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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 16

Rare Military Insignia Found in Illinois

CAMP LINCOLN, ILLINOIS—The State Journal-Register reports that a collar disc bearing the insignia of a segregated military unit was found by workers replacing a bridge at Camp Lincoln. Based upon its style, the quarter-sized disc, worn on the uniform collar, is thought to have been lost by an Illinois Guardsman between 1923 and 1936. The disc bears the insignia of the Eighth Illinois Infantry, which fought on the Mexican border during the 1916 Pancho Villa Expedition, and then was sent to France in 1917 to fight in the First World War as the 370th Infantry. The 370th was one of the most decorated units of the war. “They probably should have received some Medals of Honor,” said Adriana Schroeder, command historian for the Illinois National Guard. “Instead, they received a lot of French awards and a couple of Distinguished Service Crosses on the American side.” To read about another discovery in Illinois, go to “Mississippian Burning.”

Gold Bridle Fittings Recovered from Viking Grave

SKANDERBORG, DENMARK—The gilded fittings of a horse’s bridle have been recovered from one of several graves dating to the early Viking Age discovered in central Denmark in 2012, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post. “This type of bridle would only be available to the most powerful of people in the Viking Age, and we believe it might have been a gift of alliance from the king,” said Mereth Schifter Bagge of the Museum of Skanderborg. The bridle has been dated to A.D. 950, which suggests that the “Fregerslev Viking,” as the tomb’s occupant is called, may have been aligned with Gorm the Old, or perhaps a rival king. Excavation at the site will resume this spring. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

Huge Polar Bear Skull Discovered at Alaska’s Walapka Site

UTQIAGVIK, ALASKA—Western Digs reports that a large polar bear skull has been discovered at the 4,000-year-old Walapka archaeological site in northern Alaska. Dubbed “The Old One,” the skull has been radiocarbon dated to about 1,300 years old. It measures more than 16 inches long, and while it resembles typical polar bears from the eyes forward, the back of the skull is narrow and elongated when compared to the skulls of most polar bears. Research biologist and wildlife veterinarian Raphaela Stimmelmayer found several skulls that resemble “The Old One” among the 300 polar bear skulls in the collection at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Archaeologist Anne Jensen thinks this huge bear may have been the type referred to as “weasel bears,” or “king bears,” by some Inuit groups in historic interviews with ethnographers. But the bears are not mentioned in accounts from the Utqiagvik region. “That may be because these bears were not around during the period when people were collecting ethnographic accounts—somewhat later here than in Canada—or because people just didn’t ask the right questions,” Jensen said. Further analysis of the skull is planned. For more on archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

Neolithic Hearth Unearthed in Wales

MONMOUTHSHIRE, WALES—According to a report in the Monmouthshire Beacon, a Neolithic hearth has been unearthed at a construction site in southern Wales. Found on the shores of a post-glacial lake, the hearth contained animal bones and charcoal, which have been dated by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center to about 5,000 years ago. Timbers from a Neolithic boat were discovered on the shores of the same lake last year, along with structural timbers dating to the Neolithic period, and the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Wednesday, March 15

New Thoughts on the Sahara Desert

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The International Business Times reports that David Wright of Seoul National University thinks that Neolithic cattle herders may have contributed to the desertification of the Sahara as they spread west from the Nile River some 8,000 years ago. Cattle grazing and the loss of vegetation may have been enough to tip the balance from the green pastures of 6,000 years ago to the spread of scrub vegetation, changing atmospheric conditions, and less frequent monsoon rains. Wright wants to obtain cores from former lake beds in the Sahara to study the vegetation records. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”

Fossils Suggests Leopards Roamed Neanderthal Landscape

SAN DANIELE PO, ITALY—Live Science reports that a fossil recovered in northern Italy, from the banks of the Po River, has been identified as the right shinbone of a leopard. It had been previously thought that leopards only lived in Italy’s mountainous regions during the Ice Age. Based upon its size, paleontologist Davide Persico of the University of Parma thinks the bone came from a large female or a young male. The age of the bone is not known, but other fossils from the area, including the remains of straight-tusked elephants, steppe bison, wooly mammoths, giant deer, rhinos, and elk, have been dated to no older than 180,000 years ago. “Probably, they lived on the Po plain with Neanderthal man,” Persico said of the carnivorous cat. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Tuesday, March 14

400,000-Year-Old Cranium Discovered in Portugal

MADRID, SPAIN—According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, a 400,000-year-old skull has been found at Gruta da Aroeira in Portugal, along with animal bones and Acheulean stone tools. The fossil was freed from a block of sediments at the Centro de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion y Comportamiento Humanos over a two-year period. The partial skullcap, pieces of jaw and nasal floor, and two fragmentary teeth exhibit a mixture of traits, including some that are similar to those attributed to Neanderthals, and others to Homo erectus. Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis has suggested that archaic members of the genus Homo were all one species exhibiting different, regional combinations of traits across the Old World. “What this fossil does for me is it reinforces what I’ve maintained for some time that this is all just normal variation,” he said. Genetic analysis of archaic human remains indicates that different groups may have interbred and produced viable offspring, an ability attributed to creatures in the same species. “My opinion would be that this fossil stresses the need to overcome the species question in order to understand the humans living in Eurasia about half a million years ago,” added João Zilhão of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Medieval Kiln Unearthed in Southeastern England

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—The Daily Gazette reports that an excavation conducted by the Colchester Archaeological Trust ahead of construction work has uncovered a rare medieval pottery kiln. The well-preserved, wood-fired kiln was spotted with a magnetometry survey. Philip Crummy, director of the trust, explained that during the medieval period, the excavation site was a busy industrial area. “It is really good because we will be able to tie down some of the pottery in the town to where it actually came from,” added Colchester Council archaeological advisor Jess Tipper. The kiln and its artifacts could be displayed in the Colchester Castle Museum. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Colonial-Era Artifacts Found at Malaysia’s Fort Cornwallis

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA—The Malaysian Digest reports that a team led by archaeologist Goh Hsiao Mei of the University Sains Malaysia has found coins, porcelain, ceramics, and glass dating to the colonial era in the moat at Fort Cornwallis, a star-shaped structure built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century. The fort was first built of wood, and then strengthened with bricks. The moat was added in 1804 and was lined with charcoal and bitumen. The fort was never attacked, however. An outbreak of malaria in the 1920s prompted the municipal council to fill in the water feature. For more on Malaysia, go to “Letter from Borneo: The Landscape of Memory.”

Aberdeen Archaeologists Plan Search for 16th-Century School

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen will look for traces of a sixteenth-century grammar school that was situated in front of King’s College, a site now occupied by King’s College Chapel, according to The Scotsman. “It acted as a preparatory school for pupils who wished to study at the university and pupils underwent a grueling timetable, with prayers, classes on the Latin authors, and language lessons,” said project leader Gordon Noble. The team members hope to find evidence of the building’s ground plan, artifacts from the school, and develop a better understanding of educational practices in the years before the Protestant Reformation, which is thought to have brought about a more egalitarian educational system. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”