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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, February 13

Lake Sediments Record Climate Change at Cahokia

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA—National Public Radio reports that climatologist Broxton Bird of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and colleagues analyzed layers of calcite crystals interspersed with layers of mud on the bottom of Indiana’s Martin Lake in order to learn about historic rainfall levels at Cahokia. The study suggests that beginning in the 900s, the Central Mississippi Valley received more rain than usual. And carbon isotopes found in skeletons at Mississippian cities indicate that people ate a lot of corn. “That comes at right around 950, and that’s around the time the population at Cahokia explodes,” Bird said. Then around A.D. 1200, at a time of increased worldwide volcanic activity, the weather pattern in North America shifted. “We switch to profound drought at A.D. 1350,” Bird explained. According to the climate record in the Martin Lake sediments, the drought lasted for 500 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that palisades were built at Cahokia after A.D. 1250, villages were burned, and skeletal remains show signs of decapitations and other injuries. Bird and his colleagues think climate change and food scarcity prompted the residents to migrate to the south and east, where conditions were less extreme. For more, go to “Breaking Cahokia’s Glass Ceiling.”

Comala-Period Figurines Discovered in Mexico

COLIMA, MEXICO—Live Science reports that a 1,700-year-old tomb was discovered in western Mexico during the renovation of a church. The entrance to the rare, intact tomb had been sealed with stones, grinding tools, and human bones. Inside, researchers discovered 12 skulls and additional bones in piles. Physical anthropologist Rosa María Flores Ramírez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said that some of the skulls showed signs of damage, tooth fractures, and wear. Excavation of the tomb revealed additional burial levels. The second level contained two polished figurines sculpted from fine paste and decorated with ochre that had been placed facedown, along with two skulls. One of the figurines is thought to be a male shaman wearing an elaborate headdress and holding an ax. It measures about 15 inches tall. The other figurine is thought to be female, measures about 12.5 inches tall, and has a triangular head with a sharp nose. She has her hands crossed, holds a pot, and wears a banded headdress. Two other pots were also found in the burial. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

Sarcophagus Fragment Returned to Greece

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Courthouse News reports that a fragment of the marble façade of an ancient Greek sarcophagus, thought to have been stolen from Thessaloniki in 1989, was handed over to Greece’s consul general Konstantinos Koutras in a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The sculpture, which dates to A.D. 200 and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan warriors, was recently recovered from a Manhattan art gallery. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., warned art galleries in his statement at the ceremony to “be on guard” for looted objects. “The process of establishing an item’s provenance may not be easy,” Vance said, “and it’s often not straightforward, but the alternative is the implicit endorsement of an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance.” The sarcophagus fragment will be displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “Regime Change in Athens.”

Friday, February 10

Ancient Tomb Surveyed Near Japan’s Fukushima Power Plant

FUKUSHIMA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that researchers from Tohoku University Museum, along with government officials from the town of Futaba, employed 3-D technology to create a map of the seventh-century Kiyotosakuoketsu tomb. The tomb is located in an area of high radiation levels less than two miles away from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011. “We want to collect the accurate data as this is a valuable cultural asset,” said archaeologist Atsushi Fujisawa. The tomb contains a mural that consists of a spiral pattern, people riding horses, and other animals and objects painted in red. The researchers found that white crystallized minerals have formed on part of the mural, and a tree root has grown through the ceiling of the tomb. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Animal Burials Unearthed in England

SHROPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Shropshire Live reports that the remains of three people and several animals have been found at the site of a church that could date to the Anglo-Saxon period. A flint was found in the ribs of a calf buried side-by-side with a pig. The remains of a large dog, which had died giving birth, was buried near six chickens. The team also uncovered a pig that may have been interred in a leather-covered wooden coffin. The bones of a pregnant goat, another dog, and what may be a large goose have also been found. “The bones don’t show any signs of butchery, and the animals appear to have been deliberately and carefully laid in the ground,” said archaeologist Janey Green of Baskerville Archaeological Services. “To find animals buried in consecrated ground is incredibly unusual because it would have been a big no-no,” Green explained. The bones may be linked to a nearby prehistoric burial mound, however, and once they have been dated, they will be reburied at the site. For more on the Anglo-Saxons, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Students Experiment With Ancient Brewing Techniques

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—National Public Radio reports that archaeologist Li Liu of Stanford University and her students brewed an ancient beer recipe derived from the residues detected in pottery vessels unearthed in northeast China. The ingredients included millet, barley, a type of grass known as Job’s tears, yam, and lily root. The students started the fermentation process by either sprouting the grains or chewing them and spitting them out. The mixtures were then heated and allowed to rest for a week. The brewing experiments produced a fermented porridge that was low in alcohol but rich in nutrients. “I think the early beer is not just for drink[ing],” Liu said. “It’s a food.” Liu added that she had been surprised to find barley in the residues of 5,000-year-old beers because the earliest known evidence of barley in China dates to about 4,000 years ago. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Thursday, February 09

Prehistoric Stone Ax Returned to Egypt

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—Ahram Online reports that scientists at Louvain University handed over a 35,000-year-old ax to the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels. The stone ax was discovered by an excavation team from Louvain University at the Nazlet Khater archaeological site in Upper Egypt. A skeleton from the site that had been in Belgium since 1980 was returned in 2015. Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department has proposed that the skeleton and the ax be put on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Update From Downtown St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—First Coast News reports that excavations in downtown St. Augustine have uncovered additional human remains at a site thought to be the home of a sixteenth-century church. The remains were found beneath the floor of a building at King and Charlotte Streets that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. According to city archaeologist Carl Halbirt, the bones could represent some of the city’s first European residents. The burials are in the Christian style, with the skulls to the east and the arms crossed over the body, and are thought to date to between 1572 and 1586. “We can actually start to look at small pieces of bone and tooth,” said biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida. “You can start to get access to diet. Are they eating a lot of fish, corn, wheat?” DNA may also be collected from the bone samples. “This would provide clues as to what is going on in St. Augustine in the sixteenth century,” Halbirt said. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Pebbles May Have Linked Paleolithic Mourners to the Deceased

MONTRÉAL, CANADA—The International Business Times reports that a team of scientists from the Université de Montréal, Arizona State University, and the University of Genoa found marine pebbles in Italy’s Arene Candide Cave that hunter-gatherers may have used to apply ochre paste to the dead between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. The remains of about 20 people have been found in the cave, which is located in a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The pebbles, found in pieces in the cave, are thought to have been collected on the shoreline, and then broken in half when the ritual painting was completed. The researchers attempted to reassemble the pebble fragments recovered during the excavation, but no matching halves were found, suggesting that half of a pebble was left with the dead, while the other half was carried away as a talisman or souvenir. Claudine Gravel-Miguel of Arizona State University said that the new evidence could push the earliest known case of the ritual breaking of objects back by 5,000 years. For more, go to “Paleo-Dentistry.”