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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 09

New Dates Obtained for Bog Bone Bundles

  VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—New dates for elk bones recovered from Lundby bog in 1999 show that the bones had been ritually placed there by Mesolithic people over several centuries during the tenth millenium B.C. “People have been living here, that’s quite certain. But so far we’ve not found settlements that are as old as the elk bones, so the identity of the people who put the bones in the bog is something of a mystery,” archaeologist and chief curator at Museum Southeast Denmark Kristoffer Buck Pedersen told Science Nordic. A total of 13 elk had been buried in six separate deposits. Some of the animals had been ritually packed in fur. An ax made of elk antler has also been recovered from the bog. “We’ve examined the bog many times and we’ve not been able to localize any settlements—but we assume they are there—somewhere,” Pedersen added.   

Bath House Found at Segedunum Roman Fort

  WALLSEND, ENGLAND—Excavators at Segedunum Roman Fort, at the end of Hadrian’s Wall, have discovered the site of its bath house. “We’ve seen enough of the remains now to be 100 percent certain that we have the site of the fort bath house. In particular, we’ve got a Roman cement-lined cold plunged bath, which absolutely puts the tin lid on it,” project manager Nick Hodgson told Culture 24. The bath also had the typical steam room, tepid room, and gym area. Volunteers have been instrumental in finding the bath house, which was last seen in the early nineteenth century, before a pub was built on the site. A replica bath house at the fort is currently undergoing maintenance work.   

Amazon Earthworks Built in More Open Landscape

READING, ENGLAND—John Francis Carson of the University of Reading and his colleagues examined sediment cores taken from Laguna Oricore and Laguna Granja, which are located near major earthworks sites in the Amazon basin of northeastern Bolivia. The researchers wanted to know if the activities of the people who had built the earthworks had deforested the region, or if they had tread lightly on the landscape. “The surprising thing we found was that it was neither. It was this third scenario where, when people first arrived on the landscape, the climate was drier,” Carson told Live Science. The pollen samples from the cores indicate that between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, the land was covered with grasses and a few drought-resistant species of trees. People would have been able to build their structures and grow maize without have to clear the land. More tree pollen and less charcoal in later samples suggest that people would have had to keep the areas around their structures clear as the forest grew up around them. “It kind of makes sense. It’s easier to stomp on a sapling than it is to cut down a big Amazonian tree with a stone ax,” Carson explained. 

Mikveh Unearthed in New Hampshire

PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A Jewish ritual bath, or mikveh, has been unearthed at Strawbery Banke, an outdoor history museum that preserves a neighborhood inhabited from the 1600s through the 1950s. The mikveh is thought to have been built sometime between 1912 and 1923, when the nineteenth-century house was occupied by representatives of the Hebrew Ladies Society. Ronald Pecunies, who grew up in the house in the 1940s and ‘50s, told the museum staff about the bath, which had been lined with white tiles. “His family did not use it for ritual immersion, but he remembered it being there. So, the only mention of a mikveh was in oral history,” museum archaeologist Alix Martin told Sea Coast Online. The mikveh will probably be backfilled for its protection.

Tuesday, July 08

Neanderthal Trait Found in Early Human Skull in China

  ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Recent micro-CT scans of a 100,000-year-old human skull unearthed in Northern China in the 1970s have revealed the interior configuration of a temporal bone thought only to occur in Neanderthals. In fact, this arrangement of the inner ear has been used to classify skulls as Neanderthal since the mid-1990s. The other human teeth and bone fragments found with the skull, known as Xujiayao 15, all resemble an early, non-Neanderthal form of late archaic humans. And so, Erik Trinkaus of Washington University; Xiu-Jie Wu, Wu Liu, and Song Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing; and Isabelle Crevecoeur of PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, expected the scan to reveal an inner ear formation resembling that found in modern humans. “We were completely surprised….This discovery places into question whether this arrangement of the semicircular canals is truly unique to the Neanderthals,” Trinkaus told Science Daily. “The study of human evolution has always been messy, and these findings just make it all the messier. It shows that human populations in the real world don’t act in nice, simple patterns.”   

2,000-Year-Old Tools Discovered in Northern Lapland

  VANTAA, FINLAND—A series of surveys in northern Finland have found pits used for trapping deer, pottery, and stone tools, including a 2,000-year-old spear tip or knife that had been uncovered from a sand pit by high winds. “It’s amazing to find an intact object, because when we map ancient artifacts we usually only find fragments generated during the creation of these objects, in other words waste,” archaeologist Sami Viljanmaa of Metsähallitus, Finland’s forestry service, told Yle Uutiset. The researchers also found prehistoric dwellings along a lake near the border guard station at Munnikurkkio.   

Germany Returns Artifacts to Greece

ATHENS, GREECE—Kathimerini reports that more than 10,000 Neolithic artifacts looted from Greece during World War II have been returned by Germany’s Pfahlbaumuseum. Archaeologists conducted the excavations in the Thessaly region in 1941, under the direction of Hitler’s chief ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg. They uncovered pottery, stone tools, obsidian and flit blades, and bones, in an effort to prove Nazi ideology. The repatriation ceremony was attended by Greek and German officials, including Greek culture minister Constantinos Tasoulas, German ambassador to Athens Wolfgang Dold, and Pfahlbaumuseum director Gunter Schoebel. 

1,500-Year-Old Case of Down Syndrome Confirmed in France

  TALENCE, FRANCE—According to New Scientist, Maïté Rivollat and her colleagues at the University of Bordeaux have confirmed that a young child whose skeleton was unearthed at a medieval cemetery in eastern France had Down syndrome. The child had a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base, and thin cranial bones, which are common in people with Down syndrome, a genetic condition marked by three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two copies. Rivollat and her team suggest that because the child had been buried no differently than the other 94 people who had been interred in the cemetery, he or she may not have been stigmatized for the disability while alive.  

Monday, July 07

Column Bases May Represent Lost Urartu Temple

  LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Column bases thought to be from a temple dedicated to Haldi, the supreme god of the kingdom of Urartu, have been uncovered by villagers in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where doctoral student Dlshad Marf Zamua of Leiden University has been conducting fieldwork. The 2,500-year-old temple was located in the city of Musasir, known as a “holy city founded in bedrock,” and “the city of the raven.” To the south of where the borders of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey intersect, Marf Zamua has also found several life-sized statues of bearded males carved from limestone, basalt, and sandstone that were originally erected above burials. Some of the figures hold a cup in their right hands, with their left hands on their bellies. “One of them holds a hand ax. Another one put on a dagger,” he told Live Science. The statues date to the seventh or sixth century B.C., after Musasir fell to the Assyrians.   

19th-Century Fort Found in Florida Everglades

  COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA—Shawn Beightol, a high school chemistry teacher, led a small expedition in southern Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve to look for Fort Harrell, built by the U.S. Army in 1837 as an outpost for soldiers fighting the second Seminole War. “I’d like to see a monument placed there for the people who served in that godforsaken location 170 years ago. Their story needs to be told,” Beightol told the Sun Sentinel. On the team’s fifth expedition into the Everglades, after studying historic maps, engineering surveys, and aerial photographs, they found a clearing with postholes dug in limestone. “Once we saw the holes, I knew we had found it,” said expedition member Tony Pernas, who is an employee of the U.S. National Park Service. Traces of the fort were last seen during construction work in the early twentieth century.  

Volcanic Ash Yields Three Ancient Skeletons in El Salvador

  SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR—The Japan Times reports that three nearly complete skeletons have been unearthed by a joint Salvadoran and Japanese team of archaeologists from a seven-foot layer of volcanic ash at Nueva Esperanza, thought to have been a center of salt production and fishing 1,600 years ago. The two adults had been between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of death. The third skeleton belonged to a child between seven and nine years of age, who had been buried wearing to clay beads around his or her neck. Further analysis could determine the sex, diet, and health status of the individuals. Clay pots and jars decorated with red and brown stripes were also found in the burials.   

Coin Hoard Discovered in Derbyshire Cave

  DERBYSHIRE, ENGLAND—Coins from the Late Iron Age and coins from the Roman Republic have been discovered together in a cave in the Peak District. Four of the coins were discovered by a member of the public, which led to an excavation by archaeologists from the National Trust, who were assisted by wounded veterans from Operation Nightingale. “In total we found 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in A.D. 43. The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and power of the individual who owned them,” archaeologist Rachael Hall told the Northamptonshire Telegraph. Twenty of the Late Iron Age gold and silver coins are thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe. All of the coins are being cleaned and conserved by specialists at the British Museusm and University College London.