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Early Burial Rituals Studied in Brazil

December 1, 2016

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by André Strauss of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is investigating some of the earliest burial rituals in the New World at the site of Lapa do Santo in east-central Brazil. Some 10,600 years ago, the dead were buried intact within the large limestone cave. Then, about 1,000 years later, Strauss and his colleagues say, fresh corpses were dismembered and defleshed before burial. Even teeth were removed from skulls. Marks on some of the bones indicate that they were burned or even cannibalized before being placed inside a skull and buried without gravestones or grave goods. Some 8,000 years ago, burial practices changed again, and bones were not manipulated—the scientists found pits filled with the disarticulated bones of single individuals. Strauss suggests the changing ritual behaviors indicate that the groups living in the region of Lapa do Santo were more diverse and sophisticated than had been believed. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Categories: Blog

Priest Hole Mapped in English Tudor Country House

December 1, 2016

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald reports that a research team led by Chris King, Lukasz Bonenbergand, and Sean Ince of the University of Nottingham has used new scanning technology to produce a 3-D map of a priest hole hidden at Coughton Court, a Tudor country house in Warwickshire. A priest hole was a concealed, secret chamber where a Catholic priest could hide during the religious persecution that followed the English Reformation in the seventeenth century. The priest hole at Coughton Court was first found in a turret of the main gatehouse in the 1850s. It contained a rope ladder, bedding, and a portable altar. “At Coughton, the priest hole is hidden away out of sight, and the 3-D model will really help visitors to understand where it fits inside the building,” King said. For more, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Fourteenth-Century Plague Pit Unearthed in England

December 1, 2016

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Estimates suggest that up to half of England’s population died of the Black Death between 1346 and 1353. The Independent reports that a team of archaeologists has unearthed a mass grave at the monastery hospital at Thornton Abbey, in the East of England. The remains of 48 people, including more than 20 children, were found in the grave. DNA testing of tooth pulp obtained from the skeletons has revealed the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague. Hugh Willmott of the University of Sheffield explained that the team did not expect to find a mass burial in rural Lincolnshire. The discovery suggests that the small community was overwhelmed by the number of deaths caused by the epidemic. The team also uncovered a Tau Cross pendant in the hospital building. Willmott said that some believed that the Tau Cross could cure skin diseases. Symptoms of the Black Death include egg-shaped lumps in the groin, neck, and armpits that can ooze pus and blood, as well as black spots of gangrenous flesh. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

Categories: Blog

Southwestern Clay Figurines Studied

November 30, 2016

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Western Digs reports that Mark Chenault of Westland Resources found a cache of clay figurines at a pre-contact village site in the Sonoran Desert. Only a few similar objects have been found in the Southwest. It had been proposed that the “long, bulbous objects” were used in ancestor veneration or even as children’s toys, but the new research suggests that they were used as tokens of fertility employing both male and female symbolism. The phallus-shaped figures measure between 2.75 and four inches long, and sometimes have human features, such as eyes, breasts, or braided hair. “I believe that they could have been used for both human fertility and agricultural fertility,” Chenault said. “However, I think that the sexual characteristics argue more strongly for their use in human puberty or fertility rites.” He explained that the concept of sexual duality has been found in cultures from the same time period in Mesoamerica, and those ideas may have been shared by people living over a wide area. To read more about archaeology in the Sonoran Desert, go to “Early Irrigators - Tucson, Arizona.”

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New Thoughts on the Origins of Glass

November 30, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Some scholars have suggested that glassmaking originated in Mesopotamia some 3,600 years ago, but conservation scientist Katherine Eremin of Harvard Art Museums and archaeologist Andrew Shortland of Cranfield University think that glassmaking may have been invented in Egypt. Science News reports that glass beads and fragments of vessels and pendants recovered almost 100 years ago at the site of Nuzi, located in what is now Iraq, were thought to be the oldest glass artifacts. The new analysis suggests that some of those objects are only a few hundred years old, and the oldest items date to just 3,400 years ago. The researchers say that Egyptian glass is of roughly the same age, and was crafted in multiple colors, such as red, yellow, green, and opaque and translucent blue, in complicated patterns. Eremin says that by comparison, the Mesopotamian glass was not made as skillfully, and the objects may have been copies of Egyptian styles. Further study of glass from Egypt and the Near East is needed, she said. To read in-depth about archaeology in Mesopotamia, go to “The World in Between.”

Categories: Blog

Huge Bronze Age Torque Found in England

November 30, 2016

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in the Peterborough Telegraph, a torque made from more than one and one-half pounds of twisted and burnished gold was found by a metal detectorist, some 50 miles from the site of Must Farm, an extremely well-preserved Bronze Age village in the East of England. Although torques were usually worn around a person’s neck, this one, estimated to be more than 3,000 years old, is so large that it may have been worn around the waist by a pregnant woman or over thick winter clothing, as a sash, or even by a sacrificial animal. The torque was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum. To read about the discovery of another gold torque, go to “Hidden in a Coin Hoard.”

Categories: Blog

Seventh-Century Earthworks Discovered in Japan

November 30, 2016

CHIKUSHINO, JAPAN—An excavation on a hilltop on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu has found evidence of a seventh-century fortification, complete with castles and large-scale earthworks, according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. The site is thought to have been part of a network of fortifications to protect the Dazaifu, or regional government, which was headquartered about four miles away. In A.D. 663, Japan sent an army to the Korean Peninsula to assist Korean Baekje forces fighting against another one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which was allied with China’s Tang Dynasty. The Japanese were defeated in the battle, however, and the Dazaifu constructed defenses to prepare for a possible invasion. “Given the construction method and the estimated production years of the earthenware, there is a high possibility that the mound was part of a structure to defend Dazaifu,” said an official with the Chikushino city board of education. Some scholars think the earthworks may have been part of a continuous wall, similar to the kind of fortifications seen in China. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to “Khubilai Khan Fleet.”

Categories: Blog

New Dates Suggested for Plovdiv’s Ancient Theater

November 29, 2016

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Greek inscription found in a stairwell at the theater in the ancient city of Philippopolis suggests it was built earlier than had been previously thought. The theater was believed to date to A.D. 116, and the rule of Emperor Trajan, but the inscription, found on the base of a first-century statue, indicates that the construction of the theater began about three decades earlier, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. According to Nikolai Sharankov of Sofia University, the text of the inscription refers to Titus Flavius Cotis, a descendant of the Thracian kings who was the first priest of the imperial cult in Thrace. Sharankov explained that Titus Flavius Cotis erected many of the city’s buildings. “He wanted to give from his wealth for the public benefit and thus enhance his reputation among the citizenry,” he said. For more, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

Pembroke Castle Survey Reveals Possible Medieval Buildings

November 29, 2016

PEMBROKE, WALES—According to a report from BBC News, a team from Dyfed Archaeology Trust has conducted a geophysical survey at Pembroke Castle, which was built in the eleventh century, to look for structures destroyed at the end of the medieval period. Parch marks on the ground, seen in aerial photographs taken in 2013, suggested possible outlines for the buildings. The new survey revealed the outlines of several buildings and a well in the castle’s outer ward, as well as the outlines of another three buildings in the inner ward. Researchers suggest that King Henry VII, who was born at the castle in 1457, might have been born in one of the buildings in the outer ward. To read in-depth about another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Animals in Tomb of China’s First Emperor Analyzed

November 29, 2016

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Scientists are analyzing the many animal remains and animal sculptures unearthed in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, which dates to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) and is known for its army of terracotta warriors. China Daily reports that most of the animal figurines in the tomb are images of horses that were crafted with pottery, copper, and horse bones. Other figurines include representations of cranes, swans, and geese. The analysis of the many bones of deer, muntjac deer, sheep, chicken, fish, and turtles continues. And, according to head engineer Zhou Tie of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Site Museum, recent excavations at the tomb site investigated its general structure. More than 400 pits were uncovered in the tomb, and many small pits and tombs were found around it. Stone carvings of helmets and armor were also found in the area surrounding the mausoleum. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Canonized Viking King Reburial Site Located

November 24, 2016

OSLO, NORWAY—A shrine to a Viking king who was sainted has been discovered in Trondheim, according to a report in Live Science. Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage believe they have unearthed the stone foundations of a wooden church where the body of King Olaf Haraldsson was taken in 1031 shortly after he was declared a saint. Now known as St. Olaf, the king ruled Norway starting in 1016 but was challenged by Canute I of Denmark and died in battle in 1030. Olaf was initially buried elsewhere in Trondheim, but based on reports of posthumous miracles he was dug up and reinterred in St. Clement’s Church. In addition to the church’s foundations, the researchers have found a small rock platform at the structure’s east end that they believe was the base of the church’s altar—which may have been built over St. Olaf’s new grave. His remains were later moved again to a larger church in Trondheim, where Nidaros Cathedral was then built. Also found at the St. Clement’s Church site was a small well that may have been seen as holy. For more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

Categories: Blog

“Thinker” Statuette Uncovered in Israel

November 24, 2016

YEHUD, ISRAEL—A seven-inch-tall clay figurine of a pensive man attached to a Middle Bronze Age pot was unearthed in the central Israel town of Yehud, The Times of Israel reports. The 3,800-year-old was discovered during the excavation of a future construction site carried out by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Association along with a group of high school students. “It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” said archaeologist Gilad Itach, who led the excavation. Also found at the site were other ceramic vessels, daggers, arrowheads, an ax head, and animal bones, all of which Itach believes may have been funerary objects for an important member of the Canaanite community. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Categories: Blog

Plymouth Settlement Excavated

November 24, 2016

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is part of the original settlement of the Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in 1620, The Boston Globe reports. A team from the University of Massachusetts Boston excavated a seventeenth-century trash pit at Burial Hill, the location of a cemetery dating back hundreds of years. The site had long been thought to be part of the Pilgrims’ first settlement, but archaeological work had been delayed due to concerns that it would disturb graves. Taking care not to do so, the team found discolored soil indicative of a post hole, and calf’s bones under a layer of discarded items dating to before 1650. The Pilgrims raised domesticated cattle, while Native Americans in the area did not, so the findings suggest the remains were part of the original settlement. “People have never found part of the seventeenth-century settlement in downtown Plymouth,” said David Landon, a University of Massachusetts Boston archaeologist who led the dig. “For the first time, we found part of the built environment.” The team also found a stone-tool workshop, pottery, and other artifacts indicating that Native Americans used Burial Hill before the Pilgrims’ arrival. For more on the archaeology of colonial America, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

Categories: Blog

Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

November 24, 2016

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt's First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs. Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

Categories: Blog

1,500-Year-Old Remains of Domesticated Turkeys Found in Mexico

November 23, 2016

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that the remains of domesticated adult and juvenile turkeys; whole, unhatched eggs; and eggshell fragments have been found in two residential structures dating to between A.D. 300 and 1200 at a Zapotec site known as Mitla Fortress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say the turkeys were used for food and in domestic rituals. Archaeologist Heather Lapham of the University of North Carolina uncovered five intact eggs alongside the remains of seven turkey hatchlings that are thought to have been left as an offering. The remains of adult turkeys were found nearby. In addition to the two houses, the team unearthed a grave containing three turkey skeletons, and two obsidian blades that may have been used to slaughter them. Turkey bones were also used to make tools and jewelry. Today, the Zapotec people prepare meat from animals introduced by the Spanish, such as chickens, cows, and pigs, but they prepare turkeys for special events such as birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals. For more, go to “Zapotec Power Rites.”

Categories: Blog

Bronze Age Burnt Mound Excavated in Scotland

November 23, 2016

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that road construction in Inverness has uncovered burned mounds dating to the Bronze Age. The mounds, made up of piles of burned waste, ash, and stones shattered by heat, were formed by repeated burning. Researchers from AOC Archaeology Group explained that the mounds are usually horseshoe shaped and found close to streams. The heated stones are thought to have been placed in pits filled with water in order to to heat it for cooking, washing wool, or as saunas. The excavation team also uncovered kilns that were used to dry grain, as well as Neolithic pottery fragments. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Ceremonial Site Uncovered Near Stonehenge

November 23, 2016

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that a ceremonial site dating to 3650 B.C. has been found at Larkhill, about one and one-half miles north of Stonehenge. The causewayed enclosure measured about 220 yards in diameter, and was surrounded by ditches. Pottery, worked flint, animal bones, and human skull fragments have been found in the ditches. Excavators also uncovered a stone saddle quern used for grinding grain. The site is thought to have been used as a temporary settlement, where animals and goods could be exchanged, and for feasting, ritual activity, and disposal of the dead. The site is thought to be about 700 years older than Stonehenge, and to have been built by the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge. The discoveries have the potential to transform our understanding of prehistoric Wiltshire and the Stonehenge area specifically, according to Martin Brown, principal archaeologist for WYG, the firm in charge of archaeological work at the site. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Trade Center Unearthed in Northern China

November 23, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—The Xinhua News Agency reports that the remains of a 20-foot-wide road flanked by traces of 1,000-year-old buildings have been unearthed at the site of Haifeng Town in China’s northern Hebei province. Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Cultural Relics Institute said that the excavation team has unearthed a hearth, fire pits, wall footings, bricks, tiles, and pieces of porcelain thought to date to the Jin (A.D. 960–1276) and Yuan (A.D. 1271–1368) dynasties. The town is thought to have been a port located at the mouth of a river, at the northern tip of the Maritime Silk Road, and may have been a trade center for porcelain and salt. Further excavations are being planned. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Studies Investigate Maize Domestication

November 22, 2016

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science reports that two teams of scientists examined ancient cobs from Mexico for clues to the transformation of a grass called teosinte into domesticated maize. Jean Philippe Vielle-Calzada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity and his colleagues returned to the caves in Tehuacán Valley where tiny maize cobs were found in the 1960s. They recovered several 5,000-year-old cobs, reconstructed more than 35 percent of the ancient maize genome, and identified eight genes for key traits that indicate the plant was partially domesticated. It had cobs on branches for an easier harvest, and starchier, sweeter kernels—but they were covered in a hard sheath, like teosinte. Meanwhile, a team led by Nathan Wales of the University of Copenhagen analyzed a 5,300-year-old cob from a Tehuacán Valley cave that had been in a museum collection. They were able to sequence about 20 percent of the cob’s genome. These kernels are thought to have lacked a hard seed coat, which made them simpler to eat, but they may have fallen from the cob very easily, perhaps like the kernels of a wild plant, making them difficult to harvest. “I’m really amazed to see how convergent the results are,” Vielle-Calzada said. For more, go to “How Grass Became Maize.”

Categories: Blog

Segments of Roman Road Found in Ancient Dalmatia

November 22, 2016

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that archaeologists have found previously unknown sections of Roman road in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in what was the Roman province of Dalmatia. The team of scientists, from the University of Warsaw and the University of Mostar, is conducting field surveys in heavily farmed areas, and analyzing aerial and satellite images, in order to locate and verify archaeological sites and enter them into a new database. “This is the first application of modern, non-destructive archaeological methods in the area,” said Tomasz Dziurdzik of the University of Warsaw. The researchers confirmed the position of 34 archaeological sites, including a Roman fort, a settlement, and a cemetery dating to the first and second centuries A.D. They also learned that the Roman soldiers who settled in the region when they left the army usually built their homes on the edges of river valleys and close to the network of roads. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

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