Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 16

Horned-Eye Bead Found in Tomb in China

CHANGSHA, CHINA—Xinhua reports that an unusual, horned eye-shaped bead was recovered from a tomb in southern China dating to the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.). “It is in blue and white and incomplete, with only seven horns remaining around a base bead,” said Xi Peishen of the Hunan Institute of Archaeology. “It looks like the compound eye of a dragonfly.” The bead measures about an inch in diameter, weighs about an ounce, and may have been used as a decoration on clothes or furniture. Similar beads have been found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India, and are thought to have been introduced to China through contact with West Asian civilizations during the Spring and Autumn period (779–476 B.C.). The tomb in which the bead was found is one of about 200 dating to the Warring States Period at the site. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

Tool Discovery Pushes Back Onset of Middle Stone Age

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a Science News report, Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution and his colleagues suggest that early humans may have entered the Middle Stone Age tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The researchers analyzed soil samples taken from the Olorgesailie Basin of Kenya’s Rift Valley, and noted that frequent changes in the climate and earthquakes transformed the resources available to human ancestors. Erosion has destroyed about 180,000 years of the geological record at the site, but Potts said that during that time, there must have been a rapid period of evolution because lumps of pigment and new types of tools appear when the geological record resumed some 320,000 years ago. The toolmakers had shifted from sharpening large hand axes to making smaller tools, such as sharp flakes mounted on spears to be used as projectiles, and blades and points made from obsidian. Obsidian is not available locally, which suggests the toolmakers had to travel and perhaps interact with other human groups to obtain it. No hominid fossils have been found at the site, however, so researchers cannot be sure that Homo sapiens made the artifacts. For more, go to “The First Toolkit.”

15,000-Year-Old African Genomes Analyzed

JENA, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that an international team of scientists has extracted DNA from the ear bones of human remains unearthed at Grotte des Pigeons, an undisturbed, 15,000-year-old cemetery in a cave in Morocco. Known as Iberomaurusians because they were thought to have come from the Iberian Peninsula, these hunter-gatherers made microliths similar to those of Europe’s Gravettian culture. But the genomic analysis suggests the people buried in the cave were related to Natufians, from the Middle East, with whom they probably shared a common group of ancestors who lived in North Africa or the Middle East more than 15,000 years ago. The team also detected DNA linked to sub-Saharan Africans in the bones from Grotte des Pigeons. This genetic material may have come from contemporaneous or ancestral migrants from the south. To read about another discovery of ancient human remains in Morocco, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”


More Headlines
Thursday, March 15

Waste From 1,700-Year-Old Feast Found in Scotland

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that the site of an Iron Age feast has been found at The Cairns, on the island of South Ronaldsay. Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the bones of some 10,000 animals, including horses, cattle, red deer, and otters, have been found in a dump at the site, suggesting they had been cooked and eaten on the cliff overlooking Windwick Bay during a single event. Traces of metalworking have also been found at the site. Carruthers thinks the feast may have been held to celebrate the conclusion of making a big batch of brooches and pins, which may have been handed out to the members of the community during the party. A large building at the site may have been home to the people who organized the making of jewelry and the event. “These items are probably of such high value that people could never have the capacity to pay back the debt,” Carruthers surmised. “It holds you in your place. This whole event is about maintaining society.” To read in-depth about archaeology in the area, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Modern Humans and Denisovans May Have Interbred Twice

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—According to a report in New Scientist, a team led by Sharon Browning of the University of Washington has found evidence that modern humans and Denisovans interbred on the Asian mainland some 50,000 years ago. The Denisovans, an extinct hominin group, were identified from a finger bone discovered in Siberia’s Denisova Cave in 2010. Denisovan DNA has since been detected in modern Australasians, especially people now living in Papua New Guinea. In the new study, Browning and her colleagues examined the genomes of 5,600 people living in Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania, and detected Denisovan DNA in Han Chinese, Chinese Dai, and Japanese populations. “Although the Papuans ended up with more Denisovan ancestry, it turns out to be less similar to the sequenced Denisovan,” Browning explained. The study also indicates that there were at least two distinct populations of Denisovans living in Asia. For more, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

Ancient Port City Found Near Naples

NAPLES, ITALY—ANSA reports that traces of the ancient port city of Palepolis have been discovered off the coast of Naples, near the Castel dell’Ovo. Underwater archaeologist Mario Negri said four tunnels, a ten-foot-wide street, and a trench have been found. “It’s a discovery that opens up a new scenario for reconstructing the ancient structure of Palepolis,” he said. The region was first settled some 3,000 years ago by merchants interested in minerals in the surrounding landscape, and eventually became a trade center fought over by the Greeks and the Etruscans, until the well-fortified city of Neapolis was built to the south. By the time of the Roman Empire, Palepolis had become home to patrician villas on the outskirts of Neapolis. For more, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

Wednesday, March 14

Utrecht Inhabited Far Longer Than Previously Thought

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that people lived in Utrecht some 8,000 years earlier than previously thought. Archaeologist Linda Dielemans said postholes and artifacts dating back 11,000 years were found at a city construction site. The artifacts include flint and tools crafted during the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, and Bronze Age. A piece of wood carved with a face was also recovered from a waterlogged area. For more, go to “Letter From Rotterdam: The City and the Sea.”

Roman Settlement Found in England

NORTH PETHERTON, ENGLAND—A settlement dating to the late Iron Age and Roman eras was found on a proposed construction site in southwestern England, according to a report in Somerset Live. Pottery, a possible ring ditch, and a pit were uncovered, along with three pieces of prehistoric worked flint and cropmarks of two enclosures. The site apparently went unused during the medieval period, and was then used for farming through the nineteenth century. The site will be preserved. To read about another site in the area, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Cache of Iron Age Coins Discovered in England

CHIDDINGSTONE, ENGLAND—Kent Live reports that a hoard of gold coins was discovered by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field in southeast England. The ten coins are thought to have been minted in northern France about 2,000 years ago. The Gauls may have used the coins to pay or bribe mercenaries to fight against Julius Caesar. Archaeologist Claire Donithorn of the Eden Valley Museum said the coins are being held at the British Museum, but may be returned to the local area. “They date from precisely the time when Britain emerged from prehistoric to historic times,” she said. “Our aim is to keep the hoard together and to ensure that it stays in the valley for us and for future generations.” To read about the disassembly of a gargantuan coin hoard, go to “Ka-Ching!