomb walls depict the stamp bearer hunting, at work, and with his family. Parcak is also training Egyptian archaeologists in the use of satellites to protect archaeological sites. To read in-depth about recent Egyptological discoveries, go to "The Cult of Amun."

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Archaeology News - February 23, 2016

JERUSALEM—The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library of the Israel Antiquities Authority will be linked to the Qumran Lexicon Project of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in a project that will create a virtual workspace for scholars to work together to study the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls, discovered between 1946 and 1956 in the Qumran Caves, consist of religious literature, including texts of the modern Hebrew Bible, that date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. Researchers will be able to access the original texts of the scrolls, translations, high-resolution images, dictionary entries, and parallel texts. Advanced digital tools will also be developed to help scholars find joins in the thousands of manuscript fragments. To read about a major dig in Israel, go to "Excavating Tel Kedesh."

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Archaeology News - February 22, 2016

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—A study of the food web on Sanak Island, Alaska, has been conducted by a team of ecologists and archaeologists led by Jennifer Dunne of the Santa Fe Institute. “It’s the first highly detailed ecological network data to include humans,” Dunne said in a press release. The team studied ecological data, bones and shells from ancient middens on the island, and collected oral histories from Aleut elders. The researchers found that over a period of 7,000 years, the Sanak Aleuts used about one quarter of the species, which is far more species than other predators in the food web. And when a favored prey decreased in population due to hunting or environmental conditions, the Aleuts switched to an alternative food source, allowing the prey populations to bounce back. “It’s a very stabilizing behavior in the system,” Dunne explained. Ancient technologies such as fish hooks, spears, and kayaks did not put the kind of pressure on food webs that modern fisheries do, however. Intensive fishing now drives the value of prey up, leading to increased harvesting. For more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

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Archaeology News - February 22, 2016

LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO—New dates have been obtained for fossils discovered in Ethiopia’s Chorora Formation. Argon dating and paleomagnetic methods, combined with fieldwork, volcanic ash chemistry, and geochronology, suggest that the nine gorilla-like teeth of Chororapithecus abyssinicus, a common ancestor of apes and humans, are younger than previously thought. “Our analysis of C. abyssinicus fossils reveals the ape to be only eight million years old, younger than previously thought. This is the time period when human and African ape lines were thought to have split, but no fossils from this period had been found until now,” geologist Giday WoldeGabriel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a press release. For more, go to "Cultured Cousins?"

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Archaeology News - February 22, 2016

ATHENS, GEORGIA—Today’s cultivated peanut plants are a hybrid of two very similar wild plants, Arachis duranensis and Arachis ipaensis. So, researchers led by David Bertioli of the Universidade de Brasília and the University of Georgia, working with the International Peanut Genome Initiative, used the genomes of the wild plants as a first step in mapping the two separate sub-genomes carried by the modern peanut. The study showed that one of the sub-genomes of cultivated peanuts is nearly identical to A. ipaensis. “It’s almost as if we had traveled back in time and sampled the same plant that gave rise to cultivated peanuts from the gardens of these ancient people,” Bertioli said in a press release. When the A. ipaensis sample was collected by botanists in 1971, it was growing in a small population in an isolated area of Bolivia. The scientists think that hunter gatherers planted A. ipaensis at the site some 10,000 years ago, and that a bee may have carried out the hybridization. “It’s the only place where A and B genome species have ever been found growing close together,” he said. To learn about how the Incas kept track of crops including peanuts, go to "Reading an Inca Archive."

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Archaeology News - February 22, 2016

KUMAMOTO, JAPAN—Researchers led by Hiroki Obata of Kumamoto University made silicon casts of 4,000-year-old pottery unearthed from the late Jomon Period site of Motonabaru, located in southern Japan. They then used a scanning electron microscope to examine the surfaces of the resulting replicas, and found that the impressions were made by egg cases left by the smoky brown cockroach, or Periplaneta fuliginosa. Native to southern China, the smoky brown cockroach was first identified in Japanese artworks and literature from the eighteenth century. Earlier depictions of roaches were thought to represent domestic varieties. Obata and his colleagues have also found impressions left by the maize weevil in pottery from the site. “The maize weevil is a type of harmful insect that eats stored starch food materials such as acorns or chestnuts, which are known to be typical stored food for that period in Japan. The existence of many maize weevils and cockroaches shows that these ancient humans lived settled lifestyles,” he explained. For more on the history of insects, go to "Ant Explorers."

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Archaeology News - February 19, 2016

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—New research is showing that widespread loss of forests in Madagascar around 1,000 years ago was not caused by climate change, but was the result of deliberate fires set by human settlers. Scientists from MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst made the discovery after studying two stalagmites from a cave in northern Madagascar. Stalagmites absorb water that percolates from the surface into caves, and change in their chemical composition reflects a region's environmental history. The team found that around 1,000 years ago, when cattle were first introduced to the island, carbon isotope ratios in the stalagmites suddenly went from levels consistent with forests to those typical of grasslands. Oxygen isotopes remained unchanged, meaning rainfall and the general climate remained the same. The dramatic shift could only be explained by humans setting fire to the forests to clear land for pasture. "We went in expecting to just tell a climate change story, and were surprised to see a huge carbon isotope change in both stalagmites,” said paleoclimatologist David McGee in an MIT press release. “Both the speed at which this shift occurred and the fact that there’s no real climate signal suggest human involvement.” To read in-depth about archaeology being done on the east coast of Africa, go to "Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast." 

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Archaeology News - February 19, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—Radiocarbon dating of a minute sample of the Tarkhan Dress, an ancient Egyptian linen shirt, has confirmed that it is the oldest known woven garment, having been made between 3484 and 3102 B.C. Originally excavated in 1913 from a First Dynasty tomb at the Tarkhan necropolis south of Cairo, the dress’s dimensions indicate it was made for a teenager or slim woman. Wear on the garment indicates that it was likely used before it was buried. “The survival of highly perishable textiles in the archaeological record is exceptional, the survival of complete, or almost complete, articles of clothing like the Tarkhan Dress is even more remarkable,” said Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology curator Alice Stevenson in a University College London press release. “We’ve always suspected that the dress dated from the First Dynasty but haven’t been able to confirm this as the sample previously needed for testing would have caused too much damage to the dress.” To read more about ancient garments, go to "World's Oldest Pants."

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Archaeology News - February 19, 2016

AMMAN, JORDAN—Specialists from the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project have completed photographing the remains of an ancient wall that together with spurs and sections of a parallel wall runs 93 miles, reports LiveScience. The wall, now largely in ruins, once stood a little over three feet tall, and has some 100 towers built alongside it standing six to twelve feet tall. Given the wall's height, it is unlikely the towers had a defensive purpose. University of Western Australia archaeologist David Kennedy speculates they might have been watch posts or temporary shelters, or even hunters' blinds. The wall itself, dubbed “Khatt Shebib” (or Shebib’s Wall, after a pre-Islamic prince who was traditionally believed to have constructed the site) might have served as a boundary between land used by farming and nomadic peoples. Scholars believe it was probably built sometime between the Nabatean period (312 B.C.-A.D. 106) and the Umayyad period (A.D. 661-750), but more fieldwork is needed to determine its precise function. To read about a massive wall built in the Caucasus, go to "The Shah's Great Wall." 

 

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Archaeology News - February 19, 2016

PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating the Bronze Age site of Must Farm in Cambridgeshire have unearthed a wooden wheel dating from 1100 to 800 B.C. The oldest complete example ever found in Britain, the wheel was discovered amid the remains of houses that had been built on stilts above a wetland, or fen. At some point, the houses were burned and then collapsed into a river, where silt preserved the dwellings' timbers and a number of artifacts. The remains of a horse have also been discovered at the site, and it is possible the wheel belonged to a horse-drawn cart. "The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology, and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago," Historic England's Duncan Wilson told the BBC. To read more about prehistoric archaeology in the British Isles, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age." 

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Archaeology News - February 18, 2016

LATTES, FRANCE—A team of archaeologists has found a structure in southern France that they believe served as a restaurant around 2,100 years ago, after the Romans had conquered the area. The establishment was in the ancient town of Lattara, home to farmers before the arrival of the Romans and a more diversified economy afterward, which created demand for eateries outside the home. “If you’re not growing your own food, where are you going to eat?” archaeologist Benjamin Luley of Gettysburg College told USA Today. “The Romans, in a very practical Roman way, had a very practical solution … a tavern.” In one room, the researchers found indoor gristmills and ovens for baking flatbreads and, in another room across a courtyard, they found benches against the walls and a charcoal-burning hearth in the floor. There were fish bones on the floor of the kitchen and sheep and cattle bones in the courtyard. The researchers also found shards of drinking bowls from Italy as well as debris from large platters. For more on ancient Roman eating habits, go to “The Gladiator Diet.”

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Archaeology News - February 18, 2016

KAZANLAK, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a team has unearthed three Late Roman Graves beneath the 20-foot-tall Otrusha burial mound in the Valley of Thracian Kings. Located in central Bulgaria, the mound was built to hold the remains of Thracian aristocrats who had integrated into Roman society. A landslide at the site last fall led to rescue excavations led by Diana Dimitrova of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology. Her team found two tombs containing skeletal remains, and one containing a cremated individual who had been buried with several artifacts, including a ceramic wine jug and Roman bronze coins minted between A.D. 335 and 378, which were probably buried near the remains in a leather purse. Dimitrova believes there could still be more tombs to be discovered at the Otrusha mound. To read more about Thracian burial sites, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”  

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Archaeology News - February 18, 2016

LOWER SAXONY, GERMANY—The remains of a young man who was buried in an unusual vertical position around 7,000 years ago have been discovered near the village of Groß Fredenwalde, around 50 miles north of Berlin. Researchers believe that the body was put in a standing position into a five-foot-deep pit with its back leaning against the grave wall, and then sand was filled in to a level above the knees. After the man’s upper body was allowed to decay and to be consumed by scavengers, the grave was filled in and sealed. “The burial is unique in central Europe and therefore it is difficult to find specific reasons for such treatment,” Thomas Terberger, the excavation director at the Lower Saxony Department of Historic Preservation, told Discovery News. The site is thought to be among the first real cemeteries in Europe, dating back to a period when Europe was inhabited by hunter-gatherers who tended to move from place to place. For more on archaeology in Germany, go to “World’s Oldest Pretzels,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

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Archaeology News - February 18, 2016

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley that appears to have been occupied by both Paleolithic foraging peoples and early Neolithic farmers. Stone tools at the site strongly resemble those made by the Late Paleolithic Natufian culture, which lasted from about 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. Buildings and many artifacts found at the site, such as shell beads and other examples of jewelry, more closely resemble those found in early agricultural communities. The discovery suggests that people living at the site continued to use Paleolithic-style tools even as they began to adopt agriculture. “Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” said Hebrew University archaeologist Leore Grosman in a press release. To read more about the Natufian-Neolithic transition, go to "Grave of the Middle East's Oldest Witch." 

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Archaeology News - February 17, 2016

 

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—A gold mount dating to the late sixth or early seventh century that was found in a Norfolk field may provide clues to the location of Anglo-Saxon settlements in the area. The piece, found near the town of Fakenham, may be from a sword grip, but experts have been unable to determine its precise function. The BBC reports that, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the item is “similar to sword-grip mounts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial and the Staffordshire Hoard.” Several other items, including a brooch and a belt mount, have been found in the area in recent years, but no sign of Anglo-Saxon dwellings has been found in the village so far. For more, go to “Anglo-Saxon Hoard - Staffordshire, England,” which was one of our Top 10 Discoveries of 2009.

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