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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 10

Ancient Basket Found on Scottish Island

NORTH UIST, SCOTLAND—Recent storms have exposed a woven reed basket containing worked quartz and animal bones on an island in the Outer Hebrides. “It’s rare to find well-preserved organic material. It indicates that this basket must have been kept under water from the day that it was placed, or lost, there. Perhaps it was in a freshwater loch until it was covered over by encroaching beach sediment,” Kate MacDonald of Uist Archaeology told the Island News and Advertiser. Specialists will remove the basket, which might date to the Bronze Age and was discovered by a member of a local archaeology group, in a block of sediment so that it can be excavated under laboratory conditions. The quartz and bones will also be examined. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, see "Viking Hoard Unearthed." 

Tunnel Excavation Reveals Stone-Age Footprints

FALSTER, DENMARK—Footprints thought to have been left by fishermen 5,000 years ago have been found by archaeologists working ahead of the planned construction of the Femern Belt Tunnel, which will connect Denmark and Germany. “We normally find historical clues in the form of human waste, but here we have found an entirely different clue and a first in Danish archaeology: a physical print left behind by a human,” archaeologist Terje Stafseth of the Museum Lolland-Falster told The Copenhagen Post. The prints are thought to have been made by two individuals who waded out into a silted seabed to repair and eventually move their weirs from the flooding. “We can follow the footprints, sense the importance of these weirs and know they would have been an important source of nutrition for the coastal community,” Stafseth added. To read about a similar site, see "England's Oldest Footprints."

Pond Discovered at Roman Settlement in England

BARNHAM, ENGLAND—Excavations in southern England have uncovered traces of a first-century Roman settlement. “All the archaeological features appear today as filled with pale grey silt, and it is usually easy to see that these must be silted-up ditches, pits and post-holes, but a large round grey splodge on the site was puzzling everyone,” John Mills, senior archaeologist for the West Sussex County Council, told BBC News. The large, round depression is thought to be a pond that was surrounded by trash pits filled with household debris. Pottery at the site had been crafted in the nearby Arun Valley. Tiles used by the Romans to equip stone buildings with under-floor heating suggest that a larger building may still be found at the site. To read more about life in Roman Britain, see "Artifact: Vindolanda Tablet."

Carving of Unidentified God Unearthed in Turkey

MÜNSTER, GERMANY—While excavating a medieval Christian monastery in southeastern Turkey, excavation director Engelbert Winter and archaeologist Michael Blömer of the University of Münster uncovered a Roman relief that had been repurposed as a buttress. The monastery had been built on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, a prominent god of the second century A.D. “The image is remarkably well preserved. It provides valuable insights into the beliefs of the Romans and into the continued existence of ancient Near Eastern traditions. However, extensive research is necessary before we will be able to accurately identify the deity,” Blömer told Science Daily. The image, which may date to the early first millennium B.C., had been carved on a basalt stele and shows the deity growing from a chalice of leaves. A long horn and a tree, grasped by the god, grow from the sides of the cone. To read more about the team's discoveries in Turkey, see "How to Pray to a Storm God."

Friday, November 07

The Arrival of People Doomed New Zealand’s Moa

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—The extinction of the moa, New Zealand’s large, flightless bird, occurred shortly after the arrival of humans, according to a study of more than 600 radiocarbon dates conducted by a team including George Perry of the University of Auckland’s School of Environment and School of Biological Sciences. “This is the first time we have been able to show that extinction was both rapid and synchronous across New Zealand,” he told Stuff. Radiocarbon dates of moa eggshells at archaeological sites in the South Island show that people began hunting and eating moa after the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in about 1314 A.D. Radiocarbon dates of moa bones from non-archaeological sites show that they died out in the lowlands of the South Island by the end of the fourteenth century, and total extinction probably occurred by 1425. “Our results demonstrate how rapidly megafauna were exterminated from even large, topographically and ecologically diverse islands such as New Zealand, and highlight the fragility of such ecosystems in the face of human impacts,” Perry and his team wrote in Quaternary Science Reviews.

The Earliest Europeans

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—DNA from the ulna of a modern human skeleton discovered in 1954 at an archaeological site at Kostenki-Borshchevo, located in southwest Russia, has been mapped by a team of scientists led by evolutionary biologist Eske Wilerslev of the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. The skeleton has been dated to between 36,200 and 38,700 years old, making the genome the second oldest to be sequenced. This new data suggests that this man, who had dark skin and dark eyes, had DNA from Europe’s indigenous hunter-gatherers, people from the Middle East who later became early farmers, and western Asians. It had been thought that these three groups only mixed in the past 5,000 years. “What is surprising is this guy represents one of the earliest Europeans, but at the same time he basically contains all the genetic components that you find in contemporary Europeans—at 37,000 years ago,” Willerslev told Science. The man, known as Kostenki XIV and as Markina Gora, also had about one percent more Neanderthal DNA than today’s Europeans and Asians, from modern human and Neanderthal contact more than 45,000 years ago. “In principle, you just have sex with your neighbor and they have it with their next neighbor—you don’t need to have these armies of people moving around to spread the genes,” Willerslev explained. To read more about paleogenetics, see "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."

Bell from HMS Erebus Revealed

OTTAWA, CANADA—According to The Globe and Mail, a bronze bell has been recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of two ships lost during Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the Arctic to search for the Northwest Passage. The bell, dated 1845, was found on the ship’s upper deck, where it would have been struck every half hour, day and night, to keep time and signal the changing of the crew’s watches. The bell is also marked with a “broad arrow,” a symbol of the Royal Navy and the British Government. It is being kept in fresh water and will be carefully cleaned over the next 18 months to remove the salt from its surface. HMS Erebus was discovered in the Queen Maud Gulf earlier this fall. Further exploration of the wreck site will resume in the spring. To read about the discovery of HMS Investigator, the doomed vessel dispatched to search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Saga of the Northwest Passage." 

Thursday, November 06

Drill Hits Nineteenth-Century Shipwreck in New Jersey

BRICK, NEW JERSEY—Workers discovered a nineteenth-century shipwreck while building a 3.5-mile-long steel wall to protect a highway and oceanfront homes in an area of coastal New Jersey that was hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “They hit something. It broke the head on the machine. They decided to replace the head. They replaced the head, and it also broke,” Brick Deputy Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Joe Pawlowicz told CBS New York. The ship, which was made entirely of wood, is thought to be the Scottish brig Ayrshire, which ran aground during a storm in 1850. All but one of the passengers, who were immigrating from England and Ireland, were rescued with a newly developed life-car from a life-saving station on shore. “In the case of a near-shore disaster, you would set up a line between ship and shore. And in clothesline style, you would run this little metal cart out there, fill it with people, and then bring them back,” explained Dan Lieb of the New Jersey Shipwreck Museum. The wall-building project will continue around the wreckage until archaeologists determine if it should be excavated.

Joseon-Period Shipwreck Discovered Off Korea’s Coast

TAEAN, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Herald reports that the wreckage of a ship thought to have been carrying a cargo of ceramics has been discovered off the coast of South Korea’s Mado Island. The National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage announced that the stern of the vessel and some wooden beams had been found, along with buncheong ware, which is characterized by a gray or bluish green body covered with a white slip. Such pottery is associated with the earlier part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). More than 100 pieces of white porcelain, thought to date to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, have also been recovered. Excavation of the site is scheduled for next spring. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Bronze Age Children’s Burial Unearthed in Buckinghamshire

MARLOW, ENGLAND—Hundreds of bone fragments from the skeletons of two children have been discovered in a pit behind an antiques shop in Buckinghamshire. The children’s teeth suggest they were between ten and twelve years old at the time of death, which occurred sometime between 2140 and 1950 B.C., according to radiocarbon dates. “Among the remains was a piece of Bronze Age beaker pottery which was probably from a pot buried with the bones, as well as medieval finds from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries,” John Laker of Archaeology in Marlow told Culture 24. The early Bronze Age barrow or burial mound was disturbed during the medieval period. “It looks like people lived in Marlow well before Anglo-Saxon times and that Marlow was a desirable residence around 4,500 years ago,” Laker added. To read more about Bronze Age Britain, see "The World of Stonehenge."

Corinth’s Submerged Port Mapped

ATHENS, GREECE—A submerged port has been mapped at the site of Lechaion, the western harbor of ancient Corinth, according to an announcement made by the Greek Ministry of Culture and published in The Greek Reporter. A team made up of members of the Underwater Antiquities Ephorate of the ministry, the SAXO Institute of the University of Copenhagen, the Danish Institute in Athens, and the University of Patras used a 3-D parametric sub-bottom profiler to examine an entrance channel, a pier, and eight caissons filled with pebbles mixed with mortar. The caissons, found nowhere else in Greece, may have been intended for the construction of another pier. To read about the excavation of a similar site, see "Diving Into History: Liman Tepe Harbor."