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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 12

“Holy Island” Excavation Reveals Possible Tower Foundation

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologist Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice has found traces of two structures on Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England known for its seventh-century priory and Christian saints. One trench revealed the foundation of a massive wall that may have been the foundation for a tower built without mortar, probably during the early medieval period. A second trench revealed traces of a similar structure that may have been a church. Historical sources dating to the eighth century refer to two churches, a guesthouse, a dormitory, and a watchtower on Lindisfarne. “Holy Island is one of the most significant sites in Britain in terms of early medieval heritage, there is a real possibility that we have uncovered two very significant buildings associated with the early Christian foundation of the priory which could provide a tangible link to the time of St. Cuthbert,” Sara Rushton of Northumberland County Council told the Berwick Advertiser. For more, go to "The First Vikings."

Neolithic Village Unearthed in Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—More than 20 round buildings dating to as early as the ninth century B.C. have been unearthed at a village site near the southern coast of Cyprus. The Associated Press reports that the walls of the buildings were made of earth and wooden poles, and many of the buildings had plastered floors. Most also had fireplaces. The structures had been placed around a larger, circular building thought to have served as a communal space. The excavation team, led by Francois Briois of France’s School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences and Jean-Denis Vigne of France’s National Center for Scientific Research-National Museum of Natural History, also unearthed stone tools and vessels, shell beads and pendants, a millstone, the remains of domesticated dogs and cats, and bones of hunted boar and birds. The scientists also found evidence that the village inhabitants cultivated emmer wheat. For more, go to "Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus."

Evidence Suggests Brazil’s Capuchins Have Long History of Tool Use

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Capuchin monkeys living in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been using stone tools to open cashew nuts for at least 700 years, or about 100 generations, according to an investigation conducted by a team from Oxford University and the University of São Paulo. Michael Haslam, head of Oxford’s Primate Archaeology project, said in a Los Angeles Times report that the tools changed little over time, suggesting that the capuchins “are very good at transmitting the behavior over and over again.” The tools include small, hard stone hammers and sandstone anvils, which are left in caches at cashew processing sites. Haslam and his colleagues say the tools are the oldest non-human tools found outside of Africa, and the oldest-known tools not made by humans or chimpanzees. “It may be that part of the reason that capuchins were able to colonize this area is that they found a technological solution—stone tool use—to overcome these plant defenses,” Haslam said. Capuchins are thought to have arrived in the region a half-million years ago. Further excavation could reveal a long history of capuchin tool use. For more, go to "Earliest Stone Tools."

Monday, July 11

Anglo-Saxon Grave Marker Found

LINDISFARNE, ENGLAND—A volunteer working on an excavation on Lindisfarne Island off England’s northeast coast has discovered an Anglo-Saxon grave marker dating to the mid-seventh or eighth century A.D. According to the BBC, the team is searching for evidence of the earliest monastery on the island, and the marker may prove to be an important clue to its location. "It's unimpeachable evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity and confirms we're hot on the trail of the very earliest monastery here in Lindisfarne," says Durham University archaeologist David Petts, who is the project’s co-director. The name on the stone appears to end in “frith,” which is common in Anglo-Saxon names. Scholars are still deciphering the rest of the letters on the grave marker. To read more about Anglo-Saxon archaeology in this part of England, go to “Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

New Findings at a Royal Danish Castle

VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Excavations at a twelfth-century castle on the south coast of the Danish island of Zealand have shown much of its fortifications were built during the reign of a king who was previously not believed to have had a role in its the construction. The Local reports that Vordingborg Castle was originally built by King Valdemar the Great, and that scholars believed subsequent construction at the site was conducted by the Danish kings Valdemar II and Valdemar IV. But now archaeologists have dated extensive wood remains at the site to the late twelfth century, when Denmark was ruled by King Canute VI. "He didn't just build over the castle, he expanded it continuously," says Aarhus University archaeologist Lars Sass Jensen. "He was, in other words, a king that invested heavily in the site as well as in its political function as a base for Baltic Sea expansion." For more on medieval archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”

Ancient Roman Bathhouse Discovered

ROME, ITALY—Construction of a new Orthodox church in a Roman suburb has led to the discovery of an ancient Roman bathhouse and a number of tombs dating to between the first and fourth centuries A.D. The Local reports that archaeologists found the bathhouse's heating and plumbing systems intact, as well as its tile floor mosaics. The bathhouse may have once been part of a villa, but it was built near to a heavily trafficked road that led to Rome’s port, so it might have been frequented by travelers. “The baths could have been a stop-off point along the road," says archaeologist Renato Sebastiani. "We know of the existence of others.” The tombs belonged to lower-middle class Romans, and while the earliest individuals were cremated, later ones were interred according to early Christian practices. To read in-depth about archaeology in the area, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.”  

Philistine Cemetery Unearthed in Israel

ASHKELON, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists have excavated a 3,000-year-old Philistine cemetery at the site of Ashekelon in southern Israel. The first such necropolis to be discovered, it consists of more than 150 burials, some of which follow Aegean funerary practices, rather than Near Eastern ones. That supports the idea that the Philistines originated in the Aegean and were not indigenous to the Levant. “This forms a baseline for what 'Philistine' is," says Wheaton College archaeologist Daniel M. Master, who is the dig's co-director. "We can already say that the cultural practices we see here are substantially different from the Canaanites and the highlanders in the east." Small ceramic perfume vials were found near the skulls of many of the skeletons, and a pottery sherd inscribed with Crypto-Minoan writing dating to the eleventh century B.C. was also discovered. To read more about the Philistines, go to “Temple of the Storm God.”           

Friday, July 08

Paleolithic Child’s Skull Imprinted With Image of His Brain

FLORENCE, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a skull from Calabria’s Paleolithic site of Grotta del Romito has been used to recreate the brain of a 12-year-old boy who lived around 17,000 years ago. “The boy was still growing and therefore the bones of his skull were quite soft,” said Fabio Martini of the University of Florence. Martini explained that the pressure of the growing brain left an imprint on the inside of the skull, which can be read with 3-D scanners. Scientists hope to compare the young hunter-gatherer’s brain structures to those of children living today, especially the areas of the brain responsible for language, social interaction, and spatial coordination. For more, go to "Neanderthal Brain Strain."

Mummies Hosted Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—Analysis of DNA collected from the guts of several mummies shows that they contained bacteria that are resistant to most of today’s antibiotics, according to a report in New Scientist. Tasha Santiago-Rodriguez of California Polytechnic State University and her team collected samples from three Inca mummies dated to the tenth to fourteenth centuries, and six mummies from Italy, dated to between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The findings suggest that the genes for resistance existed in bacteria in the human gut before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, and therefore before antibiotic use became common. “When you think about it, almost all these antibiotics are naturally produced, so it makes sense to find antibiotic genes as well,” Santiago-Rodriguez said. For more, go to "Ötzi the Iceman Carried Ulcer-Causing Bacteria."

Polynesians May Have Used Obsidian Tools for Tattooing

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Archaeologist Robin Torrence of the Australian Museum and her colleagues analyzed 15 obsidian artifacts from the Nanggu site in the Solomon Islands. It had been thought that these 3,000-year-old tools were applied to hides to make cloth, but according to a report by Live Science, early Polynesians employed few animal skins, and those that were used required little preparation. The team of researchers recreated the obsidian tools by shaping a short, sharp point on naturally occurring flakes of volcanic glass. Then they experimented with creating tattoos on pigskin with black charcoal pigment and red ochre. Both the ancient tools and the new ones showed similar signs of wear, including microscopic chipping, rounding, and blunting of the edges. In addition, residues of blood, charcoal, and ochre were found on the ancient tools. Torrence thinks that archaeologists could look for comparable obsidian tools at sites where tattooing might have been practiced, since human skin is rarely preserved in the archaeological record. To read in-depth about evidence of tattooing in the archaeological record, go to "Ancient Tattoos."

Bitumen From Ancient Amphora Analyzed

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—Scientists led by a team from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) used ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry to analyze oxygen molecules in bitumen samples taken from a fifth-century B.C. amphora found near the Black Sea. According to Greek Reporter, the ancient Greeks used bitumen in construction, medicine, and warfare. The researchers think this amphora may have been used to collect bitumen on the Taman Peninsula, where there are petroleum seeps. The amount of oxygen in the sample from the amphora suggests that it had been exposed to ozone and had been degrading for about 2,500 years. Evgeny Nikolaev, head of MIPT’s Laboratory of Ion and Molecular Physics, explained that this analysis of ancient bitumen has helped scientists understand how petroleum changes over long periods of time. He added that the use of ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry could help archaeologists learn more about goods and trade routes in the ancient world. For more on the study of amphoras, go to "Trash Talk."