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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, April 01

Ancient Thai Manuscripts Now Available Online

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts has been launched by Justin McDaniel of the University of Pennsylvania and Harald Hundius, David Wharton, and Bounleut Thammachak of the National Library of Laos. “This is a huge project to preserve, make accessible, catalogue and scan the entire corpus of Northern Thai manuscripts. Anyone from students and researchers to monks and nuns can now read this preserved literature of an entire people,” McDaniel said in a press release. The library contains approximately 5,000 ancient manuscripts from monastic temples, and will eventually contain more than 7,000. The database also includes material from the Preservation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project of the Chiang Mai University Library. “It’s mostly Buddhist material, but also scientific material, historical material, botany, astrology, grammar, folk tales, philosophical tales, a massive corpus going back from 1410 to the 1950s when print became more popular,” McDaniel added. To read about an ancient site on the Thai-Cambodian border, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear."

Excavations Conducted at Illinois’ Glidden Homestead

DEKALB, ILLINOIS—Archaeologist Eli Orrvar is excavating the nineteenth-century barn at the home of Joseph F. Glidden, who improved the design of barbed wire and patented it in 1874. Barbed wire was used to construct inexpensive fencing that could restrain cattle, and at first, Glidden manufactured it in his barn. The excavation will become part of the exhibit at the Glidden Homestead. “We have this plan for the usage and historical restoration. The idea is to clear this off so we can clear [the flooring] and then dig those test pits and see if there are artifacts in there,” historic site director Rob Glover told The Northwest Herald. So far, the team has uncovered a glass medicine bottle, a kitchen knife handle, and fragments of glass, coal, and animal bones. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "Letter from Philadelphia: City Garden."

Possible Viking Site Spotted in Newfoundland

POINT ROSEE, NEWFOUNDLAND—A second possible New-World Viking site has been found on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, about 300 miles south of “L’Anse aux Meadows,” which was discovered in 1960. The site was spotted by  archaeologist Sarah H. Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, while she was looking at high-resolution satellite images of New World coastlines. The site, called Point Rosee, appeared as a dark stain with buried rectilinear features. On the ground, magnetometer readings showed elevated iron readings, and test trenches exposed turf walls, ash residue, a fire-cracked boulder, and roasted ore called bog iron. “It screams, ‘Please excavate me!’,” Parcak told The New York Times. Team member Douglas Bolender of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, thinks the buried structure could be a smithy for forging longboat nails and weaponry. “There’s no lock that it’s Norse, but there’s no alternative evidence,” he explained. To read more about Norse settlements, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

Fabric Found in Nepal Suggests Silk Road Connection

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Mark Aldenderfer of the University of California Merced and a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge led the excavation of ten shaft tombs cut into the rock of a cliff face in Upper Mustang, Nepal. One of the tombs, Samdzong 5, yielded cloth dated to between 400 and 650 A.D., and a gold and silver funerary mask. Analysis of the cloth shows that it had been made with local materials, and silk and dyes imported from China and India. “There is no evidence for local silk production suggesting that Samdzong was inserted into the long-distance trade network of the Silk Road,” Margarita Gleba of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge said in a press release. Copper, glass, and cloth beads had been sewn to the fabric. Pinholes in the funerary mask suggest that it had also been sewn to a piece of fabric, perhaps as part of a piece of decorative headwear. To read more about archaeology in Nepal, go to "Buddhism, in the Beginning."

Thursday, March 31

Radar Experts Comment on Tut’s Tomb Investigation

CAIRO, EGYPT—Live Science reports that experts are calling for more radar data and information on how it was collected to be released from the recent investigation of the area around Tutankhamun’s tomb. Earlier this month, Japanese radar technologist Hirokatsu Watanabe suggested that there could be two cavities beyond the walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, and that those cavities could hold metallic and organic substances. Commenters have also noted that the geology of the Valley of the Kings contains many natural voids. “It does not appear that these GPR [ground-penetrating radar] data have been processed, or that any of the so-called anomalies are visible in the raw data that are provided,” said Lawrence Conyers of the University of Denver. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has announced that additional radar surveys will be conducted over the next few days. To read more about Tutankhamun, go to "Warrior Tut."

Metal Scourge Unearthed at Medieval Abbey

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have identified pieces of metal uncovered at Rufford Abbey as one of only four medieval scourges known in England. The scourge, made of woven copper-alloy wires braided together, may have been used by the abbey’s Christian monks in the penitential act of self-flagellation, and to ward off the Black Death of 1348. Similar scourges have been found at Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, Grovebury Priory in Bedfordshire, and Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire. “Each archaeological dig at Rufford Abbey unearths something new about its remarkable history and this is another fascinating discovery which helps us to build a picture of what life could have been like for the monks living in the Abbey during the dark days of the Black Death and its aftermath,” Councilor John Knight, Committee Chairman for Culture at Nottinghamshire County Council said in a press release. To read more about medieval English archaeology, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

New Research Suggests Hobbits Died Out 50,000 Years Ago

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—Recent excavations in Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores have led to new dates for Homo floresiensis, a diminutive human species dubbed the “hobbit.” Most of the fossils recovered in 2003 from deposits in the cave dated to 18,000 years ago, while fragments of other individuals were found in layers dated to 95,000 years ago and 12,000 years ago. The new information, gathered between 2007 and 2014, suggests that all of the Homo floresiensis fossils are between 100,000 and 60,000 years old. “As we extended our original excavations each year, it became increasingly clear that there was a large remnant pedestal of older deposits truncated by an erosional surface that sloped steeply toward the cave mouth,” Thomas Sutikna of the University of Wollongong and the National Research Center for Archaeology (Indonesia) said in a press release. These older sediments were covered by much younger sediments. “Unfortunately, the ages of these overlying sediments were originally thought to apply to the ‘hobbit’ remains, but our continuing excavations and analyses revealed that this was not the case,” Wahyu Saptomo of the National Research Center explained. The scientists now think Homo floresiensis died out some 50,000 years ago. To read more about recent work on human evolution, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Wednesday, March 30

New Kingdom Necropolis Discovered in Ancient Rock Quarry

ASWAN, EGYPT—A New Kingdom necropolis of rock-cut tombs has been discovered at the quarry site of Gebel el-Silsila. “So far we have documented over 40 tombs, including a small shrine on the banks of the Nile. Many tombs are in bad condition. They have suffered from heavy erosion and extreme decay due to the rising water and its high salt content,” Maria Nilsson of Lund University and director of the Gebel el-Silsila Survey Project told Discovery News. The undecorated tombs had crypts cut out of the rock floors. Slots cut in the doorways suggest that there had been heavy, vertically-closing doors. The artifacts, including fragments of painted mud plaster, mummy wrappings, beads, amulets, a reversible seal ring, and pottery, indicate that it wasn’t the quarry workers who were buried at Gebel el-Silsila. “However, the higher officials, viziers and such that were active at Silsila were buried in Thebes, so it is likely that the people entombed in the rock-cut graves belong to the level just below the officials,” Nilsson said. To read more about Gebel el-Silsila, go to "'T' Marks the Spot."

Thousands of Aboriginal Artifacts Uncovered in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A light rail construction project near Sydney has unearthed some 20,000 indigenous artifacts at what archaeologists say may have been a ceremonial meeting place. “I would suggest quite strongly that this site is of state significance,” archaeologist Jakub Czastka told The Sydney Morning Herald. Some of the artifacts, including spear heads and cutting tools, are made of materials from the Lower Hunter Valley, located more than 75 miles away. “You have material that’s not from Sydney. It demonstrates a trading route, or that the mobs out of the Hunter Valley were working with the mobs in Sydney,” explained Scott Franks, an indigenous heritage consultant. He has requested that the construction of the light rail stable yard in Randwick be stopped. “Transport for New South Wales and ALTRAC Light Rail [the public-private partnership consortium] are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, opportunities to recognize the items found on site, for example in displays or education programs,” responded a Transport for New South Wales spokesperson. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Historian Challenges Identification of Scotland’s Lost Village

HAMILTON, SCOTLAND—Ed Archer of the Lanark and District Archaeological Society disagrees with the recent claim that medieval buildings unearthed during roadwork in the Lowlands of Scotland could be the lost village of Cadzow. He says the buildings are the remnants of Netherton, which appears at the site of the excavation on a sixteenth-century map. In addition, he says that Cadzow was mentioned as the location for a sixth-century legend set on the banks of the River Avon. “Down by the water’s edge Langoreth, the wife of Rhydderch, King of Strathclyde, was having an affair with a young man and lost her marriage ring which fell into the Avon. She was mortified and sought the help of St. Kentigern. After some while a servant who was fishing brought a salmon out of the river. Fortunately the ring was inside the salmon,” Archer told The Daily Record. Archer thinks Cadzow is located in Hamilton’s Chatelherault Country Park. “Cadzow is generally thought to be the area up in the High Parks and it was one of the palaces of the kings of Strathclyde,” he said. “This palace might be the circular enclosure that shows up on aerial photos of the High Parks.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

High-Protein Diet May Have Shaped Neanderthals

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Scholars from Tel Aviv University say that Neanderthals may have been shorter and stockier than modern humans due to their high-protein diet based upon large animals. Their wider rib cages could have accommodated a larger liver for metabolizing large quantities of protein, and the wider pelvis may have held an enlarged bladder and kidneys to remove the waste products of protein metabolism. “During harsh Ice-Age winters, carbohydrates were scarce and fat was in limited supply. But large game, the typical prey of the Neanderthal, thrived. This situation triggered an evolutionary adaptation to a high-protein diet—an enlarged liver, expanded renal system and their corresponding morphological manifestations. All these contributed to the Neanderthal evolutionary process,” Miki Ben-Dor said in a press release. The team adds that early indigenous Arctic populations that eat a meat-based diet also had enlarged livers and drank a lot of water to process their high-protein diet. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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