Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 30

New Kingdom Necropolis Discovered in Ancient Rock Quarry

ASWAN, EGYPT—A New Kingdom necropolis of rock-cut tombs has been discovered at the quarry site of Gebel el-Silsila. “So far we have documented over 40 tombs, including a small shrine on the banks of the Nile. Many tombs are in bad condition. They have suffered from heavy erosion and extreme decay due to the rising water and its high salt content,” Maria Nilsson of Lund University and director of the Gebel el-Silsila Survey Project told Discovery News. The undecorated tombs had crypts cut out of the rock floors. Slots cut in the doorways suggest that there had been heavy, vertically-closing doors. The artifacts, including fragments of painted mud plaster, mummy wrappings, beads, amulets, a reversible seal ring, and pottery, indicate that it wasn’t the quarry workers who were buried at Gebel el-Silsila. “However, the higher officials, viziers and such that were active at Silsila were buried in Thebes, so it is likely that the people entombed in the rock-cut graves belong to the level just below the officials,” Nilsson said. To read more about Gebel el-Silsila, go to "'T' Marks the Spot."

Thousands of Aboriginal Artifacts Uncovered in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A light rail construction project near Sydney has unearthed some 20,000 indigenous artifacts at what archaeologists say may have been a ceremonial meeting place. “I would suggest quite strongly that this site is of state significance,” archaeologist Jakub Czastka told The Sydney Morning Herald. Some of the artifacts, including spear heads and cutting tools, are made of materials from the Lower Hunter Valley, located more than 75 miles away. “You have material that’s not from Sydney. It demonstrates a trading route, or that the mobs out of the Hunter Valley were working with the mobs in Sydney,” explained Scott Franks, an indigenous heritage consultant. He has requested that the construction of the light rail stable yard in Randwick be stopped. “Transport for New South Wales and ALTRAC Light Rail [the public-private partnership consortium] are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, opportunities to recognize the items found on site, for example in displays or education programs,” responded a Transport for New South Wales spokesperson. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Historian Challenges Identification of Scotland’s Lost Village

HAMILTON, SCOTLAND—Ed Archer of the Lanark and District Archaeological Society disagrees with the recent claim that medieval buildings unearthed during roadwork in the Lowlands of Scotland could be the lost village of Cadzow. He says the buildings are the remnants of Netherton, which appears at the site of the excavation on a sixteenth-century map. In addition, he says that Cadzow was mentioned as the location for a sixth-century legend set on the banks of the River Avon. “Down by the water’s edge Langoreth, the wife of Rhydderch, King of Strathclyde, was having an affair with a young man and lost her marriage ring which fell into the Avon. She was mortified and sought the help of St. Kentigern. After some while a servant who was fishing brought a salmon out of the river. Fortunately the ring was inside the salmon,” Archer told The Daily Record. Archer thinks Cadzow is located in Hamilton’s Chatelherault Country Park. “Cadzow is generally thought to be the area up in the High Parks and it was one of the palaces of the kings of Strathclyde,” he said. “This palace might be the circular enclosure that shows up on aerial photos of the High Parks.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

High-Protein Diet May Have Shaped Neanderthals

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Scholars from Tel Aviv University say that Neanderthals may have been shorter and stockier than modern humans due to their high-protein diet based upon large animals. Their wider rib cages could have accommodated a larger liver for metabolizing large quantities of protein, and the wider pelvis may have held an enlarged bladder and kidneys to remove the waste products of protein metabolism. “During harsh Ice-Age winters, carbohydrates were scarce and fat was in limited supply. But large game, the typical prey of the Neanderthal, thrived. This situation triggered an evolutionary adaptation to a high-protein diet—an enlarged liver, expanded renal system and their corresponding morphological manifestations. All these contributed to the Neanderthal evolutionary process,” Miki Ben-Dor said in a press release. The team adds that early indigenous Arctic populations that eat a meat-based diet also had enlarged livers and drank a lot of water to process their high-protein diet. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

Tuesday, March 29

Dental Calculus Yields Human DNA

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—A team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, and Pennsylvania State University retrieved human DNA from dental calculus and used it to reconstruct whole mitochondrial genomes for analysis. The samples were obtained from six individuals from a 700-year-old Oneota cemetery. “We can now obtain meaningful human, pathogen and dietary DNA from a single sample, which minimizes the amount of ancient material required for analysis,” Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma said in a press release. Dental calculus, or calcified dental plaque, contains saliva and other human secretions in addition to the remains of food and microbes, and can be tested without damaging skeletal remains. “We hope that this research on dental calculus from the Norris Farms site acts as the first step toward future paleogenomic investigations of prehistoric North American remains in a respectful and non-destructive way that interests and benefits both descendent communities and anthropologists,” added team member Andrew Ozga. For more, go to "Life (According to Gut Microbes)."

Oldest-Known Quarry in the Southern Levant Found

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—An 11,000-year-old flint and limestone quarry has been discovered in central Israel by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Humans became more dominant and influential in there terrestrial landscape and Kaizer Hill quarry provides dramatic evidence to the alteration of the landscape,” archaeologist Leore Grosman said in a press release. At the time the quarry was in use, people were shifting from hunting and gathering to farming, and, according to Grosman and colleague Naama Goren-Inbar, this shift in practice was accompanied by a change in the attitude to the use of the surrounding land. “The ancient people at the time carved the stone with flint working tools (for example axes). This suggestion differs from the commonly held view, which considers all features defined as cup marks to be devices that were primarily involved in a variety of grinding, food preparation, social or even symbolic activities,” the researchers concluded. To read about a discovery in Jordan dating to this period, go to "Neolithic Community Centers." 

Inscribed Etruscan Stele Unearthed in Italy

DALLAS, TEXAS—The excavation of a temple at the Poggio Colla site in Tuscany has yielded a four-foot-tall stele inscribed in the Etruscan language. But the stone is heavily abraded and chipped, and will have to be cleaned before scholars can read it. “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” archaeologist Gregory Warden of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project said in a press release. The inscription, which dates to the sixth century B.C., may contain new words, and even the name of a god or goddess. The stone was reused in the foundation of a monumental temple some 2,500 years ago. “This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 B.C. Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure,” explained Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. To read more about Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Neanderthal Bone Fragment Identified in Denisova Cave

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Manchester have used a new technique, “Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry,” or ZooMS, to identify more than 2,000 bone fragments recovered from Russia’s Denisova Cave. ZooMS analyzes the collagen peptide sequences in bone, which can then be used to identify its species. Among the remains of mammoths, woolly rhino, wolf, and reindeer, the researchers found one Neanderthal bone. “When the ZooMS results showed that there was a human fingerprint among the bones I was extremely excited. …The bone itself is not exceptional in any way and would otherwise be missed by anyone looking for possible human bones amongst the dozens of fragments we have from the site,” Sam Brown of the University of Oxford said in a press release. Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Planck Institute then examined the mitochondrial genome of the bone to identify it as Neanderthal. Radiocarbon dating of the bone revealed it is more than 50,000 years old. Acid etching on its surface suggests that it passed through the stomach of a hyena before landing in the cave’s sediments. For more on our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Monday, March 28

Scientists Evaluate the Noses of Early Human Ancestors

KYOTO, JAPAN—It had been thought that shifting climate led to adaptive evolutionary changes in the nasal cavity of the genus Homo. To test this idea, Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University and his colleagues used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and 3-D models of the nasal passages of humans, chimpanzees, and macaques to evaluate how well their nasal passages conditioned inhaled air to the correct temperature and humidity for use by the lungs. The study, published in PLOS Computational Biology, found that non-human primates are better able to condition air, which flows horizontally through their nasal passages, while in humans, it flows upward and curves. But when the team made virtual modifications to the human nose so that its airflow would be horizontal, its air-conditioning performance did not improve. The scientists note that as human ancestors evolved flat faces, protruding external noses, and a short nasal cavity, the pharyngeal cavity lengthened to condition inhaled air for the lungs. Thus, the human high-nasal cavity may have evolved to compensate for other facial changes in the genus Homo. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, go to "No Changeups on the Savannah."

Dump Site for Roman Pottery Factory Found

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a report in Discovery News, Marco Giglio, Giovanni Borriello, and Stefano Iavarone of the University of Naples “L’Orientale” may have found a factory in the city of Cumae where cookware mentioned in the first-century Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria was made. Known as “Cumanae testae,” or “Cumanae patellae,” the pans, made in the city of Cumae, were said to be the best for making chicken stews. “We found a dump site filled with internal red-slip cookware fragments. The dump was used by a pottery factory. This shows for the first time the ‘Cumanae patellae’ were indeed produced in this city,” Giglio said. More than 50,000 fragments of high-quality lids, pots, and pans with the non-stick red coating were found in the first-century dump. “All the defective artifacts were dumped here. These pieces help us enormously to reconstruct the way the pottery was manufactured,” Giglio said. To read more about what ancient Roman dump sites can tell us, go to "Trash Talk."

Denisovan DNA Detected in Modern Populations in South Asia

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard University compared genomic data for more than 250 modern human populations with DNA obtained from Denisovan fossils, a hominid group that diverged from the human family tree some 500,000 years ago. The data suggests that people living today in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, and other parts of South Asia carry more Denisovan DNA than had been previously thought. Previous studies have shown that the highest concentrations of Denisovan DNA—as much as five percent—are found in people who are native to Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of Oceana. The study also found that Denisovans and modern humans interbred as recently as 44,000 to 54,000 years ago. “We did not even know about this important group until just a few years ago, and our study yields some insights on where Denisovans fit into this story. This also shows some new paths of interest that computational biology can explore,” Sriram Sankararaman of UCLA said in a press release. To read more, go to "Denisovan DNA."