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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 26

Maya Carving Repatriated to Guatemala

PARIS, FRANCE—BBC News reports that a French collector handed over a fragment of an eighth-century A.D. Maya stela to Guatemala during a ceremony in Paris. The stone sculpture, which depicts a ruler wearing a bird of prey mask, disappeared from the site of Piedras Negras in the 1960s and reappeared at a Paris auction in 2019. Guatemalan officials objected to the sale and asked for the object to be returned. The carving will go on display at Guatemala’s National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City. To read about a stela discovered at northern Guatemala's ancient city of Witzna, go to "Maya Total War."

Wreckage of U.S. Revenue Cutter Found

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Live Science reports that the wreckage of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear has been found in Canadian waters by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other researcher groups. Although the wooden vessel has been badly damaged by fishing trawlers and strong currents, it still has the Bear’s distinctive “bow staples” for traveling through heavy ice in polar waters, according to Brad Barr of NOAA. Built as a commercial sealer in 1874, the ship was purchased by the U.S. government for rescue work in the Arctic in the 1880s. The vessel also served as a relief ship around Alaska during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a floating museum in California, a film set in 1930 for The Sea-Wolf, and as a part of Admiral Richard Byrd’s Antarctic explorations. The Bear even patrolled Arctic waters for the U.S. Navy during both world wars, and helped capture a vessel being used by German military intelligence during World War II. The ship was decommissioned in 1944, and sank in a storm as it was towed to Philadelphia in 1963. Researchers have been looking for the ship since 1979, but its last location is now thought to have been misreported by its tow ship. To read about a shipwreck found deep in the Gulf of Mexico, go to "All Hands on Deck."

Assyrian Wine Production Site Found in Iraq

DOHUK, IRAQ—According to an AFP report, researchers working at the site of Khinis in northern Iraq uncovered stone-cut pits dated to the eighth century B.C. and the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. “We have found 14 installations that were used to press the grapes and extract the juice, which was then processed into wine,” explained archaeologist Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of the University of Udine. “It was a sort of industrial wine factory.” For more on ancient wine, go to "Alcohol Through the Ages."

Hundreds of Archaeological Sites Spotted in Mexico

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Gizmodo reports that lidar technology was used to create 3-D maps of some 30,000 square miles of Mexico, revealing more than 475 archaeological sites dating from 1400 B.C. to A.D. 1000. Researchers including Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona have identified among the structures five types of architectural arrangements thought to reflect different time periods or social arrangements among the Olmec and Maya peoples. All of the sites have rectangular or square structures, perhaps based upon the Olmec site of San Lorenzo, the oldest site in the region, which had a central rectangular space that may have been used as a public plaza. “Until three years ago, we had no idea about the presence of such complexes,” Inomata said. “They really force us to rethink what was happening during this period.” To read about a ceremonial structure in Mexico that Inomata and his colleagues identified using lidar, go to "Oldest Maya Temple," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.


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Monday, October 25

Carbonized Cake Recovered in Germany

LÜBECK, GERMANY—A cake baked 79 years ago has been found in the Old Town district of the city of Lübeck, which is located near the coast of northern Germany, according to a Live Science report. Dirk Rieger of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck Historic Monuments Protection Authority said that the city, although a non-military target, was bombed by the British Royal Air Force on the night of March 28, 1942, in retaliation for the Nazi blitz of Coventry, England, in 1940. The cake was found in the remains of a building that collapsed into its cellar during the air raid. Later, a new house was built on top of the ruins. Wrapped in wax paper, the hazelnut and almond cake decorated with sugar icing was carbonized and preserved, Rieger explained. Plates, knives, spoons, and vinyl records, including a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, were found nearby. “Because this was a family celebration, they listened to music, they wanted to have a nice cup of tea, they wanted to have this cake,” he said. “It’s a very intimate situation that was immediately destroyed by this war.” To read about a 106-year-old fruitcake found on Antarctica's Cape Adare, go to "Super Fruitcake," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.

Study Suggests Humans Did Not Wipe Out Woolly Mammoths

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Cambridge, humans did not cause the extinction of the woolly mammoths, even though they are known to have hunted mammoths for food and used the skeletons and hides for shelter, weapons, and artwork. Eske Willerslev of St. John’s College and the University of Copenhagen, Yucheng Wang of the University of Cambridge, and their colleagues analyzed DNA recovered from soil samples taken from Arctic areas where mammoth remains have been found. The DNA came from plant and animal remains, including urine, feces, and skin cells. The researchers also sequenced the DNA of some 1,500 Arctic plants. The study suggests that as the icebergs melted some 12,000 years ago and lakes, rivers, and marshes formed, the environment became too wet to support the grassland vegetation eaten by the giant mammals, who were not able to adapt to their rapidly changing environment. Pockets of mammoths survived, however, until about 4,000 years ago, the researchers concluded. To read about a mammoth pelvis unearthed in Michigan, go to "Leftover Mammoth."

Wari Burials Unearthed in Northern Peru

LIMA, PERU—According to an AFP report, the remains of 29 people have been discovered at Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucala, a ceremonial center built between A.D. 800 and 900 in northern Peru’s coastal region of Lambayeque. Twenty-five of the burials, dating from A.D. 100 to 700, belong to the Moche culture. These remains had been placed in clay tombs and burial chambers, along with pottery and the remains of llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. The remaining four burials contain the remains of three children and a teenager of the Wari culture, which flourished in the central Peruvian Andes between the seventh and thirteenth centuries. These four had been sacrificed, and their remains buried at the front of the temple. “These discoveries allow us to rethink the history of the Lambayeque region, especially the links to Wari and Mochica occupations in the area,” commented team leader archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte. To read about a Wari brewery in southern Peru, go to "Alcohol Through the Ages: Forging Wari Alliances."

Pigmented Shell Bead in Japan Dated to Paleolithic Period

NAHA, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that a bead made of shell and red iron oxide pigment recovered from Sakitari-do Cave in southern Okinawa has been dated to 23,000 years ago by researchers at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum. The bead measures about one-half inch long and one-third inch wide. Fishhooks made of shell and other shell beads were also recovered at the site. Objects crafted during the Jomon period, some 15,000 years ago, had previously been Japan’s oldest-known artifacts to have been decorated with pigments. For more on the shell fishhooks from Sakitari, go to "Japan's Early Anglers."

Friday, October 22

Prehistoric Phallus-Shaped Pillars Found in Turkey

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists led by Necmi Karul of Istanbul University uncovered 11 pillars and a carving shaped like a human head in a building at the 11,000-year-old site of Karahan Tepe, which is located in southeastern Turkey. “All pillars are erected and shaped like a phallus,” Karul said. The building where the pillars were found was connected to three other structures and may have been part of a ceremonial complex, he explained. People could have entered at one end of the complex, moved past the carvings, and exited at the other end. The buildings were eventually filled in with dirt, perhaps as part of a decommissioning ritual, he added. Carvings of snakes and a fox were also found in other buildings at Karahan Tepe, which may be linked to nearby Göbekli Tepe, where large buildings and carvings of animals and human heads have also been found. For more on Göbekli Tepe, go to "Last Stand of the Hunter-Gatherers?"