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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 6

Drone Cameras Spot Prehistoric Rock Art in Spain

ALICANTE, SPAIN—ArtNet News reports that prehistoric rock art has been discovered in the rugged mountains of eastern Spain with drones fitted with cameras. Geoarchaeology researcher and authorized drone pilot Francisco Javier Molina of the University of Alicante explored 18 hard-to-reach caves with drones, and discovered cave paintings in two of them. The artwork, including images of archers, deer, and goats, some of which had been hit with an arrow, is estimated to be 7,000 years old. He thinks the artists may have built scaffolding structures to reach some of the sites. “Once we have obtained the permits, we will start the documentation work in the first cave,” said research team member Virginia Gonzalez. “The idea is to extend the research to other nearby areas that are difficult to access,” she concluded. To read about prehistoric engraved tablets discovered in Spain and France, go to "Late Paleolithic Masterpieces."

3-D Scans Reveal Details of Roman Burial in Britain

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of York, researchers led by Maureen Carroll of the University of York have made a 3-D scan of a Roman gypsum burial casing. In this burial practice, the remains, placed in lead or stone coffins, were covered with liquid gypsum. Once the gypsum hardened and the bodies decayed, a negative cavity formed within the casing, preserving the original position and contours of the deceased, in addition to the imprints of shrouds, clothing, and footwear. Traces of aromatic imported resins found in three such burials suggest it was a practice reserved for the wealthy. And although this practice was usually reserved for single burials, one of the casings in the collection at the Yorkshire Museum held the remains of two adults and an infant who died about 1,600 years ago. The new 3-D scan reveals that each of the bodies in the group had been completely wrapped in textiles of varying quality and weave. The ties used to bind the shroud over the head of one of the adults and the bands of cloth used to wrap the infant were all visible, Carroll said. Further research will examine the skeletal remains for evidence of the individuals’ age, sex, diet, and geographic origin, in addition to analysis of the textiles. The scientists also hope to create 3-D scans of the other 15 gypsum casings in the Yorkshire Museum collections. To read about a set of peculiar burials at a Roman cemetery in England, go to "Foreign Funeral Rites."

When Did Hominins Begin to Bury Their Dead?

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of Wits University and his colleagues suggest that Homo naledi intentionally buried their dead, according to a Science News report. Homo naledi, whose remains were discovered in South Africa’s Rising Star Cave System, lived in southern Africa between about 335,000 and 236,000 years ago. Among the remains recovered from the cave system are bones thought to have belonged to an adult H. naledi found in a shallow pit in the cave system’s Dinaledi Chamber. Berger thinks these bones may have become detached as the cave’s dry sediments collapsed, or perhaps as other burials were dug in the chamber, since bone fragments from at least one other individual have been found in the pit. Bones found in another shallow pit in this chamber have not yet been analyzed. CT scans of three blocks of sediment removed from an adjacent space known as the Hill Antechamber showed that they also contain H. naledi remains. One set, found curled in a fetal position, may have also been buried in a shallow depression. Scattered teeth detected in this block of sediments are thought to have been introduced during the burials of other individuals, the researchers explained. A crescent-shaped stone may have been used by H. naledi as an implement to chisel lines and designs on the walls of a corridor and entry into this chamber, Berger added, although the engravings have not been dated. Critics, however, note that the remains may have accumulated in cave shafts and then fell into the chambers, or may have been left at the back of chambers. In this scenario, trampling by other individuals could have produced the fragments, while water seepage into the cave system could have carried H. naledi remains along the sloping cave floors until the bones came to rest in natural depressions in the sediments. For more, go to "Cradle of the Graves."


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Monday, June 5

Bronze Age Copper Ingots Uncovered in Oman

IBRA, OMAN—According to a statement released by Goethe University, while researchers Irini Biezeveld and Jonas Kluge were investigating traces of several settlement sites in eastern Oman, they recovered a lump containing three copper ingots from a test pit. The ingots were formed in the Early Bronze Age, between about 2600 and 2000 B.C., by pouring molten copper into small clay crucibles. Copper ore from the region is known to have been extracted for export to Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. Further research will attempt to determine how the smelters obtained enough combustible material to produce ingots in the arid region with limited vegetation, the researchers explained. Fragments of large storage jars produced by the Indus culture were also recovered, offering additional evidence of trade between the early Bronze Age peoples of Oman and the Indian subcontinent. To read about early creation of copper objects around Lake Superior, go to "The Copper Standard."

Rock Art in Australia Shows Boats From Indonesia

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by Flinders University, images of Moluccan vessels from Indonesia’s eastern islands have been identified in northern Australia’s Awunbarna region by Flinders University archaeologists Mick de Ruyter, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, and Daryl Wesley. The rock art depicts the distinctive shape of vessels built by Moluccans, including pennants and prow adornments resembling historical records of vessels from the islands of eastern Maluku Tenggara. Such vessels have been linked to trade, fishing, collection of resources, head-hunting, and slavery. De Ruyter said that that images provide evidence of encounters between island peoples of Southeast Asia and Aboriginal people of northern Australia, although it is unclear what exactly took place during these meetings. “Dutch traders established agreements with the elders in Maluku Tenggara for products like turtle shell and trepang [or sea cucumber] that may have been sourced during voyages to Australia,” van Duivenvoorde said. “Islanders in Maluku Tenggara also had a reputation as raiders and warriors, ranging across the eastern end of the archipelago.” The researchers will continue to look for other sources of evidence to develop a better understanding of these encounters. To read in-depth about Aboriginal rock art in northern Australia, go to "Letter from Australia: Where the World Was Born."

Possible Modern Human Footprints Dated in South Africa

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by Charles Helm of Nelson Mandela University used optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) to date seven sites in South Africa where hominins left marks in the soil. Four of the sites include hominin trackways, one features knee impressions, and four show other types of patterns left by humans. OSL dating of seven tracks in high cliffs at one of the sites, the Garden Route National Park track site, revealed that grains of quartz or feldspar in the soil were last exposed to sunlight some 153,000 years ago. These tracks are thought to have been made by modern humans, based on nearby artifacts and skeletal remains, which would make them the oldest known modern human footprints. Modern humans are thought to have emerged in Africa some 300,000 years ago. To read about the discovery of human footprints dating to more than 20,000 years ago in New Mexico, go to "Ghost Tracks of White Sands."

Petroglyphs Discovered in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a Live Science report, a collection of petroglyphs depicting ships, people, and animals, has been found under a layer of moss on a steep rock face in Bohuslän, which is located on Sweden’s western coast. Martin Östholm of the Foundation for the Documentation of Bohuslän’s Rock Carvings, said that the carvings were made some 2,700 years ago, when the rocks were once part of an island. At that time, people would have had to stand on a boat or on a platform constructed on ice to reach the rock face and strike it with hard stones to reveal a white layer in the granite. Today, the researchers must stand on a platform to study the petroglyphs. It is not clear what the petroglyphs may mean—researchers have suggested that they may tell a story or convey ownership, however. To read about the discovery in Sweden of a pair of swords protruding from the earth, go to "Standing Swords."

Friday, June 2

Bronze Age Plague Detected in Britain

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that evidence for the bacteria that causes plague has been identified in 4,000-year-old human remains unearthed in northwest and southwest England. “This is the earliest plague found in Britain,” said Pooja Swali of the Francis Crick Institute. Surviving traces of the Yersinia pestis bacteria were found in the dental pulp of a woman who had been buried with two other women at the Levens Park ring cairn in Cumbria, and in dental pulp from two children whose remains were recovered from Somerset’s Charterhouse Warren, where at least 40 men, women, and children had been dismembered and buried in a natural shaft. This illness was probably the pneumonic form of plague, which is spread from person to person and causes fever, headache, weakness, and pneumonia. It is possible that an outbreak of the plague in Eurasia spread to Britain, Swali explained. Research team member Rick Schulting of Oxford University added that it is not clear if the illness may have been related to the violence observed on the remains recovered from Charterhouse Warren. For more, go to "Bronze Age Plague," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.

Early Egyptians May Have Imported Silver

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to an ABC News Australia report, an analysis of bracelets recovered from the tomb of Egypt’s Queen Hetepheres in the 1920s indicates that the silver came from Greece’s Aegean Islands. Married to King Sneferu and mother of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hetepheres is thought to have died sometime between 2589 and 2566 B.C. Karin Sowada of Macquarie University said that no local sources of silver are known in Egypt, and it had been previously thought that the silver had been extracted from local gold sources that had a high silver content. But the ratios of lead isotopes in the bracelets have been found to be consistent with ores from the Cyclades, and perhaps the area of southeastern Attica. It is unlikely that the Egyptians traveled to Greece to obtain the metal, Sowada explained. Rather, the silver is likely to have passed through Lebanon’s ancient emporium city of Byblos, a known trade partner of Egypt’s and its source of Lebanese cedar. “So these bracelets represent a very, very unique opportunity to understand not just the metalworking techniques at this time, but also the trade networks that were existing, which are very important to understanding the emergence of the Egyptian state,” Sowada concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. To read about a pectoral found in King Tut's tomb with a scarab carved from Libyan Desert Glass, go to "Scarab From Space."

Lower Paleolithic Tools Discovered in Greece

ATHENS, GREECE—According to an Associated Press report, stone tools dated to about 700,000 years ago have been found in a coal mine on the Megalopolis plain of southern Greece. The remains of an extinct species of giant deer, elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and a macaque monkey were also found. Although no hominin remains have been recovered, research team members Panagiotis Karkanas of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Eleni Panagopoulou of the Greek Ministry of Culture, and Katerina Harvati of the University of Tübingen think that the tools may have been produced by Homo antecessor, a hominin species that lived in Europe at this time and is believed to have been the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. “However, we will not be able to be sure until hominin fossil remains are recovered,” Panagopoulou said. The site “is the oldest currently known hominin presence in Greece, and it pushes back the known archaeological record in the country by up to 250,000 years,” she added. To read about other probable traces of Homo antecessor, go to "England's Oldest Footprints."