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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 15

Large Anglo-Saxon Building Unearthed in Scotland

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—The East Lothian Courier reports that the foundations of a large Anglo-Saxon building dated to about 1,200 years ago have been found in a field in Aberlady, a stop on a Christian pilgrimage route located on Scotland’s eastern coast. Archaeologists from AOC Archaeology Group and a team of volunteers began looking for the remains of Anglo-Saxon timber halls after a large concentration of metal artifacts was discovered in the field. “It may have been monastic, or a feast hall or a royal site,” said Ian Malcolm of the Aberlady Conservation and History Society. “There have been other excavations but no evidence of a structure on this scale has been discovered.” The excavation also revealed a paved area with a pit that may have held the original eighth-century Northumbrian Cross. There may have also been a workshop area, where the team discovered pieces of bone, a carved antler, a ninth-century coin, and two bone combs. For more, go to "Anglo-Saxon Hoard - Staffordshire, England."

2,000-Year-Old Siberian Dog Burials Found

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—Robert Losey of the University of Alberta has unearthed the remains of five dogs who had been buried in graves some 2,000 years ago on the edges of the Arctic site of Ust-Polui. The dog graves resemble the human burials at the site. The butchered remains of more than 110 dogs, however, were also found among the bones of animals that had been eaten, including birds and reindeer. Losey thinks some of the butchered dogs may have been offered as sacrifices or consumed as part of ritual activity. He told Live Science that “at one place in the site, the heads of 15 dogs were piled together, all with their brain cases broken open in the same manner.” Artifacts from the site include the remains of two sleds and a carved bone knife handle that could depict a sled dog in a harness. Dogs are also thought to have been used in hunting and herding. The dogs buried whole in graves may have shared close bonds with people living in the village. To read more about dogs in the archaeological record, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

New Thoughts on the First Farmers

MAINZ, GERMANY—It had been thought that the first farmers were a homogenous group living in the Fertile Crescent some 12,000 years ago. But a new genetic study suggests that farming was invented by multiple distinct groups that separated from each other between 46,000 and 77,000 years ago. “They lived more or less in a similar area, but they stay highly isolated from each other,” Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz said in an NPR report. Burger and an international team of scientists analyzed DNA obtained from four individuals who lived in the eastern Fertile Crescent, in the Zagros Mountains, which are located on the border between modern-day Iraq and Iran. They expected the Zagros genomes to resemble those of farmers who lived a couple of thousand years later in the western Fertile Crescent, near modern-day Turkey. The early farmers from Zagros, however, turn out to resemble people living today in South Asia, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan. This suggests that the Zagros farmers migrated to the east, and not to the west and into Europe. For more on early farmers, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Roman Mosaic Discovered in Cyprus

  LARNACA, CYPRUS—The AFP reports that a Roman-period mosaic thought to depict the 12 labors of Hercules has been discovered by sewerage workers in an area that was once part of the Roman city of Kition. So far, a section of the mosaic measuring 62 feet long and 23 feet wide has been uncovered. “The intention is to transfer it to a museum, to build a specific room [where it will be displayed]… because this is the best way to protect it,” said Transport Minister Marios Demetriades. For more on Roman-period mosaics, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

Thursday, July 14

Prehistoric Farming Network Detected in England

  SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Laser scanning has revealed evidence of a prehistoric farming collective in England’s South Downs National Park, according to a report from BBC News. The evidence was detected using lidar, in which a laser beam mounted on an airplane scans the ground and produces a 3-D model of features. Findings from the survey indicate that a field system already scheduled to be protected as a monument made up just a portion of a large area of prehistoric cultivation that extends into land that is now wooded. This suggests that a vast expanse was farmed by people living in the region before the Roman invasion, raising questions regarding who grew the crops, who ate the food they produced, and where they lived. "The scale is so large that it must have been managed, suggesting that this part of the country was being organized as a farming collective," said Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority. The survey also detected the route of a Roman road between Chichester and Brighton that had been long suspected. For more on archaeology in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Ancient Padlock Discovered in Japan

KASHIHARA, JAPAN—At the site of Asuka, Japan's earliest imperial palace, archaeologists have found a 1,300-year-old shackle for a padlock. The Asahi Shimbun reports that the artifact measures 9.5 centimeters in length, and that its surface is still laquered thanks to the favorable conditions in which it was found. The shackle was discovered intact in a layer of clay in an area where a canal once ran near an artificial pond that belonged to the palace gardens. Experts speculate that the padlock would have been used to secure a palace gate or a noble's chest. “Perhaps a bureaucrat of the time dropped it by mistake,” says Mie University archaeologist Akira Yamanaka. “I bet he was reprimanded for it.”  To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints Analyzed

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of 1.5-million-year-old footprints found in 2009 near the eastern shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya suggests that Homo erectus, a human ancestor, walked like modern humans, according to a report in Live Science. Previous findings have indicated that Homo erectus may have been the first human ancestor with body proportions similar to those of modern humans, including long legs suitable for walking or running on two feet. However, analysis of Homo erectus’ walking style has been hindered by a lack of fossil evidence. A team of researchers led by Kevin Hatala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the George Washington University, compared eight of the best-preserved footprints with those left by modern people in the area who typically walk barefoot and found that they were “statistically indistinguishable,” suggesting that they had similar foot anatomy and mechanics. Based on body mass estimates, the researchers also determined the footprints were left by multiple adult males, suggesting some degree of cooperation. For more on analysis of ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

Bronze Age Village Excavated

  PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that excavations at the Bronze Age settlement in Cambridgeshire dubbed Must Farm are now complete. A 3,000-year-old village built on a wooden platform over a river channel, the entire settlement collapsed into the water when the piles it stood on were destroyed by fire. The river silt preserved the site and its contents to a remarkable degree. Archaeologists discovered whole meals left in cooking pots, extremely well-preserved textiles, an oak wheel, and a complete wooden spear, among many other artifacts. "On other Bronze Age sites you’d have a row of post holes and you’d be delighted to find one pot shard," says Mark Knight, who led the excavation on behalf of Cambridge University’s Archaeological Unit. "Here we have looked through the window and then walked into the middle of their lives." Analysis and conservation of all the artifacts is expected to take several more years to complete. To read about another Bronze Age site, go to "The Wolf Rites of Winter."

Wednesday, July 13

Danish Museum Repatriates Etruscan Artifacts

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Ny Carlsbeg Glyptotek will return a collection of some 500 ancient artifacts to Italy. Some of the objects, such as an Etruscan eighth-century B.C. bronze chariot, a shield, weapons, incense burners, and tableware, are believed to have been illegally excavated from the Sabine necropolis at Colle del Forno. The museum acquired most of these artifacts in the 1970s from a now discredited art dealer. In exchange for the return of the looted items, the Italian ministry of culture will lend “significant artifacts” to the Danish museum on a rotating basis. “What at first looked as if it would turn into a legal, political deadlock, has now, through an intense academic dialogue been transformed into a powerful and visionary agreement,” Glyptotek director Flemming Friborg told The Art Newspaper. For more on the Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

23 Additional Shipwrecks Discovered in Greek Waters

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Last month, a team of American and Greek divers located 23 shipwrecks in the waters around Fourni, a collection of 13 small islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. While the waters around the islands are considered to be safe, they were heavily traveled along routes stretching from east to west and north to south. Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Live Science that ships anchored at Fourni were occasionally caught in storms that crashed them into the island’s tall cliffs. “It looks like the scene of a giant car crash, with these ceramics cascading down,” he said. Combined with discoveries made last fall, the team has spotted a total of 45 ancient wrecks, ranging in date from the sixth century B.C. to the 1800s. Amphoras, lamps, cooking pots, and anchors have been found at the wreck sites. The team has explored less than half of the coastline in the archipelago, however, and only in waters shallower than 213 feet. The next phase of the project could employ remotely operated underwater vehicles. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

Traces of Scotland’s First Farmers Found

WELLHILL, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow’s Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot project (SERF) have discovered faint marks in the soil at a site in Scotland that might have been made by a hand-held plow known as an ard. Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow told The Courier that these marks are evidence of the earliest-known farming activity in Scotland. Pieces of 6,000-year-old pottery were found close to the plow marks. “Evidence for plowing and fields in Neolithic Britain is incredibly rare and so the excavation of the ard marks at Wellhill is a very significant discovery that suggests a farming economy had taken hold in this location only a few generations after farming began in Britain around 4000 B.C.,” he explained. For more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Bronze Age Couple Unearthed in Russia

IRKUTSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the skeletons of a man and a woman who had been buried holding hands some 4,500 years ago have been unearthed near Lake Baikal. Dmitry Kichigin of Irkutsk National Research Technical University said that a ring of white jade had been placed over of the man’s eye sockets, and three more such rings had been placed on his chest. Red deer and musk deer teeth were found on his skull and around his feet, suggesting that he had been wearing a decorated hat and footwear. A small bag at his knees held metal implements. The woman, who may have been his wife or concubine, was buried with a large jade knife. Her upper body has been damaged by rodents. For more, go to "4,000-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered in Siberia."