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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 29

Is It Possible to Know How Lucy Died?

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Researchers led by John Kappelman of the University of Texas at Austin suggest that Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis female, died 3.2 million years ago from a fall from a tree. The Guardian reports that Kappelman and his team, which includes orthopedic surgeon Stephen Pearce, used high-resolution x-ray scans to examine cracks in the Lucy fossils, which represent about 40 percent of her body. They say some of the damage resembles compressive fractures sustained in a fall—injuries to the right ankle, left knee and pelvis, first rib, and right humerus. “I think the injuries were so severe that she probably died very rapidly after the fall,” Kappelman said. But other scientists disagree, including Donald Johanson of Arizona State University. He and a student discovered Lucy’s remains in Ethiopia in 1974. Johanson says the cracks in Lucy’s bones are seen in all types of fossils. “We don’t know how long the fossilization process takes, but the enormous set of forces placed on the bones during the build-up of sediments covering the bones is a significant factor in promoting damage and breakage,” he explained. To read more about A. afarensis, go to "Proof in the Prints."


More Headlines
Friday, August 26

Flooding Damages Rock Art in China

YINCHUAN, CHINA— reports that rare flooding in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of northwest China has damaged some of the thousands of prehistoric carvings on the cliffs of Helan Mountain. The images are thought to have been created by nomads who lived in the area between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. Some of the images were damaged by mud and silt, and about a dozen images that had been carved on individual rocks were carried away by the flood waters. Other pictures were lost when layers of mountain rock peeled off or cracked in the heavy rains. Hu Zhiping, deputy director of the Helan Mountain Cliff Painting Administration, said that the extent of the damage is still being assessed. To read more about archaelogy in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

Bronze-Age Toy Unearthed in Anatolia

AKSARAY, TURKEY—Archaeologist Aliye Öztan announced in the Daily Sabah that a 4,200-year-old toy was discovered at the Acemhöyük site in central Turkey. Öztan described the toy as a bag-shaped rattle fashioned from terracotta and pebbles. He added that it probably had a handle at one time. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."

New Thoughts on the Roman Invasion of Scotland

DUMFRIESSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologist Andrew Nicholson thinks flat-topped Burnswark Hill may have been the site of the first battle of the Roman invasion of Scotland around A.D. 140, according to a report in BBC News. Traces of a native hill fort have been found on the top of the hill, and two Roman camps that could have housed more than 6,000 soldiers have been found on its northern and southern slopes. It had been suggested that the Romans trained their troops at the abandoned fort, or that the Romans laid siege to the fort while it was being used by local tribespeople. But the current excavation, led by Andrew Nicholson, has uncovered “massive amounts” of lead shot that had been slung at the fort. And documentary evidence indicates that Roman general Lollius Urbicus had been sent to Scotland from the Middle East, where he had conquered one Jewish hill fort after another. “This literally is a site where people suffered an attrition to the very end and I would suspect that probably nobody survived this and the Roman army moved on into the rest of Scotland,” John Reid of the Trimontium Trust explained. For more, go to "Lead Sling Bullets May Have 'Whistled' During Battle." 

Scholars Find Name of Goddess in Etruscan Inscription

DALLAS, TEXAS—Discovery News reports that scholars have completed a preliminary reading of the text inscribed on a sandstone stele unearthed at an Etruscan sanctuary in Italy’s Mugello Valley. The 2,500-year-old stele measures about four feet tall by two feet wide, and was found in the foundation of a temple at the site of Poggio Colla. The text, made up of more than 120 characters, has been damaged. “Cleaning at a restoration center in Florence has allowed better visibility of the inscribed signs, making it possible to identify a larger sequence of letters and words,” said researcher Adriano Maggiani. Among the words is the name of the goddess Uni, consort of the Etruscan supreme deity, Tinia. The team members of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project think the sanctuary where the stele was found may have been dedicated to Uni. They have also recovered weaving tools, pottery, and gold jewelry that point to the worship of a fertility goddess. For more on the Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Thursday, August 25

Neolithic Facial Ornaments Discovered in the Arctic Circle

KRASNOYARSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that archaeologists from Krasnoyarsk Geoarkheologia discovered two pieces of jewelry that were worn inserted in the lower lip some 370 miles north of the Arctic Circle. “We found these labrets at the Neolithic site Bolshaya II, which is located on the bank of the Novaya River, a tributary of the Katanga River,” said Danil Lysenko. The labrets and several arrowheads, all of which are thought to date to the third or fourth millennium B.C., had been exposed by the wind and were lying on the surface of the ground. Labrets were made of shell, bone, or stone and are thought to have been worn by both men and women during this period. For more, go to "Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude."

17th-Century Scottish Soldiers Will Be Reburied in England

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The remains of 1,700 soldiers who were captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar will be reinterred in a cemetery in Durham, near the mass grave where the bones were unearthed in 2013. According to a report in Culture 24, after the battle some 3,000 captive soldiers were marched from southeastern Scotland to Durham, where they were imprisoned and many died of starvation and disease. But why won’t the bones be sent to Scotland for reburial? “Our research is clear that not all of the individuals were from the United Kingdom, and several more may be from either Scotland or northern England. Home was perhaps not Scotland for all these men,” Chris Gerrard of the University of Durham explained. The excavation team also thinks that additional remains are probably located under Durham University structures on Palace Green, so reburial in Durham will keep the remains together. It also accords with British law, Gerrard noted. The university will retain several of the soldiers’ teeth for future study. For more, go to "English Civil War Mass Grave Identified."

Sarcophagus Discovered in Kushite-Dynasty Burial Chamber

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a burial chamber and sarcophagus were discovered on Luxor’s west bank by archaeologists of the Egyptian American South Asasif Conservation Project. They have been excavating the tomb of Karabasken, a government official in Thebes. The sarcophagus, carved from red granite, dates to the 25th Dynasty (728–657 B.C.), and was not painted nor engraved. Mahmoud Affifi of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities explained that it is a unique example of a Kushite sarcophagus in an elite tomb. Damage to the sarcophagus suggests that there had been attempts to break into it in antiquity. “The interior of the sarcophagus was flooded after the first attempt, but further cleaning work will show if any fragments of the wooden coffin or other burial equipment are still preserved inside,” said Elena Pischikova, director of the archaeological mission. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to "The Great Parallelogram."