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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, February 08

Scientists Simulate Biting Ability of Australopithecus sediba

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—An international team of scientists has used biomedical methods and engineering tools to analyze the facial skeleton of Australopithecus sediba. “Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open. Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods at very high forces,” David Strait of Washington University in St. Louis explained in a press release. But the new tests indicate that Australopithecus sediba may have been able to eat some hard foods, but it did not possess a powerful bite. “If it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw,” explained Justin Ledogar of Australia’s University of New England. “Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well,” added Ledogar. So while some australopiths evolved to bite powerfully, others did not. “Diet is likely to have played a key role in the origin of Homo,” Strait said. For more on Australopithecus sediba, go to "The Human Mosaic."

Tons of Preserved Fish Found at Prehistoric Site in Sweden

LUND, SWEDEN—The excavation of a settlement in southern Sweden has uncovered evidence of the large-scale preservation of fish more than 9,000 years ago. Osteologist Adam Boethius of Lund University found tens of thousands of fragile fish bones, bark, and an oblong pit surrounded by pole holes and smaller pin holes at the site, which had been located at a lake near the outlet of the Baltic Sea. The fish are thought to have been acidified with pine bark and seal fat, wrapped in seal and wild boar skins, and buried in a pit covered with muddy soil. This complex form of preservation would have worked in the region’s cold climate. “These findings indicate a different time line, with Nordic foragers settling much earlier and starting to take advantage of the lakes and sea to harvest and process fish. From a global perspective, the development in the Nordic region could correspond to that of the Middle East at the time,” Boethius said in a press release. For more about the archaeology of fishing, go to "Off With Their Heads."

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Friday, February 05

Argentina Returns Artifacts to Peru

LIMA, PERU—Andina, Peru’s news agencyreports that more than 4,000 artifacts recovered in Argentina were returned to Peru last week, when the two countries signed an Agreement for the Protection, Conservation, Recovery and Return of Stolen or Illegally Exported or Transferred Cultural, Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Property. Most of the objects were seized by the government of Argentina from art collectors and traffickers in 2000. The artifacts cover a range of historic periods and include items made from metal, textiles, wood, pottery, organic fibers, and human remains. This is the largest group of artifacts repatriated to Peru to date. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to "A Wari Matriarchy?

Britain’s “Lost” Roman Roads Found With Lidar

LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have used Lidar images produced by Britain’s Environment Agency for flood modeling and monitoring coastlines to look for roads that the Romans built in the first century during the conquest of northern England. David Ratledge has been looking for Roman roads in Lancashire for the past 45 years. Using Lidar data, he’s found a road that stretches from Ribchester to Lancaster, a distance of more than ten miles. “Previously in Lancashire we only had aerial photographs from the 1940s and 1960s to go on, but with photographs features only show up after a drought and we don’t get many of those! With Lidar, once you know what to look for, it’s blindingly obvious—you just know you’ve found a road,” he said in a press release. Four more Roman roads have been found by Hugh Toller and Bryn Gethin, including a missing part of the “Maiden Way” in Cumbria that connects the fort at Low Borrowbridge to a cavalry camp at Kirkby Thore, before it continues on to Whitely Castle and Carvoran Roman Fort, near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria. “These were the county’s most important Roman sites so good communications between them must have been essential,” said Ratledge. To read more about LiDAR, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

Roman Pottery Examined With High-Tech Tools

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS—Rachel Opitz of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) is working with Rome’s Capitoline Museum and the University of Missouri to study ancient ceramics of unknown provenance. The objects, which range in age from 2,000 to 2,400 years old, have been stored at the museum for more than a century. Neutron activation analysis at the Missouri University Research Reactor will help scholars identify the clay in the ceramic vessels and perhaps pinpoint where they originated. Opitz was called in by the team to scan the vessels with high-resolution structured-light technology. The 3-D images can show traces of wear that are invisible to the naked eye and distinguish between marks made from regular usage in the past and more recent scratches. “The production of a bowl or plate is interesting, but how it is used day to day, how it is lifted, washed, cooked in, chipped, and eventually thrown out is just as important,” Opitz said in a press release. To read more about Roman archaeology, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Thursday, February 04

Maori Storage Pits Point to Large Settlement

TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND—A road-widening project has uncovered more than 20 food storage pits and a pataka, or food storage building, on the Otumoetai peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island. Their size suggest that there was a large Maori settlement in the area between 200 and 400 years ago. “Kumara pits similar to those found on Maxwells Road are apparently found quite frequently in the Bay of Plenty, however we understand none have been found in the area of Tauranga to date,” Marcel Currin, Tauranga City Council communications adviser, told the Bay of Plenty Times. “Artifacts including obsidian (volcanic glass) and fragments of stone adzes have been found in the area,” he added. To read more about prehistoric archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past."

Early Christian Church Discovered in Cappadocia

NEVŞEHIR, TURKEY—Excavation of an ancient underground city in Turkey’s Cappadocia region has revealed a Christian church that could date to the fifth century A.D. “This place is even bigger than the other historical churches in Cappadocia. It was built underground and has original frescoes that have survived to this day,” the mayor of Nevşehir, Hasan Ünver, told Hürriyet Daily News. Archaeologists say that the church walls collapsed, but they will be slowly dried out and restored. “We have stopped work in order to protect the wall paintings and the church. When the weather gets warmer in the spring, we will wait for humidity to evaporate and then we will start removing the earth,” said archaeologist Ali Aydin. Some of the paintings uncovered so far are said to be unique. “There are exciting depictions like fish falling from the hand of Jesus Christ, him rising up into the sky, and the bad souls being killed. When the church is completely revealed, Cappadocia could become an even bigger pilgrimage center of Orthodoxy,” the mayor added. To read about Roman-era mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Viking Adaptation Predisposes Descendants to Disease

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—An inherited deficiency in alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) can contribute to the onset of the debilitating illnesses of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. A1AT protects the lungs and liver from enzymes produced by the immune system, but those enzymes, called proteases, are also produced by parasitic worms. Richard Pleass of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and a team of scientists say that deviant forms of A1AT evolved in Viking populations more than 2,000 years ago to combat worm infestations. “Vikings would have eaten contaminated food and parasites would have migrated to various organs, including lungs and liver, where the proteases they released would cause disease,” he said in a press release. “Thus these deviant forms of A1AT would have protected Viking populations, who neither smoked tobacco nor lived long lives, from worms. It is only in the last century that modern medicine has allowed human populations to be treated for disease-causing worms. Consequently these deviant forms of A1AT, that once protected people from parasites, are now at liberty to cause emphysema and COPD,” he explained. To read more about Vikings, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."

Europe’s First Modern Humans May Have Been Replaced

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A new genetic study suggests that some 50,000 years ago, all non-Africans dispersed rapidly from a single population, and that around 14,500 years ago, there was a major turnover of the population in Europe. Researchers reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes of 35 hunter-gatherers who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania between 35,000 and 7,000 years ago. The mitochondrial DNA of three of these individuals, who lived in what is now Belgium and France more than 25,000 years ago, belonged to haplogroup M. Haplogroup M is now very common in Asian, Australasian, and Native American populations, but had not been found in Europe, leading to the argument for multiple migrations. “When the Last Glacial Maximum began around 25,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer populations retreated south to a number of putative refugia, and the consequent genetic bottleneck probably resulted in the loss of this haplogroup,” Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen said in a press release. The DNA study also indicates that those who survived the cold of the Last Glacial Maximum were replaced by a population from another source. To read about the art made by the first modern humans in Europe, go to "A New Life for Lion Man."

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