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From The Trenches

Livestock for the Afterlife

By ZACH ZORICH

Friday, October 05, 2012

afterlifeIn Oakington, England, a team of archaeologists led by Duncan Sayer of the University of Central Lancashire has excavated a late-fifth-century A.D. Anglo-Saxon grave containing the remains of a wealthy woman and a cow. The grave is the first of its kind in Europe. “It matches the female role in Anglo-Saxon society,” says Sayer. “The cow was much more a symbol of economic and domestic power.” 

Settling Southeast Asia

By ZACH ZORICH

Friday, October 05, 2012

south asiaFragments of a human skull found at Tam Pa Ling Cave in Laos, dated to between 46,000 and 63,000 years old, are providing insights into how the first Homo sapiens settled Southeast Asia and later Australia. Archaeologists Fabrice Demeter of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Laura Shackelford of the Illinois State Geological Survey analyzed the skull. According to Shackelford, it does not show any evidence that the individual’s ancestors interbred with Homo erectus, a hominin species that lived in the area for more than one million years. The skull itself is small and belonged to a young adult at least 18 years old. No artifacts were found with the bones, but the cave’s location, far from the coast, shows that modern humans migrated through the river valleys and into the mountains of Laos as they continued their trek toward Australia, where they arrived at least 40,000 years ago. 

The Bog Army

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Friday, October 05, 2012

bogarmy1When the team of archaeologists from Aarhus University began finding human bones in Alken Enge bog in eastern Denmark three years ago, they weren’t sure what to think—but they knew they wanted to return. After more than two months in the field this past summer, they have now recorded the remains of nearly 250 individuals, as well as spearheads, shields, clubs, and an ax, all part of what project archaeologist Mads Holst believes is evidence for a catastrophic military event that occurred around A.D. 1. At this time the Roman Empire had reached its northern boundary just 185 miles south of Alken, resulting in turmoil and increased militarization of the local tribes in response to the empire’s expansion. According to Holst, it appears that the soldiers from the bog, a unique find in northern Europe, may have been killed in battle—their wounds are consistent with battle damage—and then buried in the bog in some sort of ritual. 

 

Holst is certain there is a great deal more to uncover and to learn. “We have only excavated about 1,600 square feet so far, just a small part of the complex. But we know from surveying and doing small test excavations that there are finds from an area that covers almost 100 acres,” says Holst. “The scale of the conflict is much larger than we expected and reveals a much higher level of organization than most ancient descriptions of these tribes would have you believe.” 

Who Came to America First?

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Friday, October 05, 2012

america firstIn 2008, archaeologists working at Paisley Caves in central Oregon presented evidence, in the form of coprolites, or fossilized feces, of human occupation in the Americas dating back more than 14,000 years. That’s 1,000 years before the emergence of the Clovis culture, the previously agreed-upon first Americans. Critics discounted the findings because no tools had been found with the coprolites. They asserted that human DNA found on the feces might have washed down onto the droppings over time.

 

This summer the Paisley Caves team presented new evidence from the cave, including stone tools and radiocarbon dates for them and the coprolites—all as many as 13,200 years old. The Paisley Caves tools belong to the so-called Western Stemmed tradition, and are markedly different from Clovis tools, which are best exemplified by their fluted, Christmas tree–shaped projectile points. Loren Davis, an archaeologist at Oregon State University and part of the Paisley Caves team, says that Clovis points were made from large stone cores, while the Western Stemmed tools were fashioned from stone fragments.

 

Davis says the findings indicate that another population was here at the same time, or possibly before, Clovis, requiring a new model for the peopling of the Americas. “It can’t be a straight-line evolutionary model where everything descends from Clovis,” he explains. “Now the scene early on is very complicated.” 

Medieval Fashion Statement

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Friday, October 05, 2012

medieval fashionWhen archaeologists pulled up the floorboards during extensive restoration work at Lengberg Castle in Austria, they found a space filled with dry organic material, including branches and straw, processed wood, leather, shoes, yarn, rope, and more than 2,700 textile fragments. Among the textiles were 17 linen shirts, a complete pair and a fragment of men’s underwear, and four lace-decorated linen bras—which push back the earliest date for this type of women’s undergarment more than 500 years. Using both their archaeological context—the fill layer was likely created during a fifteenth-century renovation of the castle—and radiocarbon analysis of fibers from two of the bras, Beatrix Nutz of the University of Innsbruck dated the garments to between A.D. 1390 and 1485. There are numerous medieval written sources that describe bras as “breastbags,” but until this discovery no one had any idea what these garments looked like. According to Nutz, we also know from contemporary sources that women likely made the garments themselves and did not rely on male tailors. The discovery will enable archaeologists and clothing historians to learn more about tailoring by women. 

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