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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 16

Possible Early Christian Cemetery Unearthed in England

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a cemetery containing more than 80 Anglo-Saxon burials arranged in rows has been unearthed in eastern England. Based upon pottery found in the fill, James Fairclough of Museum of London Archaeology says the cemetery dates from the seventh to the ninth centuries A.D. Fairclough added that the cemetery appears to be Christian, since there are no grave goods, and the burials were arranged on an east-west grid. Many of the wood coffins, made from split and hollowed oak trees, were found intact, due to the waterlogged environment. Six of the graves had been lined with planks, and may be the earliest such graves in Britain. Fairclough’s team also found the remains of a timber structure that may have been a chapel. The skeletons from the cemetery will be analyzed for information on sex, age, and possible family connections. To read in-depth about an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Genetic Study Reflects Drop in Native Canadian Population

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—The Independent reports that a team of researchers including members of the Canadian aboriginal communities of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nation, analyzed the genomes of 25 people who lived on the north coast of British Columbia between 1,000 and 6,000 years ago, and compared the results with the genomes of 25 of their descendants. The study suggests that there was a steep drop in the size of the population some 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were introduced to the region. Nearly six out of ten people are thought to have died. Biologist Michael DeGiorgio of Pennsylvania State University added that a gene variant associated with survival, and helping the body identify diseases, may have been beneficial before the arrival of Europeans, but then became disadvantageous upon European contact. The variant was found to be 64 percent less common in the descendant community than in the ancient remains. For more, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Did Autism Fuel Human Success?

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in ZME Science, Penny Spikins of the University of York and her colleagues argue that collaborative morality, or a group-oriented attitude, emerged in humans some 100,000 years ago, and changed how individuals with autism, a condition thought to have a long evolutionary history, were integrated into society. Spikins thinks people who may have been ostracized before the emergence of collaborative morality came to be seen as valuable to group survival due to their heightened senses, exceptional memory skills, and attention to detail. Those traits may have helped groups of hunter-gatherers navigate the landscape, understand the behavior of prey animals, and recognize different plants and animals. According to Spikins, people with diverse abilities took on specialized roles, which helped lead to human success. Some scholars have argued that identifying traits of autism can even be seen in Paleolithic cave art. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Mesolithic Settlement Mapped in the Baltic Sea

LUND, SWEDEN—The International Business Times reports that researchers from Lund University have mapped an underwater site off the southern coast of Sweden with multibeam echosounder technology. Geologist Anton Hansson explained that 9,000 years ago, the sea level was more than 30 feet lower than it is today. The people who lived in this Mesolithic settlement, which was located near a lagoon, are thought to have had access to abundant fish. The archaeologists found stationary fish traps, and a 9,000-year-old pickax made of polished antler that may have been used to mount the traps. “We are not really sure how it’s used, as it’s the only one we have found,” Hansson said. “There’s been finds of stone axes looking similar which people think were replicas of this horn.” The ax had a crack in its shaft hole, and was found discarded in the refuse layer. For more, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Tuesday, November 15

Unusual Roman Pot Discovered in Switzerland

AARGAU, SWITZERLAND—The Local, Switzerland, reports that a cooking pot filled with oil lamps has been uncovered at the site of Vindonissa, a first-century A.D. Roman legion camp. Each of the 22 lamps was decorated with an image of the moon goddess Luna, a gladiator, a lion, a peacock, or an erotic scene, and each lamp contained a bronze coin dating to A.D. 66-67. The pot also contained charred pieces of animal bone. “What astonished us was the quantity and the combination of coins and lamps,” said cantonal archaeologist Georg Matter. “The intentions behind this burial are puzzling at the moment.” For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

Study Suggests Neolithic Amulet Was Cast With Lost-Wax Method

PARIS, FRANCE—The Washington Post reports that a team of scientists used a full-field photoluminescence technique to examine the molecular structure of a 6,000-year-old amulet discovered in Pakistan at the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh. Using a powerful synchrotron beam, the researchers found copper oxides inside the amulet that have a different structure than the corrosion covering the object. Mathieu Thoury of the European Ipanema laboratory suggests the early metallurgists may have been trying to cast the amulet with pure copper, but admitted some oxygen during the production process that produced the microscopic bristles seen in the amulet’s interior. In addition, the amulet is not symmetrical, which also supports the idea that it was probably cast as a single piece through lost-wax casting. “It is not the most beautiful object, but still it holds so much history,” said Thoury. “It shows how the metalworkers at the time were so innovative and wanted to optimize and improve the technique.” To read about a Late Roman amulet, go to “Artifact.”

Canaanite Offering Unearthed at Tel Gezer

TEL GEZER NATIONAL PARK, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that a team of researchers from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary have discovered a 3,600-year-old pottery vessel in the foundations of a building at Tel Gezer, a city located in central Israel along the ancient strategic route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The vessel contained figurines of Canaanite deities, including Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war, and Sin, the god of the moon; a silver disc-shaped pendant carved with an eight-pointed star and topped with two narrow cylinders where a lace or chain may have been attached; and an Egyptian scarab with a gold bezel dating to the era of Hyksos rule. The valuable items were wrapped in a linen cloth, which left an impression on the artifacts, and then placed in the lidded vessel, which was secreted in the building’s foundation, perhaps as an offering to the gods. “What’s nice about this trove is that it shows Canaanite culture together with a clear Egyptian influence,” said head archaeologist Zvika Zuk. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Autumn of the Master Builder.”

2,000-Year-Old Mosaic Floors Found in Turkey

ŞANLIURFA, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a floor mosaic has been discovered in a necropolis of nearly 80 rock-cut tombs in southeastern Turkey, near the ninth-century Urfa Castle. The mosaic depicts two men and two women, whose images are each contained in a separate square surrounded by a border. The portraits are thought to represent people been buried in the tombs. Syriac inscriptions in the mosaic are thought to date to the Edessa Kingdom, which reigned from 132 B.C. to A.D. 639. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Monday, November 14

1,500-Year-Old Engraved Stones Uncovered in Kazakhstan

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—Live Science reports that a 1,500-year-old archaeological site in Altÿnkazgan, Kazakhstan, has been investigated by Andrey Astafiev of Mangistaus State Historical and Cultural Reserve, and Evgenii Bogdanov of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The site is a complex of stone structures located near the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, and is thought to have been built by the nomadic Huns as they moved across Asia and Europe, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Made with stone slabs carved with images of weapons and animals, the smallest structures measure about 13 feet by 13 feet, while the largest measure some 112 feet by 79 feet. Within one of the structures, the team uncovered silver decorations thought to have adorned a saddle belonging to a wealthy person. The surface of the silver was decorated with images of boars, deer, and beasts that may be lions, and tamgas, or signs that may have been symbols of power. The saddle may have been placed in the stone structure for ritual purposes or as a burial offering. The team members also found two bronze parts of a whip in the same structure. For more, go to “First Domesticated Horses: Botai, Kazakhstan.”

Monks’ Graves Found at Ruined Fountains Abbey

RIPON, ENGLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that a team of researchers from the National Trust, the University of Bradford, Geoscan Research, and Mala Geoscience used ground-penetrating radar to find more than 500 graves, holding as many as 2,000 bodies, in rows curving out from the east of the church at Fountains Abbey. The monastery, located in North Yorkshire, was built in the early twelfth century, and closed in 1539 under Henry VIII. During the Victorian era, workmen uncovered some of these graves, and reported that they found several tiers in each. The new study agrees that the monks were buried in “bunk beds,” or graves separated by stone partitions, perhaps in order to protect them from damage during later burials. The monks may have believed that it was important to preserve their physical remains for resurrection on the Christian Day of Judgment. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Mummy and Its Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

LUXOR, EGYPT—The Guardian reports that a mummy has been discovered in a tomb near Luxor by a team of Spanish archaeologists led by Myriam Seco Alvarez. According to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, the tomb is thought to date to between 1075 and 664 B.C. The mummy, wrapped in linen and plaster, is thought to be the remains of Amenrenef, a nobleman and servant in the royal household. The mummy had been placed in a wooden sarcophagus decorated with images of the goddesses Isis and Nephtys, as well as the four sons of Horus. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”