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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 26

Middle Stone Age Hunting Technology Found in South Africa

LIÈGE, BELGIUM—Live Science reports that 25 stone points discovered in South Africa’s Sibudu Cave indicate that people had mastered using a pointed bone tool to manufacture stone weapons some 77,000 years ago. Known as “pressure flaking,” the technique removes small flakes from a sharpened stone in a controlled manner. Veerle Rots of the University of Liège said that some of the stone weapons in the study had been worked on both sides, and more than half of them bore evidence that they had been used for hunting, including impact-related damage, animal blood and bone, and traces of resin to attach them to wooden shafts for throwing. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

Ancient Inscription May Link Cave to Shaolin Kung Fu

SHIJIAZUHANG, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 1,400-year-old inscription has been found carved on the wall of a cave in northern China’s Hebei Province. The inscription identifies the cave as a place of seclusion for Master Sengchou, who may have been in the military before he became a Buddhist monk in the sixth century A.D. Master Sengchou is remembered as a martial arts expert and is credited with promoting Zen Buddhism and the tradition of Shaolin monks practicing martial arts. “The discovery offers precious materials to study the history of local Buddhism and the Northern Qi Dynasty,” said Liu Xinchang of Handan City’s history association. For more, go to “Buddhism, in the Beginning.”

Mother-of-Pearl Ornament Found at Caesarea Maritima

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah near a first-century B.C. temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar. The ornament is thought to have adorned a box that contained a Torah scroll, and to date to the fourth to fifth centuries A.D., pointing to a Jewish presence in Caesarea during the Byzantine period. The excavation team, led by archaeologist Peter Gendelman, also uncovered the Augusteum’s altar and a fragment of a Greek inscription. For more, go to “Byzantine Riches.”

New Dates Suggested for Homo naledi

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—According to a report in BBC News, Lee Berger of Wits University says the fossilized remains of Homo naledi, discovered in a remote chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, may be between 200,000 and 300,000 years old. When the specimens were discovered in 2015, Berger thought they could be up to three million years old. The new dates suggest that Homo naledi, which exhibits some traits similar to the genus Australopithecus, and some traits found in the genus Homo, could have overlapped with modern humans. “These look like a primitive form of our own genus—Homo,” said Berger’s colleague, John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin. “It looks like it might be connected to early Homo erectus, or Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis,” he said. Berger thinks the Homo naledi remains could have been placed in the hard-to-reach chamber deliberately, which would suggest that the small-brained hominins were capable of ritual behavior. To read more about Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”


More Headlines
Tuesday, April 25

New Thoughts on the Death of the Iceman

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—It has been suggested that Ötzi, the man whose frozen remains were found in a melting glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, was murdered some 5,300 years ago. Examination of the body has revealed an arrow wound to the left shoulder and depressions and fractures in the skull. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich thinks these wounds were not fatal, however, according to a report in Science News. The new analysis suggests that the arrow wound caused just a half-cup loss of blood. Rühli thinks fur headgear found with the remains probably offered Ötzi some protection from injury after an accidental fall on the rocks. “Freezing to death is quite likely the main cause of death in this classic cold case,” he said. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

World War I Training Tunnels Studied in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that tunnels and trenches used to train Australian troops for the First World War have been investigated ahead of a construction project at Larkhill, an army base located about two miles from Stonehenge. Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology explained that more than 200 grenades were carefully recovered, and half of them were still live. The researchers also found food cans, combs, toothbrushes, cigarette and tobacco tins and pipes, candlesticks and stubs of candles, Australian toffee tins, scorch marks from fires, and a bucket adapted into a brazier. Graffiti on the chalk walls of the tunnels has been linked to soldiers’ service records. More than 140 men died in training at the site, many of them from illnesses contracted on the journey to England. Later artifacts, thought to have been deposited in the tunnels by soldiers stationed at the army base, have also been recovered, including a 1930s red MG sports car, and a 1950s motorbike. The tunnels will be sealed and filled before housing for military service personnel is built over the site. To read more about archaeology of World War I, go to “Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

Who Was Australopithecus sediba?

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in Science Magazine, Bill Kimbel of Arizona State University and Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University have analyzed the skull of a juvenile Australopithecus sediba individual, discovered in Malapa, South Africa, in 2008 by Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand. Berger suggested that the Australopithecus sediba fossils, which have been dated to 1.98 million years ago, could represent an ancestor to Homo erectus and, thus, to modern humans. Kimbel and Rak examined the facial features and cheekbones of other australopithecines, apes, and Homo fossils in order to try to predict how the young Australopithecus sediba individual would have matured. They concluded that Australopithecus sediba could be a “sister species” to Australopithecus africanus, and, therefore, not a direct human ancestor. “The ultimate resolution of the question must await the long-hoped-for recovery of the adult cranium of Australopithecus sediba,” commented Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University. For more, go to “The Human Mosaic.”

Monday, April 24

Townspeople May Have Fled 15th-Century Inca Invasion

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—Elizabeth Arkush of the University of Pittsburgh suggests that the Colla people fled their homes in Ayawiri, a hillfort in Peru’s southern central Andes, when the Incas attacked around A.D. 1450, according to a report in The International Business Times. Arkush and her team uncovered valuable bronze jewelry, metal tools, and intact pottery in the round, stone houses at the site. She argues that the metal items, tools, and pots are things that the Colla would have taken with them if they had had time to pack their belongings. “Even if a metal object is broken, you can melt or hammer it into something else,” she explained. “You can always recycle metal.” Some of the high-status residents may have known the Inca invasion was coming, since fewer objects were found in their homes. The people are thought to have lived in smaller settlements in the countryside after they fled from their town. “But exactly where the people of Ayawiri went, we don’t know,” she said. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Atahualpa, Last Inca Emperor.”

New Thoughts on England’s White Horse Geoglyph

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in the International Business Times, archaeologist Joshua Pollard of the University of Southampton thinks the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric geoglyph, is not a symbol of ownership, as has been suggested, but a representation of a mythical horse pulling the sun across the sky. Pollard says the horse’s body is positioned as if it is running up a slope, from a site known as Dragon Hill, toward a long mound, a round barrow, and Uffington Castle, which dates to the Iron Age. “If you follow the horse’s position and its track of movement, then that corresponds with the arc of the midwinter sun,” Pollard explained. He added that in Indo-European mythologies and cosmologies, the sun is pulled across the sky by a horse or a horse-drawn chariot during the day, and carried through the underworld at night by boat or chariot. If so, the Uffington White Horse could link Britain’s religious tradition to that of Europe. “It may have acted as a regional or even inter-regional focus for ceremonial activity,” Pollard said. To read more about Indo-European myths involving horses, go to “Horses and the Heavens.”

DNA Obtained From Franklin Expedition Crew

NUNAVUT, CANADA—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by Douglas Stenton of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage obtained DNA samples from at least 24 members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which attempted to find a Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1845. All were lost when Sir John Franklin’s ships were trapped in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and the sailors abandoned their ships in 1848. The tests revealed that the bones of one individual were found at two different sites about a mile apart. Stenton suggests that an 1879 search party may have moved some of the bones and reburied them. The tests also suggest that four of the samples came from women, but this may be the result of an insufficient amplification of Y chromosomes in the samples. And, although it would have been unusual to have so many women on one voyage, women may have served surreptitiously or been smuggled on board disguised as men. Finally, the researchers may eventually be able to identify the remains of the crew members. “We have been in touch with several descendants who have expressed interest in participating in further research,” Stenton said. To read in-depth about the discovery of one of the expedition's ships, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Gold Jewelry Repatriated to Cambodia

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Cambodia Daily reports that ten gold artifacts were handed over to Cambodian authorities by a private collector in London. The jewelry pieces, made of gold and other metals, are thought to have once decorated Khmer statues. Experts in Europe noticed the artifacts in publicity for a sale in a London-based gallery, and contacted Cambodia’s Culture Minister, Phoeung Sakona. She explained that it is not known how the artifacts left the country, but authorities expect is was during Cambodia's long civil war. “This artistic style is Khmer—there are no other countries that made items like this,” she said. To read more about archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”