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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, October 25

Carbonized Cake Recovered in Germany

LÜBECK, GERMANY—A cake baked 79 years ago has been found in the Old Town district of the city of Lübeck, which is located near the coast of northern Germany, according to a Live Science report. Dirk Rieger of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck Historic Monuments Protection Authority said that the city, although a non-military target, was bombed by the British Royal Air Force on the night of March 28, 1942, in retaliation for the Nazi blitz of Coventry, England, in 1940. The cake was found in the remains of a building that collapsed into its cellar during the air raid. Later, a new house was built on top of the ruins. Wrapped in wax paper, the hazelnut and almond cake decorated with sugar icing was carbonized and preserved, Rieger explained. Plates, knives, spoons, and vinyl records, including a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, were found nearby. “Because this was a family celebration, they listened to music, they wanted to have a nice cup of tea, they wanted to have this cake,” he said. “It’s a very intimate situation that was immediately destroyed by this war.” To read about a 106-year-old fruitcake found on Antarctica's Cape Adare, go to "Super Fruitcake," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.

Study Suggests Humans Did Not Wipe Out Woolly Mammoths

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Cambridge, humans did not cause the extinction of the woolly mammoths, even though they are known to have hunted mammoths for food and used the skeletons and hides for shelter, weapons, and artwork. Eske Willerslev of St. John’s College and the University of Copenhagen, Yucheng Wang of the University of Cambridge, and their colleagues analyzed DNA recovered from soil samples taken from Arctic areas where mammoth remains have been found. The DNA came from plant and animal remains, including urine, feces, and skin cells. The researchers also sequenced the DNA of some 1,500 Arctic plants. The study suggests that as the icebergs melted some 12,000 years ago and lakes, rivers, and marshes formed, the environment became too wet to support the grassland vegetation eaten by the giant mammals, who were not able to adapt to their rapidly changing environment. Pockets of mammoths survived, however, until about 4,000 years ago, the researchers concluded. To read about a mammoth pelvis unearthed in Michigan, go to "Leftover Mammoth."

Wari Burials Unearthed in Northern Peru

LIMA, PERU—According to an AFP report, the remains of 29 people have been discovered at Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucala, a ceremonial center built between A.D. 800 and 900 in northern Peru’s coastal region of Lambayeque. Twenty-five of the burials, dating from A.D. 100 to 700, belong to the Moche culture. These remains had been placed in clay tombs and burial chambers, along with pottery and the remains of llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. The remaining four burials contain the remains of three children and a teenager of the Wari culture, which flourished in the central Peruvian Andes between the seventh and thirteenth centuries. These four had been sacrificed, and their remains buried at the front of the temple. “These discoveries allow us to rethink the history of the Lambayeque region, especially the links to Wari and Mochica occupations in the area,” commented team leader archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte. To read about a Wari brewery in southern Peru, go to "Alcohol Through the Ages: Forging Wari Alliances."

Pigmented Shell Bead in Japan Dated to Paleolithic Period

NAHA, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that a bead made of shell and red iron oxide pigment recovered from Sakitari-do Cave in southern Okinawa has been dated to 23,000 years ago by researchers at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum. The bead measures about one-half inch long and one-third inch wide. Fishhooks made of shell and other shell beads were also recovered at the site. Objects crafted during the Jomon period, some 15,000 years ago, had previously been Japan’s oldest-known artifacts to have been decorated with pigments. For more on the shell fishhooks from Sakitari, go to "Japan's Early Anglers."

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Friday, October 22

Prehistoric Phallus-Shaped Pillars Found in Turkey

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists led by Necmi Karul of Istanbul University uncovered 11 pillars and a carving shaped like a human head in a building at the 11,000-year-old site of Karahan Tepe, which is located in southeastern Turkey. “All pillars are erected and shaped like a phallus,” Karul said. The building where the pillars were found was connected to three other structures and may have been part of a ceremonial complex, he explained. People could have entered at one end of the complex, moved past the carvings, and exited at the other end. The buildings were eventually filled in with dirt, perhaps as part of a decommissioning ritual, he added. Carvings of snakes and a fox were also found in other buildings at Karahan Tepe, which may be linked to nearby Göbekli Tepe, where large buildings and carvings of animals and human heads have also been found. For more on Göbekli Tepe, go to "Last Stand of the Hunter-Gatherers?"

Thursday, October 21

Tree-Ring Study Dates Canada’s Viking Settlement

GRONINGEN, THE NETHERLANDS—According to an NBC News report, researchers led by Margot Kuitems of the University of Groningen used a cosmic ray event in A.D. 993 to date the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows to A.D. 1021. First, Kuitems and her colleagues identified three pieces of wood at the site that had been cut with metal tools, which were used by the Norse but not the Indigenous people who also lived in the region. Then, they looked for a spike in radioactive carbon in the wood marking the cosmic ray event. Finally, microscopic analysis of growth rings laid down by the trees after A.D. 993 out to the tree’s outer bark revealed when it had been cut down. The study indicates that all three pieces of wood came from trees felled in A.D. 1021. “Previously the date was based only on sagas—oral histories that were only written down in the thirteenth century, at least 200 years after the events they described took place,” Kuitems said. The explorers may have collected some of the wood found at the site from warmer regions to the south, she added. For more on the Vikings, go to "Largest Viking DNA Study," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Human Remains Discovered Under 19th-Century Pub in Ireland

CORK, IRELAND—The Irish Examiner reports that the remains of six people have been found under a partially demolished nineteenth-century pub in the medieval section of southwest Ireland’s city of Cork. City archaeologist Ciara Brett said that the burials predate the pub, and may date to the eighteenth century. “It is important to note that it is only through post-excavation analysis, which will include examination by the osteoarchaeologist and radiocarbon dating of the bones, that a complete understanding of the remains will be achieved,” she explained. Eventually, the bones will be reburied. To read about another recent discovery in Ireland, go to "An Irish Idol."

New Thoughts on the Domestication of the Horse

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, a new study conducted by an international team of scientists led by Ludovic Orlando of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) suggests that horses were first domesticated in the Pontic-Caspian steppes of the northern Caucasus some 4,000 years ago. The researchers sequenced the genomes of 273 horses who lived in Eurasia as early as 50,000 years ago, and compared them to the genomes of modern domestic horses. They found that one genetically distinct species that had been confined to the Pontic steppes began to spread between 2200 and 2000 B.C., replacing wild horse populations across Europe and Asia within a few hundred years. “The genetic data also point to an explosive demography at the time, with no equivalent in the last 100,000 years,” Orlando said. “This is when we took control over the reproduction of the animal and produced them in astronomic numbers.” The researchers note that the ancestor of the domestic horse had genes associated with higher docility and a stronger backbone. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. For more on the role of horses in human history, go to "The Story of the Horse."

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