Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 14

Ancestral Puebloans May Have Bred Scarlet Macaws

STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Smithsonian Magazine report, a new study of scarlet macaw bones unearthed in New Mexico suggests the birds were bred in captivity and raised with a great deal of specialized care and effort at a single, small aviary in what is now the southwestern United States or northwestern Mexico by ancestral Pueblo peoples between A.D. 850 and 1150. Richard George of Penn State University and his team extracted mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 14 macaws recovered from five different sites in Chaco Canyon and the Mimbres region of New Mexico. They found that all 14 birds shared a similar heritage, and more than 70 percent of them likely shared a maternal lineage. “This is important… not only the population history of macaws and human interaction, but also what was happening between groups of people,” George explained. Images of macaw chicks on Mimbres pottery also support the idea that the fast-growing birds were raised locally. It had been previously suggested that macaws in North America had been imported from the Paquimé aviary in Mexico, which was most active between A.D. 1250 and 1450. Such a long journey from Mexico to Chaco Canyon would have taken more than a month. For more on evidence of macaws in the American Southwest, go to “Angry Birds.”

Evidence of Çatalhöyük Climate Conditions Found in Fat Residues

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that biochemists Mélanie Roffet-Salque and Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and their colleagues analyzed the residues on pottery from the site of Çatalhöyük, which is located in central Turkey, for clues to how a shift in the climate some 8,200 years ago might have affected early farmers. The scientists speculated that drought could have damaged crops and grazing lands, while cooler weather could have increased the food needs of the farmers’ sheep, goats, and cattle. A technique called gas chromatography—mass spectrometry revealed that the fat residues on the pottery dating to the time of the climate shift contained about nine percent more heavy hydrogen—an isotope that correlates with lower levels of precipitation—than sherds from other periods. The researchers also note the higher number of cut marks on animal bones beginning about 8,200 years ago, suggesting that the farmers ate every morsel of available food, and a drop in the number of cattle bones and a rise in the number of goat bones. Goats may have been better at surviving in drought conditions. To read about a figurine discovered at Çatalhöyük, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

Excavation of Artemis Temple Underway in Central Greece

EVIA, GREECE—A team of researchers led by Karl Reber of the Swiss Archaeological School in Greece and Amalia Karappaschalidou of the Evia Ephorate of Antiquities has uncovered a variety of artifacts at the sanctuary of Artemis near Amarynthos, according to The Greek Reporter. The site, discovered last year, was the end point of an annual procession from the ancient city of Eretria. The items include embossed tiles bearing the name “Artemis”; statue bases inscribed with dedications to Artemis, her brother Apollo, and their mother, Leto; and a copper and quartz object that may have been part of a larger statue. Scholars suggest the temple, which is thought to have been destroyed by a natural disaster in the first century B.C., and rebuilt in the second century A.D., helped to strengthen Eretria’s border. The excavation team also found evidence of earlier buildings at the site, dating back to the tenth century B.C. To read in-depth about study of the temple of Hera at the site of Olympia, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”


More Headlines
Monday, August 13

Looted Artifacts Returned to Iraq

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a collection of eight ancient artifacts seized by the London Metropolitan police from an antiquities dealer have been repatriated to Iraq, based upon an identification made by scholars at the British Museum. Cuneiform inscriptions on the 5,000-year-old ceramics named a Sumerian king, a temple, and a dedication, which indicated they had been taken from Iraq’s ancient city of Girsu. British Museum archaeologist Sebastian Rey and his Iraqi colleagues were able to find the holes in the Eninnu temple’s mudbrick walls that had held the objects, and broken pieces at the site that had been discarded by the looters. “This is a very happy outcome,” commented St. John Simpson, assistant keeper at the museum’s Middle East department, “nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.” To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Section of Roman-Era Street Unearthed in Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists working in the eastern part of the agora in the ancient city of Philippopolis have uncovered a 30-foot stretch of the Cardo Maximus, or main street. They also unearthed large fragments of the main façade, columns, and architectural elements of the Odeon, which had three or four entrances and a portico. Fragments of a marble statue of a prominent citizen named Sozipatar were also recovered. Text on the fragments indicate Sozipatar was given the right to sit in the theater’s front row. The building, which had been originally used by Philippopolis’s city council, was destroyed by an earthquake in the medieval period. To read about another recent Roman-era discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Carving Tools From Easter Island Analyzed

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—CNN reports that Dale Simpson, Jr., of the University of Queensland and colleagues think the idea that Easter Island’s Rapa Nui culture collapsed due to overuse of resources and competition to build the stone carvings known as moai may be overstated. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of the Easter Island Statue Project led a team that recently excavated four of Easter Island’s moai and uncovered more than 1,500 volcanic stone basalt carving tools. Chemical analysis of 17 of the recovered tools, which are known as toki, found that most of them came from one of three quarry complexes on the island. Simpson says this focused effort in one quarry points to craft specialization, information exchange, and cooperation among the Rapa Nui to produce the nearly one thousand statues, thought to represent important Rapa Nui ancestors. Van Tilburg cautions, however, that such focused labor may have been coerced, and more study is needed. To read about archaeological evidence of collaboration in Mesoamerica, go to “Kings of Cooperation.”

Friday, August 10

700-Year-Old Octagon-Shaped Tomb Found in China

YANGQUANY, CHINA—A 700-year-old octagonal tomb with a pyramid-shaped roof has been discovered in north China, according to a Live Science report. It has been excavated by a team of archaeologists from Yangquan City’s Office of Cultural Heritage Administration and the Bureau of Cultural Relics and Tourism of the Suburbs of Yangquan City. The archaeologist said that the door to the tomb was placed in one of the eight walls, while the other seven featured murals, including depictions of the husband and wife who are thought to have occupied the tomb, and scenes from life in China, which was then under the rule of the Mongol Empire.The scenes include musicians playing songs, tea being prepared, and horses and camels led by a man wearing Mongol-style clothes. At the time the tomb was built, the Mongol dress code restricted Han Chinese officials to round-collared shirts and folded hats. The tomb's roof was decorated with images of the sun, moon, and stars. To read more about the Mongol Empire, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

Homo erectus May Have Been Unable to Plan Ahead

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report, researchers led by Ceri Shipton of Australian National University say Homo erectus living in what is now Saudi Arabia employed “least-effort strategies” when making tools and gathering resources, when compared to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who are thought to have gone the extra mile to obtain quality materials. Shipton explained that tools found at the site of a Homo erectus camp near the town of Saffaqah, which is about 175 miles west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, were made from rocks sourced at a nearby outcrop that may even have rolled into camp. “We also found that in the technology they were using to make the stone tools, they were very conservative,” Shipton said. “They used the same strategies for making the tools in the face of changing environments.” As the local rivers dried up and the environment turned to desert, Shipton thinks the Homo erectus living in the camp may have been unable to plan ahead, and were perhaps reluctant to travel to pursue new water sources. “They would be just planning just a few hours, perhaps a day ahead at most, whereas Homo sapiens and Neanderthals [did] things like target seasonal migration,” he added. Shipton suggests this inability to adapt may have contributed to the extinction of Homo erectus. To read more about Homo erectus, go to "Homo Erectus Stands Alone." 

Pebble Mosaic Unearthed in Western Greece

ARTA, GREECE—Tornos News reports that a mosaic made of pebbles was discovered in a bathhouse near the center of the ancient city of Ambracia, which is located in northwestern Greece. The round mosaic features depictions of cupids, swans, fish, water fowl, and an octopus, rendered in off-white and dark river pebbles. Archaeologists from the Ephorate of Antiquities in Arta said the mosaic is similar to pebble mosaics found in fourth-century B.C. baths in Corinth. To read about Archaic period architecture and artifacts in Athens, go to "The Acropolis of Athens.