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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 26

Ninth-Century Castle Investigated in Slovakia

PEZINOK, SLOVAKIA—Archaeologist Július Vavák of the Malokarpatské Múzeum is investigating the site of a Slavic castle dating to the Great Moravian Empire in the Little Carpathians, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. During the ninth and tenth centuries, the strategically located castle was a military and manufacturing center connected to the castles and hillforts in Bratislava and Devín, where King Rastislav is known to have stayed. The castle also probably provided protection for valuable trade routes. So far, Vavák has recovered evidence of metalworking, ceramics, glass fragments, a knife, a spear, and a deposit of jewelry, including earrings, a pendant, and a ring. He has also found a selection of coins, including Roman and Celtic varieties, and a late ninth-century silver dirham from the Abbasid caliphate. Vavák claims this is the first Arabic silver coin to have been found in Great Moravia. To read about other discoveries including Arabic silver coins, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Horse Images Discovered in China’s Xiangshan Mountains

YINCHUAN, CHINA—Eight images of horses have been found carved into rocks in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency. The images were found carved into hard bluestone during a survey of known rock art in the Xiangshan Mountains. One of the horses measures more than 1.5 feet long, making it one of China’s largest rock art images. Most of the rock art in the Xiangshan Mountains dates to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Evidence of Early Dog Domestication Found in Siberian Arctic

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Science Magazine reports that dogs may have been bred and domesticated in the Arctic some 9,000 years ago. Archaeologist Vladimir Pitulko and archaeozoologist Aleksey Kasparov of the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed the bones of canines recovered from a hunter-gatherer site on what is now Zhokhov Island. They compared two well-preserved canine skulls from the site with those of wolves and Siberian Huskies from the region. The measurements of the skulls suggest that one was a true dog, while the other was a wolf-dog hybrid. Further study of the canine bones from the site suggest ten of the dogs were about the size of Siberian Huskies, which are able to pull sleds without overheating like a larger dog would. The researchers speculate that dog-assisted transportation could have allowed Stone Age Zhokovians to pursue herds of reindeer. The wolf-dog hybrid was larger, however, and may have been more suitable for hunting polar bears. “They were clearly shaping these animals to do something special,” Pitulko said. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Squeezing History from a Turnip.”

England Returns Artifacts to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Officials in London have handed over four artifacts thought to have been smuggled out of Egypt, according to a report in Ahram Online. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, head of the Antiquities Ministry’s Antiquities Repatriation Department, said the objects include a glass sculpture of a human head, a stone relief thought to have been taken in the 1970s from Hatshepsut’s temple, a wooden ushabti figurine, and a Roman-era object from Minya. All of the objects except for the carving taken from Hatshepsut’s temple are thought to have been stolen from Egyptian galleries in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. For more on Egypt, go to “Recovering Hidden Texts.”

Researchers Review George Washington’s Birthplace

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, VIRGINIA—Fredricksburg.com reports that researchers are re-evaluating the supposed location of George Washington’s birth in Virginia’s Northern Neck. A structure called Building X was identified as Washington’s birthplace in the early twentieth century. But it now appears that this site likely includes remains of several structures that stood at different times, according to a new review of field notes, photographs, drawings, and artifacts by Philip Levy of the University of South Florida in collaboration with the National Park Service staff at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. “We know much more about Colonial architecture than they did in the 1930s,” Levy said. “There were whole classes of buildings that they didn’t even know existed.” The researchers plan to reexamine the site of Building X with ground-penetrating radar, and to re-excavate its backfill. They suspect the structures were outbuildings used for food preparation by the wealthy Washington family. For more on archaeology of the Founding Fathers, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”

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Thursday, May 25

Middle Stone Age Ochre Use Examined

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Ars Technica reports that evidence for the use of ochre spanning a period of 4,500 years has been uncovered at Ethiopia’s Porc-Epic Cave. Daniela Rosso of the University of Barcelona and the University of Bordeaux and her colleagues examined more than 4,000 pieces of ochre recovered from the cave in order to try and determine how it was processed and used some 40,000 years ago. Microscopy and experimental grinding techniques revealed that the rocks were probably ground into powders for decoration and art, rather than for making adhesives and tanning hides. The techniques used to produce the powders changed slightly over time, as did the color preferences and the range of colors in use. Rosso and her team suggest the symbolic use of ochre in the cave may have been part of a cultural tradition shared by community members. For more on the use of ochre, go to “The Red Lady of El Mirón.”

Hunter-Gatherers and Farmers Shared Culture and Genes

FERRARA, ITALY—Seeker reports that an international team of scientists, led by Gloria Gonzalez-Fortes of the University of Ferrara, studied possible relationships between local hunter-gatherers and early Anatolian farmers who lived side by side in what is now Romania’s Danube River basin. They analyzed the genomes of four individuals who lived in the region between 8,800 and 5,400 years ago, and compared them to other hunter-gatherer genomes recovered in Europe. The results suggest that the farmers, who had migrated from Anatolia, and the local hunter-gatherers did produce children together, and may have lived together, despite cultural differences. The researchers speculate that the farmers may have supplemented their crops with gathered food as they moved across Europe and encountered challenging climatic conditions, perhaps bringing the two groups into contact. Chemical analysis of the bones indicates that the contact between the two groups broadened the diets of all to include cereals, legumes, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, nuts, plants, fish, shellfish, and even dairy products, even though the individuals in the study were lactose intolerant. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

Ice Age Camp Discovered in Peru

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—According to a report in Science, hearths, simple stone tools, the bones of land and marine animals, woven rushes, and plant remains dating back as early as 15,000 years ago have been found deep beneath Huaca Prieta, an earthen mound on the coast of northern Peru, by an excavation team led by Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University. Dillehay thinks the site suggests that people migrating into the New World along the coastline may have settled at the site for several thousand years before the construction of the 100-foot-tall mound of Huaca Prieta is thought to have begun, some 7,800 years ago. During the Ice Age, the earliest residents would have had access to a river valley, shallow wetlands, and coastal lagoons ideal for hunting, collecting shellfish, and trapping marine animals washed in with the tide or storm surges. Dillehay explained that such extensive knowledge of the resources available in the region’s different environments would have taken time to develop. For more, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Wednesday, May 24

Tiny Metal Bird Unearthed at Bamburgh Castle

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A tiny copper-alloy representation of a bird has been discovered at Bamburgh Castle, according to a report from the Northumberland Gazette. The discovery was made last year during ongoing excavations of the castle, which was the headquarters of the medieval Anglo-Saxon kings of Northumbria. Measuring just an inch by a half-inch, the mount is extremely detailed. Experts believe it dates to the eighth century and that its design may draw on bird-of-prey motifs from the sixth and seventh centuries. According to Graeme Young, Bamburgh research project director, the object was found on a cobbled surface, and it is so far unclear whether it was deposited inside a building or on a yard surface or a path. To read in-depth about excavations at Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Paleolithic Obsidian Transported Long Distances

YABROUD, SYRIA— Analysis of an obsidian flake excavated in Syria and dating to between 41,000 and 32,000 years ago shows it was made out of rock that came from an outcropping in Turkey more than 400 miles away. According to a report in Science News, archaeologists Ellery Frahm of Yale University and Thomas Hauck of the University of Cologne used a portable X-ray device to determine the source of the flake, as well as 230 other obsidian samples from throughout the Near East. Previously, scholars had thought the earliest long-distance transport of obsidian in the region happened during the Natufian period, between 14,500 and 11,500 years ago, when hunter-gatherers first began living in permanent settlements. To read more about the technology Frahm pioneered to source obisidian, go to “High-Definition Obsidian.”

WWII Bombers Discovered Off Papua New Guinea

NEWARK, DELAWARE—The wreckage of two World War II–era B-25 bombers has been located in waters off Papua New Guinea, according to a report from Philly.com. The discoveries were part of ongoing surveys by the nonprofit organization Project Recover, which includes researchers from the University of Delaware and the University of California, San Diego. The location of the first plane, in Madang Harbor, was previously known. Five of its six crewmembers survived the crash and were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Based on military and historic records, the team narrowed down the location of the second plane to a several square mile area and used an underwater robot equipped with sonar to scan the ocean floor. The tail was located first, and additional debris was found several hundred yards away. “The aircraft was moving at a pretty fast clip when it hit the water,” said Mark Moline of the University of Delaware. All six of its crewmembers were declared missing in action after it was shot down by the Japanese more than 70 years ago. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

Neolithic Site in Malta Conserved

VALLETTA, MALTA—The underground Neolithic necropolis known as the Hypogeum has reopened to the public after a months-long conservation project. The Times of Malta reports that the site, which consists of three levels of rock-cut chambers and dates to between 4000 and 25000 B.C., was the subject of a large-scale effort to stabilize its climatic conditions. Created around the same time as Malta's aboveground megalithic temples, the Hypogeum once held the remains of some 7,000 individuals. Its intricately carved walls closely resemble those of the contemporary megalithic temples, and are still decorated with the remnants of ochre paintings, the preservation of which was one of the conservators' chief concerns. To read about another massive site dating to the same period, go to “Neolithic Europe’s Remote Heart.” 

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