Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, December 17

Thigh Bone From Red Deer Cave Raises Questions

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales and Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology conducted a detailed study of a partial femur discovered in 1989 in tropical southwest China’s Red Deer Cave. They discovered that the 14,000-year-old thigh bone, which is very small and narrow, was similar to thigh bones of Homo habilis and early Homo erectus, species that lived 1.5 million years ago. Skull bones from the cave’s possibly unknown species do not seem to be as primitive as the thigh bone, however. “Its young age suggests the possibility that primitive-looking humans could have survived until very late in our evolution, but we need to be careful as it is just one bone,” Ji said in a press release. It had been thought that Neanderthals and Denisovans, which died out about 40,000 years ago, were the youngest pre-modern human species. "The new find hints at the possibility a pre-modern species may have overlapped in time with modern humans on mainland East Asia, but the case needs to be built up slowly with more bone discoveries,” Curnoe said. To read more, go to "Denisovan DNA."

Earliest European Multi-Year Settlement Identified in Florida

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—Newly recovered artifacts from a privately owned site near Pensacola Bay are from the Spanish settlement led by explorer Tristán de Luna y Arellano from 1559 to 1561, according to researchers from the University of West Florida (UWF). A hurricane struck the settlement one month after the 1,500 colonists arrived, however. Two years later, the survivors left on Spanish rescue ships from Mexico and returned to Spain. Pensacola native Tom Garner, who had attended UWF and studied with archaeology, collected artifacts from the surface of the site and took them to the UWF archaeology lab last October. “What we saw in front of us in the lab that day was an amazing assemblage of mid-sixteenth-century Spanish colonial period artifacts. These items were very specific to this time period. The University conducted field work at this site in the mid-1980s, as have other since then, but no one had ever found diagnostics of the sort that Tom found on the surface. People have looked for this site for a long time,” UWF archaeologist John Worth said in a press release. Test excavations have uncovered additional artifacts. For more on Tristán de Luna, go to "Sunken Dreams."

DNA Study Suggests Dogs Originated in South East Asia

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Peter Savolainen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology says that new analysis of nuclear DNA confirms his claim that dogs split from grey wolves in South East Asia some 33,000 years ago. Savolainen had analyzed mitochondrial DNA in earlier research, while other researchers, who have said that dogs were first domesticated in the Middle East, Central Asia, or Europe, examined nuclear DNA. Savolainen argues that those studies did not include samples from South East Asia. “Which is why we analyzed the entire nuclear genome of a global sample collection from 46 dogs, which includes samples from southern China and South East Asia. We then found out that dogs from South East Asia stand out from all other dog populations, because they have the highest genetic diversity and are genetically closest to the wolf,” he said in a press release. The genetic information also suggests that dogs spread across the world some 18,000 years ago. For more, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Evidence of Roman Battle Discovered in The Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Archaeologist Nico Roymans of the Vrije Universiteit announced in a press release the discovery of skeletal remains, swords, spearheads, and a helmet in the modern area of Kessel, at the site where Roman general Julius Caesar wiped out the Tencteri and the Usipetes, two Germanic tribes, in 55 B.C. Caesar described the battle in Book IV of his De Bello Gallico. After he rejected the tribes’ request for asylum and permission to settle in the Dutch river area, his force of eight legions and cavalry conquered the camp and pursued the survivors to the convergence of the Meuse and Rhine Rivers, where he slaughtered more than 100,000 people. The Late Iron Age skeletal remains represent men, women, and children, and show signs of spear and sword injuries. Their bodies and bent weapons had been placed in a Meuse riverbed. Isotope analysis of the teeth of three individuals show that they were not native to the Dutch river area. To read in-depth about a similar discovery, go to "Caesar's Gallic Outpost."

Wednesday, December 16

Thracian Necropolis Excavated in Western Bulgaria

CHUKOVEZER, BULGARIA—Rescue excavations in western Bulgaria, along the route of the Bulgaria-Servia Gas Interconnector, have revealed a 3,000-year-old Thracian necropolis. Borislav Borislavov of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences told Archaeology in Bulgaria that at least 11 gold beads had been found in a woman’s grave, and a bronze amulet in the shape of a human head in another. This is the first time archaeologists have recovered elite grave goods in this part of Bulgaria. The project team also found buildings from the Late Roman period. In one of the buildings they discovered an earthenware jar containing 18 coins that have yet to be studied. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Looted Carving From an Unknown Temple Returned to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that a looted limestone wall carving has been recovered from a London auction house and returned to Egypt. The relief, brought to the government’s attention by a curator at the British Museum, depicts the 19th dynasty King Seti I before the goddess Hathor and the god Web Wawat. Hieroglyphic text on the two-foot-long wall relief lists the names of deities from what the region that is now the Assiut governorate in Upper Egypt. “It is a very important relief as it depicts a not yet discovered temple of King Seti I in Assiut,” Ali Ahmed, director of the Recuperation of Antiquities Department, told Ahram Online. To read more about Egyptology, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Marble Sphinx Unearthed in Northwest China

YINCHUAN, CHINA—An ancient tomb located in a cemetery along the Silk Road trade route in northwest China has yielded a sphinx carved from marble--a material rarely seen in this part of the world. The well-preserved statue stands approximately 14 inches tall and has a human face on a lion’s body. According to an epitaph, the tomb belonged to Liu Jun and his wife, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). “The style carvings had features from the west and are considered rare for ancient Chinese tombs during that period,” Fan Jun, head of the excavation team for the Ningxia Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, told Xinhuanet. Archaeologists have recovered more than 150 artifacts from the 29 graves at the site, including pottery, bronze and iron wares, and carvings of warriors, horses, camels, and lions that had also been carved from marble. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Seismic Shift."

Tuesday, December 15

Skin Mites May Help Scientists Track Human Evolution

BRUNSWICK, MAINE—The mites that live on human skin could help scientists study the history and relationships of human populations. Evolutionary biologist Michael Palopoli of Bowdoin College and his team have found that people can carry four different subgroups of Demodex folliculorum, a microscopic arthropod whose last common ancestor lived more than three million years ago. Samples were collected from people with European, Asian, African, and Latin American ancestries. Analysis of the mites’ mitochondrial DNA showed that people of African descent had a mixture of all the subgroup types, while people of European ancestry tended to have mites from only one group. “As they diverged into Asia and Europe, some individual lineages were lost,” Palopoli told Science Magazine. The research also suggests that a person’s mite population remains stable for as long as three years, even when someone moves to another part of the world. Mite populations also appear to be stable across human generations, even in new locations. Differences in the hydration, hair follicle density, and lipid production in human skin may account for the differences in the mite populations. For more, go to "Insights from Insects."

Hanging Coffins Discovered in Central China

HUBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—Hanging coffins estimated to be 1,200 years old have been found in man-made caves carved into a remote cliff in central China, according to a report in ECNS. The 131 coffins, thought to have been constructed and placed by the Bo people, were found in an area called “Cave of the Fairies” by the people who now live in the remote village of Yanglinqiao. The hanging coffins are thought to have protected the bodies from scavengers. Yu Bo, chief of the Zigui Cultural Relics Bureau, said that the cliffs will be conserved and added to the list of China’s protected cultural heritage sites. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Chit-Chat May Have Evolved to Reinforce Relationships

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Scholars have speculated that human ancestors used grooming each other as a way to form social bonds until group sizes increased and it became too time consuming. Ipek Kulahci of Princeton University and her colleagues have observed that the ring-tailed lemurs living at Duke University’s Lemur Center and on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, groom each other as a means of social bonding, but use vocalizations to stay in touch with those individuals that they groomed the most frequently, independent of group size. “By exchanging vocalizations, the animals are reinforcing their social bonds even when they are away from each other,” Kulahci said in a press release. And, when the researchers played recordings of lemur calls to the group, only the lemurs that shared a close grooming relationship with the individual that made the call responded. “This social selectivity in vocalizations is almost equivalent to how we humans keep in regular touch with our close friends and families, but not with everyone we know,” she explained. To read about ancient languages, go to "The Wolf Rites of Winter."