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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 10

Early Humans May Have Cooked to Avoid Illness

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Alex Smith of Harvard University led a study of the safety of meat eaten by early human ancestors. “Some would argue the archaeological record indicates that meat was scavenged before the earliest accepted dates of controlled fire-use, but our research suggests that cooking might be more ancient,” he told The Huffington Post. He and his team measured the growth of bacteria on raw boar meat and bone marrow over a 24-hour period, and then they measured how effectively roasting the meat eliminated the bacteria. As expected, they found that roasting the meat over hot coals killed most of the bacteria. Fewer bacteria grew on bone marrow, suggesting that it may have been a safer snack. “We hope this research brings the importance of cooking and its effects to discussions on early hominin carnivory,” he concluded. 

Important Inscription Discovered at Bulgaria’s Aquae Calidae

BURGAS, BULGARIA—A marble slab bearing a first-century A.D. Greek inscription from the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful of the ancient Thracian states, has been unearthed at the site of Aquae Calidae, an ancient spa resort. “This is a historical monument of international importance,” archaeologist Miroslave Klasnakov told Archaeology in Bulgaria. The inscription, which belonged to Apollonius, son of Eptaikentus, a military governor, had been built into an altar and mentions the names of the last Thracian kings of the Odrysian Kingdom and their children. Aquae Calidae may have been an administrative center in addition to being a resort destination. The Romans eventually deposed the Odrysian kings and Thrace became a Roman province. The inscription also lists a shrine dedicated to Demetra that had been built by the military governor. The altar where the inscription was found may have been dedicated to her. To read about another Greek inscription found in Turkey, see "In Search of a Philosopher's Stone."

Remains of American Marines Recovered on Tarawa Atoll

BETIO ISLAND, TARAWA ATOLL—The remains of 36 American Marines have been recovered on Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean where more than 1,600 U.S. troops and more than 4,500 Japanese troops died in the three-day Battle of Tarawa in 1943. The search was coordinated by History Flight, a Florida charity dedicated to returning the remains of fallen soldiers to their families. Among the Americans was First Lieutenant Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman, Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient who died on the second day of the battle, but it wasn’t known where he had been buried. Bonnyman’s grandson joined the archaeological expedition to the Republic of Kiribati to look for his grandfather’s remains. “I’ve been to Tarawa five times, I’ve dug holes in the sand, I’ve sifted sand, I’ve washed bones in the lab, I’ve called families asking for DNA samples and honestly we agreed that this is a needle in a haystack. So I was well and truly floored when I got a call saying they felt they had discovered cemetery 27 because if it was 27 then there was every indication we would find my grandfather,” Clay Bonnyman Evans told Radio New Zealand. Dental records were used to make the final identification of 1st Lt. Bonnyman. To read more, go to "Archaeology of World War II."

Complete Roman Fresco Discovered in Arles, France

ARLES, FRANCE—A mural resembling those at Pompeii has been discovered in the bedroom of a Roman villa in southern France. The fresco, which dates between 20 and 70 B.C., is one of only a few full murals to be found outside Italy. Among the 11 images in the painting, now in more than 12,000 fragments, is a depiction of a young woman playing a harp that had been painted in expensive Egyptian blue and red vermilion pigments. “There will be gaps, gaps in these reborn frescoes,” Marie-Pierre Roth of the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) told RFI. It could take ten years to reassemble the full fresco. To read more about Roman murals, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Thursday, July 09

Building in Reykjavik May Have Been Viking Chieftain’s Home

  REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—Traces of a Viking longhouse dating between A.D. 870 and 930, the first years of settlement in Iceland, were discovered in central Reykjavik while archaeologists were looking for a house built in the late eighteenth-century. “We have no records of any building on this spot other than the cottage built in 1799. The cottage was built on a meadow with no remnants of anything else,” Lisabet Guðmundsdóttir of the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology told The Iceland Monitor. The building was at least 60 feet long, and its “long fire,” a hearth that stretched down the middle of the structure, was more than 15 feet long. The excavation team has also uncovered weaving implements within the building and a silver ring and a pearl near it. “The find came as a great surprise for everybody. This rewrites the history of Reykjavik,” said preservationist Þorsteinn Bergsson of Minjavernd. To read more, go to "The First Vikings."

New Dates for Prehistoric Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Stone artifacts have been found in Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, suggesting that people were in the Cairngorm Mountains as early as 8,000 years ago, or thousands of years earlier than had been previously thought. At this time after the last ice age, there were permanent snow fields in the region and glaciers may have even been reforming. “It is incredible to think that what we have discovered at this one spot in a vast landscape may represent a small group of people stopping for only a night or two, repairing their hunting equipment and then moving on,” Shannon Fraser of the National Trust for Scotland said in a press release. “Glen Geldie is a very chilly place today, even with all our modern outdoor clothing—it is hard to imagine what it must have been like in the much harsher climate 8,000 years ago,” he added. To read in-depth about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Corn Cobs Unearthed at Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—Charred corncobs, kernels of corn, and sunflowers have been unearthed by students from Augustana College and England’s University of Exeter at a 1,000-year-old site along Lake Mitchell in southern South Dakota. “This village isn’t the origin of prehistoric agriculture, but it is one of the key sites in understanding what was done here,” professor Adrien Hannus of Augustana College told The Mitchell Republic. The corn cobs are about the size of an adult finger and were probably roasted or boiled whole. “You can see that the corn kernels are about the same size, but the cobs were a lot smaller and there were a lot fewer kernels on the cobs,” added Alan Outram from the University of Exeter. The storage pits, where the cobs and seeds were found, were eventually used for trash and capped with clay and ash. For more, go to "New Thoughts on Corn Domestication."

Did the Ancient Athenians Store Wealth in the Parthenon’s Attic?

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—Spencer Pope of McMaster University, Peter Schultz of Concordia College, and David Scahill of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens think that the city-state of ancient Athens may have stored reserves of coins in the Parthenon’s attic. Writers in antiquity noted that the Athenian reserves sometimes reached 10,000 talents—a staggering sum of silver coins that could have potentially weighed 260 metric tons. However, the ancient records do not mention exactly where on the Acropolis the coins were stored. Very little of the Parthenon’s attic still exists, but estimates suggest that it was 62 feet wide by 164 long, with a floor made of thick beams of wood from cypress trees. There are also remnants of a utilitarian staircase that could have been used to move money to and from the attic, where coins could have been spread across the floor space to distribute their weight. “The attic of the Parthenon is the only suitable space large enough to hold all of the coins in the Treasury. While we cannot rule out the possibility that coins were distributed across numerous buildings, we should recall that the attic is the most secure space,” Pope told Live Science. To read more about money from this period, go to "Mysterious Greek Coins Studied."

Wednesday, July 08

Four Pre-Dynastic Tombs Excavated in Egypt

DAQAHLIYAH, EGYPT—Polish archaeologists digging at Tel Al-Farkha have unearthed four Pre-Dynastic tombs, according to a report in Ahram Online. Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that three of the tombs are in poor condition, but that the fourth, a small mastaba with two chambers, is well preserved. It contained pottery such as beer jars and bowls, stone vessels of different shapes and sizes, and carnelian beads, in addition to human remains. Marek Chlodnicki, head of the Polish team, added that two buildings were also found near the tomb. One of them is rectangular in shape, had thick walls, and was located along a courtyard. The second building was built during the second half of the First Dynasty, and had double mud-brick walls. A brewery with the remnants of two vats was also unearthed at the site. To read more about the Pre-Dynastic period, go to "Mummification Before the Pharaohs." 

Scientists Reconstruct Ice-Core Timescales

RENO, NEVADA—An international team of scientists has analyzed more than 20 ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica and reconstructed the climate timeline for the first millennium. “Ice-core timescales had been misdated previously by five to ten years during the first millennium leading to inconsistencies in the proposed timing of volcanic eruptions relative to written documentary and tree-ring evidence recording the climatic responses to the same eruptions,” Francis Ludlow of the Yale Climate & Energy Institute told The Telegraph. The new study of ice cores, combined with historic records from around the world, suggests that two huge volcanic eruptions in North America could have caused the sixth-century dust clouds that led to widespread famine and disease in Europe, and even the fall of the Roman Empire. “Our new dating allowed us to clarify long-standing debates concerning the origin and consequences of the severe and global climate anomalies which began with the mystery cloud in A.D. 536 observed in the Mediterranean basin,” said Michael Sigl of the Desert Research Institute and the Paul Scherrer Institute. 

Llama Geoglyphs Found in Nazca, Peru

YAMAGATA, JAPAN—A team from Yamagata University has found an additional 24 images etched into the dust in urban areas of Nazca, Peru, using a 3-D scanner. The geoglyphs, many of which are heavily eroded, date from 400 to 200 B.C., and are thought to be older than other Nazca Line images such as the hummingbird. Most of the newly found drawings depict llamas. “There are no other areas concentrated with this many examples. Yet with both urban areas and farmland encroaching on the drawings, they are under the threat of being destroyed without being recognized as geoglyphs,” Masato Sakai of Yamagata University told The Asahi Shimbun. To read more, go to "Rituals of the Nasca Lines."

Bronze Age Gold Spirals Discovered in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Some 2,000 spirals made of gold have been unearthed in a field in southwestern Zealand, where four gold bracelets and six gold bowls have been found in the past. The spirals date to the Bronze Age, between 900 and 700 B.C. “Maybe the spirals were fastened to the threads lining a hat or parasol. Maybe they were woven into hair or embroidered on a ceremonial garb. The fact is that we do not know, but I am inclined to believe that they were part of a priest-king’s garb or part of some headwear,” Flemming Kaul of the Danish National Museum said in a Danish-language press release reported in The Local. The site has now yielded the most gold jewelry and other artifacts by weight from the northern European Bronze Age. “The sun was one of the holy symbols in the Bronze Age and gold was presumably seen as having some sort of particular magic power. It is colored like the sun, it shines like the sun, and because gold lasts forever, it was also seen as containing some of the sun’s power,” Kaul said. To read more in-depth about the Bronze Age, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

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