Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 23

Baby Teeth Show Modern Humans Made Innovative Tools

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of two baby teeth from northern Italy—one found at the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter, and other at the Grotta di Fumane—has shown that the innovative stone tools and ornaments of the Protoaurignacian culture were made by modern humans, and not Neanderthals. Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna measured the thickness of the enamel on the tooth from Riparo Bombrini and found it to be thick, as in modern humans. Neanderthals had relatively thin enamel. Radiocarbon dates of bone and charcoal from the site suggest that the child lived some 40,000 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the other tooth, which is also some 40,000 years old. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found that the mitochondrial DNA belonged to a known modern human lineage. These sophisticated tools may have given modern humans a competitive edge over the Neanderthals. “The association of modern remains with the earliest Aurignacian-related archaeological context now provides physical evidence that the arrival of our species on the continent triggered the demise of Neanderthals, who disappeared a couple of millennia later,” paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute said in a press release. To read about a masterpiece of Paleolithic art, see "New Life for Lion Man."

Divers Return to Franklin’s HMS Erebus

NUNAVUT, CANADA—Bad weather has cut the latest expedition to HMS Erebus, the flagship of the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, from ten days to five. Divers from Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Navy descended through triangular-shaped holes in the ice to the wreck, which was abandoned by Franklin’s crew in 1848. So far the team has seen at least one sailor’s boot and a cannon lying next to the vessel. Flora Davidson, a Parks Canada conservator, watched the video feed from cameras on the divers’ masks and made plans for the cannon in case it can be lifted. “I was trying to see how it was sitting, identify all the features at the breech end," she told The Star"We’re still not quite sure if it’s a knob or if it’s got a handle where the rope would go into the threshold. And I’m checking the silt, if it were to be lifted, how it would be done. I’m concerned about the surface in that area, but the cannon seems to be upside down. If there are any markings, they’re going to be on the top side, which is inverted and it’ll be in the silt. So I expect it to be better conserved. I’m happy about that.” The Parks Canada team is also making plans with British officials for the event that they come across human remains at the wreck site. “If we see human remains, we take some photo documentation to help us down the line, but we stay away from that area until further notice after discussions with them,” explained Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada. To read about the initial discovery of the wreck, see "Canada Finds Erebus."

CCC Camp Uncovered in Connecticut

MADISON, CONNECTICUT—From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided housing, food, and employment building roads, foot trails, and planting trees for 3.5 million young people during the Great Depression. The Madison Land Conservation Trust has spent the last year excavating Camp Hadley, one of 23 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Connecticut. The team of trust members, volunteers, and students from Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) has unearthed pottery, rusty cans, bottles, hardware, and foundations of a recreation hall/classroom, mess hall, cistern, infirmary, commissary, three probably barracks, the Chief Forester’s Cabin, an incinerator, and the latrine/washroom. “The student involvement has been inspiring and it is exciting to see young people out appreciating and improving a site that was originally built for young people not much older than they are,” Jason Englehardt, trust member and DHHS teacher told The Shoreline Times. To read about the archaeology of an American labor conflict that just predated the Depression, see "Mountaintop Rescue."

Wednesday, April 22

Statistical Study Analyzes Lapita Seafaring Strategies

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Adrian Bell of the University of Utah and his colleagues developed a model of the colonization of remote islands in the Pacific Ocean by adapting an epidemiological model of how diseases spread among people and animals. “We model ocean migrants as ‘infecting’ uninhabited islands,” Bell explained in a press release. The team used the model to analyze some of the different theories of how the Lapita reached the 24 major island groups in the Pacific using dates obtained through archaeological research. Some of the variables include island size, distances from other islands, prevalent wind directions, and the inferred level of social hierarchy among the people living on the island. “So as the model moves forward in time, it will suggest some islands to be colonized first rather than others. How well it matches up with the data will distinguish which model comes out on top,” Bell said. The team found that the migrants “weren’t just drifting around,” but had a strategy for the best way to discover new places, traveling into the wind and moving to big islands that were more easily visible. “Here we have demonstrated how we can go beyond the construction of plausible narratives and ad hoc interpretations of archaeological information in order to develop explicit models of different colonization strategies and rigorously test them against the data,” reads the study, published in American Antiquity. To read about human colonization of Hawaii, see "Inside Kauai's Past."

Precision Grasping Modeled for Early Human Ancestors

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—An international team of of scientists led by robotics engineers Thomas Feix and Aaron Dollar of Yale University has created a kinematic model of the thumbs and index fingers of living primates and human ancestors based upon measurements of their digits’ segments. This method analyzes the interaction between the thumb and index finger, and suggests that human ancestors may have had precision-grip capabilities comparable to those of modern humans. According to the study, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between 3.8 and three million years ago, may have had greater dexterity than what was required for cutting with a stone, and may have been able to use other tools not preserved in the archaeological record. “The model reveals that a long thumb or great joint mobility alone does not necessarily yield good precision manipulation,” Feix said in a press release. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, see "No Changeups on the Savannah."

Ancient Marine Management in the Pacific Northwest

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Last year, Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University and her team announced that ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest, which range from Alaska to Washington State, produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. Their new study has found that many clam gardens are more than 1,000 years old, and that they were managed in a variety of ways, including replanting of small clams and building rock terrace walls at the low tide line to create conditions that are ideal for clam growth. Beaches were also cleared of rubble that would limit clam habitat. The abundant and sustainable harvests of clams from the gardens would have supported the dense ancient First Nations settlements along the coastline. “We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented. This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders,” Lepofsky said in a press release. To read about Lepofsky's research in-depth, see "The Edible Seascape."

Neolithic-Era Jaw From Atapuerca Has an Extra Molar

ATAPUERCA, SPAIN—A human jaw recovered from El Mirador Cave has a rare supernumerary tooth that has been examined with Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) by a team of researchers from the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social (IPHES), the Universitat Rovira I Virgili (URV), and the Faculty of Dentistry at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC). Human dentition is usually composed of three molars in each side of the upper and lower jaw. This jaw, which probably belonged to a 40-year-old man who lived between 4,760 and 4,200 years ago, had a fourth molar in the lower mandible. “In the case of archaeological populations there are very few studied and published examples of supernumerary teeth. Therefore, it is a novelty,” Marina Lozano, an IPHES researcher and a professor at URV, said in a press release. The Neolithic diet of starchy carbohydrates and a lack of dental hygiene increased the occurrence of dental caries among early farmers. These teeth show signs of severe dental wear, decay, abscesses, pulpitis, periodontal disease, tooth-picking marks in an upper molar, and arthritis of the temporomandibular joint. “This diagnosis confirms that oral health from the Neolithic became worse in agriculture and livestock populations,” she explained. To read about another instance of unusual ancient dentition, see "The Case of the Missing Incisors."

Tuesday, April 21

Sediment Cores Reflect Maya Adaptations to Climate Change

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—A new study of lake sediment cores in Mexico’s northern Yucatan region and in Guatemala has found that markers of historic droughts in Central America correspond with patterns of disruption in Maya society. “Our work demonstrates that the southern Maya lowlands experienced a more severe drought compared to the north. The south was the center of the Maya population, and their capacity to adapt was limited. The north was already accustomed to fairly dry conditions and did much better. There was actual expansion there after the collapse, but the southern cities never recovered,” Mark Pagani of Yale University said in a press release. The team examined hydrogen and carbon isotopes in leaf waxes from the sediment cores. The hydrogen isotopes provided information on drought, and the carbon isotope signatures provided information on agricultural methods. Peter Douglas of the California Institute of Technology notes that early in the drought period, the Maya adapted their method of farming maize from slash and burn to a more intensive system of agriculture so that their populations continued to grow. “The research makes clear that the ancient Maya were not passive victims of climate change—they adapted in response to drought, but it only worked up to a point,” Douglas added. To read in-depth about ancient Maya civilization, see "The Maya Sense of Time."

Old Kingdom Mastaba Found in Quesna

CAIRO, EGYPT—Mamdouh El Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, announced that a mastaba, or mud-brick tomb, from the Old Kingdom period had been found in Quesna, which is better known for its Roman period antiquities. “In 2010 a mud-brick monument was located in the north of the site that had beer jars dating to the early Old Kingdom. The shape of this monument suggested that it was a mastaba, but further investigations were needed to fully understand the architecture and its exact date. In the last few days of the 2014 excavation, an extraordinary artifact was found in one of the two burial niches—a seal impression bearing the name of King Khaba within a serekh,” Joanne Rowland of the Free University of Berlin said in a statement released by the Egypt Exploration Society. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a serekh is the rectangular enclosure that surrounds the text of a royal name. King Khaba ruled during the Third Dynasty for about six years, and this tomb is the first to be found in more than 100 years that can be assigned to his reign. The tiny fragment was found by team member Yassen Hasan Abdallah Omer, who carefully examined every piece of mud removed from the site. To read about another tomb recently unearthed in Egypt, see "Tomb of the Chantress."

Iron Age Owl Brooch Unearthed in Denmark

BORNHOLM, DENMARK—An enameled bronze brooch has been unearthed near the east coast of the island of Bornholm, located in the Baltic Sea. Shaped like an owl, the brooch, which has large orange eyes and colorful wings, dates to the Iron Age, and would have been used to fasten a man’s cloak. “There are very few of these types of fasteners,” archaeologist Christina Seehusen of Bornholm Museum told The Copenhagen Post. It was probably made along the Roman frontier, in Cologne or another nearby town. “There have been a number of discoveries in graves and settlements on the island that show there was contact with many parts of the world including frequent contact with parts of the Roman Empire,” Seehusen said. To read about another remarkable artifact discovered in Denmark, see "Bronze Age Dagger."

Thracian Child Sacrifice Discovered in Bulgaria

MURSALEVO, BULGARIA—Skeletons of three children thought to have been sacrificed by the Thracians in the sixth century B.C. have been discovered in one of 20 ritual pits at a site in southwest Bulgaria. The pits were uncovered during rescue digs by archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences along the planned route of a new highway. Stones thought to have been used in the sacrificial ritual were also removed from the pit. Other pits contained the remains of food and animal offerings, such as the complete skeleton of a calf that was found with a knife blade. Archaeologists think that the Thracians honored the site because of the early Neolithic city that once stood there. The 8,000-year-old settlement had three parallel major streets divided by smaller, perpendicular streets. Each section formed by the streets held three or four homes built of plant stalks and clay. Artifacts from the homes include ceramic figurines of a mother goddess, tools, a golden earring, a button, and a needle. The city appears to have been deliberately burned, according to Archaeology in Bulgaria. To read about a recent archaeological discovery in Bulgaria, see "Thracian Treasure Chest."