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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 08

Butchered Animal Residues Found on 250,000-Year-Old Tools

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—A team led by April Nowell of the University of Victoria has tested 7,000 hand axes, scrapers, flakes, and projectile points unearthed in Azraq, Jordan, with a forensic technique called cross-over immunoelectrophoresis, and detected protein residue on 17 of the 250,000-year-old tools. The residues have been identified as rhinoceros, horse, wild cattle, and duck. Bones of some, but not all, of these animals have been found at the excavation site. “The implication of all of this is these early hominins were engaging in a wide variety of techniques in order to exploit these kind of animals,” Nowell said in a Metro News Canada report. “It might seem obvious to say, but the way you take down a rhino is different than the way you take down a duck.” Nowell explained that the variety of animals that were hunted by hominins suggests that they were able to adapt to their challenging environment with complex survival strategies. To read about another discovery in Jordan, go to "Fact-Checking Lawrence of Arabia."

Maya Site Yields “Snake Dynasty” Hieroglyphic Panels

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA—Two hieroglyphic panels thought to have been part of a ceremonial staircase at the Maya site of Caracol in Belize have been found near a newly discovered tomb in Xunantunich, about 26 miles away. As a whole, the engravings on the Caracol staircase told the story of snake-dynasty ruler Lord K’an II, who defeated the city of Naranjo and killed its ruler after a ceremonial ball game. But in A.D. 680 the ruler of Naranjo defeated Caracol and the snake dynasty, dismantled the panels, and partially reassembled them in Naranjo. Fragments of panels have been found in Caracol and elsewhere, but the panels in Xunantunich are thought to tell the origins of the snake dynasty, the move of the capital, the death of K’an’s mother, and identify a previously unknown ruler of Calakmul. Epigrapher Christophe Helmke of the University of Copenhagen explained in the International Business Times that the panels clarify a “tumultuous phase of the snake-head dynasty.” Jaime Awe of Northern Arizona University and the Belize Institute of Archaeology added that it isn’t clear how the panels arrived at Xunantunich, but the city may have been allied with or a vassal state to Naranjo. For more on archaeology in Belize, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

19th-Century Plunge Pool Discovered at 12th-Century Abbey

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Restoration work at the twelfth-century Abbey of St. Mary de la Pré, also known as Delapre Abbey, has uncovered a pool that may have been used by Victorian-era bathers. “At first we were confused about what it was because of the shape and size of it, but then we had a eureka moment,” archaeological building specialist Joe Prentice told Culture 24. He explained that by the nineteenth century, the abbey would have had plumbing, making such a pool possible. “Also in the late 1800s—perhaps the 1880s or 1890s—into the period just pre-war, there was a bit of a fad for healthy living, and a belief in the healing effect of plunging into cold water,” he added. The building served as a War Office during World War II, and a record office until recently. It will open to the public later this year. For more, go to "Letter from England: The Scientist's Garden."

Montenegro Palace May Have Been Home to Illyrian Kings

RISAN, MONTENEGRO—According to Science & Scholarship in Poland, Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw’s Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Center has found monumental buildings dating to the third century B.C. in Rhizon, the ancient capital of Illyria. “The location of buildings, their scale, plan, and used building techniques are completely unusual and unique, when compared with the previously known examples of Illyrian architecture, including the structures already discovered in Risan,” Dyczek said. He thinks the structures represent a palace complex used by at least two different rulers—perhaps King Ballaios and Queen Teuta. The first palace at the site had a large room with a central fireplace flanked by marble columns. In the foundation of the hearth, the excavators found a cache of 30 coins. Luxurious Hellenistic table ware was also recovered. A paved square and a section of road were found in front of the building. This palace had been burned down, and sling projectiles were found in the ruins. The second palace had been built over these ruins with limestone floors, decorative blocks, and wide entrances that would have had wooden doors. The team also recovered fragments of two large door knockers. For more, go to "Palace of Mithradates - Kuban, Russia."

Friday, August 05

Archaeologists May Be Close to The Alamo’s Main Gate

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Archaeologists have uncovered stones that may have been part of a wall near the main gate of the Alamo compound during the mission era, in the 1700s. “We’ve got stone that has been placed in what appears to be a trench that would have been excavated,” lead investigator Nesta Anderson told San Antonio Express-News. Archaeologist Steve Tomka adds a palisade wall was probably put around the gate for added protection by the time of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. For more on archaeology in Texas, go to "Off the Grid: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site."

Scholars Revisit Cahokia’s Beaded Burial

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A team of researchers examined the maps, notes, and reports associated with the excavation of Cahokia’s Mound 72 by Melvin Fowler in 1967. They also conducted independent skeletal analysis of the remains Fowler unearthed from the so-called beaded burial, which he thought contained the remains of two high-status males surrounded by the bodies of additional warriors and 20,000 marine-shell disc beads. “Fowler’s and others’ interpretation of these mounds became the model in terms of understanding status and gender roles and symbolism among Native American groups,” Thomas Emerson of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey told International Business Times. The new skeletal analysis, however, suggests that the beaded burial’s two central bodies belonged to a man and a woman, who were surrounded by the remains of other male-female pairs along with disarticulated, bundled bones that had been buried near the important couples. “Now we realize we don’t have a system in which males are these dominant figures and females are playing bit parts,” Emerson said. He explained that this interpretation of the beaded burial is more in line with what is known about the fertility and agricultural symbolism found in the rest of the ancient city. For more on Cahokia, go to "Mississippian Burning."

New Thoughts on China’s Great Flood

BEIJING, CHINA—Geologists have found evidence of a natural disaster that might be linked to the legendary founding of Chinese civilization. According to Wu Qinglong of Nanjing Normal University, tradition holds that Emperor Yu tamed the Yellow River after a great flood, thus earning a divine mandate to establish the first dynasty. BBC News reports that Wu and his colleagues discovered sediments from a landslide that dammed the Yellow River across the Jishi Gorge. That dam burst a few months later and unleashed a catastrophic flood, so the scientists looked for evidence of it in the lowlands downstream. “I suddenly realized that the so-called black sand previously revealed by archaeologists at the Lajia site could be, in fact, the deposits from our outburst flood,” Wu said. The researchers also realized that the earthquake that destroyed the village at Lajia may have caused the landslide that dammed the river. Carbon dating of the 65-foot thick flood deposits and the bones of Lajia’s earthquake victims suggests that the flood occurred around 1920 B.C. To read about another point when an earthquake may have affected Chinese history, go to "Seismic Shift."

Smiling May Be Older Than Previously Thought

KYOTO, JAPAN—Baby Japanese macaques smile during their REM sleep, similar to human infants and baby chimpanzees, according to a study led by Fumito Kawakami of Kyoto University. Kawakami’s research team recorded how often seven napping macaques between four and 21 days old lifted one or both corners of their mouths when they fell asleep during their medical examinations. “Spontaneous macaque smiles are more like short, lopsided spasms compared to those of human infants,” Kawakami explained in a Daily Mail report. The presence of spontaneous smiles in macaques, a distant human relative, suggests that the origin of smiling dates back at least 30 million years, before the ancestors of modern humans and old world monkeys diverged. Kawakami thinks that the spontaneous smiles most likely do not express pleasure, but may help develop facial muscles used in later developmental stages for social smiling in humans and grimaces in other primates. For more, go to "Scientists Unearth Macaque 'Tools' in Thailand."

Thursday, August 04

Connecticut Site May Be Linked to Pequot War

WINDSOR, CONNECTICUT—Brian Jones of the Office of the Connecticut State Archaeologist was looking for traces of a palisade that protected English colonists from Pequot attacks in the seventeenth century when he found signs of a cellar that had been backfilled. The Hartford Courant reports that further investigation revealed eighteenth-century artifacts as well as a few from the seventeenth century, including pottery, food waste, nails, and clay pipes at a site thought to have been the home of Captain John Mason. In 1637, Mason led English colonists, allied with Narragansetts, in the “Mystic Massacre,” which killed approximately 500 Pequot men, women, and children living in a fortified village. “It may be impossible to prove a direct association with Mason, but it is currently our working hypothesis that this was his ca. 1635 house,” Jones said. For more on archaeology in New England, go to "Peeping through the Leaves."

Unusual “Wells” Found in Denmark

AARS, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that Bjarne Nielsen of the Vesthimmerlands Museum and his team have found seven mysterious black spots in northeastern Jutland, one of which includes the remains of a stone-lined well, near a Neolithic settlement and graves containing burned human bones. The well measures nearly five and one-half feet deep and contained burned bone fragments. “We believe these are human bones that were crushed after burning. Perhaps because the soul needed to be completely released from the body,” Nielsen said. The other features, also lined with stones, may have been covered by roofs supported by thick poles. Nielsen explained that constructions similar to the well have been found in the United Kingdom, but not in Europe. “This indicates there has been a connection between the Limfjord and England some 4,000 years ago,” he said. For more, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Roman Goddess Figurine Unearthed in England

SOUTH SHIELDS, ENGLAND—A second Roman goddess figurine has been unearthed by a WallQuest volunteer digging at Arbeia Roman Fort in northern England. Located on the River Tyne at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, the fort served as supply base where grain was stored for the Roman army. The bronze figurine is thought to represent Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, grain, and fertility, and may have been mounted on a larger piece of furniture. “At first I didn’t believe the goddess was real since the condition seemed pristine and the detail was incredible, but then our site supervisor fell eerily quiet, triggering a hum of authentic excitement,” volunteer Amanda Seim told the Shields Gazette. To read more about Roman finds in England, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

3,500-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Cyprus

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—An excavation in Cyprus’ ancient harbor town of Hala Sultan Tekke has uncovered a late Bronze Age tomb and an associated pit filled with precious artifacts imported from Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, and Anatolia. Led by Peter Fischer of the University of Gothenburg, the excavators from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition recovered the remains of eight infants and nine adults who may have been family members. The researchers think the pit may have served as a way to present objects, such as a diadem, pearls, earrings, gold scarabs, and pottery decorated with religious symbols, to the deceased without reopening the tomb. “In the late Bronze age period in Cyprus, people tended to be buried inside their houses rather than in cemeteries. No cemeteries from the period have been found so far, so this could be quite an exciting find in that respect,” Fischer said in an International Business Times report. For more on archaeology in Cyprus, go to "Living the Good Afterlife."