Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, October 03

Rock Art Recorded in Remote Western Australia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that Peter Veth of the University of Western Australia, in conjunction with the Balanggarra people and the Balanggarra Indigenous rangers, conducted a survey of more than 250 remote rock art sites in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Balanggarra elder Ambrose Charlameri noted that some of more than 30,000 images recorded by the team had been damaged by vandals. “Most have not been recorded in any meaningful way before,” Veth said, “although some important sites, particularly towards the west of the study area, were recorded as early as the 1980s by the first generation of rock art recorders.” He will compare the ages of the rock art sites and associated campsites in an effort to learn more about patterns of migration and the formation of regional identity among Australia’s Indigenous people. For more, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

First Polynesians May Have Traveled From East Asia

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Science Magazine reports that an international team of scientists sequenced the genomes of four women who lived on the islands of Vanuatu and Tonga between 2,300 and 3,100 years ago to try to determine if they were descended from farmers who sailed directly to Oceania from East Asia, or if they came from people who mingled with hunter-gatherers in Melanesia, including Papua New Guinea, as they slowly traveled across the ocean. Three of those skeletons were directly associated with the farmers of the Lapita culture, known for their red pottery, obsidian tools, and shell ornaments. The ancient genomes were then compared with those of nearly 800 people from 83 populations living in East Asia and Oceania today. The new study suggests that the first arrivals in Oceania traveled directly from Taiwan and the Philippines. “The Lapita have no evidence for Papuan ancestry,” said Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School. The analysis also suggests that Melanesian DNA was probably introduced to Polynesians after the Lapita period, between 500 and 2,500 years ago, by migrating Melanesian men. “The female ancestors of modern-day Oceanians are mainly Lapita, whereas their male ancestors include Papuans,” Skoglund explained. For more, go to "Polynesian Migration Examined With Vanuatu Skulls."

Castle Mound in England Dates to the Iron Age

READING, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the mound at Skipsea Castle in East Yorkshire is 2,500 years old. It had been thought that the mound, or motte, which measures 278 feet in diameter and 42 feet tall, was constructed by the Normans in the eleventh century to support a tower surrounded by defensive earthworks known as a bailey. Jim Leary of the University of Reading and his team removed soil samples from the base of the mound and tested charred seeds and pollen. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the mound was already 1,500 years old when the Normans built Skipsea Castle. “It’s the largest Iron Age mound in Britain and there it was hiding from us in plain sight,” Lear said. Further research could reveal how Iron Age Britons used the huge mound. For more on archaeology in England, go to "Legends of Glastonbury Abbey."

Friday, September 30

14,000-Year-Old Hunting Camp Unearthed in Argentina

TRES ARROYOS, ARGENTINA—Archaeologists digging a prehistoric campsite in Argentina have discovered evidence that humans first began visiting the location some 14,000 years ago, reports Ars Technica. Long-term excavations at the site, known as Arroyo Seco 2, have unearthed dozens of flint and quartzite tools, as well as numerous butchered animal bones representing a number of now-extinct species. While horses were the most common animal to be found at the site, the researchers have also discovered the remains of ground sloths, camels, and giant armadillos. The earliest radiocarbon dates from the site support the theory that humans first reached the New World by 17,000 to 15,000 years ago. To read more in-depth about these early people, go to “America, in the Beginning.” 

Asian Metal Found in Prehistoric American Dwelling

CAPE ESPENBERG, ALASKA—Western Digs reports that metal artifacts unearthed in an ancestral Inuit house dating to between A.D. 1100 and 1300 were made in Asia. The objects, which include a bronze belt buckle, an iron bead, and a copper fishhook, likely made their way to the New World via trade networks that were active long before European contact. Purdue University archaeologist H. Kory Cooper led a team that used X-ray fluorescence to analyze the buckle and bead, and found they were made of leaded alloy that was smelted in medieval Asia. “We believe these smelted alloys were made somewhere in Eurasia and traded to Siberia and then traded across the Bering Strait to ancestral Inuit people,” says Cooper. Though the objects cannot be radiocarbon dated, the buckle was attached to a leather strap that is between 500 and 800 years old. To read more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

Possible Death by Boomerang in the Outback

NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—An 800-year-old skeleton discovered in Australia's Toorale National Park has a wound to the skull that is consistent with being struck by a wooden boomerang, reports Live Science. A team led by Michael Westaway of Griffith University studied the remains, which belonged to a man between the ages of 25 and 35, and found that he had two head injuries that were in the process of healing and one long cut that had no sign of having healed, suggesting the wound was mortal. According to ethnographic accounts, Aborigines once used boomerangs that were bigger and more lethal than the more familar returning boomerang. It's possible the man, who had no defensive wounds to his arms, was attacked at a distance by such a weapon. The team was also able to determine the man ate a meal of crayfish and possum just before he died. To read about Aboriginal archaeology, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

Israel’s Tel Lachish Gate Uncovered

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Live Science reports that a team of Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists finished uncovering a large city gate dating to the eighth century B.C. at Tel Lachish National Park. Sa’ar Ganor, director of the excavation, explained that the gate into the ancient city had six chambers, three on each side of the main street. One of the rooms contained benches with armrests, jars, scoops for grain, and jar handles stamped with identifying symbols. The jars are thought to have been part of the preparations undertaken by the Kingdom of Judah for war with Assyria in the late eighth century B.C. The shrine in the gate had white-plastered walls, a bench, two four-horned altars, and ceramic lamps, bowls, and stands. The Israel Antiquities Authority said that the horns on the altar had been cut, perhaps due to religious reforms instituted by King Hezekiah to centralize religious activity in Jerusalem. Ganor said that a stone toilet seat found in the shrine may have been placed there as a way to desecrate it and prevent the room from being used for religious ceremonies. Soil samples, however, suggest the latrine was never actually used. To read more about archaeology in Israel, go to "Mask Metamorphosis." 

Thursday, September 29

Three Sarcophagi Found in Northwestern Turkey

ÇANAKKALE, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that workers repairing broken water pipes on private land in northwestern Turkey discovered three sarcophagi dating to the eighth century B.C. The burials are thought to be an extension of the ancient cemetery for the Greek trade center of Parium, which had two harbors and was located about a mile away from the burial site. Archaeologists have opened two of the sarcophagi and found gold beads, a ring, three pieces of gold, two brooches, and a mirror. To read more about archaeology in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Fossilized Bee Nest May Offer Environmental Clues

LONDON, ENGLAND—Cosmos Magazine reports that scientists led by Jennifer Parker of University College London created 3-D digital models of a fossilized bee nest found in South Africa near the 2.8-million-year-old remains of the “Taung Child,” in order to learn more about the environment in which it lived. Discovered in a limestone quarry in 1924, the Taung Child represents a young individual of the Australopithecus africanus species. The study suggests that the nest was built by an extinct type of bee that lived in the ground and built solitary nests. Parker and her team noted that these bees preferred bare, dry soil with good sun exposure, located near a reliable pollen source, supporting the idea that the Taung Child lived in a dry savannah environment, rather than in a cave. “It is not impossible that bees can nest in the ground, but underneath an overhang for example or in a shallow cave,” commented entomologist Michael Batley of the Australian Museum in Sydney. “Finding nests in the ground doesn’t mean it has to be right out in the open, but it wouldn’t be deep inside a cave,” he said. To read more about paleoanthropology in South Africa, go to "A New Human Relative."

17th-Century Equine Skeleton Unearthed in St. Augustine

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—First Coast News reports that an equine skeleton was discovered at the site of a hotel in downtown St. Augustine during the construction of a swimming pool. City archaeologist Carl Halbirt said that the animal stood approximately 40 inches tall from its hooves to its shoulder, and may have been a donkey, or one of the small horse breeds the Spanish brought with them to the New World. The skeleton is estimated to be about 330 years old, making it one of the oldest horse burials in the United States. “The burial is next to the church hospital of La Soledad,” Halbirt said. “So it’s quite possible this animal may have been used by one of the people who managed or ministered the church hospital of La Soledad in the seventeenth century.” The archaeology team will leave the remains in the ground. To read more about Spanish Florida, go to "Off the Grid: Mission San Luis."

Etruscan Tombs Discovered in Italy

MONTALTO DI CASTRO, ITALY— reports that 17 additional tombs dating from the ninth to third centuries B.C. have been found in the Poggetto Mengarelli necropolis at the Etruscan site of Vulci. This part of the park has been looted recently. “The number of tombs present in this small area is impressive,” said Alfonsina Russo, Archaeology Superintendent for Rome. One man’s tomb contained silver rings and bronze ornaments and vases. A young girl in another tomb had been buried with gold earrings and two siren statues. A bronze mirror was also recovered. To read in-depth about Vulci, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."