Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 02

Crocodile Stone Unearthed in Mexico

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that archaeologists Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas of The Field Museum discovered a carved stone crocodile in Lambityeco that could answer some questions about the ancient city. Located in Oaxaca, Mexico, Lambityeco had been thought to have had close connections to the larger city of Monte Albán. But the new excavations suggest that the residents of Lambityeco reorganized their public buildings to look less like the layout of Monte Albán, perhaps to reflect a change in their relationship. Feinman and Nicholas suggest that the crocodile stone, which is only carved on three sides, was originally a balustrade at Lambityeco’s ball court. That stairway was destroyed and blocked off during the remodel. They discovered the crocodile stone placed upside down, with one of its carved sides against a temple building, along a jar-lined path that connected the ball court and the temple. The path had also been hidden and barricaded. “The ball court was seen as access to the underworld. You’d come out of the underworld, get food from the jars, go up to the plaza—the level of earth—and up to the temple, where you accessed the supernatural world. That clearly changed when they remodeled,” Feinman said. To read more, go to "Deconstructing a Zapotec Figurine."

Construction Work Reveals 19th-Century Family Cemetery

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A recent building boom in Tennessee has uncovered many family cemeteries, including one at Nashville’s Aquinas College. The Tennessean reports that the small, nineteenth-century cemetery had been covered by a parking lot. A headstone at the site recorded the name of Charles Bosley, who died in 1870 at the age of 93. Archaeologists found a total of ten graves and five grave markers at the site, including stones for Bosley’s wife and daughter, who died in 1825 at the age of one. Historic documents revealed that the college had been built on Bosley’s farmland. Bosley himself was remembered in a 1963 newspaper article as “a man who was both rugged and rich.” Tennessee state historian and director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University said that as the suburbs of Nashville expanded, Bosley’s influence was largely forgotten. His descendants thought the burials had been moved off the family land. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Return to the Trail of Tears."

Salisbury Development Project Yields Range of Artifacts

SALISBURY, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that development in the city center has uncovered artifacts and features ranging from the medieval period through the Victorian age. The finds include medieval building foundations, a Tudor kiln, a sixteenth-century well, and silver coins from the Tudor period. Archaeologists also recovered a clasp or pin made of polished bone. “It was a nice surprise that so much of what we found has survived, considering all of the development on the site that’s gone on in the modern period,” said Ray Kennedy of Cotswold Archaeology. To read about another site in southern England, go to "The Many Lives of an English Manor House."

Archaeologists Will Study Belle Tout Earthwork

SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that archaeologists from England’s National Trust will use laser scans, environmental scanning, and analyze microscopic snails that only live in certain habitats to investigate an earthwork at the site of Belle Tout, which is located on the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. The huge structure, thought to be one of the largest prehistoric enclosures in England, may have been part of an early Bronze Age settlement. “We don’t know for sure how much we’ve lost over the last 6,000 years due to coastal erosion,” said archaeologist Tom Dommett. To read more about prehistoric archaeology in Britain, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age." 

Thursday, September 01

Metal Pieces Found With Khufu’s Second Solar Boat

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the Egyptian-Japanese team recovering Khufu’s second solar boat from a pit near the Great Pyramid of Giza found a unique wooden beam and circular and U-shaped hooks made of metal. “What we can expect for now is that the beam may be the oar holder and the metal pieces may be frames to hold the oars and prevent friction with the boat body,” said Eissa Zidan, director of restoration for the Khufu Second Boat Project. The boat could eventually be reconstructed and put on display with the first solar boat at the new Grand Egyptian Museum. For more, go to "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."

Australia’s Ice Age Rock Art

ARMINDALE, AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Australia’s northwest Kimberley dates to the Paleolithic era, according to a report in Perth Now. A team of researchers with the Australian Research Council documented, analyzed, and dated more than 200 rock art sites in the region with different dating techniques. One of the techniques, optically stimulated luminescence, dated sand grains found in fossilized mud wasp nests that had been built over the ancient images. “As long as we understand how the nests are constructed and how well they’re preserved over thousands of years, we can use the resulting age to confidently claim that the artist painted this image before the mud wasp constructed its nest,” explained geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University. Accelerator mass spectrometry was also used to date the carbon in the wasp nests and spots of beeswax found on the images. June Ross of the University of New England said that the oldest image in the study, “a perfectly preserved, yam-like motif painted in mulberry colored ochre on the ceiling of a deep cavern,” was dated to more than 16,000 years old. She added that Australia’s oldest pictures may have been painted along the ancient coastline and may now be submerged. To read more, go to "The First Artists."

Remains of Human Body Parts Unearthed in Berlin

BERLIN, GERMANY—The Press Association reports that human bones, including fractured skulls, teeth, vertebrae, and other bones from both adults and children, have been uncovered on land that belongs to Berlin’s Free University, near the site of what was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Human bones were first discovered on the site in 2014. Some of the bones bear adhesive residue, which suggests they may have been put on display. The Institute is known to have had a collection of human remains from Germany’s colonies. During World War II, body parts of people killed at Auschwitz were sent to the Institute by SS doctor Josef Mengele for pseudo-scientific studies pursued by members of the Nazi party. Susan Pollock of the Free University and her team will examine the bones and try to determine the number of people represented, their ages, and their sexes.  To read more about this period, go to "Archaeology of World War II."

Wednesday, August 31

Blood Flow May Have Fueled Hominid Brain Growth

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Roger Seymour of the University of Adelaide and his colleagues in Australia and South Africa calculated the rate of blood flow to the brain in 12 species of hominins who lived over a span of three million years, according to a report in Popular Science. Seymour’s team based the rate of blood flow on the size of the two holes in the base of hominid skulls that allow arteries to reach the brain. They found that while brain size increased by about 350 percent, blood flow to the brain increased 600 percent. The scientists suggest that the increase in blood flow could have provided the evolving hominid brain with increasing levels of oxygen and nutrients. To read about research into the evolution of the human face, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel." 

Traces of Domestic Grains Found on Hunter-Gather Teeth

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—NBC News reports that researchers led by Emanuela Cristiani of the University of Cambridge examined micro-fossils in the dental calculus of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in central Europe some 8,600 years ago. She found evidence that they ate starches such as wheat, barley, millet, peas, and lentils. The wheat and barley granules were consistent with early domestic species found in early Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe. She thinks the grains may have been introduced to the inland foragers through social networks 400 years before they adopted domesticated animals and farming tools. It had been thought that the domesticated plants, animals, farming tools, pottery, and timber houses usually associated with farming and the Neolithic age were adopted as a package. To read more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart." 

New Genome Analysis Targets the Justinian Plague

MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that scientists Michal Feldman, Johannes Krause, Michaela Harbeck, and their colleagues have conducted a new analysis of the genome of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium thought to have caused the Justinian plague. The researchers obtained a high-quality sample of DNA from the tooth of a sixth-century skeleton unearthed more than 50 years ago at Altenerding, a cemetery in southern Germany. The new study found mutations in the bacterial genome that the researchers say are associated with plague virulence. (As many as 50 million people in the Byzantine world are thought to have died of the plague between the sixth and the eighth centuries.) The new study also confirmed the conclusions of a previous study of Yersinia pestis, conducted by David Wagner of Northern Arizona University, that the strain could be traced back to China. “More high-quality genomes from different locations and time periods could shed light on the disease transmission routes and the rate that it spread,” Feldman said. To read more, go to "A Killer Bacterium Expands Its Legacy." 

Earliest Evidence of Cooked Salmon Found in Alaska

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks analyzed the stable isotopes of charcoal samples collected from the 17 fire pits at the Upward Sun River site in central Alaska. Dwellings at the site have been dated to as early as 13,200 years ago. Western Digs reports that the unique chemical signature of salmon fat was detected in ten of the cooking pits. One of these pits dated to at least 11,800 years old. Evidence for the cooking of freshwater fish and land animals was found in other pits, suggesting that the different foods were consistently prepared in different areas over the course of thousands of years. It had been previously believed that the Ice Age hunters who cooked here relied on land animals, such as bison, elk, and mammoth for food. For more on early peoples in the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning."