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From the Trenches

Iceland’s Young Migrant

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trenches Iceland apron

 

The remains of the “Woman in Blue,” discovered in 1938 in eastern Iceland, have been subjected to a battery of tests that have revealed new details about her origins and life history. Chief among these is that the woman, named after a blue-dyed apron she was buried in, appears to have come to Iceland during its early settlement period. Radiocarbon dating of one of her teeth suggests that she was born around A.D. 900, while settlement is thought to have begun around A.D. 871. Isotopic analyses of the same tooth indicate that, at around age five, her diet shifted from one composed primarily of land animals to one including a mix of seafood and land animals. “This implies that she moved to Iceland some time after the age of five,” says Joe Walser of the National Museum of Iceland. The analyses suggest that she spent the early part of her life in southern Denmark or the British Isles.

 

Fragments of the woman’s apron and another garment show an amalgam of Nordic and Celtic weaving and spinning techniques using wool that appears to have been sourced locally. She was also buried with grave goods including Scandinavian-style copper-alloy brooches, an imported soapstone spindle whorl, and an iron tool with a bone handle.

A Villa under the Garden

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trenches England villa

 

Archaeologists from Historic England and the Salisbury Museum were called to investigate a well-preserved Roman mosaic discovered near Tisbury in Wiltshire, England. The red, white, and blue ancient floor was found just 18 inches belowground when a local resident was installing an electrical cable in his garden. After a week of geophysical survey and excavation, experts concluded that the mosaic was part of a large Roman villa complex that was built between A.D. 175 and 220. Due to its size and state of preservation, the villa’s discovery is being characterized as “unprecedented in recent years.”

 

Trenches England mosaicThe walls of the ground floor, which contained as many as 25 rooms, were preserved to a height of five feet. The double-courtyard villa is believed to have stood three stories high, and may have rivaled the most opulent Roman villas in England. In the brief investigation, archaeologists uncovered evidence of the ancient family’s wealth, including coins, jewelry, and even discarded oyster shells—the shellfish would have been transported from the coast 45 miles away in buckets of salt water.

 

Occupation of the site lasted until the seventh century, and researchers are hoping that further investigation can reveal more about the comparatively little-known historical period between the collapse of Roman Britain and the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon era.

Fit for a War God

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trenches Oman weapons block2Archaeologists from the French National Center for Scientific Research working in a large building at the site of Mudhmar East near the city of Adam in Oman have made an “exceptional find.” Inside the structure, which is thought to have had a religious function, the team uncovered a collection of bronze weapons dating to between 900 and 600 B.C. The metal artifacts—two very rare quivers (ordinarily made of leather) with arrows, five battleaxes, five daggers, 50 arrowheads, and five bows, are too small to have been used in combat and were, explains project director Guillaume Gernez, perhaps intended as offerings to a war god. This region of the Arabian Peninsula, which sits at an important crossroads of ancient trade routes on the border between Oman’s desert and oases, is almost entirely archaeologically unexplored.

A Life Story

By ROGER ATWOOD

Monday, June 13, 2016

Peruvian archaeologists have found the 4,600-year-old remains of a woman decked out in finery, including a shell necklace, bone brooches, and blankets made of cotton and woven reeds. The bones were discovered at Áspero, a major site of the north-coast Caral civilization, the oldest known urban society in the Americas, which dates to four millennia before the Inca. “We can interpret that, some 4,600 years before the present, women had already reached significant positions in society,” says archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís. The brooches in particular, carved into bird and monkey designs, point to “a woman of prestige.” The necklace’s shells must have been brought from Peru’s far north coast and the Amazon lowlands, both hundreds of miles away, further proof of her high status. Despite the fancy accessories, the woman, who was between 40 and 50 years old when she died, saw trauma in life. She had three major bone fractures, likely caused by a fall, and a skull deformation.

 

Trenches Peru Aspero block

Proof in the Prints

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trenches Tanzania footprint beigeTrenches Tanzania footprint colorsIn 1976, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey discovered the oldest known hominin footprints. The footprints, in Laetoli, Tanzania, have been dated to around 3.66 million years ago and are thought to have been left by members of the species Australopithecus afarensis. They consist of two parallel tracks: undisturbed prints from a single individual and a set of overlapping prints from at least two ancient primates.

 

In the decades since the discovery, attention has focused on the undisturbed prints, in part because the overlapping ones have been considered too fragmentary to study. Experts have estimated that the individual who left the undisturbed prints stood just over four feet, three inches, and walked at around 1.4 miles per hour. However, there has been extended debate over how efficiently this individual’s feet worked compared with those of modern humans. Formulating answers to this question has been complicated by the limited sample size—a single track from just one individual.

 

But now, a team at Bournemouth University in England has developed a software package called DigTrace and created a digital model of the footprints left by one of the other individuals. The team used the software, which is also being applied to modern crime scene analysis, to create 3-D scans of the overlapping footprints and isolate one set. They estimate that the individual who left these was around five feet tall, and walked at approximately the same pace as the individual who left the undisturbed prints. Team leader Matthew Bennett says that comparison of the two sets of footprints suggests that the feet of these individuals worked at a level of efficiency similar to that of modern humans. “This debate has raged for 40 years based on the gait of one individual representing an entire species,” Bennett adds. “Now, at least, we’re making the debate on the basis of two individuals.”

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