Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 01

Genetic Study Suggests Modern Link to Stone Age Population

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, some modern, indigenous East Asian populations have a genetic makeup that closely resembles that of two female hunter-gatherers who were buried in the Russian Far East nearly 8,000 years ago. Nuclear DNA was extracted from the hunter-gatherers’ teeth, inner ear bones, and other skull bones, which were found in Devil’s Gate Cave along with pottery, harpoons, and nets and mats woven from wild sedge grass. The DNA was analyzed by a team led by Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge, who compared it to hundreds of genomes of modern Asians and Europeans. The hunter-gatherers from Devil’s Gate Cave were found to be most closely related to the Ulchi people, who live in the Amur Basin to the north. The study also suggests that the women looked like modern Ulchi people, in that they had brown eyes; thick, straight hair; and shovel-shaped incisors. The women were also related to modern people based in eastern Siberia and China, and to modern Koreans and Japanese. In addition, the results suggest that no other group, such as migrating farmers, contributed a significant amount of DNA to the people of the region. For more on the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Possible Historic Shipwreck Discovered Near Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—The Local Sweden reports that marine archaeologists from the Sjöhistoriska Museet (Maritime Museum) think they have discovered the wreckage of the Blekinge, a historically significant warship that sank off the coast of southern Sweden in 1713. The Blekinge is known to have been about 150 feet long, and it carried between 68 and 70 cannons. “It’s the first ship that was built in Karlskrona, and was launched in 1682. It participated in, among other things, King Karl XII’s sea assault against Denmark in 1700,” said Jim Hansson of the Swedish National Maritime Museums. Hansson thinks the ship may have been sunk deliberately, and used as a cannon barge to defend the city of Karlskrona during King Karl XII’s invasion of Russia. The shipwreck is buried under layers of sediment, and was probably damaged during the construction of a stone pier at the Karlskrona shipyard. For more, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...

12,000-Year-Old Prostate Stones Found in Sudan

TREVISO, ITALY—Seeker reports that a team led by Donatella Usai and Sandro Salvatori of the Center for Sudanese and Sub-Saharan Studies uncovered the 12,000-year-old remains of a man who suffered from prostate stones. The skeleton was found in the cemetery of Al Khiday, which is located on the banks of the White Nile in central Sudan. The stones, which are about the size of walnuts, were found in the skeleton’s pelvic area and close to the lumbar vertebrae, and presumably caused extreme pain and made it difficult to urinate. The mineral composition of the stones and relatively low density established that they were not rocks, explained Lara Maritan of Padova University. Further examination with a scanning electron microscope revealed a form of calcium phosphate in the stones that indicates they were indeed produced by the prostate gland. Imprints of bacteria in the stones suggest that the man also suffered from an infection. For more on archaeology in Sudan, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

Tuesday, January 31

Hurricane Matthew Damage Uproots Artifacts in Georgia

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—WLOX reports that artifacts such as pottery, metal fragments, brick and other construction materials, and oyster shells are turning up in Savannah as trees toppled last October by Hurricane Matthew are removed. The extensive root systems of approximately 40 fallen trees reach through cemeteries, parks, and historic battlefield sites, some of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. “When you think about Savannah and how old Savannah is and all the history we have above ground, I think it doesn’t surprise me at all that underground we have lots and lots of history,” said Library and Archives Director Luciana Spracher. The trees will be removed according to Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines to protect archaeological resources. For more, go to “Live Civil War Ordnance Uncovered by Hurricane Matthew.”

Roman Shipwreck Discovered Near the Balearic Islands

CABRERA, SPAIN—Last year, fisherman working off the coast of the tiny island of Cabrera, in the Cabrera Archipelago Maritime-Terrestrial National Park, let the researchers at the Balearics Institute for the Study of Marine Archaeology (IBEAM) know that they had found pottery fragments in their nets. El País reports that the IBEAM team then investigated the site with a robot and found the wreckage of an 1,800-year-old Roman ship under more than 200 feet of water. The ship, which had been carrying an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 amphoras, is thought to have been transporting fermented fish sauce between North Africa, Spain, France, and Rome. Most of the amphoras at the shipwreck site measure about three feet long and are thought to have originated in North Africa, while the smaller jars are thought to have originated in southern Portugal. “As far as we know, this is the first time that a completely unaltered wreck has been found in Spanish waters,” said marine archaeologist Javier Rodríguez. For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Discovering Terror.”

38,000-Year-Old Engraving Found in France

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Live Science reports that new excavations at the Abri Blanchard rock shelter in southwestern France uncovered a broken limestone block engraved with an image of an aurochs, a type of extinct wild cow, surrounded by rows of small dots. Radiocarbon testing revealed that the block dates to some 38,000 years ago—a time when modern humans were first spreading into Europe. Anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavations, said that the block may have fallen from the ceiling of the rock shelter, or it may have been carried there by a member of the Aurignacian culture for carving. Similar images of aurochs have been found in France’s Chauvet Cave, and aligned dots have been found engraved on Aurignacian objects, but it is unusual to see the dots combined with an image of an animal. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Ancient Jar Discovered in Turkey May Contain Human Remains

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a team from the Milas Museum has unearthed an intact jar in southwestern Turkey’s Mu─čla province. Found at a construction site, the jar is thought to date to the Hellenistic period. It stands about 15 inches tall and may contain burned human remains. The jar has been taken to the Milas Archaeology Museum for further study. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

England Returns Egyptian Ushabti Figurine

LONDON, ENGLAND—Ahram Online reports that a wooden ushabti figurine stolen from a storehouse in Aswan in 2013 has been recovered in London. The figurine, which stands about six and one-half inches tall, was discovered by Spanish archaeologists in 2009 at the Qubet Al Hawa necropolis, and was placed in a storehouse with other artifacts. Shaaban Abdel Gawad, head of the antiquities repatriation department at Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, said that the theft occurred after the Spanish archaeological mission left the site. A curator at the British Museum spotted the ushabti and reported it to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, leading to its return. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Monday, January 30

High-Tech Scans Detect Ancient Maya Highways

MIRADOR BASIN, GUATEMALA—Seeker reports that the Light Detection and Ranging tool, or lidar, has been used by researchers with the Mirador Basin Project to scan more than 430 square miles of jungle in Guatemala’s northern Petén region. The data collected with the technology was used to produce a detailed map of a 150-mile-long network of 17 Maya roads, first discovered in 1967. “The creation of these causeways allowed the unification of what appears to be the first state-level society in the Western Hemisphere,” said team leader Richard D. Hansen of the University of Utah. Trade goods, tribute, rulers, and armies could have traveled from city to city along the system of highways. The lidar scans also detected a system of corrals which may have been used to raise livestock for food on an industrial scale. The food could also have been distributed using the road system. The new research could help scientists understand why the Maya civilization in the Mirador Basin declined after A.D. 150. To read more about the Maya, go to “Tomb of the Vulture Lord.”

2,000-Year-Old Glass Workshop Found in Poland

ZYWIEC, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that the remains of a 2,000-year-old glass and metal workshop have been found on Mount Grojec in south-central Poland. Archaeologist Tomasz Gralak of the University of Wroclaw and his team uncovered furnaces, defective glass beads, and pieces of melted waste glass at the site, which was located in a settlement dating back more than 2,500 years. “It was here that half-processed material in the form of lumps of raw glass or metal bars was delivered and finished items were made,” he explained. Gralak and his team will analyze the glass to see if they can determine where it originated. The researchers think it may have been imported from as far away as the Mediterranean. The team also found a large cistern near the workshop, crucibles for melting metal, and stone grinders. “They were probably influenced by Celtic tribes, which had the knowledge of glass processing. But it was a local population, limited to the mountain areas,” he said. It had been thought that glass was not produced in Poland until the medieval period. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”