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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 14

The Skeletons of Jebel Sahaba

LONDON, ENGLAND—New technology has detected dozens of additional wounds on skeletons excavated from a 13,000-year-old cemetery on the east bank of the Nile River in northern Sudan. The bones were unearthed in the 1960s by American archaeologist Fred Wendorf, when arrow heads were found and their impact marks were noted. The bones were eventually moved to the British Museum, and they have also been studied by scientists from Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Alaska, and Tulane University. “The skeletal material is of great importance—not only because of the evidence for conflict, but because the Jebel Sahaba cemetery is the oldest discovered in the Nile Valley so far,” Daniel Antoine, a curator in the British Museum’s Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, told The Independent. The new research indicates that the men, women, and children had been killed by enemy archers over time, during the drought of the Younger Dryas period. Human ethnic groups would have been drawn to the waters of the Nile, where they would have inevitably clashed. The victims are said to be from the world’s oldest-known large-scale armed human conflict. Further study will investigate the health of the victims at the time of death.

Ornamental Paws With Claws Discovered in Moche Tomb

  TRUJILLO, PERU—The tomb of a male ruler has been discovered at the Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon, in the ancient Moche capital of Cerro Blanco in northern Peru. In addition to the man’s remains, the 1,500-year-old tomb held a copper scepter, bronze earrings, a mask, and sharpened metal claws shaped like feline paws that may have been part of a ritual full-body costume. Santiago Uceda, co-director of the excavation, thinks that the paws may have been used in ceremonial combat. He told El Comercio that the winner of the battle would receive the costume, while the loser would be sacrificed.    

Neo-Assyrian Information Technology

  CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Excavations in southeastern Turkey, in the lower town of Tušhan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, have uncovered hundreds of clay tokens dating to the first millennium B.C. It had been thought that record-keeping with such tokens had been replaced with cuneiform two thousand years earlier, but these tokens were found in two rooms that may have served as a delivery area in an administrative building. “We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer or herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock,” John MacGinnis of the MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge told Science Daily. The information collected with the tokens would have been recorded onto cuneiform tablets somewhere else. “The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn’t require everyone involved to be literate,” he explained. MacGinnis hopes that the codes of the token system will one day be fully understood.     

Friday, July 11

The Search for Jean Ribault’s Lost French Fleet

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—Chuck Meide of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program will partner with the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state of Florida, the Institute of Maritime History, and the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne to look for a French fleet lost in 1565 off Florida’s Atlantic coast. Jean Ribault, leader of the fleet, was planning to attack the Spanish colony at St. Augustine with his four largest ships when a hurricane pushed the heavily armed vessels to the south and then sank them. “It was a storm that literally changed American history,” Meide told the Florida Times-Union. The Protestant French settlement at Fort Caroline was soon destroyed by the Catholic Spanish, who also killed Ribault and the other shipwreck survivors. Meide’s ongoing expedition will employ a shrimp boat outfitted with sonar and a magnetometer to search for French cannons, cannonballs, and other artifacts. “It is Florida’s origin story, so it is also the story of the birth of our nation,” he said. 

Congenital Hernia Diagnosed in 17th-Century Korean Mummy

ANDONG, SOUTH KOREA—Yi-Suk Kim of Ewha Womans University in Seoul and colleagues conducted an autopsy on the mummified remains of an approximately 45-year-old man who had been buried in a royal tomb of the Chosun Dynasty. Live Science reports that the team found the right lobe of the man’s liver, part of his stomach, and part of his colon pushed through in a hole in his diaphragm. The man had suffered from a Bochdalek-type congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) that may have caused pain in his chest and abdomen, but the herniated organs had not perforated or strangulated, so the condition may not have been the cause of death. “He could have lived with CDH in this lifetime while experiencing a few signs of respiratory disturbances. We suspected that the functional defects caused by the CDH in the present male mummy case might have been largely compensated for as he grew older,” the authors report in PLOS One

Spring Water Bottle Recovered From Baltic Sea Shipwreck

GDAŃSK, POLAND—A perfectly preserved stoneware bottle produced between 1806 and 1830 has been recovered from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The corked bottle had been carrying mineral water from Selters, a naturally carbonated spring in Germany’s Taunus mountain range. “The bottle contains a liquid, and for sure it’s not seawater,” underwater archaeologist Tomasz Bednarz of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk told Discovery News. The bottle probably contains original Selters water, but it may have been reused and filled with wine. It will be opened under laboratory conditions. 

17th-Century Crucifix Unearthed in Newfoundland

  FERRYLAND, NEWFOUNDLAND—A small copper crucifix with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on its back has been unearthed at the Colony of Avalon site on the coast of Newfoundland. The territory had been granted to George Calvert, who became the first Lord Baltimore, in 1620. Calvert, a Catholic, envisioned the colony as place free of religious persecution for all Christians at a time when Catholics could be fined, imprisoned, or executed in England. The crucifix was discovered among ceramic fragments, bones, nails, and debris associated with the construction of a large stone house that had been built for Calvert sometime after 1623. “As artifacts go, this particular object is quite exceptional. The Catholic iconography is unmistakable,” archaeologist Barry Gaulton of the Colony of Avalon and Memorial University of Newfoundland told The Telegram. Archaeological conservator Donna Teasdale is cleaning and conserving the crucifix. “The smooth, almost polished, surfaces on the crucifix lead me to believe that it was definitely part of a rosary. It was rubbed repeatedly over a period of time,” she said. It may have belonged to Calvert or the colony’s second governor, Sir Arthur Aston, or even a craftsman who had been working on the house.   

Thursday, July 10

Early Turkish Bath Discovered in Albania

  WARSAW, POLAND—A fourteenth-century Turkish bath with a central heating system was discovered at the site of the ancient Illyrian town of Scodra in northwestern Albania by archaeologist Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw. “We know of very few early hammams. This makes our discovery even more interesting, because it allows us to see how the old Roman idea of a hypocaust, which is a system of heating the floors and walls of buildings with hot air, was adapted by the Turks,” he told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Dyczek’s team also located the original city center, dated to the third century B.C. “Now we know the location of the highest part of the fortress, with the Hellenistic structures. We have located parts of two walls made of large hewn stone blocks,” he said.    

Roadwork Uncovers Great Pueblo Period Pottery

BLOOMFIELD, NEW MEXICO—Road workers widening the highway near Salmon Ruins in northwestern New Mexico uncovered pieces of charcoal, pottery, burned corn fibers, and fragments of a grinding stone. “I could see the reddish color with hand-painted black lines [on the pottery] and knew this was something,” laborer Hector Beyale told The Farmington Daily Times. Larry Baker, executive director at Salmon Ruins, thinks the site may have been a trash deposit dating between 1100 and 1300 A.D., due to the diversity of the shards recovered there. “I’ll be cleaning them up a bit and identifying the origins of the pottery fragments, if we can, to see whether they come from nearby or far away,” added ceramic specialist Tori Myers. 

5th-Century Synagogue Yields Unusual Mosaic

  CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—The Jewish Daily Forward offers a report on the third mosaic unearthed at a late Roman synagogue at Huqoq, in Israel’s Lower Galilee, by a team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham Young University, Trinity University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Wyoming. The image is thought to be the first non-biblical story illustrated in an ancient synagogue. The other mosaics depict Samson and the foxes, and Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders. The third mosaic shows a bull pierced by spears and gushing blood, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield in its lowest register. The middle register consists of an arcade where young men are arranged around an elderly man holding a scroll. The uppermost register depicts a meeting between a bearded, diademed soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak. He is leading a large bull by the horns and is accompanied by soldiers and elephants. An elderly man wearing a white tunic and mantle is accompanied by young men who are also wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying sheathed swords. “Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest. Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature,” said team leader Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina.  

Children’s Skulls Encircled Bronze Age Villages

  BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Children’s skulls have been found at the edges of the palisades surrounding Bronze Age villages built on stilts at Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany. Some of the skulls showed signs of ax blows or other head traumas, but Benjamin Jennings of Basel University and his colleagues don’t think that the children were offered as human sacrifices. The children’s irregular wounds were probably inflicted during battle, and their remains were moved long after their initial burial, perhaps intended to ward off the regular flooding of the lakes. At one site, the bones had been placed at the high-water mark of the floodwaters. “Across Europe as a whole there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged,” Jennings told Live Science.