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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 29

Genome Study Tracks Spread of Languages in North America

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—It had been previously suggested that Uto-Aztecan languages, such as Hopi, Shoshoni, and Nahuatl, spread from Mexico into California with early maize farmers some 4,300 years ago. But according to a Live Science report, a new genetic study of ancient remains from central and southern California and northwestern and central northern Mexico indicates that hunter-gatherers may have migrated northward some 1,000 years before the arrival of the farmers. Nathan Nakatsuka of the New York Genome Center and his colleagues, with guidance from Indigenous groups, compared these genomes and found evidence of increased migration from northern Mexico to southern and central California some 5,200 years ago. Maize farming may have even been brought to California by people related to the hunter-gatherer travelers, he explained. “But at the very least, we see that people are coming up here into California earlier than maize farming,” Nakatsuka concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about migrations of populations from Central and South America to the Yucatán that began more than 5,000 years ago, go to "The Great Maize Migration."

New Zealand Repatriates Artifacts to Egypt

TAHRIR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two museums in New Zealand have repatriated ancient Egyptian human remains and artifacts as recommended by ethical guidelines set by the International Council of Museums. Shaban Abdel-Gawad of Egypt’s General Administration for Antiquities said that the items handed over by the Whanganui Regional Museum and Southland Museum include human mummy fragments, a mummified hawk, fabric fragments, and cartonnage. The artifacts have been taken to the Egyptian Museum, where they will be restored. To read about recent research on Old Kingdom bracelets that belonged to an Egyptian queen, go to "The Queen's Jewels."

3,000-Year-Old Tombs Uncovered in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Ten cone-shaped tombs estimated to be about 3,000 years old have been discovered in Mexico City, according to a Miami Herald report. María de Lourdes López Camacho of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said that the round, tapered chambers each measure about seven feet wide, and were found in a cluster parallel to the Chapultepec Forest. Five of the tombs held skeletal remains that are believed to belong to four women and one man. Tools, a cup, and figurines were also recovered. Similar tombs have been found in other areas of Mexico. For more on excavations in the city, go to "Under Mexico City."

Iron Age Animal Sacrifices Studied in Spain

BADAJOZ, SPAIN—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, researchers led by Pilar Iborra Eres of the Valencian Institute of Conservation, Restoration, and Research have analyzed thousands of bones unearthed in western Spain, in the courtyard of Casas del Turuñuelo, a large structure built by the Tartessian culture. The study dated the remains to the end of the fifth century B.C., and determined that the bones came from at least 52 animals, including more than 40 horses or other equids, six cows, four pigs, and one dog. Most of the horses and cows were male, while most of the pigs were female. In the earliest layers of the site, the researchers noted that the animal remains were largely intact, indicating that they had not been consumed. Fire may have also been part of the ritual sacrifice, since charcoal and charred organic matter were recovered in these layers. Fewer animal remains were found in the more recent layers of the site. These had been butchered, presumably for human consumption. Goods imported from the eastern Mediterranean, such as ointment jars, bowls, and a Greek marble sculpture, were also found in this layer. The entire structure of Casas del Turuñuelo was eventually ritually destroyed by fire. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about a Roman mosaic uncovered in Spain, go to "The Medusa of Mérida."


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Tuesday, November 28

Mummies Buried at Ancient Temple Site Discovered in Peru

LIMA, PERU—According to a Reuters report, the mummified remains of four children and an adult thought to have died some 1,000 years ago during the Ychsma period have been unearthed in Lima. The well-preserved mummies were found, along with some pottery, at the base of a staircase that was part of a hilltop temple dated to about 3,500 years ago. “This whole area is a very important ceremonial chamber,” said archaeologist Luis Takuda of Lima’s Rimac District. “The people who lived here during the Ychsma period still considered it a sacred space and therefore buried their dead here,” he explained. For more, go to "Peru's Mysterious Infant Burials."

Possible 1,400-Year-Old Temple Excavated in Eastern England

RENDLESHAM, ENGLAND—In the eighth century, an English monk and historian known as The Venerable Bede wrote of a king’s village at “Rendlaesham,” and of a temple equipped with both Christian and pre-Christian altars. BBC News reports that the site of a possible 1,400-year-old temple has been uncovered at Rendlesham in eastern England, which is located near Sutton Hoo, the archaeological site where East Anglian king Raedwald is thought to have been buried in A.D. 625. The possible temple structure measured more than 30 feet long and 16 feet wide, and had been built with substantial foundations. The excavation also uncovered evidence of a ditch that may have surrounded the royal village, traces of two other timber buildings, and a mold used for casting fine pieces of decorative horse harnesses similar to those unearthed at Sutton Hoo. “The possible temple, or cult house, provides rare and remarkable evidence for the practice at a royal site of the pre-Christian beliefs that underpinned early English society,” explained archaeologist Christopher Scull of University College London. To read more about excavations at Rendlesham, go to "The Ongoing Saga of Sutton Hoo."

Thousands of Roman Seal Impressions Unearthed in Turkey

GAZIANTEP, TURKEY—Live Science reports that more than 2,000 additional seal impressions have been recovered from the rare site of an archive building in southern Turkey’s ancient religious center of Doliche, which was dedicated to the Roman god of the sky and thunder, Jupiter Dolichenus. The archive is estimated to have been in use from the mid-second to mid-third centuries A.D. The seal impressions were formed when pieces of clay were fastened to strings used to close legal documents and letters written on papyrus or parchment. A seal was then pressed into the clay to mark it with an image. “These seals display a wide array of images,” said Michael Blömer of the University of Münster. “Many of them show religious imagery like gods and goddesses…others show portraits and some also have inscriptions.” The archive is thought to have been destroyed by fire, perhaps when several cities in the region were burned by the Persian king Šāpūr I. Blömer suggests that the excavation of the archive building could shed new light on this type of public architecture. For more on seals recovered from Doliche, go to "Seals of Approval."

Monday, November 27

Confederate Weapons Dump Found in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—A year-long cleanup of the Congaree River in South Carolina has yielded Civil War-era weapons, including bullets, cannonballs, swords, and at least one unexploded ordnance, according to a Live Science report. The artifacts are thought to have been dumped in the river in February 1865, when Union soldiers led by General William Tecumseh Sherman occupied the capital city of Columbia. According to historical accounts, they captured from Confederate forces more than one million ball cartridges, tens of thousands of pounds of gunpowder, thousands of sabers and bayonets, as well as backpacks and tents. South Carolina state underwater archaeologist James Spirek said that the project has helped researchers to determine the extent of the area Sherman used as a dump site. To read about archaeological discoveries at a Civil War POW campsite, go to “Life on the Inside.”

Long History Uncovered at Nottinghamshire Site

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Evidence of human activity dating back 12,000 years has been uncovered at a housing construction site in Nottinghamshire, according to a report from BBC News. The finds, made by researchers from Oxford Archaeology, include an enclosure dating to around 3300 B.C., which was located at the head of a spring, suggesting it had special significance to the people who used it. The enclosure contains the remnants of a series of internal posts and pits, possibly forming one or more concentric arcs of upright timbers. A polished stone ax found at the site likely dates to around the same time as the enclosure, though it was buried with Iron Age pottery dating to some 3,000 years later. The ax has marks showing it was used as a whetstone, indicating that it was a valued possession for many generations. Around three dozen cremation burials from the Bronze Age were found, along with necklace beads from the same period. Among the most significant discoveries at the site are 73 well-preserved Roman kilns, along with a large amount of pottery, suggesting that the site was previously unknown as a major pottery production center. To read about a road construction project in England that unearthed material spanning thousands of years, go to “Letter from England: Building a Road Through History.”

Melting Ice in Canada Reveals Ancient Artifacts

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—According to a report in The Miami Herald, archaeologists have uncovered various ancient, and perishable, artifacts that span more than 7,000 years among melting patches of ice in British Columbia's Mount Edziza Provincial Park. The volcanic landscape of the park near the present-day Canada–U.S. border has been home to the Tahltan, one of the country’s Indigenous First Nations peoples, who continue to use the mountains as seasonal hunting grounds as they have for centuries. While scientists had previously located nearby obsidian quarries and artifacts in the park, the discovery revealed some 56 items, alongside a large array of obsidian artifacts, in nine patches of melting ice. They include a 3,000-year-old pair of sticks wrapped in animal hide, a 2,000-year-old birch bark container, a 5,300-year-old antler ice pick, and a 6,200-year-old stitched animal hide, which may have been part of a moccasin-style boot. The finds have been taken to a museum for study and climate-controlled conservation. For more on the archaeology of British Columbia and the first people to migrate along the coast to the Americas, go to “Coast over Corridor.”