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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 19

Herring Dominated Prehistoric Pacific Fisheries

VANCOUVER, CANADA—Archaeologists at Simon Fraser University have studied more than half a million fish bones from 171 sites in the Pacific Northwest, and found that herring was much more important in prehistory than today. The Pacific herring population is dwindling, and the researchers say understanding the ecological and cultural aspects of prehistoric fisheries can help in designing a more sustainable management system for today's erratic herring catch. “By compiling the largest dataset of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” archaeologist Iain McKechnie said in a Simon Fraser University statement.   

Australia's Mungo Man May Be Repatriated

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Discovered in a dry lake bed in southeastern Australia in 1970, the 43,000-year-old skeleton known as Mungo Man is the oldest known Australian. Since being found, his remains have been kept at Australian National University, and they are no longer being studied. Now Aboriginal groups are negotiating with officials for the return of the remains to Lake Mungo National Park, where they would be reunited with the 20,000-year-old skeleton dubbed Mungo Lady who was uncovered not far from Mungo Man. “This discovery changed Australian history, but Mungo Man has spent too long in his cardboard box. He needs to go home,” archaeologist Jim Bowler told The Australian          

Tuesday, February 18

Hellenistic Settlement Uncovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that salvage excavations in advance of work on a natural gas pipeline have revealed a small rural settlement that reached its greatest extent in the third century B.C., when the region was ruled by the Hellenistic Seleucid Dynasty. Like many other rural villages in Israel, the site was abandoned sometime in the first century B.C., when Herod the Great began his reign. "The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the beginning of Herod the Great's rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea," Jerusalem regional archaeologist Yuval Baruch explained in an IAA statement. "And it may be related to Herod's massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction of the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects."

Long-Lost Fragments of Colossi Found in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Egyptologists have uncovered missing quartzite blocks that once belonged to the Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that once stood at the entrance of his mortuary temple in Luxor. The blocks had been missing from the colossi since an earthquake in 27 B.C. devastated the temple. The missing pieces included fragments of the arm, belt, and skirt of one of the colossi, as well as parts of the royal crown and foundation stone for both statues. Aly El-Asfar, head of the Ministry of State for Antiquities' ancient Egyptian section, told Al-Ahram that the discovery will enable archaeologists to reconstruct the colossi. 

Aztec Dog Burials Discovered

MEXICO CITY, MEXICOArchaeologists digging beneath an apartment building in Mexico City have discovered the remains of 12 dogs who were buried sometime between 1350 and 1520 A.D. Dogs were considered sacred animals by the Aztecs, who believed they accompanied human souls to the afterlife. While archaeologists have found isolated dog burials at Aztec sites before, this is the first time multiple dogs have been discovered buried together. "This is definitely a special finding because of the number of dogs and because we have found no connection to a building or with the deceased,” archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez told the Associated Press. 

Medieval "Graffiti" Found in Scottish Castle

KILCHOAN, SCOTLANDAn archaeological team doing preservation work at the chapel of Mingary Castle on the west coast of Scotland has discovered markings scratched into the plaster walls. Made sometime between 1265 and 1295, the markings are thought to depict a local lighthouse, a ship, and perhaps the first letter of a name. "They've left messages on the wall and we're reading them," local historian Jon Haylett told BBC Radio Scotland. "It's pretty simple stuff, the sort of marks that would have been made by an illiterate man."

Friday, February 14

Bronze Age Woman Unearthed in Scotland

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Landscapers working in the Scottish Highlands discovered a stone burial chest, or cist, capped with a small cairn. A rescue excavation conducted by archaeologists from Guard Archaeology revealed the partial remains of a Bronze Age woman suffering from dental disease. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick told The Scotsman that “Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.” Otherwise, the woman’s bones showed that she was strong and physically active. She had been buried with an undecorated pottery beaker containing seven fragments of flint.

Human History, Written on Our Genes

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A team of scientists sequenced DNA samples from 1,490 modern people from 95 genetically distinct populations, and developed a statistical method to make inferences about which populations had interbred over the past 4,000 years. Evidence of “mixing events” was found in 80 of the populations, and some of those events coincide with historical records, such as the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had an influx of Mongol DNA around the time that the Mongol Empire expanded. Team member Simon Myers of the University of Oxford told Nature News that he would like to expand the model by using larger sample sizes and by adding ancient DNA samples. “That will give us a deeper understanding of human history,” he explained.

Stolen Bas-Relief Recovered in Canada

MONTREAL, QUEBEC—A fragment of a fifth-century B.C. Persian relief that had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 was recovered by police from a home in Edmonton. Security footage shows a suspect in the museum, but the authorities are not sure how he removed the Persian relief, in addition to a Roman first-century B.C. marble sculpture, from their displays and got them out of the building in broad daylight. The Edmonton man, who has been charged with possessing stolen property and possessing the proceeds of a crime, paid $1,400 for the relief while on a trip to Montreal. “I cannot give you details to how it was purchased because the investigation is still ongoing it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation,” Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Quebec Provincial Police force told CBC News.