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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 9

Neolithic Grinding Stone Found in Scotland

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—An area of abrasive sandstone in central Scotland may have been used as a giant whetstone by Neolithic toolmakers, according to a BBC News report. Volunteers and Stirling Council archaeologist Murray Cook removed a layer of turf from the sandstone and recorded 33 U-shaped grooves, or polissoirs, where stone axes are thought to have been polished some 4,500 years ago. Cook suggests that people may have come from miles around to sharpen and smooth their tools at the site. To read about recent investigations at Scotland's Caerlaverock Castle, go to "Storming the Castle."

New Dates Obtained for Ethiopia’s Early Christian Churches

ADULIS, ETHIOPIA—According to a statement released by Cambridge University Press, Gabriele Castiglia of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology and her colleagues have examined and dated two Christian church sites in an ancient port city in the Kingdom of Aksum, which included parts of northeastern Africa and southern Arabia in the first millennium A.D. One of these early churches has a baptistry and may have been a cathedral. It was built in the large platform style identified with the Aksumite tradition, while the second church features a ring of columns indicating that it had a Byzantine-style dome. King Ezana of Aksum is known to have converted to Christianity in the mid-fourth century. The new radiocarbon dates indicate that the cathedral was built between A.D. 400 and 535, and the domed church was built between A.D. 480 and 625. Castiglia said that determining a precise chronology for these churches is key to understanding how the process of conversion to Christianity shaped the geographical and cultural area. The variety observed in the two churches suggests the religion’s spread was not the result of a single factor, such as a mandate from the king, she explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about excavations of an early Christian basilica at another site in Ethiopia, go to "Early Adopters."

11,000-Year-Old Carvings Uncovered in Turkey

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—According to a Gizmodo report, narrative scenes thought to have been carved some 11,000 years ago have been discovered in southeastern Anatolia at the site of Sayburç by Eylem Özdoğan of Istanbul University. The five figures, found behind benches lining the walls of a Neolithic building, include two apparently male humans, a bull, and two leopards. One of the men is holding a snake or rattle in his right hand, while the other is holding his own penis. Özdoğan thinks one of the humans and the bull make up one scene, while the human flanked by two leopards make up a second. The building is thought to have served a communal purpose, he added, noting that the carvings may reflect a collective memory. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about the 11,000-year-old stone circles at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, go to "Last Stand of the Hunter-Gatherers?"


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Thursday, December 8

Roman Road Uncovered in Northern Israel

TIBERIAS, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a section of 1,800-year-old Roman road was uncovered in northern Israel, near the Sea of Galilee, during work on a walking trail. The section runs from north to south, and measures 82 feet long and 26 feet wide. Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority said the road, which was built during the reign of Hadrian to move soldiers, mail, and goods, connected the cities of Acre, Sepphoris, and Tiberias. The road was eventually renovated during the Byzantine period. Pottery and coins from the Roman and Byzantine periods were also recovered. To read about a seventh-century mosque unearthed in ancient Tiberias, go to "Around the World: Israel."

Wednesday, December 7

Could Homo Naledi Control Fire?

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Remnants of small fireplaces containing charred bits of wood and burned animal bones and sooty wall and ceiling smudges have been spotted in South Africa’s Rising Star cave complex, where the remains of Homo naledi were discovered by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand and his colleagues in 2013, according to a Science News report. The small-brained H. naledi fossils have been dated from 335,000 to 236,000 years old. “Signs of fire use are everywhere in this cave system,” including a remote chamber that also held H. naledi fossils, Berger said. The age of the fires and animal bones has not yet been determined, but the remains of no other hominin species have been found to date in the caves, Berger explained. Critics caution that the fires could have been built by visitors to the cave system, while the animal bones could have been washed in during heavy rains. For more, go to "Homo naledi," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of the Decade.

Chemical Analysis Offers Clues to Late Bronze Age Supply Chain

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—According to a statement released by Washington University in St. Louis, a team of researchers led by Wayne Powell of Brooklyn College has analyzed the chemical composition of tin ingots recovered from Turkey’s Uluburun shipwreck, which sank some 3,300 years ago. The scientists determined that about one-third of the tin on the vessel came from the Mušiston mine, which is located in what is now Uzbekistan. This mine was situated more than 2,000 miles from Haifa, where the ship is believed to have taken on its cargo. Michael Frachetti of Washington University in St. Louis said that the small communities of highland pastoralists who mined this ore must have been connected to overland trade routes that connected them to the Mediterranean region. The rest of the tin on the ship came from Anatolia’s Kestel mine, and was likely produced by the Hittites who controlled it, he added. There was enough copper and tin on the Uluburun ship to produce more than enough high-quality bronze to fashion some 5,000 swords, Frachetti concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on the shipwreck's discovery and excavation, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...Cape Gelidonya and Uluburun."

1,300-Year-Old Gold Necklace Unearthed in England

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a gold necklace dated to between A.D. 630 and 670 was discovered in a grave in England’s East Midlands by a team of researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology, who were investigating a site ahead of a construction project. Only tiny fragments of tooth enamel from the human remains in the burial have been preserved. The necklace is made up of at least 30 pendants and beads made of Roman coins, gold, garnets, glass, and semiprecious stones. The centerpiece of the necklace is rectangular in shape and features a cross motif of red garnets set in gold. Team leader Levente-Bence Balazs and his colleagues think the pendant may have been recycled from a hinged clasp. Two pots, a shallow copper dish, and a cross elaborately decorated with silver human faces were also recovered from the grave, which may have belonged to a royal woman, or to an early Christian abbess. To read about a peculiar find in a woman's burial that was unearthed at a German monastery, go to "Medieval Female Scribe," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.