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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 26

Hunters May Have Driven New Zealand’s Swans to Extinction

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND— reports that New Zealand’s native black swans were hunted to extinction by Polynesians in the fifteenth century. Nic Rawlence of the University of Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory and his team compared the skeletons of living birds and fossilized swan remains, and examined DNA samples of the birds. The researchers concluded that almost all of the black swans now living in New Zealand are descended from swans brought from Australia in the 1860s. The native swans also arrived from Australia, but between one and two million years ago. They were heavier, and had longer legs and smaller wings, and might have eventually become flightless in another million years, Rawlence said. It had been thought the black swans living in New Zealand now were the same species as those found in the fossil record. Rawlence and his colleagues dubbed the fossil species “pouwa,” after a black bird that lived in the Chatham Islands in a Moriori legend. For more, go to “Angry Birds.”

Bronze Age “Lunch Box” Found in Switzerland

MUNICH, GERMANY—A wooden box containing traces of grains has been recovered on Switzerland’s Lötschberg Mountain, according to a report in The International Business Times. The 3,500-year-old box is thought to have been lost or forgotten at the summit of an alpine pass, some 8,500 feet above sea level. Molecular traces of spelt, emmer, and barley were detected in the box by a team including Jessica Hendy of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “We knew that cereals were around but don’t know how important they were in the general economy,” she said. “Now we’ve developed this, we can try to apply it more widely to understand how important cereals were for these early farmers.” For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

Gold Coin and Ivory Icon Unearthed in Bulgaria

BOURGAS, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a gold coin and an icon carved from ivory have been unearthed at the site of Rusokastro Fortress, which is located on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast. Milen Nikolov of the Regional History Museum in Bourgas said the fortress was part of a complex defense system along the border with Byzantium. The coin dates to the early seventh century A.D., to the reign of Emperor Phocas, when the fortress is thought to have been built. The ivory icon, an extremely valuable item, probably belonged to a ruler who lived in the palace built on the site at the end of the fourteenth century. “Historically, it is definitely the place where Tsar Ivan Alexander, Emperor Andronik III Paleologus, and probably King Todor Svetoslav Terter resided,” Nikolov said. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Freshwater Turtles Hunted in Israel 60,000 Years Ago

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Rebecca Biton of Hebrew University has found evidence that hominins hunted freshwater turtles in the northern Jordan Valley some 60,000 years ago. “In Israel, at every archaeological site you will find some evidence of the exploitation of tortoises, which do not have much meat, but were consumed,” she said. The discovery of Western Caspian turtle remains, which live in fresh water, suggests that humans were also exploiting animals from Hula Lake and the surrounding swamps. “They took the turtle and smashed the shell and cooked whatever meat they could extract,” she said. The meat was carefully removed with a flint knife, she added. For more, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”


More Headlines
Tuesday, July 25

Christian Crucifix Found at Michigan’s Fort Michilimackinac

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—According to a report by 9 & 10 News, archaeologists working at the site of an eighteenth-century fur trader’s home in Fort Michilimackinac have discovered a small brass crucifix. Archaeologist Lynn Evans suggested the artifact may be older than the British trade silver uncovered at the site last week. Located on the shore of the Straits of Mackinac, the fort was constructed by French soldiers in 1715 and thrived as a center of the fur trade, even after the British took control in 1761. During the Revolutionary War, however, the British demolished the fort and moved the fur trading hub to Mackinac Island. The cross was found in the rubble left behind at the site of the original fort. For more on archaeology in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Byzantine-Era Wine Press Discovered in Israel

RAMAT NEGEV, ISRAEL—A 1,600-year-old wine press has been found in a large building along the incense trade route in the southern Negev desert, according to a report in The Times of Israel. Archaeologist Tali Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the stone building measured about 44 yards square—large enough to have supplied wine for an army unit or for export throughout the Byzantine Empire. Its juice run-off pit could have held more than 1,500 gallons. “In the entire southern Negev region, there is only one other wine press that is included inside an enclosed structure,” commented archaeologist Yoram Chaimi. Gini thinks the winepress fell out of use after a sixth-century plague, when there was less need for wine in the region. For more, go to “A Prehistoric Cocktail Party.”

1,100-Year-Old Coin Unearthed in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a ninth-century coin was found alongside evidence of a longhouse at Burghead Fort, a site researchers believe to have been a Pictish power center in northeast Scotland. The site is thought to have been occupied between 500 and 1000 A.D., and was largely destroyed by a nineteenth-century building project. The Alfred the Great coin, discovered in the longhouse's floor layers, was pierced, so it may have been worn by its owner. “The coin is also interesting as it shows that the fort occupants were able to tap into long-distance trade networks,” said Gordon Noble, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Monday, July 24

A History of Citrus Fruit

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University has traced the spread of citrus fruit from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, according to a report in Live Science. She used ancient texts, murals, coins, and other artifacts to study the ancient citrus trade, and she tracked the spread of citrus fruits from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean through fossil pollen, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remains. Langgut found that by the third and second centuries B.C., the citron had spread to the western Mediterranean from the Levant, where a 2,500-year-old fruit was found in a Persian-style garden in Jerusalem. The oldest lemon found in Rome dates to sometime between the late first century B.C. and the early first century A.D. She explained that, at first, lemons and citrons were reserved for the Roman elite, who prized them for their healing qualities, pleasant odor, taste, and symbolic use. She thinks sour oranges, limes, and pomelos may have been grown as cash crops more than a millennium later, which made them available to more people. “The Muslims played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe, as evident also from the common names of many of the citrus types which were derived from Arabic,” Langgut said. For more on the archaeology of food, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

18th-Century Plague Victims Unearthed in Medieval Cemetery

POZNAŃ, POLAND—The remains of three people who may have died during an early eighteenth-century epidemic have been unearthed at the site of a medieval cemetery in west-central Poland, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. A silver coin helped archaeologists date the burials. “The medieval graves are dug deep beneath the surface of the earth, so it was a surprise to discover three skeletons above them,” said archaeologist Pawel Pawlak. As many as eight or nine thousand people, or 65 percent of the population of Poznań, are thought to have died of the plague in 1709. “The residents of Poznań had to deal with the burials of their loved ones themselves,” Pawlak explained. The bodies are thought to have been buried in a garden near a house. One of the bodies, which appears to have belonged to an elderly woman, had been placed in a pine coffin, and the other two were probably just wrapped in shrouds. Among the medieval burials in the cemetery, Pawlak’s team also found the remains of a man who may have been executed and quartered before he was hastily buried in a pit. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”

Small Pot Unearthed at Scotland’s Ness of Brodgar

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a rare small pot with a “waisted” profile has been discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, a 5,000-year-old complex of monumental stone buildings enclosed by thick stone walls. Victorian archaeologists suggested such pots could have held incense, perhaps in ceremonies, according to site director Nick Card. He added that such pots seem to be associated with the burials, but analysis of residues in the pots has been inconclusive. The pots could also have been used to carry embers for cremations, he said. To read in-depth about the Ness of Brodgar, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Possible Extinct Human Relative Detected in Saliva

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Omer Gokcumen of the University at Buffalo say they detected a “ghost” species of ancient hominin while they were studying a protein that occurs in saliva and its influence on the bacteria in the human mouth. To study the protein, known as MUC7, the researchers examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The researchers say a version of the gene found in people living in sub-Saharan Africa was “wildly different” from those found in other modern humans. Gokcumen explained that even the MUC7 genes from Neanderthal and Denisovan samples were closer to those of other modern human populations than the sub-Saharan variant. He thinks the variation may have been introduced to the population by an as-yet-undiscovered hominin that lived as recently as 150,000 years ago, based upon gene mutation rates. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”