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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 22

France’s Beaumont Abbey Excavated

TOURS, FRANCE—The Miami Herald reports that the excavation of the entirety of Beaumont Abbey, including the church, cloister, peripheral buildings, abbey dwellings, the refectory, the kitchen, the parlor, cellars, ovens, pipes, washhouses, latrines, an icebox, the gardens, and dumping areas, has been completed. This is the first time a complete abbey site has been excavated in Europe, according to Philippe Blanchard of the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research. The remains of a medieval village were found under the oldest structures, which date to 1002. The Benedictine nuns were expelled from the abbey in 1790, at the start of the French Revolution. More than 1,000 burials, spread out over a parish cemetery, a cemetery for the nuns, a servants’ cemetery, and the village cemetery, were also uncovered. Nuns buried in the church’s nave were interred in wooden coffins with crucifixes, medals, and small bone crosses. Some of the more elaborate tombs are thought to have belonged to abbesses and important benefactors. Sets of rosary beads imported from Rome and statuettes likely connected to religious tourism were also recovered in the church. To read about two lead sarcophagi that were found underneath the floor of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, go to "Update: Notre Dame's Nobility."

DNA Study Identifies Chromosomal Disorders in Infant Remains

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by the University of Adelaide, statistician Adam “Ben” Rohrlach of the University of Adelaide, Kay Prüfer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and an international team of researchers screened some 10,000 DNA samples taken from human remains dating from the Mesolithic period through the mid-nineteenth century for evidence of autosomal trisomies, or a third copy of one of the first 22 chromosomes in the human genome. The researchers were able to identify six infants with Down syndrome, which occurs when a person carries an extra copy of chromosome 21. “This is the first time we’ve been able to reliably detect cases [of Down syndrome] in ancient remains,” Rohrlach said. The study also identified the remains of a perinatal infant who had Edwards syndrome, a condition caused by three copies of chromosome 18. “These individuals were buried according to either the standard practices of their time or were in some way treated specially,” Rohrlach added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature Communications. To read about Neanderthal gene variants that occur in some living populations today, go to "Painful Past."

Lost Medieval Church and Burial Found Under Venice Piazza

VENICE, ITALY—According to a report in The Miami Herald, a rectangular stone-lined tomb dated to the seventh or eighth century has been found under Venice’s Piazza San Marco. The grave was found during an investigation carried out ahead of work to restore the plaza’s paving stones. Archaeologist Sara Bini said that the tomb holds the remains of seven people, including an eight-year-old child and a woman. Near the tomb, the researchers uncovered traces of walls and a floor identified as the Church of San Geminiano. Archival records show that the church was constructed in the early medieval period and destroyed in the early nineteenth century. To read about a stretch of Roman that is now submerged beneath a Venetian waterway, go to "A Trip to Venice."

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Wednesday, February 21

Ancient Snake-Shaped Handle Uncovered in Taiwan

TAOYUAN CITY, TAIWAN—A snake-shaped handle to a pottery vessel has been uncovered in northwestern Taiwan, at a site where a large-scale stone tool processing center has also been found, according to a Newsweek report. Researchers led by Hung-Lin Chiu of National Tsing Hua University found the artifact in a sand dune. It has been radiocarbon dated to some 4,000 years ago. Chiu said the snake handle resembles a cobra, with its head raised and bulging skin folds on its head and neck. “Snakes are often regarded as symbolic animals in religion, mythology, and literature, and are considered to be the bridge between heaven and man,” due to their ability to shed their skin, he added. To read about an Egyptian tomb at Abusir whose entrance wall was carved with magical spells intended to ward off serpents, go to "Spells Against Snakes." 

Faces of Scots From the Past Recreated in Digital Portraits

PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Guardian reports that the faces of four people whose remains were uncovered in central Scotland have been recreated by forensics and facial reconstruction expert Chris Rynn, with information obtained through the analysis of DNA, the chemical composition of bone, radiocarbon dating, and reconstruction forensics. The first digital reconstruction reveals a medieval man thought to have been killed by a traumatic injury between the ages of 18 and 25. His remains were found in a small, hastily dug pit. “He could have been stomped on by a horse or bludgeoned in the chest with some sort of mace-like object,” said bioarchaeologist Marc Oxenham of the University of Aberdeen. The second, a Cistercian nun who lived in the sixteenth century, likely limped from a broken foot. The face of a Bronze Age woman whose remains were found in a farmer’s field in 1962 represents the third reconstruction. She is thought to have been between 30 and 40 years old at the time of death, and she likely had lower back pain. Signs of trauma to her forehead may have caused her demise. The last reconstruction depicts a Pictish man who moved to central Scotland later in life and died in his 40s between A.D. 400 and 600. The analysis of his remains suggests that he grew up on the west coast of Scotland, or possibly in Ireland, ate a diet largely of produce, and suffered from osteoarthritis probably brought on by heavy agricultural work. The portraits will be displayed at the Perth Museum. For more on the Picts, go to "Letter from Scotland: Land of the Picts."

Replica Stone Axes and Adzes Tested

TOKYO, JAPAN—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, Akira Iwase of Tokyo Metropolitan University and his colleagues made 75 replica ax heads and adzes with a stone hammer, anvil, and grindstones from semi-nephrite collected in Japan’s Matsukawa River and Oumigawa River; hornfels from the Abo River on Yakushima Island; and tuff taken from the Fujikawa River. Thin strips of wood and fibrous grass were used to bind the stones to wooden handles. The tools were then tested in 15 different activities, including felling trees; shaping and scraping wood, antler, bone, and hides; and butchering animal carcasses. The macroscopic and microscopic wear marks on the tools were then recorded over the course of the experiments. The researchers also noted wear and tear on the stones that occurred during the manufacturing process, sharpening, transporting them in a bag with other tools, and trampling. Four of the axes remain unused for comparison. Iwase and his colleagues identified nine different types of fractures in the tools that resulted from different uses. The analysis could help future researchers determine how stone artifacts were used, and if early humans were able to fell and shape timber, which rarely survives in archaeological sites. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Journal of Archaeological Science. To read about shell fishhooks uncovered in a cave in Okinawa, go to "Japan's Early Anglers."

Tuesday, February 20

Remains of a Possible Roman-Era Family Unearthed in Bulgaria

NOVA VARBOVKA, BULGARIA—According to a Live Science report, a farmer discovered two Roman graves while plowing a field in northern Bulgaria late last year. Archaeologists from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History dated the graves to the third century A.D. Both of the brick graves had been lined with plaster and covered with large slabs of limestone. The remains of a man and a woman between the ages of 45 and 60 at the time of death were found in the larger tomb, which measures about 10 feet long. They were buried with jewelry made of glass beads and gold, six coins dated to between A.D. 200 and 225, a lamp, a leather shoe, and vessels made of ceramic and glass. Three of the glass vessels were lacrimaria, or small flasks for collecting the tears of the mourners. The smaller grave contained the remains of a child aged between two and three years old at the time of death. A bronze medallion depicting the Roman emperor Caracalla, who ruled from A.D. 198 to 217, was recovered from this grave. Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov thinks the deceased may have been members of the same family, but DNA analysis of samples of the bones has not yet been conducted. “The discovery of such tombs in the territory of Bulgaria is not a surprise, since the climate and soils are very good for growing agricultural crops,” added museum director Ivan Tsarov. The researchers plan to look for an estate where these people might have lived. To read about artifacts recovered from a Roman frontier camp in northern Bulgaria, go to "Legionary Personal Effects."

Monumental Stone Circle Found in Northern Peru

LARAMIE, WYOMING—According to a statement released by the University of Wyoming, a monumental circular plaza made up of two concentric walls has been discovered in the Andes Mountains of northern Peru by Jason Toohey and Melissa Murphy of the University of Wyoming, Patricia Chirinos Ogata of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and their colleagues. The plaza, constructed with upright megaliths at the Callacpuma archaeological site, measures about 60 feet in diameter and has been radiocarbon dated to 4,750 years ago with charcoal samples uncovered within the plaza. “It was probably a gathering place and ceremonial location for some of the earliest people living in this part of the Cajamarca Valley,” Toohey said. “These people were living a primarily hunting and gathering lifestyle and probably had only recently begun growing crops and domesticating animals,” he added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about an Andean city built in northern Peru's Moche River Valley a millennium ago, go to "Peru's Great Urban Experiment."

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