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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 06

Human Remains Uncovered at Neolithic Site in Wales

ANGLESEY, WALES—The Daily Post reports that human remains have been found at Llanfaethlu, a Neolithic site located on an island off the northwest coast of Wales. These include several teeth, which will help scientists learn more about the area's first farmers. The researchers, from CR Archaeology, also uncovered a fourth early Neolithic house at the site, in addition to decorated pottery dating to the middle Neolithic period, flint and stone tools, and flakes of rock crystal. Much of the stone is thought to have been imported from Ireland and England’s Peak District. For more go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Iron Age Remains from Orkney Analyzed

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands have analyzed a human jaw containing two worn teeth that was discovered earlier this year in a broch, or fortified roundhouse, at a site known as The Cairns. The jaw had been placed in a whalebone vertebra that had been shaped into a vessel and placed near the antlers of a red deer. The analysis indicates that the man had been at least 50 years old at the time of his death, which occurred sometime between A.D. 120 and 240. Bone had grown over the sockets of his missing teeth. The results of isotopic studies of human remains from this period usually indicate little fish in the diet, even in coastal areas, but this man had eaten a diet rich in fish. Site director Martin Carruthers suggests that the man may have been an important person whose death led to the special burial and the abandonment of the broch. For more on archaeology in Orkney, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Students Investigate Ireland’s “Deserted Village”

DOOAGH, IRELAND—Irish Central reports that students from the Achill Archaeological Field School have been investigating a remote nineteenth-century village of around 40 houses located near Keem Bay, on the western tip of Achill Island. The people who lived in the village grew potatoes and perhaps oats and raised cattle. Their single-room houses were built of drystone walls more than three feet thick, and had rounded corners and a single door facing the bay. Central hearths were placed on the earthen floors. Smoke from peat fires would have traveled out the door and through the thatched roofs. The larger of the houses excavated by the team measured about 23 feet long by 10 feet wide, and may have also been a winter home for cattle, since it had a stone-lined drain near the door. The students also uncovered pieces of fine, decorated earthenware from English potteries, three glass beads that may have been part of a rosary, and lumps of amethyst from a nearby quarry that were sold to tourists drawn by the Protestant Achill Mission, which was founded in 1831. The village is thought to have been abandoned during the Great Famine of the 1840s. For more on archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Industrial Pollution in the Ancient World

WATERLOO, CANADA—CBC News reports that a dry riverbed in the Wadi Faynan region of southern Jordan has yielded evidence of pollution caused by copper smelting some 7,000 years ago. At the time, according to Russell Adams of the University of Waterloo, people were experimenting with heating charcoal and copper ore in pottery vessels over a fire. By 2600 B.C., copper was being mined and smelted in furnaces on a large scale. Adams thinks the waste materials produced by thousands of years of smelting copper, including zinc, lead, arsenic, and thallium, were probably absorbed by plants and consumed by animals and people, to the detriment of their health. And, in fact, high levels of copper and lead have been found in human bones dating back to the Roman period. Adams and his colleagues are continuing to study the extent of the pollution as metal production expanded in the Wadi Faynan region. For more on ancient pollution, go to “The Environmental Cost of Empire.”

Evidence Suggests Paleolithic Diet Included Plenty of Plants

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—New Scientist reports that remnants of edible plants dating back 780,000 years have been found at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in northern Israel. Evidence of more than 50 different kinds of plants was preserved in the waterlogged site, along with evidence of occupation, probably by Homo erectus. The plant remains suggest that, in addition to animal foods, Paleolithic human ancestors ate a wide variety of seasonal nuts, fruits, seeds, leaves, stems, roots, and tubers, which were collected from plants, trees, and shrubs. Gesher Benot Ya’aqov is also known for its early evidence of the use of fire by human ancestors. Naama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explained that roasting the region’s plants would have made more of them edible. “The modern human diet is clearly restricted when compared to the [early] hominin diet or even to the early farmers’ diet,” said Goren-Inbar. For more, go to “Evolve and Catch Fire.”

Monday, December 05

Bronze-Age Bone Objects Discovered in Cremated Remains

DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN—Isle of Man News reports that Michelle Gamble of the Manx Museum discovered a collection of small bone objects while reassessing a box of cremated human remains excavated from a cist tomb in 1947. The stone-lined grave contained 4,000-year-old burned bone fragments, two flint tools, and two pots. The bones are thought to have come from four skeletons mixed together, including two adults, one of which was male, an adolescent, and an infant. Gamble explained that the bone objects were burned as well and mixed in with the cremated human remains. One of the objects was a bone pommel for a bronze knife—the first to be found on the Isle of Man. The other objects include a bone point or pin that may have been attached to clothing or a head covering. Gamble and her team are still examining what may be bone beads and worked bone strips. The bone items may have been worn by the dead, or placed on the funeral pyre by the mourners. The researchers have not been able to determine whether all four burials took place at the same time. For more, go to “Artifact: Bronze Age Dagger.”

Evidence of Malaria Parasites Found in Ancient Roman Teeth

HAMILTON, CANADA—The International Business Times reports that genetic evidence for the presence of malaria in the ancient world has been found in human teeth. Historical sources describe fevers in ancient Greece and Rome, but the specific disease that caused them has been unknown. A team of researchers led by geneticist Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University’s Ancient DNA Center examined mitochondrial DNA obtained from the teeth of 58 adults and ten children who had been buried in three different cemeteries in Italy between the first and third centuries A.D. They found genetic evidence of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that causes malaria, in teeth from two individuals. Plasmodium falciparum is the most common species of malaria parasite that infects people in sub-Saharan Africa—and the most deadly. Scholars now want to know how widespread the parasite was in the ancient world. The new evidence also provides scientists with more information about how the disease has evolved. For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

Island Monastery May Be Britain’s First

SOMERSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that radiocarbon dating of human remains unearthed earlier this year at Beckery Chapel revealed that they date to the fifth or early sixth century A.D. “It’s the earliest archaeological evidence we’ve got for monasticism,” said Richard Brunning of the South West Heritage Trust. The wattle-and daub monastery buildings stood on a small island near the future site of Glastonbury Abbey, which dates to the seventh century. In the 1960s, an excavation at Beckery Chapel unearthed 50 to 60 skeletons. Most of the burials contained the remains of adult males, but the bones of two young men, perhaps novice monks, and a woman’s skeleton, thought to have been a visitor, were also found. Further analysis of the bones could reveal whether the monks were locals, or whether they traveled to region to join the monastery. Burials at the cemetery are thought to have stopped in the early ninth century, when the Vikings attacked southwest England. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Friday, December 02

Dutch Authorities Return Sculpture to Italy

ROME, ITALY—The Associated Press reports that Dutch police returned a second-century marble sculpture of the Roman empress Giulia Domna to Italian authorities at a ceremony in Amsterdam. The 12-inch head is thought to have been plundered from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli in 2012. Two people have been charged with the theft and with trying to sell the sculpture at an auction in Amsterdam. Carabinieri Major Massimo Maresca said that the auction house alerted Italian authorities. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

Roman Ruler of Judea Named in 1,900-Year-Old Inscription

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that the name of a Roman ruler of Judea has been found in a 1,900-year-old inscription by scholars from the University of Haifa. Gargilius Antiques is now thought to have ruled over Judea in the years prior to the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome, which was fought between 132 and 136 A.D. The seven-line inscription, carved on a 1,300-pound rock, was found underwater at the site of Tel Dor, an ancient port city on the Mediterranean Sea. The rock may have been a statue base. “This is ... just the second time that the mention of Judea has been discovered in inscriptions traced back to the Roman era,” noted Assaf Yasur-Landau of Haifa University. To read more about underwater archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

2,000-Year-Old Pet Cemetery Unearthed in Egypt

NEWARK, DELAWARE—USA Today reports that a 2,000-year-old pet cemetery has been discovered near a trash heap at the archaeological site of Berenike, a remote Roman port town on the Red Sea. The remains of dogs, monkeys, and cats have been unearthed. Some of the carcasses had been carefully placed under mats or jars. A few of them were wearing iron collars, some of which were decorated with ostrich-shell beads. Marta Osypińska of the Polish Academy of Sciences notes that the necks of the cats were not twisted, as the necks of cats mummified for ritual reasons often were. The remains of a mastiff-like dog suffering from bone cancer was found to have eaten a final meal of fish and goat, before its body was wrapped in a basket and covered with pieces of pottery. The dog is thought to have been imported from Greece or Rome, and was “a very loved animal,” said Steven Sidebotham of the University of Delaware. “What makes this unique is (despite) the very rough circumstances in which these people are living, they still manage to find the time and effort to have companion animals with them,” he said. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”

U.S. Repatriates Artifacts to Egypt

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Five artifacts seized by federal agents have been handed over to Egyptian officials in a ceremony at the Egyptian embassy in Washington D.C. by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a report from ABC News. The objects, including a child’s wooden sarcophagus, a mummy shroud, and a mummified hand, were recovered during investigations based in New York and Los Angeles. Dubbed “Operation Mummy’s Curse” and “Operation Mummy’s Hand,” the investigations uncovered a network of smugglers, importers, money launderers, restorers, and purchasers. The agents traced the artifacts and money to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq, France, and other nations. Yasser Reda, Egyptian ambassador to the United States, praised the agents for their efforts, saying that their work is essential to the preservation of the world's ancient cultures. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”