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Herders May Have Arrived in the High Alps 7,000 Years Ago

April 12, 2017

BERN, SWITZERLAND—Swiss Info reports that shepherds may have been grazing their herds in pastures some 9,000 feet above sea level as early as 5000 B.C. Scientists from the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at Bern University say that artifacts revealed by retreating ice indicates that the herders took their grazing animals from the dry slopes of the Lower Valais and hiked for two days to better pastures at the Bernese Oberland, located below the Schnidejoch Pass. The herders may have carried food in the wooden containers recently revealed by the melting ice. The scientists also analyzed sediment cores taken from nearby Lake Iffig, and found pollen dating back 7,000 years from plants that grow well in ground covered with dung. Spores from a fungus that grows on cattle dung were also detected. When ice returned to the Schnidejoch Pass some 1,000 years later, the pastures were no longer used. For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

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Traces of Roman City Uncovered in Southern England

April 12, 2017

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—The St. Albans Review reports that construction work in southern England has uncovered traces of the Roman town of Verulamium. One area of the excavation uncovered a corner of the ancient city wall. “However, there is no evidence of a corner tower—this is significant as it suggests that the wall was built for show as well as for defense purposes,” said Simon West, archaeologist for St. Albans city and the District Council’s museum service. Another area of excavation revealed the interior of a Roman town house with an opus signinum floor, a cement-like surface made of pieces of broken tiles and mortar flattened with a rammer. For more on Roman England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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Ancient Silk Road Riches Discovered in Inner Mongolia

April 12, 2017

HOHHOT, CHINA—Live Science reports that the excavation of six tombs in a 1,500-year-old, looted cemetery in Inner Mongolia has yielded a coffin containing a body covered in silk, and a silver bowl decorated with images of the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. Chen Yongzhi of the Inner Mongolia Museum, Song Guodong of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and Ma Yan of Inner Mongolia University think five of the tombs might have belonged to an aristocratic family, perhaps of the Gaoche people, who were ruled by the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386 to 534). The sixth tomb dates to the Liao Dynasty, and is about 1,000 years old. The yellow silk has not yet been removed from the body, which was also adorned with a gold headband, necklace, belt, rings, and leather boots. The artifacts are thought to have been obtained through trade along ancient Silk Road routes. The body’s coffin was painted with an image of a blue-roofed house with red pillars. The tomb’s occupant was shown at the center of the house, surrounded by attendants wearing hoods. For more, go to “Letter from China: Tomb Raider ChroniclesTomb Raider Chronicles.”

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Ancient Relatives of Bed Bugs Found in Oregon

April 12, 2017

EUGENE, OREGON—According to a report by ABC News, traces of cimicid insects, the ancient relatives of today’s bedbugs, have been found in Oregon’s Paisley Five Mile Point Cave, where humans lived intermittently over a period of 11,000 years, up to 13,500 years ago. The species of bugs found in the cave, estimated to be 5,100 to 11,000 years old, were bat parasites, but researchers think they may have bitten humans when they had the chance. Why didn’t these cimicids adapt to human hosts? Martin E. Adams of Paleoinsect Research thinks the human occupants of the cave may have moved too often for the bugs to come to rely on a diet of human blood while bats were also living in the cave. And, the occasional bed bug that did dine on a human host may not have survived the trip outside. Until this discovery, the oldest known example of a bed bug species was 3,550 years old, and had been found in Egypt. To read more about Oregon's Paisley Caves, go to “America, In the Beginning: Paisley Caves.”

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Bitumen Fillings Discovered in Two Stone Age Teeth

April 11, 2017

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a report in New Scientist, a pair of 13,000-year-old, worn central incisors, found at the Riparo Fredian site in northern Italy, bear evidence of therapeutic dental practices. Archaeologist Stephano Benazzi of the University of Bologna said that each human tooth has a large hole on its surface that extends into the pulp chamber. Tiny marks on the insides of the holes, viewed with microscopic techniques, suggest that the teeth had areas of decay that were drilled out with stone tools. Traces of bitumen, plant fibers, and hairs were also found in the holes. Benazzi and his colleagues think the bitumen, a natural antiseptic, was added to reduce pain to the patient and keep food debris out of the pulp chamber. Benazzi adds that at about this time, people from the Near East arrived in Europe with new foods that could have led to more cavities. “This change in diet and cavities could have led to dentistry,” he said. For more, go to “Paleo-Dentistry.”

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14,000-Year-Old Mammoth Tusk Found in Alaska

April 11, 2017

GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK—Live Science reports that a large, 14,000-year-old mammoth tusk has been uncovered at Alaska’s Holzman archaeological site. “The radiocarbon dates on this mammoth place it as one of the last surviving mammoths on the mainland,” said Kathryn Krasinski of Adelphi University. Krasinski and her team want to know if the tusk, which measures 55 inches long, was obtained by hunters, or if it was picked up by scavengers and brought to the site long after the animal died. If the mammoth was killed by hunters, this could indicate that the first Americans contributed to the extinction of the woolly mammoth some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. For more, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

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Were Macaws Farmed in the Prehistoric Southwest?

April 11, 2017

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Nature reports that archaeologist Randee Fladeboe of the University of Florida analyzed remains of 17 scarlet and military macaws unearthed at three prehistoric pueblos in New Mexico. It had been thought that most of the parrot bones and feathers uncovered across the American Southwest came from tropical birds imported from rainforests in Central and South America. But new research suggests that the birds were farmed in the Southwest for their feathers. At Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, archaeologists have found what may be a 1,000-year-old aviary, complete with a 10-inch-thick layer of droppings. And Fadeboe found small bumps on the upper surfaces of the wing bones of 15 of the birds in the study. Pulling out flight feathers, which are rooted in the bone, could have caused bleeding and infection that, over time, would have left multiple marks. She also noted that one macaw had recovered from two broken wings and had signs of malnutrition and illness, as well as marks on its beak from attacks from other macaws. Its survival would have required special care and feeding by human keepers. “People were doing their utmost to keep them alive,” Fladeboe said. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

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Engineers Aid Archaeologists in Study of Clovis Points

April 8, 2017

KENT, OHIO—The International Business Times reports that researchers from Kent State University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Tulsa, Rogers State University, and Texas A&M University employed computer models and made test specimens in order to evaluate Clovis weapons technologies. They tested re-created points with and without “fluting,” a flint knapping technique thought to have been developed by Clovis hunters, where a thin groove is chipped from the base and both sides of a stone point. The process can make a point more brittle, and as many as 20 percent of the points may break, but the researchers found that fluting can also make the point better able to absorb the shock of hitting a hard object, such as the rib of a large game animal. The team members argue that fluting points was worth the time and effort because Clovis hunters would have been able to retrieve and reuse their engineered points while exploring new territory. To read more about Clovis points, go to “Destination: The Americas.”

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Bronze Age House Discovered in Slovakia

April 8, 2017

DETVA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that traces of a 3,000-year-old dwelling and vessels for food preparation have been found in central Slovakia. The building, which measured 28 feet long by 16 feet wide, is the first from the Bronze Age to be identified in the area. Archaeologists think the Bronze Age residents may have produced food for the fortified settlement of Kalamárka, located about three miles away. To read more about the Bronze Age, go to “Wolf Rites of Winter.”

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Roman Road & Settlements Found in Northern England

April 7, 2017

NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—According to Live Science, Historic England announced that efforts to improve the A1, a road that stretches from London to Edinburgh, have uncovered evidence of wealthy Roman settlements and sections of Dere Street, an ancient Roman roadway that followed the same route as the A1. At Scotch Corner, a well-known junction where the paths to eastern and western Scotland diverge, an excavation team from Northern Archaeological Associates discovered a settlement dating to A.D. 60. It had been thought that York and Carlisle, which date to A.D. 70, were the oldest Roman settlements in northern England. A figure of a toga-clad actor carved from amber, and more than 1,400 fragments of clay molds for making gold, silver, and copper coins, were unearthed at Scotch Corner. In addition to being the most northerly example of coin production in Europe, the molds suggest that the site was an industrial and administrative center for several decades, until it was eclipsed by the rise of Cataractonium, a leatherworking center, to the south. There, archaeologists recovered a silver snake-shaped ring, keys of various sizes, pens, a pewter ink pot, and a lead plumb bob—a tool used for building straight roads. For more on life in Roman England, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

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Technique Directly Dates Rock Art in Southern Africa

April 7, 2017

QUÉBEC, CANADA—According to a report in The International Business Times, San rock art in southern Africa has been directly dated with a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating. This method uses a much smaller sample than traditional radiocarbon dating, and thus causes less damage to the artwork. Adelphine Bonneau of Laval University explained that the study tested rock art at 14 sites located in southeastern Botswana, western Lesotho, and South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. The team members were careful to avoid paintings made with charcoal, which could have been much older than the image itself, and to remove radiocarbon contaminants from the samples. The oldest of the paintings in the study came from Botswana and was dated to between 5,723 and 4,420 years ago. “These dates are only the beginning of these investigations, but they open up the possibility of initiating a dialogue between the art of the San and their archaeological remains,” Bonneau said. “Since the rock art reflected their spiritual world, we may get new insights on their society and the cultural and spiritual connections they shared with other tribes.” To read more about rock art, go to “The First Artists.”

Categories: Blog

Metro Construction Uncovers Possible Oldest Aqueduct in Rome

April 7, 2017

ROME, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a 100-foot-long section of 2,300-year-old aqueduct was discovered in Rome’s historic city center during the excavation of a ventilation shaft for the new C metro line. Archaeologist Simona Morretta said that its large stone blocks, found more than 55 feet underground—a depth that archaeologists are not normally able to access safely—may have been part of the Aqua Appia, which dates to 312 B.C and is Rome's oldest known aqueduct. By the first century B.C., however, the structure may have been used as a sewer. Excavators also recovered the remains of a wide range of animals, including wild boars, swans, pheasants, and saltwater fish. Archaeologists are dismantling the structure, but it will be rebuilt at another location. To read more on Rome's aqueducts, go to “How Much Water Reached Rome?

Categories: Blog

Did Hunger Drive Cannibalism?

April 7, 2017

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that James Cole of the University of Brighton assessed the nutritional value of the human body and found that an adult male weighing about 145 pounds would have provided about 144,000 calories, with 32,000 of those calories from skeletal muscle. That number is low when compared with the caloric values of other animals whose butchered remains are found at Paleolithic archaeological sites, such as 3,600,000 calories in the skeletal muscle of a mammoth, or 200,100 calories from a horse’s muscles. Cole thinks it would have been easier to obtain food from the saiga antelope, whose muscles contained around the same number of calories as those of humans, or small animals such as birds and hares, than from a hard-to-catch hominin. “Maybe there is more of a social driver here, not ritual specifically, but social,” he said. For more, go to “Colonial Cannibalism.”

Categories: Blog

19th-Century European Artifacts Unearthed in New Zealand

April 7, 2017

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report in The Press, artifacts and features dating to the early nineteenth century have been uncovered at a construction site on New Zealand’s South Island by an excavation team from Underground Overground Archaeology. The artifacts, which are thought to have belonged to the island’s first European residents, include a jar labeled “Russian Bears Grease” (a hair care product that was probably goose fat), a child’s knife with a bone handle inscribed with the words “for a good boy,” and a glass jar from a London pharmacist. All of these objects appear to date to the 1840s. A decorated mason jug, probably made in the 1820s, may have been brought to the island from England as a family heirloom. The team has also found a well, walls, and a rubbish pit. Archaeologist Hamish Williams said the team is researching historic records to find out what sort of building once stood on the site. To read about a recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Categories: Blog

Nuclear DNA Study Suggests Genetic Continuity in North America

April 6, 2017

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, a study of nuclear DNA suggests that Native American and First Nations groups living in southern Alaska and the western coast of British Columbia are descendants of people who lived in the region some 10,000 years ago. An earlier study of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along the maternal line, failed to find a link between the 10,300-year-old skeleton known as Shuká Káa, or “Man Ahead of Us,” and members of the Tlingit tribe that now live near On Your Knees Cave, where the remains were discovered. The new tests also sampled nuclear DNA from a 6,000-year-old skeleton found on Lucy Island in British Columbia, and two skeletons from the Prince Rupert Harbor area—one 2,500 years old, the other 1,750 years old—and compared the DNA sequences to samples from 156 indigenous groups from around the world. They found that the younger skeletons were closely related to groups living in the Pacific Northwest today, while Shuká Káa appeared to be more closely related to groups living in South and Central America. But the results could indicate that the individuals all shared the same ancestors. Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois in Champaign said the data also indicates there were multiple genetic lineages in the Americas at least 10,300 years ago. To read in-depth about early settlement of the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Categories: Blog

Serdica’s Ancient Necropolis Unearthed in Bulgaria

April 6, 2017

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that six family tombs and 20 pit burials in the eastern necropolis of the ancient city of Serdica have been uncovered by a construction project. The tombs are thought to date to the fourth through sixth centuries A.D., and were heavily damaged during construction work in the twentieth century. However, human remains were recovered from the intact pit burials, which were found between the tombs. The bones from these burials will be radiocarbon dated. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

An Update on Egypt’s Newly Discovered Pyramid

April 6, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Live Science, an inscription on an alabaster block in the inner structure of a 3,800-year-old pyramid found in the royal necropolis at Dahshur records the name of pharaoh Ameny Qemau. “He was the fifth king of Dynasty XIII and ruled for about two years, [around] 1790 B.C.,” said Egyptologist James Allen of Brown University, who was asked to comment on the discovery. Another pyramid bearing the name of Ameny Qemau was discovered at the site in 1957. Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol added that the pharaoh may have chiseled out his predecessor’s name and added his own to the alabaster block found at the pyramid. For more on Egypt, go to “Mummification Before the Pharaohs.”

Categories: Blog

Face Reconstructed from 13,000-Year-Old Remains

April 6, 2017

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that researchers led by Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong have reconstructed the face of a woman whose 13,600-year-old remains were found in the Tham Lod rock shelter in northwest Thailand. Standing just under five feet tall, the woman, who is thought to be descended from the first people to colonize Southeast Asia, was between the ages of 25 and 35 when she died. Hayes said that the team compared the measurements of the woman’s face to the average variation of measurements of skulls, muscles, skin, and other soft tissues from recent populations around the world, in order to try to keep the impression of her face from being biased toward one population. But Hayes acknowledges that no one’s face is average. “Facial reconstruction fascinates people, and it attracts a lot of enthusiasm from both artists and scientists,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, some are scientists without any understandings of the technicalities of artistic depiction, others are artists without any understandings of the technicalities of science.” To read about a recent attempt at facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Categories: Blog

Carnuntum’s “Entertainment District” Digitally Reconstructed

April 5, 2017

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), has employed aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar systems, and magnetometers to study the Roman city of Carnuntum, according to a report in Live Science. The city, located on the southern bank of the Danube River, was home to as many as 50,000 people in the second century A.D. The latest survey suggests there was a shop-lined boulevard leading to the city’s 13,000-seat amphitheater. Neubauer and his team compared what they found to similar buildings in other Roman cities, and concluded that the shops likely sold souvenirs and ready-to-eat food. “It gives us now a very clear story of a day at the amphitheater,” he said. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

Categories: Blog

Large Pit House Excavated in British Columbia

April 5, 2017

MISSOULA, MONTANA—According to a report in The Vancouver Sun, a research team led by Anna Marie Prentiss of the University of Montana has uncovered a pit house in British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon that shows signs of periodic occupation over a period of about 1,500 years, ending in the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of European fur traders. Prentiss explained that, every 20 years or so, a new roof was put on the structure and a new layer of dirt was installed on the floor, creating 17 distinct layers in all. “We have exquisite detail, with all these floors,” she said. Among the artifacts, the team has recovered burned rocks, hide scrapers, stone points, and deer, dog, and fish bones. The house also changed size and shape over time. At its largest, the house may have met the needs of as many as 30 to 40 people living in the First Nations settlement. Venetian glass beads, an iron horseshoe, a ring, machine-made bone buttons, and three stone spindle whorls were found in the topmost layer. “The fur-trade material lets us see what life was like just before the onslaught of the Gold Rush,” Prentiss said. To read about another recent discovery in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

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