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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 24

Evidence Links Hallucinogen Use and California Rock Art

PRESTON, ENGLAND—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire have found evidence that the Chumash people ingested hallucinogens at a rock art site in California some 400 years ago. Known as Pinwheel Cave, the rock art features an image of a pinwheel and a moth drawn with ochre. Examination of quids recovered from the cave ceiling with 3-D digital microscopy revealed that the lumps of matted plant fibers had indentations likely to have been made by chewing. Chemical analysis showed that the quids contained the hallucinogenic compounds atropine and scopolamine, which are produced by Datura, a plant also known as jimsonweed and angel trumpet. The pinwheel-shaped flower is twisted up during the day, but it unfurls at dusk and dawn for visiting insects such as the hawk moth, which is known for “loopy” flight after ingesting Datura nectar. The scientists then viewed the quids through a scanning electron microscope, and identified all of the quids but one as Datura flowers. The rock art, Robinson explained, probably “set the scene” for the shared tradition of taking the hallucinogen in the cave. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To read about a 1,000-year-old bundle unearthed in Bolivia that contained psychotropic substances, go to "Half in the Bag."

Medieval Metalworking Site Found in Poland

PONIATY WIELKIE, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that some 200 metal artifacts, a kiln, storage pits, furnaces, slag, and wells have been found at an unfortified medieval settlement site in east-central Poland. The site may have served as a regional metallurgical center between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. “Such wealth is rare in open settlements from this period, in this part of Mazovia and beyond,” said archaeologist Jakub Affelski of the Mazovian Provincial Conservator of Monuments. The metal objects include a piece of lead plate engraved with a face motif that may have been used as a seal; a copper-alloy, highly detailed face-shaped ornament equipped with mounting holes; and an encolpion, a capsule worn on the chest by Christians to hold holy relics or scripture quotations, he added. All of the artifacts will be conserved and displayed at the regional museum. For more on medieval archaeology in Poland, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

Islamic Cemetery Investigated in Northeastern Spain

TAUSTE, SPAIN—CNN reports that more than 4,500 graves have been identified at a cemetery in northeastern Spain, in an area thought to have been largely untouched by the Arab invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century A.D. Radiocarbon dating suggests the necropolis was in use from the eighth century through the eleventh century A.D. Miriam Pina Pardos of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste said that more than 400 of the graves have been exhumed, and all of the bodies had been buried facing southeast toward Mecca, according to Islamic customs. “We can see there was a big Muslim population here in Tauste from the beginning of the presence of Muslims in Spain,” explained archaeologist Eva Gimenez. “It is very important—the 400 Muslim tombs show the people lived here for centuries.” To read about medieval Muslim burials in Nimes, France, go to "Islam North of the Pyrenees."

Scientists Study West Africa’s Mesolithic Tools

JENA, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, a team of researchers led by Khady Niang of Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar has reexamined artifacts collected from Tiémassas, a Mesolithic site located in Senegal near the interface of forest, savannah, and mangrove habitats on the west coast of Africa. The scientists then conducted new excavations at Tiémassas, and dated what they found, in order to better understand the occupation of West Africa during the Middle Stone Age. The stone tool assemblages were dated to between 62,000 and 25,000 years ago. Niang explained that these assemblages are distinct and consistent with one another, allowing the researchers to use them to date tools unearthed in earlier excavations and each phase of occupation. Team member Jimbob Blinkhorn added that this continuity at Tiémassas contrasts with the technological changes observed at East African sites within the same time period. To read about Neolithic artifacts uncovered in a Dakar suburb, go to "World Roundup: Senegal."


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Monday, November 23

Scientists Analyze Faiyum Portrait Pigment

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—According to a statement released by the University of Utah, materials scientist Darryl Butt and his colleagues, and Glenn Gates of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, have analyzed a miniscule speck of purple paint taken from “Portrait of a Bearded Man,” a lifelike image painted on wood and wrapped into a mummy’s linens in the second century A.D., when Egypt was a Roman province. Such paintings, known as Faiyum portraits for the region of Egypt where they have been found, are thought to express the likeness and status of the mummified person. In this case, the “bearded man” was shown wearing purple marks called clavi on his toga, a symbol of the senatorial or equestrian rank, Gates explained. Under a microscope, the researchers found that the pigment contained large particles resembling crushed gems. Butt and his colleagues then used an ion beam to split the tiny sample into even smaller pieces for several tests. They determined that the purple color was created with a synthetic dye mixed with clay or silica to form a pigment, and then mixed with a beeswax binder to form paint. They are not sure how the dye was formed, however. Chemical analysis of the paints used in Faiyum portraits, Butt added, could allow researchers to link different portraits to each other, and thus possibly identify individual artists, and perhaps even family relationships, between the depicted individuals. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the International Journal of Ceramic Engineering & Science. To read about a pigment called Egyptian blue that was detected in another Roman-era mummy portrait, go to "Hidden Blues."

1,300-Year-Old Hindu Temple Uncovered in Pakistan

BARIKOT, PAKISTAN—According to a Press Trust of India report, traces of a 1,300-year-old temple have been found in northwest Pakistan’s Swat district by a team of Pakistani and Italian researchers. Fazle Khaliq of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Department of Archaeology said the structure, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, was built during the medieval Hindu Shahi period and is the first temple built by the Ghandhara civilization to be found in the Swat district. The excavation also revealed evidence of a military encampment, watchtowers, and a water tank that may have held water for bathing before worship. For more on archaeology in the Swat Valley, go to "Burials and Reburials in Ancient Pakistan."

Remains of Two Men Uncovered at Pompeii Villa

NAPLES, ITALY—Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, announced the discovery of the remains of two men lying close together in a villa corridor on the outskirts of the ancient city, according to a BBC News report. In 2017, the remains of three harnessed horses were discovered in a stable at the same villa, he added. The younger of the two men is estimated to have been between the ages of 18 and 25 at the time of his death. He had several compressed vertebrae, which suggests he carried heavy loads and may have been a manual laborer or slave. Plaster casts of the impressions left by the bodies in the ash indicate that he was wearing a pleated tunic. The other man, who was also wearing a tunic, was between the ages of 30 and 40. His bones are more robust, the researchers explained. The men may have been a master and slave who escaped the initial eruption of Mt. Vesuvius but were then killed by a blast the next day. “It is a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands,” Osanna said. To read about plaster casts of individuals who perished at the city's Nola Gate, go to "Digging Deeper Into Pompeii's Past: Death."

Friday, November 20

Bronze Age Monument Found in Southern England

POOLE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that researchers led by Jon Milward of Bournemouth University Archaeological Research Consultancy have excavated a Bronze Age monument in southern England’s New Forest National Park. Originally constructed around 2100 B.C., the oval-shaped ring ditch was gradually enlarged and is thought to have been used as a meeting space for generations. Later, the monument was used as a cremation cemetery. The researchers have uncovered five urns containing cremated human bone dated to between 1500 and 1100 B.C. The team also found charred hazelnut shells dated to between 5736 and 5643 B.C. that could point to the presence of a Mesolithic campsite in the area. “We know of a few Mesolithic sites close to Beaulieu River and it appears there was another at this site,” Milward said. To read about an 11,000-year-old engraved shale pendant found in northern England, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

Unusual Burn Marks Spotted on Medieval Horse Bone in Bulgaria

BURGAS, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a modified horse’s shoulder blade dated to the thirteenth century A.D. has been found among other animal bones at the medieval fortress of Rusokastro on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast by archaeozoologist Georgi Ribarov of the Burgas Regional Historical Museum. The bone bears butchering marks and three symmetrical burn marks. The study of the bone shows that the horse meat was eaten after it had been roasted, which changed the color of the bone. Then, the marks are thought to have been added by pressing a round heated iron against the bone surface. Similar marks have been found on lamb shoulder bones as part of a fortune-telling ritual, but such marks have not been previously encountered on horse remains in Bulgaria. Ribarov and his colleagues therefore think the circular marks may have been made as part of a ritual act. The excavation also uncovered the foundations of a hexagonal central fortress tower, a large section of the eastern fortress wall, and a rectangular tower on the outer fortress wall. To read about a Byzantine ivory icon recovered from Rusokastro, go to "Iconic Discovery."

Bronze Age Burials Unearthed in the East of England

SOHAM, ENGLAND—The Ely Standard reports that two Bronze Age graves were found in the East of England during the archaeological investigation of land slated for construction. One of the graves held the remains of an elderly woman whose shoulder showed signs of arthritis and had lost most of her teeth. The other burial held the remains of a middle-aged man who likely suffered back pain. Project manager David Ingham said that radiocarbon dating will be conducted to confirm the age of the bones. Other finds on the property date back to the Iron Age. “No trace was found of any Iron Age houses, though the remains of two timber structures were identified, which could have been small granaries,” he added. Other materials recovered during the investigation include Anglo-Saxon pits and Roman ditches. “The identified remains may have formed part of a much wider landscape in which people and animals moved from pasture to pasture over relatively large distances,” Ingham explained. To read about archaeological remains spanning 6,000 years that were unearthed during A14 roadway construction in Cambridgeshire, go to "Letter from England: Building a Road Through History."