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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 05

Excavations Continue at Alaska’s Yup’ik Village of Araliq

QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—Recent excavations at the 500-year-old Yup’ik village of Araliq have uncovered a labret, worn by men through piercings in their jawbones or by women over the chin; and a ul’uaq, or woman’s cutting knife, with an ivory handle carved in the shape of Palrayak, a mythical sea monster. Weapons at the site, along with a layer of ash, are evidence of the period known in Yup’ik history as “anguyagpallratni,” or “the bow and arrow wars.” “There is a piece of armor that’s derived from Asian samurai armor where there’s these overlapping plates, except it’s made of antler sewn together," lead archaeologist Rick Knecht of the University of Aberdeen told Alaska Public Radio. And here’s some more evidence of the ‘bow and arrow wars,’ this is one of the burned arrow points that we found in the ruins of the house. It was fired at somebody in anger. Roof sods and stuff absolutely riddled with those kinds of points. Seventy-five percent of all the arrow points in that house were found in the upper layer.” Knecht and his team are racing to excavate the village before it erodes into the Bering Sea.  

Why Are There So Many People?

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—The stage was set for the population boom of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in antiquity, according to Aaron Stutz of Emory University’s Oxford College. His analysis of demographic and archaeological data indicates the interaction between competition and organization reached a tipping point between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. The resulting political-economic balance allowed more people to gain more control over their lives and generate capital. That small-scale success eventually led to more complex development, more resources, and better care of offspring. Then the public health improvements of the Industrial Revolution helped more people to live longer. “The increasingly complex and decentralized economic and political entities that were built up around the world from the beginning of the Common Era to 1500 CE created enough opportunities for individuals, states, and massive powers like England, France, and China to take advantage of the potential for economies of scale,” he told Phys.org. To read about earlier population booms in the Neolithic, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Impact of Early Farming on Population Growth."   

Scandinavian Settlement Studied in Poland

SUCHAŃ, POLAND—Archaeologists have returned to northern Poland to examine a site that may have been inhabited by Scandinavian settlers 1,500 years ago. In 2006, single-sided coins known as bracteates, metal pendants, and a ring, all resembling artifacts from Bornholm, Denmark, were discovered on the surface of the site. The bracteates bear an image of a rider on horseback and rune inscriptions on the rims. Recent aerial and geophysical surveys suggest that the settlement was inhabited for hundreds of years. “Findings to date suggest a very significant infiltration of Scandinavian elites from the area of southern Sweden and Bornholm to the areas of Western Pomerania in Late Antiquity, which probably were the point of origin of the later Viking influence in these areas,” Aleksander Bursche of the University of Warsaw explained to Science & Scholarship in Poland. To read about Scandinavian warriors in the early Middle Ages, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The First Vikings."   

Australia Returns Two Looted Statues to India

NEW DELHI, INDIA—IBN Live reports that Tony Abbot, Prime Minister of Australia, has handed over two statues to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a state visit. The “Nataraja Ardand,” housed at the National Gallery of Australia, and the “Ardhanarishvara,” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, were looted from temples in India and allegedly sold to the museums by Manhattan art dealer Subhash Kapoor. He has been accused of selling hundreds of artifacts with forged proveniences to museums around the world. The investigation continues as Kapoor awaits trial in Chennai.    

Thursday, September 04

Stone Age Boat Discovered Off the Coast of Denmark

ROSKILDE, DENMARK—A submerged Stone Age settlement and a boat were discovered off the coast of Denmark’s Askø Island. The vessel shows signs of repairs. “It split 6,500 years ago and they tried to fix the crack by putting a bark strip over it and drilling holes on both sides of it. The most exciting thing is that there is sealing mass in the holes. We have found sealing mass before—such as bits of resin that children have chewed on and made flexible,” Jørgen Dencker of the Viking Ship Museum told The Copenhagen Post. Dencker and his team will look for additional artifacts made of organic materials in the submerged Stone Age settlement.

Papyrus Fragment Bears Early Christian Prayers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A fragment of a 1,500-year-old papyrus charm from Egypt in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University is “the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context,” according to Roberta Mazza of the new John Rylands Research Institute. She says that the papyrus shows that early Christians had adopted the ancient Egyptian practice of writing charms on pieces of papyrus to be worn as amulets of protection against dangers. The words from the Christian Bible had been written on the reverse side of a receipt for the payment of grain tax in the village of Tertembuthis, near the city of Hermoupolis, then folded up and placed in a locket or a pendant. “We can say this is an incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people—not just priests and the elite,” she told BBC News. The document has been in the library since 1901. To read about another early Christian text, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Egyptian Text Describes Jesus Changing His Shape."  

Tiwanaku Drug Paraphernalia Found in Bolivia

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Artifacts such as “snuffing tablets,” a wooden snuffing tube, and spatulas uncovered at the site of Cueva del Chileno, located near Lake Titicaca, suggest that the people of Tiwanaku used hallucinogens. “Snuffing tablets in the Andes were primarily used by ritual specialists, such as shamans. Psychotropic substances, once extracted from plants, were spread and mixed on the tablets. Inhalation tubes were then used to introduce the substances through the nose into the system,” Juan Albarracin-Jordan of the Fundación Bartolomé de Las Casas told Discovery News. Shamans who were under the influence acted as “mediators between the natural and the supernatural. They were also conflict brokers between the living and the dead,” Albarracin-Jordan explained. Cups used for drinking the alcoholic beverage known as chicha were also found, and although drug use declined with the Tiwanaku state around A.D. 1100, the drinking of the fermented corn beverage persisted.   

Hoard of Roman Jewelry Unearthed in Colchester

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—A collection of Roman jewelry, including three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a silver armlet, four finger rings, a box containing two pairs of gold earrings, and a bag of coins, was discovered during the renovation of a department store in Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town. The cache of jewelry had been buried in the floor of a house that had been burned to the ground at the time of the Boudiccan Revolt of A.D. 61, marked by a thick red and black layer of debris over much of the modern city. “Our team removed the find undisturbed along with its surrounding soil, so that the individual items could be carefully uncovered and recorded under controlled conditions off site,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told EADT 24. In addition, a piece of a human jaw and a shin bone that had been cut with a heavy, sharp weapon were recovered. “We also discovered food that was never eaten on the floor of the room in which the jewelry was found, including dates, figs, wheat, peas, and grain,” Crummy said. The food was probably stored in the room, and was carbonized and preserved by the fire. To read about the search for the tomb of the warrior queen Boudicca, who commanded the army that destroyed Colchester, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni."  

Wednesday, September 03

3,000-Year-Old Royal Chariot Discovered in China

PEKING, CHINA—China Daily reports that a royal bronze chariot discovered in a village in northwest China has been partially excavated. The 3,000-year-old vehicle sported a thick layer of bronze on its wheel rims. “The wheels of chariots from the Western Zhou Dynasty that have been found previously were made of wood covered with a one centimeter layer of bronze,” announced a team from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology. The wheels on this chariot, however, are 15 centimeters thick. Skeletal remains of three or four horses have been found in front of the chariot, along with bronze ornamental items. “One point that supports the preliminary conclusion that it is a ceremonial chariot is that we did not discovery any weapons,” added Lei Xingshan of Peking University. 

Red Sea Vessel Unearthed in Berenike

BERENIKE, EGYPT—Iwona Zych of the University of Warsaw and Steven E. Sidebotham of the University of Delaware unearthed part of a ship’s hull dating to the Roman period while digging at the site of Berenike, a port on the Red Sea founded in the third-century B.C. They think that the ship had been dismantled and stored in a warehouse. “This will be the first time that we know the actual size and construction of a Red Sea vessel, because no ancient vessels, or even wrecks have survived to this day,” Zych told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Near the port, the scientists found a large cemetery for small animals that had been buried in damaged clay vessels or covered with pieces of pottery. Most of the 60 animals were cats, but dogs, two vervets—one of which had been wearing a metal collar—and a baboon were also recovered. Archaeozoologist Marta Osypinska thinks the animals may have died of a plague brought to the port from another location, or that they may have been used in rituals performed before a journey. The team also mapped the site’s streets, an administrative center, and a tetrapylon, or gate with four entries. To read about another vessel uncovered recently in Egypt, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."  

Parched Grass Reveals Complete Circle at Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Dry spots in the grass that appeared during last year’s summer drought suggest that the outer circle of sarsen stones at Stonehenge was once complete. “I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up," Tim Daw, who cares for the site, told BBC News. "[There was a] sudden light bulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them.” Archaeologists had conducted a high-resolution geophysical survey few years ago that failed to find evidence of stones that would have completed the circle. “It’s great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognize them for what they were….If we’d had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them,” added Susan Greaney of English Heritage. To read about the suprising similarities between Stonehenge and monuments in Madagascar, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Conversation: Sacred Stones."