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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 06

World War II Spitfire Wreckage Excavated

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—A team made up of researchers from Oxford Archaeology East, the Defense Archaeology Group, Operation Nightingale, and Historic England is recovering a World War II-era aircraft that crashed into what is now the Great Fen Nature Reserve. Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh was killed in 1940 when the Spitfire X4593 crashed during a training flight. According to a report in Cambridge News, witnesses said the aircraft broke formation with two other planes and went into a dive. It seemed to make a partial recovery at about 2,000 feet before reentering the dive and hitting the ground. It is thought that the oxygen system may have failed, causing Penketh to lose consciousness, since he did not attempt to use his parachute. So far, the team has found oxygen tubes, ammunition, and fragments of aluminum. Major components of the plane, including the engine, are expected to be recovered as well. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."

Neolithic Earthworks Uncovered in England

  OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—A Neolithic earthworks consisting of three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thame has been discovered by archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology. Called a causewayed enclosure, such structures were made with short ditches and banks of earth separated by areas of undug ground, and are the earliest-known kinds of enclosures of open spaces. A small henge monument and a smaller ring-ditch were added later in the Neolithic period. This causewayed enclosure is thought to have been a place where people gathered periodically for rituals and other activities. To read about more newly discovered Neolithic sites, go to "Under Stonehenge." 

Homo naledi May Have Been Able to Walk, Climb, and Use Tools

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A study of the Homo naledi foot and hand suggests that this early human relative, discovered by the Rising Star Expedition team in a cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, may have been able to climb trees, walk upright, and manipulate tools. Based upon the examination of more than 100 foot bones, including a well-preserved adult right foot, William Harcourt-Smith of the University of the Witwatersrand and colleagues say that the H. naledi foot shares many characteristics with the modern human foot, making H. naledi capable of standing and walking. But its toe bones are curved, indicating that H. naledi could also climb well. In addition, Tracey Kivell and colleagues studied some 150 H. naledi hand bones, including a nearly complete adult right hand. The structure of the wrist and thumb suggest that like Neanderthals and modern humans, H. naledi had a powerful grasp and could have manipulated stone tools. Its finger bones, however, are curved and may have also been good for climbing trees. “The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa,” Kivell said in a press release.  For more on recent discoveries related to human evolution, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."


More Headlines
Monday, October 05

Turtle-Shaped Tomb Discovered in China

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua News Service reports that a rare turtle-shaped tomb was discovered in north China’s Shanxi Province during the construction of a new house in Shangzhuang Village. The 800-year-old tomb has an octagonal burial chamber and five small rooms resembling a turtle’s legs and head. The inside of the chamber is decorated with brick carvings that could help researchers learn about funeral customs during the Great Jin Dynasty. Human remains within the tomb suggest it had been shared by several generations. For more on ancient burials in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Men in 9th-C. Mass Grave May Have Been a Raiding Party

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—The remains of seven men, discovered in a mass grave at a construction site outside San Francisco in 2012, have been studied by a team led by Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. All of the men, who were between the ages of 18 and 40 at the time of death some 1,150 years ago, had suffered physical trauma. The bones showed signs of head wounds and broken limbs, and weapons made of stone and obsidian were discovered among the skeletons. Eerkens’s study revealed that all of the men had died around the year A.D. 850, a time when hunter-gatherer groups in central California were on the move. “Such resettlement may have brought them into conflict with groups that were already living there,” Eerkens told Western Digs. Analysis of the men’s teeth showed that they had all grown up in an area where they ate freshwater fish, probably in the San Joaquin Valley. And mitochondrial DNA from the bones suggests that men were not brothers or maternal cousins. “This suggests to us that warfare or raiding was conducted by people who lived in the same or nearby villages, but who were drawn from different households and families,” he said. To read about a later discovery in California, go to "A New Look at the Donner Party." 

2,400-Year-Old Temple Found in Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists discovered the remains of a limestone colonnade and a well-preserved ceiling in Cairo’s modern district of Mataria. The 2,400-year-old building is thought to have been a shrine that was surrounded by a mud brick wall and located in the ancient capital city of Heliopolis, or Iunu. “The shrine belonged to the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectanebo I (379 B.C. – 360 B.C.),” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference reported in The Cairo Post. Nectanebo I founded the 30th Dynasty, which was the last Egyptian royal family to rule Egypt before it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The team also uncovered a bust of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Merenptah (1580 B.C. – 1080 B.C.). To read about the discovery of another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Butchered Mammoth Bones Unearthed in Michigan

  ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—About 20 percent of an adult male mammoth that lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan from a farmer’s field in southern Michigan. The skull, tusks, numerous vertebrae and ribs, and parts of the pelvis and shoulder blades were recovered, along with a small stone flake that may have been used for cutting, and three basketball-sized boulders that may have been used to anchor the carcass pieces in a pond. “We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” paleontologist Daniel Fisher explained in a press release. In addition, the vertebrae were found arrayed in their correct anatomical sequence, and not scattered randomly as they would have been if the mammoth had died of natural causes. As Fisher said, it was as if someone had “chopped a big chunk out of the body and placed it in the pond for storage.” The team will look for cut marks on the bones and date them. To read more about who would have hunted mammoth 11,700 years ago, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Friday, October 02

Native American Remains Unearthed in Alaska

HAINES, ALASKA—A delivery of dirt for constructing new aviaries at the American Bald Eagle Foundation contained part of a human skull, according to a report from Alaska Public Media. At first, the volunteers who discovered the bone did not recognize what they had found. “Everyone was pretty much just in shock—eyes wide, jaws dropped. This doesn’t happen to real people, this is something that you’d only see in a movie or something,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson. Haines police responded to the call, and brought in anthropologist Anastasia Wiley, who determined that the remains are those of a Native American woman who was at least 40 years old at the time of death, most likely sometime before 1700. “If it’s truly an antiquity, and we believe it is based on our limited knowledge of it, then the medical examiner will simply turn it back over to us to release to the family and in this case the family would be the descendants, which in this case would be the local Native organizations,” explained Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths. The site where the dirt originated will also be examined. To read more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

1,500-Year-Old Skeletons Represent Family Members

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The remains of nine people unearthed in 1975 in Cramond, Scotland, during the excavation of a Roman bath house and fort have been re-examined with modern scientific techniques. It had been thought that the dead were victims of a medieval bubonic plague, but the new test results show that the bones belong to more than one generation of a single family and date to the sixth century A.D. Two of the men had multiple healed wounds and may have been warriors, and one of the women died from violent blows to the head. Researchers now think that the family may lived in a royal stronghold at Cramond Fort. “The study has provided important evidence of life during this time of political turmoil and has helped us answer questions about the Dark Ages, but it has also opened up a whole new world of questions. Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the Dark Ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial?” John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, asked in a press release. To read more about the Dark Ages in Britain, go to "The Kings of Kent."

4,000-Year-Old Sauna Found in Scotland

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A rare, almost complete underground building dating to the Bronze Age has been discovered on the periphery of the prehistoric Links of Noltland, an archaeological site on the island of Westray. The building may have been used as a sweat house or sauna and for ritual activities. It may also have served as a place where women could give birth, and the sick and elderly could come to die. “We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam—which could have been used to create a sauna effect,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said in a press release. Heated stones would have been placed in the tank to heat the water. “What this would have been used for we don’t know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking,” McCullagh explained. To read more about archaeology on Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."