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Large Roman Villa Uncovered in Oxfordshire

August 29, 2018

BANBURY, ENGLAND—A metal detectorist has teamed up with archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology to uncover a Roman villa dating to around A.D. 99, which measures 278 feet square, and may have  been as large as Buckingham Palace, Metro reports. The team believes the site may reveal one of the grandest Roman villas ever discovered in Britain. They have identified the building's bath complex, including tile from a hypocaust used to pipe in hot water, as well as evidence of a domed roof, a dining room, and kitchen areas. Artifacts unearthed include a coin depicting the mythological twins Romulus and Remus. Detectorist Keith Westcott says he was inspired to look for villa foundations in the area after learning that a local farmer had accidently plowed into the burial of a high-status woman, who is believed to have died in the third or fourth century A.D. Plans for comprehensive investigations at the site, possibly involving English Heritage and nearby universities, are under consideration. To read more about the archaeology of Roman houses in Britain, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

Categories: Blog

Cold Spells May Have Doomed Neanderthals

August 28, 2018

COLOGNE, GERMANY—According to an Associated Press report, a new study suggests that periods of cold, dry climate may have helped modern humans displace Neanderthals from Europe. Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, just a few thousand years after Homo sapiens arrived in Europe. Scientists have proposed a number of explanations, including an epidemic that targeted Neanderthals and competition for scarce resources. The new study draws on previously available data along with new findings on the ancient climate from two caves in Romania. It focuses on two cold, dry periods: One beginning around 44,000 years ago and lasting 1,000 years, and another beginning around 40,800 years ago and lasting 600 years. Both climate events coincided with the disappearance of Neanderthal artifacts and the appearance of signs of modern humans in sites in the Danube River valley and France. Climate shift would have likely replaced forest with shrub-filled grassland, to which modern humans may have been better adapted than Neanderthals. “Whether they moved or died out, we can’t tell,” said Michael Staubwasser of the University of Cologne in Germany. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Categories: Blog

Remains of a Slovak Manor House Unearthed

August 28, 2018

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that archaeologists have unearthed the foundations of a sixteenth-century manor house on the grounds of the Rusovce Mansion, a nineteenth-century neoclassical manor built in imitation of the English gothic style. Traces of the older manor house, whose existence was previously known but whose precise location had been lost, were found beneath the site where a fountain once stood. During the excavation, archaeologists also recovered artifacts dating to Roman period, as well as the Bronze Age. To read about a similar excavation in England, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.” 

Categories: Blog

Cape Cod Dig Reveals 17th-Century Settlement

August 28, 2018

CHATHAM, MASSACHUSETTS—Wicked Local reports that archaeologists are excavating what they believe is the site of a seventeenth-century homestead on Cape Cod's southeastern tip. The site dates to 1656 and was once home to English settlers William and Anne Nickerson, who are considered the founders of Chatham. The team, directed by Craig Chartier of the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project, has uncovered a number of seventeenth-century artifacts on land adjacent to the town's 1829 Caleb Nickerson Homestead, including Native American and European ceramics, pipe fragments, window glass, pieces of flint, and what Chartier believes is a fragment from a sharpening wheel. Perhaps most importantly, they have also identified one of the building's hearths, which, along with postholes and foundation remains can help determine the orientation and footprint of the original structure. According to Chartier, the house was at least 36 feet long by 18 feet wide and might have even been larger. He now plans to excavate more of the property to determine whether it also included a cellar, barn, or other outbuildings. For more on the archaeology of Colonial America, go to “Off the Grid: Dorchester, South Carolina.”

Categories: Blog

Early Roman Settlement Discovered in Yorkshire

August 28, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—Silver coins dating back 2,000 years that were unearthed by metal detectorists in 2015 have led archaeologists to one of the earliest Roman settlements in northern Britain, according to a report in The Guardian. “All the coins date back to the time of the emperor Vespasian [A.D. 69-79], when the Romans marched north and established a center at York,” says project manager Lisa Westcott Wilkins. The team has uncovered evidence that the settlement was the home of high-status families, including more silver coins, decorated ceramic bowls and amphoras that would have held imported wine, as well as an infant buried with a small brooch. They also identified postholes, foundation trenches, and the possible remnants of one or two villas. The location of the site is currently being withheld to protect it from looters. “We have many settlements from later periods—3rd and 4th centuries—but this one is much earlier and much higher status,” Wilkins says. “This is why it is so rare.” For more on the Roman period in York, go to “Off with Their Heads.”

Categories: Blog

Mass Grave Unearthed in Sri Lanka

August 28, 2018

MANNAR, SRI LANKA—The BBC reports that archaeologists in Sri Lanka have unearthed more than 90 skeletons at the site of a mass grave in the northern town of Mannar. Construction work near a bus terminal initially revealed the site earlier this year. The remains are assumed to have belonged to people who were killed during the country's recent civil war, which lasted 26 years and ended in 2009. According to University of Kelaniya forensic archaeologist Raj Somadeva, who leads the team, not all the people were buried at the site in the same manner. "In one segment we have a proper cemetery," says Somadeva. "In the second part, you have a collection of human skeletons which have been deposited in an informal way." Several mass graves found since the war came to an end, but the Mannar site is one of the biggest yet discovered. To read about the work of forensic archaeologists at the border of the United States, go to “The Journey to El Norte.” 

Categories: Blog

Viking Town Was an Immigrant Mecca

August 27, 2018

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Analysis of human remains from the Viking town of Sigtuna dating to the tenth to twelfth century finds that at least half the population consisted of immigrants, according to a report in The Local. Researchers from Stockholm University studied DNA and strontium isotopes from the remains of 38 people to determine where they originated. They found that around half came from the nearby Lake Mälaren area, but the other half came from areas as far off as Ukraine and the British Isles. The evidence suggests that Sigtuna was the Viking Age equivalent of London or Shanghai today, says Anders Götherström of Stockholm University, a place that attracted ambitious people interested in working their way up in the world. Sigtuna was one of Sweden’s first cities, founded in 980, and soon reached a population of 10,000, roughly the same as London at the time. Maja Krzewinska of Stockholm University points out that the Vikings are generally thought of as travelers and adventurers, but the new findings suggest they also played host to those who came from afar. To read in-depth about an island in Sweden that grew extremely wealthy during the Viking Age, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.“

Categories: Blog

Archaeological Sites Discovered On and Around Black Sea Island

August 25, 2018

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers led by Ivan Hristov of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History discovered a Thracian fortress in the Black Sea, on currently submerged land that once connected St. Thomas Island to what is now Bulgaria. Last year, the team conducted a survey of the three-acre island and found a Thracian settlement with ritual pits, an early Byzantine settlement, and a monastery dating to the Late Middle Ages. The researchers suggest the island’s location—on the sea and right off the ancient road from Apollonia Pontica to Byzantium—made it prime real estate. To read about a recent discovery in Bulgaria dating to the Roman period, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Categories: Blog

Experimental Archaeologists Test Tool-Making Grips

August 25, 2018

SUSSEX, ENGLAND—An experimental study of 500,000-year-old flint hand axes from England's Boxgrove quarry site suggests the tools were crafted by early humans who had anatomically modern human–like hands, according to a report in The Independent. Human finger bones dating back more than 300,000 years are extremely rare in the fossil record, making it difficult to know how well human ancestors were able to manipulate objects. So, Alastair Key of the University of Kent and his team attached sensors to the hands of modern flint knappers in order to measure the grips and strength required to reproduce stone tools using different techniques. The study suggests that a stronger grip would have been necessary to make the highly modified and shaped stone tools found in the Boxgrove quarry than to produce simpler tools. Key said such strong, dexterous hands would have been able to make a wide variety of objects from wood, antler, and bone, too. Human intelligence is thought to have evolved in an interactive process alongside manual dexterity, he added. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

Categories: Blog

DNA Study Tracks Ancient Migration to Israel

August 25, 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, migrants from what are now Turkey and Iran probably spurred the cultural transformation that occurred between six and seven thousand years ago in the southern Levant. Researchers led by Hila May and Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, Dina Shalem of Kinneret College and the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Éadaoin Harney and David Reich of Harvard University were able to analyze the genomes of 22 people whose remains were recovered from northern Israel’s Peqi’in Cave. The cave, which measures some 56 feet long and up to 26 feet wide, held the remains of more than 600 people who lived during the Chalcolithic period. The test results suggest that as many as 49 percent of the people in the sample may have had blue eyes, and many were likely fair-skinned as well. Overall, the people in the study had genomes that were closely related to people who lived in Anatolia and the Zagros Mountains. And, while some of the artifacts and ossuaries in the cave are typical of those found in the southern Levant, others look like they could have been made in the northern regions of the Near East. Shalem explained that this cultural shift can now be attributed to an influx of people from the north. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Step Pyramid Uncovered in China

August 24, 2018

SHAANXI, CHINA—Live Science reports that a step pyramid in the Neolithic site known as Shimao has been excavated in northern China by a team of researchers led by Li Jaang of Zhengzhou University, Zhouyong Sun and Jing Shao of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, and Min Li of the University of California, Los Angeles. It had been previously thought the structure was part of the Great Wall of China, which was built between 2,700 and 400 years ago. The 4,300-year-old pyramid’s 11 steps were lined with stone. On the top step, some 230 feet high, palaces for the city’s rulers were built with wood and rammed earth. The top step was even equipped with a water reservoir. The pyramid and its surrounding settlement were fortified with ramparts and gates. Six pits containing decapitated human heads were found in the outer rampart. The victims may have been captives from Zhukaigou, a nearby city. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Categories: Blog

Cham Towers Excavated in Vietnam

August 24, 2018

DA NANG CITY, VIETNAM—Vietnam Net reports that archaeologists are in the process of uncovering a complex of at least five Cham buildings in Phong Le Village, which is located in central Vietnam. Archaeologist Dang Hong Son said the structures include a main tower, a gate tower, a long house, and boundary walls that were dated to the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D. The site was situated along a river that no longer exists, and is thought to have been a trading port. A tube-shaped roof tile was decorated with a human face and Han script on its forehead. Stone statues of a lion, snakes, an elephant, and a legendary bird called a Garuda were also recovered, along with ceramics imported from China. The research team will continue to look for port structures. To read about archaeological investigation elsewhere in Southeast Asia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Pictish Stone Discovered in Scotland

August 23, 2018

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a stone carved with Pictish symbols has been recovered from the banks of the River Don in northeast Scotland by members of Historic Environment Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, and the University of Aberdeen. The stone was exposed because the recent drought has lowered the river’s water level. The figures on the stone, made sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries A.D., include a triple disc with a cross bar, a mirror, and a notched rectangle with two internal spirals. Aberdeen archaeologist Bruce Mann said such stones are rare, and the discovery of this stone in the river could help researchers understand how they were used. It has been suggested that the symbols could represent the names of individuals or groups. To read about attempts to reassemble a broken slab carved by the Picts, go to “Game of Stones.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study May Reveal Hominin Interactions

August 23, 2018

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a BBC News report, analysis of DNA recovered from a 50,000-year-old bone fragment unearthed in Russia’s Denisova Cave suggests that it belonged to a teenage girl who had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. The study also indicates the mother was more closely related to Neanderthal populations in Europe than to the Neanderthals who had previously lived in Denisova Cave, which is located in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. This suggests that Neanderthals migrated between western and eastern Eurasia. The girl’s Denisovan father also had at least one Neanderthal ancestor. Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) said that Neanderthals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet, but when they did, they probably mated more frequently than had been previously thought. “Out of this very little number we find one individual that is half-and-half mixed ancestry,” explained Viviane Slon, also of MPI-EVA. For more on the study of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Burials Discovered in Temple at Peru’s Chavin de Huantar

August 23, 2018

CHAVIN DE HUANTAR, PERU—The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that researchers led by John Rick of Stanford University have employed robotic four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with cameras and lights to explore the 3,000-year-old temple at the Chavin de Huantar archaeological site in Peru. So far, more than 30 narrow tunnels and passageways have been found. In the temple’s galleries, the team members spotted the graves of several men who were buried faced down under piles of rocks. “What’s interesting is that they weren’t people of high social standing,” Rick said. “They were probably sacrificed, but we’ll find that out with further studies.” To read about a site in Peru called Montegrande, including its similarities to some features at Chavin de Huantar, go to “Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

Categories: Blog

England’s Drought Reveals 18th-Century Forest Path

August 22, 2018

ESSEX, ENGLAND—England’s continuing drought has revealed a path thought to date to the eighteenth century in Hatfield Forest, according to The Dunmow Broadcast. Hatfield Forest, now owned by England’s National Trust, was a royal hunting forest dating back to the medieval period. In the eighteenth century, it was purchased by the wealthy Houblon family, who lived in the adjacent estate. The family added a lake to the center of the forest, which was modified by landscape architect Lancelot Capability Brown in 1757. He also added The Shell House, a picnic room decorated with flints and shells brought back from the West Indies as ballast in slave ships, to the landscaping at the lake. Park ranger Ian Pease said the trail probably served as a carriage route from the estate into the forest to the lake and picnic area. An excavation of areas of the path, led by archaeologist Shannon Hogan, could provide information about how it was constructed and how it has been impacted by the modern walkers who visit the forest. To read in-depth about the history of a grand estate in Kent, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

Categories: Blog

Eighteenth-Century Graves in Canada Threatened by Erosion

August 22, 2018

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, NOVA SCOTIA—The Cape Breton Post reports that a team of excavators led by Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick and David Ebert of Parks Canada is removing human remains from an eighteenth-century cemetery at the reconstructed Fortress of Louisbourg before the bones erode into the Atlantic Ocean. Built by the French and named for Louis XIV, the fortress was captured by British colonists in 1745, then returned to the French as part of a 1748 treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession. Captured by the British again in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War, the original fortifications at the site were dismantled by the British, who kept a garrison there until 1768. The cemetery, estimated to hold the remains of 1,000 people, is located on a peninsula known as Rochefort Point, up to half of which is thought to have worn away over the past 300 years. “They may have had tough lives,” Ebert said, “but these people were laid to rest with a great deal of care and affection—in some cases, for example, people would have invested in beautiful shroud pins to enclose the shroud around their loved ones when they are laid to rest.” Scott said examination of the bones will help researchers learn about those who built and lived in the fortress. To read in-depth about the discovery of a legendary 19th-century shipwreck in Canada, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

Excavation in Australia Recovers 1,000 Human Teeth

August 22, 2018

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—The Age reports that the archaeological investigation at the site of a new subway station on Swanston Street, one of the city’s original nineteenth-century thoroughfares, has uncovered a half-million artifacts, along with more than 1,000 human teeth. Buildings that once stood on the site housed a girls’ school, a hotel, and a hardware store. The artifacts include clay pipes, glass bongs made from beer bottles for smoking opium, a jet earring modeled after Queen Victoria’s mourning wear, a child’s slingshot, and a bone-handled fork. Many of the teeth had massive cavities, and are thought to have been pulled by dentists who had offices on the block. Most of teeth were found in the sediments or in pipes, suggesting they were flushed or washed down drains. To read about excavations at Pentridge Prison, in the Melbourne suburbs, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Categories: Blog

5,000-Year-Old Cemetery Excavated in Kenya

August 22, 2018

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—According to a report in The Guardian, Elisabeth Hildebrand of Stony Brook University says a 5,000-year-old communal cemetery in northwestern Kenya is evidence that early pastoralists who lived without social hierarchies were able to work together to achieve common goals. At least 580 individuals were buried in a mortuary cavity placed in the center of a platform measuring 90 feet across and marked by pillar-like megaliths at the Lothagam North site. The arrangement of the bodies, Hildebrand said, suggests the men, women, and children were buried without any indication of social ranking, and, she noted, all of them were buried with elaborate personal ornaments. The monument may also have been served as a meeting place to renew ties and exchange information. The burial cavity was eventually filled in and capped with thousands of stones. “We don’t know why or what happened next,” said project co-director Katherine Grillo of the University of Florida. To read about a massacre that occurred near Lake Turkana around 10,000 years ago, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

Categories: Blog

Rickets and the Roman Empire

August 21, 2018

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—CNN reports that researchers from McMaster University, Historic England, and the English Heritage Trust examined the remains of children who had been buried in cemeteries ranging from northern England to southern Spain and were surprised to find that more than one in 20 of those who lived between the first and sixth centuries A.D. showed signs of rickets, or weakened bones caused by vitamin D deficiency. The scientists suggest the disease may have resulted from the weaker sunshine in northern Europe, which can make it harder for the body to absorb vitamin D, and the fact that parents in the northern parts of the Roman Empire probably kept their children inside more of the time in an effort to protect them from the cool, cloudy climate. Children who lived near the Mediterranean Sea would have likely been exposed to more sunshine throughout the year, which would have helped to strengthen their bones, unless they lived in crowded apartment buildings, such as those found in the Rome’s seaport of Ostia. Megan Brickley of McMaster University said the small windows, closed-in courtyards, and narrow streets found there could account for the cases of rickets detected in Ostia’s ancient cemetery. For more on the detection of medical problems in ancient remains, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

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