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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 26

New Dates for Prehistoric Paintings in Utah’s Great Gallery

LOGAN, UTAH— A team led by Utah State University geologist Joel Pederson has used luminescence dating techniques to document the timing of geologic events in southern Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, and thus “draw a box” around a probable window of time for the creation of the paintings in Horseshoe Canyon’s Great Gallery. “The most accepted hypotheses pointed to the age of these paintings as 2,000 to 4,000 years old or perhaps even 7,000 to 8,000 years old. Our findings reveal these paintings were likely made between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago,” Pederson told Phys.org. The new dates suggest that the artists may have co-existed with the Fremont people, who are known for their carved pictographs. “Previous ideas suggested a people different from the Fremont created the paintings because the medium and images are so different. This raises a lot of archaeological questions,” Pederson explained. To learn more about art from this period in Southwestern prehistory, see "Investigating A Decades-Old Disapperance," ARCHAEOLOGY's account of a mystery involving Fremont figurines.  

CT Scans of Taung Child’s Skull Challenge Development Theory

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Kristian Carlson of the University of the Witwatersrand, Ralph L. Holloway of Columbia University, and Douglas C. Broadfield of Florida Atlantic University have examined the skull of the Taung Child and its fossilized endocast with microfocus X-ray computer tomography. They found that the young Australopithecus africanus individual lacked the cranial adaptations found in modern human infants and toddlers, which allow for brain growth, as had been suggested by an earlier study. The researchers argue that the unfused patch of connective tissue between the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull, and the so-called “soft spot” on a modern human child’s head, may not even have been selectively advantageous to early prefrontal lobe expansion in hominin evolution. “We’ve demonstrated the misdiagnosis in Taung, and we believe it would be prudent to assess whether the presence of these features—unfused metopic sutures and open anterior fontanelles—may have been misdiagnosed in the additional specimens,” Carlson told Live Science. To read more about the evolution of modern human skulls see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel."  

Neolithic Oven Discovered in Croatia

BAPSKA, CROATIA—A 6,500-year-old oven has been unearthed during recent excavations at a Neolithic home site in eastern Croatia. Marcel Buric of the University of Zagreb told The Croatian Times that the oven provided the residents with cooked food, hot water, and central heating around the clock. “This discovery is important. Because the houses of this period are made of wattle and daubed with a roof made of hay, using an open fireplace was dangerous. But a roofed fireplace, like the one in Bapska, besides being safer, also had other advantages,” he said. In addition, a smelted piece of iron ore, and the cremated remains of a 15-month-old child, left, that may have been sacrificed were uncovered. “We know that such sacrifices were made to ensure the growth of crops by giving a life and putting it back into the earth. The more treasured the life, say a baby, the better the result, or so they thought,” he added.    

Medieval Graves Unearthed in Norway

OSLO, NORWAY—Some 100 burials dating from 1100 to 1400 have been uncovered by archaeologists working ahead of a public railway expansion project into the oldest area of Oslo. Views and News from Norway reports that the medieval skeletons will provide scientists with information about what early Oslo residents ate, what illnesses they had, how old they were when they died, and where the city’s cemeteries were located. “That can also tell us what rank they held in society,” said lead archaeologist Egil Bauer of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). The cemetery was known from historical sources, but was thought to be lost when a railway line was built in the area during the nineteenth century. To read about artifacts from this period being discovered in Norway's melting glaciers, see "Letter From Norway: The Big Melt."  

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."