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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 01

Blood Residue From Ancient Tools Tested

  COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Ancient tools collected by Christopher Moore and his colleagues at the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program at the University of South Carolina are being tested for traces of animal blood at the University of Calgary. “It appears that when hunter-gatherers made a tool by flaking, it produced numerous microfractures in the rock. Those microfractures apparently absorb blood protein or blood residue during any kind of butchery or cutting or scraping activity. The cracks in the rocks are like tiny caves that protect the residue from the elements, and it is preserved,” Moore told The Aiken Standard. The samples can then be analyzed using antisera, but the exact species of animal can’t be identified. Tools from the Paleo-Indian period revealed traces of deer, rabbit, cat, and bison, but not mammoths or mastodons. “It would have been really cool to have seen that, so I was a little disappointed. But it’s also interesting that it wasn’t there,” Moore said. Tools from the Early Archaic period yielded similar results, with the addition of doglike mammals. DNA analysis and the study of more tools could produce additional information.   

Chariot Tomb Discovered in Northern France

PARIS, FRANCE—Art Daily reports that a Gallic tomb containing a chariot is being excavated ahead of road construction in northern France by a team of archaeologists from the Ardennes departmental archaeology unit and Inrap. Iron wheel bands whose interiors are covered with gold leaf, and bronze hub decorations set with glass have been uncovered in the wood-lined tomb. Bronze decorations from the chariot, its wooden shaft, and the remains of two small horses have also been found. Burials of this type emerged in the seventh century B.C., but further research is needed to determine the age of this tomb. 

The Colosseum in the Middle Ages

  ROME, ITALY—Excavations beneath the arched entrances to the Colosseum by archaeologists and students from Roma Tre University and the American University of Rome revealed late medieval dwellings, including terracotta sewage pipes, pottery, and foundations of a twelfth-century wall. A tiny monkey figurine carved from ivy was also found—it may have served as a chess piece. “This excavation has allowed us to identify an entire housing lot from the late medieval period,” Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum, told Discovery News. At that time, the monument was controlled by friars who rented space for housing, stables, and workshops, turning the arena into a huge courtyard. The residents moved out when the Colosseum was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1349.  

Baby Boom & Population Collapse in the Ancient Southwest

  PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Tim Kohler and Kelsey Reese of Washington State University analyzed thousands of skeletal remains from hundreds of archaeological sites across Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. By determining how many of the remains, which date from 900 B.C. to the early 1500s, belonged to children between the ages of 5 and 19, they were able to estimate that the birthrate slowly increased until about 400 A.D., and then rose more quickly and then leveled off around 1100. On average, each woman gave birth to more than six children during this period of “baby boom.” The population explosion coincided with the shift from nomadic hunting and gathering to maize farming, and may have provided women with the calories needed to produce and care for larger families. “We begin to see much more substantial dwellings, indicating that people are spending a much longer period of time in specific places,” Kohler told Live Science. A steep decline in the birthrate after 1300 may reflect a severe drought in the 1100s; the effects of harmful protozoa, bacteria, and viruses carried by irrigation; and violence.    

Monday, June 30

Meteorite Fragment Found in Mesolithic Dwelling

  SZCZECIN, POLAND—A meteorite fragment has been discovered in the remains of a 9,000-year-old dwelling in the peat near Lake Świdwie in northwestern Poland. The pyrite meteorite fragment is cylindrical in shape, porous, and surprisingly heavy for its size. “The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials,” Tadeusz Galiński of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Tools made of flint, wood, bone, and antler, and objects associated with spiritual culture, such as an amulet, an engraved bone spear tip, and a stick made of antler and decorated with geometric motifs, were also discovered. A second dwelling contained traces of hearths.  

Evidence Suggests Torture at Sacred Ridge Massacre Site

  LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—New research indicates that the 33 men and women, whose processed and mutilated bones were discovered in two pit houses near Durango, Colorado, were tortured before their deaths some 1,200 years ago. Anna Osterholtz of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found evidence of that the victims’ ankles had been broken by blunt-force trauma, well as signs that the soles of the feet had been beaten. “Tool marks and fractures to the rest of the body’s elements had other explanations, including processing or perimortem trauma, but the tool marks and peeling on the foot elements would serve no such purpose, and would only have been useful in causing pain,” she explained to Western Digs. Earlier analysis of elements in the victims’ teeth by James Potter and Jason Chuipka suggests that they had grown up in the area of Sacred Ridge. Osterholtz speculates that the torture may have been used by an invading population to control the residents of Sacred Ridge before and during the massacre. The site was abandoned soon after it occurred.    

Scientists Will Investigate Ancient Inuit Hunting Camp

WINNIPEG, CANADA—A hunting camp, estimated to be 1,000 years old, will be mapped and examined next week by a research team led by archaeologist Virginia Petch of Northern Lights Heritage Services. The site’s 22 large tent rings, food caches, kayak rests, and burials are located just south of the Manitoba-Nunavut border, on the western coast of Hudson Bay. “It was very safe. You could see the beluga coming in. You could see the seals. If you looked inland, you could see caribou and you could watch out for bears. There would be fish in the river. It was a very productive area for people to be,” she told The Hamilton Spectator. The site is thought to have been used by the Thule, the ancestors of today’s Inuit. The team will leave the burials intact.

Gang Members Arrested for Looting in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the leader of a gang specializing in looting archaeological sites was arrested in his home in Giza’s Abu Sir village, where Islamic coins, a dozen ushabti figurines, and a replica statue were recovered by police. The artifacts are thought to have been plundered from the area of Abu Sir and will be authenticated by members of the Ministry of Antiquities.

Friday, June 27

NPS Seeks Improved Experience at Mesa Verde

DURANGO, COLORADO—Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park are asking the public for ideas to relieve congestion and overcrowding at its most popular sights. “It is no secret Chapin Mesa gets overrun. The plan has always been to redirect visitors and traffic to Wetherill Mesa, but that has not worked out as well as we had hoped,” deputy superintendent Bill Nelligan told The Cortez Journal. For example, visitors may now prefer to walk, bicycle, or take a bus through the park, rather than drive pollution-producing private vehicles through its winding, narrow roadways. Heavy crowds also damage the kivas. “Improving opportunities like trails separate from the road, and more self-guided areas, so visitors have a sense of exploration and discovery is the goal of the plan,” he said.

Hatra Claimed by Iraqi Militants

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—The Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq have gained control of the third-century B.C. Temple of Mrn at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple, dedicated to the god Shamash, had been protected by a squad of 20 Iraqi policemen, but they reportedly fled when the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters. “Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing,” councilor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Telegraph. The site gained notoriety as a location in the opening scene of the 1973 film The Exorcist