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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 3

Researchers Reconstruct Faces of Medieval Bohemian Dukes

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Radio Prague International reports that a team of researchers has reconstructed the faces of Spytihnĕv I and Vratislav I, the sons of Ludmila of Bohemia, who died as a Christian martyr in A.D. 921. Spytihnĕv I is remembered as the Duke of Bohemia from 895 until his death in 915, when Vratislav I, father of Wenceslaus I, or “Good King Wenceslas,” became duke. The brothers’ remains were unearthed at Prague Castle in the 1980s. First, detailed images of the bones were assembled using photogrammetry to form virtual 3-D models. Forensic facial reconstruction expert Cicero André da Costa Moraes then added muscles to the virtual skulls. “I do the reconstruction without knowing who the person was,” he said. DNA extracted from the bones provided information about eye and hair color, he added. “We could dress them in [authentic] clothes based on miniatures or manuscripts, since they are preserved,” added archaeologist Jan Frolík. “As for their hair [styles] and beards, we made educated guesses according to illustrations in the manuscripts. But we don’t really know.” To read about the 1,000-year-old skeleton of a warrior buried in Prague Castle, go to "The Man in Prague Castle."

X-Rays Reveal Secrets of Little Foot’s Skull

OXFORD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the skull of “Little Foot” traveled from South Africa to Britain, where it was examined at Diamond Light Source with synchrotron X-ray imaging technology. Ron Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand explained that the nearly complete remains of this possible early human ancestor were discovered in the 1990s in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves, dated to 3.67 million years ago, and identified as Australopithecus prometheus. Little Foot’s anatomy suggests Australopithecus prometheus had a chimpanzee-size brain, a gorilla-like face, strong hands able to climb trees, and legs capable of upright locomotion. The non-invasive study allowed the scientists to produce highly detailed images of the skull. Paleoanthropologist Amélie Beaudet of the University of Cambridge said signs of periods of distress during childhood, such as malnutrition or disease, were recorded in the well-preserved dental tissues. The images also revealed vascular canals in the cranial vault that are similar to those found in modern humans. In modern humans, the vessels are thought to help keep the brain at the right temperature. “It was only later in evolution that the brain grew dramatically,” Beaudet explained. For more on Little Foot, go to "Sticking Its Neck Out."


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Tuesday, March 2

New Colors Revealed in Etruscan Tomb Paintings

PISA, ITALY—Multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction (MHX) has been used to reveal previously unseen details in 2,500-year-old Etruscan tomb paintings, according to a Live Science report. Gloria Adinolfi of Pegaso Srl Archeologia Arte Archeometria said that some colors in the paintings have faded, while others have survived, resulting in distorted images. In particular, reds tend to outlast greens, she explained. To get an idea of what the paintings originally looked like, images of the artworks were taken in visible, infrared, and ultraviolet bands of light. The data were then processed with statistical algorithms. Vincenzo Palleschi of Italy’s National Research Council said the researchers detected the presence of Egyptian blue, which has a very specific response in a single spectral band, in addition to other colors. Using this information, the team members were able to reveal the previously unknown image of a person carrying an object in the Tomb of the Monkey, which was named for its image of a monkey sitting in a tree in a background that had just been seen as a red blur. To read about the impressive burial of an Etruscan noble family unearthed at the site of Vulci, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Scientists Study Neanderthal Hearing Ability

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—According to a CNN report, a new study of Neanderthal ear bones suggests that the hominins were capable of hearing sounds similar to modern human speech. Rolf Quam of Binghamton University and his colleagues used CT scans to produce 3-D models of fossilized ear bones of Neanderthals, modern humans, and early hominins thought to be Neanderthal ancestors. They then measured how sound traveled through the ear canal, to the ear drum, through the middle ear bones, and into the inner ear. The researchers determined that Neanderthals could hear a wider range of sounds than their ancestors, and had the capability to distinguish between consonant sounds. “Neanderthals could have produced all the sounds in that frequency range, like we can,” Quam explained. “There does not seem to be any difference in their ability to produce speech sounds.” For more recent research on Neanderthals, go to "Painful Past."

Monday, March 1

Williamsburg Bray School Identified

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—According to a report in The Washington Post, researchers from the College of William & Mary have confirmed that a heavily remodeled building on campus was once the Williamsburg Bray School, which was attended by more than 400 free and enslaved African American children between 1760 and 1774. Analysis of the structure’s original wood frame revealed the timber had been harvested in 1759. The four-room school’s primary purpose was to convert the students to Christianity. “Christianizing people was used as a way of controlling them to making sure that they understood their place in society,” said historian Jody Lynn Allen of William & Mary. The state of Virginia eventually outlawed the education and assembly of enslaved people because being able to read and write might facilitate their escape. The structure will be moved back to the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg, restored to its eighteenth-century design, and eventually opened to visitors. “It’s an opportunity for us to talk about another whole segment of society at the time of the Revolutionary War that has been more difficult to interpret because their spaces are often not still standing,” commented Ronald L. Hurst of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. To read about a community established by fugitive enslaved people, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emamcipation."

Bronze Age Spear Discovered on Island of Jersey

GOREY, JERSEY— reports that a metal detectorist discovered an intact metal spearhead with surviving pieces of its wooden shaft near the east coast of the Channel Island of Jersey. Radiocarbon dating of the wood revealed that the weapon is approximately 3,000 years old. Olga Finch of Jersey Museum & Art Gallery said most of the Bronze Age items in their collections were broken and found as parts of hoards. “It also doesn’t fit with what we already know about this period of time so we’re wondering if it was deposited as part of a ritual or an offering,” she said. “Our next step is to work with experts elsewhere and look at the location of the find to discover what new stories we can find out about the Bronze Age in Jersey.” To read about a Celtic coin hoard found on Jersey, go to "Ka-Ching!"

Prehistoric Burials Excavated in Argentina

CATAMARCA, ARGENTINA—Radio Cadena Agramonte reports that 12 graves dated to between 6,000 and 1,300 years ago were unearthed in northwestern Argentina by a team of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires–National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), during investigations over the past 15 years. The tombs were first discovered by local people in Valle del Cajón who alerted authorities. “There was a great variability of the burial methods, in individual or collective graves, and also in the posture of the bodies,” said archaeologist Leticia Cortés. “Some are hyper-flexed, like squatting, with the shoulders touching the knees, others extended and disjointed and mixed,” she explained. Some of the dead were buried with pendants and other jewelry, she added. To read about a 3,000-year-old copper mask unearthed at the site, go to "Andean Copper Age."

2,000-Year-Old Chariot Recovered from Pompeii’s Ashes

NAPLES, ITALY—BBC News reports that a pilentum, or ceremonial chariot, has been unearthed at the villa of Civita Giuliana on the outskirts of Pompeii, near the site of a stable where the remains of three horses, one still wearing harness gear, have previously been found. The four-wheeled vehicle, which was discovered in a double-level portico connected to the stable, is thought to have been used in festivities and parades. The chariot was made with iron components, and embellished with ornate bronze and tin decorations. Researchers also poured plaster into voids left in the ash by decomposed materials to preserve imprints of ropes, floral decorations, and other organic items. “Considering that the ancient sources allude to the use of the pilentum by priestesses and ladies, one cannot exclude the possibility that this could have been a chariot used for rituals relating to marriage, for leading the bride to her new household,” said Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park. To read about another recent discovery from Civita Giuliana, go to "More Vesuvius Victims."