Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, April 11

High-Altitude Grave Yields Well-Preserved Artifacts

HOVD, MONGOLIA—The Siberian Times reports that researchers from Mongolia’s Khovd Museum have discovered a Turkik burial in the Altai Mountains. The grave is thought to have belonged to a non-elite woman who was buried with a sacrificed horse, an embroidered saddle and a bridle, a vase, a wooden bowl, a trough, an iron kettle, clothing, pillows, a sheep’s head, an embroidered felt travel bag containing sheep and goat parts, and a cup in a leather bag. “An interesting thing we found is that not only sheep wool was used, but also camel wool. We can date the burial by the things we have found there, also the type of hat. It gives us a preliminary date of around the sixth century A.D.,” said Khovd Museum researcher B. Sukhbaatar. To read about other finds from the Altai Mountains, go to "Iron Age Mummy."

Scientists Suggest Illness May Have Weakened Neanderthals

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—It had been thought that infectious diseases became more common among human populations some 8,000 years ago, when people became more sedentary and began living with herd animals. But scientists from the University of Cambridge and Oxford Brookes University say that some chronic infectious diseases and their causes, such as tapeworms, tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, and the virus that causes genital herpes, may be thousands of years older than had been previously believed, and that humans may have initially passed those diseases to their livestock. They may have also spread those diseases to Neanderthals, weakening the population. “Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases. For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic,” Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge told The Guardian. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

Possible Wine-Production Site Found at Imperial Roman Estate

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—Wine was produced in the first-century A.D. on an industrial scale at Vagnari, an imperial estate in Italy, according to an excavation conducted by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield. The team, led by Maureen Carroll, uncovered the corner of a wine fermentation and storage room and three buried vats where wine could have been kept cool. “The vats were impossible to move—they were in the ground and stayed there for a long time and were reused year after year. The Roman agricultural writers said it was a good idea round late summer to clean out what was left, give them a good rub, and reline them with pitch,” Carroll told The Yorkshire Post. The scientists plan to analyze residues in the vats to try to determine what kind of wine may have been stored there. For more, go to "France’s Roman Heritage."

Kiln Site in Israel May Have Produced “Judean Glass”

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Chemical analysis of glass unearthed at sites in Europe and from shipwrecks suggested that the beach sand and salt used to make the glass originated in Israel. “Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware,” Yael Gorin-Rosen of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department told Discovery News. Archaeologists working with the Jezreel Valley Railway Project found fragments of flooring, pieces of vitrified bricks that could be from the walls and ceilings of the 1,600-year-old kilns, and raw glass chips. Gorin-Rosen and her team say raw glass was produced on an industrial scale at the site, sometimes in chunks weighing in excess of ten tons, and sold to workshops in smaller pieces across the Roman Empire, where it would have been melted again in order to produce glassware. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "Off The Grid: Tel Kabri."

Friday, April 08

Cache of Silver Jewelry Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Silver jewelry dating to the second half of the seventeenth century has been unearthed in northwest Bulgaria by locals who turned it over to the country’s National Museum of History. The treasure, which includes a tiara, two forehead adornments, earrings, ear tabs, and rings, is thought to have been hidden in a leather purse during the Chiprovtsi Uprising, when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. The region of Chiprovtsi was known for its silver ore, discovered in the fifteenth century, and metal smiths. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the insurgents were crushed by Ottoman troops in 1688 near the modern city of Montana, then known as Kutlovitsa, where the treasure was found. “The treasure was probably a family fortune,” according the National Museum of History. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Cremation Pits Uncovered in Wales

ST. ATHAN, WALES—Construction work on a housing development was suspended after human skeletal remains and cremation pits were discovered by an archaeologist working at the site, located in the Vale of Glamorgan. “The council is advised by Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, its professional advisors in such matters, that the correct procedures are being followed and the investigation is continuing,” a spokesperson for the Vale of Glamorgan council told BBC News. For more, go to "Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Scientists Study Microbes on Gulf of Mexico Shipwrecks

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—At the Ocean Sciences Meeting, marine microbial ecologists Leila Hamdan and Jennifer Salerno of George Mason University and marine archaeologist Melanie Damour of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported on their investigation into changes in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. According to an article in Live Science, they said that an estimated 30 percent of the oil from the spill was deposited in the deep sea, where there are more than 2,000 shipwrecks. Those wrecks support a variety of ocean life, from microorganisms to bivalves, corals, and fish. So far, their research suggests that certain oil-eating microbes are flourishing, and that such a change in the environment could speed up the corrosion of steel-hulled wrecks. “We are concerned that the degradation of these sites a lot faster than normal will cause the permanent loss of information that we can never get back,” Damour said. To read in-depth about shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico, go to "All Hands on Deck."

Thursday, April 07

Scientists Examine Neanderthal Y-Chromosome

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A team of researchers, including Fernando L. Mendez, G. David Poznik, and Carlos D. Bustamante of Stanford University, and Sergi Castellano of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have examined DNA on the Y-chromosome of a Neanderthal male for the first time. According to a report in Science, DNA from this Neanderthal Y-chromosome, obtained from an individual who lived some 49,000 years ago at El Sidrón, Spain, was not passed on to modern humans when the two species interbred. (Modern Asians and Europeans have inherited one to three percent of their DNA from Neanderthals, but not on their Y-chromosomes.) The researchers found that the El Sidrón male had mutations in three immune genes that may have made it difficult for Neanderthal males to produce healthy male offspring with modern human females. To read more about what scientists are learning from Neanderthal DNA, go to "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."

Medieval Chess Piece Unearthed in England

WALLINGFORD, ENGLAND—A tiny chess piece that may have been part of a traveling set has been unearthed in the backyard at Wallingford Museum, located in southeast England. “It is one of only about 50 medieval chess pieces found in England and, at only 21.7 mm [about .8 of an inch] high, it is unique in being the smallest medieval Arabic chess piece known in the country,” museum curator Judy Dewey told The Oxford Times. The gaming piece, a bishop, is thought to have been carved from the tip of an antler in the twelfth or thirteenth century and is decorated with traditional roundels. The piece was found near Wallingford Priory, so the set may have been lost by a wealthy traveler who had been lodging there. “Wallingford had an important Royal Castle close by and occasionally visitors were housed in the Priory—even the monks may have played chess,” Dewey said. To read more about chess and chess pieces in medieval Britian, go to "Artifact."

Study Suggests Resources Limit Human Population Growth

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A new study of the populating of South America, led by biologist Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford University, likens hunter-gathers to an “invasive species.” Hadley and her team compiled radiocarbon dates from 1,147 sites in South America to track the spread of people throughout the continent, and identified two phases of colonization. The first took place between 14,000 and 5,500 years ago, when she says the population reached about 300,000. During this period, human populations experienced “boom-and-bust cycles” as megafauna and other plant and animal species went extinct. “If we use up our resources, we will decline,” Hadly told Reuters. The population reached about a million people between 5,500 and 2,000 years ago. According to Hadly, this exponential growth in population can be attributed to the establishment of large societies that allowed people to “conquer” the environment. “Most lived in modern Peru, Ecuador, and northern Chile, as well as a smaller but substantial population of hunter-gatherers in Patagonia,” she said. To read more about the peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Divers Visit Underwater Site Near Mamallapuram

CHENNAI, INDIA—Divers, geologists, and archaeologists from India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) say they have found a wall, a flight of stairs, and stone blocks off the coast of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mamallapuram, according to an article in The Times of India. The team was following up on eyewitness accounts from tourists at the ancient seaport, who reported seeing a row of granite boulders some 875 yards out when the shoreline receded during the 2004 tsunami. “Some of them are badly damaged due to strong underwater currents and swells. However, we could make out that they were part of a building complex,” said Rajiv Nigam, head of the NIO’s marine archaeology unit. The buildings may have been inundated during a tsunami in the tenth century A.D. To see a slideshow of remarkable images of India's extraordinary stepwells, go to "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."