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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 23

Denisova Cave Yields a 50,000-Year-Old Needle

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A needle measuring two and three-quarters of an inch long has been unearthed in Denisova Cave, in a layer where Denisovan remains have been found. According to a report in The Siberian Times, the 50,000-year-old needle, complete with an eye for thread, was crafted from a large bird bone. “As of today it is the most ancient needle in the world,” said Mikhail Shunkov of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk. Additional, smaller needles have been found in younger layers of the cave. A Denisovan finger bone was first discovered in the cave, which is located in the Altai Mountains, in 2008. The cave is thought to have been occupied by Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans at one time or another over a period of more than 250,000 years. For more on the Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Ancient Copper Artifacts Found in Northern Germany

LOWER SAXONY, GERMANY—Deutsche Welle reports that a construction project in the city of Osnabrück has unearthed copper artifacts, including three pieces of jewelry and an ax. The objects are thought to date to the end of the Neolithic period, between 4,500 and 4,000 years ago. Conservators will clean and restore the items, and researchers will try to determine if they could be some of the oldest metal artifacts in Europe. For more, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

1,100-Year-Old Human Remains Discovered in Bolivia

EL SOTO, BOLIVIA—Human remains dated to 1,100 years ago have been unearthed at a Tupi-Guarani culture archaeological site in eastern Bolivia, according to a report in Telesur, based upon reporting from the local newspaper, El Deber. The skeleton is thought to have belonged to a young woman who had been buried lying curled on her side. Archaeologist Danilo Drakic explained that the site, discovered by schoolchildren who were planting a garden, was a trade center for people living as far away as the regions that are now Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Pottery, shells, and lapis stones imported from Chile have also been recovered. For more on archaeology in South America, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

Roman Artifacts Recovered at Fort Annex in Scotland

FALKIRK, SCOTLAND—Culture 24 reports that excavations at a settlement located outside the walls of Camelon Roman Fort in central Scotland have uncovered Roman socketed bolt heads, a spiraled ox-goad, 12 hobnails, traces of cereal grains, and the possible remains of a bread oven. Many of the artifacts, and industrial waste products from iron smelting, were retrieved from pits dated to between 41 B.C. and A.D. 116. Experts from Guard Archaeology say the bolt heads are blunted, suggesting that they may have been used by the soldiers stationed at the fort for target practice. The ox-goad, when placed on a wooden shaft, may have been used to control oxen pulling a plow. Some of the recovered nails bear traces of mineralized leather, but none of them were found corroded together, so they were probably not all from the same sandal or boot. The excavation also yielded pottery dated from the mid-first century to the third century that had been imported from Northern Gaul. To read about a silver hoard discovered in Scotland, go to "Lost and Found (Again)."

Monday, August 22

Ireland’s Iron-Age Eating Habits Studied

CORK, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that an international team of researchers collected data on animal bones and seeds from archaeological digs across southeast Ireland, and analyzed pollen extracted from a sediment core taken from a lake in Kilkenny, to learn what people ate between 2,700 and 2,000 years ago. “Cattle and pigs provided dairy and meat, barley was a staple, and we also have evidence of a variety of wheats, including spelt, emmer, and naked wheat,” said Katharina Becker of University College Cork. The researchers partnered with baker Declan Ryan to attempt to recreate baked products of Ireland's Iron Age. Since houses from the period do not contain recognizable hearths, Becker suggests that people may have gathered at boiling pits to eat. She speculates that the Iron-Age diet was probably plant-based, with meat and dairy foods served on special occasions. For more, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

Unusual Stone Slabs Unearthed at Ness of Brodgar

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A structure constructed of stone slabs up to 13 feet long has been found beneath a huge midden at the Ness of Brodgar by a team led by researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. According to a report in BBC News, archaeologists think the building, which measures some 33 feet wide, may have been the first structure at the site. Its unusual stones have rounded edges and may have been brought from another site and reused. “Perhaps they may be part of a stone circle that predates the main Ness site. It is a bit of a mystery and we won’t know more until we do more work,” said site director Nick Card. Most of the other structures at the Ness of Brodgar were made of pieces of flagstone and may also have had slate roofs. The site sits between two Neolithic monuments, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness, and is thought to have served as a gathering place for more than 1,000 years. To read in-depth about this site, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

New Technique Reveals Images in a Fragile Codex

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that David Howell of the Bodleian Libraries and colleagues have discovered pictographic scenes under the layer of gesso that covers Codex Selden, a 20-page document created in southern Mexico in the sixteenth century from a long strip of deer hide. They used a technique known as hyperspectral imaging to reveal the pictures beneath the layer of chalk and plaster, which presumably was applied to the document to prepare it for reuse. The researchers analyzed seven pages of the codex—one of only 20 such texts produced in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans to have survived—and found glyphs and figures formed with red, yellow, and orange organic paints. Some of the images may record genealogical information, including two figures thought to represent siblings, since they are connected with a red umbilical cord. Other figures depict people walking with sticks or spears, and some of the female figures have red hair or headdresses. The name of one individual preserved in Codex Selden resembles that of an ancestral figure recorded in other codices, but more research is needed into the possibility that the documents refer to the same person. For more, go to "The Maya Codices."

Friday, August 19

Possible Prehistoric Settlement Unearthed on Scottish Island

IONA, SCOTLAND—The Press and Journal reports that a site believed to have been a prehistoric settlement has been unearthed on the island of Iona. The island is best known for the monastery founded in the sixth century A.D. by the monk Columba, who took refuge there after being exiled from his native Ireland. The new discoveries, made during a survey prior to building an extension of the island’s primary school, include pottery, flints, and other materials that may date back as far as 2,500 years. The excavation, which was led by Clare Ellis of Argyll Archaeology, also unearthed an extension to the island’s medieval wall. “What is most exciting to me is that the lines of the property that exist now are very similar to the property lines that existed more than 2,000 years ago,” said Ellis. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Ötzi the Iceman’s Clothing Analyzed

BOLZANO, ITALY—Researchers have used genetic analysis to determine which animals were used to make the clothes worn by Ötzi the Iceman, according to a report in Live Science. The results show that Ötzi, who died 5,300 years ago in the Ötztal Alps on the border of Austria and Italy and whose well-preserved mummy was discovered by hikers in 1991, wore an outfit fashioned from a range of animals likely selected for the different properties of their skin or fur. His shoes were made from hardy cattle leather, his leggings from more supple goatskin. His coat was made from sheep, for warmth, his hat from brown bear, and his quiver from deer. The researchers believe the evidence indicates that Ötzi obtained at least some of his garments or the material to make them via trade. “It is probable that the Iceman was not a hermit,” said Niall O’Sullivan of the University College Dublin in Ireland and the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman. “He likely traded furs or domestic animals.” To read more about Ötzi, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

Bronze Age Grave Discovered in Siberia

  ABAKAN, RUSSIA—In the Russian republic of Khakassia in southern Siberia, archaeologists excavating a Bronze Age cemetery have unearthed the grave of a woman who was buried with an unusual number of artifacts. The Siberian Times reports that the woman, who was accompanied by the remains of a child, lived sometime between 2500 and 1800 B.C., and was likely a person of high status. She was buried with a bronze knife, some 100 animal teeth pendants, and a dress decorated with about 1,500 beads. The excavation director, Andrey Polyakov, was particularly excited by the discovery of a ceramic incense burner in the grave, which was decorated with sun motifs that are similar to those found on rock art in the region. "Its importance is hard to overestimate," says Polyakov. "All such images previously discovered had been found only on cliffs or separate stones. Now there is the prospect to find out when they were made." To read more about archaeology in the area, go to "Letter From Siberia: Fortress of Solitude."

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