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From the Trenches

Spying the Past from the Sky

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Romania Fort Spy Photography

 

Half the archaeological sites discovered in Britain over the last 70 years were found via aerial photography. Archaeologists continue to dig through World War II reconnaissance and recently declassified U.S. surveillance satellite photographs to uncover new ones. 

 

William Hanson of the University of Glasgow and Ioana Oltean of the University of Exeter have brought this technique to the eastern Romanian region of Dobrogea, studying 1960s photographs of the area. They noticed three distinct, overlapping fortifications stretching over 38 miles—two of earthwork and one of stone—with more than 30 forts attached. The structure of the barriers is similar to that of Hadrian’s Wall in England. The team suggests the fortifications could date to the second century A.D., when they might have been the Roman Empire’s easternmost frontier defenses. 

 

“This photography shows the landscape as it was before the destructive impact of later twentieth-century development,” Hanson explains, adding that such photography of the Middle East is also available. “The potential to change our understanding of the historical landscape in such areas is considerable.”

The Snake King's New Vassal

By ZACH ZORICH

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guatemala Maya Snake-Dynasty

 

A stela recently discovered by a team led by David Freidel of George Washington University records previously unknown events that followed a turbulent period in Maya history. In A.D. 562, Tikal, capital of a powerful Maya empire, fell to forces of the Snake Dynasty. This shift in power rippled through Mesoamerica. On the stela, found at the ancient city of Waka’, 40 miles from Tikal, glyphs record a ceremony in which a lord named Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin (He Who Stands Up the Offering of the Eagle) ascended to the throne of Waka’ as a vassal of the Snake Dynasty, probably replacing a ruler who owed his allegiance to Tikal. The monument also mentions Lady Ikoom, a Snake queen who might have been the new ruler’s mother, and it was found in front of the tomb of another powerful, later Snake queen named K’abel (“Uncovering a Maya Warrior Queen,” May/June 2013).

Dutchman Out of His Depth

By ERIC A. POWELL

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dutch Rudder Mustache

 

Archaeologists excavating a seventeenth-century Dutch merchant ship off southern England have recovered a 30-foot-long oak rudder decorated with a Baroque carving of a mustachioed man. Bournemouth University’s David Parham first saw the carving while surveying the wreck. “It was a shock,” he says. “Usually in archaeology you only encounter skeletal remains of people. But this carving had to have been modeled on a real person. Here I was looking at him face to face. He struck me as looking mournful.” 

Catching a Ride from Ireland

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ireland Mesolithic SnailsSnails aren’t known for their ability to get around. But then there’s the strange case of Ireland’s grove snails, Cepaea nemoralis, a common European land species. Geneticists from the University of Nottingham looked closely at the lineages of this species and found that the Irish variety is most closely related to the lineage found in the Pyrenees, along the French-Spanish border—and nowhere else. There are a number of other species, including the strawberry tree and the Kerry slug, with similar distribution patterns. The researchers believe that direct movement of Mesolithic people between the two sites is the simplest explanation for the unexpected biogeographic quirk. People are known to have been in Ireland around 8,000 years ago, when the snails first appeared, and grove snails are known to have been on the Mesolithic menu across the Mediterranean. The snails may have been more than hitchhikers—they may have been cargo. 

Neanderthal Tool Time

By ZACH ZORICH

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Neanderthal Tool Cultures

 

Neanderthals seem to have produced a remarkably consistent set of stone tools for hundreds of thousands of years. Two new studies suggest that this presumed lack of diversity and innovation might not be the whole story. 

 

Karen Ruebens, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, analyzed more than 1,300 stone tools from European Neanderthal sites dated to between 115,000 and 35,000 years ago. She found that they belong to at least two distinct tool-making traditions. West of the Rhine River, Neanderthal hand axes are oval or roughly triangular, while to the east, they are rounded on one edge and flat on the other. Near the Rhine, the traditions seem to overlap, as if two cultures were sharing their techniques. 

 

A separate study, led by Marie Soressi at Leiden University, shows that Neanderthals also may have taught our Homo sapiens ancestors a thing or two. Soressi’s analysis shows that Neanderthals were using bone tools called lissoirs to process animal hides several thousand years before the first modern humans arrived in Europe and started making the same type of tool. While it has long been thought that H. sapiens were the progenitors of the practice, Neanderthals may actually have been more creative in their tool-making than was previously thought. 

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