Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, June 08

New Flores Fossils May Be Hobbit Ancestors

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—Six teeth and a jawbone fragment thought to belong to ancestors of Homo floresiensis, the hominin often referred to as the "hobbit," have been discovered at a site called Mata Menge on the Indonesian island of Flores. The fossils represent at least one adult and two children of small stature who lived 600,000 years earlier than Homo floresiensis. Gert van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong and colleagues argue that this ancient human relative descended from Homo erectus individuals who arrived on the island and shrank over a period of about 300,000 years, perhaps because they were challenged by few predators and thus did not have a need for a big brain. “But what is clear is that they made stone tools, so they weren’t stupid,” van den Bergh said in an ABC News report. He recovered the fossils from an ancient riverbed that had been covered and preserved by a volcanic mudflow. His team will continue to look for additional fossils, such as wrist bones and skulls, for more information on possible Homo floresiensis ancestors. To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to "The First Artists."

Revolutionary War Encampment Identified in Connecticut

REDDING, CONNECTICUT—Archaeologists Beth Morrison and Laurie Weinstein of Western Connecticut State University and their students surveyed a possible Revolutionary War–era encampment in Redding, Connecticut, and concluded that the site was likely home to 1,000 to 1,500 Connecticut soldiers during the winter of 1779. Known as the Middle Encampment, the site was under the command of General Samuel Holden Parsons. Twelve collapsed fireplaces and other piles of rocks are thought to mark the locations of cabins and other outbuildings. A layer of burned animal bone at the site is similar to debris found at nearby Putnam Park, where soldiers from New Hampshire and Canada camped under the command of Major General Israel Putnam over the same winter. The investigators also recovered military buttons, shoe buckles, and musket balls. “We’re happy to say that every single [site] we put a hole into came up with a period-specific artifact,” Morrison said in a report by The Redding Pilot. The site of a third Revolutionary War encampment in the region has been lost to development. The Middle Encampment has been named a state archaeological preserve. For more on the archaeology of the Revolutionary War, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."

Tracking Paleocoastal People in California’s Channel Islands

EUGENE, OREGON—Western Digs reports that archaeologist Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon and his team predicted where they would find stone artifacts left behind by early seafaring people on Santa Cruz Island by analyzing the attributes of known Paleocoastal sites in the Channel Islands. They looked for areas with natural shelter, access to rocks and fresh water, and a view of the coastline. “We added overlook sites later as our surveys revealed that they, too, were important,” Erlandson said. In fact, two of the new sites were discovered on high bluffs overlooking the ocean. Erlandson thinks the ancient mariners valued the commanding views for spotting seals and sea lions, and maybe even other people. One of the sites has been carbon-dated to about 8,500 years ago with cast-off mussel shells. The types of tools at the other two sites suggest that they may be 11,000 or 12,000 years old. For more on early inhabitants of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Possible Shishman-Dynasty Graves Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The graves of several aristocrats have been found under the site of the medieval Church of St. George, located near the town of Botevgrad in northwestern Bulgaria. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that Filiip Petrunov of the country’s National Museum of History discovered a ring with the monogram of the Shishman Dynasty, which ruled from 1331 to 1395, in the grave of one woman that had been built into the foundations of the church. His team also found evidence that the church had been part of a monastery, which at the time was located on an island in a small lake. Byzantine coins from the fifth and sixth centuries suggest that the monastery could date to the early Christian era. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Tuesday, June 07

Australia’s “Mungo Man” DNA Retested

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Researchers led by David Lambert of Griffith University’s Research Centre for Human Evolution used new DNA sequencing methods to analyze the 40,000-year-old remains of Mungo Man, discovered in the Willandra Lakes region in New South Wales in 1974. A 2001 study had suggested that Mungo Man was not an ancestor of Australia’s Aboriginal people, but instead represented an extinct human lineage. The new study finds that the sample from the previous test had been contaminated. “We could not, with better technology, repeat what the original study found and therefore the evidence that Aboriginal people were not the first Australians has no foundation,” Lambert said in an ABC News report. Lambert and his team were not able to recover any DNA from the Mungo Man sample. They did, however, reanalyze samples from 20 other ancient skeletons discovered in Willandra. The team was able to sequence a complete mitochondrial genome from the bones of one man, but the age of his skeleton is so far unknown. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to "What's the Point?"

Genetic Study Suggests Early Farmers Migrated Into Europe

MAINZ, GERMANY—A new genetic study led by Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has linked Neolithic farmers in Germany, Hungary, and Spain to early farmers in Greece and northwestern Anatolia. Burger said in an Associated Press report that the farmers in Central Europe and Spain were more closely related to the Aegean farmers than to each other, which suggests that the farmers arrived in Europe in two separate waves. “One is the Balkan route and one is the Mediterranean route,” Burger said. The study also indicates that the migrating farmers had dark eyes, fair skin, and were not able to digest milk after childhood. A comparison of the ancient DNA with samples collected from modern Europeans found that after hundreds of years, the farmers eventually mixed with European hunter-gatherers and then with a third group of people who traveled from the eastern Steppes some 5,000 years ago. For more, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Bison Fossils Offer Clues to Human Migrations

ALBERTA, CANADA—A new study coordinated by Duane Froese of the University of Alberta has analyzed nearly 200 bison fossils as a way to investigate when people may have been able to travel through an ice-free corridor in the Rocky Mountains. Bison to the north and south of the corridor were separated from each other by the ice some 21,000 years ago and, as a result, became genetically distinct. So, as a first step, the researchers carbon-dated the bison fossils and then analyzed their DNA to show which were from the north and which were from the south. The results suggest that the southern bison began moving north some 13,400 years ago, and that the populations began to overlap some 13,000 years ago, when the corridor was fully cleared of ice. “It’s intriguing from the perspective that as much as bison and game animals were separated, so too would have been early human populations,” Jack Ives of the University of Alberta said in a CBC News report. “Once that corridor region opened … this would open the door for human populations to reengage.” For more, go to "Bison Bone Mystery."

2,000-Year-Old Estate in Israel Yields Coin Cache

MODI’IN, ISRAEL—A cache of silver coins was discovered during salvage excavations at a 2,100-year-old agricultural estate in Israel. The coins had been placed in a crevice against a wall of the estate. Olive presses and wine presses suggest that the family grew olive trees and vineyards. Ritual baths, vessels made of chalk, and bronze coins minted by Hasmonean kings were also found. The Times of Israel reports that the 16 silver coins include one or two tetradrachms or didrachms minted in the city of Tyre from every year between 135 and 126 B.C. “It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector,” said coin expert Donald Tzvi Ariel of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Excavation director Abraham Tendler thinks that the estate’s Jewish residents may have participated in the rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66, based upon bronze coins found at the site. Hiding places connected by tunnels to cisterns and storage pits were found under the floors of the house. An opening in a ritual bath led to a hiding place that contained artifacts that date to the Bar Kokhba rebellion, which occurred in A.D. 132. To read about another coin cache dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt, go to "2,000-Year-Old Stashed Treasure."

Monday, June 06

Evidence of Early Campfires Found in Europe

MURCIA, SPAIN—Science News reports that paleontologist Michael Walker of the University of Murcia and his colleagues have found evidence for the earliest controlled use of small fires in Europe at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar. The cave, located in southeastern Spain, has yielded more than 165 stones and stone artifacts and 2,300 heated or charred animal-bone fragments. Microscopic and chemical analysis of these objects indicates that they were heated to between 750 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures consistent with having been burned in fire. Walker thinks the fires were started by human ancestors some 800,000 years ago, based upon the identification of a reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field some 780,000 years ago in sediments above the burned artifacts. Fossils of extinct animals have also been found with the stone tools. Some scientists question the early date and think the tools are at most 600,000 years old. That would still make the fires the earliest known in Europe. For more on archaeology in Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."

World War I-Era Training Trenches Found in Ireland

COUNTY DOWN, IRELAND— Archaeologist Heather Montgomery of Queen’s University is investigating the remains of military trenches uncovered in Northern Ireland, near the Ballykinler army base. BBC News reports that many of the men who trained in these trenches went on to fight in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the Battle of Messines in 1917. “The training they did in there, did it actually help them?” asked Tony Canniford, estate manager for Ballykinler. “Is there any history within the bottom of the trenches? Most soldiers drop stuff when they’re training.” Plans to restore the trenches and open to the public are in the works. To read about a well-known World War I battlefield, go to "Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter."

Bronze Wing May Have Graced Roman Victory Statuette

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A bronze wing measuring 5.5 inches long has been unearthed in southwestern England. At first it had been thought that the wing, discovered in an earthen bank behind what would have been the Roman city wall, was part of an eagle statue. But Martin Henig of Oxford University has concluded that the wing was actually part of a Roman statuette of Victoria, the goddess of victory. “It would be nice to think a retired Roman soldier, spending his retirement years in Gloucester, had a nice statuette to Victory as thanks for making it through the Roman invasion of Britain in one piece,” Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology said in a BBC News report. For more on Roman remains found in England, go to "What’s in a Name?"