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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, January 26

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—Eleven of the 17 skeletons recently found in a Roman burial site in the East of England by researchers led by Patrick Moan of Oxford Archaeology had been decapitated, with their heads positioned by their feet, according to a BBC News report. Pottery had been placed in the graves, and in one of them, a pot was found in place of the head. The burials, which have been dated to the third century A.D., were discovered near traces of an Iron Age settlement made up of 40 roundhouses, trackways, and enclosures related to farming activities. Roman coins, brooches, a large lead lid or platter, pottery and a kiln, and querns and millstones were also unearthed. To read about decapitated bodies buried in a Roman cemetery in Sussex, go to "Foreign Funeral Rites."

Bronze Age Sword Dated

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a statement released by the Field Museum of Chicago, X-rays of a bronze sword held at the institution since the 1930s have revealed the weapon is about 3,000 years old. It had been previously thought that the sword, which was discovered in Hungary in the Danube River, was a replica. Museum curator William Parkinson thinks a clerical error was the source of the mix-up. “Someone just wrote it down wrong,” he said. When the weapon was analyzed by scientists from the Field Museum and Hungarian archaeologists who were preparing a special exhibition, they were surprised to find that its chemical makeup was nearly identical to that of other Bronze Age swords found in Europe. “Usually, this story goes the other way round,” Parkinson concluded. “What we think is an original turns out to be a fake.” To read more about arms in the past, go to "Weapons of the Ancient World."

Thin Tooth Enamel Found in H. antecessor Individual

BURGOS, SPAIN—According to a statement released by the Spain's National Research Center for Human Evolution (CENIEH), a study of the teeth of two Homo antecessor individuals recovered from the Gran Dolina site in northern Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains has found that thin tooth enamel was present in hominins some 900,000 years ago. It had been previously thought that Neanderthals were the only members of the genus Homo to have thin tooth enamel. Research team leader Laura Martín-Francés of the Complutense University of Madrid and CENIEH explained that H. antecessor is related to both Neanderthals and modern humans. While one of the individuals in the study had thin tooth enamel similar to that observed in Neanderthals, the other had thick enamel similar to that found in modern humans and most fossil species. The differences between these two H. antecessor individuals likely reflect variability within the same population, Martín-Francés concluded. To read about evidence of 14,000-year-old dental work, go to "Paleo-Dentistry."

Impact of Shifting Monsoon Season in Southern Iran Studied

LINKÖPING, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by Linköping University, an international team of researchers led by Joyanto Routh of Linköping University analyzed variations in precipitation and vegetation in southeastern Iran over the past 4,000 years, and found a correlation between shifting monsoon patterns and the rise and fall of Persian civilizations. An eight-foot-long sediment core taken at Konar Sandal, an Early Bronze Age urban complex, showed that during wet periods, the people who lived in the Jiroft Valley region grew more of their own food, while during dry periods, they abandoned the settlement and presumably lived a more nomadic life. Radiocarbon dating of the sediment core revealed that intensive agriculture was practiced during a wet period beginning between 3,900 and 3,700 years ago. By 3,300 to 2,900 years ago, however, the climate had become dry and windy. Pollen levels in the sediment core indicate that agriculture had almost stopped during this time, which coincides with the collapse of the settlement at Konar Sandal some 3,200 years ago. Some 600 years later, the Achaemenid and Sasanian Empires emerged, when the climate was much wetter and food could once again be produced on a large scale, Routh explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Quaternary Science Reviews. To read about a rhesus macaque buried in a cemetery in southwest Iran some 4,500 years ago, go to "World Roundup: Iran."

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Wednesday, January 25

Search for the First Mile of the Appian Way Called Off

ROME, ITALY—Reuters reports that groundwater with a strong current is interfering with the search for the first mile of the Appian Way, also known as the “regina viarum,” or “queen of roads.” Constructed in the fourth century B.C. by magistrate Appius Claudius Caecus, the road connected Rome to Brindisi, a port city in southeastern Italy. The opening of the road is thought to rest more than 25 feet underground near the Baths of Caracalla. Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani of Roma Tre University said the excavation to date has cleared about 20 feet of dirt, but the pumps in use are not powerful enough to clear the groundwater if they continue to dig. Valenzani added, however, that artifacts dated from the second century A.D. through the late eighteenth century A.D., including a Roman statue and one of the earliest coins to have been minted by a pope, have been recovered. The team members will attempt to extract a core to look for evidence of the road before they backfill the site. For more about the subterranean environment of the baths, go to "The Tunnels Beneath Rome's Baths of Caracalla."

Study Suggests Neolithic Injuries Reflect Violence

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Edinburgh, about one in 10 of the known skeletons from northwestern Europe’s early farming communities shows signs of injuries inflicted by weapons. These injuries include blows to the head from blunt instruments or stone axes and penetrative injuries perhaps inflicted by arrows. Some of the injured were buried in mass graves, perhaps after the destruction of entire communities. The researchers reached these conclusions after examining more than 2,300 skeletons from some 180 archaeological sites dated between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago in Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and Sweden. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. To read about weapons throughout history, go to "Weapons of the Ancient World."

Tuesday, January 24

Hacksilver Hoards from the Levant Analyzed

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, a new study of hacksilver hoards unearthed in Israel and Gaza suggests that they may have been used as currency some 3,600 years ago. Tzilla Eshel of the University of Haifa and her colleagues analyzed 28 pieces of silver from four Bronze Age hoards uncovered at Gezer in the Judaean Mountains, a tomb at Megiddo in northern Israel, Shiloh in the West Bank, and Tell el-‘Ajjul in Gaza. Silver-working tools were not found with the hoards from Gezer, Shiloh, and Tell el-‘Ajjul. The researchers think that the material was therefore not going to be used to craft silver objects. “We know that the Middle Bronze Age is a period of [making] large ramparts and fortifications,” Eshel added. The irregular pieces of silver may have been used to pay workers in the southern Levant with an agreed-upon amount of silver by weight, she explained. It is known that workers in the northern Levant were paid in this manner. Chemical analysis of the silver indicates that it had been mined in Turkey and southeastern Europe. The metal then was probably carried to the Levant through long-distance trade. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Journal of Archaeological Science. To read about a silver hoard uncovered in southwestern Russia, go to "Russian River Silver."

Roman Road Uncovered in Romania

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA—According to a Romania Insider report, fragments of a 2,000-year-old Roman road have been uncovered in the center of the city of Cluj-Napoca by archaeologists from Romania’s National History Museum of Transylvania. Team member Cristian Dima said that the north-south road was made of large base stones topped with river stones, mortar, and large slabs or tiles. It was probably part of a network of roads in the settlement of Napoca, he added. Such roads were used long after the fall of the Roman Empire, and many of the routes are still in use today. Roads in rural areas tended to survive for longer periods since heavily traveled city roads had to be maintained or modified, Dima explained. To read about the discovery of a Roman road in the Venetian lagoon, go to "A Trip to Venice."

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