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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 28

Large Foundation Discovered at James Monroe’s Home

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Excavations at Highland, the home of the United States' fifth president, James Monroe, have uncovered the foundation of a large house, according to a report in The Virginia Gazette. It had been thought that the modest building on the site was Monroe’s home, built in 1799, but dendrochronology of its corner posts suggests that they were cut between 1815 and 1818. This building is now thought to have been constructed during renovations of the property, perhaps as a guest house, mentioned by Monroe in a letter to his son-in-law in September 1818. “This finding represents a breakthrough in how the nation understands Monroe and how he lived,” said Sara Bon-Harper, executive director of James Monroe’s Highland. The newly uncovered foundation includes a chimney base and a stone cellar. Charred wood suggests that the house was destroyed by fire sometime after Monroe sold the property in 1826. Later newspaper accounts refer to the destruction of the former Monroe residence, and the construction of another home on the property in the 1870s. To read more about archaeology in Virginia, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Humanoid Robot Dives on Seventeenth-Century Shipwreck

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology teamed with Oussama Khatib, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, to create OceanOne, a prototype humanoid robot designed to perform intricate underwater tasks. The robot has a head with stereoscopic vision and two fully articulated arms and hands that relay haptic feedback to the pilot’s controls. “You can feel exactly what the robot is doing. It’s almost like you are there; with the sense of touch you create a new dimension of perception,” Khatib told Engineering.com. In addition, sensors in the body monitor the current and automatically adjust to keep the robot stable. To test OceanOne, the team explored the wreck of La Lune, King Louis XIV’s flagship, which sank in 1664 off the southern coast of France. The deep water makes it a dangerous place for human divers, but OceanOne, guided by Khatib back on the boat, carefully recovered a vase from the wreck and placed it in a recovery basket. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."

Kennewick Man Is Covered By NAGPRA

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON—According to an Associated Press report, the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 in southeastern Washington, is related to modern Native American populations. “I am confident that our review and analysis of new skeletal, statistical, and genetic evidence have convincingly led to a Native American Determination,” said Brig. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, commander of the corps’ Northwestern Division. This means that the 8,500-year-old remains are now covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Kennewick Man is currently held at the Burke Museum in Seattle, under the custody of the Army Corps of Engineers. Interested tribes, such as the Colville, Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Wanapum Indians, are planning to submit a joint request for the repatriation of the remains, also known as the Ancient One. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Carnivore May Have Snacked on Hominin Femur

PARIS, FRANCE—Camille Daujeard and Denis Geraads of France’s National Museum of Natural History recently examined a hominin femur recovered from a Moroccan cave in 1994. Likely to have belonged to Homo rhodesiensis, the bone is covered with tooth marks that the researchers say were left by a large carnivore, possibly an extinct hyena. A report in Live Science adds that the marks were covered with sediment, so they were likely to have been made at the time of the hominin’s death or shortly after it. “During this period, early humans likely competed for space [such as natural caves] and resources with large carnivores, who occupied many of the same areas,” said Daujeard. The cave also contained the bones of animals such as gazelles and jackals, and stone tools dating to the Middle Pleistocene, between 781,000 and 126,000 years ago. Hominins are also thought to have scavenged and hunted large carnivores at this time. To read more about Pleistocene archaeology, go to "An Opportunity for Early Humans in China."

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Wednesday, April 27

3,700-Year-Old Egyptian Seal Discovered at Tel Dor

HAIFA, ISRAEL—A birdwatcher visiting Tel Dor last winter discovered an Egyptian scarab brought to the surface by heavy rains. According to a report in The Times of Israel, the seal is thought to have belonged to an official from the Thirteenth Dynasty, dating back to the eighteenth century B.C. “The scarab belonged to a very senior figure in the kingdom, probably the viceroy responsible for the royal treasury,” said Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa. Researchers think the scarab may have been carried to northern Israel by the viceroy or his representative, or it may have arrived at the site later, during the Roman period, when there was a demand for Egyptian artifacts. To read about another recent Egyptological discovery, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."

Ancient Cemetery Found in Central Taiwan

TAICHUNG CITY, TAIWAN—Among the 48 sets of human remains unearthed in an ancient cemetery in central Taiwan, archaeologists found the graves of five children, and the remains of a woman who had been buried with an infant in her arms some 4,800 years ago. “When it was unearthed, all of the archaeologists and staff members were shocked. Why? Because the mother was looking down at the baby in her hands,” Chu Whei-lee of Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science said in a Reuters report. For more, go to "The Price of Tea in China."

Traces of Oregon Ranger’s Station Revealed by Drought

DETROIT, OREGON—Low water levels in Oregon’s Detroit Lake revealed a wooden cargo wagon and a concrete pit near what had been a Forest Service ranger station before the area was flooded in 1953 by the Detroit Dam. U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Cara Kelly interviewed locals who lived in the area, known as Old Detroit, and learned that at one time, the pit in question may have been lined with rocks and filled with goldfish. “It really was the beginning of full administration and protection of the forest reserves. Guard stations during this time served as backcountry living quarters where forest rangers were stationed during the summer, constructing trails, installing telephone lines, and patrolling land on horseback in search of smoke from wildfires,” she said in a report in the Appeal Tribune. To read about another site where the U.S. Forest Service is conducting research, go to "Off the Grid."

Large, Neolithic Flint Axes Discovered in Denmark

VIBORG, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that two flint axes, said to be the largest ever found in Denmark, have been recovered from a drained bog near Tastum Lake. The flint axes date to the Neolithic period and are thought to have been placed in the bog as part of a ritual sacrifice between 3800 and 3500 B.C. “It’s fascinating that they could master the flint and produce such a perfect ax,” said archaeologist Mikkel Kieldsen of the Viborg Museum. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to "Bronze Age Bride."

Tuesday, April 26

Archaeologist Re-examines Arkansas Post Hole

PARKIN, ARKANSAS—Archaeologist Jeffrey Mitchem of the Arkansas Archeological Survey has sent a sample of a wooden post first unearthed at Parkin Archeological State Park in 1966 to David Stalhe, a tree-ring specialist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. According to a report in Arkansas Online, carbon dating of the bald cypress post in 1966 indicated that it was cut between 1515 and 1663. Mitchem’s team has rediscovered the posthole, which measures about 35 inches in diameter and is more than five feet deep. Some have speculated that the post was part of a large cross said to have been erected by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto at a village called Casqui in 1541. “The best indication we could have is if the carbon-14 testing says it’s from 1541,” Mitchem said. For more on archaeology in Arkansas, go to "Off the Grid."

Roman Venus Figurine Unearthed in England

LONG MELFORD, ENGLAND—Volunteers digging a test pit in the Suffolk village of Long Melford uncovered a small “pseudo Venus” that is missing its head and pedestal. Fragments of similar figurines have been found in nearby Colchester and along Hadrian’s Wall. John Nunn, one of the volunteers, has conducted research leading him to conclude that the carving, which dates to the first or second century, could indicate that a Roman fort was located nearby. Archaeological officer Fay Minter says that evidence of a Roman town has been found in Long Melford. “To confirm that there was a Roman fort in Long Melford,” she said in a report in the East Anglian Daily Times, “we would have to make more early military finds such as armor or buckles.” To read about another Roman statue found in England, go to "Artifact."

3-D Technology Applied to Oldest-Known Trackway

DORSET, ENGLAND—Human ancestors may have had a modern, upright gait earlier than had been previously thought, according to research conducted by archaeologists from Bournemouth University. Sedimentologist Matthew Bennett used computer software developed for analyzing crime-scene footprints to create and analyze 3-D images of the 3.6 million-year-old hominin footprints preserved in Laetoli, Tanzania, and discovered in the 1970s. Archaeologists had only been able to make detailed casts of the prints of one individual for study. The Independent reports that the software has helped the research team to disentangle the rest of the overlapping footprints, and to provide insight into the size and gait of the walkers. The team now thinks that the prints were left by a total of four individuals who had been walking in pairs at a pace of about two miles per hour. The leading pair is thought to have been a male and a female, followed by a pair of males. “Understanding a range of footprints tells us more about a species and the variations within its population,” Bennett said. For more, go to "England's Oldest Footprints."

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