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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 04

Utah Utility Crew Unearths Pit House

SANDY CITY, UTAH—An archaeological technician working with a utilities crew in suburban Salt Lake City recognized an ancient pit house while the crew was replacing a gas line. The site, located in Dimple Dell Canyon, yielded the bones of rabbit, deer, and possibly elk; obsidian cutting tools; and a fire pit. The recovered projectile points suggest that the dwelling is between 500 and 1,500 years old, but further testing is needed. The gas company crews rerouted the pipeline to protect the prehistoric dwelling. “They could have gone straight through. But they jogged this way and that way to avoid it,” Terry Wood, president of the Dimple Dell Advisory Board, told The Salt Lake Tribune. Lori Hunsaker, deputy state historic preservation officer, said that the house faced the winter sun and was probably used during the cold months. The creek would have provided water and attracted game. To read more about prehistoric discoveries in the American West, see "The Buffalo Chasers."

New Research Sheds Light on Peru’s Nazca Lines

YAMAGATA, JAPAN—Researchers from Yamagata University think that the Nazca Lines may have been created by two separate groups of people living in Peru’s desert who may have changed their usage of the images over time. The team, led by Masato Sakai, has uncovered 100 images and analyzed their location, style, and method of construction. Four different styles of geoglyphs that tended to be grouped together along different routes that led to the Cahuachi temple complex were identified. Some of the images were made by removing rocks from the interior of the shapes, and others were made by removing the border. The glyphs found along a route that started near the Ingenio River may have been created by people who lived in the Ingenio Valley. Other images depicting supernatural beings and trophy heads were concentrated near the road to Cahuachi in the Nazca Valley and were probably made by a group of people from that region. A third group of images, perhaps made by both groups, was found on the Nazca Plateau, between the two cultures. Glyphs made up until A.D. 200 were probably intended to be seen from the ritual pathways. After A.D. 450, people may have smashed pots on the ground where lines intersect as part of a ritual. “Even after the collapse of the Cahuachi temple, trapezoids and straight lines continued to be made and used,” Sakai told Live Science. In addition, Kiyohito Koyama, the president of Yamagata University, recently met with Diana Alvarez Calderon, Peru’s Minister of Culture, to sign an agreement on academic cooperation and preservation of the Nazca Lines. To read more about archaeology in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

“Shiny” Maya City Was Laid Out on a Grid

QUEENS, NEW YORK—At the Maya site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, archaeologist Timothy Pugh of Queens College has found evidence that the city’s ceremonial and residential areas were laid out on a grid pattern. “It’s a top-down organization. Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together,” he told Live Science. The early city was in use from 600 B.C. to 300 B.C., a time when the first Maya cities were under construction. Nixtun-Ch’ich’ had a main route that stretched east-west, along a line that is only three degrees off true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line—that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. At the eastern end of the route, there is a group of pyramids and buildings facing each other on a platform, similar to structures found in other early Maya cities. Many of the buildings face east, perhaps to follow the movement of the sun, and many of the buildings were decorated with shiny white plaster. “Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” Pugh explained. To read more about high-tech mapping of Maya cities, see "Lasers in the Jungle."

Gate Discovered at Egypt’s Tharu Fortress

SINAI, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minster of Antiquities, Mamdouh El Damaty, announced the discovery of the eastern gate to Tharu Fortress, the headquarters of the Egyptian army during the New Kingdom period, at Tell Habwa on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Luxor Times reports that three limestone blocks from the huge gate are inscribed with the name of King Ramses II. The fort was one of a series of forts that sat on the Horus Military Route, which protected Egypt’s eastern front. The Egyptian Mission working at the site also uncovered royal warehouses made of mud brick that belonged to Thutmosis III and Ramses II, and some seals bearing the name of Thutmosis III. A cemetery dating the 26th Dynasty was also found. Its tombs contained bodies marked with battle injuries. To read about ancient Egyptian animal mummies, see "Messengers to the Gods."

Friday, May 01

Polynesians Spread Rapidly Across the Tongan Archipelago

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—People first arrived on the Tongan island of Tongatapu around 2,800 years ago, according to a study by Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and David Burley of Simon Fraser University. In a new study, Weisler and his colleagues obtained dates for coral abraders, animal bones, shell tools, and charcoal from ovens from 20 Lapita sites across the Tongan archipelago using uranium- and radiocarbon-dating techniques. “We now have a precise chronology for the settlement of Tonga and the radiating out and occupying the islands of Tonga,” he told ABC Science. “Within one human generation or so the first settlers explored the rest of the archipelago and put down additional daughter communities.” The depletion of resources at the original site, the love of seafaring, and even sibling rivalry could have fueled the rapid settlement, he added. To read more about the colonization of the Pacific, see "Letter From Hawaii."

Neolithic Fishing Spear Retains Its Bone Point

LOLLAND, DENMARK—A pronged spear with a center bone point was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. “It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic,” Line Marie Olesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster told Discovery News. Known as a leister, this Stone Age spear is the first to have been found with the lateral prongs and the bone point still in place. “It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much,” Olesen said. Radiocarbon dates for the leister are in the works. To read in-depth about Neolithic technology in Europe, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Were Neolithic Societies Egalitarian?

VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of the Basque Country suggests that late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were starting to become hierarchized, based upon data obtained from five megalithic graves in La Rioja and two in Araba-Álava, which together contained the remains of 248 individuals. “We propose that the people buried were intentionally selected,” she said in a press release. “The demographic composition of the megaliths displays significant anomalies with respect to a natural population of an ancient type. The bias identified, which almost systematically affects children under five, but certain adults as well, above all female ones, could be indicating that access to graves was restricted to those people who enjoyed certain rights and privileges only, against what is usually maintained in the traditional archaeological literature,” she said. Isotope analysis of the remains could shed more light on who was buried in the dolmens. Fernández-Crespo and her colleague, Concepción de la Rua, think that people of lower social status may have been buried in as-yet undiscovered natural caves, sheltered spaces under rocks, or pits. To read about similar structures in India, see "India's Village of the Dead."

13th-Century Rune Stick Unearthed in Denmark

ODENSE, DENMARK—A rune stick dating to the thirteenth century has been unearthed among market stalls buried beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense. “The stick itself had the consistency of cold butter before it was conserved, and some little devil of a root has gouged its way along the inscription on one side, which is a bit upsetting,” Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark said in a press release reported in Science Nordic. The fragile, round stick was found in three pieces that had been carved with the words “good health” and “Tomme his servant,” thought to refer to the owner of the stick as a servant of God. The stick may have been worn as a talisman. For more on runes, see "Viking Code Cracked."

Thursday, April 30

“Waterloo Uncovered” Discovers Battle’s First Shots

GHENT, BELGIUM—Musket balls thought to be from some of the first shots fired in the Battle of Waterloo have been discovered by a team led by Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. “The full team has only been working on site for two days and we have made some very interesting discoveries. In particular, we have started a comprehensive survey, including metal detecting, of the area of the former wood to the south of the Hougoumont buildings and we have already found spent and unfired musket shots at the southern-most tip of the wood, also fragments of firearms and clothing such as uniform buttons,” he said in a press release. The French and Allied armies exchanged fire in these woods during the night before the battle. “Today, we have the technology to scan these lands efficiently in sufficient detail to direct archaeological excavations. The opportunity to do this jointly with veterans from a regiment who played a key role at the battle, the Coldstream Guards, is unique and adds an impressive social dimension to this project,” added Marc Van Meirvenne of Ghent University. To read in-depth about archaeology at Waterloo, see "A Soldier's Story."

Iron-Age Burial in England Contains Man & His Shield

POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—One of 38 square barrows unearthed at an Iron Age cemetery in Yorkshire has yielded the skeleton of a man of the Arras culture who had been buried on his shield. Jewelry and a sword have also been recovered from the site. “Naturally we’re still investigating our findings, so at present we aren’t able to share much more detail—however we’re looking forward to learning more and understanding what these new discoveries mean for the local area,” Paula Ware of MAP Archaeological Practice told The Pocklington Post. The site is being excavated ahead of the construction of a housing development. To read about an Iron Age chariot burial discovered in northern England, see "Riding Into the Afterlife."

Tooth Enamel Shows Young People Moved to Harappa

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Analysis of the isotope ratios of lead and strontium in tooth enamel from people who lived 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley shows that they had not been born in Harappa, where they had been buried. This study looked at different tooth types in order to get an idea of where the people were living at different times in their lives, and the chemical signatures of water, fauna, and rocks of the time, and found that they had been born in the hinterland. “Previous work had thought the burial sites represented local, middle-class people. There was no notion that outsiders were welcomed and integrated by locals within the city. It’s not clear why certain young hinterland people were sent to the city,” biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida said in a press release. To read in-depth about a contemporary civilization in Iran, see "The World in Between."

The Search for the Site of the Bear River Massacre

PRESTON, IDAHO—On January 29, 1863, a regiment of 200 California Volunteers approached the confluence of the Bear River and a frozen creek, where a Northwestern Band of Shoshone were wintering. The regiment’s commander, Col. Patrick Connor, wrote in a letter to the War Department that he sent troops into the village to “chastise” the Shoshone for recent raids and deadly attacks on white settlers. The Shoshone returned fire, and Conner sent in another wave of troops. “That set up what initially was a battle, but that lasted a very short period of time. The Shoshone probably ran out of ammunition, and they were overwhelmed by the California Volunteers,” archaeologist Ken Cannon of USU Archaeological Services told Western Digs. He and his team from Utah State University have used ground-penetrating radar, magnetic gradiometer, and metal detectors, in addition to witness accounts and maps, to look for the site where approximately 23 soldiers and 250 Shoshone died in what is now known as the Bear River Massacre. The land has been disturbed by railroad, canal, and highway construction, so the team began by looking for what became known as Battle Creek to try to find the missing village. “That was the most important landmark for us—to understand where the course of Battle Creek was—because that’s where the village was,” Cannon said. So far, the team has found some anomalies that could be traces of lodges from the village. “Nobody knows about these events. They’ve been lost, and yet they’re incredibly important,” he said. To read about close relatives of the Shoshone, see "Searching for the Comanche Empire."