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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 29

Rabbits Provide Window Into Animal Domestication

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—The relatively recent domestication of the rabbit some 1,400 years ago in France makes it an excellent model for the study of the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture. To begin, an international team of scientists sequenced the entire genome of one domestic rabbit as a reference genome assembly. Then they sequenced entire genomes of six different breeds of domestic rabbits, and wild rabbits from taken from different locations in the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. Science Daily reports that the team found domestication occurred, not through changes in the genes that are present, but through small changes in how and when the genes are regulated and used in different cells. Many of those genes altered by domestication are involved in the development of the brain and nervous system, explaining the drastic differences in behavior between domestic and wild rabbits. “We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific ‘domestication genes’ that were critical for domestication,” explained team member Leif Andersson of Uppsala University.

The Search for Clovis People in Kansas

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—Rolfe Mandel and a team of students from the University of Kansas are waiting for the results of tests to date the sediment samples they took from the Coffey Site, located in northeast Kansas along Tuttle Creek. “It will tell us a lot about the history of the peopling of the Americas and in particular the peopling of the Great Plains, especially the Central Great Plains, where it’s been pretty much a black hole in terms of unraveling that story,” he told Phys.org. They are hoping to find evidence of Clovis and Pre-Clovis people. “We are talking about small family units, hunters and gatherers. It’s a group of five or six, maybe a little bit larger wandering across the landscape. They’re following herds of animals. Of course, at the time, the assemblage of animals looked a lot different than what it does today,” he added. For the latest on how archaeologists are rethinking the early history of the New World, see ARCHAEOLOGY's special section "America, in the Beginning."    

Genomics Study Offers Clues to Arctic Cultures

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A large-scale study of mitochondrial DNA and the genomes of 169 ancient humans from different time periods in the New World Arctic region by Maanasa Raghavan of the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues suggests that the Saqqaq culture, whose people lived about 4,000 years ago, and members of the Dorset culture, who succeeded them 2,800 years ago, belonged to one Paleo-Eskimo people. According to Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, comparison with the genomes of present-day Inuits and Native Americans shows that reindeer-hunting Paleo-Eskimos were genetically distinct, and may have migrated to the New World on their own as a tiny founder population.  But the lineage disappeared at about the same time that the whale-hunting, Neo-Eskimo Thules expanded into the Arctic. Were the Dorsets pushed out of the Arctic by the Thules some 700 years ago, or were they annihilated by a disease? “It’s just mind-blowing to imagine an entire people who just completely vanished,” Willerslev told Science.   

Thursday, August 28

Researchers Look for Camp Security

YORK, PENNSYLVANIA—Volunteers assisting with the investigation of Camp Security, where more than 1,000 British troops who surrendered at the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown were held, found eighteenth century buttons, a British half-penny adorned with a bust of King George II, and a lead musket ball. One of the buttons was made of tombac, and alloy of zinc and copper. Another button, made of brass with a star-like design, was common during the Revolutionary War period. “Now we don’t know what part of the site we’re on at this point in time. We won’t know that until we’ve done a lot of testing. So we’re hoping to gather that information over the course of the next several weeks,” archaeologist Steve Warfel told The Evening Sun.   

Complete Cruciform Pit House Excavated in Canada

TORONTO, CANADA—An intact cruciform pit house built by the Inuvialuit has been discovered from the in the permafrost of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Such houses, which were in use from about 1400 to 1900, have a central floor area and three large alcoves. “If you look at it from above, it kind of looks like a cross,” Max Friesen of the University of Toronto told CBC News. The floor, benches, and roof of the house at the Kuukpak site along the Mackenzie River were made of driftwood. Skins and sod were added for insulation, and an entrance tunnel extends toward the Mackenzie River. “It’s probably the single largest Inuvialuit site that was ever occupied. I would guess at least maybe 40 houses. That’s enormous,” Friesen said. He and his team will attempt to complete the excavation over the next few years before the site is destroyed by erosion.   

“Slaves’ Hill” Was Home to High-Status Craftsmen

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—New information from excavations in southern Israel’s Timna Valley by Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University suggests that the laborers who smelted copper at the site 3,000 years ago were skilled craftsmen of high social status. Since the 1930s, it has been thought that the Iron Age camp was inhabited by slaves because of the massive barrier that had been unearthed and the harsh conditions created by the furnaces and desert conditions. The well-preserved bones, seeds, fruits, and fabric that have been recently recovered tell a different story, however. “The copper smelters were given the better cuts of meat—the meatiest parts of the animals. Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything. They also enjoyed fish, which must have been brought from the Mediterranean hundreds of kilometers away. This was not the diet of slaves but of highly regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen,” Sapir-Hen told Phys.org. Ben-Yosef adds that the wall at the site was probably used to protect sophisticated technology and valuable copper ingots. To read about the discovery of an Iron Age temple in Israel, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Artifact."  

Wooden Roman Toilet Seat Discovered at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A 2,000-year-old wooden toilet seat has been discovered in a muddy garbage trench at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located at Hadrian’s Wall. “As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found. It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable,” director of excavations Andrew Birley told BBC News. Stone and marble seats are well known, but this example may be the only surviving wooden seat. Birley thinks wood made have been chosen because of the “chilly northern location.” He and his crew will look for the latrine that fits the seat. To read about an ancient Roman birthday party invitation found at Vindolanda, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Artifact."   

Wednesday, August 27

Scientists Publish Results of Kennewick Man Investigations

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A new book due out next month will offer the most detailed account to date of the research conducted on the remains known as Kennewick Man. Discovered in 1996 on federal land in the Columbia River Valley, the analysis suggests that Kennewick Man was a seal hunter from the Pacific Northwest coast who died 9,000 years ago. Scientists found a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that had healed improperly, two small dents in his skull, and a worn shoulder from the repetitive stress of throwing spears. “He was a long-distance traveler,” forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and a co-editor of the book, told The Washington Post. Scientists are still waiting for the results of genetic testing, which is being conducted in Denmark. The skeleton remains in the custody of the Corps of Engineers. For the latest on how archaeologists are rethinking the early history of the New World, see ARCHAEOLOGY's special section "America, in the Beginning."  

Vikings Used Boat Timbers to Build Houses in Ireland

CORK, IRELAND—The results of the excavation of an eleventh-century Viking settlement in Cork show that the settlers reused the wooden planks from their long-boats to build jetties and houses in a marshy area of the River Lee. Mud and wattle walls, door posts, sections of the bow of a Viking ship, fragments of decorated hair combs, metal artifacts, coins, bronze clothing pins, shoe leather, fish bones and scales, and cat skulls were also recovered in the excavation. “We also found an ax head nearby which showed that they were working the wood for the jetty on site,” archaeologist Ciara Brett told The Irish Examiner. Pottery fragments show that the Vikings imported French wine. To read about a massacre carried out against Vikings in England that occurred around this time see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Vengeance on the Vikings."   

Who Crafted Saudi Arabia’s 100,000-Year-Old Stone Tools?

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A team of researchers led by Eleanor Scerri of the University of Bordeaux compared stone artifacts unearthed from three sites in the Arabian Desert with artifacts discovered in northeast Africa near the skeletons of modern humans. All of the tools were between 70,000 and 125,000 years old. Live Science reports that the artifacts from two of the three Arabian sites were “extremely similar” to the tools from northeast Africa, suggesting that the groups may have had some interaction, and that the Arabian tools could have been made by modern humans. The tools from the third Arabian site were “completely different,” however, and may have been crafted by a different human lineage. “It seems likely that there were multiple dispersals into the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, some possibly very early in the history of Homo sapiens. It also seems likely that there may have been multiple dispersals into this region from other parts of Eurasia. These features are what make the Arabian Peninsula so interesting,” Scerri explained. To see how this discovery might complement recent DNA work, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Turning Back the Human Clock."  

Amphipolis Tomb May Have Been Looted

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri have entered the antechamber of the fourth-century B.C. Macedonian tomb under excavation in Amphipolis. “Now the front of the monument has been revealed almost entirely,” the Greek culture ministry said in a statement reported by Discovery News. There is a suspicious, man-sized opening in a wall blocking the interior, however, which suggests that the tomb may have been looted in antiquity. A second chamber and a wall can be seen through the hole. The burial complex, the largest tomb ever discovered in Greece, may have been built by Dinocrates, a friend of Alexander the Great known for the construction of Alexandria. To read about recent excavations at the Hellenistic center of Zeugma, go to ARCHAEOLOGY's "Zeugma After the Flood."