Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 04

Henry VIII May Have Suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Historians have suggested that Henry VIII, who had been described as an even-tempered and intelligent young man, may have suffered traumatic brain injuries that caused lasting health and behavioral problems. Muhammad Qaiser Ikram and Fazle Hakim Saijad of Yale University analyzed Henry’s letters and other historical sources for information on his medical history and events that could explain his ailments. While in his 30s, Henry was injured during a jousting tournament when a lance penetrated his visor, and he received another blow to the head while attempting to pole-vault over a brook. In 1536, a horse fell on him during jousting match and the king was unconscious for two hours. “Historians agree his behavior changed after 1536,” behavioral neurologist Arash Salardini said in a press release. Salardini and his team argue that traumatic brain injury offers a better explanation for Henry’s memory problems, explosive anger, inability to control impulses, headaches, insomnia, and perhaps even impotence than other ailments that have been suggested, such as syphilis, diabetes, and Cushing Syndrome. To read about archaeology at one of Henry VIII's royal estates, go to "The Many Lives of an English Manor House."

Scholars Say Burial Belonged to Western Han Dynasty Emperor

BEIJING, CHINA—Scholars say they have confirmed that a 2,000-year-old tomb in Jiangxi Province belonged to Liu He, the grandson of Emperor Wu. Also known as the Marquis of Haihun, a small kingdom to the north of Jiangxi, Liu He was deposed from the throne after serving only 27 days as emperor. “There are six pieces of evidence to prove our conclusion. The three direct pieces of evidence are letters from Liu He and his wife to the emperor, the 90 golden pieces we found between the outer and inner coffins, and a jade stamp, all of which bore his name,” Xin Lixiang of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage told ECNS. “And the indirect evidence includes Han-Dynasty official scripts we found on bamboo slips and wooden tablets, coins and porcelain and ceramics, in styles consistent with the works of that age,” he added. Some of the artifacts have gone on display in Beijing, but the bamboo slips and wooden tablets are being carefully conserved. “Those light wooden pieces are the most difficult items to clean and preserve, and they are terribly rotten. We are using the most advanced technologies on them,” added excavation team leader Yang Jun. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Church Renovations Reveal Forgotten Burials

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Workers discovered burials while installing a new heating system in the floor of Stoke Damerel Church, which is thought to have been built in the thirteenth century. A large burial vault was uncovered near the center of the floor and may hold as many as twelve coffins. Most of the burials have been found toward the rear, older part of the church and may date to the fifteenth century. “When the church was extended through the eighteenth century, people seem to have had scant respect for burials as bones were all over the place and must belong to all sorts of people,” church warden John Steer told The Plymouth Herald. The remains will be reburied as close to where they were found as possible under the new church floor. To read more about archaeological work in English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall." 

Bronze-Age Cemetery Discovered Near Bethlehem

ROME, ITALY—A 4,000-year-old cemetery made up of more than 100 tombs has been found near Bethlehem in the West Bank. Now known as Khalet al-Jam’a, the cemetery probably served an undiscovered settlement for more than 1,500 years. Many of its tombs have been destroyed by modern construction or looting, but at least 30 tombs have survived. Many of them are shaft tombs with one or more rock-cut chambers. According to Lorenzo Nigro of Sapienza University of Rome, the settlement was situated near trade routes, and artifacts from the tombs indicate that it had been a wealthy place. “Typical pieces of the burial sets are finely executed carinated bowls, small shouldered jars/bowls with everted rim[s], one-spouted lamps, huge and well-refined Canaanite jars with two or four handles, as well as bronze daggers and spearheads,” he wrote in the journal Vicino Oriente as reported in Live Science. The settlement may have been “Beth-Lehem,” referred to in ancient texts. The cemetery fell out of use around 650 B.C. “It seems that the town suffered a crisis,” Nigro wrote in Vicino Oriente. To read about Egyptian influence in Canaan, go to "Egyptian Style in Canaan."

Thursday, March 03

Prehistoric People Hunted Island's Dwarf Deer to Extinction

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—People living on Panama’s Pedro González Island some 6,200 years ago grew maize and root crops, fished, gathered palm fruits and shellfish, and hunted dwarf deer, opossums, agoutis, iguanas, and large snakes. But they eventually hunted the dwarf deer to extinction. “When I was washing the animal bones from the first test cut in 2008, out fell a deer ankle bone called a calcaneum. It was so tiny that I realized we had come across a population that had probably dwarfed through isolation,” archaeologist Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute said in a press release. Animals on Panama’s Pearl Islands became isolated when the seas rose some 8,500 years ago. Over time, isolated animals competing for limited resources can undergo a reduction in size. An adult deer on Pedro González Island weighed less than 22 pounds. Cooke and his team recovered some 2,500 fragments of dwarf deer bones that had been butchered, burned, smashed, and bore human teeth marks from a midden near the coast. Fewer bones were recovered in the youngest layer of the midden, and those that were found were from younger individuals. No deer bones were found after 2,300 years ago. To read more about archaeology in Panama, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."

Survey Recovers Artifacts From Scotland’s Battle of Killiecrankie

PITLOCHRY, SCOTLAND—A copper alloy pendant, a harness boss, two buckles, part of the support for a sword belt, horseshoes, buttons, and musket munitions were recovered by archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology, who conducted a survey at the site of the Battle of Killiecrankie ahead of road construction in the region. On July 27, 1689, Jacobites led by John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as “Bonnie Dundee,” faced King William’s troops under the command of General Hugh Mackay of Scourie. Grenades are thought to have been used for the first time in the United Kingdom during this battle. And even though the Jacobites won the day, one-third of them died, including their leader. “Thanks to the survey work, experts are shedding more light on the Battle of Killiecrankie which took place over three hundred years ago, bringing “Bonnie Dundee’s” Jacobite victory to life. They are able to offer more information on the battle including the possible route soldiers took during the battle, potential cavalry positions, where the key skirmishes and close quarters fighting took place, and the likely retreating route taken by the fleeing Government forces,” Transport Minister Derek Mackay told students at Pitlochry High School, reported in a press release. To read more about historical archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."

Chimp Behavior May Shed Light on Early Human Rituals

LEIPZIG, GERMANY―A new study of chimpanzee behavior could shed light on the origin of ritual sites in hominin evolution. Chimpanzees are known to use tools to extract and consume food, and the ways in which they use tools can vary depending upon where they live. A new standardized protocol for collecting data on chimpanzee behavior, called the “Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee,” has thus been initiated by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at 39 research sites across Africa. Camera traps in West Africa caught chimpanzees throwing stones at trees. “The PanAf cameras filmed individual chimpanzees picking up stones from beside, or inside trees, and then throwing them at these trees while emitting a long-distance pant hoot vocalization,” Ammie Kalan of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said in a press release. This behavior is usually performed by adult males, in the context of ritualized displays. “As the stone accumulation behavior does not seem to be linked to either the abundance of stones or the availability of suitable trees in the area, it is likely that it has some cultural elements,” added Christophe Boesch, director of the Max Planck Institute’s Department of Primatology. To read about the discovery of the first known chimpanzee archaeological site, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."

Siberia’s Ancient Dog Burials

EDMONTON, CANADA—Robert Losey of the University of Alberta has unearthed the remains of dogs in an ancient cemetery at Lake Baikal, Siberia. The dogs had been buried between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago alongside their humans. “The dogs were being treated just like people when they died,” Losey said in a press release. “They were being carefully placed in a grave, some of them wearing decorative collars, or next to other items like spoons, with the idea being potentially that they had souls and an afterlife.” Chemical analysis of the bones of these dogs indicates that they had been fed the same foods eaten by the people that lived in the settlement. Across the Siberian Arctic, Losey has found evidence of dogs wearing harnesses, perhaps for pulling sleds. He’s also found evidence that people sometimes ate their dogs. “What can we learn about people’s relationship with dogs in the past? The history of our working relationships with animals, and our emotional relationships, is what interests me,” he said. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More than Man's Best Friend."

Wednesday, March 02

1,600-Year-Old Winery Found in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM—A 1,600-year-old winery has been unearthed at a construction site that was once home to a nineteenth-century orphanage located just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The winery is thought to have been part of a large manor house. It featured a pit with a press screw anchored in it surrounded by a pressing surface paved with a white mosaic. Eight cells around the pressing surface were used for storing grapes and possibly for blending their juices. Traces of a private bath house, including terracotta pipes and bricks, were found near the winepress. Some of the bricks were stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion, one of the four garrisoned in Jerusalem until A.D. 300. These bricks may have been produced at the nearby site of Binyanei Ha-Uma. “Once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past. The archaeological finds discovered here help paint a living, vibrant, and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times up until the modern era,” archaeologist Alex Wiegmann of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release. To read more about ancient wine making, go to "French Wine, Italian Vine." 

High-Tech Tools Reveal “Polish Pyramids”

SZCZECIN, POLAND—Researchers from the University of Szczecin have discovered previously unknown megalithic tombs in western Poland. Such tombs, built by the Funnel Beaker Culture between the fifth and third millenniums B.C., are generally triangular in shape and surrounded with stone blocks. “For our analyses we used the project ISOK (National Protection Computer System Against Extraordinary Threats),” Agnieszka Matuszewska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The information from a geographic information system, airborne laser scanning technology, and 3-D mapping helped the team to spot potential sites and known sites in wooded areas. “The area near Dolic is undoubtedly the most interesting, we have selected at least a dozen potential megalithic tombs. In the course of verification in the field we have clearly confirmed the presence of 18 Kujawy type megalithic tombs, a much higher number than previously known from the literature,” Matuszewska said. The technology can also assist archaeologists with identifying endangered monuments. “This is particularly important considering the aspect of the protection and conservation of forest areas, in particular the protection of monuments with their own landscape forms,” she explained. For more on technology in archaeology, go to "The Past in High-Def."

China’s Oldest-Known Bone Tools Analyzed

BEIJING, CHINA—Seventeen bone tools recovered from Ma’anshan Cave in southern China have been analyzed by a team led by Gao Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Francesco d’Errico of the Université de Bordeaux. The oldest tools, from the cave’s Stratum 6, are three awls dated to about 35,000 years ago. Six spear points, awls, and a cutting tool were found in Stratum 5, and they are an estimated 34,000 years old. The youngest of the tools, from Stratum 3, include two types of barbed points that date to between 23,000 and 18,000 years old. All of the tools were crafted by scraping and grinding. The tools from strata 5 and 3 were also polished. “Ma’anshan Cave records the oldest formal bone tools from China, and amongst the oldest known evidence of indisputable barbed point manufacture outside Africa,” Zhang Shuangquan of the IVPP told “Change in the hunting toolkit between strata 5 and 3 may indicate a shift in prey preference from medium to small size mammals and fish, which needs to be verified by supplementary analyses,” he added. To read more, go to "An Opportunity for Early Humans in China."

Girl’s Remains May Be the First From Cerro Juanaqueña Culture

CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO—The 3,200-year-old grave of a teenaged girl has been found in northern Mexico, at a site that yielded more than 18,000 stone flakes, cores, and hammers; 370 projectile points; and a dozen stone ovens. Emiliano Gallaga and his colleagues at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History think that the site may have been intermittently used as a tool-making camp over thousands of years, while the girl may have been one of the first corn farmers to live in the region. “When we were doing the surface collection, we noticed an interesting feature on the surface: a circle of bones coming out. We thought it could be a turtle shell, but we decided to make an [excavation] unit there, just in case. And there it was. We just cleaned a little bit, and a human cranium appeared,” Gallaga told Western Digs. The grave dates to about the same time as a nearby settlement known as Cerro Juanaqueña, whose residents are thought to have grown corn on some of the more than 400 terraces. Further analysis of the bones could tell scientists more about who the girl was, where she lived, and what she ate. For more on archaeology in Mexico, go to "A Circle of Skulls."