Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 20

Ancient vs. Modern Cities

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder have revealed the results of a study designed to understand whether ancient settlements and modern cities functioned in similar or different ways. By examining pre-contact archaeological data from sites in the Basin of Mexico to estimate populations, densities, size and construction rates of monuments and buildings, and the intensity of site use, the researchers learned that, in fact, ancient settlements and modern cities functioned in much the same way. “It was shocking and unbelievable,” says anthropologist and study author Scott Ortman. “We were raised on a steady diet telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.” To read more about Mexico City’s buried history, go to “Under Mexico City.”

Under the Streets of Singapore

SINGAPORE—At a 1,000-square-meter excavation site in front of the Empress Palace in Singapore undertaken in advance of a large construction and beautification project, archaeologists have found artifacts dating back as much as 700 years, reports AsiaOne. The dig is the largest excavation project in Singapore for more than three decades and the finds include Chinese ceramics, jars, and figurines, copper coins, and carnelian beads. "The Empress Place was the location of a thriving port in the early days and any new discovery will hopefully advance our understanding of Singapore's earliest beginnings," said excavation leader and archaeologist Lim Chen Sian. To read about the world’s oldest pottery, go to "The First Pots."

Medieval Polish History Uncovered

MAZURY, POLAND—At the site of Skomack Wielki in northern Poland, archaeologists have discovered a surprising cache of intact pottery, and iron and bronze artifacts dating to the fifth and sixth centuries, reports Science and Scholarship in Poland. The metal finds include both luxury items such as jewelry and buckles, as well more every day objects as knives and toiletries. Excavation director Anna Bitner-Wróblewska suggests that the site was probably inhabited by members of the Galind tribe, a community that had what she calls “extremely extensive contacts” with large areas of Europe at this time. To read about a cemetery filled with vampires, go to “Polish ‘Vampire’ Burials Studied.” 

New Research Into Indo-European Languages

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Linguists at the University of California, Berkeley, have used data gathered from more than 150 languages to show that the common ancestor of many of today’s languages, including English, first emerged 5,500-6,500 years ago in the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Using sets of words from both living and dead Indo-European languages, the researchers found evidence to support what is known as the “Steppe Hypothesis,” as opposed to the interpretation that suggests that these languages evolved from a common ancestor in Anatolia (modern Turkey) as much as 9,500 years ago. To read more about—and to hear a sample of—Indo-European languages, go to “Wolf Rites of Winter.” 

Thursday, February 19

Ancient Peruvian Site Damaged

CAJAMARCA, PERU—A report in Peru This Week has stated that part of the archaeological site called Farfán in northern Peru has been destroyed by a local man claiming ownership of the land. The site of Farfán, which is located about 7 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, likely contains remains belonging to the Lambayeque culture and was the provincial center for the Chimu Empire. Although the site has been heavily damaged by looters, agriculture, and construction over the last century, archaeological evidence of these ancient cultures still remains on the site. More damage has been done by this most recent incursion, which is now being assessed by the Ministry of Culture. To read about two recently discovered Chimu funerary idols, go to “Artifact.” 

Neanderthal Division of Labor

MADRID, SPAIN—A study published by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has concluded that within communities of Neanderthals, some jobs were divvied up between men and women according to their sex. While the research showed that both sexes had dental grooves as a result of the use of their mouths as a kind of third hand, the grooves in the teeth of adult women were longer than those in adult men, leading to the conclusion that each sex performed different jobs, although it is not yet clear exactly which belonged to men and which to women. "Nevertheless, we believe that the specialization of labor by sex of the individuals was probably limited to a few tasks, as it is possible that both men and women participated equally in the hunting of big animals,” says Almudena Estalrrich of the CSIC. To read about the Neanderthal genome project, go to “Neanderthal Genome Decoded.”   

Researchers Discover How Ants Came to the Old World

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have analyzed the genomes of insects from 192 locations and discovered that the tropical fire ant was the first great ant explorer. Crews of 16th-century Spanish galleons would fill their ships with soil in the New World and, when they reached a new port, replace it with cargo, explains entomologist and biologist Andrew Suarez, one of the study’s authors. The ants would be offloaded at locations across Europe when the ballast was dumped. This invasive species of insect created a massive problem for local agriculture and native animal and bird populations.  “This was one of the first global invasions,” says Suarez. To read about a 16th-century galleon’s trip to the American South, go to “Sunken Dreams.”

Golden Treasure on the Seafloor

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—At the site of the ancient Roman harbor of Caesarea, scuba divers have discovered the largest hoard of gold coins ever found in Israel, reports the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Soon after they found the first coins, which were exposed by winter storms, the divers reported their discovery to authorities. Archaeologists from the IAA then explored the site, where they uncovered almost 2,000 coins dating from the second half of the ninth to the eleventh century A.D., the period of the Fatimid Caliphate. Marine archaeologist Kobi Sharvit of the IAA will lead future excavations on the seafloor near the findspot of the hoard in the hopes of possibly finding the ship that may have been carrying the coins, and that may have sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean almost a thousand years ago.  To read about one of the largest coin hoards ever found in England—one of last year’s Top 10 Discoveries, go to “The Seaton Down Hoard.” 

Wednesday, February 18

A Surprise Discovery in Ireland

COUNTY TYRONE, NORTHERN IRELAND—At the site of Tullaghoge Fort, the hilltop where chieftans of the O’Neill clan were crowned from the 14th to 17th century, archaeologists have uncovered surprising evidence of inhabitants of this area from a much earlier time period when people first settled on the islands, reports the Belfast Telegraph. "We were looking back 700 years and we got 7,000, that would be a good way to put it," archaeologist John O’Keefe told the paper. During excavations in preparation for a new visitors’ center, researchers have unearthed flint tool fragments dating to before 5000 B.C. They also found other evidence at Tullaghoghe Fort that will help to fill in the site’s history before the powerful O’Neills ruled the land, including traces of cereal harvesting there during the 7th to 9th centuries A.D. "We think we have a better understanding of the site as it would have been when the O'Neills were there but now we have found this other layer of history that we didn't expect to find," said O'Keeffe. To read more about a series of puzzling Bronze Age structures in Ireland. Go to "Letter from Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."

Grand Mound to Reopen

INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN—A place known for its frigid winter temperatures may soon be attracting visitors in the warmer months to see one of Minnesota’s most impressive ancient attractions. About 15 miles from the city, the site of Grand Mound, a 25-foot-high burial mound that is thought to be the largest prehistoric structure in the Upper Midwest, may once again be open to the public after remaining closed for 8 years, reports the Grand Forks Herald. Though once concerned about using a burial site as a tourist attraction, the Indian Advisory Council now believes that it would be appropriate to open Grand Mound to visitors once again and to continue efforts to ensure the mound’s long-term preservation. Grand Mound is the largest of five burial mounds that make up the site and were built by the Laurel Indians more than 2,000 years ago. To read about massive prehistoric earthen mounds of Georgia, go to “City Beneath the Mounds."

Norway's Oldest Man

STOKKE, NORWAY—A skeleton found south of Oslo may be the oldest human remains ever found in the country. Dating to perhaps 8,000 years ago, the skeleton, dubbed “Brunstad Man,” is a “sensational discovery in a Norwegian, and indeed even in a north European context,” archaeologist Almut Schülke told The Local. Found in a fetal position, as is common for Mesolithic period (10,000-4000 B.C.) burials, Brunstad Man will be carefully studied at a laboratory in Oslo to determine his age at the time of his death and to search for evidence of his diet. Researchers also hope to learn how he found his way to Scandinavia so many thousands of years ago.  To read about the discovery of more than 100 medieval Norwegian burials, go to “Medieval Graves Unearthed in Norway.