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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 20

COVID-19 Delays Excavation of Endangered Orkney Island Site

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Scotsman, archaeologists Julie Bond and Stephen Dockrill of Bradford University are concerned that excavation delays caused by the pandemic will result in the significant loss of archaeological information at the 5,500-year-old Knowe of Swandro, which is located on the coast of the island of Rousay. “Every year we are getting big erosion events with storm surges coming into the site and taking material away,” Dockrill said. “The other thing is that the daily tide is coming in and out and every time archaeological material is going into solution.” Bond and Dockrill are particularly concerned about a Neolithic chambered tomb that rests under a large Iron Age roundhouse dated to between 800 and 400 B.C. Large metal blades and evidence of feasting and wine drinking were recovered from the structure. “The roundhouse is showing up a very different sequence to what we’re seeing elsewhere and it would significantly add to our understanding of the Iron Age,” Dockrill added. To read about a VIking hall discovered on Rousay, go to "Skoal!"

Tang-Dynasty Temple Complex Unearthed in Southwest China

YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that a Buddhist temple complex dated to the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–906) has been discovered in southwest China’s city of Dali. The structures contained tons of tiles and pottery. The remains of brick and tile kilns were also uncovered at the site. Inscriptions suggest the temple may have held the remains of members of the royal court of the State of Nanzhao, which was made up of people from the Bai tribe and six tribes from the Erhai Region. The complex could therefore offer new information about the royal family’s funeral customs. To read about a Tang noblewoman's burial unearthed in the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an, go to "Prized Polo...Donkeys?"

New Kingdom Sarcophagi Unearthed at Saqqara

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in The Guardian, more than 50 wooden coffins have been discovered in more than 20 burial shafts in the Saqqara necropolis by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Zahi Hawass. Many of the brightly painted coffins have been dated to the New Kingdom period, from 1550 to 1070 B.C. Games, statues, and masks dated to the New Kingdom period were also recovered at the site. These are the first artifacts from the New Kingdom period to be unearthed in Saqqara, Hawass explained. The team members also uncovered the funerary temple of Queen Neit near the 4,200-year-old pyramid of her husband, the Old Kingdom pharaoh Teti, who ruled during the Sixth Dynasty from about 2323 to 2291 B.C., in addition to three warehouses made of bricks. For another recent discovery from Saqqara, go to "Mummy Cache," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.


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Tuesday, January 19

Elite Child’s Grave Discovered in Central France

CLERMONT-FERRAND, FRANCE—The Guardian reports that a 2,000-year-old grave containing the remains of a one-year-old child and a dog were unearthed at a construction site in central France by researchers from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research. The child’s coffin had been made of wood held together with nails and marked with a decorative iron tag. An ornamental copper pin had been used to fasten the child’s burial shroud. An iron ring attached to a bent metal rod may have been used as a toy. It was found between the legs of the young dog placed at the child’s feet. The pup was wearing a collar with bronze decorations and a small bell. Pottery, glass vessels, and the remains of a large feast, including half a pig, three hams, two headless chickens, and other pieces of pork had been placed around the coffin. An older child’s baby tooth was found on a fragment of a broken shell. Roman adults were usually cremated, the researchers explained, while toddlers were sometimes buried near the family home, which suggests a large villa may be located in the area.

New Technique Identifies Additional Plant in Ancient Maya Mixture

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—According to a statement released by Washington State University, researchers led by Mario Zimmermann have detected Mexican marigold, Tagetes lucida, and two types of tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustia, in 14 miniature Maya ceramic vessels recovered from the Yucatán Peninsula. The researchers employed a new technique to identify additional plant compounds beyond caffeine, nicotine, and other compounds found in tobacco in residues collected from vessels associated with drug use. Zimmermann suggests adding the marigold to the tobacco mixture may have made smoking more enjoyable. The team members hope to investigate a wide range of Mexico’s vessels and the dental plaque on human remains for a better understanding of psychoactive plant use. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports.

Wine Order from Japan’s Early Edo Period Found

KUMAMOTO, JAPAN—According to a statement released by Kumamoto University, researchers have found a document in the Eisei Bunko Library that indicates supplies for a batch of wine were ordered by Taroemon Ueda, a Hosokawa clan vassal with ties to Westerners, in September 1632, after the beverage was prohibited by the shogunate in 1631 because of its association with Christianity. The Hosokawa clan ruled the Kokura Domain, which was located on the northern end of the island of Kyushu. The  wine is thought to have been completed by mid-October, based upon other records of wine-making from wild grapes and black soybeans for medicinal use by Tadatoshi Hosokawa, the lord of the clan, from 1627 to 1630. A few months later, the shogunate ordered the Hosokawa clan to move south to the Higo Domain. No records have been found to suggest that the Hosokawa clan continued to produce the forbidden beverage in their new territory.

Friday, January 15

Indonesia’s Ice Age Artists Depicted Warty Pigs

SULAWESI, INDONESIA—Images of the Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis) found at Leang Tedongnge Cave have been dated to at least 45,500 years ago with uranium-series dating of calcite minerals deposited on the artwork, according to a Live Science report. Adam Brumm of Griffith University said the animals, which are known for their facial warts and weigh up to about 190 pounds, still live on the island today. The largest of the drawings in the cave measures about 4.5 feet long and 1.8 feet tall. Two human hands were painted over the pig’s rump. Less well preserved are two or three pig faces placed near the main pig. Another pig illustration measuring more than six feet long was found on the ceiling of a nearby cave known as Leang Balangajia 1. This pig, dated to at least 32,000 years ago, is shown with four stenciled hands, and at least two other poorly preserved animal paintings. Archaeological evidence unearthed on the island suggests that its early inhabitants hunted and perhaps even domesticated pigs. “So, it seems clear that early humans interacted closely with this pig on various levels for a very long period of time,” Brumm said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on this discovery, go to "Shock of the Old."

Ancient Artifacts Unearthed in North Carolina

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—WTVD reports that archaeologists investigating land slated for highway construction around the city of Raleigh identified more than 155 archaeological sites. The work is being led by North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) archaeologist Matt Wilkerson and his team. One of the sites is thought to have been a camp repeatedly used by hunter-gatherers over a long period. It yielded tools and pieces of a pot dated to A.D. 500, according to researcher Susan Bamann, whose firm is assisting the NCDOT team. Chemical analysis could reveal what foods were cooked in the vessel, she said. In earlier layers at the site, the team members found stone points dated to between 8000 and 6000 B.C., and a polished piece of stone with holes drilled in it that may have been worn as jewelry some 10,000 years ago. “These are all fashioned from stone, some of these from the stone source that we associated with the Uwharrie Mountains,” Bamann said. These mountains are located about 100 miles to the west of the site, she explained. For more on archaeology in North Carolina, go to "Cotton Mill, Prison, Main Street."

Elk Teeth Offer Clues to Prehistoric Clothing in Russia

HELSINKI, FINLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Helsinki, archaeologist Kristiina Mannermaa and her colleagues analyzed more than 4,000 elk incisors recovered from 8,200-year-old graves on an island in northwestern Russia’s Lake Onega. The teeth are thought to have decorated various items of clothing. All but two of the teeth had one or more small grooves placed at the tip of the root that are thought to have been used to attach them to garments. In those two teeth, found in the grave of the same woman, a small hole had been made in the tooth itself. The patterns of the grooves found on the teeth recovered from individual graves were generally limited, and may indicate that the ornaments were produced in a fairly short period of time, Mannermaa said. The graves of young adults held the greatest number of elk teeth, while the burials of children and the elderly held the fewest, she added. The largest ornaments were made up of the teeth of eight to 18 of the valuable animals. The graves in the study also held some beaver and bear teeth, but the abundance of elk teeth may have been tied to the group’s identity, she concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. To read about burials of Scythian women warriors recently unearthed in Russia, go to "Arms and the Women."