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From the Trenches

A Traditional Neanderthal Home

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trenches Jersey Neanderthal Site

 

Rising out of the English Channel on the island of Jersey is one of the longest-occupied Neanderthal sites in the world. “La Cotte de Saint Brelade is this mega-site, a massive, deeply ravined granite headland on the far corner of northwest Europe providing a record spanning more than 200,000 years,” says Matthew Pope, a geoarchaeologist at University College London. The question that Pope and the Crossing the Threshold project research team is asking is what makes a site like La Cotte a “persistent” place? Why was this location occupied across millennia, even as the environmental conditions changed? There are several possible answers the team is investigating.

 

When Neanderthals lived at the site, between 240,000 and 40,000 years ago, the English Channel was dry land and the granite rock formation may have been an important landmark. According to Pope, around this time, hominins started to use fire regularly, and innovated new tool technologies and hunting practices. This may have pushed Neanderthals to start thinking differently about how they used the resources of the landscapes around them and changed how they thought about the places they called home.

Siberian William Tell

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trenches Siberia QuiverIn the Siberian Altai region, two local residents recently discovered the burial of a medieval man in a cliff-face crevice. They reported the find to local museum officials and turned over a number of artifacts interred with the man, including an intricately decorated birch-bark quiver and iron-tipped arrows, which are now being studied and conserved by a team led by archaeologist Nikita Konstantinov of Gorno-Altaisk State University. Konstantinov believes that the archer lived sometime between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, a period when the Mongolian Empire’s Golden Horde ruled the area. “Here in the Altai we have very few sites dating to this era,” says Konstantinov. “This burial is well preserved, so it should help us to better understand the Mongolian period.” His team will fully investigate the site during the upcoming field season.

Bathing, Ancient Roman Style

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trenches France villa block

 

At a construction site in Langrolay-sur-Rance, in northwestern France, archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research have uncovered a vast ancient Roman estate, including the remains of its well-preserved bathhouse. The large property, with its main house, gardens, colonnaded walkways, heated floors, attached stables, and stunning view across the Rance River, likely would have been the country retreat for a wealthy family from the city of Fanum Martis, some eight miles away. The most exceptional remains excavated there are those of the luxurious bathhouse that sprawls across more than 4,000 square feet. Each stage of the standard Roman bathing routine could be followed at the villa, as one proceeded from the room for undressing, to the footbaths, the cold and hot pools, the heated room called the caldarium with its hot-water bath and sauna, and finally the heated massage room and a bracing cold plunge.

The Church that Transformed Norway

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trenches Norway Saint Clements Church

 

When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions.

 

Researchers also found a construction behind the altar that they are calling the “Pall,” the place where they believe Haraldsson was laid to rest after he was martyred in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Petersén says the church became such a popular pilgrimage site that the king’s coffin was later removed to a larger cathedral. The discovery of Haraldsson’s old church gives the research team an opportunity to reconstruct the royal compound and the city’s religious landscape at a time of profound spiritual change.

Neolithic FaceTime

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trenches Jericho Skull Reconstruction BlockForensic experts have reconstructed the face of a man who lived around 9,500 years ago in Jericho, near the Jordan River in the West Bank. The reconstruction was based on a micro-CT scan of his skull, which had been covered in plaster and has clamshells for eyes. Alexandra Fletcher of the British Museum, where the skull is housed, believes it and others like it were created as part of an ancestor cult.

 

The scan reveals that the skull belonged to a man who died after the age of 40 and had a broken nose that healed during his lifetime. In addition, his skull had been tightly bound from early infancy, changing its shape. “This person lived a very long time ago,” says Fletcher, “but he could go out shopping in London today, and nobody would turn a hair. He’s a modern human, just like you or me.”

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