Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, November 12

Archaeologists Survey the Nez Perce National Historic Trail

CODY, WYOMING—Researchers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Cody and the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist (OWSA) have been looking for evidence of U.S. Army campsites along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail near the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. In 1877, the U.S. Army pursued the Nez Perce for 1,170 miles, from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battleground in Montana, where Chief Joseph surrendered. “The archival materials make searching worthwhile because Army officers wrote about where they camped. Over a thousand men from two different departments made camp in approximately the same location, somewhere in this area—that’s what we’re looking for,” AWSA archaeologist Dan Eakin said in a BLM press release. The team, which included members from the U.S. Forest Service, volunteers, and a Nez Perce tribal member, found worn pieces of horseshoes, cartridge cases, a saddle ring, and a square nail. These artifacts are not conclusive evidence that the team found traces of the trail, but it will help them better define it and protect it in the future. To read more about archaeology in the western United States, go to "The Buffalo Chasers."

Mitochondrial Genome of 500-Year-Old Mummy Sequenced

GALICIA, SPAIN—Antonio Salas Ellacuriaga and Federico Martinon Torres of the University of Santiago de Compostela led a team that analyzed the mitochondrial genome of the Aconcagua boy, the frozen remains of a seven-year-old discovered in Argentina by hikers in 1985. The Inca boy had been ritually killed some 500 years ago; his body naturally mummified in the cold, dry environment of the Aconcagua Mountain. The scientists extracted an uncontaminated sample from the boy’s lung tissue, and found that he belonged to an unknown subgroup of the diverse genetic lineage called C1b, which dates back to the earliest Paleoinidans more than 18,000 years ago. According to a report in Science, the team labeled this unidentified subgroup C1bi, which is thought to have originated in the Andes some 14,000 years ago. A check of genetic databases revealed four other known individuals in the C1bi group: three samples came from modern-day people living in Peru and Bolivia. The fourth sample came from the ancient Wari Empire, which predated the Inca in Peru. Population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity suggests that the two ancient samples indicate that the now-rare genetic variation was common before the arrival of Europeans. To read more about the Inca, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Colosseum Discovered in Volterra, Italy

TUSCANY, ITALY—A Roman amphitheater thought to date to the first century A.D. has been discovered in the town of Volterra, once a well-known Etruscan city that fell under Roman rule. “It’s puzzling that no historical account records the existence of such an imposing amphitheater. Possibly it was abandoned at a certain time and gradually covered by vegetation,” archaeologist Elena Sorge of the Tuscan Superintendency told Discovery News. “This amphitheater was quite large. Our survey dig revealed three orders of seats that could accommodate about 10,000 people. They were entertained by gladiator fights and wild beast baiting,” Sorge explained. A survey conducted with ground-penetrating radar by Carlo Battini of the University of Genoa indicates that much of the amphitheater, which was constructed of stone in the same manner as the nearby theater, is under 20 to 32 feet of dirt. To read about a recent Etruscan discovery, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Pieces of Roman Sign Reunited in England

READING, ENGLAND—In 2013, archaeologists from the University of Reading unearthed a fragment of inscribed marble at the site of Silchester Roman Town, located in southern England. Analysis of the stone fragment, which is etched with the letters ‘ba,’ has shown that it was part of a sign with the letters ‘At’ in the second line that was found at the site in 1891. The sign is thought to have read ‘At(e)ba(tum), or ‘of the Atrebates,’ the French tribe thought to have founded Silchester in the first century B.C. “Matching pieces which were discovered over 100 years apart to a 2,000-year-old object is incredibly rare—perhaps happening only once or twice in the UK before,” Mike Fulford of the University of Reading said in a press release. Fulford thinks that the building may have been destroyed by the legendary Boudica during her rebellion against the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. To read more, go to "Boudica: Queen of the Iceni."

Wednesday, November 11

Remains of Saber-Toothed Cats Found Near Wooden Spears

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Five teeth and a partial leg bone from saber-toothed cats have been found at Germany’s Schöningen mine, in the same layer where excavations have also uncovered eight wooden spears with sharpened points and the remains of horses. Paleontologist Jordi Serangeli of the University of Tübingen thinks that between 320,000 and 300,000 years ago, hominids may have used the spears to defend themselves against the big, fast cats, in addition to using them to hunt horses. Although, “if one wanted to drive off a big carnivore, it would have been much easier to bounce a rock off its head,” John Shea of Stony Brook University commented in Science News. Pits, scrapes, and other marks on the leg bone of an adult male saber-toothed cat suggest that it may have been used as a hammer for crafting stone tools. To read about Paleolithic art discovered in Germany, go to "A New Life for Lion Man."

Tests Suggest Beekeeping May Have Begun 8,500 Years Ago

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Chemical analysis of Neolithic pottery vessels from more than 150 archaeological sites in Europe has detected the presence of beeswax for the first time. Prehistoric rock art images and murals from ancient Egypt have suggested that early farmers kept bees, but this is the earliest possible evidence of beekeeping found to date. “Our study is the first to provide unequivocal evidence, based solely on a chemical ‘fingerprint,’ for the palaeoecological distribution of an economically and culturally important animal. It shows widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early farmers and pushes back the chronology of human-honeybee association to substantially earlier dates,” Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit said in a press release. For more on the technology of that era, go to "Neolithic Toolkit."

Archaeologists Map Roman Theater District in Cyprus

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For the past 20 years, a team of archaeologists from the University of Sydney has been excavating at Nea Paphos, the capital city of Cyprus during the Hellenistic and Roman periods (300 B.C.–A.D. 400). The most recent project has focused on mapping the city’s 8,500-seat theater and the surrounding area with pole photography and photogrammetric technology. “The work now is to position the theater within its ancient urban context,” lead archaeologist Craig Barker explained in a press release. The new 3-D map revealed that the more than 160 fragments of massive granite columns found around the theater lined two main roads during the Roman period. The first road ran north-south from the harbor to the theater; the second ran east-west behind the theater. “The scale of the Roman trade in monumental architectural elements was massive. As the capital city of Cyprus at the time, it is not surprising Nea Paphos would be adorned with this architectural demonstration of Roman civic order,” Barker added. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Tuesday, November 10

Thermal Scans Detect Anomalies in Great Pyramid of Giza

CAIRO, EGYPT—Thermal scans of Khufu’s Great Pyramid were made at sunrise, as the sun heats the structure, and at sunset, when they pyramid cools, as part of Egypt’s Scan Pyramids Mission. Scientists from Cairo University, Paris’ Heritage Innovation and Preservation Institute (HIP), Quebec’s Université Laval, and Japan’s Nagoya University measured the rate of heating and cooling and found the first row of limestone blocks on the pyramid’s eastern side are the same temperature, except for three, which are hotter. This difference in temperature could be explained by fractures in the rock behind the blocks, or perhaps by empty spaces. “It could be void spaces, fissures, or passages. So far, I do not know,” explained Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty in Ahram Online. Further tests, including muon radiography, and 3-D reconstruction, are underway. To read more about pyramids, go to "Miniature Pyramids of Sudan."

Second Burial Vault Discovered in Greenwich Village

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—A second early nineteenth-century burial vault has been uncovered beneath Washington Square Park during work conducted by the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The vault is identical to the first one, which was found last week and had previously been uncovered in 1965 by the ConEdison power company. “It’s the second vault we didn’t expect,” archaeologist Alyssa Loorya of Chrysalis Archaeology told The Guardian. The second arched brick chamber contains 20 wooden coffins, some with name and date plates, and it has a wooden door with an intact lock that faces westward under the park. The archaeological team is investigating the burials with high-resolution photographs and has no plan to enter the chamber or move the bodies. “You can get enough resolution to see dental wear patterns, suture closings on bones,” Loorya said. To read more about the archaeology of the city, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

Tree-Ring Data Chronicles Historic Climate Conditions

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Tree ring chronologies have been used to create a drought atlas of the Old World that reaches back more than 2,000 years. When combined with drought atlases of North America and Asia, also created by the Tree Ring Lab at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, scientists will be better able to pinpoint causes of drought and extreme rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere. “Climate variability tends to occur within patterns that span the globe, creating wet conditions somewhere and dry conditions somewhere else. By having tree ring-based hydroclimate reconstructions for three northern hemisphere continents, we can identify the responsible modes of variability,” climate modeler Richard Seager said in a press release. This information can help scientists understand climate conditions during historic famines, such as in 1741, when rainfall was well below normal during the spring and summer in Ireland, England, and Wales. It had been thought that an unusually cold winter and spring were to blame. Excessive rains beginning in 1314 also led to famine. To read about how climate change may have impacted Iron Age cultures in Wales, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Scientists Sequence Date Palm Genome

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Scholars at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus mapped the date palm genome and found more than seven million mutations separating modern Middle Eastern and North African varieties. As for ancient date palms, seeds found on Dalma Island, Abu Dhabi, have been dated to more than 7,000 years ago, while the oldest cultivated date seeds found in North Africa are about 4,000 years old. The new study supports this archaeological evidence, and indicates that today’s date palms could have descended from plants first domesticated in the Middle East, and then domesticated a second time in North Africa. It is also possible that that the fruit tree was first cultivated in the Middle East and then spread to North Africa, where it was crossed with wild plants. But researchers have yet to find the wild ancestor of the date palm. “It is important to know the identity and geographic origin of the wild progenitor of a domesticated species because it will help us understand the evolutionary process underlying domestication and the nature of the genetic changes underlying domestication,” senior research scientist Khaled Hazzouri said in a press release. To read more about archaeology in the Persian Gulf, go to "Archaeology Island."