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Study Suggests Pompeii’s Artifacts Were Well Worn

January 21, 2017

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—USA Today reports that a team of researchers including Theodore Peña of the University of California, Berkeley, is analyzing street trash and storage containers preserved at Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Peña said that in a farmhouse near Pompeii the team found beat-up kitchen gear on the shelves, including a dented bronze bucket, pots with broken rims, and a cracked casserole dish. The stove was full of ashes, suggesting that the people “just basically didn’t take out the garbage.” The researchers also found that the amphoras at a wine-bottling facility had been patched before reuse. And the lack of pieces of glass and ceramic in street trash suggests that the material was being repaired and recycled. “We’re actually starting to see evidence of people’s choices and how they dealt with their objects,” said graduate student Caroline Cheung. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Roman refuse, go to “Trash Talk.”

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Sediment Core Offers Clues to Fate of Australia’s Megafauna

January 21, 2017

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that scientists led by Sander van der Kaars of Monash University and Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder collected a sediment core in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia. The core contained layers of dust, pollen, ash, and spores from a fungus that grew on the dung of plant-eating mammals that had blown or washed into the ocean. The scientists used this information to construct a model of the climate and ecosystems in southwest Australia over the past 150,000 years. The number of fungus spores in the layers of the core suggest the herbivores were plentiful in the region between 150,000 and 45,000 years ago. But then the megafauna population collapsed over a period of just a few thousand years, even though the climate remained relatively stable. Miller explained that if modern human hunters had killed even one juvenile male per year, it could have limited the ability of the species to reproduce and led to extinction in just a few hundred years. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Burials at Medieval Monastery in Sudan Analyzed

January 21, 2017

ONTARIO, CANADA—Live Science reports that the remains of more than 120 individuals exhumed from four 1,000-year-old cemeteries at the medieval site of the al-Ghazali Christian monastery in Sudan have been analyzed. In one of the cemeteries, almost all of the skeletons belonged to males, who may have been monks from the monastery. People who lived in nearby settlements are thought to have been buried in two of the other cemeteries. The most recently discovered cemetery contained only 15 burials. Robert Stark of McMaster University explained that stone structures and tombstones found in all of the cemeteries were engraved in Greek or Coptic with prayers and information about the people buried in them. Some of the burials contained well-preserved burial shrouds that had been placed over the skulls of the deceased. Post-mortem cut marks were found on the bones of two of the individuals. Another person seems to have been placed in a grave in a haphazard way, even though the grave itself was neatly dug and a stone structure was placed on top of it. For more on archaeology in Sudan, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

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Viking Manor House Discovered in Sweden's Oldest Town

January 21, 2017

KORSHAMN, SWEDEN—The Local Sweden reports that Johan Runer of the Stockholm County Museum, Sven Kalmring of the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, and Andreas Viberg of Stockholm University used ground-penetrating radar to conduct geophysical surveys at the site of the ancient Viking trade center of Birka, located on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. They think they have found a Viking manor hall that may have belonged to the king’s royal bailiff. The hall measured more than 130 feet long and dates to the period after A.D. 810. The research team also found a fenced area connected to the hall that may have been used for religious activities, including the first known Christian mission to Sweden, in the early ninth century, by Saint Ansgar, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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British Woman Returns Souvenir Jug to Turkey

January 20, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Daily Sabah reports that a British citizen who purchased an ancient artifact at the site of the ancient city of Ephesus in the 1960s has returned it to Turkey. The artifact, a jug thought to have been produced by the Yortan culture some 4,500 years ago in western Turkey, will be handed over to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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Possible Seat of “Lost” Dark Age Kingdom Found in Scotland

January 20, 2017

GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists Ronan Toolis and Christopher Bowles of Guard Archaeology began excavating the Trusty’s Hill Fort site in southern Scotland to investigate Pictish carvings they found there, according to a report in BBC News. But instead of uncovering evidence of Picts, the team found traces of a royal stronghold thought to have been built by local Britons around A.D. 600. The hill was fortified with a high-status timber-laced stone rampart, and enclosures on lower-lying slopes. In the citadel, there was king’s hall and a smith’s shop for working gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The inhabitants of the citadel ate a diet rich in beef, oats, and barley grown in the surrounding countryside. Toolis and Bowles think this stronghold may have been the royal seat of the kingdom of Rheged, which had been thought to have been located further to the south, in the Cumbria region of northwestern England. They now think the rock carvings may have been adopted from the Picts as symbols of royalty. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

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Bones of Medieval Horse Recovered at Roman Colosseum

January 20, 2017

ROME, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that the remains of a horse dating to between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was unearthed near the steps to the basement of the Colosseum. Francesco Prosperetti, Rome’s superintendent for archaeology, said that tests will be conducted on the bones to try to determine how old the horse was at the time of death and the state of its health. That information could help archaeologists figure out what it was doing at the ancient site. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

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Rock in Croatia Cave May Have Been Collected by Neanderthals

January 19, 2017

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—According to a report in Seeker, a team led by David Frayer of the University of Kansas and Davorka Radovčić of the Croatian Natural History Museum found an unusual piece of brown limestone with reddish corners and black stripes among artifacts recovered from a Neanderthal cave site more than 100 years ago. The stone measures about five inches long, four inches high, and about a half inch thick. Had the researchers come across the rock, “we would have likely taken it home with us,” Frayer said. The stone was never flaked, and does not show any signs of wear that would suggest it had been used as a tool. The researchers think the rock was collected “as a curiosity” some 130,000 years ago and stored by Neanderthals at the Krapina cave site. An outcropping of similar rock has been found about a mile away from the cave, where it could have been picked up, or it may have been carried closer to the site by a nearby stream. Neanderthals are also known to have collected teeth, shells, and bird talons and feathers as materials for jewelry. To read about another recent discovery involving Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Neolithic Long House Discovered in Moldova

January 19, 2017

CHISINAU, MOLDOVA—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that an international team of researchers has found traces of a 7,000-year-old long house in the Eastern European country of Moldova. Similar houses, built by what is known as the Linear Pottery culture, have been found in other parts of Europe, but this is the first one to be found in Moldova. Such long houses were made of wooden posts driven into the ground to support wattle-and-daub walls topped with gabled roofs. “Commonly, on both sides of the houses we discover cavities from which clay was taken to cover the walls,” said Maciej Debiec of the University of Rzeszów and the University of Regensburg. Early European farmers are thought to have lived in long houses with their animals. Debiec and his team will return to the newly discovered site this spring for further investigation. They expect the Moldavian long house will be similar in size to other structures built by the Linear Pottery culture, or about 65 feet long 20 feet wide. The team has found two additional sites in Moldova where additional long houses may have stood. For more, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Categories: Blog

2,400-Year-Old Basement Unearthed in Northwest China

January 19, 2017

XI’AN, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a basement dating to the Warring States Period (476–221 B.C.) has been discovered at the site of Yueyang City, the ancient capital of the Qin state, in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. The rare brick room had stone pillar bases, measured about 16 feet long by about 13 feet wide, and sat about three feet below ground level. It is thought to have been part of the ruler’s residential palace, and may have been used for storage. A fireplace was also found in the structure, according to Liu Rui of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Fireplaces are also thought to have been limited to residential palaces during the Warring States Period. The strength of the Qin state eventually gave rise to China’s first emperor, who established the Qin Dynasty and united China in 221 B.C. For more, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

Categories: Blog

1,000-Year-Old Tomb Unearthed in Denmark

January 18, 2017

AARS, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that a large tomb has been found in north Jutland by Bjarne Henning Nielsen of the Vesthimmerlands Museum. Nielsen speculates the tomb may have been constructed for the early eleventh-century Viking chief Ulv Galiciefarer, who was known for his raids on Galicia and was sometimes referred to in historic documents as an “earl of Denmark.” Nielsen says the burial site is surrounded by dark soil that may have been left by a building placed over the tomb—a practice reserved for the nobility. Nielsen also recovered a sword from the grave that dates to the early years of the second millennium. The region where the tomb was found is thought to have belonged to Valdemar the Great, king of Denmark from 1157 to 1182, whose great-grandfather is known to have been Ulv Galiciefarer. “It is private property he inherited from his father’s side,” Nielsen said, “and Galiciefarer is part of the lineage.” To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

Categories: Blog

New Dates Obtained for Bones from Canada’s Bluefish Caves

January 18, 2017

MONTREAL, CANADA—New radiocarbon dates have been obtained for animal-bone fragments discovered in northern Yukon’s Bluefish Caves in the 1970s, according to a report in CBC News. If confirmed, the results could push back the human presence in the area known as Beringia by 10,000 years. Ariane Burke and Lauriane Bourgeon of the University of Montreal examined some 36,000 bone fragments from the caves, and found 15 with cut marks and 20 others with possible cut marks. They sent the bones to Thomas Higham of Oxford University for radiocarbon dating. The oldest of the marked bones, a horse’s mandible that appears to have had its tongue removed with a stone tool, has been dated to at least 23,000 years ago. The researchers say these new dates support genetic research indicating a group of early migrants was isolated in Beringia, perhaps by glaciers, between 15,000 and 24,000 years ago. Tools and charcoal have not been found in the Bluefish Caves, however. “Is it the final chapter?” asked Yukon government archaeologist Greg Hare. “I don’t think so. But it’s good, solid work, and I’m excited they’ve been able to revisit it and come up with those dates.” To read in-depth about the peopling of the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Categories: Blog

Low Water Levels Reveal Buddha Carving in Eastern China

January 18, 2017

NANCHANG, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that archaeologists have examined a 12-foot-tall Buddha statue that has been submerged in Hongmen Reservoir in eastern China for more than 50 years. The statue, carved into a cliff face, emerged when renovations to the hydropower gate lowered the water level of the reservoir by more than 30 feet. According to Xu Changqing, head of the Jiangxi Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology, the style of the statue suggests that it was carved during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The research team also examined the flooded remains of the town of Xiaoshi, which had been a trade center and a hub for water transportation. Local history suggests that the statue had been placed at the dangerous intersection of two rivers noted for the rapid flow of water. “According to folk tale[s], the ancient people built the statue to pray for safety,” said Guan Zhiyong, head of the Hongmen Township government. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Personalized Necklace Recovered at Nazi Extermination Camp

January 17, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Live Science reports that excavations at the Sobibór Nazi extermination camp in eastern Poland have uncovered a silver medallion thought to have belonged to a German Jewish girl named Karoline Cohn. The pendant, along with other pieces of jewelry, was uncovered near the site of a barracks for female prisoners. It is inscribed with the birthdate July 3, 1929, the words “Mazal Tov” in Hebrew, and “Frankfurt A.M.,” referring to the city and the Main River. Researchers used a deportation database maintained by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, to link the information on the pendant to Karoline Cohn. Cohn was born on July 3, 1929, and was deported from Frankfurt on November 11, 1941, to the Minsk ghetto, where some records indicate she died. If she did not carry the pendant to Sobibór herself from the Minsk ghetto, it may have been transported by a family member. Archaeologist Yoram Haimi of the Israel Antiquities Authority is investigating a possible family tie between Cohn and diarist Anne Frank, who was also born in 1929 and owned a nearly identical necklace. “It’s exactly the same, but only with a different birthdate,” Haimi said. Additional examples of the pendant may surface as the investigation continues. For more, go to “Gas Chamber Found at Sobibór Death Camp.”

Categories: Blog

Fortified Gate Unearthed at Desert Copper Mine

January 14, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A fortified gatehouse has been found in the Timna Valley, at a copper-smelting site thought to date to the tenth century B.C., according to a report by Live Science. Discovered in the 1930s, the site is known as Slaves’ Hill because the walls that surrounded it were thought to have been intended to imprison workers. But Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University and his team have found evidence of a high-quality diet enjoyed by the residents of the Iron Age settlement. Ben-Yosef suggests the gate represents the entrance of a highly organized defense system to protect people and goods from possible attack. “Copper was a rare product and very challenging to produce,” Ben-Yosef explained. Piles of donkey dung were found in both rooms of the gatehouse. Donkeys may have worked in the copper mines, and their dung may have been used as fuel for the copper-smelting furnaces. Analysis of the dung indicates that the donkeys had been fed a diet of hay and the skins, pulp, and stems of grapes that were probably imported from the Mediterranean. “The food suggests special treatment and care,” Ben-Yosef added. To read about another recent archaeological discovery in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Categories: Blog

Possible 16th-Century Graves Found in Florida

January 14, 2017

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report from CBS News, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt has found four sets of human remains under Charlotte Street in downtown St. Augustine. He thinks the remains could belong to settlers who arrived in Florida in the sixteenth century with Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and were buried at the church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which stood at the site. “I think this is probably just as significant as the Castillo de San Marcos because it represents the earliest colonial history of the downtown area,” he explained, referring to a fort built in St. Augustine in the late 17th century. Halbirt plans to excavate further to determine whether any other remains are in the area before the beginning of construction of a new water line. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Categories: Blog

Traces of a Civil War Trench Uncovered in Virginia

January 14, 2017

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA—A report by The Free Lance-Star states that archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a park near the Rappahannock River uncovered traces of a Civil War–era trench. All that remains of the trench is a brown stain containing pieces of oyster shells, porcelain, and other artifacts. “It could have been a rear line of fortifications behind the main line of defenses,” commented field director Joe Blondino. Eric Mink, cultural resources manager for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said that no maps of trenches in the area are known to have been made, but they were photographed from the opposite bank of the river. The excavation of the site has also unearthed the remains of a house where two mayors of Fredericksburg lived, its outbuildings, and a possible slave quarters; a vial of mercury tincture; buttons from Civil War uniforms, including some marked with the logo of the 14th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry; and human bone fragments thought to be the remains of Union soldiers. Historical records indicate that the mayors’ house served as a hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. For more on archaeology relating to the Civil War, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

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Bronze Toy Offers Clues to Roman Racing Technology

January 13, 2017

MADISON, WISCONSIN—According to a report in Seeker, Bela Sandor, professor emeritus of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, examined a highly detailed toy chariot discovered in the Tiber River in the 1890s. The hand-sized toy is thought to have been made for a wealthy racing enthusiast some 2,000 years ago. Sandor was able to use the dimensions of the model to estimate the size and weight of a full-sized racing chariot. He and Judith Swaddling of the British Museum also noted that the wheels of the bronze model, which is missing one of its two galloping horses and its charioteer, do not match. Sandor explained that racing chariot wheels, which measured about two feet in diameter, were usually made of wood, animal hide glue, and rawhide strips to hold them together at the joints. A thin strip of iron, visible on the outside of the toy’s right wheel, may have been added to strengthen and stabilize it for the repeated left turns in an oval-shaped arena. “Without any iron on the wheels, the right wheel was failing often and predominantly, while both wheels having iron tires tended to be safe but were seldom a winning combination,” Sandor said. To read about a recently discovered mosaic depicting a horse race, go to “And They’re Off!

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Origins of Human Speech

January 13, 2017

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that an international team of researchers led by Louis-Jean Boe of Grenoble Alpes University analyzed 1,335 vocalizations made by male and female baboons in order to investigate the possible origins of human speech. It had been suggested that a low, modern human-like larynx was necessary for the production of vowel sounds. If so, the spoken language of modern humans could only have originated sometime during the last 100,000 to 70,000 years. But the new research indicates that baboon tongues have the same muscles as human tongues, and could be used to form vowel sounds in a way similar to that of modern humans. Furthermore, the analysis of baboon vocalizations indicates that they make five distinct vowel-like sounds to communicate, even though they have the high larynx typical of non-human primates. The findings suggest spoken language may have evolved from skills possessed by the last common ancestor of baboons and modern humans, who lived some 25 million years ago. For more, go to “The Monkey Effect.”

Categories: Blog

3,000-Year-Old Crocodile Bones Unearthed at Ruins of Haojing

January 13, 2017

XI’AN, CHINA—Crienglish.com reports that 12 crocodile lamellae, or thin bone plates, were discovered at Haojing, part of the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty from 1066 to 770 B.C. Pottery, stone and bronze tools, tombs, pottery kilns, and wells have also been found at the site. “The discovery provides important materials for the study of the ecological distribution of crocodiles in the Western Zhou Dynasty,” said Yue Lianjian of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, since the animals usually live in marshy, tropical areas. The researchers also suggest that the presence of crocodile bones at the site could be related to the production of tuogu, a type of drum made with crocodile skin that has also been found at Haojing. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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