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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 06

Technique Directly Dates Rock Art in Southern Africa

QUÉBEC, CANADA—According to a report in The International Business Times, San rock art in southern Africa has been directly dated with a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating. This method uses a much smaller sample than traditional radiocarbon dating, and thus causes less damage to the artwork. Adelphine Bonneau of Laval University explained that the study tested rock art at 14 sites located in southeastern Botswana, western Lesotho, and South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. The team members were careful to avoid paintings made with charcoal, which could have been much older than the image itself, and to remove radiocarbon contaminants from the samples. The oldest of the paintings in the study came from Botswana and was dated to between 5,723 and 4,420 years ago. “These dates are only the beginning of these investigations, but they open up the possibility of initiating a dialogue between the art of the San and their archaeological remains,” Bonneau said. “Since the rock art reflected their spiritual world, we may get new insights on their society and the cultural and spiritual connections they shared with other tribes.” To read more about rock art, go to “The First Artists.”

Metro Construction Uncovers Possible Oldest Aqueduct in Rome

ROME, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a 100-foot-long section of 2,300-year-old aqueduct was discovered in Rome’s historic city center during the excavation of a ventilation shaft for the new C metro line. Archaeologist Simona Morretta said that its large stone blocks, found more than 55 feet underground—a depth that archaeologists are not normally able to access safely—may have been part of the Aqua Appia, which dates to 312 B.C and is Rome's oldest known aqueduct. By the first century B.C., however, the structure may have been used as a sewer. Excavators also recovered the remains of a wide range of animals, including wild boars, swans, pheasants, and saltwater fish. Archaeologists are dismantling the structure, but it will be rebuilt at another location. To read more on Rome's aqueducts, go to “How Much Water Reached Rome?

Did Hunger Drive Cannibalism?

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that James Cole of the University of Brighton assessed the nutritional value of the human body and found that an adult male weighing about 145 pounds would have provided about 144,000 calories, with 32,000 of those calories from skeletal muscle. That number is low when compared with the caloric values of other animals whose butchered remains are found at Paleolithic archaeological sites, such as 3,600,000 calories in the skeletal muscle of a mammoth, or 200,100 calories from a horse’s muscles. Cole thinks it would have been easier to obtain food from the saiga antelope, whose muscles contained around the same number of calories as those of humans, or small animals such as birds and hares, than from a hard-to-catch hominin. “Maybe there is more of a social driver here, not ritual specifically, but social,” he said. For more, go to “Colonial Cannibalism.”

19th-Century European Artifacts Unearthed in New Zealand

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report in The Press, artifacts and features dating to the early nineteenth century have been uncovered at a construction site on New Zealand’s South Island by an excavation team from Underground Overground Archaeology. The artifacts, which are thought to have belonged to the island’s first European residents, include a jar labeled “Russian Bears Grease” (a hair care product that was probably goose fat), a child’s knife with a bone handle inscribed with the words “for a good boy,” and a glass jar from a London pharmacist. All of these objects appear to date to the 1840s. A decorated mason jug, probably made in the 1820s, may have been brought to the island from England as a family heirloom. The team has also found a well, walls, and a rubbish pit. Archaeologist Hamish Williams said the team is researching historic records to find out what sort of building once stood on the site. To read about a recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Wednesday, April 05

Nuclear DNA Study Suggests Genetic Continuity in North America

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, a study of nuclear DNA suggests that Native American and First Nations groups living in southern Alaska and the western coast of British Columbia are descendants of people who lived in the region some 10,000 years ago. An earlier study of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along the maternal line, failed to find a link between the 10,300-year-old skeleton known as Shuká Káa, or “Man Ahead of Us,” and members of the Tlingit tribe that now live near On Your Knees Cave, where the remains were discovered. The new tests also sampled nuclear DNA from a 6,000-year-old skeleton found on Lucy Island in British Columbia, and two skeletons from the Prince Rupert Harbor area—one 2,500 years old, the other 1,750 years old—and compared the DNA sequences to samples from 156 indigenous groups from around the world. They found that the younger skeletons were closely related to groups living in the Pacific Northwest today, while Shuká Káa appeared to be more closely related to groups living in South and Central America. But the results could indicate that the individuals all shared the same ancestors. Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois in Champaign said the data also indicates there were multiple genetic lineages in the Americas at least 10,300 years ago. To read in-depth about early settlement of the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Serdica’s Ancient Necropolis Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that six family tombs and 20 pit burials in the eastern necropolis of the ancient city of Serdica have been uncovered by a construction project. The tombs are thought to date to the fourth through sixth centuries A.D., and were heavily damaged during construction work in the twentieth century. However, human remains were recovered from the intact pit burials, which were found between the tombs. The bones from these burials will be radiocarbon dated. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

An Update on Egypt’s Newly Discovered Pyramid

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Live Science, an inscription on an alabaster block in the inner structure of a 3,800-year-old pyramid found in the royal necropolis at Dahshur records the name of pharaoh Ameny Qemau. “He was the fifth king of Dynasty XIII and ruled for about two years, [around] 1790 B.C.,” said Egyptologist James Allen of Brown University, who was asked to comment on the discovery. Another pyramid bearing the name of Ameny Qemau was discovered at the site in 1957. Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol added that the pharaoh may have chiseled out his predecessor’s name and added his own to the alabaster block found at the pyramid. For more on Egypt, go to “Mummification Before the Pharaohs.”

Face Reconstructed from 13,000-Year-Old Remains

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that researchers led by Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong have reconstructed the face of a woman whose 13,600-year-old remains were found in the Tham Lod rock shelter in northwest Thailand. Standing just under five feet tall, the woman, who is thought to be descended from the first people to colonize Southeast Asia, was between the ages of 25 and 35 when she died. Hayes said that the team compared the measurements of the woman’s face to the average variation of measurements of skulls, muscles, skin, and other soft tissues from recent populations around the world, in order to try to keep the impression of her face from being biased toward one population. But Hayes acknowledges that no one’s face is average. “Facial reconstruction fascinates people, and it attracts a lot of enthusiasm from both artists and scientists,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, some are scientists without any understandings of the technicalities of artistic depiction, others are artists without any understandings of the technicalities of science.” To read about a recent attempt at facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Tuesday, April 04

Carnuntum’s “Entertainment District” Digitally Reconstructed

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), has employed aerial photography, ground-penetrating radar systems, and magnetometers to study the Roman city of Carnuntum, according to a report in Live Science. The city, located on the southern bank of the Danube River, was home to as many as 50,000 people in the second century A.D. The latest survey suggests there was a shop-lined boulevard leading to the city’s 13,000-seat amphitheater. Neubauer and his team compared what they found to similar buildings in other Roman cities, and concluded that the shops likely sold souvenirs and ready-to-eat food. “It gives us now a very clear story of a day at the amphitheater,” he said. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

Large Pit House Excavated in British Columbia

MISSOULA, MONTANA—According to a report in The Vancouver Sun, a research team led by Anna Marie Prentiss of the University of Montana has uncovered a pit house in British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon that shows signs of periodic occupation over a period of about 1,500 years, ending in the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of European fur traders. Prentiss explained that, every 20 years or so, a new roof was put on the structure and a new layer of dirt was installed on the floor, creating 17 distinct layers in all. “We have exquisite detail, with all these floors,” she said. Among the artifacts, the team has recovered burned rocks, hide scrapers, stone points, and deer, dog, and fish bones. The house also changed size and shape over time. At its largest, the house may have met the needs of as many as 30 to 40 people living in the First Nations settlement. Venetian glass beads, an iron horseshoe, a ring, machine-made bone buttons, and three stone spindle whorls were found in the topmost layer. “The fur-trade material lets us see what life was like just before the onslaught of the Gold Rush,” Prentiss said. To read about another recent discovery in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

Ice-Age Artifacts Discovered in Indonesia

SOUTH EAST QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that art and jewelry dated to between 26,000 and 22,000 years ago has been found in Indonesia’s Leang Bulu Bettue. The cave is located on the island of Sulawesi in Wallacea, an archipelago of some 2,000 islands, where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in 2003, and rock art thought to be at least 40,000 years old was found in 2014. The jewelry includes beads made from tusks of babirusas, also known as “pig-deer,” and a pendant made from the finger bone of a marsupial known as a bear cuscus. The cave also yielded stone flakes incised with geometric patterns, pieces of ochre, and a long, pigment-covered, hollow bear-cuscus bone that may have been used as a tool for creating rock art. “The discovery is important because it challenges the long-standing view that hunter-gatherer communities in the Pleistocene tropics of Southeast Asia were less advanced than their counterparts in Upper Paleolithic Europe,” said archaeologist Adam Brumm of Griffith University. To read about early rock art found on Sulawesi, go to “The First Artists.”

Three Roman Sarcophagi Discovered in Turkey

IZMIT, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a construction crew unearthed three Roman-period sarcophagi in the region of ancient Nicomedia, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries A.D. Adnan Zamburkan, president of the Kocaeli Culture and Tourism Directorate, said two of the sarcophagi may belong to children. The third is thought to belong to an adult. “We will bring the sarcophagi to the museum after consultations with the cultural and natural heritage conservation board,” he said. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”