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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 13

5,600-Year-Old Burial Mound Found in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—According to report in Live Science, a Neolithic burial mound was spotted in a farmer’s field located halfway between the Neolithic stone monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge with aerial photographs. The top soil has been removed from what is now known as the Cat’s Brain site to reveal what looks like a central building that may have been covered by a mound, and long barrow ditches. At other long barrow sites, archaeologists have found that some of the dead would have been buried in the ditches. A few would have been left on platforms until their bones had been picked clean by birds. The skeletons were then placed in structures that looked like houses, sometimes with cow skulls. “These are the very first people to have domestic cows, and they seem quite an important species to them,” said Jim Leary of the University of Reading. The discovery offers scientists a rare opportunity to investigate a long barrow site with modern archaeological techniques. To read in-depth about Neolithic Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Stone Tombs Studied in Jordan’s Desolate Desert

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Live Science reports that hundreds of looted tombs marked by cairns and taller stone towers, located on the high plateaus and the summits of basalt hills in Jordan’s Jebel Qurma desert, are being surveyed by a team led by Peter Akkermans and Merel Brüning of Leiden University. Some of the stones used to construct the tower tombs, which can stand five feet tall and measure 16 feet in diameter, weigh an estimated 660 pounds. The oldest structures date back 8,000 years. The people buried in the tombs are thought to have lived nearby in valleys and on lower ground. Evidence of human occupation disappears for the period beginning about 4,000 years ago, an absence that lasted for about 1,000 years. Akkermans said it may be that the members of the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project just haven’t found the remains of the people and their settlements for that time frame, or the people may have left the area and returned 1,000 years later, due to conditions in the region. “Research into local environmental and climatic conditions is certainly one of my aims for further research in the desert of Jebel Qurma,” Akkermans said. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Neolithic Face Time."

Archaeologists Return to Cornwall’s Tintagel Castle

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—In the fifth and sixth centuries, the Cornish kings who lived at Tintagel Castle feasted on oysters, cod, beef, pork, and lamb served on red slipware bowls imported from Turkey, and drank fine wine imported from southern Turkey or Cyprus in glass goblets imported from Spain, according to a report in The Guardian. Recent excavations, conducted by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, also uncovered structures with stone walls and slate floors and steps. “All indications to date could suggest that they are residential buildings perhaps lived in by important members of the community that lived and traded at Tintagel over 800 years ago,” said project director Jacky Nowakowski. To read about the discovery of a royal Anglo-Saxon feasting hall dating to this period, go to "The Kings of Kent."

Roman Floor Unearthed in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a tiled floor similar to ones found in Roman baths and fortresses has been uncovered in the Moharam Bek district of Alexandria, where glass and pottery workshops have been found. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities said the floor, which features an opus spicatum, or herringbone design, is the first of its kind to be found in Egypt. To read about Roman-era mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Wednesday, July 12

Moonlit Rock Art Revealed in Southern England

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Telegraph, Andy Jones of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit says he has found more than 100 additional marks on Hendraburnick Quoit, an ax-shaped engraved stone panel dating to about 2500 B.C. “When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight,” Jones explained. His team also found pieces of quartz in the ground around the monument. Jones thinks it may have been placed there for its luminescent properties. To read more about archaeology in Cornwall, go to "Witches of Cornwall."

Varied Sleep Habits May Protect Mixed-Age Groups

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—A study of modern hunter-gatherers suggests that sleeping habits may have evolved to help humans avoid nighttime threats such as predators, natural disasters, and enemy attack, according to a report in Seeker. Healthy men and women of the Hadza of Tanzania agreed to wear small devices that recorded their nighttime movements. Out of the 220 hours of the study, everyone was asleep at the same time for a total of only 18 minutes. Sleep expert Dave Samson of Duke University explained someone was always awake during the night, whether it was a mother with a newborn, or an elder who got up to relieve himself or herself. He added that younger people like to stay up late, while older people tend to get up early. Occasional social rituals also disrupted sleep. “The idea behind the ‘poorly sleeping grandparent hypothesis’ is that, for much of human history, living and sleeping in mixed-age groups of people with different sleep habits helped our ancestors keep a watchful eye and make it through the night,” he said. Samson also notes the Hadza take frequent daytime naps. To read about the earliest evidence for warfare between hunter-gatherer groups, go to "10,000 Turf War." 

Scientists Re-examine Easter Islanders’ Diet

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—A new study of the diet eaten by the Rapa Nui suggests that the people of Easter Island may have made better use of their natural resources than had been previously thought. According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Carl Lipo of Binghamton University conducted carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human, animal, and botanical remains recovered from the Anakena and Ahu Tepeu archaeological sites. The oldest samples dated from A.D. 1400. The scientists found high levels of nitrogen in the human bones, which suggests that Rapa Nui farmers enriched the soil with bedrock when they realized its nutrient level had dropped. The results also suggest the people obtained more than half of their protein from marine foods. It has long been thought that the Rapa Nui depleted the soil by relying on crop production after they wiped out the island’s forests by building canoes for fishing. Rather than drawing a picture of catastrophic failure, Lipo suggests that the people of Easter Island adapted to environmental challenges. To read in-depth about how Native Americans managed marine resources, go to "The Edible Landscape." 

New Thoughts on Ancient Greek Theaters

KUMAMOTO, JAPAN—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Ryuichi Yoshitake of Kumamoto University believe that the heavy, 100-foot-long stage structures in some ancient Greek theaters may have moved independently. In these theaters, it had been previously suggested that the proskenion, a one-story building used as background scenery, and the two-story skene, which provided an additional background and dressing rooms, were linked together and set on three wheels along a single axle. The wheels are thought to have traveled along three shallow stone tracks, each measuring between three and five inches wide, like those found in the theaters at Sparta and Megalopolis. Yoshitake’s team uncovered a large storage area, in addition to three stone tracks, at the theater at Messene. After studying all three theaters, Yoshitake thinks the proskenion and skene would have been too unwieldy to have been moved as one piece. He suggests that the proskenion and skene were set on their own sets of two wheels per axle. In this scenario, four stone tracks would have been needed, however. To read about the archaeology of Elizabethan theaters, go to "Behind the Curtain."

Tuesday, July 11

Human Remains Found at World War II Underwater Wreckage Site

ZAGREB, CROATIA—The Norman Transcript reports that divers found human remains near The Tulsamerican, the last B-24 Liberator bomber built in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a 17-year search, the wreckage was discovered under 130 feet of water off the coast of Croatia in 2010. The crew ditched the plane in the Adriatic Sea on December 17, 1944, because it had been hit by enemy fire after a bombing run over German-occupied Poland. Three of the ten men on board were killed. Some of the wreckage may be recovered and returned to Oklahoma for display at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. To read more, go to "The  Archaeology of World War II."

Christian Saint’s Hut Possibly Identified

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that the wattle and timber hut where St. Columba is said to have worked and prayed in the sixth century A.D. has been identified on the island of Iona, home of the Iona Abbey, a Christian pilgrimage site. Sixty years ago, historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas uncovered what he thought could be the saint’s cell on a hill traditionally known as Tòrr an Aba, or “the mound of the abbot.” After the structure burned down, the site is thought to have been covered with beach pebbles to preserve it, and a hole at the site suggests that a cross may have been placed to mark it. Archaeologists Ewan Campbell and Adrián Maldonado of the University of Glasgow recently radiocarbon dated some of the pieces of hazel charcoal carefully preserved by Thomas and obtained a date range of A.D. 540 to 650. “What Charles Thomas and his team found—and couldn’t prove until now—was that we’ve been walking on the early monastery this whole time,” Maldonado said. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

4,500-Year-Old Man's Face Reconstructed

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—Forensic experts at Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab reconstructed the countenance of a man thought to have lived in England’s East Midlands some 4,500 years ago, according to a report in Live Science. The man’s remains were recovered from Derbyshire’s Liff’s Low bowl barrow during excavations in the 1930s and the 1980s, and have been housed at the Buxton Museum. He had been buried with a beaker-shaped pot and a stone pendant thought to have been worn as a necklace. Previous studies of the bones indicate that the man stood approximately five feet, seven inches tall, and died between the ages of 25 and 30. His cause of death is not known, but Claire Miles of the Buxton Museum said that a fracture in his left elbow had “healed poorly.” The Face Lab team scanned the surviving pieces of his skull with an Artec 3-D scanner and reassembled them digitally. The portions of the man’s face corresponding to the missing bones were produced from estimates based upon the surviving data, and appear blurred in the final image. To read in-depth about prehistoric Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."