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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 11

1,500-Year-Old Nobleman’s Tomb Found in Eastern China

ZHENJIANG, CHINA—Xinhua reports that 13 tombs dated to the Six Dynasties period (A.D. 220–589) were found during recent excavations in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. The owner of Tomb 6 has been identified as Zhao Xuanzhi, the uncle of an emperor who ruled during the Southern Dynasty, between A.D. 420 and 589, through the discovery of his personal six-sided bronze seal in the tomb. “The age of the tomb is consistent with historical records,” added Li Xidong of the Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute of Zhenjiang. An altar was also uncovered at the front of the brick tomb chamber. Li explained that most of the tombs in the cemetery have been dated to the Eastern Jin Dynasty, from A.D. 266 to 420, and reflect the southward movement of people during this period. To read about a jar of 2,500-year-old eggs recovered from a tomb in Jiangsu, go to "Picnic for the Afterlife."

Fox Remains Recovered from 1,500-Year-Old Grave in Argentina

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, the nearly complete remains of an extinct species of fox (Dusicyon avus) have been recovered from a 1,500-year-old grave at the site of Cañada Seca in Argentina's Patagonia region. Analysis of the fox’s bones indicates that it weighed between about 20 to 30 pounds, and that it consumed the same diet as the human who was buried with it. “This is a very rare find of having this fox that appears to have had such a close bond with individuals from the hunter-gatherer society,” said Ophélie Lebrasseur of the University of Oxford. Lebrasseur and her colleague Cinthia Abbona of the Institute of Evolution in Mendoza, Argentina, noted that a fox of the same species was recovered from an older grave in Argentina about 10 years ago, although its remains were not analyzed. Dusicyon avus went extinct about 500 years ago, after domestic dogs were introduced to Patagonia, the researchers concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Royal Society Open Science. To read about Bronze Age fox burials uncovered in northeastern Spain, go to "A Fox in the House."

Unusual Railway Car Discovered in Belgium

ANTWERP, BELGIUM—The York Press reports that a wooden railway wagon made in England was discovered at the wall of a nineteenth-century fortress by members of the Urban Archaeology department of the City of Antwerp. The storage wagon was made approximately 100 years ago by the company London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), which operated between 1923 and 1948, when it was nationalized. “It’s a mystery as to how the carriage came to be in Antwerp, and unfortunately there’s very little left of the relic as it disintegrated while being excavated,” said archaeologist Femke Martens. Inscriptions on the wagon included “FURNITURE REMOVAL TO HOUSE,” and “Enquire at any station.” The wagon also bore codes identifying its size, use, and company name. Researchers have determined that the wagon was the first model of its type, and was briefly used by LNER around 1930. To read about excavations that uncovered traces of nineteenth-century England's Great Western Railway, go to "A Tale of Two Railroads."

Ancient Aboriginal Pottery Unearthed in Northern Australia

CAPE YORK, AUSTRALIA—SBS News Australia reports that 82 pieces of pottery estimated to be between 3,000 and 2,000 years old have been discovered on Jiigurru, or Lizard Island, which is located off the coast of northern Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. Geologic analysis of the materials used to produce the pottery indicates that it was most likely made from local materials. This is the oldest securely dated pottery found in Australia, according to Sean Ulm of James Cook University. “This find clearly demonstrates that Aboriginal people not only knew about pottery, but were indeed making it on their countries,” he said. “And the fact that we’ve found it at this site suggests that further research will find more instances of pottery elsewhere in Australia, particularly the east coast of Cape York,” he added. The discovery of pottery on Lizard Island also connects the first Australians to the exchange networks and alliance systems of ocean-faring people in Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait, and the Pacific Islands. Kenneth McLean of the Walmbaar Aboriginal Corporation and the Dingaal clan explained that his ancestors probably used pottery to carry water and shellfish on long canoe voyages. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Quaternary Science Reviews. To read about Aboriginal rock art in West Arnhem Land, go to "Letter from Australia: Where the World Was Born."

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Wednesday, April 10

Study Compares Neanderthal and Modern Human Living Spaces

LIGURIA, ITALY—According to a statement released by the University of Montreal, a new study of the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter in northwestern Italy suggests that both Neanderthals and modern humans used the space in a structured way. Amélie Vallerand and Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Montreal and Fabio Negrino of the University of Genoa mapped the distribution of stone tools, animal bones, ocher, and marine shells on the surface of three layers at the site that were inhabited by Neanderthals or modern humans. The researchers were then able to identify and tally clusters of artifacts and materials, and determined that both Neanderthals and modern humans designated areas of the shelter for high and low activity. The locations of hearths and refuse pits were found to have been reused over thousands of years. “Like Homo sapiens, Neanderthals organized their living space in a structured way, according to the different tasks that took place there and to their needs,” Vallerand explained. Overall, however, Neanderthal occupation of the site showed fewer clusters of artifacts and lower artifact densities. Neanderthals also appear to have stayed at Riparo Bombrini sporadically, while modern humans used the site as a short-term or long-term base camp. No evidence for contact between the two groups was found. To read about a cave in France where Neanderthals lived 176,000 years ago, go to "Gimme Middle Paleolithic Shelter."

Sacred Road Uncovered in Vietnam’s My Son Sanctuary

QUANG NAM, VIETNAM—Vietnam+ reports that a road dated to the twelfth century has been found in central Vietnam’s My Son Sanctuary, a cluster of Hindu temples constructed between the fourth and fourteenth centuries by the Champa kingdoms. This section of road, made of packed earth, is about 30 feet wide and 500 feet long. Brick-lined walls supported the packed earth on both sides. The road connected temple tower K to the center of the sanctuary. Researchers suggest that kings and monks would have traveled the road to reach the sacred space of the tower. To read about a 2,000-year-old antler found in the Mekong Delta that may be part of an instrument, go to "Around the World: Vietnam."

Recycled Byzantine Silver Drove 7th-Century Trade

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in Cosmos Magazine, lead isotope analysis of coins minted in what are now England, the Netherlands, and parts of France between A.D. 660 and 750 indicates that they were made from recycled Byzantine silver. The identification suggests that trade between northwestern Europe and the Byzantine Empire began earlier than previously thought. “Elites in England and Francia were almost certainly sitting on this silver already,” said Rory Naismith of Cambridge University. The objects were likely melted down when a king or lord needed cash, added Jane Kershaw of Oxford University. The resulting currency fueled trade around the North Sea in the seventh century, the researchers explained. However, coins minted in England in the mid-eighth century under Offa, the King of Mercia, were probably made of silver from the Melle mine in what is now France. As ruler of the Carolingian Empire, Charlemagne exported Melle silver throughout northwestern Europe. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about a hoard of Byzantine gold coins uncovered in Israel, go to "Artifact."

Tuesday, April 9

Sculpture of Apollo Found in Philippi

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—According to an ArtNet News report, a marble head depicting Apollo, the ancient Greek god of archery, music, dance, healing, and poetry, has been uncovered in northern Greece at the site of Philippi by a team of researchers led by Natalia Poulos of the University of Thessaloniki. The 2,000-year-old sculpture shows a young man with curly hair and a laurel crown. It is thought to have been reused during the medieval period as an adornment on a town square fountain situated near an intersection of the city’s main roads. Last year, the researchers unearthed an ancient statue of Hercules that had also likely been reused as part of the medieval fountain. To read about the Hercules sculpture, go to "A Young Hercules."    

Earthwork Henge Discovered in Eastern England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Newsweek reports that an earthwork henge measuring nearly 250 feet across has been discovered in eastern England, on what was once a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and marshes. Smaller henges have been found in the region, indicating that this one may have been a hub for ceremonial activity, according to Duncan Wright of Newcastle University and Hugh Willmott of the University of Sheffield. Based upon information in a medieval text, the researchers had been looking for a hermitage built by an Anglo-Saxon monk on a plundered burial mound when they found the earthwork. “In prehistoric times the henge would have formed a large circular enclosed space, with a huge bank and ditch running around the outside. It may have had one or more burial mounds built inside it during the Bronze Age,” Wright said. The excavation also uncovered pottery, two bone combs, fragments of a glass drinking vessel dated to the eighth century, and traces of an abbey hall and chapel later built on the site in the twelfth century. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Journal of Field Archaeology. To read about another henge monumen in England, go to "Stonehenge's New Neighbor."

Study Investigates Early Medieval Animal Burial in Hungary

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a Live Science report, researchers have studied the intact skeletons of a lynx and four dogs that were discovered in a beehive-shaped pit in west-central Hungary, in an area where buildings, pits, wells, and ovens have been found. The small settlement site, known as Zamárdi-Kútvölgyi-dűlő, has been dated to the fifth or sixth century A.D. The male lynx (Lynx lynx) had been placed in an extended position at the bottom of the nearly five-foot-deep pit. The two female and two male dogs were then deposited in the pit one at a time on their right sides, and covered with eight to 16 inches of soil. “It is hard to summarize our interpretation of the lynx/dogs burial as no parallels (archaeological or ethnographic) are known,” said Lászlo Bartosiewicz of Stockholm University. He, Erika Gál of Hungary's Institute of Archaeology, and their colleagues suggest that the dogs may have been killed by the cornered lynx, noting that if the burial had had ritual significance, the placement of the animals in the pit is likely to have been completed with more care. “Unfortunately, the Migration Period population of a former Roman province may have represented almost any ideology given the chaotic history of the period,” Bartosiewicz added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. For more on Hungarian archaeology, go to "Letter From Hungary: The Search for the Sultan's Tomb."

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