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New Thoughts on Chile’s Ancient Desert Structures

November 9, 2018

ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE—Live Science reports that Catherine Perlès of the Université Paris Nanterre and Lautaro Nuñez of Chile’s Universidad Católica del Norte reevaluated two archaeological sites located less than one mile apart from each other in the Atacama Desert. One of the two sites, a ceremonial complex last excavated in 2015, flourished between 1200 and 500 B.C., and features massive stone monuments, infant burials, mortars for preparing food and pigments, and artifacts made of gold and materials imported from the Amazon and Pacific regions. The older of the two sites, constructed some 5,000 years ago, was originally thought to have been a settlement when it was excavated in 1985. But Perlès and Nuñez say its structures, with vertical stones and capping slabs, are similar to those at the nearby ceremonial complex and probably served a similar purpose. Many of its mortars and grinding stones were also marked with red pigment, they add. The researchers suggest the sites were built by small groups of people who found enough water and food to survive in the desert, and came together to build the sites, perhaps for religious purposes. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Atacama’s Decaying Mummies.”

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2,000-Year-Old Repair Revealed on Wooden Bowl

November 9, 2018

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that work to conserve a wooden bowl discovered in a well under the floor of a broch on the Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay has revealed a repaired crack. Conservators at AOC Archaeology extracted the bowl from a block of mud that had preserved it, and found it had been carved from an alder tree log. When the bowl cracked, it was repaired with a staple and strips of bronze that serve as wood rivets. Martin Carruthers of the University of Highlands and Islands said wooden bowls and other wooden objects may have been more common in Iron Age Orkney than previously thought, since the islands are mostly free of trees. The repair, however, suggests the wooden bowl was a valued object. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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Engraved Stones Unearthed in Cairo

November 9, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced the discovery of several inscribed fragments of stone in the Matariya neighborhood of Cairo, which was once part of the ancient city of Heliopolis. Most of the ancient structures in Heliopolis were dismantled and reused to build the city of Cairo during the medieval period. Egyptologist Dietrich Raue of the University of Lepipzig said one of the inscriptions dating to the Later Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., mentions that the deity Atum was responsible for the flooding of the Nile River. The oldest of the inscriptions dates back some 4,000 years. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Let Them Eat Soup.”

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17th-Century Palisade Uncovered in Quebec City

November 8, 2018

QUEBEC CITY, CANADA—According to CBC News, renovations of a building on Sainte-Ursule Street in Quebec City have revealed wooden fortifications thought to have been designed by French military engineer Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours and constructed in 1693 to protect the colony of New France after the Battle of Quebec in 1690. The remains of the stockade, preserved in clay and water, stretch about 65 feet in length. Archaeologist Jean-Yves Pintal said the structure, built to withstand heavy artillery and cannon balls, at one time stood nearly 13 feet tall, and was anchored in a trench filled with sand. In 1745, under a growing threat of British invasion, the wooden palisade was replaced with stone walls. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Off the Grid: Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal.”

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Possibly Embalmed Heads Unearthed in France

November 8, 2018

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE—Live Science reports that scientists led by archaeologist Réjane Roure of Paul Valéry University examined thousands of Iron Age skull fragments recovered from the fortified Celtic site of Le Cailar, which is located on a lagoon of the Rhône River. The researchers estimate the fragments, which date to the third century B.C., represented about 50 borken-up skulls. Weapons were found alongside the bones. Chemical analysis of 11 of the skulls detected conifer resin in six of them, suggesting the heads had been embalmed. Roure and his team think the weapons and embalmed heads may have been put on display in a large, open space near the settlement gate, where they would have been seen by visiting Mediterranean traders. Ancient Greek and Roman sources claimed that Celts living in Gaul decapitated their enemies after battle and hung the heads around their horses’ necks as trophies. Iron Age sculptures depicting the practice have been found in southern France. Roure said sources also indicate the Celts displayed the heads in front of their homes “to increase their status and power, and to frighten their enemies.” For more, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt.”

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Rock Art in Indonesia Dated to 40,000 Years Ago

November 8, 2018

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The Guardian, images of animals discovered in Indonesian Borneo’s Lubang Jeriji Saléh Cave could be at least 40,000 years old, based upon uranium series analysis of calcite on the limestone cave walls. The dates suggest the images are some 4,500 years older than cave art depicting animals found on the nearby island of Sulawesi. The three animals, drawn with reddish-orange ochre, are thought to be Bornean banteng, a type of wild cattle that still lives on the island. Hand stencils were created above and between the images of the animals. To read about the discovery of cave art on Sulawesi, go to “On the Origins of Art.”

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What Caused Skeletal Abnormalities in Early Humans?

November 7, 2018

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis has examined data on the skeletal deformations of 66 individuals who lived within the last 200,000 years in the Middle East and Eurasia, according to a report in Science Magazine, and found that about two-thirds of their abnormalities occur in less than one percent of modern humans. Trinkaus suggests that early humans may have suffered a higher frequency of birth defects, since it would be extremely unlikely that such rare conditions would not only be preserved, but then discovered by archaeologists in the numbers that they have been. Perhaps, he noted, as other researchers have suggested, people born with abnormalities were seen as shamans and given careful burials that made their bodies more likely to be preserved. A lack of nutrients during pregnancy and early childhood could also have left marks on skeletons. But Trinkaus says some of the disorders affected only one side of the body, and many were found in burials that did not receive special treatment. Most early humans are believed to have have lived in small, isolated populations, he said, which could have led to inbreeding and harmful mutations. He also points out many of these conditions would have been debilitating, requiring care and social support in order for the individuals to have survived for as long as they did. To read about one of the burials including skeletons with physical abnormalities, go to “Alternative Deathstyles.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Ax Discovered in Virginia

November 7, 2018

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA—The Washington Post reports that a 6,000-year-old ax-head made of green stone has been recovered from a ridge overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia. Two teens volunteering on an archaeological dig on the grounds of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate retrieved the seven-inch-long tool from a sifting screen. “Artifacts such as this are a vital resource for helping us learn about the diverse communities who shaped this landscape throughout its long history,” said Sean Devlin, curator of archaeological collections at Mount Vernon. He explained that the tool was probably first shaped with a hammer stone, then a smoother cutting surface was produced with a harder stone. A grinding stone may have been used to cut a grove to attach a handle. Devlin thinks the people who made the ax may have traveled down the Potomac River seasonally, carrying the tool for cutting or carving wood. To read about discoveries dating to the Colonial period in Virginia, go to Jamestown's VIPs.

Categories: Blog

2,000-Year-Old Wine Reportedly Found in China

November 7, 2018

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—According to a Xinhua report, nearly a gallon of liquid believed to be rice wine was discovered in a bronze pot in a large Western Han Dynasty tomb in central China. Shi Jiazhen of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Luoyang said the transparent yellow liquid still smells like wine, but will be chemically analyzed to determine its ingredients. During the Western Han period, from 202 B.C. to A.D. 8, alcoholic beverages were made from rice or sorghum, and were stored in elaborate bronze containers for use in ceremonies and rituals. The vessel containing the liquid was one of two large bronze items in the tomb. The other is a lamp shaped like a wild goose. For more on alcoholic beverages in the archaeological record, go to “French Wine, Italian Vine.”

Categories: Blog

Archaic Period Statue Fragments Unearthed in Greece

November 6, 2018

ATHENS, GREECE—According to an Associated Press report, four pieces of life-sized statues and a triangular statue base have been discovered in a farmer’s field in central Greece, near the town of Atalanti. The farmer alerted authorities after uncovering the first torso of a statue of a young man, or kouros. Archaeological investigation also revealed seven graves thought to date to the fifth century B.C. To read about a statue found with the Antikythera shipwreck, go to “Bronze Beauty.”

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Large-Scale Tar Production May Have Fueled Viking Expansion

November 6, 2018

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Industrial-scale production of tar in the eighth-century A.D. allowed the Vikings to waterproof large numbers of ships and raid other parts of Europe, according to a report in The Guardian. Andreas Hennius of Uppsala University says that pits uncovered during a road construction project and dated to between A.D. 680 and 900 were not used for making charcoal, as had been previously thought, but instead for tar manufacture. The pits, discovered near pine forests, were filled with pine wood, covered with turf, and set on fire. Each production cycle could have resulted in about 80 gallons of tar, Hennius said. Smaller tar kilns dating to between A.D. 100 and 400 have also been found. For more, go to “The First Vikings.”

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Possible Prehistoric Smooth Flooring Found in Turks and Caicos

November 6, 2018

COCKBURN TOWN, TURKS AND CAICOS—Turks and Caicos Weekly News reports that a recent excavation in the Long Bay Hills area of the island of Providenciales continued the investigation of a Lucayan settlement thought to date to at least as early as the fourteenth century. Archaeologist Shaun Sullivan said the Lucayans may have carried sandy clay from a nearby estuary to create smooth living surfaces. Remains of shellfish, turtles, and possibly iguanas and hutia, a rodent-like creature, were also recovered. “At other Lucayan sites in these islands there was a far greater variety of shell but this one seems to be focused on conch, maybe due to the concentration of conch in the area and the ease with which they could obtain them,” Sullivan explained. Analysis of minerals in the pottery from the site could help the researchers determine whether the Lucayans traded with peoples living on the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Pirates of the Original Panama Canal.”

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Roman Latrine Mosaic Uncovered in Turkey

November 3, 2018

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—Figurative mosaics dating to the second century A.D. have been uncovered in a public toilet at the site of Antiochia ad Cragum, according to a report in Live Science. Located on Turkey's southern coast, Antiochia ad Cragum was an important Roman commercial center. Birol Can of Uşak University in Turkey said the public toilet was next to the city’s council house, and probably accommodated large crowds of men. The two images in the latrine’s flooring riff on well-known myths, explained Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska. In one image, Narcissus is shown staring at his own phallus, rather than at the usual reflection of his face. The other image features Ganymede, who, according to tradition, was kidnapped by Zeus, who had taken the form of an eagle, and made to serve as a cupbearer to the gods. Ganymede is usually depicted in Roman art as a youth holding a stick and rolling a hoop as a toy. In the picture in the latrine, however, he is shown holding a sponge with tongs, perhaps for wiping down the facility. And Zeus, in the form of a heron, is shown sponging Ganymede. “You have to understand the myths to make it really come alive, but bathroom humor is kind of universal as it turns out,” Hoff concluded. To read in-depth about Roman mosaics discovered at another site in southern Turkey, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Castle Site Studied in Poland

November 3, 2018

ŻELECHÓW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that researchers have investigated the site of a late medieval castle in eastern Poland using lidar and other non-invasive scanning methods. “We knew that the castle existed, although information about its location, size, and construction was not preserved anywhere,” said Wojciech Bis of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Most of the written sources concerning the castle, which belonged to the noble Ciołek family, were destroyed during World War II, he explained. The researchers had expected to find traces of a massive stone structure, so they were surprised when testing revealed an oak and earth rampart reinforced with stone and surrounded by a moat. High groundwater levels preserved much of the wood, dated to about 1466, including door seats, beams from the external walls, and boards from the internal walls. A massive stone foundation at the site may have supported a brick mansion for the Clołek family to live in, Bis added. And, decorative stone tiles from several furnaces have been uncovered in the living quarters. Traces of fires and a cannonball dating to around the time the site was abandoned in the early sixteenth century have also been found. To read in-depth about a medieval Anglo-Saxon castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Early Neolithic Figurine Found in Bulgaria

November 3, 2018

VIDIN, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the upper part of an 8,000-year-old figurine thought to represent a mother goddess has been unearthed in northwestern Bulgaria. “The face of the ceramic head [features] the typical stylized depictions of the eyes, the nose,” said archaeologist Georgi Ganetsovski of the Regional Museum of History in Vratsa. “What we at first thought to be some kind of decoration turned out to be [the depiction of] a veil covering the head, with ornaments along its edges.” The sculpture, recovered from a large dugout dwelling, is thought to have been made by the region’s first agriculturalists. Other artifacts recovered from the site include pottery discs that may have been used for rituals, an arrow with a broken bone tip that may have been used for fishing, retouched flint tools, bone tools, pottery vessels, a ceramic cone, and a ceramic spindle whorl. For more on archaeology relating to Europe's first farmers, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

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Teeth Offer Window Into Neanderthal Childhoods

November 2, 2018

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Science Magazine reports that Tanya Smith of Griffith University used teeth to investigate the effects of climate and environment on the growth of two Neanderthal children who lived in southeastern France's Rhone Valley some 250,000 years ago. Smith and her colleagues examined thin sections of the Neanderthals’ tooth enamel with a polarized light microscope, and compared them to samples obtained from the teeth of a modern human child who lived at the same site in the Rhone Valley about 5,400 years ago. Markers for stress in the daily growth lines of the enamel indicate that both Neanderthal children experienced frequent illnesses while toddlers. Chemical analysis of the amount of barium in their teeth suggests Neanderthal mothers weaned them at the age of two-and-a-half, which is about the same age to which modern human hunter-gatherers are known to nurse their children. Oxygen isotope analysis appears to show that the Neanderthal children experienced cooler winters and greater climate variation than the modern human child did, even though they lived in the same area. Finally, both Neanderthal children were exposed to lead at least twice, perhaps from food or smoky fires contaminated by two nearby lead mines. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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Fossils Offer Insights Into Possible Route Out of Africa

November 2, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—According to a Science News report, stone tools and fossils of antelopes, elephants, and other animals have been uncovered at Saudi Arabia’s arid Ti’s al Ghadah site, suggesting that the region was capable of supporting life between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago. Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his colleagues analyzed carbon and oxygen isotopes in the animals’ teeth, and found evidence that the environment was similar to a savanna, since the animals likely ate grasses and drank water from sources fed by rainfall. And, possible butchery marks have been found on two of the animal fossils. The researchers therefore suggest early humans would not have had to adapt to harsh conditions in order to cross the Arabian Peninsula after leaving Africa. For more on archaeology of the Arabian Peninsula, go to “Hot Property.”

Categories: Blog

Decorations Revealed on Conserved Spanish Armor

November 2, 2018

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—The Pensacola News Journal reports that conservation of a Spanish breastplate that dates back at least 450 years has revealed decorative details on its surface. Recovered from the site of the Emanuel Point I shipwreck in 1996, the armor is thought to have been worn by a conquistador in Tristan de Luna’s army in 1559. At the time, the armor was probably about one-tenth to one-quarter of an inch thick. Now, after years underwater, the iron has been converted into iron sulfide measuring only about one-fiftieth of an inch thick. Concretions on its surface, however, measuring up to three inches thick preserved its shape. John Bratten of the University of West Florida said he poured epoxy into the back of the armor and left it to harden for several years to make a cast. Student James Gazaway has continued to clean and conserve the breastplate over the past year. “Right around the neckline there’s four parallel rows of lines about one millimeter apart,” he said. “Very precise, definitely inscribed, and part of the original decoration work on the piece.” To read in-depth about exploration of a shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico, go to “All Hands on Deck.”

Categories: Blog

Wreckage of German Warships Surveyed Near Scotland

November 2, 2018

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that members of the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA) have been working with professionals from Sula Diving and volunteer divers from around the world to survey World War I–era ships resting at the bottom of Scapa Flow. When the war ended, Germany’s High Seas Fleet was interned at the British Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, but Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, in an effort to keep the ships from being seized by the Allies, managed to sink 50 of the 74 vessels. Many of these wrecks were later salvaged. Pete Higgins of ORCA said masts, searchlights, plating, small steam pinnaces, funnels, and spotting tops have been found in the remaining underwater scrap piles. To read about World War II–era shipwrecks discovered in the Pacific, go to “Wrecks of the Pacific Theater.”

Categories: Blog

Megalithic Statues Discovered in Indonesia

November 1, 2018

JAYAPURA, PAPUA—Antara News reports that two megalithic statues standing about three feet tall and weighing about 110 pounds each have been discovered at the Srobu Mountain site in Indonesia’s Papua Province on the island of New Guinea. Archaeologist Erlin Novita Idje Djami said the statues are in the Polynesian style, but are different from other known megalithic statues in the region. Decorated pottery fragments, stone axes, and shell tools estimated to be about 3,800 years old were also recovered from the site, which is located on a cape in Youtefa Gulf. To read about a recent discovery on Indonesia's Alor Island, go to “Old Woman and the Sea.”

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