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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 24

Impact of Industrialization to be Studied With High-Tech Tools

LONDON, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that Jelena Bekvalac of the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology will examine skeletons in the museum’s collection to study the impact of industrialization on the human body. “The most tangible evidence we have for the long-term consequences of the industrialization process upon us is, quite simply, written in our bones. Using the very latest digital technology, we will examine the skeletal remains of over 1,000 adult men and women from industrial-era London in addition to a further 500 skeletons from the medieval metropolis,” Bekvalac said. The research, funded by a City of London Archaeological Trust grant from a bequest made by the late Rosemary Green, could provide clues to the conditions of obesity and cancer, often thought of as “man-made,” modern conditions. The project will also produce an extensive interactive digital resource that will be published online. For more on the study of remains from this period, see "Haunt of the Resurrection Men." 

Reindeer Antlers Suggest Viking Age Began With Trade

AARHUS, DENMARK—Antlers from Norwegian reindeer have been unearthed in Ribe, the oldest commercial center in Denmark. The antlers have been dated to A.D. 725, some 70 years before the Viking raid on the Lindisfarne monastery in northern England. “The Viking Age becomes a phenomenon in Western Europe because the Vikings learned to use maritime mobility to their advantage. They learned to master sailing to such an extent that they get to the coast of England where the locals don’t expect anything. They come quickly, plunder the unprepared victims, and leave again—a sort of hit and run,” Søren Sindbæk of Aarhus University told Science Nordic. The Norwegian reindeer antlers suggest that Norway’s earliest so-called Vikings developed their maritime skills through trade. “Now we can prove that shipping between Norway and the market town of Ribe was established prior to the Viking era, and trade networks helped to create the incentives and the knowledge of the sea, which made the Viking raids possible. It is the first time that we can clearly link two very important phenomena, the lock and key if you like, of the Viking Age,” he said. For more, see "The First Vikings."

Woolly Mammoth Genome Sequenced

ONTARIO, CANADA—The nearly complete genome of two Siberian woolly mammoths has been sequenced by an international team of researchers. One of the mammoths lived in northeastern Siberia some 45,000 years ago. The other is thought to have been from one of the last mammoth populations, which lived on Russia’s Wrangel Island, and is only 4,300 years old. “With a complete genome and this kind of data, we can now begin to understand what made a mammoth a mammoth—when compared to an elephant—and some of the underlying causes of their extinction which is an exceptionally difficult and complex puzzle to solve,” Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University said in a press release. It has long been thought that human hunters contributed to the demise of the woolly mammoth, but the study suggests that multiple factors were at play over their long evolutionary history. The analysis showed that the animal populations suffered and recovered from a severe decline some 250,000 to 300,000 years ago. The final severe decline occurred in the last days of the Ice Age. “We found that the genome from one of the world’s last mammoths displayed low genetic variation and a signature consistent with inbreeding, likely due to the small number of mammoths that managed to survive on Wrangel Island during the last 5,000 years of the species’ existence,” said Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. To read about the discovery of a largely intact mammoth, see "Lyuba the Baby Mammoth."

Figurine Resembling an African Elephant Found in India

CHHATTISGARH, INDIA—A figurine resembling an African elephant has been unearthed at the Tarighat site in central India. “The elephant has large ears and spine bones visible on its back, identical to elephants found in Africa. Elephants of that physique can’t be found in Asia,” JR Bhagat, director of the excavation for the state archaeology department, told The Times of India. The 2,500-year-old site is known as an international trading center where Scythian and Greek coins have been found. Earlier excavations have also uncovered figurines of a giraffe-like animal. Ashok Tiwari, a former curator at the Museum of Man, Bhopal, thinks that the figurine could have been sculpted by a trader who had traveled to Africa. Archaeologist CL Raikwar added that similar pieces of “country art” are the result of artists’ imaginations. “Chhattisgarh might have had an affluent and glorious past but I am yet to find clearer links of Tarighat to the international market,” Bhagat concluded. For more about the archaeology of the region, see "Letter From Bangladesh."

More Headlines
Thursday, April 23

Baby Teeth Show Modern Humans Made Innovative Tools

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of two baby teeth from northern Italy—one found at the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter, and other at the Grotta di Fumane—has shown that the innovative stone tools and ornaments of the Protoaurignacian culture were made by modern humans, and not Neanderthals. Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna measured the thickness of the enamel on the tooth from Riparo Bombrini and found it to be thick, as in modern humans. Neanderthals had relatively thin enamel. Radiocarbon dates of bone and charcoal from the site suggest that the child lived some 40,000 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the other tooth, which is also some 40,000 years old. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found that the mitochondrial DNA belonged to a known modern human lineage. These sophisticated tools may have given modern humans a competitive edge over the Neanderthals. “The association of modern remains with the earliest Aurignacian-related archaeological context now provides physical evidence that the arrival of our species on the continent triggered the demise of Neanderthals, who disappeared a couple of millennia later,” paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute said in a press release. To read about a masterpiece of Paleolithic art, see "New Life for Lion Man."

Divers Return to Franklin’s HMS Erebus

NUNAVUT, CANADA—Bad weather has cut the latest expedition to HMS Erebus, the flagship of the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, from ten days to five. Divers from Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Navy descended through triangular-shaped holes in the ice to the wreck, which was abandoned by Franklin’s crew in 1848. So far the team has seen at least one sailor’s boot and a cannon lying next to the vessel. Flora Davidson, a Parks Canada conservator, watched the video feed from cameras on the divers’ masks and made plans for the cannon in case it can be lifted. “I was trying to see how it was sitting, identify all the features at the breech end," she told The Star"We’re still not quite sure if it’s a knob or if it’s got a handle where the rope would go into the threshold. And I’m checking the silt, if it were to be lifted, how it would be done. I’m concerned about the surface in that area, but the cannon seems to be upside down. If there are any markings, they’re going to be on the top side, which is inverted and it’ll be in the silt. So I expect it to be better conserved. I’m happy about that.” The Parks Canada team is also making plans with British officials for the event that they come across human remains at the wreck site. “If we see human remains, we take some photo documentation to help us down the line, but we stay away from that area until further notice after discussions with them,” explained Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada. To read about the initial discovery of the wreck, see "Canada Finds Erebus."

CCC Camp Uncovered in Connecticut

MADISON, CONNECTICUT—From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided housing, food, and employment building roads, foot trails, and planting trees for 3.5 million young people during the Great Depression. The Madison Land Conservation Trust has spent the last year excavating Camp Hadley, one of 23 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Connecticut. The team of trust members, volunteers, and students from Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) has unearthed pottery, rusty cans, bottles, hardware, and foundations of a recreation hall/classroom, mess hall, cistern, infirmary, commissary, three probably barracks, the Chief Forester’s Cabin, an incinerator, and the latrine/washroom. “The student involvement has been inspiring and it is exciting to see young people out appreciating and improving a site that was originally built for young people not much older than they are,” Jason Englehardt, trust member and DHHS teacher told The Shoreline Times. To read about the archaeology of an American labor conflict that just predated the Depression, see "Mountaintop Rescue."

Wednesday, April 22

Statistical Study Analyzes Lapita Seafaring Strategies

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Adrian Bell of the University of Utah and his colleagues developed a model of the colonization of remote islands in the Pacific Ocean by adapting an epidemiological model of how diseases spread among people and animals. “We model ocean migrants as ‘infecting’ uninhabited islands,” Bell explained in a press release. The team used the model to analyze some of the different theories of how the Lapita reached the 24 major island groups in the Pacific using dates obtained through archaeological research. Some of the variables include island size, distances from other islands, prevalent wind directions, and the inferred level of social hierarchy among the people living on the island. “So as the model moves forward in time, it will suggest some islands to be colonized first rather than others. How well it matches up with the data will distinguish which model comes out on top,” Bell said. The team found that the migrants “weren’t just drifting around,” but had a strategy for the best way to discover new places, traveling into the wind and moving to big islands that were more easily visible. “Here we have demonstrated how we can go beyond the construction of plausible narratives and ad hoc interpretations of archaeological information in order to develop explicit models of different colonization strategies and rigorously test them against the data,” reads the study, published in American Antiquity. To read about human colonization of Hawaii, see "Inside Kauai's Past."

Precision Grasping Modeled for Early Human Ancestors

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—An international team of of scientists led by robotics engineers Thomas Feix and Aaron Dollar of Yale University has created a kinematic model of the thumbs and index fingers of living primates and human ancestors based upon measurements of their digits’ segments. This method analyzes the interaction between the thumb and index finger, and suggests that human ancestors may have had precision-grip capabilities comparable to those of modern humans. According to the study, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between 3.8 and three million years ago, may have had greater dexterity than what was required for cutting with a stone, and may have been able to use other tools not preserved in the archaeological record. “The model reveals that a long thumb or great joint mobility alone does not necessarily yield good precision manipulation,” Feix said in a press release. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, see "No Changeups on the Savannah."

Ancient Marine Management in the Pacific Northwest

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Last year, Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University and her team announced that ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest, which range from Alaska to Washington State, produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. Their new study has found that many clam gardens are more than 1,000 years old, and that they were managed in a variety of ways, including replanting of small clams and building rock terrace walls at the low tide line to create conditions that are ideal for clam growth. Beaches were also cleared of rubble that would limit clam habitat. The abundant and sustainable harvests of clams from the gardens would have supported the dense ancient First Nations settlements along the coastline. “We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented. This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders,” Lepofsky said in a press release. To read about Lepofsky's research in-depth, see "The Edible Seascape."

Neolithic-Era Jaw From Atapuerca Has an Extra Molar

ATAPUERCA, SPAIN—A human jaw recovered from El Mirador Cave has a rare supernumerary tooth that has been examined with Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) by a team of researchers from the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social (IPHES), the Universitat Rovira I Virgili (URV), and the Faculty of Dentistry at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC). Human dentition is usually composed of three molars in each side of the upper and lower jaw. This jaw, which probably belonged to a 40-year-old man who lived between 4,760 and 4,200 years ago, had a fourth molar in the lower mandible. “In the case of archaeological populations there are very few studied and published examples of supernumerary teeth. Therefore, it is a novelty,” Marina Lozano, an IPHES researcher and a professor at URV, said in a press release. The Neolithic diet of starchy carbohydrates and a lack of dental hygiene increased the occurrence of dental caries among early farmers. These teeth show signs of severe dental wear, decay, abscesses, pulpitis, periodontal disease, tooth-picking marks in an upper molar, and arthritis of the temporomandibular joint. “This diagnosis confirms that oral health from the Neolithic became worse in agriculture and livestock populations,” she explained. To read about another instance of unusual ancient dentition, see "The Case of the Missing Incisors."