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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, May 26

Phoenician DNA Sequenced

CARTHAGE, TUNISIA—Scientists have completely mapped the genome of the "Young Man of Byrsa,” a Phoenician who lived 2,500 years ago, and whose remains were discovered outside Carthage in 1994, reports the Independent. The Phoenicians were an influential seafaring people who originated in Lebanon around 1500 B.C. and then colonized much of the Mediterranean, including what is now Tunisia, where they founded Carthage. The team, co-led by University of Otago geneticist Lisa Matisoo-Smith, found that the man had a rare mitochondrial haplogroup that is thought to have originated 20,000 to 25,000 years ago among European hunter-gatherer populations. His DNA most closely matched that of a modern-day Portuguese person, and the researchers speculate that the Young Man of Byrsa's maternal ancestry lay somewhere on the Iberian Peninsula, not in North Africa or the Near East, as might have been expected. The team hopes further research on Phoenician DNA will reveal more about ancient migration and exchange patterns. To read more about Phoenicians, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks: Bajo de la Campagna.” 

Neanderthal Structures in French Cave Studied

AVEYRON VALLEY, FRANCE—A number of semicircular walls built from stalagmites by Neanderthals deep in a cave in southwestern France have been dated to around 176,000 years old, making them among the world’s oldest constructions, according to a report in Nature News. The six structures, first discovered in Bruniquel Cave in the early 1990s, are made of around 400 large stalagmite pieces broken from the cave floor and arranged in semi-circles as large as 22 feet wide. They lie around a fifth of a mile from the cave’s entrance and getting to them requires navigating a narrow approach. Researchers believe that at one time the pieces were stacked up to create walls. “It’s obvious when you see it, that it’s not natural,” said Dominique Genty of the Institute Pierre-Simon Laplace. Analysis of calcite that has accumulated on the stalagmites since they were broken established that the structures date to between 174,400 and 178,600 years ago. No remains of early humans, stone tools, or signs of occupation have been found, but researchers have concluded that Neanderthals made the structures as no other hominins are known to have been present in the area at the time. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Scanning Prehistoric Alpine Art

ABRI FARAVEL, FRANCE—In a small rock shelter in the French Alps some 7,000 feet above sea level, archaeologists have used laser scans to create virtual models of the highest rock art depictions of animals ever discovered in Europe, reports the Yorkshire Post. The shelter was in regular use beginning in the Mesolithic period, about 10,000 years ago, and was at least occasionally occupied up to the medieval period. The team, led by University of York archaeologist Kevin Walsh, has found Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools at the site, along with Iron Age pottery, a Roman-era brooch, and medieval metal objects. Nearby the cave they discovered Bronze Age stone dwellings and animal enclosures. While direct dating of the paintings themselves is impossible, they seem to be analogous to art made during the Neolithic at lower altitudes, and appear to depict a deer hunting scene. In addition to scanning the paintings, the team scanned the shelter itself and the surrounding landscape. “This is the only example of virtual models, including a scan of the art, done at high altitude in the Alps and probably the highest virtual model of an archaeological landscape in Europe,” said Walsh. To read more about scanning archaeological sites, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

19th-Century Ship Found Underground in Boston

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—The remains of a ship were recently discovered underground at a construction site in Boston’s Seaport District. Over the past few days, Boston’s city archaeologist, Joe Bagley, and colleagues have scrambled to learn as much about it as possible before construction resumes. Based on the ship’s nails, they have determined that it dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century. “It’s not terribly old,” Bagley told, “but it’s part of the maritime history of Boston either way.” The area where the approximately 50-foot-long ship was found consisted of mudflats that were filled in 1880 to create more buildable land. It is unclear whether the ship was deliberately sunk or left in place after crashing or running aground. There is evidence of a fire on board, though it could have occurred while the ship sank or later, to reduce the size of the wreckage. Inside the ship, the archaeologists have found dozens of barrels of lime, which may have been transported from Maine for use in concrete or to make paper. To read in-depth about a ship found underground in Manhattan, go to “The Hidden History of New York's Harbor.”


More Headlines
Wednesday, May 25

Female Mummy Found in Egypt’s Tombs of the Nobles

ASWAN, EGYPT—The mummy of an important woman named Sachiny from ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom has been discovered, according to a report in Egypt Independent. A team headed by archaeologist Alejandro Jimenez found the mummy in a two-layer cedar coffin during an excavation at the Tombs of the Nobles, west of Aswan in southern Egypt. The coffins had hieroglyphic inscriptions that helped identify the mummy. In addition, the inner coffin’s wood was in good condition, allowing it to be dated. Sachiny, who lived during the Twelfth Dynasty (1938–1755 B.C.), was part of a royal family. The Tomb of the Nobles also includes tombs of the governors of Aswan from ancient Egypt’s Old and Middle Kingdoms. To read about another recent discovery, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Roman Necropolis Discovered in Croatia

  TROGIR, CROATIA—Workers expanding a private parking lot in the coastal Croatian town of Trogir inadvertently unearthed a number of Roman-era graves, reports Total Croatia News. Upon learning of the discovery, the parking lot's owner halted work and contacted the staff of the local Trogir Museum. Archaeologists then found four stone urns and up to 18 tombstones left intact in the necropolis, which was located near a former Roman road that led from the city, then known as Tragurium, to the surrounding countryside. Dating to the first century A.D., the burials probably belonged to members of the upper class, as suggested by the discovery of grave goods such as a glass perfume bottle and a bronze needle. The team expects to find more burials as they continue to work at the site. To read in-depth about Roman archaeology, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.” 

Artifacts Spanning Three Centuries Unearthed in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—More than 80,000 artifacts at the site of the former visitors center at Independence National Historic Park have been unearthed in excavations over the past three years, according to a report in Philly Voice. The excavations, which were carried out by archaeologists from Commonwealth Heritage Group, have turned up unusually thorough evidence of the development of Philadelphia over three centuries. "Cities change; cities are so dynamic," said archaeologist Rebecca Yamin. "On this site we have captured that change.” Their findings include evidence of eighteenth-century taverns, nineteenth-century print shops, and a twentieth-century button factory. One standout find is an eighteenth-century punchbowl that depicts the Triphena, a brigantine ship that carried a message to Great Britain in an attempt to foment opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, which imposed some of the taxes that led to the American Revolution. Other artifacts found at the site include wig curlers, marbles, lead weights, and window glass with people’s names etched into it. For more, go to “Letter from Philadelphia: City Garden.”

Sustainable Prehistoric Oyster Harvests

CHESAPEAKE BAY, MARYLAND—A team led by Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Torben Rick has found that prehistoric Native Americans in Chesapeake Bay used sustainable methods to harvest oysters. The group studied a series of prehistoric shell mounds in the area, expecting to find that the size of oysters would decrease over time as they were harvested more intensively. But while they found size did fluctuate through the centuries, there was no evidence for an overall decline in shell size from about 3,500 to 400 years ago. “Archaeologists all over the world have documented size declines where indigenous peoples were intensively harvesting shellfish,” Rick told the Bay Journal. “We didn’t find that at all.” Rick hopes that study of the prehistoric oyster fishery might help inform efforts to rebuild the modern oyster population in Chesapeake Bay, which is just one percent of what it was a hundred years ago. For more about how prehistoric North Americans managed coastal resources, go to “The Edible Landscape.” 

Tuesday, May 24

Tracking the Black Death With Pottery

LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Examination of pottery from a widespread excavation campaign in eastern England supports the idea that there was a massive demographic collapse in the wake of the Black Death, which ravaged the country between 1346 and 1351. Because relatively few plague burials have been found, some scholars have doubted that the scale of depopulation was as great as medieval accounts suggest. But The Guardian reports that University of Lincoln archaeologist Carenza Lewis decided to test that hypothesis by using the relative amounts of domestic pottery recovered from different levels of some 2,000 standard test pits as a proxy for human population levels. Volunteers dug the pits in 55 rural locations known to have been occupied in the fourteenth century, and Lewis then analyzed the tens of thousands of pottery sherds that were recovered. Her study suggests the Black Death was responsible for an average population decline of 45 percent in the region, with some sites showing evidence of even steeper declines of up to 85 percent. To read more about medieval archaeology in this part of England, go to “Writing on the Church Wall.”

Site of Idaho’s Bear River Massacre Located

POCATELLO, IDAHO—The site where Union Army soldiers killed hundreds of Northwestern Shoshone in January 1863 has been identified, according to a report in the Idaho State Journal. The attack, known as the Bear River Massacre, took place at the confluence of Battle Creek and Bear River in eastern Idaho, but pinpointing it had been challenging since the river’s course has shifted multiple times in the past century and a half. Now, a team led by Idaho state archaeologist Ken Reid has used modern technology and maps made by soldiers who took part in the attack to determine that it took place around 2,300 feet north of where the creek and river join today. When Col. Patrick Connor and his 300 soldiers and cavalry launched their attack on January 29, 1863, Shoshone women and children tried to flee at the bottom of a nearby ravine. “I suspect it turned into a traffic jam and then a slaughter,” said Reid. For more, go to “Searching for the Comanche Empire.”

Neolithic Chinese Beer Recipe

MIJIAYA, CHINA—A new study shows that ceramic pots and funnels unearthed at a Neolithic site in Shaanxi province were used in China's earliest known brewery. Stanford University archaeologist Jiajing Wang analyzed residues on the artifacts, which date to between 3400 and 2900 B.C. and found traces of the chemical compound oxalate, a byproduct of brewing beer. She also discovered residues left by grains, including barley, which came as a surprise to her, since the earliest barley thus far known in China has been found in Bronze Age sites dating to around 2000 B.C. The grain was first used by the ancient Mesopotamians for brewing beer. "It is possible that when barley was introduced from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China, it came with the knowledge that the grain was a good ingredient for beer brewing," Wang told Live Science. "So it was not only the introduction of a new crop, but also the knowledge associated with the crop." To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Archaeologists Produce 3-D Models of Shipwrecks

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists have used 3-D printing technology to produce models of two wrecks that lie in waters off the United Kingdom, according to a report from BBC News. One wreck sits near Drumbeg and dates to the seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Its identity has not been confirmed, but it may be the Crowned Raven, a Dutch trading vessel that sank in the bay in 1690 or 1691 while en route from the Baltic Sea to Portugal. The other wreck is the HMHS Anglia, a World War I hospital ship that was lost off Folkestone in Kent in 1915 after striking a German mine. Experts from Wessex Archaeology used a range of imaging techniques as well as historical resources to produce the models of the wrecks. "It's been a fascinating process to transform the light captured in the photographs and the sound captured by the sonar sensors back into solid objects through the 3-D printing process,” said archaeologist John McCarthy. For more, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...