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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, April 07

Infrared Sensors Detect Desert Ruins in New Mexico

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—A small, remote-controlled drone carrying a heat-sensing camera has helped archaeologists to get a sense of the Blue J community—an eleventh-century, ancient Puebloan settlement of nearly 60 households situated around open plazas in New Mexico’s desert. The settlement is just south of Chaco Canyon, but archaeologists had not found a monumental great house, nor a great kiva, that are typical of Chaco architecture. The heat-sensing camera, however, detected the sun-warmed masonry of a large, circular structure that may be a ceremonial kiva hidden beneath the earth. “The drone work was able to show us that at least some of the sites are much larger below the surface than can be seen on the surface,” archaeologist John Kantner of the University of North Florida told Western Digs. He had thought that the people who lived at Blue J may have resisted the influence of Chaco Canyon. “If it is indeed a great kiva, I’ll have to change my interpretation of how villages like Blue J interacted with Chaco Canyon,” he added.

Pompeii Will Receive High-Tech Tools

ROME, ITALY—The Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica will donate ground sensors and satellites to the project “Pompeii: Give it a Future.” The technology will be used for three years to assess the instability of the site and set up an early warning system for possible collapses. The company will also supply security guards with radio equipment and smartphone apps to improve their communication and pinpoint their position on the site. “We are offering our technology for the service of the country and its heritage,” Finmeccanica’s chief executive Alessandro Pansa told Phys.org

CT Scans Show Plaques Beneath Mummy’s Wrappings

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by Andrew Wade of McMaster University has examined the CT scans of a 1,700-year-old Egyptian mummy. The images revealed that the woman’s intestines, stomach, liver, and heart had been removed through her perineum by embalmers, who then packed the hole with linen and resin. “We don’t really know what’s happening to the hearts that are removed,” Wade said. The embalmers also put two thin plaques on the woman’s skin above her sternum and abdomen. Spices and lichen were probably placed on her abdomen as well, since they had been placed on her head, which was unwrapped in the nineteenth century. The woman’s brain had been left intact.

Heart Disease is an Ancient Ailment

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Three men and two women who were buried 3,000 years ago at Amara West, located in present-day Sudan, had atherosclerosis, or a thickening of the artery walls. The tiny calcified plaques were found among their skeletons by bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder and palaeopathologist Charlotte Roberts of Durham University, who think that smoke from fires for cooking, firing pottery, and metalwork may have been a factor in the development of this condition. The individuals were all between ages 35 and 50 at death, had poor dental health, and were of high and low social status. “The main relevance of these findings is that it shows us that the factors leading to these diseases are not products of modern life but that there are other factors in the environment which may have been around for many thousands of years,” Binder told The Journal. 

Friday, April 04

Erosion Reveals Cist Burial in Scottish Cliff

SANNOX, SCOTLAND—A Bronze Age cist burial was rescued from an eroding cliff face on the Isle of Arran. “All the bone was uniformly white and in a similar condition, which is evidence for a hot cremation pyre,” excavation leader Iraia Arabaolaza explained to Culture 24. Some of the bones may have been lost to erosion, or not included in the burial. A green stain indicates that a copper artifact may have originally been part of the burial. A sharp knife made of Yorkshire flint was recovered, along with a cracked food pot that may have been fired when the body was cremated.

Prehistoric Artifacts Found at Nashville Ball Park Site

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A prehistoric site consisting of fire pits and ceramics has been uncovered at a construction site in Nashville. State archaeologist Mike Moore thinks the site had been a workshop where mineral water was boiled to collect salt as early as 1150 A.D. “This is one of those few chances we’ve had to actually get real, hard scientific evidence of who was here and what they were doing,” archaeologist Kevin E. Smith of Middle Tennessee State University told WBIR. A ball park will be built on the site, but the remaining artifacts will be protected.

Medieval Latrine Unearthed in Denmark

ODENSE, DENMARK—In the center of the medieval town of Odense, well-preserved brick houses, half-timbered houses, and stables have been unearthed, along with barrels that had been repurposed as latrines. “We are talking about 700-year-old latrines. And yes, they still smell bad,” archaeologist Maria Elisabeth Lauridsen told Discovery News. “Preliminary results of analysis shows that raspberries were popular in Odense in the 1300s. The contents also contain small pieces of moss, leather and fabric which were used as toilet paper,” she added. 

New Translation Revises Bronze Age Chronology

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new translation of the 3,500-year-old Tempest Stela, a six-foot-tall calcite block inscribed with a description of stormy weather, may push back the reign of Ahmose, the first New Kingdom pharaoh, closer to the time of the eruption of the Thera volcano. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Robert Ritner of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute told Phys.org. The timing suggested by the new translation corresponds with radiocarbon dates of an olive tree that had been found buried under volcanic residue, and would help to explain the rise and fall of empires in the ancient Middle East. “This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” added co-author Nadine Moeller, who is also from the University of Chicago.

Thursday, April 03

Domesticated Grains Mark Early Trade Route

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Crops from western and eastern Asia have been discovered in ancient campsites in central Asia, suggesting that nomadic shepherds may have acted as a link between the two regions some 5,000 years ago. “Ancient wheat and broomcorn millet, recovered in nomadic campsites in Kazakhstan, show that prehistoric herders in Central Eurasia had incorporated both regional crops into their economy and rituals nearly 5,000 years ago,” Michael Franchetti of Washington University told Discovery News. The domesticated grains also indicate that these seasonally mobile herders were farming 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Artifacts Collection Seized From Indiana Home

WALDRON, INDIANA—The FBI art crime team has seized a collection of thousands of artifacts from a 91-year-old man living in rural Indiana. The collection, which was housed in the man’s home and in several outbuildings, includes items from China, Russia, Peru, Haiti, Australia, and New Guinea, in addition to Native American artifacts. “I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums,” Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University-Perdue University Indianapolis told USA Today. The FBI and other researchers will try to determine if the artifacts were obtained legally.

Homo Brains and Teeth Are an “Evolutionary Paradox”

GRANADA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of Granada have shown that the shrinking of the teeth of primates from the genus Homo is linked to their increase in brain size, even though a growing brain would require more food. “We have established that they are two opposing evolutionary trends that have been linked for 2.5 million years, when our first ancestors within the Homo genus first appeared on the evolutionary stage,” Juan Manuel Jiménez Arenas told Science Daily. Arenas credits higher amounts of animal food in the diet for the increase in brain size, which in turn fostered social and cultural development.

More on Neanderthals’ Genetic Legacy

SHANGHAI, CHINA—Neanderthals and modern humans are thought to have interbred at least once—probably in the Middle East—after modern humans left Africa. As a result, today’s Europeans and Asians carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA. A new analysis of some of those Neanderthal gene variants, and an examination of brain tissues, suggests that today’s Europeans have three times as many Neanderthal genes involved in the breakdown of fats than Asians have. “This is the first time we have seen differences in lipid concentrations between populations. How our brains are built differently of lipids might be due to Neanderthal DNA,” evolutionary biologist Philipp Khaitovich of the CAS-MPG Partner Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology told Science Now. Khaitovich thinks the fatty acid genes may have helped Neanderthals and Europeans adapt to living in the Northern Europe’s colder climates.