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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, December 22

“Reservoir Effect” Detected in Remains From Corded Ware Culture

POZNAŃ, POLAND—Lukasz Pospieszny of the Polish Academy of Sciences has used new carbon 14 dates to explain discrepancies at a site discovered 15 years ago in northern Poland. The burials, found on an island in Lake Lańskie, appeared to be from the Corded Ware culture, but carbon dating of the human bones indicated that the site was 1,000 years too old for that to be the case. “The C14 method is based on the carbon isotope analysis, the content of which in the atmosphere is quite stable and predictable. The situation is different in an aqueous environment, where so-called old carbon can be present,” he told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Large quantities of mussel shells at the site suggest that the people may have ingested this “old carbon.” Pospieszny and his colleagues sent decorated tiles made from deer antlers that had been discovered in a child’s grave to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and obtained dates in the expected range for the Corded Ware culture. Yet some things about the site are still puzzling—members of the Corded Ware culture in other locations in Europe did not usually fish or consume freshwater shellfish. “Objects found in the graves indicate that the inhabitants of the island belonged to shepherd communities, but their diet was different,” he said. He thinks that the people may have adopted some Neolithic agricultural techniques while retaining some traditional means of hunting and gathering. To read about how researchers are refining the technique of carbon dating, see "Dating on a Curve." 

Artifacts Recovered in California

OROVILLE, CALIFORNIA—California State Parks Rangers recovered thousands of artifacts thought to have been taken from public lands illegally over the past several decades. The suspect had been seen removing artifacts from the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, and the rangers, assisted by the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, continued the investigation and obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s residence. “The recovery of these items is critical to the preservation of the cultural resources of our state, which helps us better understand our past and our history,” Leslie Steidl, California State Parks Archaeologist, told the Sierra Sun Times. To read about the recovery of artifacts looted from the archaeological museum in Baghdad, read "National Museum: 10 Years Later."

Cause of Chopin’s Death Investigated

WARSAW, POLAND—Genetic and forensic scientists have examined a heart thought to have belonged to Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, who died in Paris in 1849. His doctor, Jean Cruveilhier, had diagnosed the pianist with tuberculosis, but then noted after an autopsy that he had suffered from a “disease not previously encountered.” Scientists have since wondered if Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis, or an inherited form of emphysema. The heart, preserved in alcohol and held in a crystal jar, bore “TB nodules,” and was “much enlarged, suggesting respiratory problems, linked to a lung disease,” the scientists reported. “TB pericarditis can be nodular of a diffuse process. Nodules sound good for TB as the diagnosis, but other diseases can mimic that appearance—cancer, and a fungus infection such as aspergillosis. You can’t tell which one by the naked eye,” Sebastian Lucas of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London explained to BBC News. But the investigating team was denied permission to open the jar and test a tissue sample. “It’s not absolutely certain it’s Chopin’s heart,” adds Rose Cholmondeley, president of the London-based Chopin Society. The heart has been returned to its resting place in a pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. For the story of how tuberculosis may have arrived in the New World, see "Sea Mammals Spread Deadly Tuberculosis."

More Headlines
Friday, December 19

Coin Cache Discovered at Copenhagen’s Kastellet

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to The Copenhagen Post, a cache of coins has been discovered at Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress in the center of Copenhagen that was built in the seventeenth century. The coins, nine copper and 23 silver, date between 1649 and 1787. Most of them had been minted in Copenhagen, although some came from Norway and Germany. Musket balls and other pieces of ammunition were also found during the restoration work at the fortress, which is being conducted by the Museum of Copenhagen. To read about the largest coin hoard discovered in Britain see "Seaton Down Hoard."

Blick Mead in Path of Proposed Stonehenge Tunnel

AMESBURY, ENGLAND—The site of a Mesolithic camp known as Blick Mead, or Vespasian’s Camp, could be destroyed if a new 1.8-mile-long tunnel for the A303 is dug near Stonehenge. The 6,000-year-old camp is located about a mile and a half away from the monument, and is thought to have been occupied by hunter-gatherers who returned to Britain after the Ice Age. The bones of aurochs, flint tools, and possible structures have been uncovered. “Our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told Buckingham Today. A team from the university uncovered the 7,000-year-old remains of a meal of frogs’ legs and a natural spring at the site. To read more about the site, see "Frog Legs Eaten in Mesolithic England."

The Search for Spanish Vikings

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Irene García Losquiño of the University of Aberdeen is conducting the first comprehensive study of Viking sites in Spain. “There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale,” she said. She visited Galicia, in northern Spain, last spring, when a number of Viking anchors washed ashore in a storm. Working with Jan Henrik Fallgren of the University of Aberdeen and Ylva Backstrom of the University of Lund, García Losquiño found tell-tale signs of Vikings. “On the beach where the anchors were found there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction, which was used by the later Vikings in France. But with the help of a geographer using tomography we now think this was a longphort—a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbor,” she explained. The team has been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with satellite images to look for additional camps. “We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps,” she said. To read in-depth about some of the earliest evidence of Viking warfare, see "The First Vikings."

Thursday, December 18

Possible Viking Vessel Identified in Canada

OTTAWA, CANADA—Traces of bronze and glass have been detected on a piece of a small, 1,000-year-old stone vessel recovered from Baffin Island in the 1960s. According to Patricia Sutherland of the University of Aberdeen, Peter Thompson of Peter H. Thompson Geological Consulting, Ltd., and Patricia Hunt of the Geological Survey of Canada, who published their findings in the journal Geoarchaeology, the container was used as a crucible for melting bronze and casting small tools or ornaments. The glass formed when the rock was heated to high temperatures. Indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic did not practice high-temperature metalworking at this time, but a similar stone crucible has been found at a Viking site in Norway. “The crucible adds an intriguing new element to this emerging chapter in the early history of northern Canada. It may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico,” Sutherland told Sci-News.com. To read in-depth about some of the earliest evidence of Viking warfare, see "The First Vikings."

Cathedral Builders Reinforced Stone With Iron

PARIS, FRANCE—A team of French researchers from the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération, the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14, and the Université Paris 8, has extracted carbon from the iron used to support Gothic cathedrals, and used radiocarbon dating and archaeological evidence to determine that such reinforcements had been implemented in the initial phase of construction. It had been thought that metal reinforcements were added during later modifications or repairs to the stone structures. Up until Europe’s Middle Ages, iron ore was smelt in furnaces powered by charcoal, and as its carbon was released, some of it was trapped in the metal. The new technique can zero in on this carbon for dating purposes. For example, the metallic tie-rods supporting the flying buttresses on the Gothic cathedral in Beauvais have been dated to the beginning of its construction, in the mid-thirteenth century. Graffiti on the flying buttresses dates to the eighteenth century, and it had been thought that the metal may have been added at that time. The cathedral choir in Bourges is supported by an iron chain that dates to the late twelfth century, the time of its construction. The chain, however, skirts a group of columns, while passing under some others, suggesting that it had not been part of the building plan, but had been added as needed by the construction crew. To read about an early medieval cemetery unearthed in France, see "Dark Age Necropolis."

Royal Entryway Discovered at Herod’s Palace

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at Herodium National Park has been unearthed by a team from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The entryway features a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels, and a palace vestibule decorated with frescoes. The archaeologists, Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman, and Rachel Chachy, think that the corridor was back-filled when the hilltop palace was converted into a royal burial mound, and a monumental stairway was constructed from the hill’s base to its peak, over the corridor. Coins and temporary structures from the Great Revolt (66-71 A.D.), and tunnels dug by rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 A.D.), were found in the corridor. The tunnels had been supported by wooden beams and a roof made of woven cypress branches. To read about a hoard dating to the Bar Kokhba Revolt, see "2,000-Year-Old Stashed Treasure."