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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 08

Cache of Silver Jewelry Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Silver jewelry dating to the second half of the seventeenth century has been unearthed in northwest Bulgaria by locals who turned it over to the country’s National Museum of History. The treasure, which includes a tiara, two forehead adornments, earrings, ear tabs, and rings, is thought to have been hidden in a leather purse during the Chiprovtsi Uprising, when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. The region of Chiprovtsi was known for its silver ore, discovered in the fifteenth century, and metal smiths. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the insurgents were crushed by Ottoman troops in 1688 near the modern city of Montana, then known as Kutlovitsa, where the treasure was found. “The treasure was probably a family fortune,” according the National Museum of History. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Cremation Pits Uncovered in Wales

ST. ATHAN, WALES—Construction work on a housing development was suspended after human skeletal remains and cremation pits were discovered by an archaeologist working at the site, located in the Vale of Glamorgan. “The council is advised by Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, its professional advisors in such matters, that the correct procedures are being followed and the investigation is continuing,” a spokesperson for the Vale of Glamorgan council told BBC News. For more, go to "Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Scientists Study Microbes on Gulf of Mexico Shipwrecks

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—At the Ocean Sciences Meeting, marine microbial ecologists Leila Hamdan and Jennifer Salerno of George Mason University and marine archaeologist Melanie Damour of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported on their investigation into changes in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. According to an article in Live Science, they said that an estimated 30 percent of the oil from the spill was deposited in the deep sea, where there are more than 2,000 shipwrecks. Those wrecks support a variety of ocean life, from microorganisms to bivalves, corals, and fish. So far, their research suggests that certain oil-eating microbes are flourishing, and that such a change in the environment could speed up the corrosion of steel-hulled wrecks. “We are concerned that the degradation of these sites a lot faster than normal will cause the permanent loss of information that we can never get back,” Damour said. To read in-depth about shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico, go to "All Hands on Deck."

Thursday, April 07

Scientists Examine Neanderthal Y-Chromosome

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A team of researchers, including Fernando L. Mendez, G. David Poznik, and Carlos D. Bustamante of Stanford University, and Sergi Castellano of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have examined DNA on the Y-chromosome of a Neanderthal male for the first time. According to a report in Science, DNA from this Neanderthal Y-chromosome, obtained from an individual who lived some 49,000 years ago at El Sidrón, Spain, was not passed on to modern humans when the two species interbred. (Modern Asians and Europeans have inherited one to three percent of their DNA from Neanderthals, but not on their Y-chromosomes.) The researchers found that the El Sidrón male had mutations in three immune genes that may have made it difficult for Neanderthal males to produce healthy male offspring with modern human females. To read more about what scientists are learning from Neanderthal DNA, go to "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."

Medieval Chess Piece Unearthed in England

WALLINGFORD, ENGLAND—A tiny chess piece that may have been part of a traveling set has been unearthed in the backyard at Wallingford Museum, located in southeast England. “It is one of only about 50 medieval chess pieces found in England and, at only 21.7 mm [about .8 of an inch] high, it is unique in being the smallest medieval Arabic chess piece known in the country,” museum curator Judy Dewey told The Oxford Times. The gaming piece, a bishop, is thought to have been carved from the tip of an antler in the twelfth or thirteenth century and is decorated with traditional roundels. The piece was found near Wallingford Priory, so the set may have been lost by a wealthy traveler who had been lodging there. “Wallingford had an important Royal Castle close by and occasionally visitors were housed in the Priory—even the monks may have played chess,” Dewey said. To read more about chess and chess pieces in medieval Britian, go to "Artifact."

Study Suggests Resources Limit Human Population Growth

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—A new study of the populating of South America, led by biologist Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford University, likens hunter-gathers to an “invasive species.” Hadley and her team compiled radiocarbon dates from 1,147 sites in South America to track the spread of people throughout the continent, and identified two phases of colonization. The first took place between 14,000 and 5,500 years ago, when she says the population reached about 300,000. During this period, human populations experienced “boom-and-bust cycles” as megafauna and other plant and animal species went extinct. “If we use up our resources, we will decline,” Hadly told Reuters. The population reached about a million people between 5,500 and 2,000 years ago. According to Hadly, this exponential growth in population can be attributed to the establishment of large societies that allowed people to “conquer” the environment. “Most lived in modern Peru, Ecuador, and northern Chile, as well as a smaller but substantial population of hunter-gatherers in Patagonia,” she said. To read more about the peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Divers Visit Underwater Site Near Mamallapuram

CHENNAI, INDIA—Divers, geologists, and archaeologists from India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) say they have found a wall, a flight of stairs, and stone blocks off the coast of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mamallapuram, according to an article in The Times of India. The team was following up on eyewitness accounts from tourists at the ancient seaport, who reported seeing a row of granite boulders some 875 yards out when the shoreline receded during the 2004 tsunami. “Some of them are badly damaged due to strong underwater currents and swells. However, we could make out that they were part of a building complex,” said Rajiv Nigam, head of the NIO’s marine archaeology unit. The buildings may have been inundated during a tsunami in the tenth century A.D. To see a slideshow of remarkable images of India's extraordinary stepwells, go to "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."

Wednesday, April 06

Skeleton Unearthed in Japan May Be 18th C. Italian Missionary

TOKYO, JAPAN—Akio Tanigawa of Waseda University has uncovered the remains of three people at the site of Krishitan Yashiki, or the Christian Mansion, a prison for Christian missionaries during the isolationist Edo Period (1603-1868). DNA analysis suggests that one set of remains may belong to Italian Jesuit priest Giovanni Battista Sidotti, who entered Japan illegally in 1708. Disguised as a samurai, he was captured and imprisoned until he died in 1714. “It is the first time we’ve found a near match of the bones of a foreign missionary,” Tanigawa told The Japan Times. For more on archaeology in Japan, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

3-D Digital Model Made of Battle of Culloden Skull

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A digital 3-D model has been made of a skull thought to be the remains of a soldier killed at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The skull has been part of a museum collection since the early nineteenth century, and is said to have been recovered from an area of the battlefield where the Highlanders wrapped their plaids around their left arms and stooped low to attack Loyalist forces. The top of the skull bears an entry wound from a musket shot; there is an exit wound at the back of the skull. “We cannot say whether the skull fragment belongs to a Jacobite or one of the Government troops but the injury to the top of the head could be interpreted in a number of different ways," said Head of Archaeological Services Derek Alexander of the National Trust for Scotland in a press release. "It could be from someone, head down, looking at the ground as they charge forward, or an individual who has already been wounded and is on their hands and knees." To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

Deer on Scottish Islands May Have Come From Distant Lands

CARDIFF, WALES—Evolutionary biologist David Stanton of Cardiff University and his colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA obtained from 74 red deer bones from archaeological sites on the Scottish mainland, Orkney, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. It had been thought that the deer had been transported by humans from the Scottish mainland to the islands because even 22,000 years ago, when sea levels were at their lowest, the islands would have been too far away for the deer to reach them by swimming. Science reports that the genetic tests revealed 14 sets of variations, or haplotypes, in the Scottish deer, and ten of those haplotypes were new and found only on the outer Scottish islands. And, none of the deer from the Outer Hebrides carry the haplotypes of deer from the mainland or the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Stanton suggests that the deer from the Outer Hebrides and from Orkney may have been brought to Scotland by Neolithic people from an as-yet-unknown location. They may have even come from western continental Europe, where red deer have an overall similar genetic profile. To read more about the prehistory of Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."