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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 24

3,000 Years of Capuchin Monkeys’ Tool Use Studied

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a Science News report, archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of University College London and primatologist Tiago Falótico of the University of São Paulo have found changes in the patterns of stone tool use over a period of 3,000 years in capuchin monkeys living in northeastern Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park. Excavations in the park have also uncovered tools made by humans, but Proffitt explained that the ancient tools in question, which were dated by association with pieces of charred wood in each of four sediment layers, more closely resemble those made by modern capuchins living in the park. The changes in the tools over time probably reflect changes in local vegetation, Proffitt added. The tools include rocks used as platforms for pounding objects, partial and complete pounding stones, and pieces of rock that detached from the tools during pounding. Smaller, more heavily damaged stones dated to between 3,000 and 2,500 years ago are thought to have been used to smash open seeds or small fruits with soft rinds. Larger stones, dated to about 300 years ago, may have been used to open hard-shelled fruits and nuts. Slightly smaller pounding stones began to be used about 100 years ago. Proffitt said the capuchins use similar stones today to crack open cashews. For more on artifacts produced by capuchins, go to “The Monkey Effect.”

France’s King Louis IX May Have Suffered From Scurvy

PARIS, FRANCE—Live Science reports that Philippe Charlier of the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac and his colleagues examined a medieval jawbone that was buried in Notre Dame Cathedral and said to belong to Louis IX, also known as St. Louis, who was king of France during the Eighth Crusade. The researchers found that the jawbone’s owner suffered from a severe case of scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and characterized by gum disease, loss of teeth, anemia, and a weakened immune system. Charlier said the jawbone had the right shape to have belonged to a 56-year-old man—Louis’ age at death—and resembled sculpturesof the king in the cathedral. Louis died in 1270 while besieging Tunis, where he ate a diet comprised mostly of fish, which is low in vitamin C. Medieval chronicler Jean de Joinville wrote that the soldiers in Louis’ army suffered from gum necrosis, and barbers had to cut the dead tissue out of their mouths. Radiocarbon dating of the jawbone indicated its owner died between A.D. 1030 and 1220, but the king’s low-carbon fish diet may have skewed the results, potentially making the bone seem older than it really is, the researchers explained. For more on medieval France, go to “Islam North of the Pyrenees.”

Possible Toolmaking Site Found Near Woolly Mammoth Bones

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, paleontologist Innokenty Pavlov and his colleagues discovered a woolly mammoth skeleton in the thawing permafrost on Kotelny Island, which is now located off Russia’s northeastern coast, but during the Pleistocene era was connected to the mainland. Pavlov said the skeleton belonged to an animal that lived at least 10,000 years ago. Tool marks on one of its tusks suggest the ivory may have been collected to make sharp-edged tools and weapons. A mark on one of its lower ribs may be a hunting wound, he added. The skeleton will be taken to a laboratory for radiocarbon dating and further study. To read about another discovery in Siberia, go to “Nomadic Chic.”


More Headlines
Friday, June 21

Sixth-Century Town Surveyed in Spain

ALCALÁ DE HENARES, SPAIN—Live Science reports that researchers led by Michael McCormick of Harvard University and Lauro Olmo Enciso of the University of Alcalá have conducted a geomagnetic survey of the site of Reccopolis, a walled town constructed in A.D. 578 by King Leovigild, ruler of the Visigoths. The project revealed that the town spilled out beyond the boundary of its walls. “It’s really remarkable to see the Visigothic monarchy coming together at this time and assembling the resources to be able to found a new city,” McCormick said. At the time, volcanic eruptions had brought on what is known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age, a period usually associated with imperial collapse, famine, mass migrations, and an outbreak of bubonic plague. One large building identified during the survey is oriented toward Mecca, and its floor plan resembles that of mosques in the Middle East, McCormick added. It may date to the period after the Islamic conquest of the region in A.D. 711. For more on Spain in the medieval period, go to “Spain's Lost Jewish History.”

Bronze Ring Weight Discovered in Japan

RITTO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a bronze ring discovered in a dry riverbed in the south-central region of Japan’s main island of Honshu has been identified as a balance scale weight dating to the late second century A.D. by Ryo Wauchi of Fukuoka University. Similar objects have previously been unearthed in tombs in China and Korea. The weight measures about five inches across, weighs about three ounces, and is flat on one side, making it easy to stack with other rings, Wauchi explained. The ring may have been brought to Japan from China or Korea to measure raw materials for bronzeware or to weigh vermilion, a valuable brilliant red pigment. Bronze mirrors imported from China have also been found in the region, according to Tomoyuki Nakao of the Museum of Yayoi Culture of the Osaka prefectural government. “It appears the ring weight was brought in as part of those interactions,” Nakao said. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Thursday, June 20

Study of Nazca Lines Identifies Possible Non-Native Bird Species

SAPPORO, JAPAN—Zooarchaeologist Masaki Eda of Hokkaido University Museum and his colleagues studied anatomical characteristics such as the size and shape of beaks, heads, necks, bodies, wings, tails, and feet of 16 bird figures etched in the ground in Peru’s southern desert, and believe they have identified three different living species, according to a Live Science report. Eda said the famous Nazca hummingbird glyph actually depicts a hermit—a type of hummingbird that lives in the tropics and subtropics of northern and eastern Peru. The two other glyphs that were possibly identified represent a pelican and a guano bird, which would have lived on the coast, he added. Both of these species produce huge amounts of droppings, or guano, which is an excellent fertilizer. Eda now wants to examine birds depicted at Nazca temple sites and on Nazca ceramics. “I believe that the motifs of the animal geoglyphs are closely related to the purpose [of] why they were etched,” he said. To read about a well-known European geoglyph, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

Germany Repatriates Ancient Sculpture to Italy

ROME, ITALY—According to a report in The Local, a second-century A.D. sculpture smuggled out of Italy sometime between 1944 and the early 1960s was handed over to Italian authorities at the German ambassador’s residence in Italy. Excavated in the 1930s in central Italy, the carving depicts the head and shoulders of a young man. German authorities offered to repatriate the object, which was acquired from a private citizen and has been housed in the University of Munster’s Archaeological Museum for the past 55 years. “This is a highly symbolic act,” commented Alberto Bonisoli, Italy’s minister of culture. To read about a recently discovered missing portion of a Roman sculpture, go to “Hand Picked.”

Painted Tomb Discovered in China

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a brick-chambered tomb thought to date to the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279–1368) has been discovered in northern China. The tomb is decorated with well-preserved murals depicting a desk for ritual activities, landscapes, and a number of women. Wang Xiaoyi of the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology said the clothes and hairstyles of the women in the paintings provide insight into the fashions of the Yuan Dynasty. Researchers are still investigating the possible identity of the tomb’s occupant. To read about a ceramic representation of a brightly colored beast dating to the Yuan Dynasty, go to “Artifact.”