Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 22

1,500-Year-Old Remains of Domesticated Turkeys Found in Mexico

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that the remains of domesticated adult and juvenile turkeys; whole, unhatched eggs; and eggshell fragments have been found in two residential structures dating to between A.D. 300 and 1200 at a Zapotec site known as Mitla Fortress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say the turkeys were used for food and in domestic rituals. Archaeologist Heather Lapham of the University of North Carolina uncovered five intact eggs alongside the remains of seven turkey hatchlings that are thought to have been left as an offering. The remains of adult turkeys were found nearby. In addition to the two houses, the team unearthed a grave containing three turkey skeletons, and two obsidian blades that may have been used to slaughter them. Turkey bones were also used to make tools and jewelry. Today, the Zapotec people prepare meat from animals introduced by the Spanish, such as chickens, cows, and pigs, but they prepare turkeys for special events such as birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals. For more, go to “Zapotec Power Rites.”

Bronze Age Burnt Mound Excavated in Scotland

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that road construction in Inverness has uncovered burned mounds dating to the Bronze Age. The mounds, made up of piles of burned waste, ash, and stones shattered by heat, were formed by repeated burning. Researchers from AOC Archaeology Group explained that the mounds are usually horseshoe shaped and found close to streams. The heated stones are thought to have been placed in pits filled with water in order to to heat it for cooking, washing wool, or as saunas. The excavation team also uncovered kilns that were used to dry grain, as well as Neolithic pottery fragments. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Neolithic Ceremonial Site Uncovered Near Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that a ceremonial site dating to 3650 B.C. has been found at Larkhill, about one and one-half miles north of Stonehenge. The causewayed enclosure measured about 220 yards in diameter, and was surrounded by ditches. Pottery, worked flint, animal bones, and human skull fragments have been found in the ditches. Excavators also uncovered a stone saddle quern used for grinding grain. The site is thought to have been used as a temporary settlement, where animals and goods could be exchanged, and for feasting, ritual activity, and disposal of the dead. The site is thought to be about 700 years older than Stonehenge, and to have been built by the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge. The discoveries have the potential to transform our understanding of prehistoric Wiltshire and the Stonehenge area specifically, according to Martin Brown, principal archaeologist for WYG, the firm in charge of archaeological work at the site. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Possible Trade Center Unearthed in Northern China

BEIJING, CHINA—The reports that the remains of a 20-foot-wide road flanked by traces of 1,000-year-old buildings have been unearthed at the site of Haifeng Town in China’s northern Hebei province. Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Cultural Relics Institute said that the excavation team has unearthed a hearth, fire pits, wall footings, bricks, tiles, and pieces of porcelain thought to date to the Jin (A.D. 960–1276) and Yuan (A.D. 1271–1368) dynasties. The town is thought to have been a port located at the mouth of a river, at the northern tip of the Maritime Silk Road, and may have been a trade center for porcelain and salt. Further excavations are being planned. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Monday, November 21

Genetic Studies Investigate Maize Domestication

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science reports that two teams of scientists examined ancient cobs from Mexico for clues to the transformation of a grass called teosinte into domesticated maize. Jean Philippe Vielle-Calzada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity and his colleagues returned to the caves in Tehuacán Valley where tiny maize cobs were found in the 1960s. They recovered several 5,000-year-old cobs, reconstructed more than 35 percent of the ancient maize genome, and identified eight genes for key traits that indicate the plant was partially domesticated. It had cobs on branches for an easier harvest, and starchier, sweeter kernels—but they were covered in a hard sheath, like teosinte. Meanwhile, a team led by Nathan Wales of the University of Copenhagen analyzed a 5,300-year-old cob from a Tehuacán Valley cave that had been in a museum collection. They were able to sequence about 20 percent of the cob’s genome. These kernels are thought to have lacked a hard seed coat, which made them simpler to eat, but they may have fallen from the cob very easily, perhaps like the kernels of a wild plant, making them difficult to harvest. “I’m really amazed to see how convergent the results are,” Vielle-Calzada said. For more, go to “How Grass Became Maize.”

Segments of Roman Road Found in Ancient Dalmatia

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that archaeologists have found previously unknown sections of Roman road in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in what was the Roman province of Dalmatia. The team of scientists, from the University of Warsaw and the University of Mostar, is conducting field surveys in heavily farmed areas, and analyzing aerial and satellite images, in order to locate and verify archaeological sites and enter them into a new database. “This is the first application of modern, non-destructive archaeological methods in the area,” said Tomasz Dziurdzik of the University of Warsaw. The researchers confirmed the position of 34 archaeological sites, including a Roman fort, a settlement, and a cemetery dating to the first and second centuries A.D. They also learned that the Roman soldiers who settled in the region when they left the army usually built their homes on the edges of river valleys and close to the network of roads. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

Rock Art Recorded in Jordan’s Black Desert

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Live Science reports that researchers from the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project are recording thousands of inscriptions and petroglyphs in the Jebel Qurma region of Jordan’s Black Desert. Peter Akkermans of Leiden University explained that the inscriptions were written in a script known as Safaitic some 2,000 years ago by the people of Jebel Qurma, who are thought to have been nomads. “I am on the lookout for the Nabataeans,” reads one inscription. (The Nabataeans inhabited Jordan’s ancient rock-cut city of Petra.) Analysis of charcoal dating to the third century A.D. suggests that it came from several types of trees that needed water year-round. The images of lions, gazelles, horses, and large birds (possibly ostriches) also suggest that the region supported a wide range of life in the past. Akkermans and his team plan to retrieve ancient pollen samples to learn more about the environment. For more, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

Early Indus Valley Farmers Grew Rice

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—It had been thought that domesticated rice was introduced to India and Pakistan from China in 2000 B.C., but The Telegraph India reports that farmers in the Indus civilization cultivated rice as much as 430 years earlier. Researchers from Banaras Hindu University and the University of Cambridge have found a progressive increase in the proportion of domestic rice, and a decrease in wild rice, between 2430 and 2140 B.C. at archaeological sites in northwest India. The study also suggests that early Indus farmers grew a diverse range of crops, such as rice, millet, and beans during the summer, and wheat, barley, and pulses during the winter, in order to take advantage of summer and winter rains. “Until now, many had argued that the Indus people had not routinely cultivated rice,” said Ravindra Nath Singh of Banaras Hindu University. “Our findings suggest that rice domestication had already occurred in South Asia before the arrival of Oryza [sativa] japonica [the Chinese variety].” For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

Friday, November 18

46,000-Year-Old Bone Ornament Found in Australia

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—New Scientist reports that a piece of bone jewelry dated to more than 46,000 years ago has been discovered in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University. Microscopic analysis, conducted by her colleague Michelle Langley, revealed that the pointed kangaroo leg bone bears traces of red ochre on its ends and scrape marks made by stone tools. The ornament was probably worn through the nasal septum. “I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” said Langley. Depending upon the group, nose bones may have been worn by everyone, or may have been limited to elders. Langley explained that before the nose bone was found, it had been thought that the oldest bone tools and ornaments in Australia were only about 20,000 years old. Some scholars had suggested that bone-tool technology had been lost on the journey from Africa some 60,000 years ago. “This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions,” commented Ian Lilley of the University of Queensland. To read about early rock art in Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

New Scan Spots Dozens of Mummified Hatchling Crocodiles

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—A scan in the 1990s showed that a nearly ten-foot-long crocodile mummy housed at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden since 1828 contains the remains of two juvenile crocodiles, who were preserved nose-to-tail in the wrappings. BBC News reports that a new 3-D CT scan, conducted by the Swedish company Interspectral, has revealed 47 mummified crocodile hatchlings tucked into the mummy’s exterior bindings. “You can’t see them very well on the old scans unless you know they’re there—and we never expected to find this,” said museum curator Lara Weiss. She explained that the mummy could reflect the Egyptian belief in life after death, and was probably an offering to the crocodile god Sobek. A similar crocodile mummy of a large adult with 20 young on its back is housed at the British Museum. To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."