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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 17

Denisovan DNA Extracted From Large, “Weird” Teeth

TORONTO, CANADA—Analysis of two molars from Siberia’s Denisova Cave by an international team of scientists confirms that they belonged to two adult male Denisovans who lived some 60,000 years apart. The earlier individual lived up to 130,000 years ago, while the more recent one lived between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. The teeth are larger than those of Neanderthals and modern humans. “In its size, it’s comparable to hominins that lived two or three million years ago…but the age of it shows that it’s very recent,” Bence Viola of the University of Toronto told CBC Canada. “The whole group probably had very large and weird teeth.” Denisovans probably had large jaws to accommodate these teeth. And genetic evidence indicates that a large, diverse population of Denisovans lived over much of Asia for tens of thousands of years. There may even be excavated fossils in China that have not been recognized as Denisovan yet. “I’m really convinced. The genetic data shows that these guys were spread over large parts of Asia, so we must have them,” Viola said. To read more, go to "Denisovan DNA."

Gold Coins, Ingots, Found in Western Han Dynasty Tomb

NANCHANG, CHINA—The Xinhua News Agency reports that 75 large gold coins and 25 hoof-shaped ingots have been discovered in a tomb in a Western Han Dynasty royal cemetery in Jiangxi Province. The 2,000-year-old tomb is thought to belong to Liu He, who served as emperor for only 27 days before he was deposed. The gold had been placed in three boxes under a bed in the tomb’s main chamber and may have been a gift from the emperor. The tomb has also yielded a portrait thought to represent Confucius; documents recorded on some 3,000 wooden tablets and bamboo slips; and artifacts made from bronze, gold, and jade. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles." 

Austria Returns Statue to Egypt

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—The Local, Austria, reports that an ancient ushabti figurine confiscated from two men who tried to sell it for more than two million euros has been returned to Egypt by Sabine Haag, director of Vienna’s Art History Museum. The two men, who were acquitted of receiving the allegedly stolen artifact, claimed to have bought it at a flea market. Museum officials authenticated the figurine, which is some 2,500 years old, and handed it over to the Egyptian ambassador Khaled Abdelrahman Abdellatif Shamaa. Ushabti figurines are grave goods that were intended to serve the deceased in the afterlife. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Byzantine Wine Press Unearthed in Southern Israel

NETIVOT, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, assisted by volunteers and students, unearthed a press that was used for the mass-production of wine some 1,500 years ago in a village in the Negev. “First, the grapes were pressed. Then the juice was funneled through canals to a pit where the sediment settled. From there, the wine was piped into vats lined with stone and marble, where it would ferment until it was stored in clay bottles,” supervisor Ilan Peretz said in a press release. A cross had been etched into seashells that decorated one of the vats of the wine press. The excavators also found a workshop and a public building that had been decorated with marble latticework in the form of a cross and flowers. The team also recovered tools, seals, cups, and oil lamps. For more on ancient wine, go to "A Prehistoric Cocktail Party."

Monday, November 16

“Fourth Strand” of European Ancestry Identified

DUBIN, IRELAND—The genomes of two hunter-gatherers whose 13,300 and 9,700-year-old remains were found in caves in the Caucasus have been mapped by an international team of researchers led by scientists from Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and Cambridge University. The study revealed that these two individuals belonged to a previously unknown fourth strand of ancient European ancestry. “This new lineage diverged from western European hunter-gatherers around the time of the first migrations of early modern humans into Europe about 45,000 years ago and from the ancestors of early farmers around the time of the glacial maximum, 25,000 years ago,” Andrea Manica of Cambridge University said in a press release. After the thaw, the Caucasus hunter-gatherers mixed with other groups, probably from the east. “The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now. We can now answer that as we’ve found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation,” she added. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Fortified Greek Settlement Found in Ukraine

WARSAW, POLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw and the National Ukrainian Academy of Sciences confirmed the location of a 2,000-year-old fortified Greek settlement along the Dnieper River, located near the Greek colony of Olbia, with aerial photographs taken with a kite and geophysical surveys. “Over a dozen similar settlements have been identified so far in the lower Dnieper. If we manage to raise adequate funds, we are planning to conduct research on a wider scale. In the first place we would like to do documentary work and geophysical surveys of each of the settlements because they are subject to systematic robbery excavations. Besides, they have never been comprehensively surveyed,” Marcin Matera of the University of Warsaw told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The settlement is thought to have been a trade center that linked the Dnieper steppes to the rest of the ancient world. To read more in-depth about the archaeology of ancient Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

Game Pieces Recovered From Looted Tomb in China

QINGZHOU CITY, CHINA—Live Science reports that a heavily looted tomb located near the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin in southern China has yielded pieces from a board game, including a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 game pieces with numbers painted on them, and a broken tile that was part of the game board. The pieces are thought to belong to a game called “bo,” also known as “liubo.” Researchers are not sure how the game was played, in part because it has not been played for some 1,500 years. Five pits for grave goods had been placed beside the 2,300-year-old tomb, which dates to the Warring States Period and is thought to belong to aristocrats from the state of Qi. Looters had dug 26 shafts into the tomb’s burial mound. “The coffin chamber was almost completely dug out and robbed, suffering severe damage in the process,” the archaeologists wrote in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. To read in-depth about Chinese archaeology, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

1,700-Year-Old Courtyard Mosaic Discovered in Israel

LOD, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a second high-quality mosaic floor in the southern part of a 1,700-year-old villa while preparing to build a visitor center at the site. The first mosaic, which served as the villa’s living room floor, is now touring museums around the world. The second mosaic was located in the villa’s courtyard, which was covered and surrounded by porticos, and depicts hunting and hunted animals, fish, flowers in baskets, vases, and birds. “The villa we found was part of a neighborhood of affluent houses that stood here during the Roman and Byzantine periods. At that time Lod was called Diospolis and was the district capital, until it was replaced by Ramla after the Muslim conquest. The building was used for a very long time,” excavation director Amir Gorzalczany said in a press release. “The eastern part of the complex could not be completely exposed because it extends beneath modern buildings in the neighborhood,” he added. To read in-depth about mosaics of this period, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Friday, November 13

Duck-Shaped Incense Shovel Found in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A 2,200-year-old incense shovel crafted in the shape of a duck was unearthed at Khirbet el-Eika near the Sea of Galilee by a team led by Uzi Leibner of The Hebrew University. Khirbet el-Eika was a fortified town built during the third century B.C. and destroyed around A.D. 140. Leibner thinks that the duck shovel, which is of Greco-Roman design and found in a public building, may have been a cultic object. Similar designs have been found on other ancient objects in the Levant, including two bronze ladles from a shipwreck off the coast of Ashkelon. And Greek amphorae bearing stamps from Rhodes and Kos were found in a nearby structure. These huge wine vessels would have had to have been transported 75 miles inland, and were probably imported by wealthy gentiles. “We can’t say for sure, but the hints seem to point to a pagan population [at Khirbet el-Eika],” Leibner told The Times of Israel. To read about mystery cults in the Greco-Roman world, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Construction Reveals Possible Maori Fortified Village

TARANAKI, NEW ZEALAND—A site that may be a pa, or Maori fortified village, was discovered on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island during a highway construction project. The pa may be Ketemarae, which was taken by imperial British Army troops in 1866 under Major-General Trevor Chute. “The project is on the border of where our ancient pa site was and so when they said they had found palisades there, well straight away I’m thinking there’s other things in the ground,” Clive Tongaawhikau, chair of Araukuuku hapu, a descent group, told Radio New Zealand. He explained that his ancestors may have hidden objects in the swamp when they were invaded, and that other remnants of ancestral housing have been found in the area. “We have had an archaeologist head out on site to have a preliminary look at the situation out there and her recommendation is there needs to be a little more testing to identify the extent of this and get an idea of what the site actually is,” commented Claire Craig of Heritage New Zealand. To read more about archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past." 

Possible World War II Crash Site Found in Northern France

NORMANDY, FRANCE—British aviation archaeologist Tony Graves thinks he has found the wreck site of a World War II British Stirling that was lost on June 18, 1944, in a farmer’s field in France. The plane had been carrying ammunition and paratroopers as part of a covert operation to aid the French Resistance, but it never arrived at its destination. Local people remember the chaos of battle that evening and a plane that fell out of the sky. All 23 people on board were lost. French authorities are reluctant to disturb a war grave with an excavation, however. “If there are any remains here, the police will be called and they’ll have a proper burial instead of laying under a field with cows trampling all over them,” Graves told CBC Canada. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."