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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, August 28

Researchers Look for Camp Security

YORK, PENNSYLVANIA—Volunteers assisting with the investigation of Camp Security, where more than 1,000 British troops who surrendered at the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown were held, found eighteenth century buttons, a British half-penny adorned with a bust of King George II, and a lead musket ball. One of the buttons was made of tombac, and alloy of zinc and copper. Another button, made of brass with a star-like design, was common during the Revolutionary War period. “Now we don’t know what part of the site we’re on at this point in time. We won’t know that until we’ve done a lot of testing. So we’re hoping to gather that information over the course of the next several weeks,” archaeologist Steve Warfel told The Evening Sun.   

Complete Cruciform Pit House Excavated in Canada

TORONTO, CANADA—An intact cruciform pit house built by the Inuvialuit has been discovered from the in the permafrost of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Such houses, which were in use from about 1400 to 1900, have a central floor area and three large alcoves. “If you look at it from above, it kind of looks like a cross,” Max Friesen of the University of Toronto told CBC News. The floor, benches, and roof of the house at the Kuukpak site along the Mackenzie River were made of driftwood. Skins and sod were added for insulation, and an entrance tunnel extends toward the Mackenzie River. “It’s probably the single largest Inuvialuit site that was ever occupied. I would guess at least maybe 40 houses. That’s enormous,” Friesen said. He and his team will attempt to complete the excavation over the next few years before the site is destroyed by erosion.   

“Slaves’ Hill” Was Home to High-Status Craftsmen

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—New information from excavations in southern Israel’s Timna Valley by Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University suggests that the laborers who smelted copper at the site 3,000 years ago were skilled craftsmen of high social status. Since the 1930s, it has been thought that the Iron Age camp was inhabited by slaves because of the massive barrier that had been unearthed and the harsh conditions created by the furnaces and desert conditions. The well-preserved bones, seeds, fruits, and fabric that have been recently recovered tell a different story, however. “The copper smelters were given the better cuts of meat—the meatiest parts of the animals. Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything. They also enjoyed fish, which must have been brought from the Mediterranean hundreds of kilometers away. This was not the diet of slaves but of highly regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen,” Sapir-Hen told Phys.org. Ben-Yosef adds that the wall at the site was probably used to protect sophisticated technology and valuable copper ingots. To read about the discovery of an Iron Age temple in Israel, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Artifact."  

Wooden Roman Toilet Seat Discovered at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A 2,000-year-old wooden toilet seat has been discovered in a muddy garbage trench at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located at Hadrian’s Wall. “As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found. It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable,” director of excavations Andrew Birley told BBC News. Stone and marble seats are well known, but this example may be the only surviving wooden seat. Birley thinks wood made have been chosen because of the “chilly northern location.” He and his crew will look for the latrine that fits the seat. To read about an ancient Roman birthday party invitation found at Vindolanda, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Artifact."   

Wednesday, August 27

Scientists Publish Results of Kennewick Man Investigations

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A new book due out next month will offer the most detailed account to date of the research conducted on the remains known as Kennewick Man. Discovered in 1996 on federal land in the Columbia River Valley, the analysis suggests that Kennewick Man was a seal hunter from the Pacific Northwest coast who died 9,000 years ago. Scientists found a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that had healed improperly, two small dents in his skull, and a worn shoulder from the repetitive stress of throwing spears. “He was a long-distance traveler,” forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and a co-editor of the book, told The Washington Post. Scientists are still waiting for the results of genetic testing, which is being conducted in Denmark. The skeleton remains in the custody of the Corps of Engineers. For the latest on how archaeologists are rethinking the early history of the New World, see ARCHAEOLOGY's special section "America, in the Beginning."  

Vikings Used Boat Timbers to Build Houses in Ireland

CORK, IRELAND—The results of the excavation of an eleventh-century Viking settlement in Cork show that the settlers reused the wooden planks from their long-boats to build jetties and houses in a marshy area of the River Lee. Mud and wattle walls, door posts, sections of the bow of a Viking ship, fragments of decorated hair combs, metal artifacts, coins, bronze clothing pins, shoe leather, fish bones and scales, and cat skulls were also recovered in the excavation. “We also found an ax head nearby which showed that they were working the wood for the jetty on site,” archaeologist Ciara Brett told The Irish Examiner. Pottery fragments show that the Vikings imported French wine. To read about a massacre carried out against Vikings in England that occurred around this time see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Vengeance on the Vikings."   

Who Crafted Saudi Arabia’s 100,000-Year-Old Stone Tools?

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A team of researchers led by Eleanor Scerri of the University of Bordeaux compared stone artifacts unearthed from three sites in the Arabian Desert with artifacts discovered in northeast Africa near the skeletons of modern humans. All of the tools were between 70,000 and 125,000 years old. Live Science reports that the artifacts from two of the three Arabian sites were “extremely similar” to the tools from northeast Africa, suggesting that the groups may have had some interaction, and that the Arabian tools could have been made by modern humans. The tools from the third Arabian site were “completely different,” however, and may have been crafted by a different human lineage. “It seems likely that there were multiple dispersals into the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, some possibly very early in the history of Homo sapiens. It also seems likely that there may have been multiple dispersals into this region from other parts of Eurasia. These features are what make the Arabian Peninsula so interesting,” Scerri explained. To see how this discovery might complement recent DNA work, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Turning Back the Human Clock."  

Amphipolis Tomb May Have Been Looted

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri have entered the antechamber of the fourth-century B.C. Macedonian tomb under excavation in Amphipolis. “Now the front of the monument has been revealed almost entirely,” the Greek culture ministry said in a statement reported by Discovery News. There is a suspicious, man-sized opening in a wall blocking the interior, however, which suggests that the tomb may have been looted in antiquity. A second chamber and a wall can be seen through the hole. The burial complex, the largest tomb ever discovered in Greece, may have been built by Dinocrates, a friend of Alexander the Great known for the construction of Alexandria. To read about recent excavations at the Hellenistic center of Zeugma, go to ARCHAEOLOGY's "Zeugma After the Flood."   

Tuesday, August 26

New Dates for Prehistoric Paintings in Utah’s Great Gallery

LOGAN, UTAH— A team led by Utah State University geologist Joel Pederson has used luminescence dating techniques to document the timing of geologic events in southern Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, and thus “draw a box” around a probable window of time for the creation of the paintings in Horseshoe Canyon’s Great Gallery. “The most accepted hypotheses pointed to the age of these paintings as 2,000 to 4,000 years old or perhaps even 7,000 to 8,000 years old. Our findings reveal these paintings were likely made between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago,” Pederson told Phys.org. The new dates suggest that the artists may have co-existed with the Fremont people, who are known for their carved pictographs. “Previous ideas suggested a people different from the Fremont created the paintings because the medium and images are so different. This raises a lot of archaeological questions,” Pederson explained. To learn more about art from this period in Southwestern prehistory, see "Investigating A Decades-Old Disapperance," ARCHAEOLOGY's account of a mystery involving Fremont figurines.  

CT Scans of Taung Child’s Skull Challenge Development Theory

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Kristian Carlson of the University of the Witwatersrand, Ralph L. Holloway of Columbia University, and Douglas C. Broadfield of Florida Atlantic University have examined the skull of the Taung Child and its fossilized endocast with microfocus X-ray computer tomography. They found that the young Australopithecus africanus individual lacked the cranial adaptations found in modern human infants and toddlers, which allow for brain growth, as had been suggested by an earlier study. The researchers argue that the unfused patch of connective tissue between the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull, and the so-called “soft spot” on a modern human child’s head, may not even have been selectively advantageous to early prefrontal lobe expansion in hominin evolution. “We’ve demonstrated the misdiagnosis in Taung, and we believe it would be prudent to assess whether the presence of these features—unfused metopic sutures and open anterior fontanelles—may have been misdiagnosed in the additional specimens,” Carlson told Live Science. To read more about the evolution of modern human skulls see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel."  

Neolithic Oven Discovered in Croatia

BAPSKA, CROATIA—A 6,500-year-old oven has been unearthed during recent excavations at a Neolithic home site in eastern Croatia. Marcel Buric of the University of Zagreb told The Croatian Times that the oven provided the residents with cooked food, hot water, and central heating around the clock. “This discovery is important. Because the houses of this period are made of wattle and daubed with a roof made of hay, using an open fireplace was dangerous. But a roofed fireplace, like the one in Bapska, besides being safer, also had other advantages,” he said. In addition, a smelted piece of iron ore, and the cremated remains of a 15-month-old child, left, that may have been sacrificed were uncovered. “We know that such sacrifices were made to ensure the growth of crops by giving a life and putting it back into the earth. The more treasured the life, say a baby, the better the result, or so they thought,” he added.    

Medieval Graves Unearthed in Norway

OSLO, NORWAY—Some 100 burials dating from 1100 to 1400 have been uncovered by archaeologists working ahead of a public railway expansion project into the oldest area of Oslo. Views and News from Norway reports that the medieval skeletons will provide scientists with information about what early Oslo residents ate, what illnesses they had, how old they were when they died, and where the city’s cemeteries were located. “That can also tell us what rank they held in society,” said lead archaeologist Egil Bauer of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). The cemetery was known from historical sources, but was thought to be lost when a railway line was built in the area during the nineteenth century. To read about artifacts from this period being discovered in Norway's melting glaciers, see "Letter From Norway: The Big Melt."