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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 04

Agriculture Brought Changes to Farmers’ Jaws

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An analysis of the lower jaws and teeth of 292 skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia, and Europe dating between 28,000 and 6,000 years ago has found differences in the form and structures of the jawbones of European hunter gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers. “Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin told Phys.org. Hunter-gatherer populations had an “almost perfect state of equilibrium” between their jawbones and dental distances, resulting in straight teeth. But the “harmony” between the jaws and teeth of the semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farmers was disrupted, perhaps by the shift in diet from wild, uncooked vegetables and meats to cooked cereals and legumes. Softer foods require less chewing, which in turn lessens the size of the jaw, but not the size of the teeth, resulting in dental crowding. To read about the evolution of the face, see "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Fifth-Century Wooden Ornament Discovered in Japan

SAKAI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tachikazari, or standing ornament, has been found in Nisanzai Kofun, a keyhole-shaped burial mound built for a high-ranking figure in the late fifth century. The tachikazari would have been placed on top of a cloth parasol, or a figurine made of clay or wood. Such decorations were marks of status and authority. Five other objects discovered at the burial mound in 1976 and 2012 are now thought to be tachikazari.

New Dates for Maui’s Ancient Temples

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Uranium/thorium dating of pieces of the small, stony coral Pocillopora meandrina that were left as offerings on altars or incorporated into the stone walls of Maui’s heiau, or temples, has been used to determine when the temples were constructed. Patrick Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley, says that signs of a temple-building boom could indicate a period of political consolidation. Hawaiian rulers would build shrines and temples near farmland and other areas of food production to strengthen their symbolic association with the gods of flowing waters, irrigation, the taro plant, dryland farming, and the sweet potato. “The chiefs and kings extracted surplus production from the commoners and used this to underwrite their own interests, such as supporting craft specialists and warriors,” Kirch told Western Digs. The new dates suggest that the heiau were built over a period of about 150 years ending around the year 1700. “This is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu,” Kirch said. To read about the final resting place of one of Hawaii's greatest kings, see "Lost Tombs: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii."

Hip Fossil Challenges Ape Family Tree

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A six-inch-long hipbone of a 12.5 to 8.5 million-year-old ape called Sivapithecus is challenging the belief that the upright body posture exhibited by today’s great apes evolved only once. The upright body posture, also known as the orthograde body plan, features broad torsos and mobile forelimbs. Michèle Morgan, museum curator of osteology and paleoanthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and her colleagues say that this hip bone suggests that the upright body plan may have evolved multiple times. “We always thought if we found this body part, that it would show some of the features we find in the living great apes. To find something like this was surprising,” she said. Sivapithecus is thought to have had a relatively narrow, monkey-like chest, and facial features resembling those of modern orangutans. The Sivapithecus hipbone, however, differs from that of all living apes. “We initially believed that Sivapithecus, with a narrow torso, was on the orangutan line, but if that is the case, then the great ape body shape would have had to evolve at least twice. There are a lot of questions that this fossil raises, and we don’t have good answers for them yet. What we do know is that the evolution of the orthograde body plan in apes is not a simple story.” More fossils are needed to get a better picture of Sivapithecus. To read about a similar discovery, see "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Tuesday, February 03

17th-C. Grave May Hold Victim of Batavia Shipwreck Massacre

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—The remains of an eleventh person believed to have come to Beacon Island from the Batavia shipwreck have been found. The vessel was carrying gold and silver when it left the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies in 1628 to obtain spices, but it went off course and wrecked on Morning Reef, near an island off Western Australia’s coast, in 1629. An estimated 40 people drowned, and a total of 180, including 30 women and children, were ferried off the ship and taken to Beacon Island. When the captain left them to find help, under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz and his men took charge of the survivors and killed many of them. When the captain returned, he sentenced the mutineers to having their right hands chopped off and put them to death by hanging. Two musket balls were found near this body, which was found when a digging mutton bird brought a human tooth to the surface. “What’s very interesting is that it looks like that tooth doesn’t belong to that grave, which means that there’s another grave very close,” Jeremy Green, Western Australia Museum Head of Maritime Archaeology, told ABC News. “This was the first time that Europeans lived in Australia—albeit it wasn’t in the mainland but it was here—so it’s the oldest known European habitation in Australia,” he said.

4,500-Year-Old Wrist Guard Unearthed in Scotland

DRUMNADROCHIT, SCOTLAND—The discovery of a Bronze Age burial cist at a construction site in the Scottish Highland has led to a second grave that contained pottery and an archer’s wrist guard. “The shards have a distinctive decoration which may have been made on the clay before firing in a stabbing movement with something like a feather quill,” Mary Peteranna of AOC Archaeology Group told The Inverness Courier. The pieces make up about two-thirds of a beaker pot. Organic material at its base may yield information about its contents. “The wrist guard is also particularly exciting. It has holes so that it could be tied to the wrist with a leather strap, and may have been ornamental or functional,” she added. The artifacts may eventually be displayed in the health center that will be built on the site. For more, see "England's Remarkable Bronze Age Cremation Burial."

Hunting Was a Social Activity at Spain’s La Draga

BARCELONA, SPAIN—A study of hunting implements unearthed at La Draga, which included the three wooden bows discovered in 2012, suggests that hunting was a social activity for the early farmers who lived there. La Draga is an early Neolithic site located on the shores of Lake Bayoles in Catalonia, Spain. A portion of the site is now underwater, and it has yielded well-preserved artifacts made of organic materials, including the 7,000-year-old yew bows. “Comparing the scarce remains of wild animals and the abundant hunting gear found at the site, we conclude that nutrition was not the main aim of developing hunting objects. Neolithic archery could have had a significant community and social role, as well as providing social prestige to physical activity and individuals involved in it,” said researcher Xavier Terradas of the Milá I Fontanals Institution. The people of La Draga may have also awarded prestige according to the type of animal that was killed and how it was distributed. “As a collective resource, larger preys may have played an important role, even in those cases when they constituted a punctual or sporadic resource,” added Raquel Piqué of the University of Barcelona. For more, see "How Bow & Arrow Technology Changed the World."

Early North American Potters Cooked Fish

YORK, ENGLAND—Karine Taché of Queen’s College, City University of New York, undertook the analysis of residues on pottery vessels from 33 sites in northeastern North America while she was a research fellow at the University of York. Her measurements of bulk carbon and nitrogen isotopes and compound-specific isotopes, and identification of lipids in the 3,000-year-old pots showed traces of aquatic foods in most of them. “These early pottery sites are now thought to have been important seasonal meeting points for hunter-gatherer groups, drawing communities together and, especially in periods of high abundance, promoting the cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and new social contexts for the cooking and consumption of fish,” she said. The pots were probably also used for storing fish oil. Oliver Craig of the University of York adds that similar results have been obtained elsewhere in the world, such as Japan, Northern Europe, and Alaska. “Our study points to a close association between aquatic resources and the innovation of pottery by hunter-gatherer societies,” he explained. To read about the earliest ceramics, see "First Pots."

Monday, February 02

2,000-Year-Old Mound Excavated in Ohio

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—The Chillicothe Gazette reports that the remains of a mound dated to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200 on the future site of a shopping mall is being excavated by archaeologists and volunteers from Ohio Valley Archaeology Inc., Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, the Ohio History Center, and the Cincinnati Museum Center. The site has been covered with a tent and a small shelter for the three-week excavation, which is being conducted in freezing temperatures. “It was known by many but, for some reason, wasn’t reported. Many mounds go unreported. …I was contacted by a number of people who said the developer was starting to dig, and we came to an agreement on excavation,” said archaeologist Jarrod Burks. A magnetic survey of the site revealed the footprint of a building. So far, the team has uncovered pottery fragments and burned human and animal bone. They may also find places in the structure where cremations occurred. “When the fire gets that hot, it burns the soil too. It’s pretty easy to see that in the ground,” Burks said. To read more about mounds in Ohio, see "The Newark Earthworks."

Pottery, Shells, and Bones Found in Papua Caves

JAYAPURA, INDONESIA—Pottery, fresh-water mollusk shells, marine mollusk shells, and animal bones have been discovered in Rukhabulu Awabu, Ifeli-feli, and Ceruk Reugable caves near Lake Sentani. Hari Suroto of the Jayapura Archaeology Office told Antara News the evidence suggests that Neolithic people living in the caves had contact with coastal areas, where they would have obtained the marine mollusks. The pottery was also likely to have been imported. “The black color found outside the potteries indicated that they were also used to cook,” he added. To read more about archaeology in the region, see "Letter From Borneo: The Landscape of Memory." 

Antarctic Preservation Project Completed

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—Three buildings and thousands of artifacts left by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton some 100 years ago have been preserved by an international team of specialists managed by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust. Heritage carpenters repaired and weatherproofed Scott’s huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point, and Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. “Everything takes about three times as long and is more difficult, but also it’s how to preserve objects in such extreme temperatures,” artifact manager Lizzie Meeks told One News. Food supplies, clothing, equipment, and personal items left behind by the Scott and Shackleton expeditions have been conserved in laboratories that were built for the project, which took more than ten years to complete and cost $8 million. To read more about the conservation effort, see "Photographs from Shackleton’s Antarctica Expedition Developed."

Skeletons From Poland’s 2,000-Year-Old Cemetery Will Be Analyzed

POZNAŃ, POLAND—Scientists will analyze the more than 120 skeletons recovered from the largest Roman-period necropolis in Poland to determine the diet, kinship, and origin of the people who had been buried there over a period of more than 300 years. Two stone tombs from the cemetery in Kujawy are thought to have been high-status burials. One of them contained the bodies of an adult and a young teenager. The second contained the remains of a young teenager. “The presence of juveniles in princely tombs is quite unusual, as is burying more than one person in a princely tomb,” Adriana Romańska head of the excavation for Adam Mickiewicz University, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Flat skeletal graves, crematory urn graves, pits where cremated corpses had been interred, and an area of group burials were found. Some of the skeletons show signs of wear and tear from horseback riding and wielding a sword or spear. Cremation sites were also uncovered at the necropolis. To read about an elite Etruscan necropolis, see "Tomb of the Silver Hands."