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Flint Tools Found in Australia Were Made With English Flint

April 2, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a BBC News report, indigenous Australians made traditional tools from flint cobbles carried to Australia as ballast on British ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The flint tools were among 100 to 200 culturally significant items that were found among tens of thousands of pieces of stone during construction work in what is now suburban Sydney. “This site doesn’t just contain the flint material, it contains a variety of other artifacts that show Aboriginal people working there,” said archaeologist Tim Owen of GML Heritage. Owen traced the flint to the Thames River, where convict ships were loaded with ballast for the journey to Australia. Chemical analysis revealed the samples Owen collected in London were identical to the worked flint uncovered in Sydney. For more on flint in the archaeological record, go to “Evolve and Catch Fire.”

Categories: Blog

Water Levels Likely Affected Canoe Routes Through Canada

April 2, 2018

 

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA—CBC News reports that Chris Shaw of the University of New Brunswick has created a computer model to investigate possible birch-bark canoe routes through the territory inhabited by the members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. That territory stretches from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, across Maine and into parts of Quebec. The model analyzes data on water levels during the different seasons, and known archaeological sites of the Wabanaki nations. “Those environmental changes may have affected the ways prehistoric ancestral Wabanaki people would have moved through the landscape, the routes they would have selected, and how long it would take to move to significant places such as archaeological sites in the interior to coastlines,” Shaw said. Mallory Moran of the University of William and Mary is also studying possible First Nations canoe routes through language and place names given to portages. “Many of these routes were part of a seasonal cycle,” she explained. Sometimes the names of the routes indicate they were used for the hunting of specific animals or fish. The routes would also have been traveled to maintain relationships with neighboring nations, added Shane Perley-Dutcher of the Tobique First Nation. To read about another discovery in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?”

Categories: Blog

Shipwreck Washes Ashore in Florida

March 31, 2018

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—The St. Augustine Record reports that a 50-foot-long section of a ship’s hull washed ashore from the Atlantic Ocean in north Florida. Maritime archaeologist Brendan Burke of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program said the ship was probably built in the mid-nineteenth century and has likely been buried in sand offshore for more than 100 years. Recent storms and wave action are thought to have released the ship from the sandy ocean bottom. Burke noted that trunnels, the wooden pegs securing the hull and wooden ribs, are visible on the wreckage, along with Roman numerals carved on its ribs, and copper tack heads that would have been used to attach copper sheathing to the hull. Burke and other experts are photographing the wreckage for a 3-D model, and collecting measurements and other information. “This is a community effort,” Burke explained. Florida’s state property and resource managers will have the final say over what happens to the shipwreck. To read about other discoveries in Florida, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

Categories: Blog

Linguists Estimate “Proto-Australian” is 10,000 Years Old

March 31, 2018

CALLAGHAN, AUSTRALIA—According to a BBC News report, a new study has traced all of Australia’s indigenous languages back to a single, common language known as Proto-Australian, spoken some 10,000 years ago. Mark Harvey of the University of Newcastle and Robert Mailhammer of Western Sydney University say the languages spread from a small area in northern Australia, where the greatest diversity in language is found. Harvey, Mailhammer, and their colleagues searched for recurrent and systematic traits in the sounds of words among the 120 surviving indigenous languages, and found them in the basic vocabularies spoken by people who lived as much as 60 miles apart. It “makes it very unlikely that they are the results of chance or [subsequent] language contact,” Mailhammer said. But the study results are not a good fit with the current understanding of how the first Australians spread across the continent. “So there are still lots of questions about how we understand the prehistory of Australia,” said Harvey. To read about another discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Categories: Blog

Rubble-Filled Roman Building in Bulgaria Dates to Goth Invasion

March 30, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a Roman-era public building has been found under a medieval cemetery in the ancient city of Philipopolis, which is located in what is now southern Bulgaria. The building was filled with rubble. Archaeologist Maya Martinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology and her team recovered a fragment of an Ionic capital, pottery, bronze lamps, and a bronze door key from the site. She suggested the Roman building could have been destroyed during the invasion of 70,000 Goths sometime between A.D. 250 and 251. “Back then the entire city was burned down and damaged,” she said. In July of A.D. 251, the Goths eventually defeated the Romans at the Battle of Abritus, killing Emperor Trajan Decius, and his son and co-emperor, Herennius Etruscus. To read about another recent find in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

Categories: Blog

Bronze Mirror Discovered in Japan

March 30, 2018

OKYAMA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a bronze mirror was discovered earlier this month in one of two stone chambers in a burial mound dating to the late third to early fourth century A.D. The mirror, which was found in situ, measures about five and one-half inches in diameter, and is broken in half. Jun Mitsumoto of Okayama University said the mirror is probably of the “daryukyo” type. Daryukyo mirrors were sculpted in Japan with reliefs of imaginary beasts holding sticks in their mouths. “I think we can narrow down a highly accurate date of burial together with the shape of the tomb and other artifacts excavated from here,” Mitsumoto said. To read about another artifact from Japan, go to “Dogu Figurine.”

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Conservators Tackle Tutankhamun’s Tomb

March 30, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that restoration and conservation of the tomb of Tutankhamun is nearly complete. When discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, the tomb in the Valley of the Kings had been sealed for more than 3,000 years by mud and rocks due to flooding that occurred soon after Tutankhamun’s death. Members of the Getty Conservation Institute and Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry analyzed brown spots that appeared on the walls soon after Carter opened the tomb. The spots were found to have been caused by microbes that are now dead and therefore no longer a threat to the ancient artworks. The wall paintings have been stabilized, and a new ventilation system was added to the tomb to deal with the humidity and carbon dioxide produced by visitors. Tourists can also bring dirt and dust into the tomb, which can lead to paint loss. New barriers have been installed to try to prevent additional scratches from being made on the walls in the tight space. Project specialist Lori Wong explained that the project has also allowed the conservators to collect information about the condition and causes of deterioration of the tomb that will help conservators to protect it in the future. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

Categories: Blog

“Scapegoat Doll” May Have Blended Shinto, Buddhist Rites

March 30, 2018

TOTTORI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a seven-inch strip of wood found at the Aoya-Yokogi archaeological site on the island of Honshu may have been used in rituals that blended elements of Shinto and Buddhism. Infrared photographs revealed a human image on the piece of wood, which dates to sometime between the late seventh and the late tenth centuries. The picture suggests the object was used as a “hitogata,” or scapegoat doll. Such dolls were used in purification ceremonies, known as o-harae, and other Shinto rituals. “It is possible to hypothesize that extraordinary o-harae sessions were held to contain epidemics, such as smallpox, which could have been introduced by foreigners who were visiting Japan in large numbers by way of the Sea of Japan at the time,” said Shigeru Ohira of the Historical Institute of Hyogo Prefecture. Ohira also said that many hitogata dolls have been found along the coast of the Sea of Japan. But this doll’s face has the earlobes and chin wrinkles characteristic of the Buddhist deity Nyorai. Ohira thinks a religious center near the excavation site may have been responsible for the blending of elements of Buddhism and Shinto. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglersapan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Byzantine Farmers Relied on Pigeons for Fertilizer

March 30, 2018

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a report in Haaretz, Byzantine farmers in the Negev Desert kept pigeons primarily as a source of fertilizer, and not as a source of meat. Nimrod Marom of the University of Haifa and Tel Hai College, Guy Bar-Oz and Yotam Tepper of the University of Haifa, and Baruch Rosen of the Volcani Center compared the skull and skeleton measurements of pigeons from multiple 1,500-year-old dovecotes at the sites of Shivta and Saadon, and compared them with other collections of pigeon bones. They found the Negev birds were much smaller than those known to have been bred for their meat. And, the farmers placed their dovecotes in the middle of agricultural fields, usually about one-half mile away from their own homes, which also suggests the birds were not consumed. The scientists estimate the 1,200 to 1,600 birds living in one of the dovecotes could have produced as much as 12 to 15 tons of guano per year that could be used to nourish grapes, olives, and other crops. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Categories: Blog

Oldest Human Footprints in Americas Discovered

March 29, 2018

CALVERT ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA—Live Science reports that archaeologists have discovered the oldest human footprints in the New World below the surface of a beach on Calvert Island, about 60 miles off the coast of British Columbia. The prints total 29 in all, and belong to two adults and a child who were walking barefoot together near the water's edge. Two pieces of wood found in association with the footprints allowed the researchers to date the trackway to between 13,300 and 13,000 years ago, or the end of the last Ice Age. The researchers note that while bears are known to make tracks similar to humans, careful analysis of the prints shows bear paws would not have been able to make them. To read about early human exploration of the New World, go to “The First Americans.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Italian Grave Reveals Coffin Birth

March 29, 2018

IMOLA, ITALY—According to a report in Live Science, archaeologists have analyzed the 1,300-year-old remains—initially discovered in 2010—of a woman who posthumously gave birth to a stillborn fetus in the grave. Rarely discovered archaeologically, coffin births refer to the expulsion of a fetus after death and are caused by the build-up of gas pressure from the decomposition of a pregnant woman’s body. Skeletal evidence shows signs that before her death, the interred underwent a primitive medieval brain surgery called trepanation, which involves drilling into the patient's skull to relieve pressure. Archaeologists speculate that, in this case, the procedure was intended to treat preeclampsia or eclampsia. To read more about medieval Italy, go to “Fifteen Centuries of Life in Chianti.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Britons Weathered Severe Cooling

March 28, 2018

 

SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND—People living at the early Mesolithic site of Star Carr in northern England survived two periods of dramatic climate change around 9000 B.C. The Northern Echo reports that researchers used macrofossils and pollen unearthed at the site, together with isotopes from sediment in a nearby lake, to create a history of the region’s microclimate. They found that during the site’s occupation the average temperature dropped dramatically during two episodes that each lasted around 100 years. “It has been argued that abrupt climatic events may have caused a crash in Mesolithic populations in Northern Britain,” says Simon Blockley, a paleoclimatologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “But our study reveals, that at least in the case of the pioneering colonizers at Star Carr, early communities were able to cope with extreme and persistent climate events." To read about an engimatic artifact discovered at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

Categories: Blog

Orkney’s Neolithic Burials Revisited

March 28, 2018

 

ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND—Bones discovered in Neolithic tombs on the Orkney Islands tend to be mixed together in a way that make them seem unconnected. But, according to a report from BBC News, a new study suggests there is more order to the collections than meets the eye. Based on her analysis of the bones, archaeologist Rebecca Crozier of the University of Aberdeen has concluded that complete bodies were likely deposited in the chambered structures and then taken apart later. “When we look at these assemblages we're finding that all the elements of the human body—so, every single bone—is present at some level within the tomb," Crozier said. She believes that people may have gone into the tombs after the burial and dismembered the bodies, possibly to help ensure that all the remains in a given tomb decayed at the same rate. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Categories: Blog

Thousands of Bronze Coins Unearthed in Japan

March 28, 2018

SAITAMA, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, at least 100,000 bronze coins with holes in their centers were discovered in a fifteenth-century ceramic jar at the Arai Horinouchi archaeological site, located on the island of Honshu. So far, researchers have studied 70 of the coins, which were strung on a piece of cord, and identified 19 different types, minted in China and other places in Japan. A thin wooden tablet had been placed at the edge of the jar’s stone lid, with the words “nihyaku rokuju,” meaning 260, written on it in ink. The label could indicate that 260 kan, or units of 1,000 coins, had been placed in the jar. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Ancient Hominin Brains

March 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University has revised conclusions she drew from her earlier research regarding the brain structure of ancient hominins. In 2014, Falk studied endocasts of three Australopithecus africanus individuals, and one Australopithecus sediba, and suggested the impressions of brain folds left inside those braincases could indicate development in the areas of the brain involved in speech production. At the time, Falk said those creases were distinctly humanlike. However, in their new study, Falk and her colleagues analyzed MRIs of eight living chimpanzees, and found creases on the surfaces of their brains similar to the ones she had thought signified modern human–like brain organization in the ancient hominins. The study also found grooves in the brain of one of the chimps that correspond with a structure on a Homo naledi endocast that had been thought to be humanlike. Falk said her new research highlights the need for further study of living primates and how specific folds and creases on the surface of the brain relate to its inner structures. For more on brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Ancient Hominin Brains

March 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University has revised conclusions he drew from his earlier research regarding the brain structure of ancient hominins. In 2014, Falk studied endocasts of three Australopithecus africanus individuals, and one Australopithecus sediba, and suggested the impressions of brain folds left inside those braincases could indicate development in the areas of the brain involved in speech production. At the time, Falk said those creases were distinctly humanlike. However, in their new study, Falk and his colleagues analyzed MRIs of eight living chimpanzees, and found creases on the surfaces of their brains similar to the ones he had thought signified modern human–like brain organization in the ancient hominins. The study also found grooves in the brain of one of the chimps that correspond with a structure on a Homo naledi endocast that had been thought to be humanlike. Falk said his new research highlights the need for further study of living primates and how specific folds and creases on the surface of the brain relate to its inner structures. For more on brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

Categories: Blog

6,000 Years on a Landscape in East England Revealed

March 27, 2018

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a range of discoveries were made in farmland now in the path of a highway bypass in East England. The discoveries included Neolithic trackways and henges; a Roman army camp, trade distribution center, and pottery kilns; and Anglo-Saxon villages and a boundary site with ditches, a gated entrance, and a beacon on a hill. The distribution of medieval villages suggests they sat along a Roman road now buried under the current highway system. Other villages were placed around the Neolithic barrows and henges, suggesting those monuments retained cultural significance. At one of the sites, located in what is now the village of Houghton, the archaeologists found that a medieval village of at least 12 buildings had been constructed over the remains of 40 Anglo-Saxon structures, including houses, workshops, and agricultural buildings. “The medieval village was occupied between the twelfth and early fourteenth centuries, and the most likely explanation for its abandonment was that they lost the use of their woods when they were enclosed as a royal forest,” said Emma Jeffery of Mola Headland Infrastructure. Once the village lost its grazing and foraging areas and its source of bark for tanning leather, it could no longer survive, she explained. For more on medieval England, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Categories: Blog

Amazon’s Earthworks Spotted in Satellite Images

March 27, 2018

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a report in New Scientist, areas of Brazil’s Amazon Basin thought to have been made up of virgin forests may have once been densely populated. A retired financial manager in São Paulo contacted archaeologists after he spotted circular earthworks in online satellite images of the southern rim of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. More than 80 possible pre-Columbian sites, including small ditched enclosures and large settlements with mounds, plazas, and causeways, dating to between A.D. 1250 and 1500, were detected by scientists during a survey. Excavation at some of the sites revealed pottery and dark earth, which suggests the land had been farmed intensively. Jonas Gregorio de Souza of the University of Exeter said many of the earthworks were likely to have been fortified settlements. The one million people thought to have lived in these settlements likely died of disease and violence brought by European explorers and slavers. To read about other recent discoveries made using satellite imagery, go to “Satellites on the Silk Road.”

Categories: Blog

Mummified Remains Found in Ancient Egyptian Coffin

March 27, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in ABC News Australia, human remains were discovered in a 2,500-year-old Egyptian coffin that has been stored at the University of Sydney for the past 150 years. It had been previously thought that the looted coffin was empty. Hieroglyphics indicate it was made for a priestess named Mer-Neith-it-es, but the mummy fragments inside the coffin are not necessarily hers. Radiologist John Magnussen said scans of the debris revealed feet and ankle bones that were largely intact, and that the remains belonged to an adult over the age of 30. After the scan, Egyptologist Connie Lord sifted through the contents of the coffin, and found among the debris the lump of hardened resin that had been poured into the mummy’s skull after the brain had been removed. “Little by little this excavation is really telling us more about the person in the coffin and hopefully giv[ing] it some dignity that it lost when in ancient times it was looted so badly,” Lord said. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

Categories: Blog

2,000-Year-Old Illustration Depicts Village in Japan

March 27, 2018

IBARAKI, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, nine pieces of unglazed earthenware dating to the Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.–A.D. 300) were uncovered at the Nakagawara site on the island of Honshu. When the pieces were fitted together, researchers from the Ibaraki Municipal Education Board found images of five wooden structures built on stilts with ridge roofs and ornamental cornices. The center building is smaller than the others, while another has a ladder leading to a raised platform, and yet another has munamochi-bashira, or pillars to support a shrine’s gables. “The structure with munamochi-bashira must be a key structure,” said Tadashi Kurosaki, director of the Museum of Yayoi Culture in Osaka Prefecture. “The etchings were clearly meant to portray in detail a daily scene in the settlement.” For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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