Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, February 21

Kennewick Man Reburied

  SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—The Seattle Times reports that after two decades of legal battles, the 9,000-year-old remains dubbed Kennewick Man by scientists and called the Ancient One by Native Americans have been reburied at an undisclosed site on the Columbia Plateau. Since being discovered on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996, the remains have been claimed by tribes indigenous to the area, which pushed for the repatriation of the Ancient One even as his bones were being exhaustively studied by anthropologists. Last Friday, representatives of five tribes met with officials at Seattle's Burke Museum, where they took possession of the Ancient One's bones, as well as vials containing his DNA samples and a spear point that had been found lodged in his hip. All were buried on Saturday during a ceremony attended by more than 200 people. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Colonial-Era Artifacts Uncovered in Australia

  NORTH PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA—An excavation in a suburb of Sydney has turned up evidence of the early decades after the arrival of Europeans in Australia, according to a report from ABC News. The site, in North Parramatta, was home to an early nineteenth-century “female factory,” where women convicts sent to Australia were put to work. Later, it was expanded to include a mental asylum and orphanage. Among the items found at the site are toothbrushes, combs, beads, and bits of jewelry. The archaeologists are unsure who owned these items. A number of small pieces of glass have also been discovered, possibly dating back to 1788, around the time the first colonists arrived in Australia. Archaeologist Jillian Comber believes these provide evidence of relationships between the European settlers and Aboriginal people, who used the glass for cutting or carving. “The glass is really important,” she said, “because we don't have a great deal of evidence of that coexistence between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.” For more on archaeology of nineteenth-century Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Medieval English Graffiti Surveyed

BOLTON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists are searching buildings in Bolton for medieval markings designed to fend off evil spirits and bad omens, according to a report in The Bolton News. Members of the Bolton Archaeology and Egyptology Society are being trained to spot the marks through tours of historic buildings such as Hall i' th’ Wood, a Tudor manor house built in the early sixteenth century. “Buildings often change uses,” says Ian Trumble, the society’s chairman. “For example, Hall i’ th’ Wood was a farmhouse before it become a posh home and markings could show the different uses of the building over time.” Among the markings society members will be looking for are daisy wheels, taper burns, and the “VV” sign, which stands for “Virgo Virginum” and has traditionally been associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary. To read in-depth about medieval graffiti, go to “Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall.”

Roman House Unearthed in Israel

  OMRIT, ISRAEL—A house built in the late first or early second century A.D. has been unearthed at the ancient site of Omrit in northern Israel, reports Live Science. A team led by Carthage College archaeologist Daniel Schowalter excavated the building and found that its floor was covered in plaster and its walls were decorated with elaborate frescoes. The surviving images depict bucolic scenes of trees, plants, and fish, as well as two ducks that appear to be huddling together. Schowalter believes the house may have been built for a Roman official, but that it's also possible a wealthy local could have lived there and commissioned the Roman-style frescoes. The team also unearthed several amulets in the shape of phalluses, which were thought to ward off misfortune during the Roman period. To see elaborate frescoes dating to the same era, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”  

Friday, February 17

Face of Pictish Murder Victim Recreated

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a team of researchers led by Sue Black of the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee has recreated the face of a Pictish man whose skeleton was discovered in the Scottish Highlands, in a cave on the coast of the Black Isle peninsula. Examination of his bones revealed that he had suffered from at least five serious head injuries, including broken teeth on the right side of his face; a fractured jaw on the left; a fracture to the back of his head, probably after falling from the first two blows; and a wound through the head that was probably made with the same weapon. The fifth injury is thought to have come from a larger weapon to the top of the skull. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he was killed some 1,400 years ago. Large stones had been placed on his arms and legs, which were crossed to keep the remains in place. Excavation leader Steven Birch said it was clear the man was carefully buried, though the team members don’t know why he was brutally killed. For more on facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Possible Pomegranate Seeds Found in Ancient Tomb

HOHHOT, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that more than 100 seeds thought to be 2,000 years old have been found in a brick tomb in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of northern China. The seeds were found in a circle near the head of the woman who had been buried in the tomb. Archaeologists have not yet determined the species of the seeds, which are half-moon in shape and resemble modern pomegranate seeds. The tomb also contained the remains of a bronze seal. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

New World Epidemic May Have Been Caused by Salmonella

JENA, GERMANY—Nature reports that evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his team think that a rare strain of Salmonella could be responsible for an epidemic that killed as much as 80 percent of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550, in the years following the Spanish conquest. The scientists sequenced bacterial DNA obtained from the teeth of 29 people who had been buried in southern Mexico, and compared the samples to a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes. The DNA recovered from several of the individuals matched that of Salmonella. Further testing suggests the strain is a rare one that today causes enteric fever and can be fatal without treatment. Evidence for the presence of the same strain of bacteria has been found in a woman who was buried in Trondheim, Norway, around the year A.D. 1200. The study suggests that the bacteria may have been carried by Spanish explorers to the New World. To read in-depth about the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Thursday, February 16

Nero’s Domus Aurea Receives Virtual-Reality Treatment

ROME, ITALY—CBS News reports that visitors to the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s “Golden House,” can experience how it might have looked 2,000 years ago through virtual reality headsets. Raffaele Carlani, an architect and graphic designer, and his team at the company KatatexiLux, studied the works of Renaissance painters who viewed the palace’s frescoes in their efforts to reproduce its faded splendor. “Nothing is invented,” Carlani said, “every part of the reconstruction has a scientific base.” To read in-depth about the Domus Aurea, go to “Golden House of an Emperor.”

Welcome Back, Woolly Mammoth?

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—The woolly mammoth went extinct about 4,000 years ago, probably due to climate change and human hunting. The Guardian reports that scientists think they may be able to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo in two years through the use of the Crispr gene-editing tool. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits,” explained George Church of Harvard University. Those woolly mammoth traits include small ears, subcutaneous fat, shaggy hair, and cold-adapted blood. So far, woolly mammoth DNA, obtained from the remains of animals found frozen in Siberian ice, has only been inserted into Asian elephant cells. But the team is also experimenting with an artificial womb in which a “mammophant” embryo could develop, rather than try to implant it into an endangered female Asian elephant. Church suggests that mammoth traits could help strengthen Asian elephants, and that bringing the animals back could help preserve the frozen tundra. “They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” he said. To read about the discovery of mammoth remains in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Charcoal Samples Could Reflect Tree Use at Angkor

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that archaeologists Mitch Hendrickson of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Phon Kaseka of the Royal Academy of Cambodia have been collecting charcoal samples as they excavate smelters that produced iron for Angkor some 1,000 years ago. They estimate that it took three to four tons of charcoal to smelt one ton of iron ore. The charcoal samples will help the scientists to determine what kind of trees were preferred for fueling the furnaces. “There is no record of a specific management system for forest usage, but we presume they would have had one,” Hendrickson said. Different trees would have probably been used to fire ceramics or cast bronze. Hendrickson and Kaseka hope that other researchers will add information on tree use at Angkor to their new database. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”