Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 01

Floridians Responded to Rising Sea Levels in Prehistory

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Erosion of an ancient coastal burial ground near Cedar Key sent archaeologists led by Ken Sassaman of the University of Florida to excavate the graves and move the human remains before they were lost. He found, however, that the 32 graves had been moved to that location long ago from somewhere else. “They’re digging up their dead that are washing away into the Gulf of Mexico and relocating them to the place they’re going to move to. These guys, they never abandoned the coast. They were adaptive,” Sassaman told the Tampa Bay Times. He noted that shell mounds in the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuges show that when the sea levels were higher, people ate oysters, then switched to clams when the seas receded and more freshwater was present. Sassaman also thinks that ancient coastal dwellers used shells to build mounds and rings around their villages to protect them from rising waters. Those structures could have been used for generations. “They came back and used the places their predecessors used,” he explained. To read about an excavation in Florida that unearthed artifacts spanning a period of 10,000 years, go to "Florida History Springs Forth."

Egyptian Mummy Receives High-Tech Scan

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A 3,200-year-old Egyptian mummy currently housed at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco was transported to the Stanford University School of Medicine for a computed tomography (CT) scan. The mummy, known as Hatason, was brought to the United States in the late nineteenth century in a wooden coffin that depicts a woman wearing everyday clothing. “When mummies came into the collections of most museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were dated and sexed based upon the coffin the mummy was found in. We now know that rampant reuse of coffins means these assumptions may be wrong,” Stanford Egyptologist Anne Austin told the Stanford Medicine News Center. The scans revealed the mummy’s brain had been left intact. The researchers also saw that the body had disintegrated within the wrappings. The size of the skull, however, suggests that this was indeed a young woman. Jonathan Elias, director of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, thinks this mummy dates to the New Kingdom period, between the sixteenth and eleventh centuries B.C. “In mummies manufactured after a certain time, there is excerebration almost 100 percent of the time. But we have no excerebration,” he explained. To read more about CT scanning and other investigations of mummies, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Doors Under the Templo Mayor May Lead to Emperors’ Cremains

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—A passageway with two sealed chambers that may hold the cremated remains of Aztec emperors has been found in the 27-foot-long tunnel under the Templo Mayor complex. The passageway, which is about 18 inches wide and five feet tall, leads deep into the ceremonial platform known as the Cuauhxicalco, where rulers’ remains are thought to have been cremated. “What we are speculating is that behind these sealed-up entrances there could be two small chambers with the incinerated remains of some rulers of Tenochtitlan, like Moctezuma I and his successors, Axayacatl and Tízoc, given the relative dating of the surrounding constructions,” Leonardo Lopez Lujan of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Associated Press. To read more, go to "Under Mexico City: Templo Mayor."

Fossilized Wild Peach Pits Discovered in China

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—Tao Su of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Garden discovered eight well-preserved fossilized peach pits more than 2.5 million years old near his home in southwest China when road construction crews exposed a rock outcrop dating to the late Pliocene. Archaeological evidence suggests that peaches were domesticated in China some 8,000 years ago, but remains of wild peaches had not been found until now. Su took the peach pits to Penn State, where they were dated and studied while he was a visiting scholar. “Is the peach we see today something that resulted from artificial breeding under agriculture since prehistory, or did it evolve under natural selection? The answer is really both,” Peter Wilf of Penn State University said in a press release. “If you imagine the smallest commercial peach today, that’s what these would look like. It’s something that would have had a fleshy, edible fruit around it. It must have been delicious,” he added. To read about looting of ancient sites in China, go to "Letter from China: Tomb Raider Chronicles."


More Headlines
Monday, November 30

Captive Bonobos Observed Making, Using Tools

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The University of Haifa announced that bonobos have been observed making and using tools and spears for the first time. Chimpanzees in nature have been seen making tools to obtain food such as tubers and termites, breaking open nuts with hammers and anvils, and making spears from branches for hunting. Itai Roffman of the university’s Institute of Evolution provided bonobos in a zoo setting and in a sanctuary setting with food that had been buried, hidden, and concealed in various locations. He also provided them with raw materials for toolmaking such as green branches and deer antlers. Both groups of bonobos were able to perform the food extraction tasks, but the sanctuary bonobos were much more successful. “The bonobos essentially showed that once they have the motivation to do so, they have analogous capabilities to those of archaic pre-humans, which is logical as chimpanzees and bonobos are our genetic sister species,” said Roffman in a press release. In addition, the dominant female in the zoo group crafted spears from the sticks, and she used the weapons to threaten Roffman. “To the zoo bonobos, I was a trespasser who was violating their privacy and stalking them,” he added. To read about the earliest known stone tools, go to "The First Toolkit."

Study Suggests Reasoning Alone Can Advance Culture

EXETER, ENGLAND—A new study by scientists from the University of Exeter suggests that while teaching is useful for transmitting cultural knowledge, people can use reasoning and reverse engineering of existing objects to learn how to make them. The research team provided groups of people with materials to make rice baskets. Some were then asked to produce a basket alone, while others were part of a “transmission chain” where they could examine a basket, imitate another person’s actions, or receive instruction in basket weaving. At first, those participants who were taught to make baskets produced the most robust examples, but after six attempts, all groups made progress in the amount of rice that their baskets could carry. “Humans do much more than learn socially, we have the ability to think independently and use reason to develop new ways of doing things. This could be the secret to our success as a species,” Alex Thornton of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation said in a press release. To read about the transmission of culture in Borneo, go to "Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory."

Betrayal of Trust May Have Fueled Early Migrations

YORK, ENGLAND—Human ancestors migrated when population increases or ecological changes forced them to look for new, similar living environments. But around 100,000 years ago, people began to disperse across environmental barriers into new regions at a much faster rate. Penny Spikins of the University of York thinks that developing human emotional relationships, and the resulting moral disputes and betrayals among groups of people, may have motivated them to make such risky moves into new territories. “Active colonizations of and through hazardous terrain are difficult to explain through immediate pragmatic choices. But they become easier to explain through the rise of the strong motivations to harm others even at one’s own expense which widespread emotional commitments bring,” she said in a press release. “Moral conflicts provoke substantial mobility—the furious ex ally, mate or whole group, with a poisoned spear or projectile intent on seeking revenge or justice, are a strong motivation to get away, and to take almost any risk to do so,” she said. To read about how insects spread around the world, go to "Ant Explorers."

Kitchen Area Uncovered at Shakespeare’s New Place

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, ENGLAND—Excavators led by Staffordshire University’s Centre of Archaeology have uncovered the kitchen at New Place, William Shakespeare’s family home for nearly 20 years. Shakespeare purchased the impressive home, which had ten fireplaces and more than 20 rooms, in 1597. The kitchen, where fragments of plates, cups, and other cookware were uncovered, had a cold storage pit and a fire hearth. The team also found a brew house where small beer was made and foods were pickled and salted. “Finding Shakespeare’s ‘kitchen’ proved to be a vital piece of evidence in our understanding of New Place. Once we had uncovered the family’s oven we were able to understand how the rest of the house fitted around it. The discovery of the cooking areas, brew house, pantry, and cold storage pit, combined with the scale of the house, all point to New Place as a working home as well as a house of high social status,” Paul Edmonson, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Head of Research and Knowledge, said in a press release. The research has led to new drawings of the house. The site will reopen for visitors with artworks, landscaping, and exhibitions in time to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. To read about the unearthing of King Richard III's skeleton, which was a Top Discovery of 2013, go to "Richard III’s Last Act."

Wednesday, November 25

Instagram Photos May Show Illegal Excavation in Arkansas

CRAWFORD COUNTY, ARKANSAS—The U.S. Forest Service is investigating a man who may have illegally excavated prehistoric artifacts from the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in Arkansas, according a report from 5News. The television station’s report is based on a search warrant affidavit from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Arkansas. The investigation began in May 2015, when the Forest Service received an anonymous tip that the man’s Instagram account contained evidence of what appeared to be illegal digging in the National Forest. Based on photos from the account, officers set up cameras to monitor several areas, which captured further evidence. According to the 5News report, an Ozark National Forest archaeologist told investigators that many of the artifacts in the photos would not have been found on the ground surface. No charges have been filed pending completion of the investigation. To read about Native American rock art sites in Arkansas, go to "Off the Grid."

Gold Ring Depicting Cupid Discovered in England

TANGLEY, ENGLAND—A gold ring containing a stone engraved with an image of Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, has been found by an amateur metal detectorist near the English village of Tangley. Live Science reports that researchers who have examined the ring have determined that, based on its design, it dates to around the fourth century A.D., when England was part of the Roman Empire. In the engraving, made in a type of onyx called nicolo, an adolescent male stands completely naked, resting one arm on a column and holding a torch in the other. A small pair of wings emerging from his shoulders identifies him as Cupid, the researchers note. The ring has been acquired by the Hampshire Museums Service and will be put on display at the Andover Museum in Andover. To read about an ancient Roman burial in England, go to "What's in a Name?"

Elephant Butchering Site Found in Greece

MEGALOPOLIS, GREECE—Researchers have uncovered the nearly complete skeleton of an elephant and a collection of stone tools at the Lower Paleolithic site known as Marathousa 1, reports PhysOrg. Some of the elephant’s bones bear distinctive cut marks that indicate the animal was butchered by the region’s inhabitants between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago. Marathousa 1 is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Greece and the discovery marks it as “the only site in the Balkans where we have evidence of an elephant being butchered in the early Paleolithic," according to Katerina Harvati of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen, who participated in the excavation. To read about the use of elephants in ancient Mediterranean warfare, go to “Clash of the War Elephants.”