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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, April 18

Mummified Lung Tissue Tested

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY—Raffaella Bianucci of the University of Turin led an international team of researchers in the investigation of the preserved lung found in a stone sarcophagus in the Basilica of St. Denis, Paris, in 1959. The lung was accompanied by skeletal remains, a strand of hair, jewelry, fragments of textiles and leather, and an elaborate copper belt, according to a report in Discovery News. An inscription on the ring suggested that the remains belonged to the Merovingian Queen Arnegunde, who lived in the sixth century. Bianucci said in a meeting at the International Conference of Comparative Mummy Studies that scanning electron microscopy on the lung biopsies showed a massive concentration of copper ion on the surface of the tissue. Copper oxide was also found in the lung biopsies. Low levels of benzoic acid and related compounds were also detected. “These substances are widespread in the plant kingdom and similar profiles have been already reported in the balms of Egyptian mummified bodies,” Bianucci said. The researchers think a fluid made of spices and aromatic plants was injected into the queen’s mouth and settled in her lung. Her copper alloy belt is also thought to have contributed to the organ’s preservation. To read more about forensic analysis of mummies, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Well-Preserved Roman Fortress Wall Found in Bulgaria

RUSE, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a section of fortress wall from the ancient Roman site, Sexaginta Prista, or Port of the Sixty Ships, has been found on the Danube River in the city of Ruse in northeastern Bulgaria. The section of wall dates to the fourth century A.D. and stands some 23 feet tall and 65 feet long. Archaeologists Nikola Rusev and Varbin Varbanov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History say the wall suggests that the Sexaginta Prista Fortress was larger than had been previously thought. The fortress was part of the Roman system of fortifications along the frontier known as the Limes Moesiae. To read more, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."

Traces of Medieval Town Uncovered in Western Scotland

IRVINE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists examined an area in Irvine, Scotland, ahead of a development project, to look for traces of the medieval royal burgh. They uncovered an oven, wells, and the skeletons of a pony and two cows that had been buried intact. “In each instance the whole articulated skeleton—two cows and a pony—was buried in an individual grave, with no apparent attempt to butcher or otherwise use the body—a practice that would have been common in medieval Scotland,” Claire Williamson of Rathmell Archaeology told Culture 24. The team also found pits lined with timber and stone that may have been used for soaking hides and making leather. The well-preserved wood suggests that water levels may have been higher at the site in the past. Archaeologists will attempt to date the timbers using dendrochronology. Medieval pottery imported from as far away as Germany and Spain dating back to the thirteenth century has also been recovered. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

Large, Possibly Intact Roman Villa Unearthed in England

LONDON, ENGLAND—A Roman villa said to be one of the largest in England has been discovered in a private yard in Wiltshire. Workmen were digging a trench for electric cables when they found a red, white, and blue mosaic floor, so the landowner called the local government office. The New York Times reports that experts from the Salisbury Museum and Historic England uncovered coins, jewelry, pottery, a well, heating pipes, and the shells of hundreds of oysters and whelks. The shellfish were probably imported in barrels of salt water from the coast. The main structure is thought to have been a three-story tall building with as many as 25 rooms on its ground floor. The villa’s outbuildings are also expected to be found at the site. “The site has not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago, and so it’s of extreme importance,” said archaeologist David Roberts of Historic England. To read in-depth about a Roman villa recently unearthed in France, go to "France's Roman Heritage."

Friday, April 15

Missing “Flying Machine” Patent Recovered

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a report in LiveScience, the 1903 patent paperwork for the Wright brothers’ “Flying Machine” has been recovered from a special records storage cave in Lenexa, Kansas. The file includes a diagram of the flying machine, the petition for patent approval, the patent registry form, and the brothers’ patent oath. The missing documents had been part of a 1979 exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum, and had been marked returned to the National Archives in 1980, but archivists were unable to locate the file in a vault of precious documents in Washington in 2000. They have been looking for the file ever since. “Unfortunately, with billions of pieces of paper, things sometimes go where they shouldn’t be,” said National Archives and Records Administration Chief Operating Officer William J. Bonsanko said in a report in The Washington Post. The historic documents had been filed with the brothers’ other, less famous patents, and placed in the storage cave. For more on the archaeology of airplanes, go to "Last Flight of a Tuskegee Airman."

Italian Police Recover Possibly Looted Artifacts

ENNA, SICILY—Italian police officers who were searching a man’s home for arms and ammunition recovered more than 250 objects thought to be ancient Greek artifacts dating to between the fifth and second centuries B.C. The artifacts may have come from archaeological sites in central and southern Sicily, and some of the objects are encrusted with salt, suggesting that they came from the sea. “It’s likely that they were ready to be put on the black market,” Gabriele Presti, head of the investigation team, said in a report by BBC News. To read in-depth about archaeology in Sicily, go to "The Fight for Ancient Sicily."

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Neolithic Pits Found in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—An Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Neolithic pits, and what may be two Early Bronze Age round barrows have been found on land used as a place for re-shoeing warhorses during World War I and as a training ground for use of anti-tank weapons during World War II. The land, located in the village of Bulford, is currently being developed as a residential area for army personnel. A team from Wessex Archaeology has recovered spears, knives, jewelry, and bone combs from the well-organized Anglo-Saxon cemetery, dated to between A.D. 660 and 780. “It contained the graves of women, men, and children and was clearly the burial ground for a local community—perhaps that of Bulford’s earliest families. It included a number of re-used graves, a rare occurrence at this time, which may have held members of the same family,” Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology said in a report in Culture 24. The Neolithic pits have yielded grooved-ware pottery, stone and flint axes, a disc-shaped flint knife, a chalk bowl, and the bones of deer and extinct cattle. For more, go to "Anglo-Saxon Jewelry Box."

Ancient Mass Grave Discovered Near Athens

ATHENS, GREECE—Regional archaeological services director Stella Chryssoulaki of the Greek Ministry of Culture announced that archaeologists discovered two mass graves containing the lined-up skeletons of 80 men in an ancient cemetery at a construction site near Athens. The men are thought to have been young and healthy, due to the condition of their teeth. The hands of 36 of the men had been bound with iron. Some of them had been buried on their backs, while others were on their stomachs. Two vases found with the skeletons date to the mid seventh century B.C., “a period of great political turmoil in the region,” according to the Ministry statement reported by the AFP. Greece’s Central Archaeological Council is planning further investigations of the site. For more, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Thursday, April 14

Scientists Attempt to Replicate Mesolithic Headgear

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of archaeologists led by Aimée Little of the University of York recreated shamanic headdresses like the ones unearthed at Star Carr, an Early Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire, with ancient tools. But first, they examined the headdresses with 3-D laser scanning to analyze the cut marks made in the red deer crania. They think the first step in producing the headwear involved packing the skull with clay and baking it in embers to remove the skin and make the bone easier to work. Then some of the antler may have been removed to make the headdress lighter. Those antler pieces could then have been used to make barbed points for hunting and fishing. It’s also possible that the antler blanks were removed after the headdress had been worn as a way to recycle them. “This is the only site in Britain where they are found, and there are only a few other headdresses known from Germany. This work into how they might have been made has given us an important glimpse into what life was like 11,000 years ago,” Star Carr excavation co-leader Nicky Milner said in a UPI report on the project. To read about another discovery at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

New Thoughts on How Humans May Have Harnessed Fire

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Red Orbit reports that a team from the University of Utah has developed a new scenario for the early human use of fire. The scientists suggest that between two and three million years ago, as the climate became drier and woody plants gave way to grasses, fires naturally occurred more frequently. Fire would have exposed hidden animal holes and tracks, and would have burned seeds and tubers, making them easier to chew and digest, and providing early human ancestors with increased energy. The cleared land would have also made it easier to travel and perhaps colonize new habitats. “Evidence shows that other animals take advantage of fire for foraging, so it seems very likely that our ancestors did as well,” said team member Kristen Hawkes. For more, go to "Catching Fire and Keeping It."

Neanderthals May Have Used Toothpicks

YORK, ENGLAND--Anita Radini and a team of scientists examined Neanderthal teeth from Spain’s El Sidrón Cave and found traces of bark trapped in fossilized plaque, or dental calculus, on some of them. According to a report in Live Science, the researchers say the wood, which had not been charred and was nonedible, may have come from the use of toothpicks or wooden tools held in the mouth as a “third hand.” Previous studies of Neanderthal teeth have found grooves that may have been made by toothpicks, and marks on teeth from El Sidrón, found last year, suggest that these Neanderthals used them as tools. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

16th C. Grave in Mexico City May Belong to Spanish Priest

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—While digging foundations for lamp posts near Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, engineers discovered a stone slab thought to cover the tomb of one of the first Catholic priests in Mexico after the Spanish conquest in 1521. The slab, engraved with the name Miguel de Palomares, had been placed in the floor of what archaeologists think was once an Aztec temple. “The Spaniards, Hernán Cortes and his followers, made use of the pre-Hispanic structures, the temples, the foundations, the floors,” Raúl Barrera of the National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Associated Press. Palomares died in 1542 and is known to have been buried inside the city’s first cathedral, near an altar. This structure was torn down in the 1620s, after a larger cathedral had been built next to it. A hole is thought to have been drilled into the slab for a wooden pole or cross hundreds of years later. To read in-depth about archaeology in Mexico, go to "Under Mexico City."