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Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 27

DNA Suggests Medieval Mediterranean Diversity

BOLOGNA, ITALY—A study of populations from around the Mediterranean that combines ancient DNA (aDNA) and genomic analysis of modern people evidences a divison between Greeks hailing from the country's mainland and those from its islands. According to a report in Haaretz, an Italian team from the University of Bologna looked at 23 populations from around the region in order to map their genetic relationship and found that modern continental Greeks, especially in the north, show more genetic similarity with Albanians and other Slavic peoples, while Greek islanders show more affinity with southern Italians and Sicilians. Because all of the populations tested shared a genetic inheritance from Neolithic farming populations, the team believes it will be possible to point to historic migrations documented in the written record to determine when genetic shifts such as the one in Greece began to occur. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Worlds Within Us."  

Early Church Uncovered on Holy Island of Lindisfarne

  NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—The remains of what may be among the oldest Saxon churches in Northumbria have been discovered on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, according to a report from Chronicle Live. An excavation led by Richard Carlton of Newcastle University has uncovered sandstone blocks that are around three feet long, foundations that measure more than three feet wide, what appears to be an altar base, and the division between the church’s nave and chancel. The church was located on the Heugh, a ridge on the island offering a vantage on Bamburgh, where the Northumbrians had their royal capital. The church is thought to date to between A.D. 630 and 1050, most likely on the earlier end of the span, and may have been built on the same site where St. Aidan raised a wooden church in A.D. 635. “There are not many churches of potentially the Seventh or Eighth Centuries known in medieval Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber to the Forth,” said Carlton. “It adds another chapter to the history of Holy Island.” To read in-depth about the Northumbrians’ royal seat at Bamburgh, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Ancient Fish Trap Discovered in Alaska

KODIAK ISLAND, ALASKA—A prehistoric stone fish trap has been found on northern Kodiak Island, reports Alaska Native News. Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall identified the rare trap, known as a corrall, at the mouth of a stream. At high tide, salmon would swim above the corrall, but at low tide the fish would be trapped within its stone walls. “The fish trap took a lot of work to build and maintain. I imagine that it was reused year after year and that it was owned by a community or an extended family,” says Saltonstall. “Many lines of archaeological evidence indicate that Alutiiq ancestors developed tools to efficiently harvest large quantities of fish. A fish trap is another great example.” Next to the trap Saltonstall also discovered previously unidentified petroglyphs. To read in-depth about the archaeology of native Alaskan peoples, go to “Cultural Revival.”

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Monday, June 26

Scientists Examine Possible Link Between Art and Echoes

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Science News reports that hunter-gatherers and early farmers living in the central Mediterranean may have been drawn to rock shelters with special acoustic properties. Margarita Díaz-Andreu and Tommaso Mattioli of the University of Barcelona and their team investigated echoes produced by caves in the Baume Brune cliff face in southeastern France, and in the Valle d’Ividoro on Italy’s eastern coast. Each location consists of multiple rock shelters, but only some of them were decorated with paintings between 6,500 and 5,000 years ago. The researchers connected a special microphone to a digital recorder to measure the direction, intensity, and timing of sound waves generated by popped balloons at different distances outside each of the decorated and undecorated caves. In France, those distances ranged from 70 to 120 feet from the entrance to the caves, and in Italy, where the terrain was rougher, from 250 to 1,000 feet. The acoustic data was then used to create 3-D, slow-motion depictions of the echoes as moving circles originating from the place where the sound was reflected. Díaz-Andreu and her colleagues suggest that the sites decorated with rock art produced audible echoes, and the sites with the most paintings reflected the best echoes. For more, go to “The First Artists.”

Third-Century Structure Discovered in Rome

ROME, ITALY—Construction of Rome’s new metro Line C has uncovered traces of buildings dating to the third century A.D., according to a report in The Local, Italy. The buildings were found more than 30 feet below ground level on the Caelian Hill, near the Aurelian Walls, which were also built during the third century to surround the ancient city. A fire on the site preserved wood from the structures. The excavation also uncovered plaster fragments and frescoes, pieces of furniture, sculptures, windows, and the skeleton of a dog, which was found on the building’s doorstep. Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology will try to determine whether seismic activity could have ignited the fire. To read about another discovery made during construction of Rome's metro, go to “While You Are Waiting.”

Colonial-Era Brass Lock Unearthed in Michigan

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—According to a report in Michigan Live, a brass lock measuring nearly three inches long was discovered at the site of a fur trader’s home at Fort Michilimackinac, located on Mackinac Island in the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The intact lock is estimated to be about 250 years old, and is thought to have been used to secure a small trunk or chest. The house where it was found was built around 1730 and was demolished in 1781. The lock was unearthed in the building’s root cellar. To read about another discovery in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Friday, June 23

Scientists Recreate Ancient Bitumen-Lined Water Bottles

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Gizmodo reports that as early as 5,000 years ago, people living in California’s Channel Islands waterproofed baskets with bitumen to create water bottles. An international team of scientists followed oral tradition to replicate the processes to make two such vessels. One bottle basket was lined with soft bitumen, known as “malak,” which seeps up from the ocean floor and washes ashore. A second was lined with hard bitumen, known as “woqo,” which is found on land. While they worked, the scientists sampled the air using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. They also measured the level of chemicals in the water stored in the bottles. “Bitumen is composed of chemicals that have been linked to a variety of adverse human health effects, such as cancer, reproductive and developmental impairments, and decreased fetal length and head size,” explained team leader Sabrina Sholts of the Smithsonian Institution. The researchers found that the fumes produced by the melted bitumen were toxic, but the water stored in the bottles would probably not have caused health problems. However, bitumen was also used to waterproof boats, tools, and other food-storage items, which would have increased exposure and may have contributed to illness. For more on bitumen in the archaeological record, go to “Something New for Sutton Hoo.”

Viking Age Pit May Have Been Rural Privy

VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that archaeologists looking for pit houses on the southeast coast of the island of Zealand discovered what may be a Viking Age privy. The pit contained a layer of sediment containing a high concentration of fly pupae and pollen typically found in honey or mead. A lack of airborne pollen indicates that the hole had been covered. “We know about privy buildings inside cities in the latter part of the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages, but not from agrarian settlements and farms,” said Anna Beck of the Museum of Southeast Denmark. Researchers had assumed that people used their waste, along with that of their animals, to fertilize their fields. Beck suggests that many pits found in excavations at rural Viking sites may actually be privies that were overlooked because the human waste had decomposed, which is not always the case in urban privies. Beck also found two postholes on either side of the pit that may have been part of a small building. Critics of the idea think the waste could have landed in the hole through other means. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Ancient Graffiti on Egyptian Tomb Walls Studied

WARSAW, POLAND—Adam Łukaszewicz of the University of Warsaw and his team have completed a 3-D record of the walls of the tomb of Ramesses VI, in order to study the graffiti left by tourists some 2,000 years ago, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. The researchers found more than 1,000 inscriptions in the tomb, which is just one of at least ten of the 60 tombs in the Valley of the Kings marked with ancient travelers’ names and comments. Most of the inscriptions were carved into the rock or made with red paint. “The greatest number of inscriptions come from the Greek-Roman period, that is, from the time of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great to the division of the Roman Empire in the fourth century,” Łukaszewicz said. Łukaszewicz  notes that most of the visitors, some of whom were high-ranking officials, tried to avoid writing on the Egyptian decorations on the walls. The scientists will use their digital records to continue to study the inscriptions. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

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