Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 01

Metal Pieces Found With Khufu’s Second Solar Boat

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the Egyptian-Japanese team recovering Khufu’s second solar boat from a pit near the Great Pyramid of Giza found a unique wooden beam and circular and U-shaped hooks made of metal. “What we can expect for now is that the beam may be the oar holder and the metal pieces may be frames to hold the oars and prevent friction with the boat body,” said Eissa Zidan, director of restoration for the Khufu Second Boat Project. The boat could eventually be reconstructed and put on display with the first solar boat at the new Grand Egyptian Museum. For more, go to "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."

Australia’s Ice Age Rock Art

ARMINDALE, AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Australia’s northwest Kimberley dates to the Paleolithic era, according to a report in Perth Now. A team of researchers with the Australian Research Council documented, analyzed, and dated more than 200 rock art sites in the region with different dating techniques. One of the techniques, optically stimulated luminescence, dated sand grains found in fossilized mud wasp nests that had been built over the ancient images. “As long as we understand how the nests are constructed and how well they’re preserved over thousands of years, we can use the resulting age to confidently claim that the artist painted this image before the mud wasp constructed its nest,” explained geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University. Accelerator mass spectrometry was also used to date the carbon in the wasp nests and spots of beeswax found on the images. June Ross of the University of New England said that the oldest image in the study, “a perfectly preserved, yam-like motif painted in mulberry colored ochre on the ceiling of a deep cavern,” was dated to more than 16,000 years old. She added that Australia’s oldest pictures may have been painted along the ancient coastline and may now be submerged. To read more, go to "The First Artists."

Remains of Human Body Parts Unearthed in Berlin

BERLIN, GERMANY—The Press Association reports that human bones, including fractured skulls, teeth, vertebrae, and other bones from both adults and children, have been uncovered on land that belongs to Berlin’s Free University, near the site of what was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Human bones were first discovered on the site in 2014. Some of the bones bear adhesive residue, which suggests they may have been put on display. The Institute is known to have had a collection of human remains from Germany’s colonies. During World War II, body parts of people killed at Auschwitz were sent to the Institute by SS doctor Josef Mengele for pseudo-scientific studies pursued by members of the Nazi party. Susan Pollock of the Free University and her team will examine the bones and try to determine the number of people represented, their ages, and their sexes.  To read more about this period, go to "Archaeology of World War II."

Wednesday, August 31

Blood Flow May Have Fueled Hominid Brain Growth

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Roger Seymour of the University of Adelaide and his colleagues in Australia and South Africa calculated the rate of blood flow to the brain in 12 species of hominins who lived over a span of three million years, according to a report in Popular Science. Seymour’s team based the rate of blood flow on the size of the two holes in the base of hominid skulls that allow arteries to reach the brain. They found that while brain size increased by about 350 percent, blood flow to the brain increased 600 percent. The scientists suggest that the increase in blood flow could have provided the evolving hominid brain with increasing levels of oxygen and nutrients. To read about research into the evolution of the human face, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel." 

Traces of Domestic Grains Found on Hunter-Gather Teeth

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—NBC News reports that researchers led by Emanuela Cristiani of the University of Cambridge examined micro-fossils in the dental calculus of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in central Europe some 8,600 years ago. She found evidence that they ate starches such as wheat, barley, millet, peas, and lentils. The wheat and barley granules were consistent with early domestic species found in early Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe. She thinks the grains may have been introduced to the inland foragers through social networks 400 years before they adopted domesticated animals and farming tools. It had been thought that the domesticated plants, animals, farming tools, pottery, and timber houses usually associated with farming and the Neolithic age were adopted as a package. To read more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart." 

New Genome Analysis Targets the Justinian Plague

MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that scientists Michal Feldman, Johannes Krause, Michaela Harbeck, and their colleagues have conducted a new analysis of the genome of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium thought to have caused the Justinian plague. The researchers obtained a high-quality sample of DNA from the tooth of a sixth-century skeleton unearthed more than 50 years ago at Altenerding, a cemetery in southern Germany. The new study found mutations in the bacterial genome that the researchers say are associated with plague virulence. (As many as 50 million people in the Byzantine world are thought to have died of the plague between the sixth and the eighth centuries.) The new study also confirmed the conclusions of a previous study of Yersinia pestis, conducted by David Wagner of Northern Arizona University, that the strain could be traced back to China. “More high-quality genomes from different locations and time periods could shed light on the disease transmission routes and the rate that it spread,” Feldman said. To read more, go to "A Killer Bacterium Expands Its Legacy." 

Earliest Evidence of Cooked Salmon Found in Alaska

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks analyzed the stable isotopes of charcoal samples collected from the 17 fire pits at the Upward Sun River site in central Alaska. Dwellings at the site have been dated to as early as 13,200 years ago. Western Digs reports that the unique chemical signature of salmon fat was detected in ten of the cooking pits. One of these pits dated to at least 11,800 years old. Evidence for the cooking of freshwater fish and land animals was found in other pits, suggesting that the different foods were consistently prepared in different areas over the course of thousands of years. It had been previously believed that the Ice Age hunters who cooked here relied on land animals, such as bison, elk, and mammoth for food. For more on early peoples in the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning." 

Tuesday, August 30

Timbers Unearthed in Wales May Be Neolithic Log Boat

MONMOUTH, WALES—Oak timbers that may have been part of a Neolithic log boat have been unearthed at a construction site in Wales. Steve Clarke of Monmouth Archaeology told Wales Online that he expected the partially burned timbers to date to the Bronze Age, since a Bronze Age settlement had been discovered nearby. But radiocarbon dating suggests that the timbers are 5,000 years old. “There are cut features which appear to make it a complex craft and one that may be unique in maritime archaeology,” he said. Clarke explained that the largest of the pieces of wood may be a gunwale. It has an oval-shaped hole that was broken open, perhaps from the pressure of a rope. It also has a deep groove that may have held a central steering oar. A second timber, which also has a hole that exhibits signs of extensive wear, is thought to be part of the hull. The hole may have been used to attach an outrigger. To read more about this period, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Medieval Castle Foundations Unearthed in Scotland

DUN, SCOTLAND—Teenaged students have assisted with the excavation of what could be a fourteenth-century castle in eastern Scotland, according to a report in the Brechin Advertiser. The volunteers were helping The National Trust for Scotland repair a mausoleum at the historic eighteenth-century estate known as the House of Dun when they uncovered the foundations of a medieval chapel and the nearby castle. The mausoleum is thought to have originally been part of the fourteenth-century chapel. Researchers believe the castle was built in the defensive form of a tower house that was surrounded by a curtain wall and other buildings. Damaged during the Civil War of 1644, the castle was eventually replaced with the Georgian house that now stands on the property. “This discovery of the site of the Castle of Dun is one more piece in the jigsaw that is the House of Dun estate,” said archaeologist Daniel Rhodes. To read about excavations at another castle in Britain, go to "Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North." 

Ancient Egyptian Woman’s Face Reconstructed

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers, including an imaging specialist, a forensic Egyptologist, and a sculptor, reconstructed the face of an Egyptian mummy whose head was discovered in the collections of the University of Melbourne. The wrappings and style of embalming suggest that the person lived at least 2,000 years ago. A computed tomography (CT) scan of the embalmed head revealed that the mummy’s skull was intact, and that the individual suffered from two tooth abscesses. The scans also allowed the scientists to measure the skull. Its size suggests it belonged to a woman who was probably not more than 25 years old when she died. “We noticed that the top of her skull is very thin. It is extremely porous,” added biological anthropologist Varsha Pilbrow of the University of Melbourne. This condition may have been brought on by malaria or a flatworm infection. The researchers think the mummy’s head came to the university in the early twentieth century among the collections of archaeologist Frederic Wood Jones. To read about a recently discovered tomb containing a mummy, go to "Tomb of the Chantress."

Israel’s Early Farmers May Have Irrigated Olive Crops

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that archaeologists led by researchers from the University of Haifa and the German Archaeological Institute have recovered a large number of 7,000-year-old olive pits in northern Israel. The early famers in the Tel Beit She’an Valley also grew wheat, barley, buckwheat, lentils, and peas, and they raised goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs. But the olive trees may have required an artificial irrigation system. “The existence of an ancient agricultural system that relies on artificial irrigation will require a significant change in how we perceive their agricultural sophistication,” said project leader Daniel Rosenberg. To read more about the period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."