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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 16

Ice Age Tools Excavated in England

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Excavators from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services are working on a Late Upper Paleolithic camp site in Bradgate Park that is threatened by erosion. The intact site appears to have been divided up into activity zones, and to contain thousands of flint artifacts, including projectile points, scrapers, knives, and piercers. “The people who left behind these clues were members of a small group of pioneer mobile hunter gatherers who repopulated northwest Europe towards the end of the last Ice Age with the rapid onset of a warmer climate and the development of open grassland vegetation,” principal investigator Lynden Cooper said in a press release. They would have hunted wild horse, red deer, mammoth, elk, wild cattle, wolf, arctic fox, arctic hare, and brown bear. The 14,700-year-old site rests on land that was designated a deer park during the medieval period, which has protected it from plowing. To read about how ancient Icelanders adapted to Ice-Age life, go to "Letter from Iceland: Surviving the Little Ice Age."

Polished Skull Caps Unearthed at Marsh Creek Site

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Extra skulls were found buried in eight of the graves at the 3,000-year-old Marsh Creek site in central California, along with seven graves of skeletons missing heads. The skulls may have been moved as a way of honoring ancestors, or reuniting family members after death, according to Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. Analysis of the strontium isotopes in all of the bones showed that those people whose heads had been removed grew up in the Marsh Creek area, as had the rest of the burial population. Two of the extra skulls had been transformed into calottes, or smooth bowl shapes made from skull crowns. One of them had even been daubed with red ochre. “The Marsh Creek pattern is inconsistent with warfare as an explanation for the presence of extra skulls and headless burials,” Eerkens told Western Digs. “The data are much more in line with ancestor worship, where sometimes mementos of people were kept and turned into artifacts—bowls, in this case, but we have examples of flutes and whistles [made from human bone] in other cases,” he added. To read about ancestor worship in ancient Scotland, go to "Cladh Hallan."

Climate Variability and the Rise and Fall of City States

COLLEGE PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—Climate volatility influenced the rise and fall of agrarian states in Mexico and Peru, according to a new study led by environmental archaeologist Douglas Kennett of Penn State University. He and climatologist and statistician Norbert Marwan of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research gathered information on the climate over a period of 2,000 years in central Mexico from a stalagmite from Juxtlahuaca Cave. The Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes also provided information on annual changes in rainfall and temperatures for 1,800 years. They then compared the climate information with archaeological records on the rise and fall of Teotihuacán, the Toltec Empire, and the Aztec Empire. They found that the states grew during periods of stable rainfall, and declined during volatile climate conditions. “While there is some support for the hypothesis that stable climatic conditions favored political centralization and that unstable climatic conditions contributed to sociopolitical instability and decentralization, additional chronological work is needed,” Kennett said in a press release. To read about the impact of climate change on ancient mummies, go to "Saving Chile's Chinchorro Mummies."

Hunter-Gatherers Stay Up Late, Too

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—A study of the sleeping habits of present-day hunter-gatherers suggests that human ancestors had similar sleep patterns to people living in today’s industrialized world. Jerome Siegel of the University of California Los Angeles sent watch-sized devices that measure sleeping and waking times, as well as light exposure, into the field with anthropologists who study the Hadza, who live near Serengeti National Park; the Tsimane, who live in the Andean foothills; and the San, who live in the Kalahari Desert. The scientists also gathered information about the sleepers’ body temperatures and the temperature of their sleeping environments. They found that hunter-gathers stay up more than three hours after dark, sleeping less than seven hours each night. And, the people in the study awoke when temperatures hit the lowest point in the 24-hour period, resulting in roughly the same wake-up time each morning. “The fact that we all stay up hours after sunset is absolutely normal and does not appear to be a new development, although electric lights may have further extended this natural waking period,” Siegel said in a press release. To read about the first evidence for hunter-gatherers using poison for hunting, go to "First Use of Poison."

Thursday, October 15

Gilt Bronze Buddha Statue Recovered in South Korea

GANGWON PROVINCE, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Herald reports that a well-preserved ninth-century Buddha statue has been uncovered in the northeast region of the country. The gilt bronze statue, which stands approximately 20 inches tall, was found at a temple site that has also yielded a stone pagoda and other Buddhist artifacts. “According to experts who were called upon to check the new discovery at the excavation site this afternoon, the relic seems to be the largest of such kind from the Unified Silla period (668-935) and hold high value both artistically and historically,” an official from Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration told the Yonhap News Agency. To read more, go to "North Korea's Full Moon Tower."

Glass Spearhead Found on Australia’s Rottnest Island

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—A team from the University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies found a rare nineteenth-century glass spearhead while visiting Rottnest Island, also known as Wadjemup. Such spearheads are thought to have been made from scraps of glass by Indigenous men and boys who were imprisoned on the island between 1838 and 1931. They were then able to use the weapons to supplement the prison diet of barley, cabbage, and porridge with fish, snake, and quokka—a nocturnal marsupial about the size of a cat. “As I was digging around in the sand with my foot, something shiny glinted in the light and I recognized the object to be a glass spearhead,” Professor Len Collard said in a press release. The team photographed the spearhead and reburied it at the site out of respect for Aboriginal traditions. To see more images of aboriginal glass spearpoints, go to "What's the Point?"

Bronze Age Weapons Unearthed in Scotland

ISLE OF COLL, SCOTLAND—An excavation on a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) nature reserve has uncovered 3,000-year-old swords and spearheads made of bronze. The twelve pieces are thought to have come from at least seven weapons. “The items were recovered from what had once been a freshwater loch. It seems that they had been purposely broken and cast into the waters as part of a ceremony, most likely as offerings or gifts to the gods or goddesses of the time,” Jill Harden, RSPB Scotland Reserves archaeologist, said in a press release. Further study could reveal if there were environmental stresses that prompted the offering. The artifacts have been moved to Kilmartin Museum in Argyll for conservation. To read about prehistoric archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Original Chemistry Lab Discovered at the University of Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Renovation of the University of Virginia’s Rotunda has uncovered a chemical hearth built as a semi-circular niche in an early basement classroom where John Emmet, the school’s first professor of natural history, taught chemistry. The hearth, thought to have been constructed for Emmet’s use, was heated with one wood-burning firebox and a coal-burning one. Underground brick tunnels provided fresh air to the fireboxes and flues carried away fumes and smoke. Five workstations had been cut into stone countertops—these were probably used by students with portable hearths. The chemical hearth is thought to have been closed up in the wall in the mid-1840s, after Emmet’s death, and the chemistry lab was eventually moved to an annex on the north side of the Rotunda that was destroyed by a fire in 1895. “The hearth is significant as something of the University’s early academic years. The original arch above the opening will have to be reconstructed, but we hope to present the remainder of the hearth as essentially unrestored, preserving its evidence of use,” architectural conservator Mark Kutney said in a press release. To read more about historical archaeology in Virginia, go to "Free Before Empancipation."

Wednesday, October 14

Teeth Suggest People Left Africa Earlier Than Previously Thought

DAOXIAN COUNTY, CHINA—Scientists Maria Martinón-Torres of University College London, and Wu Liu and Xie-jie Wu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, analyzed 47 modern human teeth recovered from Fuyan Cave in southern China. According to a report in Live Science, the teeth, found among the bones of hyenas, extinct giant pandas, and other animals, are between 80,000 and 120,000 years old. The age of the teeth was determined by dating calcite deposits in the limestone cave. It had been thought that modern humans migrated out of Africa only 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and that any traces of older human remains outside of Africa were evidence of failed migration attempts. According to comments by Robin Dennell of the University of Exeter, modern humans may have preferred southern Asia’s warmer climate, or as Martinón-Torres suggests, they may have avoided Neanderthal-occupied Europe. No tools were found in the cave, however, which suggests that the human remains had been taken to the cave by predators. “What is especially needed now is archaeological evidence (sadly lacking in Fuyan Cave) to indicate whether the initial dispersal of our species was caused or facilitated by cognitive developments (such as symbolism or complex exchange systems), or was simply an example of opportunistic range extension,” Dennell added. For more, go to "Earliest Modern Human Hand Bone." 

Bulgaria’s Early Christian Island Monastery

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—In 2010, archaeologists excavating the site of an early Christian monastery on St. Ivan Island, located off the coast of the Black Sea, discovered a sandstone reliquary bearing the Greek inscription, “God, save your servant Thomas (Toma). To St. John. June 24.” The date is the Christian feast day of John the Baptist, and the reliquary is thought to have been dedicated to him. Now archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov has discovered the remains of two men who had been buried in a tomb to the north of the monastery’s basilica, which was built in the late fourth or early fifth century A.D. He thinks the men may have been monks from Syria who carried the reliquary to St. Ivan Island and founded the monastic community there. “We are now firmly convinced that the first monastery was not destroyed by an invasion but by this natural disaster. We and our colleagues from abroad are very impressed with the discovery. No tomb of monastery founders, one of whom probably was the Thomas (Toma), has ever been found during excavations,” Popkonstantinov told Archaeology in Bulgaria. For more on Bulgarian archaeology, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Bog in Denmark Yields Iron Age Sacrifices

SKØDSTRUP, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that archaeologists from the Moesgaard Museum uncovered the bones of a woman in her 20s and the skeletons of eight tethered dogs in several bogs located near the site of an Iron Age village north of Copenhagen. The village had a paved road and houses with floors. Researchers think that people and animals were killed and placed in pits that had once been used for digging peat as sacrifices to the gods. “In Skødstrup we have the entire palette of an Iron Age society: a well-structured village with accompanying burial area and sacrificial bogs. It gives us a unique, collective insight into life during the Iron Age,” said Per Mandrup, head of the excavations. For more, go to "Bog Bodies Rediscovered."

England's 600-Year-Old “Great Ship” Will Be Studied

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Historic England will use modern sonar, remote sensing, drone technology, and dendrochronology to investigate a site in the River Hamble, where one of four ships commissioned by Henry V during the Hundred Years War is thought to rest in the mud. Historian Ian Friel spotted the vessel some 30 years ago in an area that was once a medieval breaker’s yard in an aerial photograph. Called the Holigost, or Holy Ghost, the ship had a crew of 200 sailors and could carry hundreds of additional soldiers to war, along with seven cannon, bows and arrows, poleaxes, and spears. “The Holigost fought in two of the most significant naval battles of the Hundred Years War, battles that opened the way for the English conquest of northern France,” Friel told The Telegraph. The site is near the place where Henry’s flagship, The Grace Dieu, was discovered in the 1930s. For more, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."