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Ötzi the Iceman’s Copper-Age Tools Analyzed

June 22, 2018

FLORENCE, ITALY—Live Science reports that a team led by archaeologist Ursula Wierer of Italy’s Soprintendenza Archeologia has examined the tools carried by the frozen mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman with high-powered microscopes and computed tomography scans. The 45-year-old man died in the Italian Alps sometime between 3370 and 3100 B.C., most likely due to a head injury or an arrow thought to have pierced an artery in in his shoulder. He was carrying a dagger, an end scraper, a borer, a flake, an antler retoucher, and two arrowheads at the time of his death. Wierer said an opaque patina and lack of wear on the end scraper and the borer suggests they had been recently sharpened, which may be the source of the cut found on Ötzi’s right hand. The wear on the other tools suggests Ötzi was right handed, as does the development of the right side of his body. Wierer and her colleagues said many of the tools were made of chert that may have been obtained from outcroppings some 40 miles away from the area where Ötzi is thought to have lived. The researchers also noted that the arrowheads resembled those typically made by cultures living in northern Italy, while the end scraper resembled blade tools typically found at lake dwelling sites in Switzerland and southern Germany. “I think we have to imagine that the trade at the time was already quite far-reaching for certain raw materials and certain products,” Wierer said. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

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Seventeenth-Century Danish Latrines Analyzed

June 21, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Cosmos reports that two latrines made from partially buried wine barrels were found under a road that cut through the center of Copenhagen in the late seventeenth century. The latrines were originally placed in a garden. Mette Marie Hald of Denmark’s National Museum analyzed the excrement in the barrels, and found the residents enjoyed a diet of barley, oats, wild cherries, coriander, turnips, lettuce, hops, and mustard, in addition to herring, eels, and pork. Most of the recovered bone fragments were too degraded to identify, however. Some of the foods eaten by the Danes had been imported, such as figs, grapes, bitter orange, and lemons from the Mediterranean, buckwheat husks from the Netherlands, and cloves from Indonesia. Hald and her colleagues also detected the presence of roundworms, whipworms, and a tapeworm. The scientists concluded that Denmark’s Renaissance-era residents ate well, but poor hygienic conditions led to parasitic infestations. For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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Limbs of Wounded Civil War Soldiers Found in Virginia

June 21, 2018

MANASSAS, VIRGINIA—According to an NPR report, a burial pit containing amputated human limbs has been discovered at Manassas National Battlefield Park. The bones in the “limb pit” were first spotted by a utility crew in 2014, and are thought to have been buried by field surgeons after the three-day Battle of Second Manassas, which is also known as the Second Battle of Bull Run. In all, two complete skeletons, 11 limbs, bullet fragments, and buttons from Union uniforms have been recovered from the pit. All of the limbs bear evidence of wounds and amputation cuts. Physical anthropologist Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution explained that the striations left on the bones by the surgeons’ saws reveal their skills—the doctors started slowly to set the saw teeth, cut quickly through the bone, and then slowed again as they finished the cut to avoid further damage to the patient. National Park Service archaeologist Brandon Bies thinks the soldiers whose limbs ended up in the pit were wounded during a charge up a ridge called the Deep Cut, where thousands of Confederate soldiers were waiting to fire on them with rifles and muskets. Medical records and isotopic analysis of the bones may allow researchers to identify the soldiers and the surgeons who operated on them. To read in-depth about a Civil War POW camp, go to “Life on the Inside.”

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Large-Scale Whaling May Date to the Iron Age

June 20, 2018

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—A report in New Historian states that the practice of large-scale whaling may be several centuries older than previously thought. Andreas Hennius of Uppsala University and his colleagues examined board-game pieces dating to the Iron Age in museum collections in Sweden, and found that most of them were made of whalebone dating to the mid-sixth century A.D. The large supply and standardized forms of the game pieces suggest the scale of production was beyond the whalebone supply available from the carcasses of beached whales. Analysis of the game pieces with ZooMS, or Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometer, showed they had all been made from the bones of the North Atlantic right whale, or Eubalaena glacialis, which swam slowly and close to shore, and floated after it was killed because it had so much blubber. In Norway, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of large boathouses and features for processing blubber that also date to the sixth century. The researchers think the game pieces may have been crafted in Norway and transported to Sweden. To read about a chess piece recently discovered in Norway, go to “Norwegian Knight.”

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1,000-Year-Old Islamic Amulet Uncovered in Jerusalem

June 20, 2018

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a Haaretz report, a 1,000-year-old Islamic amulet has been found in one of the oldest areas of the city of Jerusalem. “Kareem trusts in Allah—Lord of the Worlds is Allah,” reads the amulet’s Arabic inscription. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the amulet would have been used to gain personal protection. It was recovered from between layers of plaster flooring in a poorly preserved structure, but it is not clear whether it was placed there as a talisman, or whether it was lost by its owner. “We found some foundation walls and floor tiles,” said Shalev. “It was a simple structure, possibly residential with some small industry.” Shalev explained that there may have been more of the small, clay amulets, but they have not survived. Similar dedications dating from the eighth through tenth centuries A.D. have been found along the Darb al-Haj, the pilgrimage route to Mecca. To read in-depth about an Umayyad desert castle in the vicinity of Jerusalem, go to “Expanding the Story.”

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Possible Viking Color Palette Revealed

June 20, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Conservators Line Bregnhøi and Lars Holten of the National Museum of Denmark have reproduced the bold colors thought to have been used to decorate the largest Viking building known in Denmark, according to a Science Nordic report. The researchers analyzed samples of pigments taken from the remains of the building, known as the Royal Hall at Sagnlandet Lejre. “On the rare occasion that we excavate a piece of painted wood, the color looks nothing like the original,” explained archaeologist Henriette Syrach Lyngstrøm of the University of Copenhagen. Parts of the structure were painted with linseed oil paint, which was the most durable of the binding agents used by the Vikings, but they also used milk products and eggs as binders on other projects. For more, go to “The Viking Great Army.”

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New Dates Obtained for Clovis Burial Site

June 20, 2018

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—The Billings Gazette reports that continued analysis of the remains of the so-called Anzick-1 child and the more than 100 antler and stone tools found near his grave in Montana has shown that they all date to the Clovis period, between 13,000 and 12,700 years ago. Discovered on the Anzick family property in 1968 during construction work, the body and the tools had all been covered with red ochre. Previous study of the remains indicated the child died some 12,700 years ago, but questioned whether the tools had been buried at the same time. Some scholars thought the antler artifacts may have been handed down over generations, thus accounting for their older dates. The new tests, conducted from samples retrieved before the remains were reburied in 2014, isolated the amino acid hydroxyproline from the human bones and the antler artifacts, in order to conduct a test that would not be affected by contamination with modern carbon. This time, both the human remains and the antler artifacts were dated to between 12,725 and 12,900 years old. “It’s reassuring,” said molecular biologist Sarah Anzick, whose parents own the property where the child was found. “It’s a Clovis burial.” For more on the Anzick burial, go to “First American Family Tree.”

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Mutilated Bodies Uncovered in England

June 19, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeological investigation ahead of road construction in Cambridgeshire has uncovered the graves of two men whose legs were chopped off at the knees, according to The Guardian. The men’s skulls were also smashed in. Archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec of the Cambridge County Council said the men are thought to have lived in the late Roman or early Saxon period. Their bodies were buried in graves placed at right angles to each other. The upper part of another body was found in a timber-lined well about 165 feet from the graves. The well had fallen out of use, and had been partially filled in with rubbish when the torso was deposited with its head intact. “People talk about the archaeology of conquest, but I have never felt it as strongly as here,” said Gdaniec. “The Romans arrive, the people who were here are completely subjugated, everything changes and is never the same again.” For more on the Roman period in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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3-D Models Made of Neolithic Carvings

June 19, 2018

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Hugo Anderson-Whymark of National Museums Scotland has created 3-D models of balls of stone intricately carved during the Neolithic period using photogrammetry, according to a Live Science report. Sixty models are now available to the public online. More than 500 such regularly sized carved balls of stone have been found in northeast Scotland, the Orkney Islands, England, and Ireland. A single one has even turned up in Norway. Scholars have suggested the objects may have been used as parts of weapons, standardized weights for traders, rollers for moving megalithic monuments, or wound with twine or sinew and thrown. Some of the balls bear carved motifs that are also seen in carvings at Neolithic passage tombs. Anderson-Whymark said the similarities could indicate that people living in different regions interacted and shared common ideas. The new, detailed photographs of the carvings have revealed marks on some of the balls that had been hidden, and could offer new insight into their possible use. “We might be able to get a little bit more of that story out in the future by more detailed analysis of these things,” Anderson-Whymark said, “but they’re always going to be slightly enigmatic.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

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Bronze Age Village Discovered in China

June 19, 2018

HOHHOT, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 3,000-year-old village covering about four acres has been found in northern China. Pottery, ditches, and three tombs are currently under excavation. “The discovery will provide new reference for studies on archaeology and culture in [the] southeast region of Inner Mongolia during the Bronze Age,” said Cao Jian’en of the Inner Mongolia Regional Institute of Archaeology. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Underground Party.”

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Possible Palace Found in Japan

June 19, 2018

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, traces of a large structure built during the first half of the eighth century A.D. have been found at the Miyataki archaeological site in central Japan, near the banks of the Yoshinogawa River. Archaeologists think it may be the main building of the Yoshino no Miya palace, mentioned in historic records and poetry as a place frequented by emperors, based upon its size and design. Scholars have been looking for the palace for years, and assumed it had been placed safely far away from the river, in the mountains, with views of the river. “I previously thought the poem depicts the palace in an exaggerated way,” said Makoto Ueno of Nara University, “but Yoshino no Miya was likely a detached palace to enjoy the beauty of the Yoshinogawa just as depicted in the poetry.” Michio Maezono of the Nara College of Arts added that the placement of this building could have facilitated religious services to honor the river god. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to “Samurai Nest Egg.”

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Seventh-Century Inscription Found at Tintagel Castle

June 16, 2018

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that words and letters were found carved into a seventh-century slate window ledge in a building at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall. The inscription, thought to have been a doodle or a scribe’s practice work, include the Roman name Tito and the Celtic name Budic. The Latin words fili, or son or sons, and viri duo, or two men, were also carved into the two-foot ledge. A triangle may represent the Greek letter delta. There is also monogram made up of a letter “A” with a “V” inside it and a line across the top. The combination may have been a Christian symbol, since “A,” or “alpha,” was often associated with a Christian description of God. Some of the words were written in the formal script found in illuminated gospel works, while others are informal in style. Win Scutt of English Heritage said the letters support the interpretation of Tintagel as a literate, Christian port with trade ties to Europe and the Mediterranean. Further study will try to determine whether the scribe was left or right handed, and what sort of tool might have been used to carve the letters. To read about another site in Cornwall, go to “By the Light of the Moon.”

Categories: Blog

Tobacco Use in North America Pushed Back 1,500 Years

June 16, 2018

TROY, ALABAMA—The Cherokee One Feather reports that tobacco use in southeastern North America could date back 4,000 years, or about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. Stephen B. Carmody of Troy University and his colleagues detected traces of nicotine in a smoking tube dated to the Late Archaic Period, when the residents of the Flint River archaeological site were beginning to domesticate plants. The smoking tube was unearthed in the late 1930s by Tennessee Valley Authority archaeologists in northern Alabama who conducted excavations before the area was submerged by the damming of the Tennessee River. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

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Imperial Villa Discovered in Rome

June 15, 2018

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists announced the discovery of an imperial Roman villa on the banks of the Tiber River near the Milvian Bridge in northern Rome, according to an ANSA report. The archaeologists said it was unusual to find a villa so close to the river. The building had a multicolored marble floor laid out in the opus sectile style, which uses larger pieces of colored stones to create pictures or patterns. The extravagant floor suggests the rest of the building could also contain precious decorations. To read in-depth about the excavation of another Roman villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

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Study Offers Clues to Ireland’s Bronze Age Environment

June 15, 2018

VANCOUVER, CANADA—The Vancouver Star reports that researchers led by Eric Guiry of the University of British Columbia have tracked the effect of deforestation and farming practices on the nitrogen cycle through the chemical analysis of Bronze Age animal bones from Ireland. The nitrogen cycle is the process of how the element circulates through the atmosphere, land, and oceans. The more than 700 bones in the study came from some 90 archaeological sites across Ireland. The test results suggest significant changes to the nitrogen composition of soil nutrients—and therefore the food chain—occurred when land use became more intensive through deforestation, agriculture, and grazing some 2,000 years ago. Guiry thinks small-scale agriculture up until that point was likely to have had little impact on nutrients in the environment. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

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Turquoise May Have Been Mined in Mesoamerica

June 15, 2018

CARLISLE, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a New York Times report, geochemical analysis of Aztec and Mixtec turquoise artifacts conducted by geochemist Alyson Thibodeau of Dickinson College suggests the turquoise used in them had been mined in Mesoamerica, and not imported from the American Southwest, where ancient turquoise mines have been found. It had been previously thought that turquoise traveled south to Mesoamerica along a long-distance trade network before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. “Not only do they have isotopic signatures that are absolutely consistent with the geology of Mesoamerica,” Thibodeau said, “but they are completely different from the isotopic signatures of the Southwestern turquoise deposits and artifacts that we have seen so far.” Thibodeau's colleague David Killick of the University of Arizona argues that the test results suggest there may have been no organized contact between Mesoamericans and people living in the American Southwest. For more on archaeology in Mesoamerica, go to “Circle of Life.”

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Possible Prehistoric Settlement Found in Northern Scotland

June 14, 2018

THURSO, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a prehistoric site, including a hearth made of stone slabs, a hammer stone, rubble, and tools, has been found in the Scottish Highlands. The possible building may have been part of a larger settlement, according to Pete Higgins of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. Further investigation could reveal if the structure was a broch—a monumental, tower-like roundhouse made of drystone walls, or a wag—a semi-underground dwelling featuring a central aisle made of stone slabs that support a stone slab roof. A well-preserved pig’s tooth suggests someone of high status could have lived there. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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Geoglyphs Studied in Northern Peru

June 14, 2018

CHAO VALLEY, PERU—According to a Live Science report, three geoglyphs have been found at a ceremonial landscape called Pampa de las Salinas in northern Peru in addition to two that were discovered in the 1970s. Ana Cecilia Mauricio of Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru said the ceremonial site is thought to have been shared by nearby communities, but researchers are not sure how it was used. Mauricio explained that the five known circular geoglyphs were made with piles of small, angular rocks within larger quadrangular spaces measuring at least 164 feet wide by 164 feet long. The geoglyphs may have been intended to depict astronomical constellations—one of them has been identified as the Southern Cross—“although we haven’t [made] this interpretation yet since we are still recording them,” Mauricio said. Thermoluminescence dating could help date the structures. The oldest area of the Pampa de las Salinas was built about 6,000 years ago, and the site ceased to be used about 3,000 years ago. To read about a mysterious structure in Peru that may have been a geoglyph, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Categories: Blog

Discovery of Tuqan Man Announced

June 14, 2018

SAN MIGUEL ISLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS—The Ventura County Star reports that the discovery of ancient human remains on San Miguel Island in 2005 has just been announced to the public. Researchers spotted a piece human bone near an eroded ancient Chumash camp site during a survey in Channel Islands National Park. Because the grave was vulnerable to erosion, the National Park Service (NPS) alerted the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, who have ties to the Channel Islands, to the discovery. The Chumash decided to allow the excavation of the site. Dubbed “Tuqan Man,” for the traditional name of the island, the remains were removed from the grave, which had been marked with stones, and taken to the mainland for DNA testing and study. Radiocarbon dating revealed the man died between 9,800 and 10,200 years ago, and was between 40 and 50 years of age at the time of his death. Isotope analysis suggests he lived in the interior of California, not on the islands. Scientists were not able to obtain a DNA sample from the bones, however, so they were not able to find a genetic link to modern Chumash people. That meant the NPS had to publish legal notices in local newspapers before handing the bones over to the Santa Ynez Band for reburial. But no other tribe came forward to claim Tuqan Man’s remains. “We’re very happy that we could lay this man to rest,” said tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn. For more on early Americans, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

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Rock Art Discovered in Egypt’s Eastern Desert

June 14, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, rock art panels and extensive flint-working areas have been discovered in Egypt’s Eastern Desert by a team of Egyptian archaeologists and researchers led by John Coleman Darnielen of Yale University. Bulls, donkeys, Barbary sheep, an addax, and a giraffe are said to be among the images found in three areas in the Wadi Umm Tineidba. The oldest of the panels is thought to date to the Predynastic period, between 3500 and 3100 B.C. The team also found an ancient well, burial tumuli, and a previously unrecorded settlement dating to the Late Roman period. One of the burial tumuli contained the remains of a woman who had been buried with a strand of carnelian beads and shells from the Red Sea. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Honoring Osiris.”

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