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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 18

Terracotta Figurines Uncovered in Southern India

KERALA, INDIA—The Hindu reports that flooding in southwest India has revealed a collection of terracotta figurines along the banks of the Pamba River. So far, researchers have identified images of Sapta Matrika (mother goddesses), naga (serpent) idols, and figures of men. Archaeologist K. Krishnaraj said iconographic studies and thermoluminescence dating of the sculptures are expected to offer more information about who might have produced them. For more, go to “India's Anonymous Artists.”

Nineteenth-Century Periodic Table Found in Scotland

FIFE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a historic lithograph of the periodic table was found in a storage area at St. Andrews University, rolled up with other large-scale charts. The late nineteenth-century teaching tool, printed in Vienna and annotated in German, is thought to be the oldest surviving example of a classroom-sized periodic table. The information included in the table helped Eric Scerri of the University of California, Los Angeles, to date the document to between 1879 and 1886. Scerri explained that the elements gallium, discovered in 1875, and scandium, discovered in 1879, are included on the classroom table, but the element germanium, discovered in 1886, is not. The fragile, brittle document has been conserved. To read about study of the Roman site of Carnuntum, east of Vienna, go to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

2,000-Year-Old Mint Discovered in Central China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that heavy rains in central China have revealed a mint estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. An excavation of the site recovered copper coins, copper smelting slag, pottery, animal bones, and pieces of coin molds, according to Bai Yunxiang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Yang Jun of the China Numismatic Society said inscriptions on the molds suggest they were used during the reign of Wang Mang, a Western Han Dynasty official who seized power and established the Xin Dynasty, which lasted for several decades in the first century A.D. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”


More Headlines
Thursday, January 17

Damaged Carving Recovered from Shrine at Tell Edfu

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that a carving of a man and a woman recovered from a 3,500-year-old shrine in a villa at Tell Edfu, in southern Egypt, may have been damaged in antiquity by someone who wanted to erase the couple’s existence in the afterlife. Nadine Moeller of the Tell Edfu Project and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute said the shrine may have been dedicated to the ancestors of those who lived in the villa. The faces of the man and woman, along with identifying hieroglyphics, were scratched out of the sculpture, so the researchers are trying to reconstruct the information. “For the ancient Egyptians, being remembered after death was very important, so they would receive offerings in the netherworld,” Moeller explained. “By erasing someone’s name, you are also taking away their identity and the good deeds they did during their lifetimes for which they will be remembered after death.” Other artifacts recovered from the shrine could offer clues to help solve the puzzle, Moeller said. For example, a black diorite statuette depicts a scribe identified in hieroglyphic inscriptions as “Juf,” but scholars at this point do not know whether he is the same man shown in the damaged carving. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Mummy Workshop.”

Scientists Analyze 100,000-Year-Old Child’s Teeth

BEIJING, CHINA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Song Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and her colleagues examined the teeth of a child who died at about six and one-half years of age at least 104,000 years ago, and perhaps more than 200,000 years ago. They found that the child’s dental growth and development proceeded slowly, at a pace similar to that experienced by modern human children living today. X-rays of the child’s fossilized upper jaw revealed the first molars had erupted a few months before death, and their roots were three-quarters grown, as is common in six-year-old modern human children. Xing and the other team members say the child’s skeletal remains have a mix of features resembling traits of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. The child may even have been Denisovan, Xing added. The scientists may try to retrieve a DNA sample from the child’s jaw or teeth for further testing. For more on research involving teeth, go to “Not So Pearly Whites.”

Dogs May Have Helped Humans Hunt 11,500 Years Ago

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Haaretz report, dogs may have assisted human hunters living some 11,500 years ago in what is now northwest Jordan. While excavating a year-round settlement site known as Shubayqa, a team of researchers led by zooarchaeologist Lisa Yeomans of the University of Copenhagen noticed a dramatic increase in the number of bones of small animals such as hares. The condition of many of the bones indicates they were digested by a carnivore, but they were too large to have been swallowed by humans. The researchers suggest the bones are more likely to have been digested by dogs, who may have helped the human residents of Shubayqa increase the number of small, fast animals they caught by chasing the prey into traps or enclosures. To read about another recent discovery at Shubayqa, go to “The First Bakers.”

Wednesday, January 16

Submerged Prehistoric Site Discovered in Scotland

BENBECULA, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a prehistoric site has been discovered in a submerged, partially fossilized forest on one of Scotland’s Western Isles. Researcher Joanna Hambly of the Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion Trust said researchers had recovered a quern stone, used for grinding food, in addition to a wall and what may have been parts of circular stone structures. A piece of a quartz flake was even found in the bone it had been used to butcher. “To find the remains of a butchery site is incredibly rare,” Hambly said, “the survival of a single action in prehistory preserved in intertidal peats.” Between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, she added, the forest consisted of birch, hazel, willow, aspen, rowan, oak, Scots pine, alder, ash, and elm trees. All of the trees were gone by about 2,500 years ago, due to human activity and rising sea levels. Radiocarbon dating will help date the artifacts. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Painted Floor Found in 1,000-Year-Old Tomb in Northeast China

SHENYANG, CHINA—According to a Xinhua report, images of carriages and horses, flowers, dragons, and a phoenix have been found painted on the walls and floor of a tomb in a Liao Dynasty cemetery (A.D. 907-1125) in northeast China’s Liaoning Province. Si Weiwei of the Liaoning Province Archaeological Institute explained that this is the first known example of a tomb with a painted floor from the Liao Dynasty. So far, four tombs in the cemetery have been excavated. They also yielded ceramics, silk fabrics, and wooden, jade, and stone objects. The cemetery is thought to have belonged to Han Derang, who served as a prime minister during the Liao Dynasty, and his descendants, Si added. To read about a tomb dating to around the same period in China, go to “Underground Party.”