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Archaeologists Search for Scotland’s Royal Dockyards

May 19, 2018

AIRTH, SCOTLAND—The Falkirk Herald reports that archaeologists led by historian John Reid are investigating a possible site for the sixteenth-century royal dockyards near Clackmannanshire Bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth. So far the team of researchers has found the foundations of mill buildings next to the channel, a millstone that had been reused as a paver, a corn-drying kiln, a well-built stone sea wall, and posts from a wooden pier. Ships known to have been serviced at the royal dockyards include the Great Michael, flagship of King James IV, and the Margaret, the second ship of the Navy, which was named for the queen, Margaret Tudor. Both ships are thought to have been at the docks in 1513 before sailing to the Battle of Flodden, where James IV was killed. “Although it’s impossible to say for now whether this dates to the right period for James’ docks, we’ve submitted samples of the wood for radiocarbon dating,” said archaeologist Elinor Graham of the University of St. Andrew’s. “We also had a coin from the stone pier, which will need to be looked at by experts, but which might give us a date for its construction, too.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

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DNA Reflects History of Migrations in Southeast Asia

May 19, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Science News reports that a new genetic study supports archaeological and linguistic evidence for at least three major waves of migration into Southeast Asia over a period of 50,000 years. A team of researchers led by Mark Lipson of Harvard Medical School analyzed DNA from 18 individuals whose remains were unearthed at five different archaeological sites in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The bones ranged from 4,100 to 1,700 years old. The first wave of migration brought hunter-gatherers to Southeast Asia some 45,000 years ago. Then rice and millet farming spread into the region with migrants from southern China who mixed with the local hunter-gatherers some 4,500 years ago. The 4,000-year-old samples taken from the farmers who lived at Vietnam’s Man Bac site suggest their ancestors were hunter-gatherers and rice farmers from southern China. A third wave of migration arrived in Myanmar some 3,000 years ago, in Vietnam about 2,000 years ago, and in Thailand within the last 1,000 years. Each of these movements are believed to be associated with different languages spoken today. For more, go to “Settling Southeast Asia.”

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Bronze Age Burial Excavated in England

May 19, 2018

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age burial mound in southwest England has yielded pottery, flint tools, two hammer stones, and a 4,000-year-old intact urn containing cremains, according to a Cornwall Live report. Catherine Frieman of Australian National University said analysis of pieces of bone in the urn could reveal the person’s gender, age, diet, and origins. A twelfth- or thirteenth-century pot containing traces of cooked food was also discovered in the mound. It had been buried under several layers of flat stones. Frieman explained that, by the Middle Ages, two monasteries had been built within view of the barrow, so she was surprised to find what appears to be evidence of non-Christian ritual activity. The nature of the ritual, however, is unknown. Traces of a round house dating to around 500 B.C. were also found near the barrow. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

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Ancient Communities May Have Planted Evergreens

May 18, 2018

EXETER, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that South America’s forests of Araucaria, or monkey puzzle trees, naturally grow on south-facing slopes, but are found everywhere in areas where archaeological sites are found. Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and his colleagues measured levels of different forms of carbon in soil samples, concluding that many of today’s forests could have been planted by Southern Je communities for their timber, fuel, food, and resin. The study indicates that the number of trees expanded between 4,480 and 3,200 years ago, when the region covered by Chile, Brazil, and Argentina experienced an increase in moisture, and again some 800 years ago, when conditions were drier, but when the population of the Southern Je grew as well. Robinson thinks the communities may have modified the soil of the grasslands where they lived, protected seedlings, or even planted trees to establish the forests in places where they otherwise would not have flourished. He added that five of the 19 species of monkey puzzle trees are currently endangered by the practice of logging and encroaching farmland. For more on the relationship between people and the landscape, go to “Letter From California: The Ancient Ecology of Fire.”

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Evidence of Iron-Age Farming Found in England

May 17, 2018

NIDDERDALE, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that evidence of farming before the arrival of the Romans has been found at three sites in North Yorkshire. Wheat and barley were found at the oldest of the sites, which is about 2,000 years old. This site also had hearths, storage pits, hazelnuts, and remains of trees that had been cut back to ground level to stimulate growth. Traces of houses at the sites include paved floors and walls, and two pieces of Romano-British pottery. For more on Iron-Age settlements in England, go to “A Night Out in Leicestershire.”

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Two-Story Homes With Balconies Unearthed in Pompeii

May 17, 2018

POMPEII, ITALY—The Local reports that a row of two-story houses with balconies has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Pots of wine, found lying on their sides, were found on one of the balconies. Archaeologists think they may have been set out to dry in the sun. Unlike the nearby city of Herculaneum, which lies closer to Mt. Vesuvius and was buried under more than 65 feet of ash from the ground up, Pompeii was covered in about 13 feet of falling ash, which preserved fewer of the city’s second stories. The area where the building-lined street was found is being excavated in order to stabilize walls at risk of collapse. The houses will be restored and eventually opened to the public. To read more about Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

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Early “ABCs” Identified on Artifact From an Egyptian Tomb

May 17, 2018

VANCOUVER, CANADA—An inscribed piece of limestone is thought to be the earliest example of our alphabet sequence, according to a Live Science report. Thomas Schneider of the University of British Columbia said three of the words in the 3,400-year-old inscription start with the equivalents of the letters B, C, and D. At the time, he noted, the letter “g” was used to produce the sound we now represent with the letter “c.” So in this case, “B” is for “bibiya-ta,” or “earth snail;” “C” is for “garu,” or “dove;” and “D” is for “da’at,” or kite. Symbols in front of the letters may mean “gecko,” or “lizard,” suggesting the whole phrase read, “and the lizard and the snail, and the dove and the kite.” The stone was discovered in the tomb of an Egyptian foreign affairs official named Sennefer, and although the text was written in hieratic, a form of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, Schneider said the words themselves were Semitic in origin. He thinks the artifact may have been used as a mnemonic device to help Sennefer remember the order of the letters in Eastern Mediterranean languages. Another alphabetic sequence that has since fallen out of use was found on the opposite side of the piece of limestone. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

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Evidence of Donkey Riding Found in Central Israel

May 17, 2018

WINNIPEG, CANADA—Microscopic indentations in a 4,700-year-old donkey’s lower premolars are thought to have been made by a metal bit, offering the oldest-known evidence of donkey riding using such equipment in the Near East, according to a report in Science Magazine. Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba, Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, and their colleagues say the animal had been slaughtered and buried as an offering before the construction of a mudbrick house at the site, in the foothills of central Israel. Horses are thought to have arrived in the region about 1,000 years later, relegating donkeys to beasts of burden led from a tether or a nose ring. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Categories: Blog

Pottery Inscription Provides New Dates for Java Sea Shipwreck

May 17, 2018

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—CNN reports that a team of researchers from the Field Museum of Natural History has analyzed the cargo of a shipwreck discovered in the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia in the 1980s. The ship is now estimated to have sunk in the late twelfth century, while carrying ceramics, cast iron, and luxury trade goods such as elephant tusks and resins used for incense. The wreckage had initially been dated to the late thirteenth century, based upon radiocarbon testing of a single resin sample. But the ocean water is now thought to have affected those test results. The new, more precise, dating of the cargo is significant, according to archaeologist Lisa Niziolek, because it reflects the increase in maritime trade in the twelfth century after the fall of the empire of Srivijaya, which controlled much of the trade in the region, and China’s change in trade policy. “Consequently, the Southern Song dynasty (A.D. 1127–1279) court encouraged Chinese traders to go abroad instead of relying on foreign missions traveling to China,” Niziolek said. New radiocarbon dates and inscriptions on two ceramic box bases helped the team to date the wreck. “This inscription provides a place name, Jianning Fu, which was only assigned that name by the Song government from 1162 until 1278, when it was changed to Jianning Lu by the Yuan dynasty,” Niziolek explained. To read about another Chinese shipwreck, go to “Pirates of the Marine Silk Road.

Categories: Blog

Ice Core Study Tracks Roman Lead Levels

May 16, 2018

RENO, NEVADA—According to a Science Magazine report, evidence of Roman-era air pollution trapped in Greenland’s ice cap has been analyzed in detail by an international team of researchers led by Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford and Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute. The experts examined layers of ice measuring some 1,300 feet deep, and obtained about 12 measurements of lead levels trapped in the ice for each year from 1100 B.C. to A.D. 800. The resulting 1,900-year timeline offers a detailed picture of pollution related to smelting silver, dust, and volcanic emissions. The study suggests that Roman lead pollution peaked in the first century A.D., during the height of the Empire when many silver coins were minted, and dropped dramatically around the year 165, likely due to the devastation brought by the Antonine Plague. A third-century drop has been attributed to the political instability brought on by the so-called Plague of Cyprian. The scientists also recorded dips in the level of lead pollution during times of war in Spain, where a lot of lead-silver smelting took place. For more on Roman use of silver, go to “Spain’s Silver Boom.”

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Roman Villa Unearthed in Eastern Bulgaria

May 16, 2018

GURKOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a Roman mansion dated to the third or fourth century A.D. has been found in eastern Bulgaria, about 18 miles from the ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana. Archaeologists led by Mariya Kamisheva of the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History unearthed a bath with a well-preserved pool, and three of the house’s rooms, which covered more than 1,000 square feet, during rescue excavations after a looter’s tunnel was found at the site. The villa also had underfloor heating, and murals on its walls. Two Roman coins from the site date to the beginning of the fourth century A.D. The team also recovered a Turkish coin from the Ottoman period. Kamisheva thinks the house may have been partly destroyed at that time. The excavations will continue this year. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

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Hill Fort Spotted Under Poland’s “Arian Tower”

May 16, 2018

KRYNICA, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, the tomb of an early seventeenth-century nobleman may have been built on top of an early medieval hill fort. Anna Kubicka of Wroclaw University of Science and Technology, and Konrad Grochecki of Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, collected data and created a map of the site using measurements made with airborne laser scanning equipment. The map revealed outlines of two lines of ramparts, one on the lower part of the hill, and one on the surface of the steeper, higher part, where the pyramid-shaped mausoleum had been built for Pawel Orzechowski, chamberlain of Chelm. At that time, the hill was referred to as a “horodysko,” or a place where a fort once stood. Other documents state that Orzechowski wanted to be buried in the mausoleum “together with his ancestors.” As an Arian, who rejected Christian Trinitarian doctrine, Orzechowski would not have been eligible for burial in a Catholic cemetery. Renovation of the mausoleum, which was damaged during World War II, and archaeological investigations of the possible fort are being planned. For more, go to “Off The Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Categories: Blog

Footprints in Saudi Arabia Dated to 85,000 Years Ago

May 16, 2018

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA—Gulf News reports that footprints made by several adults have been found by an international team of researchers in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Tabuk region, and dated to at least 85,000 years ago. The fossil of an adult human finger dated to about 90,000 years ago was also recently discovered in the region. Although the area is now a desert, the footprints were made on the banks of an ancient freshwater lake bed, and suggest that the hunter-gatherers may have been fishing. The age of the footprints also supports the idea that modern humans may have left Africa earlier than previously thought, and traveled through Sinai. To read about another recent discovery in Saudia Arabia, go to “Hot Property.”

Categories: Blog

Study Suggests Homo naledi Had a Small, Powerful Brain

May 16, 2018

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—According to a report in The Independent, a new study suggests that Homo naledi, a hominin that lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, may have been highly intelligent. Its fossils, discovered in a cave in South Africa in 2015, exhibit a mix of primitive and advanced characteristics, including a small brain about the size of an orange, hands that may have been able to make tools, and small feet. In addition, the fossils were recovered from a hard-to-reach cave chamber, which suggests Homo naledi may have engaged in complex behaviors such as deliberate disposal of the dead. Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand and Ralph Holloway of Columbia University pieced together Homo naledi skull fragments and created a digital reconstruction of skull interiors, in order to learn more about the creatures’ brains. The scans showed complexity in areas of the Homo naledi brains linked to emotions in modern humans, and a large frontal lobe, an area associated with language. “Here we have a violation of that sacred cow—the idea there was this link between ever-increasing brain size paralleled with ever-increasing complexity,” Berger said. To read about the discovery of Homo naledi fossils, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Categories: Blog

Triumphal Arch Uncovered in Bulgaria

May 16, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the foundations of a massive, first-century A.D. triumphal arch have been uncovered in the ancient city of Philipopolis. The bases of the structure were discovered on either side of a Roman road measuring about 23 feet wide, near an inscription glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian that dates to A.D. 303. So far, the excavation team, led by Elena Bozhinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, and Kamen Stanev of the Cyril and Methodius Scientific Center, has uncovered one side of the structure to a depth of about six feet. “The building material is sandstone because at the time the Romans had not started to process the local syenite,” Bozhinova said. Large holes in the blocks held cramp irons covered in lead that held the stones together. Architectural fragments recovered earlier in the dig are now thought to be part of the arch’s upper elements. The arch is thought to have collapsed during an earthquake, and its large stone blocks reused in a building set in the middle of the Roman road. Bozhinova said the remains of this arch are in better condition than the arch built at the ancient city’s Eastern Gate. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

Roman Army Fittings Found in Poland

May 16, 2018

KUJAWY, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that fragments of equestrian gear and Roman soldiers’ uniforms have been discovered in north-central Poland, outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Bartosz Kontny of the University of Warsaw said the fittings had been made in the shapes of male and female genitalia. “These amulets were believed to ensure happiness and protect against evil forces,” he said. One artifact, made of gold-plated copper, would have been worn on a hip belt. It depicts the spear of a beneficiarius, a high-ranking army officer, as a symbol of his power. Similar artifacts have been found in central Germany, where the Roman army is known to have been. Kontny thinks the soldiers may have been in Poland to protect the amber trade. “The Romans valued this material,” he said. The Romans may have also ventured into Poland from Germany while recruiting soldiers to assist the Vandals in their fight against the Suebi. “According to the records of the Roman historian Cassius Dion, the Emperor Domitian sent a hundred riders to help them,” Kontny said. “It is possible that some of the objects we discovered were parts of equipment of one of those riders.” To read about evidence of a Roman military camp found in Germany, go to “Caesar’s Gallic Outpost.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Greek Artifacts Uncovered in Slovakia

May 15, 2018

NITRA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that bronze pieces of a Greek warrior’s breastplate have been unearthed near an ancient Celtic fortified settlement in southern Slovakia. Regine Thomas of Cologne University digitized and analyzed the pieces, and determined they were once part of a relief that depicted the mythical battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. The pieces are thought to have been made in southern Italy in the middle of the fourth century B.C. “It is the oldest original Greek art relic in the area of Slovakia,” said Karol Pieta of the Slovak Archaeological Institute. He thinks the bronze artifacts may have traveled with Celtic warriors, who could have plundered them from the Greeks early in the third century B.C. The spot where the breastplate pieces were found is said to have been used by the Celts for ritual sacrifices. Archaeologists uncovered a sacrificial hole containing burned human and animal bones, bracelets made of blue glass, a spur, and a lot of pottery fragments. The Celts are thought to have thrown their beverage containers into a bonfire after sacrificial feasts. To read about a Celtic burial in France, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt.”

Categories: Blog

Peach Pits May Date to Reign of Japan’s Queen Himiko

May 15, 2018

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—Peach pits unearthed at the Makimuku archaeological site in western Japan have been radiocarbon dated to between 135 and 230 A.D., according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. Some researchers think the dates suggest the nearly 3,000 peach pits, baskets, pots, plants, and animal bones found in a pit may have been used in rituals by the people of the Yamataikoku kingdom, which was ruled by Queen Himiko, who died in A.D. 248. “The dates derived by scientific analysis fell into the range we expected,” said Kaoru Terasawa of the Research Center of the Makimukugaku. “Along with the archaeological analysis based on the age of potteries, the age of the large building was verified to be from the first half of the third century.” Other scholars think the kingdom, which was mentioned in an ancient history of China, was not located in Nara Prefecture, on the island of Honshu, but to the south, on the island of Kyushu. “It is still not definitely certain whether the carbon dating data actually indicates the age of the building itself,” countered archaeologist Chuhei Takashima of Saga Women’s Junior College. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Iraq’s Ancient City of Mardaman Identified

May 15, 2018

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a site in northern Iraq has been identified as containing the ruins of the lost city of Mardaman. Philologist Betina Faist of the University of Heidelberg found the city’s name in the texts of 92 cuneiform tablets that were discovered in a pottery vessel by a team of archaeologists from the University of Tübingen, who started excavating the site in 2013. The tablets date to about 1250 B.C., when the city was part of the Assyrian Empire and strategically positioned on trade routes connecting Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Syria. Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen suggests the tablets may have been buried at the palace site around the time the building was destroyed, since the jar was covered with a thick layer of clay that protected and preserved the tablets. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Categories: Blog

Greek Inscriptions Found at Roman-Era Temple in Egypt

May 15, 2018

AL-HAG ALI, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, a temple built during the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius in the second century A.D. has been discovered in Egypt’s western desert. The excavation team has uncovered the foundations of a large, limestone building, and a long piece of limestone that had been inscribed in Greek and decorated with an image of the sun disc surrounded by cobras. The painting is thought to have been part of the entrance to the temple. To read about a recent reanalysis of mummies found in Egypt, go to “We Are Family.”

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