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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, April 23

Footprints Suggest Early Humans May Have Walked Upright

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary anthropologist David Raichlen of the University of Arizona led a team of researchers who compared footprints made by volunteers and those left some 3.6 million years ago in Laetoli, Tanzania, by members of the genus Australopithecus. Some of the volunteers walked normally, and some walked with bent knees and bent hips, otherwise known as BKBH. Raichlen suggests the Australopithecus footprints resemble those made by modern human upright walkers. “Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back four to five million years,” he said. To read about previous research on the Laetoli footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

Researchers Return to Wreckage of Australia’s First Sub

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to ABC News, a team of Australian and American researchers has returned to the site of HMAS AE1, discovered last December near Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York Island, to create a 3-D map of the World War I wreckage site. The vessel, Australia’s first submarine, and its crew of 35 were lost in September 1914 while patrolling the area for German naval vessels. Rear Admiral Peter Briggs said the submarine’s stern cap, on the rear torpedo tube, had been fully opened. “It’s certainly a deliberate action from the crew,” he said. “It requires quite a few turns on a hand wheel to physically open it, it’s the first step in preparing a torpedo tube for firing.” The researchers suggest the crew may have been prepared for an encounter with a German ship when it ran into trouble on a dive and was crushed by water pressure, but they will continue to examine the high-definition video of the wreckage to try to determine what happened. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Shrine and Sculpture Unearthed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that excavations in Upper Egypt have uncovered a fragment of a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius and a shrine dedicated to Osiris. While working to reduce the level of water under the Kom Ombo temple in Aswan, archaeologists discovered the sculpture of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities described the head as having wavy hair and a beard. The rare depiction of the emperor, who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180, will be cleaned and conserved. At the Karnak Temple in Luxor, archaeologists discovered the entrance, foundation, columns, inner walls, and floor paving stones to a shrine dedicated to Osiris-Ptah-Neb. It is thought to have been constructed during Egypt’s Late Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., and to have been expanded during later periods. Essam Nagy, head of the excavation, said pottery, statues, and a relief depicting a sheep and a goose and bearing the names of the kings Taharka and Tanut Amun, the last ruler of the 25th Dynasty, were also recovered. To read in-depth about Egyptian tomb paintings, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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Friday, April 20

When Did Humans First Use Symbols?

AARHUS, DENMARK—According to a report in Science Magazine, cognitive scientist Kristian Tylén of Aarhus University led a team of scientists who investigated the possibility that markings found on rocks at sites in South Africa could have been used as symbols by early humans. If the marks, which ranged in age from 52,000 to 109,000 years old, were made as decorations, Tylén reasoned, modern humans should be able to recognize the patterns, and if the marks had been reproduced as local cultural traditions to convey meaning, they should still be memorable. The scientists took 24 images found on stones and shells in Blombos Cave and another site in South Africa, cleaned them up, and showed them to 65 Danish university students, who were asked to distinguish between the marks and reproduce them after a brief glimpse. Tylén’s team found that the students were better able to remember and reproduce the more recent markings, but they were not able to distinguish them from each other, or sort them into groupings based upon where they had been found. Thus, Tylén thinks it is unlikely the markings were made as symbols with individual meanings. To read more about research at Blombos Cave, go to "In Style in the Stone Age." 

Traces of Neolithic Henge Exposed

  RAUNDS, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a Neolithic monument known as Cotton Henge, which was discovered through the use of aerial photography in the 1970s, has been completely exposed for study in advance of a construction project in Northamptonshire. The henge’s outer ditch measures about 330 feet in diameter, and although the henge never contained any standing stones, it did have associated external banks. Researchers led by archaeologist Liz Mordue of Northamptonshire County Council discovered a possible entranceway to the enclosure on the southern side of the outer ditch. It may have been closed as a way of marking the end of its use. No entrance has been found in the inner ditch. The structure is thought to have been part of a Neolithic ceremonial landscape on the floodplain of the River Nene. To read more about the British Isles during that period, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Dragon Tiles Recovered in Vietnam

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnam Net reports that recent excavations in Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel of Thang Long have uncovered traces of large buildings dating from about A.D. 1000 to 1400 in an area to the east of the Kinh Thien Palace. The researchers uncovered the stone bases of columns and foundations, building and perimeter walls, courtyards, and drainage structures. They also unearthed pieces of the palace’s distinctive roof tiles shaped like dragons and decorated with bright yellow and green enamel. Archaeologist Tong Trung Tin said the dragon-shaped tiles, which date to the early Le Dynasty (A.D. 980 to 1009), “are exactly how they have been described in history.” The line of tubular “body” tiles began with a dragon’s head and ended with its tail. The beasts on the roof of the king’s palace had legs and feet with five claws each, while the dragons on the crown prince’s palace sported legs and feet with four claws. The excavation team members also found pottery from the Mac Dynasty dating to the early sixteenth century, but no traces of Mac architecture. Tin says this reflects the historic record, which suggests Mac Dynasty rulers repaired the palaces of their predecessors, rather than building new ones. The palace was eventually torn down by French colonialists. To read more about archaeology in Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Laos: A Singular Landscape."

New Dates Reveal North America’s Oldest-Known Dogs

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Dog remains recovered at two archaeological sites in Illinois have been dated to 10,000 years ago, according to a report in Science News. Angela Perri of Durham University said the three dogs had been buried individually, and that their bones did not bear any stone tool marks, which suggests they had died of natural causes. Examination of the animals’ lower jaws and teeth indicate that one of the dogs, from the Stilwell II site, and one of the dogs from the Koster site, resembled modern wolves. The second dog from Koster shared traits with today’s coyotes. The previously oldest-known dogs in North America lived some 9,300 years ago, before they were eaten by people living in what is now Texas. To read about the earliest New World settlers, go to "The First Americans." 

Thursday, April 19

Looted Artifacts Repatriated to Romania

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA—Romania Insider reports that Austria has repatriated a collection of first-century A.D. Dacian coins and bracelets to Romania. The gold and silver artifacts, including more than 450 coins and 18 bracelets, are thought to have been plundered from western Romania’s Orastie Mountains between 2000 and 2001. They were discovered in Austria in 2015. A joint investigation resulted in the convictions of 21 people for the theft. To read about archaeology in the Balkans, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest." 

Neolithic Surgeons May Have Practiced on Animals

PARIS, FRANCE—Paleontologists Alain Froment and Fernando Ramirez Rozzi of the French National Center for Scientific Research suggest a hole in a cow skull uncovered at the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand in southwestern France could be evidence of a surgical procedure. According to a Gizmodo report, their analysis of the hole found no trace of fracturing or splintering, indicating it was not caused by goring from another cow, or a puncture from a powerful blow with a stone tool. The wound does, however, resemble holes found in human skulls attributed to the practice of trepanation. The hole in the cow skull shows no signs of healing, so either the animal did not survive the procedure, or it was already dead when the procedure was performed. Froment and Rozzi note that cows were common during the Neolithic period, so it was unlikely the surgeon needed to save the life of a food animal. They think the operation may have been practice for trepanation on humans. To read more about Neolithic technology, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit." 

Pigments Detected on Roman Stone in Scotland

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that traces of red and yellow pigments have been detected on the Antonine Wall’s distance stones with x-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy technology. Built on a stone foundation in the second century A.D., the turf wall sat about 99 miles to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, and stretched about 37 miles from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. Louisa Campbell of Glasgow University said the bright colors on the engraved stones in the wall would have enhanced the impact of Roman propaganda on the local population. Red was used to paint images of Roman officers’ cloaks, and drops of blood on their captives. Ochre was used to give color to skin tones in the pictures. “The local population might not have been able to read the Latin inscriptions on the stone but they would certainly have been able to understand the sculptures and the context behind them,” Campbell said.  To read in-depth about Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire." 

World War II Submarine Found Near Denmark

THYBORØN, DENMARK—CBS News reports that researchers from the Sea War Museum Jutland have found the wreckage of U-3523, a Nazi submarine sunk by a British aerial assault on May 6, 1945, the day after Nazi forces surrendered in Denmark. The extremely quiet Type XXI vessel was said to have been capable of travel from Europe to South America without surfacing. Historic records indicate the U-3523 had been carrying a crew of 58, but its mission is unknown. The submarine was found in the North Sea, about nine miles from the site where the British navy reported the hit, partially buried in the sea bed on a diagonal. The researchers have documented more than 450 wrecks while scanning the areas of the North Sea and the Skagerrak strait, which flows between Denmark and Norway. Nine of those wrecks have been identified as German submarines. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II." 

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