A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 13

Bronze Age Burial Uncovered in Scottish Playground

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A 4,000-year-old skeleton with worn teeth was uncovered in a school playground. Archaeologists had been looking for traces of a medieval harbor in the village of Newhaven when they found the Bronze Age man, who had been about 50 years old when he died. He was buried in a crouching position with a pottery vessel. His teeth were probably worn from a diet of bread made from stone-ground grain. “We have removed the bones—the skull and bones from the upper body and arms, the pelvis and leg bones. Some of the middle is missing after being disturbed, possibly in the medieval period,” Edinburgh City Council’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, told The Edinburgh Evening News.

Bottle Gourds Floated to the New World

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—A new genetic study of bottle gourds, which originated in Africa and have been used as lightweight containers all over the world, indicates that pre-Columbian specimens in the Americas are more closely related to African varieties. It had been thought that migrating humans carried gourds from the Asian subspecies with them over the Bering land bridge into North America, but archaeological evidence for the use of bottle gourds has not been found in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest. Logan Kistler of Pennsylvania State University and his team conclude that the gourds could have floated to the West African coast by river, and then drifted to the New World on Atlantic currents, probably landing on the coast of Brazil, where they took root. “Now, it’s really quite clear that [the bottle gourd] reached the New World under its own steam,” team member Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History told Science.

3,600-Year-Old Wooden Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a joint Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists discovered a wooden sarcophagus dating to 1600 B.C. in Luxor, at the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis. Dubbed the “Feathers Sarcophagus,” the lid of the human-shaped coffin is painted with bird feathers and the titles of the deceased, whose well-preserved mummy is thought to have been a high-ranking official. The shaft of the tomb had been blocked with limestone, protecting its contents from looters in antiquity. José Galan, head of the Spanish team, told Ahram Online that the excavation remains in full swing.

Early British Farmers Preferred Dairy Foods

BRISTOL, ENGLAND--A recent analysis of the chemicals in human bones and residues from cooking pots found at archaeological sites across Britain show that in 4600 B.C., early hunters ate venison, wild boar, and seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol and of Cardiff University found that when domesticated farm animals were brought to the island some 6,000 years ago, however, Britons abandoned wild foods and seafood in preference of milk and animals that produce it for the next 4,000 years. “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk,” Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University told The Australian

Wednesday, February 12

Medieval Mass Grave Unearthed in Florence

FLORENCE, ITALY—A mass grave dating to the sixth or seventh century A.D. has been unearthed at a building site in Florence. The 60 bodies, perhaps representing victims of an epidemic, had been laid out head-to-toe, which is often done to maximize space. “We will conduct DNA and carbon-14 tests to determine the cause and time of death, as well as information on diet, pathologies, and work-related stresses at the time,” Tuscany Archaeology Superintendent Andrea Pessina told ANSAmed.

Clovis Child’s DNA Links Native Americans to Early Ancestors

WILSALL, MONTANA—In 1968, the only known Clovis burial site was discovered accidentally on the property of the Anzick family in central Montana. The 12,600-year-old grave, the oldest in North America, contained the skeleton of a small child and some 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from rare elk antlers. Now, DNA obtained from the bones indicates that the Clovis people are direct ancestors to some 80 percent of modern Native Americans. The results also suggest that the Clovis people originated in Asia. “I feel like this discovery confirms what tribes never really doubted—that we’ve been here since time immemorial and that all of the artifacts in the ground are remnants of our direct ancestors,” Shane Doyle of Montana State University told Live Science.

Viking Code Cracked

  OSLO, NORWAY—Runologist K. Jonas Nordby of the University of Oslo has deciphered the ancient Norse jötunvillur code, found on nine known inscriptions. Nordby used a thirteenth-century stick on which two men had carved their names, Sigurd and Lavrans, in standard runes and in the code. The confusing system requires that the reader have a good working knowledge of the runes in order to swap them out with others for sounds in their names. “What if codes were used like a game, playing with a system? With jötunvillur, you had to learn the names of runes, so I think codes were used in teaching, in learning to write and read runes,” he told The Guardian.

Richard III’s Genome To Be Sequenced

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Turi King of the University of Leicester will sequence Richard III’s genome and analyze the DNA of his mitochondria, along with that of one of his living relatives. The information could tell researchers about the king’s hair, eyes, and possible diseases. The comparison of the mitochondrial DNA taken from Richard III and the relative will examine their relationship through the maternal line. “Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future,” King told Culture 24.

Tuesday, February 11

New Dates for Atapuerca Cave Site

 BURGOS, SPAIN—A study employing new dating methods and techniques by researchers from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution shows that the sediments at the Gran Dolina site, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were found, are 900,000 years old, or 120,000 years older than previously thought. “The change might sound very small or very large, but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age,” Josep M. Pares, leader of the study, told Science Daily. The team will attempt to date individual fossils, especially teeth, in the next phase of refining the chronology.

Roman-Era School Found in Egypt

AMHEIDA, EGYPT—A school that eventually became part of a larger house has been identified in the ancient town of Trimithis, located in western Egypt’s Dakhla Oasis, according to a report in Live Science. Texts had been written on the 1,700-year-old school’s walls in Greek. One of the texts refers to The Odyssey, and tells of Helen of Troy giving her guests a drug. Another text advises the students to work hard to develop their rhetorical skills. The school’s rooms were furnished with benches that students could sit on to read, or stand on to write on the walls. 

Channel Islanders Used Local Tar Balls for Tools

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA—Archaeologist Kaitlin Brown of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her team have analyzed artifacts from the Channel Islands to learn where the proto-Chumash obtained most of their raw petroleum for tool-making. They had two options: malak, or sea-borne bitumen that washes up on shore, and woqo, which is found on the mainland. Woqo was thought to have been the more highly prized resource and would have to have been imported, but the scientists found that the material in the ancient tools was similar to the local tar balls. “We find that native islanders would use asphaltum from locally available sources and did not need to rely on mainland asphaltum exchange for their everyday needs,” Brown told Western Digs.

New Excavation Planned for Ireland’s Carrickfergus Castle

CARRICKFERGUS, IRELAND—An excavation at Carrickfergus Castle could tell scholars more about the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman structure, which was built on the shores of Belfast Lough by John de Courcy. Its long history includes sieges by King John in 1210 and Edward Bruce in 1315. The castle was used by the British Army until 1928, and during World War II, it served as an air raid shelter. The new work will focus on the Great Hall. “We do not know yet what we will find in the excavations and we want to make sure that any new discoveries become part of the visitor experience at the site,” Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan told The Irish Independent.