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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 18

Humans Reached Greek Island Nearly 200,000 Years Ago

ATHENS, GREECE—Agence France-Presse reports that evidence for the presence of Neanderthals dating back as early as 200,000 years ago has been found in a quarry on the Greek island of Naxos by an international team of scientists led by Tristan Carter of McMaster University and Dimitrios Athanasoulis of the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities. Hundreds of thousands of artifacts, including scrapers, piercers, and other stone tools of the type made by Neanderthals, have been recovered. It was previously thought that modern humans were the first hominins to land on the island about 7,000 years ago. The researchers suggest, however, that Neanderthals and other human relatives may have been able to walk to the Aegean basin, and access its raw materials and fresh water, during the Ice Age, when sea levels were lower. Carter and his colleagues think Neanderthals may have even crossed short distances to the island in seafaring boats. “We have extended the history of the island by 193,000 years,” Carter said. To read about another recent discovery from the Greek islands, go to "The Magic Mineral."

Neolithic Cemetery Excavated in Poland

SADOWLE, POLAND—Twenty-three grave pits containing human and animal bones, pottery vessels, flint axes, and wild boar fangs have been discovered in a Neolithic cemetery in south-central Poland, according to a Science in Poland report. Wojciech Pasterkiewicz of the University of Rzeszów said the cemetery belonged to people of the Globular Amphora Culture, who lived in Central and Eastern Europe and produced characteristically bulbous pottery. Vessels produced for funerary use were not as carefully formed and fired as those produced for everyday use, Pasterkiewicz explained. Each of the stone-lined graves in the cemetery held between two and six people, and were covered with stone slabs or wooden beams if the pit was very large. The burials were eventually reopened and parts of the skeletons were removed, he added. Animals and animal parts were also buried in rectangular, stone-lined pits. “Cow and pig skeletons are most common,” Pasterkiewicz said. “Such graves are often referred to as ‘sacrificial pits’ because they contain the remains of animal[s] dedicated to the deceased.” Geophysical surveys indicate that about two-thirds of the cemetery has been investigated to date. To read about another Globular Amphora Culture burial of 15 blood relatives, go to "We Are Family."

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Paint Colors

ODENSE, DENMARK—Chemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen of the University of Southern Denmark and an international team of researchers analyzed paint samples taken from a column capital in the ancient Egyptian palace of King Apries, who ruled from 589 to 570 B.C. The team members identified two naturally occurring mineral pigments whose use had previously been unknown in ancient Egypt. Lead-tin yellow was thought to have been first used by European painters in A.D. 1300, while the first use of lead-antimonate yellow was thought to date to A.D. 1600. Other pigments in the ancient Egyptian paint included white calcite and gypsum; synthetic Egyptian blue pigment, invented in the third millennium B.C.; green atacamite; red hematite; and golden yellow orpiment. Maria Perla Colombini of the University of Pisa and her colleagues also detected traces of rubber and animal glue in the paint, which were used as binders. For more on color in Egyptian art, go to "From Egyptian Blue to Infrared."

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Thursday, October 17

Bronze Age Warrior’s Kit Discovered in Germany

GÖTTINGEN, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that 31 objects thought to have belonged to one warrior have been found in a cache in northeastern Germany’s Tollense Valley, where an intense battle was fought by as many as 2,000 warriors some 3,300 years ago, by a team of researchers led by Joachim Krūger of the University of Greifswald. The warrior’s kit included a bronze awl with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel, a decorated belt box, three dress pins, arrowheads, and fragments of bronze that may have been used as currency. Three thin bronze metal cylinders pierced with bronze nails found with the kit may have been fittings for a cloth bag or wooden storage box. More than 12,000 pieces of human bone, belonging to more than 140 individuals, have been recovered from the ancient battlefield. Almost all of the bones belonged to young men and showed signs of recent and past trauma. Chemical analysis of the bones indicates that not all of the men grew up locally, and the researchers note that the bronze items in the warrior’s kit are similar to those found in southern Germany and the Czech Republic. The researchers speculate that warriors from multiple regions may have been fighting over trade routes along the Tollense River. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about a Bronze Age tomb in Greece containing over 2,000 artifacts, go to "World of the Griffin Warrior."

Roman Chariot Unearthed in Croatia

VINKOVCI, CROATIA—Total Croatia News reports that a two-wheeled chariot and the remains of harnessed horses were discovered in a burial mound in eastern Croatia, in what was the Roman province of Pannonia. Boris Kratofil of the Museum of Vinkovci said the chariot dates to the third century A.D., and is the first of its kind to be scientifically excavated in Croatia. The burial mound, thought to have belonged to an aristocratic family, measured more than 130 feet in diameter, and was situated along the Roman road that connected Pannonia to the Italian Peninsula to the west, and the Balkans and Asia Minor to the east. Marko Dizdar of Zagreb’s Institute of Archaeology said researchers will restore and conserve the chariot, analyze the human remains, and will try to determine if the horses were bred locally or if they were imported from elsewhere in the Roman Empire. To read about another chariot unearthed from a pre-Roman tomb in Italy, go to "Fit for a Prince."

Study Suggests Neanderthals Regularly Hunted Rabbits

OULU, FINLAND—Maxime Pelletier of the University of Oulu and his colleagues analyzed more than 16,000 butchered rabbit and hare bones uncovered at France’s Pié Lombard site, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. Pelletier said the bones, which were found in a 70,000-year-old layer of the rock shelter containing Mousterian stone tools, represent at least 225 individual animals. It had been previously thought that Neanderthals mainly hunted large, slow-moving animals, and only sporadically caught small game, but these bones bear cut marks from Mousterian tools and show signs of roasting. Most of the long limb bones had been snapped in two to remove the marrow, ruling out the possibility that the animals had been carried to the shelter by other predators. “It’s impossible for predators to make this type of breakage,” Pelletier explained. He also noted that the bones of rabbit paws and tails were missing from the collection, hinting that the pelts may have been removed from the animals with feet and tail intact. “We cannot imagine the Neanderthals just consumed the meat and didn’t exploit the fur after,” he added. For more on Neanderthals' hunting of smaller prey, go to "Neanderthal Fashion Statement."

2,000-Year-Old Necropolis Found in Southern France

NARBONNE, FRANCE—According to an Art Daily report, a team of researchers from France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) are investigating a 2,100-year-old necropolis in southern France that was buried under nearly 10 feet of silt by flooding from a branch of the Aude River. Located near Narbo Martius, the capital and trade center of the first Roman colony in Gaul, the well-preserved cemetery is thought to hold an estimated 1,000 burials. Different burial practices have been detected in different areas of the necropolis, although most of the burials are cremations. Some of the human remains were accompanied by glass or ceramic perfume and wine vessels, lamps, charred fruit including dates and figs, and personal ornaments and hygiene items. The researchers also found that one-third of the graves they have excavated were equipped with ceramic libation conduits, or amphorae, which allowed the bereaved to send offerings directly into the grave. Cups and shells for pouring liquid into the conduits have also been recovered. Chemical analysis may reveal what sorts of offerings were poured into the conduits. To read about wall paintings uncovered in a Roman house underneath modern Arles, go to "France's Roman Heritage."

Wednesday, October 16

Intact 4,000-Year-Old Coffins Found in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—The Associated Press reports that more than 20 painted wooden coffins were discovered in the Al-Asasif necropolis, which is located on Luxor’s West Bank, at the ancient town of West Thebes. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the well-preserved coffins date from 1994 to 332 B.C., and were found in two groups, one placed on top of the other. The coffins remain sealed and intact, he added. To read about the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion at the mouth of the Nile, go to "Egypt's Temple Town."

Possible Route to Sendai Castle Uncovered in Japan

SENDAI, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that stone wall foundations that may have been part of an original route leading to Sendai Castle’s Tatsumi Gate have been unearthed in northeastern Japan. Completed in A.D. 1637, the castle served as an administrative center, and was frequently rebuilt after fires and earthquakes until what remained was completely destroyed during the World War II bombing of Sendai. An official from the city’s Municipal Board of Education said two routes to the castle are known to have been depicted on an Edo period (A.D. 1603–1868) map. Another section of wall measuring about 65 feet long was uncovered near the gate site earlier this year. However, this section does not align with the newly uncovered section of wall, which measures about 13 feet long. Nineteenth-century porcelain recovered at the site suggests the shorter stretch of wall may have been built at a later date. To read about another discovery in Japan, go to "Samurai Nest Egg."

Study Shows Shellfish Thrived in Canada's Ancient Clam Gardens

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, Ginevra Toniello of Simon Fraser University and her colleagues examined paleoecological, archaeological, and modern records of butter clams (Saxidomus gigantean) living in the northern Salish Sea over the past 11,500 years, and found that today’s clams are similarly sized to those of the Early Holocene. The team members analyzed clam shells found in middens at five coastal archaeological sites, and found that the shellfish were first harvested some 9,000 years ago. Shells dating to some 3,500 years ago grew larger, Toniello explained, when indigenous people began to construct rock-walled terraces in intertidal zones. Maintenance of these “clam gardens” helped to optimize and preserve clam habitats while protecting bivalves from non-human predators. The gardens also produced plentiful crabs, sea cucumbers, and seaweeds. Traditional clam gardens declined after the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of industrial harvesting methods, Toniello added. For more on clam gardens, go to "World Roundup: Canada."  

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