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From the Trenches

Passage to the Afterlife

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trenches Ireland Boyne Valley Carved StoneA monument that may lead to a shift in scholars’ vision of Ireland’s prehistoric past has been discovered in the Boyne Valley north of Dublin. The 5,500-year-old passage tomb—a complex of multiple burials—is thought to be one of the oldest ever discovered in the area, which is renowned for its concentration of Neolithic sites. One of the stones that once covered the tomb is especially well carved. The tomb’s relatively small size suggests that it was constructed earlier than other tombs in the valley, says archaeologist Stephen Davis of University College Dublin. It may date closer to when people first began farming in the region, around 3800 B.C. “The tomb seems to mark a transition towards a time when religion played a greater role in people’s lives,” he says. To some extent, suggests Davis, the free time to build such monuments must have been the result of an agricultural surplus.

No Rainbow Required

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trenches Italy Como Soapstone VesselOn the site of Como’s former Cressoni Theater, once one of northern Italy’s great opera houses, excavators have found a soapstone vessel filled with hundreds of Late Antique gold coins. The location, now slated for luxury apartments, is close to the forum of Novum Comum, a settlement founded by Julius Caesar in 59 B.C. Thus far, conservators have removed several dozen coins from the vessel and identified five emperors’ portraits, all dating to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., depicted on the coins.

Bath Tiles

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trenches England Bath Abbey TilesBrightly colored tiles have been uncovered during excavations in advance of restoration of England’s Bath Abbey. The site has been home to religious buildings for more than 1,000 years. The current church, which was completed in the seventeenth century, was constructed above the remains of a Norman-era cathedral that had fallen into disrepair by the late 1400s. The tiles once formed a portion of that cathedral’s floor. “In situ medieval tile floors like this are incredibly rare,” explains project director Cai Mason of Wessex Archaeology. “The only reason this one survived is that the Norman cathedral was knocked down and essentially buried during construction of the current building, saving the original flooring.” The tiles have now been covered by a protective layer before new floors are installed.

India's Anonymous Artists

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trenches India Maharashtra Petroglyph BlockIn the coastal Konkan region of India’s western state of Maharashtra, around 1,000 petroglyphs have been discovered spread out over dozens of different sites. Nearly all of them are found on hilltops. In a few cases, local people were aware of the designs, but most were previously unknown—and many were hidden beneath a layer of earth. The carvings depict a wide range of subjects, including elephants, monkeys, peacocks, sharks, and alligators, as well as human figures and geometric patterns. According to Tejas Garge, director of the Maharashtra state archaeology department, the drawings were probably created between 12,000 and 5,000 years ago. Little is known of their creators, however, as no associated settlement sites have been found. Given that the carvings don’t depict domesticated animals and agricultural activities, says Garge, the people who made them were likely hunter-gatherers.

Land of the Ice and Snow

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, December 10, 2018

Trenches Sweden Sigtuna SkeletonThe Vikings are renowned for having traveled great distances from their homeland in Scandinavia. A new study suggests that many residents of Sigtuna, a major Viking town in eastern Sweden, were themselves immigrants from afar. Researchers from Stockholm University sequenced the genomes and analyzed strontium isotopes from the remains of 16 people buried in Sigtuna between the tenth and twelfth centuries. Isotope analysis showed that eight of the 16 individuals had grown up in or near the town, and eight had grown up elsewhere. Of those who moved to the town, four had genetic features suggesting they had come from other parts of Scandinavia, while four appeared to have arrived from farther away, most likely Eastern Europe. Two of those who had grown up locally had unusual genetic profiles for the area, suggesting that they were second-generation immigrants. “We knew that Sigtuna had a lot of contact with other regions,” says researcher Maja Krzewinska, “but we didn’t know to what degree and we didn’t know whether the foreigners actually lived and stayed in Sigtuna. Now we can prove it.”

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