Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 17

Face of Pictish Murder Victim Recreated

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a team of researchers led by Sue Black of the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee has recreated the face of a Pictish man whose skeleton was discovered in the Scottish Highlands, in a cave on the coast of the Black Isle peninsula. Examination of his bones revealed that he had suffered from at least five serious head injuries, including broken teeth on the right side of his face; a fractured jaw on the left; a fracture to the back of his head, probably after falling from the first two blows; and a wound through the head that was probably made with the same weapon. The fifth injury is thought to have come from a larger weapon to the top of the skull. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he was killed some 1,400 years ago. Large stones had been placed on his arms and legs, which were crossed to keep the remains in place. Excavation leader Steven Birch said it was clear the man was carefully buried, though the team members don’t know why he was brutally killed. For more on facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Possible Pomegranate Seeds Found in Ancient Tomb

HOHHOT, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that more than 100 seeds thought to be 2,000 years old have been found in a brick tomb in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of northern China. The seeds were found in a circle near the head of the woman who had been buried in the tomb. Archaeologists have not yet determined the species of the seeds, which are half-moon in shape and resemble modern pomegranate seeds. The tomb also contained the remains of a bronze seal. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

New World Epidemic May Have Been Caused by Salmonella

JENA, GERMANY—Nature reports that evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his team think that a rare strain of Salmonella could be responsible for an epidemic that killed as much as 80 percent of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550, in the years following the Spanish conquest. The scientists sequenced bacterial DNA obtained from the teeth of 29 people who had been buried in southern Mexico, and compared the samples to a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes. The DNA recovered from several of the individuals matched that of Salmonella. Further testing suggests the strain is a rare one that today causes enteric fever and can be fatal without treatment. Evidence for the presence of the same strain of bacteria has been found in a woman who was buried in Trondheim, Norway, around the year A.D. 1200. The study suggests that the bacteria may have been carried by Spanish explorers to the New World. To read in-depth about the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Thursday, February 16

Nero’s Domus Aurea Receives Virtual-Reality Treatment

ROME, ITALY—CBS News reports that visitors to the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s “Golden House,” can experience how it might have looked 2,000 years ago through virtual reality headsets. Raffaele Carlani, an architect and graphic designer, and his team at the company KatatexiLux, studied the works of Renaissance painters who viewed the palace’s frescoes in their efforts to reproduce its faded splendor. “Nothing is invented,” Carlani said, “every part of the reconstruction has a scientific base.” To read in-depth about the Domus Aurea, go to “Golden House of an Emperor.”

Welcome Back, Woolly Mammoth?

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—The woolly mammoth went extinct about 4,000 years ago, probably due to climate change and human hunting. The Guardian reports that scientists think they may be able to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo in two years through the use of the Crispr gene-editing tool. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits,” explained George Church of Harvard University. Those woolly mammoth traits include small ears, subcutaneous fat, shaggy hair, and cold-adapted blood. So far, woolly mammoth DNA, obtained from the remains of animals found frozen in Siberian ice, has only been inserted into Asian elephant cells. But the team is also experimenting with an artificial womb in which a “mammophant” embryo could develop, rather than try to implant it into an endangered female Asian elephant. Church suggests that mammoth traits could help strengthen Asian elephants, and that bringing the animals back could help preserve the frozen tundra. “They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” he said. To read about the discovery of mammoth remains in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Charcoal Samples Could Reflect Tree Use at Angkor

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that archaeologists Mitch Hendrickson of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Phon Kaseka of the Royal Academy of Cambodia have been collecting charcoal samples as they excavate smelters that produced iron for Angkor some 1,000 years ago. They estimate that it took three to four tons of charcoal to smelt one ton of iron ore. The charcoal samples will help the scientists to determine what kind of trees were preferred for fueling the furnaces. “There is no record of a specific management system for forest usage, but we presume they would have had one,” Hendrickson said. Different trees would have probably been used to fire ceramics or cast bronze. Hendrickson and Kaseka hope that other researchers will add information on tree use at Angkor to their new database. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Wednesday, February 15

Unusual Burial Unearthed in Transylvania

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—City News reports that students from Australian National University unearthed a total of 49 graves dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries in a cemetery belonging to Transylvania’s Székely people, who migrated to Transylvania from Hungary in the eleventh or twelfth century. Most of the graves contained one or two small coins with the human remains, but one grave in particular yielded five large coins, which had been placed in the man’s hands, as well as brass buttons, ceramic buttons, and a leather liner. “He was very healthy, he had no indicators of disease,” said student Coco James. The skeleton, which did show some signs of trauma, was also rolled on its side and tilting downwards in the grave. The excavators think that the pallbearers may have lost their grip on the coffin during the burial, so that it rolled into the grave and landed upside down. The team members hope the excavation will provide additional evidence of the history of the Székely people, who rely on oral histories. For more, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Roman-Era Gateway Found in Jewish Town in Northern Israel

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a Roman-era gateway has been identified in northern Israel at the site of Beit She’arim, Hebrew for “House of Gates.” The small town was a center of Jewish culture, and known as the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish judicial and scholarly council, and the site where the Mishna, or Jewish oral law, was compiled in the second century A.D. The gate was built next to a circular tower with limestone blocks. Traces of postholes for doors and locks have been found in the soil. “As far as we were aware, a settlement of this type wasn’t supposed to be ringed by a wall,” said archaeologist Adi Erlich of the University of Haifa, “and therefore it was almost obvious that the name Beit She’arim wasn’t connected to the word ‘gate.’” It had been thought that the word ‘gate’ could refer to the entrances to rock-cut tombs on a nearby hillside. The fortifications may have been built to protect prominent citizens, or the town may have been part of a larger Roman fortress. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

3,000-Year-Old Bronze Weapons Unearthed in Scotland

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a well-preserved hoard of Bronze Age weapons has been discovered in a field in northeastern Scotland by a team from Guard Archaeology. Among the recovered objects were a bronze spearhead embellished with gold, and a sword, pin, and scabbard fittings, all made of bronze. Leather and wood parts of the scabbard also survived, making it possibly “the best preserved Late Bronze Age sword scabbard ever found in Britain,” according to Alan Hunter Blair, who led the team. The spearhead had been wrapped in fur skin, and a textile was also found around the pin and scabbard. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”