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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 31

Ancient Andeans May Have Developed a TB Response

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—According to a statement released by the National Science Foundation, Sophie Joseph of Emory University and her colleagues suggest that people who lived in South America’s Andes Mountains may have begun to adapt to the tuberculosis bacterium more than 3,000 years ago. The researchers were examining the genomes of individuals from modern Indigenous populations living in Ecuador at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet because they were interested in learning how the region’s early inhabitants adapted to living at high altitude. “We were surprised to find that the strongest genetic signals of positive selection were not associated with high altitude but for the immune response to tuberculosis,” said team member John Lindo. At about this time, Joseph explained, agriculture began to develop in the region, bringing about more densely populated societies, and perhaps, human-pathogen co-evolution. Another study has detected the bacterium in 1,400-year-old mummified remains found in the Andean Mountains. It had been previously thought that tuberculosis traveled to South America with Europeans. Read the original scholarly article about this research in iScience. For more on the origin of tuberculosis in the Americas, go to "Across the Atlantic by Flipper."

Pre-Hispanic Artifacts Repatriated to Mexico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Mexico Daily News reports that Mexico’s culture minister Alejandra Frausto traveled to Rome to retrieve more than 40 pre-Hispanic artifacts recovered by Italy’s Carabinieri group for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The oldest objects are about 1,700 years old. Some of them had been held in private collections. “Not only do we announce the recovery of heritage but also the recovery of dignity in this country,” Frausto said. Italy’s government has been advising Mexico’s authority on the creation of its own cultural protection enforcement organization. Germany has returned another 40 objects, while France has returned three. The oldest of these artifacts dates to 400 B.C. Frausto and her team now seek the return of more than 80 Olmec artifacts scheduled to be auctioned in France. She encouraged those who collect ancient objects to explore Mexico’s contemporary art. To read about Olmec sculptures and stucco masks uncovered at the Maya site of Toniná, go to "Around the World: Mexico."

Roman Ruins Uncovered at England’s Exeter Cathedral

EXETER, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a Roman street and timber buildings were uncovered in southwest England at the site of the cloister garden at Exeter Cathedral during an investigation ahead of the construction of a new cloister gallery. “The street and early timber buildings date from circa A.D. 50 to 75, and formed elements of the Roman legionary fortress which underlies central Exeter,” said cathedral archaeologist John Allan. The timbers may have been part of a long barracks, he surmised. The wall of a Roman townhouse dated to the third and fourth centuries A.D. was also found under the foundations of the medieval cloisters, which were destroyed in 1656. To read about traces of Roman occupation beneath a Swiss cathedral, go to "Off the Grid: Saint Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, Switzerland."


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Thursday, March 30

Tartan Recovered From Scottish Bog Dated to 16th Century

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC News report, a scrap of fabric recovered from a peat bog some 40 years ago has been radiocarbon dated to between 1500 and 1655, making it the oldest known tartan found in Scotland. The fabric, thought to have been worn while working outside, is known as the Glen Afffric tartan for the bog in the Highlands where it was discovered. Examination with high-resolution digital microscopy detected the colors green, brown, and possibly red and yellow in the faded, striped fabric, which measures about 22 inches long by 17 inches wide. Chemical analysis of the dye confirmed the use of indigo or woad in the green. No artificial dyes were detected, indicating that it was produced before the 1750s. “Although Clan Chisholm controlled that area, we cannot attribute the tartan to them as we don’t know who owned it,” commented Peter MacDonald of the Scottish Tartans Authority. To read about recent archaeological research at southwestern Scotland's Caerlaverock Castle, go to "Storming the Castle."

6,000-Year-Old Copper Fishhook Unearthed in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—i24 News reports that a large copper fishhook estimated to be 6,000 years old was discovered in southern Israel at the site of the ancient seaport of Ashkelon. The hook measures about two and one-half inches long and one and one-half inches wide, according to Yael Abadi-Reiss and Daniel Varga of the Israel Antiquities Authority. They think such a large hook may have been used to catch sharks or tuna. “The rare fishhook tells the story of the village fishermen who sailed out to sea in their boats and cast the newly invented copper fishhook into the water, hoping to add coastal sharks to the menu,” Abadi-Reiss said. Most of the fishhooks that have been found from this period were made of bone. To read about a Neolithic-period bone fishhook found in Norway, go to "Artifact."

Wednesday, March 29

Bone Tools Recovered From 7,000-Year-Old Burials in Sudan

WARSAW, POLAND—A 7,000-year-old set of sharp, gutter-shaped bone tools has been uncovered in northern Sudan’s Letti Basin by researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences, according to a Science in Poland report. The implements were recovered from a grave that held the remains of an elderly man covered with fragments of animal skin colored with red ocher. A small bowl in the grave also held traces of ocher and five bone blades of varying sizes. “Given the characteristic shape of the blades, they could have been used to bleed cows, similar to modern African shepherds, such as the Maasai. Without any harm to the animals, cows’ blood is drunk on special occasions, usually mixed with milk. It would be the oldest known record of this type of practice,” explained research team leader Piotr Osypiński. A second grave in the cemetery, he added, held the remains of a young man who had been buried on his right side in a flexed position with a stone palette for rubbing ocher and two similarly shaped bone blades. He had also been covered with an animal skin soaked in red ocher. Clusters of cattle bones have also been found in the cemetery. To read about the Nubian necropolis of Sedeinga, go to "Miniature Pyramids of Sudan."

Roman-Era Trash Pit in France Yields Venus Figurines

RENNES, FRANCE—According to a Live Science report, a Roman-era quarry that was later used as a trash pit has been excavated in northern France by researchers from the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP). Among the refuse, the researchers discovered two terracotta figurines of the goddess Venus, pottery fragments, coins, pieces of glass, and clothing pins. Stone from the quarry was likely used to build the Roman town of Condate Riedonum in the first century A.D. By the second century, however, people were depositing trash at the site. One of the Venus figurines represents Venus genetrix, the mother goddess, with her torso draped in fabric. The second figurine is of Venus anadyomene, showing the nude goddess wringing water from her hair as she rises from the sea. The researchers added that the quarry had been filled in by the medieval period, when it was used as a space for craft production. By the seventeenth century, a boarding school for girls stood at the site. A plumbing pipe from this period was also uncovered. To read about another Venus figurine unearthed at France's ancient Roman city of Vienna, go to "A Day by the Rhone."

800-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Central China

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—The Charlotte Observer reports that a Jin Dynasty tomb was discovered in central China during a pipeline digging project. Archaeologists from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said that the tomb consists of a stepped passageway leading to a main burial chamber containing the remains of a child who died between the ages of six and eight, and the remains of two men who died between the ages of 50 and 60. The carvings around the doorway on the south wall of this chamber mimic lattice windows. Carvings of lattice doors and windows also cover the east and west walls. On the north wall, a carving made to mimic the look of wood depicts a man and his wife. No evidence of paint has been found on the carvings. Porcelain bowls, jars, and pottery were also found, in addition to a stone block recording the purchase of the land for the tomb that has been dated to between A.D. 1190 and 1196. To read about bronze smithing in ancient China, go to "(Un)following the Recipe."