Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 23

Farmer Unearthed 2,500-Year-Old Gold Bracelets in Poland

KROSNO, POLAND—A farmer in southeastern Poland unearthed three gold bracelets tied with golden wire that are thought to date to between 1600 and 400 B.C. “We will study the place of discovery because we want to determine whether it was a discovery of a treasure, or perhaps remains of a burial ground,” Jan Gancarski, director of the Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Gancarski thinks that “the objects probably originated from behind the Carpathians. At the time, the Carpathian foothills were inhabited by people who came here from behind the Carpathians.” 

13,000-Year-Old Footprints Found on Calvert Island

VICTORIA, CANADA—Fossilized footprints discovered below the current shoreline of an island in British Columbia may be the oldest in North America. The prints, thought to have been made by a man, a woman, and a child some 13,000 years ago, were discovered on Calvert Island last year near the remains of an ancient campfire. “We figure that at some point people were hanging out around this fire. They left their footprints in the grey clay and then they were subsequently filled by this black sand, which essentially preserved the footprints,” archaeologist Duncan McLaren of the University of Victoria told the National Post. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."

Scarlet Macaws and the Growth of Pueblo Hierarchies

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—New radiocarbon dates for Mesoamerican parrots unearthed in the late nineteenth century in the American Southwest suggest that the birds were highly prized by the pueblo’s political elites in the early tenth century, at least 150 years earlier than previously thought. Most of the skeletal remains of scarlet macaws found in Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito predate the Chaco florescence, an era of rapid architectural expansion beginning around A.D. 1040. “By directly dating the macaws, we have demonstrated the existence of long-distance networks throughout much of this settlement’s history. Our findings suggest that rather than the acquisition of macaws being a side effect of the rise of Chacoan society, there was a causal relationship. The ability to access these trade networks and the ritual power associated with macaws and their feathers may have been important to forming these hierarchies in the first place,” Adam Watson off the American Museum of Natural History said in a press release. To read more about Chaco, go to "Who Were the Anasazi?"

Monday, June 22

Sweden’s Seventeenth-Century Mummy Examined

LUND, SWEDEN—The well-preserved mummy of Peder Winstrup, a bishop who had been buried in a crypt at Lund Cathedral a year after his death in 1679, has been examined by scientists from Lund University. CT scans show that the 74-year-old Winstrup suffered from fluid in his sinuses and had been bedridden for a long time, and he may have had both tuberculosis and pneumonia. He also had plaque in his arteries, gallstones, osteoarthritis in the knees and hips, dental cavities, and had lost teeth. “His right shoulder was slightly higher than his left, due to an injury to a tendon in the shoulder. This would have limited Winstrup’s mobility, making it difficult for him to carry out simple everyday tasks such as putting on a shirt or combing his hair with the comb in his right hand,” osteologist Caroline Ahlström Arcini said in a press release. The scan also revealed the remains of a fetus that had been concealed under Winstrup’s feet. “You can only speculate as to whether it was one of Winstrup’s next of kin, or whether someone else took the opportunity while preparing the coffin. But we hope to be able to clarify any kinship through a DNA test,” said Per Karsten, director of the Historical Museum at Lund University. To read about a recent discovery made in Sweden, go to "One Ring to Bind Them."

England’s Bradgate Park Yields Medieval Moated Dwelling

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Students from the University of Leicester are conducting excavations at Bradgate Park, located near Bradgate House, the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen in 1553. So far, they have recovered 10,000-year-old flint blades, Roman pottery, a musket ball, and a toy gun dating to the 1960s. They have also found two outbuildings and a medieval moated site that may have been the home of the park keeper. “We have uncovered the building on top of the moat which we expected, and recovered some pottery and glazed floor tile that are consistent with a medieval date. What is new, is that we have identified that the building has at least two different phases of construction—the original building with a later extension,” archaeologist Richard Thomas explained to the Leicester Mercury. To read more about recent discoveries in England, go to "Artifact: Medieval Chess Pieces." 

Early Christian Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Nazareth

WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT—An early Christian mosaic floor has been unearthed at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth by a team of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, Duquesne University, the University of Wisconsin, and Haifa University. Tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary at the site where the church was built and rebuilt over time. The ancient floor, thought to date to the fourth century, was discovered with ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. “The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said in a press release. The floor and the original church may have been constructed as a Christian pilgrim site when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. To read about the excavation of an early Christian community in Kuwait, go to "Archaeology Island."

Early Modern Humans Interbred With Neanderthals in Europe

MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Friday, June 19

Huge Chimney Discovered at Bacon’s Castle

SURRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA—An excavation to install a handicapped parking space at Bacon’s Castle uncovered an H-shaped chimney base with two 11-foot-wide fire boxes. Bacon’s Castle is a four-story Jacobean brick house built in 1665 by Arthur Allen, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. “This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia,” archaeologist Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute for Archaeology told Daily Press. Arthur Allen II, who was himself elected as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1686 and 1688, is known for planting one of the first pleasure gardens in the English colonies. The recent excavation also uncovered a large, brick-lined root cellar that butts up against the fireplace. “What we’re seeing here is that Bacon’s Castle continued to grow and develop after the original house was completed,” added Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations. To read about another archaeological discovery in the area, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."

12,000-Year-Old Puppy Preserved in Siberian Ice

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) have autopsied the remains of a three-month-old female dog thought to have died during a landslide near the Syallakh River some 12,450 years ago. (Two twigs in her stomach suggest that she tried to grab onto nearby plants with her teeth.) The puppy, whose fur, skin, bones, and internal organs are intact, was discovered in permafrost by two men who were looking for mammoth tusks in an area where hikers have found stone and bone tools and weapons. Was the puppy an early domestic breed? “Our task is to estimate the preservation of the ancient animal tissues at the macro and micro level. What is of real interest is the fact the animal has a completely preserved carcass, which is unique by itself, with nothing like it in the world. Although the tissues are mummified, they have no post-mortem decomposition, as it usually happens with biological material,” Darima Garmaeva of the NEFU Medical Institute told The Siberian Times. Members of the dog research project will return to the site with archaeologists this summer to look for evidence of early dog owners. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend." 

Kennewick Man Is Closely Related to Native Americans

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—DNA analysis conducted by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and Morten Rasmussen of Stanford University suggests that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world. It had been thought that the 8,500-year-old skeleton, known as the Ancient One by Native American groups, was more likely to be related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples, based upon anatomical data. “Although the exterior preservation of the skeleton was pristine, the DNA in the sample was highly degraded and dominated by DNA from soil bacteria and other environmental sources. With the little material we had available, we applied the newest methods to squeeze every piece of information out of the bone,” Rasmussen said in a press release. The study also reveals that Kennewick Man is more closely related to some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, located in Washington State, than to many other contemporary Native American groups. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."