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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 25

“Great Warrior” Burial Unearthed in Siberia

OMSK, RUSSIA—The grave of an eleventh-century warrior of the Ust-Ishim culture who had been killed in battle has been unearthed in southwestern Siberia. Nicknamed “Bogatyr,” or “Great Warrior,” the man’s severed left arm had been placed near his body, and a death mask made of fabric had been put on his face. Caskets made of birch bark covered his eyes and mouth. Inside the caskets were metal fish figurines with their heads broken off. “It is interesting that the fish figures were cast as one, and then broken in two," archaeologist Mikhail Korusenko of the Omsk branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times. "It was an intentional action, definitely. Perhaps, it had some religious importance. Then, next to his nose was the fang of a big predator, a bear, this beast being traditionally associated with strength, power and warriors,” A mirror made of a metal plate was found on the warrior’s chest, and 25 arrowheads made of metal and bone were found in the grave. “Some of them were clearly of military purpose. Behind his skull we found a ringed bridle—a sign that the warrior was an accomplished horseman,” Korusenko said. To read about the excavation of medieval fortifications in Siberia, see "Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude."  

Phoenician Artifacts Recovered Off Coast of Malta

VALLETTA, MALTA—Scientists from the French National Research Agency and Texas A&M University are part of a team that has recovered 20 Phoenician grinding stones and 50 amphorae about one mile off the coast of Malta’s Gozo Island. Timothy Gambin of the University of Malta told the Associated Press that the ship was probably traveling between Sicily and Malta when it sank ca. 700 B.C. The team will continue to look for other artifacts and parts of the vessel, which sits at a depth of almost 400 feet and is one of the oldest shipwrecks to be discovered in the central Mediterranean. To read about a Phoenician shipwreck excavated off the coast of Spain, see ARCHAEOLOGY's online exclusive "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."    

The Fight to Preserve Blair Mountain Battlefield

  CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA—Today marks the 93rd anniversary of the beginning of the battle between more than 10,000 union coal miners and thousands of local law enforcement officers and coal company guards along Blair Mountain Ridge—the largest armed confrontation in American labor history. Now, two mining companies want to strip-mine coal from areas near the Blair Mountain Battlefield, and from the battlefield itself, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. According to a report in The Charleston Gazette, environmentalists, preservationists, and the United Mine Workers continue to work for stricter regulations to preserve the landscape. “Some historians recognize the Battle as a principal catalyst for passage of the National Labor Relations Act [in 1935], the federal statutory framework for worker organizing and the peaceful resolution of industrial disputes,” Laura P. Karr, a lawyer for the United Mine Workers, wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers last year. Charles B. Keeney III, chair of the Friends of Blair Mountain, adds that artifacts related to troop movements, buried weapons, shell casings, entrenchments, and possibly even human remains are likely to be at the site, and they would be lost by any potential mining activity. To read more about the battlefield, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature article "Mountaintop Rescue."  

Oral History and Ohio’s Earthworks

COLUMBUS, OHIO—In his column for The Columbus Dispatch, Bradley T. Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio History Connection, describes his recent research into what historic American Indian tribes of the eastern Woodlands told arriving European Americans about the massive earthworks of North America. Many of these monuments are more than 2,000 years old. Lepper found that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, indigenous peoples living in the region had different ideas about how and why the monumental structures had been built. “Oral traditions simply cannot be passed down reliably over that span of time. Moreover, the centuries of disease, warfare, forced migrations and acculturation that followed the arrival of Europeans in America effectively erased much traditional knowledge that might otherwise have been preserved,” he writes. Lepper adds, however, that American-Indian oral traditions offer a source for ideas about the purpose and meaning of the sites that can be tested with archaeological data. To learn more about Ohio's world class mound sites, read ARCHAEOLOGY's online feature "The Newark Earthworks."  

Friday, August 22

Farming in Medieval Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—A new picture of the late medieval farming life is emerging in northwest Scotland, according to a report in the Press and Journal. During excavations near an electrical substation, archaeologists surveying the area discovered the well-preserved remains of a barn which they were able to date the structure using the remains of charcoal and burnt bone they also found at the site. What makes the site rare and special, says archaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick of Guard Archaeology, is that “discoveries like this rarely survive in rural areas as the ground is usually used for rural purposes and is ploughed or used for cattle or livestock.” For a glimpse of what Scotland's medieval residents really looked like, go to ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Faces of Medieval Scots Reconstructed." 

What Paleolithic People Were Really Eating

BENIDORM, SPAIN—At the rock shelter site of Cova de la Barriada, archaeologists have discovered that even 30,000 years ago, vitamin-rich snails were part of the Iberian dinner table. Researcher Javier Fernández-López de Pablo told Livescience that the findings—hundreds of burnt snail shells found near fireplaces and alongside cooking tools—suggest the ancient inhabitants of the region ate the snails as a regular part of the diet more than 10,000 years before the mollusks were consumed in other parts of the Mediterranean. By harvesting only adults—the snails were about one year old when they were roasted— the region’s Paleolithic inhabitants had developed a sustainable farming practice that persevered the availability of this food resource for thousands of years. In fact, the species of land snail represented at the site, Iberus alonensis, are still eaten in Spain as part of many favorite dishes. To read more about the Paleolithic diet, go to ARCHAEOLOGY”s “Stocking the Paleolithic Pantry.”

WWII U.S. Cruiser Identified in Java Sea

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII—The U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command announced that a vessel in the Java Sea is the cruiser USS Houston, which sank during the Battle of the Sunda Strait on February 28, 1942. Over the course of 19 dives earlier this year, U.S. Navy underwater archaeologists and Indonesian Navy divers surveyed the site and collected enough data to confirm the ship's identity. Nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast," the vessel is the final resting place of some 700 sailors and marines. To read more about the historical legacy of WWII, go to ARCHAEOLOGY's "Archaeology of World War II." 

Possible European Skull Found in Chinese Tomb

YINCHUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports archaeologists excavating a 1,400-year-old tomb in northwest China have unearthed a skull that appears to have belonged to a European man of about 40 years of age. "The man had a protruding nasal bone and a sunk nasion, which are typical features of Europeans," said Jilin University anthropologist Zhang Quanchao. When the tomb was constructed early in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), one of the routes of the fabled Silk Road connecting Europe and China ran through the region, which might explain the presence of a European in the area. To read about a Tang Dynasty-influenced site in Siberia, read ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude." 

Thursday, August 21

When Did Neanderthals Really Go Extinct?

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Scientists using new, more precise radiocarbon dating techniques to study 40 Paleolithic sites from across Europe have determined that our close genetic cousins disappeared from Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago. "I think that for the first time, we have a reliable extinction date for Neanderthals," University of Oxford scientist Tom Higham told Livescience. The new findings suggest that the two species may have coexisted for up to 5,400 years and that modern humans did not quickly wipe out the Neanderthals, as some scholars believe. Rather, they could have dramatically influenced each other both culturally and genetically. Higham notes that the Neanderthal extinction event "might have been more complex and drawn out than previously thought." To read about the debate over cloning our closest extinct relatives, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Should We Clone Neanderthals?" 

Oldest Metal Object Unearthed in the Middle East

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at an ancient village in the Jordan Valley dating between 5200 and 4600 B.C. have discovered a copper awl that is believed to be the oldest metal object yet unearthed in the Middle East. According to a University of Haifa press release, the awl was discovered in the grave of a 40-year-old woman who was also buried with a belt made of 1,688 ostrich-egg shell beads. “The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it’s possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity,” says dig leader and University of Haifa archaeologist Danny Rosenberg. The discovery pushes back the appearance of metal in the area by several hundred years, and chemical testing of the awl has revealed it was made of copper from the Caucasus Mountains, more than 600 miles away, suggesting long-range trade may have been more prevalent during the period than previously thought. To read about the elaborate burial of a Copper Age woman unearthed in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "High Status Burial Unearthed in Windsor." 

Sea Mammals Spread Deadly Tuberculosis

PHOENIX, ARIZONA—Professor Anne Stone of Arizona State University may have provided an answer to one of science’s great debates—the origins of tuberculosis in the New World. Stone’s new research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the infection to South America, where it was eventually transmitted to the native population. For their work, researchers collected ancient DNA samples and tested them for the presence of TB. Three of the samples taken from sites in Peru dating to between A.D. 750 and 1350 showed evidence of TB infection and the genome could be mapped and studied. The researchers discovered that the ancient strains of TB were most closely related to strains present in pinnipeds. “What we found was really surprising. The ancient strains are distinct from any known human-adapted tuberculosis strain,” Stone told the ASU NewsTo read more about tuberculosis in the ancient Andes, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”    

Geometric Tomb Uncovered in Corinth

CORINTH, GREECE—Archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies in Athens have revealed the results of their excavation of a tomb in the important ancient Greek city of Corinth. The tomb, which dates to between 800 and 750 B.C. contained a burial pit filled with a limestone sarcophagus with a single person buried inside, reports Livescience. Next to the sarcophagus the team found several pottery vessels, as well as a sealed niche containing 13 almost complete pots. Many of the pots are decorated with zig-zagging patterns of lines and spirals that give this era of Greek history, often called the Geometric Period, its name.