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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 14

Did Neanderthals Hunt With Projectiles?

NORMANDY, FRANCE—Arm bones that may have belonged to a Neanderthal 200,000 years ago have been recovered from silts close to the River Seine in Tourville-la-Rivière. “These are the oldest fossils found near Paris; it’s the oldest Parisian, if you like,” Bruno Maureille of the Université de Bordeaux told BBC News. The robustness of the humerus, ulna, and radius suggests that they are from a juvenile or young adult Neanderthal, but without other fossils, it is impossible to make a positive identification. A ridge on the upper-arm bone indicates that the individual might have been hurt by repeatedly throwing something. “There has been a widespread view that Neanderthals and earlier humans were reliant on thrusting spears, used for dangerous close-range confrontational hunting, and that only modern humans perfected launched projectiles—that view could now be questioned,” commented Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum. To read about the role of throwing in human evolution, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "No Changeups on the Savannah."

Celtic Chariot Fittings Found at Iron Age Hill Fort

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Chariot fittings decorated with a triskele motif of three wavy lines were uncovered by students from the University of Leicester at the Burrough Hill site. They found the matching set of fittings, which appear to have been placed in a box and surrounded by iron tools and other accoutrements, in a pit near a house. “The function of the iron tools is a bit of a mystery, but given the equestrian nature of the hoard, it is possible that they were associated with horse grooming. One piece in particular has characteristics of a modern curry comb, while two curved blades may have been used to maintain horses’ hooves or manufacture harness parts,” John Thomas, co-director of the project, told Culture 24. Cereal chaff had been placed underneath the box and then the box and the chaff were burned in what may have been a religious ritual. The deposit was then covered with a layer of burnt cinder and slag. “This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige of the site,” Jeremy Taylor, co-director of the project, explained. To read about a chariot burial contemporary to the Celtic find, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Remains of Upright Horses Discovered in Thracian Tomb."

Viking Hoard Unearthed in Scotland

DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Metal detector enthusiast Derek McLennan found a hoard of more than 100 Viking artifacts on land owned by the Church of Scotland. County archaeologist Andrew Nicholson excavated the first level of the hoard, which contained an enameled silver Christian cross dating to the ninth or tenth century, dozens of silver arm rings, and ingots. “We were searching elsewhere when Derek initially thought he’d discovered a Viking gaming piece. A short time later he ran over to us waving a silver arm-ring and shouting ‘Viking’! It was tremendously exciting, especially when we noticed the silver cross lying face-downwards. It was poking out from under the pile of silver ingots and decorated arm rings, with a finely wound silver chain still attached to it. It was a heart-stopping moment when the local archaeologist turned it over to reveal rich decoration on the other side,” Rev. Dr. David Bartholomew recounted. A second cache of objects was found underneath the first. It included a silver Carolingian pot that was probably 100 years old when it was buried. “We still don’t know exactly what is in the pot, but I hope it could reveal who these artifacts belonged to, or at least where they came from,” McLennan said. To read about an infamous massacre carried out against Vikings in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Vengeance on the Vikings." 

Mosaic Floor Discovered in Amphipolis Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—A late fourth-century B.C. floor mosaic depicting Hermes, the Greek god of travel and a guide to the underworld, and a chariot in motion, has been uncovered in what is thought to be the antechamber to the main burial at the Macedonian tomb in Amphipolis. “The chariot is pulled by two white horses and driven by a bearded man wearing a laurel wreath on his head,” Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced in a press release reported by Discovery News. Part of the center mosaic, which is made up of white, black, gray, blue, red, and yellow pebbles, is missing, but enough fragments remain to reconstruct a large part of it. The image is framed by a wide border with a double meander, squares, and spiral shapes. To read more about Hellenistic mosaics, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Zeugma After the Flood."

Friday, October 10

Medieval “Vampire” Burial Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—A thirteenth-century skeleton with a piece of an iron rod used for plowing driven through its chest has been unearthed at the Thracian site of Perperikon in southern Bulgaria. The left leg below the knee had been removed and placed beside the man’s skeleton. “We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out. Often they were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances—such as suicide,” archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov told The Telegraph. The metal was intended to keep the corpse from rising from the dead and disturbing the living, Ovcharov explained. “The ploughshare weighs almost two pounds and is dug into the body into a broken shoulder bone. You can clearly see how the collarbone has literally popped out.” To read about similar finds, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Vampire-Proofing Your Village."

Greece’s Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Luxury Artifacts

WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of archaeologists and divers has learned that much of the Antikythera shipwreck and its cargo survive in the deep waters off the Greek island of Antikythera. They created a high-resolution, 3-D map of the site, and retrieved an intact jug, ship components, part of an ornate bed, and a very heavy bronze spear from a life-sized statue, perhaps of the goddess Athena. “The evidence shows us this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered. It’s the Titanic of the ancient world,” Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told Science Daily. The luxury cargo, dating to 70 to 60 B.C., was probably traveling from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome when the ship was lost. Sponge divers discovered the wreck in 1900, including bronze and marble statues, jewelry, furniture, glassware, and the device that came to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism. “We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets,” said Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. To read about more amazing shipwrecks, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

Study Confirms Remains as Philip II of Macedon

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—An anthropological team investigating cremated remains found in a royal tomb in Vergina, Greece, has claimed that the remains belong to King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and an unknown woman warrior. Theodore Antikas, head of the Art-Anthropological research team of the Vergina excavation, suggests that she may have been the daughter of Scythian King Ateas. The tomb was one of three excavated from the same mound in the late 1970s by Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos. This tomb, known as Tomb II, had been intact, and it contained silver and bronze vessels, gold wreaths, weapons, armor, and two gold larnakes, or caskets. Antikas told Discovery News that the identification of the middle-aged, male skeleton was based upon marks on the bones. “The individual suffered from frontal and maxillary sinusitis that might have been caused by an old facial trauma,” he said. Philip II was blinded when his right eye was hit with an arrow during the siege of Methone in 354 B.C. “He had signs of chronic pathology on the visceral surface of several low thoracic ribs, indicating pleuritis,” Antikas added of the warrior’s skeleton, which also showed signs of frequent horseback riding. Traces of an object made of royal purple, huntite, textile, beeswax, and clay had been placed on top of the bones in the gold larnax. A pelvis bone fragment from the other casket indicates that the remains belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 30 and 34. She had suffered a fracture in her left leg that had shortened it. “This leads to the conclusion that the pair of mismatched greaves—the left is shorter—the Scythian gorytus, or bow case, and weaponry found in the antechamber belonged to her,” Antikas explained. To read about the search for Alexander's tomb, see "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."

Thursday, October 09

New Dates for the End of the Greek Bronze Age

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Birmingham selected 60 samples of animal bones, plant remains, and building timbers from the site of Assiros in northern Greece that were radiocarbon dated and correlated at the University of Oxford and the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Heidelberg. “Until very recently the chronology of the later part of the Greek Bronze Age was entirely based upon historical dates derived from Egypt and the Near East with the aid of exported or imported objects such as Minoan or Mycenaean pottery or Egyptian scarabs,” Ken Wardle of the University of Birmingham told Phys.org. The new radiocarbon dates, however, suggest that the Greek Bronze Age ended 70 to 100 years earlier than had been previously thought. “This is a fundamental reassessment and it is important not just for Greece but in the wider Mediterranean context. It affects the ways in which we understand the relationships between different areas, including the hotly debated dates of developments in Israel and Spain,” he added. For more on the end of this era, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Drought May Have Doomed Bronze Age Civilizations."

Search for School’s Victims Moves from Florida to Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The search for the remains of boys who died at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, has moved to Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia. In 1925, Thomas Curry, aged either 15 or 17, was reportedly found dead from a crushed skull on a railroad bridge after he ran away from the notorious school. He may have been hit by a train. A casket was shipped from Florida to Philadelphia for a funeral and burial in his great-grandparents’ graves. Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida has found 55 graves in the woods at the school and is working to identify the remains through DNA analysis. She and her assistant went to Pennsylvania to look for Curry. They unearthed the casket, which had thumbscrews that resembled those from the Florida graves. When they opened it however, they found only wood—no evidence that it had ever contained a body. “It is sad and disappointing. Rather to be able to shed light, it just raises so many more questions,” she told The Philadelphia Enquirer

Giant, Stepped Reservoir Found in Northwestern India

AHMEDABAD, INDIA—A 5,000-year-old stepwell has been discovered in Dholavira, one of the largest known cities of the Indus Valley civilization. Scientists from the Archaeological Survey of India and IIT-Gandhinagar say that the well is almost three times bigger than the Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro. They will use 3-D laser scanners, remote-sensing technology, and ground-penetrating radar to analyze Dholavira’s ancient water system. “Various surveys have indicated other reservoirs and stepwells may be buried in Dholavira. We also suspect a huge lake and an ancient shoreline are buried in the archaeological site,” V.N. Prabhakar of IIT Gandhinagar told The Times of India. To see images of similar, though later sites, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."

Indonesia’s Cave Art Is at Least 40,000 Years Old

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—Twelve stencils of human hands and two images of large animals that were discovered in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in the 1950s have been subjected to uranium-thorium dating. The tests revealed that one of the stencils is at least 40,000 years old, and an image of a babirusa, drawn with what look like brush strokes, is at least 35,400 years old. These dates make the Indonesian art at least as old, if not older, than similar Ice Age art found in European caves. “It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special. There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true,” archaeologist Maxime Aubert of Griffith University told Nature News. Artistic ability may have arisen independently, or modern humans may have already had the capacity to create when they migrated out of Africa. Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton, who identified what is considered to be the oldest cave art in Europe, recommends searching for evidence of art in India and Southeast Asia, along the southern migration route. To watch a video about prehistoric rock art in Australia, watch ARCHAEOLOGY's "Aboriginal Rock Art."