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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, March 04

War Trophy or Honored Ancestor?

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—Anthropologists from the University of Sao Paulo and the University of Cambridge analyzed 112 human skulls from Borneo that were known to have been collected by headhunters and published their findings in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. They found that 60 percent of the skulls showed signs of violence. But some of the bones only showed signs of cut marks, which would have made it difficult to know if the cut marks had been made during an act of violence or as part of a mortuary custom such as dismemberment and cleaning of the bones. Bradley Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society, applied this information to skulls uncovered in Ohio in his column for The Columbus Dispatch. He thinks that the separate human skulls sometimes found in Hopewell mounds burials are the remains of honored ancestors. 

Long-Term Drought May Have Led to Fall of Harappan Civilization

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Palaeoclimatologist Yama Dixit of the University of Cambridge and her team tested sediment samples taken from an ancient, closed-basin lake on the edge of the Indus Valley. The age of the layers was determined with radiocarbon dating of organic matter, while the preserved shells of lake snails provided information about oxygen isotopes and water levels. According to a report in Nature News, what they found indicates that the monsoon cycle stopped for some 200 years around 2000 B.C. This long-term drought may have contributed to the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. “What drove this climate change 4,100 years ago? We don’t see major changes in the North Atlantic or in the solar activity at that time,” asked Anil Gupta, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, India.

Germany’s Second Oldest Church Uncovered

MAINZ, GERMANY—Traces of a 1,200-year-old church have been discovered incorporated into the 1,000-year-old “Old Cathedral” in Mainz. The older walls, which date to the time of Charlemagne, stretch from the basement to the roof. “This is the only surviving Carolingian cathedral in Germany,” Rhineland-Palatinate state curator Joachim Glatz told The Local. Two burials dating to the time of the earlier church have also been found. The building was severely damaged during World War II. 

Monday, March 03

Ireland’s Seventeenth-Century Pirates

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Underwater archaeologist Connie Kelleher, now of the Ireland National Monuments Service, has been collecting information about the seventeenth-century pirates that were based in Munster, Ireland. She has examined two sets of stairs carved out of cliff rock, one near “Dutchman’s Cove” that also had niches for candles or lanterns, and one near “Gokane Point” that led to a subterranean cavern with a waterway. Pirates and smugglers would have been able to reach the sea in the dark with these staircases. Kelleher also wants to look for the pirate fleet destroyed by the Dutch in Crookhaven Harbor in 1614. “Certainly part of the lower hulls and its cargoes could be there—things that were in the hold of the [salvaged] ships. Similarly, if a ship exploded, then the material could be scattered, and we could be dealing with a wider archaeological site,” she told Live Science

New Kingdom Tombs Discovered in Aswan

ASWAN, EGYPT—Four rock-cut tombs dating to the New Kingdom period have been discovered on Elephantine Island in the Nile River. One of the tombs belonged to an official named User, who is depicted in wall paintings with his family and deities, and with five priests while wearing a leopard fur before an offering table. Nasr Salama, head of Aswan monuments, told Ahram Online that the other tombs belonged to Ba-Nefer, a supervisor of the gods’ priests of Elephantine; Amenhotep, who held the stamps of Upper Egypt and ruled Elephantine; and Elephantine ruler User Wadjat. The tombs are being restored.

Rain in Pompeii Causes Additional Collapses

ROME, ITALY—Heavy rains in Pompeii have triggered the collapse of a tomb wall in the necropolis of Porta Nocera and part of an arch supporting the Temple of Venus. According to a Reuters report in The Guardian, Italy’s Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini, called an emergency meeting of officials for a report on the reasons for the collapses and to verify that routine maintenance had occurred at the ancient site. 

Neolithic Bones Discovered in Irish Cave

KNOCKNAREA, IRELAND—Human skeletal remains dating to the Neolithic period have been recovered from a tiny cave on Knocknarea. Of the 13 bone fragments, three belonged to a child, and ten to an adult. “Significantly, too, it seems the adult had been placed there about 300 years before the child, who died about 5,200 years ago,” Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology Sligo told the Irish Mirror. She suggests that the bodies had been placed in the cave, and their bones collected and moved to another location after decomposition had taken place. These few small bones had been missed.

Friday, February 28

Ancient Roman Statue Found in Queens Warehouse

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—The New York Times reports that federal investigators plan to seize on behalf of Italian officials a 1,700-pound lid to an ancient Roman sarcophagus. Discovered in a Queens warehouse, the marble lid, which depicts a reclining woman, was probably looted in the 1970s or early 1980s. Photographs of the statue were found among pictures of looted antiquities in a Swiss gallery belonging to Gianfranco Becchina, who was convicted in 2011 of trafficking in illegal Roman artifacts. “We’re still investigating, and can’t confirm who currently owns or has an interest in the property,” explained assistant United States attorney Karin Orenstein.

Nine Manuscripts Discovered in Qumran Artifacts

LUGANO, SWITZERLAND—At an international conference on Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was announced that archaeologist Yonatan Adler had discovered nine small manuscript scrolls within three phylacteries excavated from caves 4 and 5 at the site in the 1950s. Specialists from the Israel Antiquities Authority used multispectral imaging to examine the 2,000-year-old scrolls. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to discovery new manuscripts. It’s very exciting,” Adler told ANSAmed.

The Beringia Standstill Hypothesis

BOULDER, COLORADO—A review of genetic evidence suggests that the Native American founding population lived in Beringia for thousands of years before migrating south into North America. And sediments taken from the Bering Sea show that at the time, the region also had woody plants for building fires, and grassland steppes where woolly mammoths and other game animals could have grazed. “The central part of Beringia was probably the mildest, most comfortable place to live at high latitudes during the last glacial maximum. It’s the most logical place for a group of people to hunker down,” John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Live Science. Archaeological evidence of their presence has yet to be found, however.

How Many Homo Species Lived at Dmanisi?

BURGOS, SPAIN—A controversial new study reported in Science News claims that two species of human ancestors are present at the nation of Georgia’s site of Dmanisi. The partial skeletons, which display disparities in several skeletal features, including jaw sizes, had all been categorized as Homo erectus individuals living some 1.8 million years ago by the excavators. But a team led by José María Bermúdez de Castro of the National Research Center on Human Evolution claims that small-jawed individuals were related to early African Homo populations, while the larger-jawed individuals belonged to Homo georgicus that lived at the site several hundred thousand years later.