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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 11

Soil Cores Searched for Evidence of Alpaca Domestication

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Live Science report, organic geochemist Thomas Elliott Arnold of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues analyzed sediment cores from lakes in southeastern Peru for changes in the ratios of signature chemicals found in human and ruminant feces, in order to estimate when domestication of alpacas might have taken place. In the samples from Lake Arapa and Lake Orurillo, the researchers determined the portion of ruminant poop increased after about A.D. 600, at the beginning of the Wari Empire, through around A.D. 1400, the time of the Inca Empire. Arnold thinks it is unlikely that an uptick in the number of wild deer accounted for the dramatic increase in ruminant feces. “You’d have to assume a bunch of deer suddenly went on a mating frenzy and congregated in and around the Orurillo region,” he said, adding that alpaca domestication is a more likely cause. For more on evidence of animal domestication in the archaeological record, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

Germanic Cemetery in Poland Investigated

GORZÓW COUNTY, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a team of archaeologists led by Krzysztof Socha of the Kostrzyn Fortress Museum are investigating the site of a 2,000-year-old Germanic cemetery in western Poland. Plowing and forest planting some 50 years ago damaged much of the cemetery, resulting in a large number of iron and bronze artifacts scattered over the area. But the team members did find three intact graves. One held burned human remains in a ceramic urn. Cremains had been poured directly into pits in the ground in the other two graves. “While the first complete graves probably belonged to warriors—because we discovered weapons in the graves, including a ritually bent metal sword—we are also finding buckles and other decorations in the area,” Socha said. “This shows that the cemetery belonged to the entire community—probably women, men, and children.” To read about the excavation of another cemetery in Poland, go to “World Roundup.”

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Monday, December 10

4,000-Year-Old Game Board Identified in Azerbaijan

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to a Live Science report, Walter Crist of the American Museum of Natural History has identified a collection of pits carved into a rock shelter in Azerbaijan as a 4,000-year-old game board. Known as “58 Holes,” or “Hounds and Jackals,” copies of the game have also been found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhat IV, and at other sites dating to around the second millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia and Anatolia. This set of pits is located in Gobustan National Park, which is known for its ancient rock art. Scholars think the game was played in a manner similar to backgammon, with counters moved around the board. “It is two rows in the middle and holes that arch around outside,” Crist said of its layout, “and it’s always the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twentieth holes that are marked in some way.” A larger hole at the top is thought to be the goal, or endpoint, of the game. To read about an excavation of far more modern games, go to “The Video Game Graveyard.”

Mosaic Fragment Returned to Turkey

GAZIANTEP, TURKEY—BBC News reports that Bowling Green State University has handed over pieces of the “Gypsy Girl” mosaic to Turkey, where they have been put on display in the Zeugma Mosaic Museum with other fragments from a larger artwork. The 2,000-year-old image fragments, which depict a girl’s eyes, nose, hair, and hat, are thought to have been looted from the ancient city of Zeugma and smuggled out of Turkey in the early 1960s. The university purchased the mosaic fragment from an art dealer in 1965. To read in-depth about excavations at Zeugma and the mosaics found there, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

Hunter-Gatherer DNA Recovered From Chewed Pitch

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Science Magazine reports that human genetic material has been recovered from 8,000-year-old pieces of birch bark pitch that were unearthed in western Sweden in the 1980s. Birch bark pitch, derived from resin, was heated and chewed to make it pliable, and used as a fastener by hunter-gatherer toolmakers. It also may have just been chewed, like gum. A team led by Natalija Kashuba, who was then a student at the University of Oslo, ground samples from three wads of the hardened resin into powder. They then detected human DNA in all three samples, from three different individuals—two female and one male. Based on the size of the tooth marks and signs of tooth wear evident in the resin, the chewers are all thought to have been between five and 18 years old. The DNA analysis also suggests the chewers were from a group known as Scandinavian hunter-gatherers, who lived in Sweden and Norway. For more on archaeology in Sweden, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Friday, December 7

Foundations of Medieval Friary Found

KINGUSSIE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that human bones dating to the Middle Ages have been found in the Scottish Highlands, near the foundations of what may have been a Christian chapel built by Carmelite friars, who arrived in Britain in the thirteenth century. Archaeologist Steven Birch of West Coast Archaeology Services said the bones, which are jumbled together, may have been exhumed when a chapel was built for a Carmelite friary at the site sometime before the beginning of the sixteenth century, and then reinterred within structure. After they have been examined, the bones will be reburied in a nearby historic cemetery. To read about the remains of Scottish soldiers who died after the 1650 Battle of Dunbar, go to “After the Battle.”

Excavation of Scotland’s Mote of Urr Revisited

DALBEATTIE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that the 1950s excavation of the Mote of Urr, a motte-and-bailey castle in Scotland’s Southern Uplands, has been published by a team of researchers from Guard Archaeology. The structure was first built in the late twelfth century and is thought to have been destroyed by fire. When it was rebuilt, a large, central stone-lined pit was dug for use as an oven, furnace, or kiln, and the hill, or motte, on which the structure stood was made taller and a double palisade was built to enclose its summit. The excavation team, led by artist and archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor, also found traces of a trench and a timber bridge across the moat that surrounded the motte. In all, the castle was occupied for more than 200 years. “Urr was probably partly destroyed during the Wars of Independence in the early fourteenth century,” said Richard Oram of Stirling University, who researched the history of the site. “There is a large gap in the documentary record for the latter part of the fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries, by which time the estate was being rented out to tenant farmers,” he said. To read in-depth about medieval British fortifications, go to “Inside the Anarchy.”

Looted Middle Kingdom Burials Unearthed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Egypt Today report, a team of researchers has investigated three burial chambers in a tomb in a Middle Kingdom (1842-1799 B.C.) cemetery in the southern Fayoum. Ayman Ashmawy, head of the archaeological mission, said the chambers were probably looted in antiquity and later reused. The site is then thought to have been damaged by an earthquake. The upper part of a sandstone statue of a human figure holding his hand on his chest was found in one of the chambers. The middle part of a basalt statue measuring about 12 inches tall, pottery, and the tops of three canopic jars were also recovered from the chambers. To read in-depth about a decorated Middle Kingdom burial chamber, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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