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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 30

High-Tech Scans Detect Ancient Maya Highways

MIRADOR BASIN, GUATEMALA—Seeker reports that the Light Detection and Ranging tool, or lidar, has been used by researchers with the Mirador Basin Project to scan more than 430 square miles of jungle in Guatemala’s northern Petén region. The data collected with the technology was used to produce a detailed map of a 150-mile-long network of 17 Maya roads, first discovered in 1967. “The creation of these causeways allowed the unification of what appears to be the first state-level society in the Western Hemisphere,” said team leader Richard D. Hansen of the University of Utah. Trade goods, tribute, rulers, and armies could have traveled from city to city along the system of highways. The lidar scans also detected a system of corrals which may have been used to raise livestock for food on an industrial scale. The food could also have been distributed using the road system. The new research could help scientists understand why the Maya civilization in the Mirador Basin declined after A.D. 150. To read more about the Maya, go to “Tomb of the Vulture Lord.”

2,000-Year-Old Glass Workshop Found in Poland

ZYWIEC, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that the remains of a 2,000-year-old glass and metal workshop have been found on Mount Grojec in south-central Poland. Archaeologist Tomasz Gralak of the University of Wroclaw and his team uncovered furnaces, defective glass beads, and pieces of melted waste glass at the site, which was located in a settlement dating back more than 2,500 years. “It was here that half-processed material in the form of lumps of raw glass or metal bars was delivered and finished items were made,” he explained. Gralak and his team will analyze the glass to see if they can determine where it originated. The researchers think it may have been imported from as far away as the Mediterranean. The team also found a large cistern near the workshop, crucibles for melting metal, and stone grinders. “They were probably influenced by Celtic tribes, which had the knowledge of glass processing. But it was a local population, limited to the mountain areas,” he said. It had been thought that glass was not produced in Poland until the medieval period. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Friday, January 27

Four 19th-Century Shipwrecks Found Near Australia

BUNDABERG, AUSTRALIA—The Australian Associated Press reports that four nineteenth-century shipwrecks have been found at Kenn Reef, located off the coast of Queensland, by a team of archaeologists from the Australian National Maritime Museum. Eight ships are known to have been wrecked in the area during the nineteenth century while traveling to and from trading ports in India and Indonesia. Anchors, fasteners, and at least six cannons have been found at the site. The next step is to try to identify the wrecks. “This will take months of careful examination of the archaeological discoveries against historical records, including ship’s logs and accounts of shipwrecks in newspapers from the period,” explained museum maritime archaeologist James Hunter. For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Discovering Terror.”

2,000-Year-Old Doll Discovered in Japan

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a small doll from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.–A.D. 300) was discovered in a burial at the Kori ruins in the southern city of Ibaraki. The neighboring Kori and Heka ruins are thought to have been part of a large village, and they share more than 140 tombs, according to the Osaka Center for Culture Heritage. The clay figurine, which stands about two inches tall, consists of a round head placed on a cylindrical torso with a flat base. It has holes for its eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. This is the first time that this type of figurine has been found in Osaka prefecture, and it is one of only a few to have been found intact. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Wildfire Revealed Thousands of Native American Artifacts

SHOSHONE NATIONAL FOREST, WYOMING—According to a report in Western Digs, a Shoshone campsite thought to have been used off and on for perhaps as long as 2,500 years has been found along Caldwell Creek in the Absaroka Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Norton Point fire of 2011 revealed the high-altitude site as a “carpet” of stone artifacts and pieces of chipped stone near what is now a popular trailhead. Laura Scheiber of Indiana University and her team have recovered arrow points, bone tools, bifacial knives, and grooved mauls, most of which are thought to date to within a few hundred years before the Mountain Shoshone first made contact with Europeans. Upstream from the site, the research team also found a series of hearths, a Shoshone knife, a grinding rock, and fragments of pottery characteristic of pre-contact Shoshone culture. “The recovery of more than 1,000 ceramic sherds is especially exciting,” she said, since it triples the number of samples available for study and analysis. For more, go to “Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers.”

Thursday, January 26

Possible Pilgrim’s Remains Found at Medieval Leprosy Hospital

WINCHESTER, ENGLAND—The excavation of a medieval cemetery at St. Mary Magdalen leprosarium has revealed the bones of a possible Christian pilgrim, who was identified by the presence of a scallop shell in his grave, according to a report in the International Business Times. Scallop shells were a symbol of pilgrimage to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, the endpoint of a route known as the Way of St. James that grew in popularity during the twelfth century. Simon Roffey of the University of Winchester noted that 86 percent of the more than 100 skeletons found at the hospital cemetery showed signs of leprosy on their bones. And, since there is also a form of leprosy that does not leave marks on the bones, it is possible that the rest of the people buried in the cemetery also suffered from the disease. “This contradicts previous evidence we have that leprosy was an ‘umbrella term’ for other conditions,” Roffey explained. It had been thought that leprosy spread through Europe with the Crusades, but archaeological evidence suggests that the Winchester hospital was founded before the Crusades began. Roffey and his team suggest that pilgrims may have contracted the disease in crowded churches and spread it to others through their travels. For more, go to “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”

Update on 2,600-Year-Old Celtic Grave Discovered in Germany

BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG, GERMANY—Scientists have continued to excavate a burial chamber removed in an 88-ton soil block from the Heuneburg hill fort in 2005, according to a report in Live Science. State archaeologist Dirk Krausse said the waterlogged grave contained the remains of an elite Celtic woman who died in 583 B.C.—a date determined through study of the tree rings of the planks of the chamber floor. Among the artifacts were a petrified sea urchin and an ammonite, suggesting that the woman was “a kind of priestess,” according to Krausse. Other items include gold, bronze, and amber jewelry, and poorly preserved textiles and furs. A computed tomography scan of a bronze sheet at the feet of a second woman in the tomb revealed traces of an iron horse bit. The bronze sheet may have been another piece of horse gear worn over the forehead. An ornament made of boars’ tusks and bronze pendants that would have jingled when worn on a horse’s chest was also recovered. The style of the jewelry resembles artifacts found in cultures to the south of the Alps, and suggests that there had been more trade between the two regions than had been previously thought. To read about another discovery in Germany, go to “World’s Oldest Pretzels.”

Cambridge Cemetery Yields Friars’ Medieval Bones

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that more than 25 skeletons have been uncovered in a section of the University of Cambridge including many of its science departments. The site had been home to an Augustinian friary that was founded in 1290. “They come in, they set up their friary and mark off an area as a cemetery and they start burying people in nice, neat rows,” said site director Craig Cessford of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. After 100 to 150 years, the cemetery was full, and the friars reused the land multiple times in subsequent years, according to Cessford, until the friary was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538. Later development on the site disturbed the bones, which are now being collected and processed for study by osteoarchaeologists. The excavation team expects to recover the remains of as many as 40 people from the cemetery before redevelopment of the site can begin. To read about a “magic shoe” that was discovered at the University of Cambridge, go to “Artifact.”

Roman Town Houses Found in English City Park

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—The Chichester Observer reports that the foundations of three Roman buildings were discovered in a city park with ground-penetrating radar. The two large houses and a third masonry building with a rounded end are about 1,600 years old. “The only reason they have survived is because they are under a park that has never been built on,” said archaeologist James Kenny of the Chichester District Council. He thinks the houses, which have walls surrounding complete rooms set around courtyards or atriums, were owned by wealthy Romans living in southern England. The third building may have been a cellar or a bath house. A community excavation is scheduled for later this year. For more on the archaeology of Roman England, go to “What’s in a Name?