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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 17

Medieval Padlock Discovered in Scotland

PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists, students, and volunteers from the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust recovered a padlock at a Pictish homestead site in central Scotland. The stone and timber structure where the lock was found once had a turf roof, and is thought to date to sometime between A.D. 500 and 1000. The box-shaped lock would have been used to lock a door or a chest containing valuable items. Fragments of knife blades, buckles, and pins were also recovered. To read about the digital reconstruction of a 1,200-year-old Pictish slab, go to "Game of Stones."

Historic Seattle Neighborhood Uncovered

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—KIRO Radio reports that archaeologist Cassie Manetas of the Washington State Department of Transportation and her colleagues uncovered traces of an early Seattle neighborhood that had been built on piers near the city’s current waterfront while investigating the pathway of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and tunnel. “We found a lot of the pilings and decking from the wharves,” Manetas said, in addition to plates, dishes, cups, glassware, animal bones, and other artifacts dated from 1890 to 1905. The neighborhood was eventually filled in, she added. To read about urban development along the shore of another major American city, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

Assyrian Reliefs Excavated in Northern Iraq

KURDISTAN, IRAQ—The Assyrian International News Agency reports that archaeologists led by Daniele Morandi Bonacossi of Italy’s University of Udine and Hasan Ahmed Qasim of the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities have uncovered ten large engraved panels placed along an ancient irrigation canal at Faida, an Assyrian archaeological site in northern Iraq. The canal is thought to have been built by the Assyrian ruler Sargon between 705 and 720 B.C. Small channels from the canal, which was fed by a system of springs, branched off to irrigate surrounding agricultural fields. Sargon is shown at either end of the row of panels in front of statues of seven divinities placed on the backs of mythical animals, including the god Assur on a dragon and a lion with horns, and his wife Mullissu sitting on a throne supported by a lion. To read about an archive of cuneiform tablets found at a Bronze Age city in Iraqi Kurdistan, go to "Assyrian Archivists."

Peru’s Pachacamac Idol Analyzed

PARIS, FRANCE—Live Science reports that researchers led by Marcela Sepúlveda of Sorbonne University examined the seven- and one-half-foot-tall wooden statue known as the Pachacamac idol, which was unearthed in 1938 within the Painted Temple at Pachacamac, an Inca sanctuary located near the coastline of central Peru. In 1533, Spanish conquistador Hernando Pizarro ordered that the revered idol at Pachacamac be destroyed, and so researchers did not know if the statue unearthed within the temple was the sacred object or another artifact. Sepúlveda and her colleagues radiocarbon dated the statue to sometime between A.D. 760 and 876, which suggests that it was made by the Wari people and that the oracle site was important hundreds of years before the rise of the Inca Empire. Analysis of the statue's surface with X-ray fluorescence spectrometry revealed traces of color, Sepúlveda added. Its teeth were once painted white, and parts of its headdress were decorated with yellow pigment. Cinnabar, a red pigment that is found in the Andes Mountains some 250 miles away, was also detected. The red color may have been a symbol of economic might and political power, Sepúlveda explained. For more on recent finds in Peru, go to "Peruvian Mass Sacrifice," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.  

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Thursday, January 16

Roman-Era Trade Center Mapped Off Africa’s Northern Coast

MUNICH, GERMANY—A magnetometer survey in Djerba, an island off the coast of Tunisia, has mapped the site of the ancient commercial center of Meninx, according to a statement released by Ludwig Maximilian University. The city was founded in the fourth century B.C., and became a trade power between the first and third centuries A.D. Archaeologist Stefan Ritter and his colleagues investigated the city’s well-protected port, which had a wide, deep channel in its shallow bay, wooden and stone quays, and warehouses for storing goods. The survey also revealed that the city’s streets ran parallel to the island’s coastline. Ritter said he and his colleagues carried out some excavations, and uncovered a private bathhouse with mosaic floors, wall paintings, and statuary. New evidence suggests that the purple dye produced by the city’s residents from the sea snail Murex trunculus was not exported as a raw material, but rather used at Meninx to dye textiles for export. To read about the discovery of a submerged Roman mercantile city, go to "World Roundup: Tunisia."

Neanderthal Shell Tools Studied

BOULDER, COLORADO—According to a report in The Guardian, a new study of shell tools recovered in 1949 from a coastal cave in central Italy suggests that some of them were made from shells retrieved directly from the seabed, and not collected on the shore. Animal teeth found alongside the tools were dated to between 90,000 and 100,000 years ago, when Neanderthals are thought to have been the only hominins living in Western Europe. The tools, which are thought to have been used as scrapers, were made from the shell of a clam known as Callista chione, which lives in coastal waters at least three feet deep. Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Boulder said microscopic evaluation revealed that almost a quarter of the shell tools did not show signs of the wear and tear usually seen on shells collected on the seashore after being tossed in the waves. Rather, these shells were smooth, as if they had been harvested while still holding a live clam. It is not clear if the clams were eaten, however. Villa and her colleagues also found lumps of volcanic rock in the collection that may have been collected from the beach. Such pieces of pumice are known to have been used by early modern humans to polish pieces of bone. For more on hominin tools, go to "Neanderthal Tool Time."

600-Year-Old Foundations Unearthed in Mexicapan

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Mexico News Daily reports that researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History uncovered the foundations of a dwelling and parts of other structures dated to between A.D. 1350 and 1519 in what was the settlement of Mexicapan. Archaeologist Nancy Domínguez Rosas said the house measured about 20 feet wide by 26 feet long, and is the largest structure uncovered so far in Mexico City’s ancient neighborhood of Azcapotzalco, which was conquered in 1428 by the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan and divided into the city states of Mexicapan and Tepanecapan. The house and the other residential structures in the area were made from high-quality materials and may have housed the elite of Mexicapan society, Domínguez added. Stone and bone artifacts, burials, and traces of floating gardens were also unearthed. To read about ritual artifacts unearthed from the neighborhoods of Teotihuacan, go to "Stone Faces of Ancient Mexico."

Wednesday, January 15

Study Detects Influence of “Pseudo-Neglect” in Ancient Villages

KIEL, GERMANY—According to a statement released by Kiel University, a Slovak-German research team has developed a technique to study Neolithic settlements based upon the alignment of buildings over time. Archaeologist Nils Müller-Scheeßel of Kiel's Collaborative Research Centre explained that researchers have long thought that Neolithic structures were used for about a generation before they were rebuilt. Perception psychologists, he added, have found that healthy people usually favor their left visual field over their right, and thus will regularly deviate slightly to the left of center—a phenomenon known as “pseudo-neglect.” Employing this concept, Müller-Scheeßel and his colleagues conducted geophysical surveys of Neolithic village sites in southwestern Slovakia. They detected a slight counterclockwise shift as new buildings were constructed over older ones. The researchers then compared this data with radiocarbon dates. The study suggests that the concept of pseudo-neglect could allow researchers to create a relative sequence for Neolithic housing sites without extensive excavation, Müller-Scheeßel explained, although traditional dating methods would still be needed to confirm a basic sequence. To read about a unique silver belt uncovered near an ancient Roman military camp outside Bratislava, go to "World Roundup: Slovakia."

Update on Efforts to Restore Notre Dame Cathedral

PARIS, FRANCE—Science News reports that archaeologists are among the more than 200 researchers in the Association of Scientists in Service of the Restoration of Notre Dame of Paris, France’s National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), and the French Ministry of Culture who will examine the twelfth-century cathedral damaged by fire last spring. They will be able to begin analysis of the structure’s wood, stone, lead, and iron components once toxic dust has been removed from the site and all the materials have been sorted and cataloged. Such study could help determine how the cathedral was built, how much heat the fire produced, and how the heat and the water used to extinguish the flames may have weakened the surviving structure. In addition, tree ring analysis of the roof’s burnt oak timbers could offer clues to where the trees grew and what the medieval climate was like. To read about the discovery of mass burials dating to between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries a mile away from Notre Dame, go to "A Parisian Plague."

Butchered Siberian Mammoth Bones Dated

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the butchered remains of a woolly mammoth discovered on eastern Siberia’s Kotelny Island have been dated to 21,000 years ago by scientists at Tokyo’s Jikei University School of Medicine. Kotelny Island is located in the area known as Beringia, the submerged land bridge that once connected Siberia and North America. Albert Protopopov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said cut marks and chips left by darts were left on the mammoth’s bones when its muscles, trunk, and brain were removed and the bone marrow extracted from its limbs. He thinks the new dates indicate the animal may have been killed by a population that eventually migrated into North America. “Recent DNA research suggests that the split in the populations—and therefore the settlement—happened from around 25,000 years ago,” he said. “This is one of the most interesting things in the discovery of this mammoth, as it will add more information to our knowledge of how people gradually moved towards America.” Genetic study of the mammoth remains is planned. To read about butchered mammoth remains identified in Wisconsin, go to "America, in the Beginning: Schaefer and Hebior Kill Sites."

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