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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 18

How Did Paleolithic People Light Up Their Caves?

SANTANDER, SPAIN—According to a statement released by the Public Library of Science, a team of researchers led by Mª Ángeles Medina-Alcaide of the University of Cantabria tested possible sources of light employed by Paleolithic peoples to reach the deepest, darkest areas of caves. The lights, including torches made of sticks from five different trees, two stone lamps fueled with animal fat, and oak and juniper burned in a small fireplace, were based upon archaeological evidence uncovered in caves in southwestern Europe where Paleolithic cave art has been found. When the lights were tested in Isuntza 1 Cave, which is located in the Basque region of Spain, the researchers realized that different sources of light were probably used for different situations. Torches made of multiple sticks were found the most useful for exploring and crossing wide spaces, since they project light in all directions and are easy to carry. The torchlight lasted on average about 40 minutes, but required close supervision to keep it lit. Grease lamps were found to produce a similar amount of light as candles, and proved useful for lighting small spaces over a longer period. In contrast, the fireplace put out a lot of smoke and burned out after only 30 minutes, possibly due to the air currents in the test cave. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about cave art painted deep in the caves of the American South, go to "Artists of the Dark Zone."

Plague Victims Identified in Individual Graves in England

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Cambridge, researchers have detected DNA from Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes Black Death, in the teeth of people buried in a parish cemetery and friary in Cambridge and in the nearby village of Clopton. Plague victims can die quickly, leaving no visible trace on their skeletal remains, and scientists had previously only been able to identify individuals killed by the Black Death when they were buried in mass graves. Team member Craig Cessford explained that at least three plague victims were found to have been buried with care and attention in individual graves within the chapter house at the friary, and another individual grave was found at the parish of All Saints by the Castle, which was reportedly overwhelmed with the dead and abandoned in 1365. Bacterial DNA was also detected in the teeth of people buried together in a trench in what had been a parish churchyard. For more on Yersinia pestis, go to "A Killer Bacterium Expands Its Legacy."


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Thursday, June 17

Study Suggests Neanderthals and Modern Humans Met in Israel

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority have developed a new chronology for the occupation of the Boker Tachtit site, which is located in southern Israel’s Negev Desert. The study suggests that modern humans, as represented by the Emiran culture, and Neanderthals, as represented by the late Mousterian culture, crossed paths at the site some 50,000 years ago. Barzilai explained that the region would have been the edge of the areas inhabited by modern humans, who were centered in Africa, and Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and central Asia. Previous genetic studies have detected the mixing of the two populations. To read about Gaza wine production in the Negev during the Byzantine period, go to "Alcohol Through the Ages: Desert Wine."

Two Historic Shipwrecks Discovered Off Coast of Singapore

SINGAPORE—The AFP reports that the site of two shipwrecks has been investigated off Singapore’s easternmost point by researchers from Singapore’s National Heritage Board and the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The first ship, which had been loaded with Chinese ceramics, was found in 2015 and has been dated to the fourteenth century. “Many of the pieces [of Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain] are rare, and one is believed to be unique,” said Michael Flecker of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The second ship, which was discovered during the excavation of the first vessel, is thought to be the Shah Munchah, a merchant vessel that sank in 1796 while traveling from China to India. This ship was carrying Chinese ceramics probably destined for Britain, glass, and agate objects. Cannons typical of the kind used by Britain’s East India Company and anchors were also recovered from the wreckage. For more on archaeology in Singapore, go to "Letter from Singapore: The Lion City's Glorious Past."

Genetic Study Suggests Neanderthal Society Was Patrilocal

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that 14 Neanderthal genomes have been sequenced from remains recovered from two caves in Siberia’s Altai Mountains. The remains of seven males and five females came from Chagyrskaya Cave, and the remains of one male and one female came from Okladnikov Cave. All of the individuals are thought to have lived within 100 years of each other, based upon an analysis of shared mitochondrial DNA, between 49,000 and 59,000 years ago. Two of the individuals from Chagyrskaya Cave were identified as father and daughter, according to geneticist Laurits Skov of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Several of the males from Chagyrskaya Cave carried chunks of identical nuclear DNA, indicating that they shared a recent ancestor, and they also had similar Y chromosomes inherited from a modern human father. And although the Y chromosomes and nuclear DNA in the males was similar, the researchers found that mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from mothers, was diverse in both the males and females. Skov thinks Neanderthal females may have moved between small family groups of related males. This low male diversity may have contributed to Neanderthal extinction, he added. To read about the first Neanderthal DNA sequencing, go to "Neanderthal Genome," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of the Decade."

Wednesday, June 16

1,800-Year-Old Statue Discovered in Turkey

İZMİR, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that an 1,800-year-old statue of a woman has been unearthed in western Turkey, at the site of the ancient city of Metropolis. The city, which is near ancient Ephesus, was occupied during the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. Ongoing excavations are being conducted by archaeologists from the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry and Celal Bayar University. To read about a Roman amphitheater unearthed at the ancient city of Mastaura in western Turkey, go to "In the Anatolian Arena."

1,000-Year-Old Chicken Egg Found in Israel

YAVNE, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, a chicken egg was recovered from a cesspit in central Israel by a team of researchers led by Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv, and Jon Seligman. The human waste in the cesspit, which has been dated to the Islamic period, some 1,000 years ago, is thought to have cushioned and preserved the egg. Poultry expert Lee Perry Gal said much of the contents of the egg had leaked out of a crack in its bottom, but the yolk that remained will be analyzed. The egg has been restored by conservationist Ilan Naor. To read about Islamic-era coins discovered in Jerusalem's Western Wall Plaza, go to "Money Talks."

9,000-Year-Old Obsidian Tools Recovered from Great Lake

ARLINGTON, TEXAS—According to a statement released by the University of Texas at Arlington, 9,000-year-old tools made from obsidian quarried in central Oregon have been found some 2,000 miles away at an undisturbed archaeological site now submerged in Lake Huron. Researcher Ashley Lemke said the sharp edges on the small pieces of volcanic glass may have been used by caribou hunters at the end of the last Ice Age, when water levels were much lower. These flakes are the farthest east that western obsidian has been found, she added. For more on the underwater archaeology of Lake Huron, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

Beaver Castoreum Detected on 6,000-Year-Old Dart in Canada

YUKON, CANADA—Yukon News reports that beaver castoreum has been detected on a 6,000-year-old atlatl throwing dart recovered in 2018 from melting alpine ice in the traditional territories of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Kwalin Dün First Nation in northwestern Canada. The yellowish-brown fluid is produced in the castor sacs of mature beavers. Valery Monahan of Yukon Museums said the substance looks like orange residue coating the binding sinews on the wood artifact. It is not known if the castoreum was used as a preservative, adhesive, or colorant. A mix of spruce resin and red ochre used as an adhesive has been detected on other artifacts recovered from the ice patch. “This discovery demonstrates yet again the sophisticated knowledge Yukon’s ancient First Nations people had about their environment, lands, and resources,” commented Carcross/Tagish First Nation Haa Sha du Hen Lynda Dickson. To read about now-extinct woolly dogs that were domesticated by Indigenous people, go to "Around the World: Canada."