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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 29

Study Investigates Ice Age Climate in Siberia

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—A new study of pollen samples dated to between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago suggests that early modern humans may have encountered a period of warmer temperatures, higher humidity, grasslands, and coniferous forests as they migrated across Europe and Asia and into Siberia, according to a statement released by the University of Kansas. Koji Shichi of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Masami Izuho of Tokyo Metropolitan University, Kenji Kashiwaya of Kanazawa University, and Ted Goebel of the University of Kansas created a chronology of environmental changes at Siberia’s Lake Baikal with the data collected from the pollen samples. The study “provides critical insights into environmental conditions at Lake Baikal, using pollen records to reveal surprising warmth during this period,” Goebel explained. The researchers acknowledge, however, that more evidence of the presence of modern humans in the region during the Pleistocene is needed. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about 4,000-year-old human remains recovered near Lake Baikal, go to "The Case of the Missing Incisors."

Sixth-Century Tomb in China Hints at Royal Power Struggle

XIANYANG, CHINA—Live Science reports that evidence of a power struggle between royal relatives has been found in a 1,400-year-old tomb in northwestern China. Researchers from the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology say the tomb measures about 184 long and 33 feet wide, and belonged to Emperor Xiaomin, the son of a powerful general during a period of civil war. Historical records indicate that Emperor Xiaomin, whose personal name was Yuwen Jue, was deposed shortly after the beginning of his reign in A.D. 557 by his warlord cousin Yuwen Hu, and was demoted to the official rank of Duke of Lueyang before he was executed. The researchers explained that an epitaph written in cinnabar at the newly unearthed tomb named its occupant as Duke of Lueyang, making it the first physical evidence of the political intrigue. After Hu’s death more than 30 years later, the late Jue was proclaimed the first emperor of the Northern Zhou dynasty by his brother, who had taken the throne. The researchers added that although Jue’s tomb had been looted, more than 140 artifacts have been recovered, including terracotta figurines and pottery. To read about looting of ancient tombs in Henan, go to "Letter from China: Tomb Raider Chronicles."


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Thursday, September 28

Roman Cosmetics Shop Unearthed in Turkey

KUTAHYA, TURKEY—According to an Anadolu Agency report, Gokhan Coskun of Dumlupinar University and his colleagues have uncovered a cosmetics shop in the marketplace in western Anatolia’s ancient Roman city of Aizanoi. “During the excavation here, we encountered a large number of perfume bottles,” Coskun said. “In addition to these, there are jewelry items. Among these, there are various beads belonging to products such as hairpins and necklaces used by women,” he added. The researchers also found small fragments of 10 different pigments thought to have been used as makeup. These pigments, most of which were red or pink, were likely placed in the large number of oyster shells found in the shop, he explained. To read more about Roman cosmetics, go to "The Pursuit of Wellness: Beauty."

2,300-Year-Old Greek Bronze Mirror Discovered in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—CNN reports that cremated human remains and a well-preserved folding bronze box mirror have been found in a cave near Jerusalem by researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The burial is estimated to date to sometime between the late fourth century and early third century B.C. “If we are correct with our interpretation, it appears that this burial points to the very unique circumstances of what we call a hetaira, a Greek lady who accompanied one of the Hellenistic government officials, or more likely a high general,” said Guy Stiebel of Tel Aviv University. The burial was found in a remote area, far away from any village, farm or settlement, which suggests that she may have been connected with a military campaign from the time of Alexander the Great or slightly later, Stiebel explained. Such bronze mirrors, usually decorated with engravings of idealized female figures or goddesses, are usually associated with Greek women of high status, but may have also been given to a courtesan as a gift, he concluded. The researchers are continuing to analyze the artifact. To read about a bronze mirror buried with a woman some 2,500 years ago in Siberia's Tuva region, go to "Membership Has Its Privileges."

Wednesday, September 27

Face of Early Bronze Age Woman From Scotland Reconstructed

KILMARTIN, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that the face of the so-called “Upper Largie Woman,” whose 4,000-year-old remains were recovered from Scotland’s Upper Largie Quarry in 1997, has been recreated by forensic artist Oscar Nilsson. A study of the remains indicated that the woman had suffered periods of illness or malnutrition before she died in her 20s. Analysis of strontium and oxygen isotopes in her bones also showed that she grew up in the area where her remains were recovered. Scientists were not able to recover any DNA from her remains, however, so her skin, eye, and hair color are unknown. Pottery found in the burial suggests that the woman was a member of the Beaker culture, and so she may have had ancestors from the Eurasian Steppe. Nilsson first employed a computed tomography scan of the woman’s skull to produce a 3-D print of it. He then rebuilt the skull’s damaged left side, and created a mandible since the original is missing. He then estimated the thicknesses of the woman’s facial tissues, taking into account factors such as her age, sex, and history of undernourishment. “She had a very rounded facial skeleton, which helped her look a bit more healthy than she may have been,” Nilsson commented. The reconstruction was then completed with dark braided hair and a deer-skin outfit. For more on burials in Bronze Age Scotland, go to "Scottish "Frankenstein" Mummies," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2012.

Maya Burial Discovered Near Palenque

CHIAPAS, MEXICO—Yucatán Magazine reports that a Maya burial has been uncovered on the grounds of a hotel located about one and a half miles from the center of the ancient Maya city of Palenque. In addition to skeletal remains, three ceramic vessels, a pair of earmuffs, two green stone beads, and obsidian likely imported from the highlands of Guatemala were found in the tomb, which had been lined with stone blocks and sealed with limestone slabs, by researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Diego Prieto Hernández, INAH’s general director, said that the tomb’s occupant may have been an official who worked in the outskirts of the city about 1,000 years ago. To read about another burial at Palenque, go to "Inside a Painted Tomb."

Traces of a Tumor Found in Roman-Period Skull in Spain

BURGOS, SPAIN—An examination of a cranium recovered by cavers from northern Spain’s Sima de Marcenejas has revealed evidence of a meningioma, or cranial tumor, according to a statement released by Spain's National Research Center for Human Evolution (CENIEH). Researchers from the CENIEH Conservation and Restoration Laboratory, the University of Alcalá de Henares, and Complutense University of Madrid determined that the skull belonged to a man who had lived during the Roman period. They created a 3-D model of his cranium with hundreds of X-ray images through micro-computed tomography. This process allowed the researchers to identify several lesions. Two of these wounds, located on the outside of the skull on what would have been the top of the head, appear to have been inflicted intentionally with sharp and blunt objects, and may have been the result of violence. The fourth lesion, found inside the skull, is thought to have been caused by a tumor. “What is interesting about this finding is that it offers a window onto the health of past populations, and raises fundamental questions for us about the ability of individuals to survive these conditions, and their quality of life thereafter,” said team member Daniel Rodríguez-Iglesias of CENIEH. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Virtual Archaeology Review. To read about a complex cranial surgery performed on an ancient soldier on the island of Thasos, go to "Around the World: Greece."