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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 21

Bones at India’s Skeleton Lake Analyzed

UTTARAKHAND, INDIA—An international group of researchers has carried out a new study of human remains found at Roopkund Lake in northern India, according to The Atlantic. The small body of water, which is more than three miles above sea level in the Himalayas, is known as Skeleton Lake due to the large number of bones scattered on its shores. In the new study, researchers radiocarbon dated and analyzed the DNA of the remains of 38 individuals. They determined that the majority of those found at the site had a genetic makeup typical of South Asians and died around A.D. 800, though not all at the same time. However, 14 of the individuals had a genetic makeup more typical of the eastern Mediterranean and died around A.D. 1800. “It was unbelievable, because the type of ancestry we find in about a third of the individuals is so unusual for this part of the world,” said geneticist David Reich of Harvard University. Although it is likely the bones have been disturbed by mountaineers and landslides, neither Reich nor Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, an archaeologist at India’s Deccan College, think the remains were moved to the site from elsewhere. To read about the recent discovery of the 4,500-year-old burial of a couple in India, go to “A Plot of Their Own.”

Mesolithic Platform Discovered Off Isle of Wight

ISLE OF WIGHT, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an 8,000-year-old wooden platform has been discovered off the Isle of Wight coast near Yarmouth. The seabed where the structure was found—at a depth of roughly 36 feet—would have been dry land when the platform was built, and still connected to the European mainland. The platform sits adjacent to and may have been part of Bouldnor Cliff, a submerged Mesolithic settlement first identified in 1999, which—among a number of discoveries—has yielded what is thought to be the earliest boatbuilding site in the world. Divers from the Maritime Archaeology Trust, which oversees the site, first spotted the new structure earlier this year, and excavations have now revealed it to consist of a series of split timbers resting on round wooden foundations. According to Trust director Garry Momber, the platform doubles the amount of worked wood from the Mesolithic period that is known in the United Kingdom, and provides new evidence for technology that was not previously thought to have been developed for at least another 2,000 years. The wood has now been taken to a laboratory at the National Oceanography Center in Southampton for analysis and conservation. To read more about the archaeology of Stone Age Britain, go to "Mesolithic Markings." 

Early Aboriginal Site Discovered in Western Australia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—One of the earliest sites showing Aboriginal occupation of northwestern Australia—some 50,000 years ago—has been discovered at the Drysdale River catchment in the Kimberley region, The West Australian reports. Archaeologists led by the University of Western Australia’s Peter Veth, in conjunction with Kwini Traditional Owners and Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation Rangers, also found evidence of an early ax production industry at the Minjiwarra site, which had previously been interpreted as a dune feature indicating a break in Aboriginal occupation. “Our work changed that view,” said Veth. “This is actually a sedimentary (flood) feature built up over 50,000 years and it shows early, intermediate and more recent occupation by Aboriginal people. There is also a significant body of rock art in the region which suggests repeated occupation and symbolic engagement with these ancestral lands over many thousands of years.” Aboriginal occupation of Minjiwarra continued even through the peak of the Ice Age 19,000 years ago, when environmental conditions were especially cold and dry. To read about another Australian site with evidence of early human occupation, go to "Off the Grid: Kakadu National Park."

Anglo-Saxon Building Unearthed at English Castle

BAMBURGH, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Northumberland Gazettearchaeologists excavating Anglo-Saxon remains at Bamburgh Castle on England's  northeast coast have unearthed the remains of a large building dating to the mid-seventh to mid-eighth century. Led by archaeologist Graeme Young, the team initially believed they were excavating a series of small buildings, but instead discovered the edges of a single large building adjacent to a large cobble pathway. The structure was found below a layer that contained traces of a forge dating to the ninth century, and it's possible the newly identified structure may have also have been used by Anglo-Saxons for an industrial activity such as metalworking. To read in-depth about the excavations at Bamburgh Castle, go to “Stronghold of the Kings of the North.”

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Tuesday, August 20

Toad Mural Unearthed in Peru

LIMA, PERU—BBC News reports that a mural decorated with sculpted figures depicting a smiling toad perched above a human face has been discovered at the 3,800-year-old site of Vichama, a center of Peru's prehistoric Caral culture, which originated some 5,000 years ago. Ruth Shady Solís, director of the Caral Archaeological Zone, said that the toad represented water for ancient Andean cultures, and that the mural may represent the toad bringing rainfall to the human waiting below. It’s possible that the mural was made during a time when an increasingly arid local climate was contributing to internal stress in the community, which led the inhabitants of Vichama to focus on water-themed inconography. To read in-depth about early civilizations in Peru, go to “Connecting Two Realms.”  

Tooth Confirms Neanderthal Presence in Iran

TEHRAN, IRAN—According to a Tasnim News Agency report, recent analysis of a tooth recovered in 1999 from Wezmeh Cave, in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, provides the first direct evidence for Neanderthal presence in the region. Fereidoun Biglari of the National Museum of Iran explained that X-ray micro-CT imaging of the premolar tooth has demonstrated that it belonged to a Neanderthal child between the ages of six and ten—not an early modern human, as had been previously thought. The earliest animal remains from the cave date to 70,000 years ago. Because Neanderthals were extinct before 40,000 years ago, Biglari added, the Neanderthal individual must have lived in the area sometime within that 30,000-year period. Fossils of extinct animals, including spotted hyenas, cave lions, and wild cattle, were also found in the cave, which had been an Ice Age carnivore den. A canine tooth identified as that of a Neanderthal child was found last year near the city of Kermanshah, but has not yet been fully analyzed. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Neanderthal Fashion Statement.”

Welsh Hillfort Threatened by Coastal Erosion

GWYNEDD, WALES—Archaeologists are working to learn more about an Iron Age hillfort near Caernarfon in north Wales that is being gradually eroded by the sea, according to a report from BBC News. The fort at Dinas Dinlle is believed to date back about 2,500 years, and coins found at the site indicate it was also occupied in the Roman period. Early maps of the fort and the curve of its remaining defenses show that it was once completely enclosed, but a section of its western perimeter has fallen into the Irish Sea due to thousands of years of erosion. The current study of the fort is being led by archaeologists from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) as part of the Climate Change and Cultural Heritage Project. The researchers are using aerial photography to create a 3-D model of the fort and have conducted a detailed survey to glean more information about it. “Through our work, we hope to gain a better understanding of when Dinas Dinlle was built and occupied, and how much has been lost to the sea,” said RCAHMW archaeologist Louise Barker. To read about a Roman fort in Wales that was revealed by the hot, dry conditions of summer 2018, go to “The Marks of Time: Roman Fort.”

Early Stone Church Unearthed in England

LYMINGE, ENGLAND—According to a BBC report, archaeologists excavating within the medieval churchyard at St. Mary and St. Ethelburga Parish Church have revealed a much older Anglo-Saxon building that appears to be one of the earliest stone churches in England. Structural elements, including the presence of a pink mortar made out of lime and crushed Roman brick, as well as a distinctive triple arch, suggest the church builders imported stonemasons from France to oversee construction. Additionally, the team uncovered remnants of a small annex to the north side of the church that fits a description of the tomb of Anglo-Saxon Queen Ethelburga written in the 1090s. Ethelburga, a princess of Kent and queen of Northumbria, is recorded to have founded the church in or around the year 634. Researchers now hope that further analysis of the early church—in conjunction with the site of a sixth- to seventh-century royal estate and feasting hall complex discovered nearby—will help them learn more about how Anglo-Saxon society transformed through the process of Christianization. To read more about Anglo-Saxon England, and excavations in Lyminge in particular, go to "The Kings of Kent." 

Monday, August 19

Merovingian Period Skeleton Uncovered in France

CAHORS, FRANCE—A limestone sarcophagus containing the remains of an elderly woman dating to the seventh century has been unearthed in Cahors, in southwestern France, according to a report from RFI. The discovery was made as part of excavations carried out ahead of a redevelopment project by the archaeological unit of the Department of Lot, in cooperation with specialists from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research. The skeleton, which dates to the Merovingian period, bore evidence of osteoarthritis and was buried without grave goods. It was found near St. Bartholomew’s church, in an area believed to be within the confines of a monastery that was founded in the seventh century by the Merovingian royal official Didier of Cahors. In addition to the skeleton, researchers have uncovered Merovingian pottery and what appear to be traces of a kitchen. To read about the discovery of several notable burials in southwestern France dating to the eighth century, go to “Islam North of the Pyrenees.”

New Discoveries at Welsh Hillfort

CARDIFF, WALES—Wales Online reports that recent excavations at Caerau, an Iron Age hillfort on the outskirts of Cardiff, have resulted in a number of new finds dating to both the Iron Age and the Roman era. Archaeologists believe Iron Age people first began living at the site around 600 B.C. Some 200 homes dating to that period are estimated to have been built on Caerau's triangular hilltop, three of which have been recently excavated. A team led by Cardiff University archaeologist Oliver Davis working at Caerau also discovered a glass bead, as well as shale bracelets, all dating to the Iron Age. They also unearthed an enameled Roman brooch, evidence of Caerau's Roman-era settlement. To read in-depth about similar sites, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”  

Millennia of Prehistoric Life Investigated in Pennsylvania

BLAIRSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA—The Pocono Record reports that students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania looking for the remains of Newport, an eighteenth-century European settlement on the banks of western Pennsylvania's Conemaugh River, have also uncovered stone debris left behind by indigenous people hundreds or thousands of years before contact. IUP professors of anthropology Benjamin Ford and William Chadwick have been overseeing the students as they excavate and map the village, which was founded in 1790 and abandoned in 1820. Ford says the team did not expect to find the stone flakes, but that they may date back over 8,000 years. The flakes are the byproduct of making tools and honing projectile points. Should the team discover such an artifact, it may help them to narrow down a more specific time period for the site's prehistoric occupation. The first people to move into the region are believed to have arrived around 19,000 years ago, according to evidence unearthed at the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter some 70 miles west. To read more about the prehistoric archaeology of North America, go to "Set in Stone." 

Roman Military Diploma Unearthed in Bulgaria

DEBELT, BULGARIA—A fragment of a bronze Roman military diploma has been found at the ancient city of Deultum in eastern Bulgaria, according to a report in The Sofia Globe. Such diplomas were awarded, along with Roman citizenship, to auxiliary soldiers who had served in the army at least 25 years. Examination of the 1.5-inch fragment revealed that it contains an excerpt from a decree of the emperor Hadrian, dated July 17, 122, dismissing veterans in the province of Lower Dacia. Deultum became part of the Roman imperial province of Thrace in A.D. 46, and in A.D. 70 the emperor Vespasian established a colony there for military veterans who had fought during the civil war a year before. To read about a Roman military veteran’s villa unearthed in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

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