Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 07

Did Human Ancestors Possess Theory of Mind?

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Science reports that a study conducted by Christopher Krupenye of Duke University and Fumihiro Kano of Kyoto University suggests that chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans know when someone else holds a false belief—a trait thought to be limited to modern humans. The researchers created video dramas featuring two modern humans, one of whom was wearing a “generic apelike” suit. In one of the dramas, the apelike figure steals a rock from the man, places it in one of two boxes, scares the man away, and then moves the rock to another location. The man then returns to retrieve the rock. Would the apes expect him to look for it in the first box? The scientists used infrared eye-tracking technology to record what the chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans watched during the film when the man returned to the scene, and found that 22 of the 30 individuals looked at the boxes, while 17 watched the first box. “It suggests that the capacity to track others’ perspectives and beliefs is not unique to humans,” commented developmental psychologist Victoria Southgate of the University of London. It also suggests that the last common ancestor of great apes and humans may have possessed theory of mind. For more, go to “Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?

Backyard Birdbath Identified as Roman Pottery

REDDITCH, ENGLAND—The Redditch Standard reports that a Roman mortarium has been identified in Alcester, a town that grew from a Roman military camp in the first century A.D. The pottery bowl dates to the second or third century and would have been used to grind herbs, spices, and other ingredients for sauces. An Alcester resident discovered the bowl in his yard, and used it as a bird bath until his daughter realized it resembled pottery she’d seen on display during the town’s Roman Festival. The family donated the bowl, thought to have been made at a mortaria production site about 40 miles away, to the Warwickshire Museum. For more on Roman artifacts found in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Blick Mead Yields 7,000-Year-Old Dog’s Tooth

BUCKINGHAM, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a large domesticated dog’s tooth has been found at the oldest-known settlement in the area surrounding Stonehenge. Called Blick Mead, the site is known for its warm spring, good hunting, and rare stones. Previous excavations at Blick Mead have turned up stone tools from Wales, the Midlands, and the West of England, but archaeologist David Jacques of the University of Buckingham explained that isotope analysis of the 7,000-year-old tooth indicates that the dog came from the Vale of York, and so may have traveled with a Mesolithic hunter some 250 miles to arrive at the site. Information from the tooth also suggests the dog would have been roughly the size, shape, and possible color of an Alsatian. Jacques thinks Mesolithic hunter-gatherers traveled such long distances to feast and exchange ideas, technologies, and even genes at this special location some 2,000 years before Stonehenge was built. “It is very hazy and this evidence just makes the glass slightly less dark, it is a significant movement forwards,” he said. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Thursday, October 06

An Update From Earthquake-Stricken Bagan

YANGON, MYANMAR—According to a report in The Irrawaddy, experts from UNESCO and Myanmar’s National Museum and Library are conducting detailed assessments of the 449 out of more than 3,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan that were damaged by a powerful earthquake in August. The temples in the ancient capital were built between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Among the damaged structures are the well-known Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda, and Dhamma Yazaka, as well as the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung. “Detailed assessment takes time,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of Bagan’s Archaeological Department. “It will assist technical experts in planning restoration works for individual damaged temples more effectively.” So far, the team has evaluated about 30 temples. UNESCO has pledged to support the restoration of the damaged temples. For more, go to “The World's First Temple.”

Police Break Up Alleged Antiquities Smuggling Ring in Greece

PATRAS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that police in western Greece broke up an alleged antiquities smuggling ring after a 14-month investigation, arresting 26 people and recovering more than 2,000 artifacts and fake provenance documents. Most of the artifacts were ancient coins, but gold jewelry, bronze figurines, glassware, and stone and marble statues were also recovered. The oldest of the objects date to the sixth century B.C. The police department says that the artifacts were looted from archaeological sites across Greece and sold to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The investigators also found metal detectors, guns, counterfeit license plates, and currency such as euros, U.S. dollars, and Kuwaiti dinars. The suspects reportedly kept extensive records that will help authorities track down artifacts that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” said police spokesperson Haralambos Sfetsos. To read more about Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Viking Rune Stone Unearthed in Sweden

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—The Local, Sweden, reports that a Viking-era rune stone has been found near the site of Hagby Church, where it had been part of a threshold leading to the church’s porch in the medieval period. The stone, which measures about six feet by four feet, was thought to have been lost when the church was torn down in the 1830s. One piece is missing from the otherwise well-preserved stone. Archaeologist Emelie Sunding of the Uppland Museum said the runestone resembles other signed stones carved by a runemaster named Fot in the mid-eleventh century. “This one isn’t signed, but we can tell from the style and the ornaments that this is Fot,” Sunding said. To read more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

Wednesday, October 05

1,600-Year-Old Roasting Pit Removed from Buffalo Jump Site

EDMONTON, CANADA—The Pincher Creek Echo reports that after a month of work, an intact roasting pit was removed from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Archaeologist Bob Dawe of the Royal Alberta Museum found the pit in 1990. “For some reason the people never came back to open this object,” he said. “They prepared this delicious meal, but they never came back and ate it.” The roasting pit was first blessed, and then encased in layers of plaster, burlap, and foil to prepare it for removal with a crane. The kitchen-table sized artifact will be carefully opened and excavated “with toothpicks and a small vacuum cleaner” in a laboratory at the Royal Alberta Museum, where it will eventually be displayed. To read in-depth about buffalo jumps, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

English 19th-Century Utopia Under Excavation

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—Cambridge News reports that a team led by Marcus Brittain of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is excavating Manea Fen, the site of a nineteenth-century utopian experiment. The community, established in 1838 by businessman William Hodson, was built around a central square, had terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, a communal kitchen, a school, and a grand tower. The utopia project lasted three and one-half years, and was home to 150 people at its height. So far, the research team has uncovered garbage pits and wood and brick foundations of some of the buildings. “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design,” Brittain said. To read about a cross-shaped pectoral discovered in the same area, go to “Artifact.”

Researchers Present 3-D Reconstruction of Pompeii House

LUND, SWEDEN—According to a report in Science Alert, a team led by archaeologist Anne-Marie Leander Touati of Lund University has virtually reconstructed the home of Caecilius Iucundus, a wealthy banker who lived at the intersection of two of Pompeii’s main streets. Using handheld laser scanners and a drone, the team recorded the entire city block, including two additional estates, a tavern, a laundry, a bakery, and several gardens, one of which had a fountain that was working at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The reconstruction of Caecilius Iucundus’s home includes details collected at the site, and scholarly interpretations of what the building might have looked like 2,000 years ago. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Scientists Analyze Salts in the Soil at Chaco Canyon

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Laboratory Equipment reports that an interdisciplinary team of University of Cincinnati researchers evaluated 1,000-year-old sediments and water collection techniques at the Ancestral Puebloan site of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. It had been thought that the soil in the region was polluted with chloride salts through the irrigation practices of the Ancestral Puebloans, making it impossible for them to continue to cultivate maize, their staple crop. This food shortage was thought to have contributed to the decline of Chaco Canyon in the thirteenth century. But the 1,000-year-old soil samples contained salt compounds and volcanic minerals that increased the soil’s fertility, according to anthropologist and geologist Kenneth Barnett Tankersley. The new study also indicates that the Puebloans farmed with mineral-enriched water captured from snowmelt off the mountains that surrounded the settlement, and from small canyons during the rainy season. Pottery stacked in thick-walled rooms in the Puebloan great houses suggests that water was also collected from ponds and puddles and stored for periods of drought. For more, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”