Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 18

World War II Dog Tags Unearthed in England

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that dog tags, a piece of window from a B-17 Flying Fortress, and the grate from a wood-burning stove were uncovered at a former Royal Air Force base in Norfolk. Members of the United States’ 100th Bomb Group were stationed at the site during the Second World War. The excavation was conducted by the University of East Anglia, with assistance from the American Veterans Archaeology Recovery Program, the 100th Bomber Memorial Group, and the Waveney Valley Archaeology Group. The archaeologists hope to reunite the tags with their owners or their descendants. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

Graves of Yuan Dynasty Chieftains Found

GUIZHOU PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that five tombs belonging to tribal leaders have been unearthed in southwest China. Three of the tombs date to between 1271 and 1368 A.D. and belonged to the Yang family, who were appointed as Tusi chieftains by the imperial government to rule over the city of Bozhou for 721 years. The last Yang family chieftain died during a rebellion in 1601. Officials from the Guizhou Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology say the discovery will help scholars understand the Tusi chieftain system and culture. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Sugar Molecule May Help Identify Human Ancestors

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in The San Diego Tribune, scientists led by Anne K. Bergfeld and Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, have identified a molecule made by many animals, and all apes, but not modern humans. It could help distinguish between fossils of hominins related to modern humans, and those of species that belong to side branches of the human family tree. The loss of the substance, called Neu5Gc, may have even created a fertility barrier between the ancestors of modern humans and other hominins. The scientists first tested a 50,000-year-old cave bear fossil, and found an unusual form of chondroitin sulfate, a surviving remnant of Neu5Gc, and then a four-million-year-old bovine fossil, which also contained the molecule. Since human ancestors are thought to have lost the ability to make Neu5Gc between two and three million years ago, it appears that the technique could help researchers more accurately identify the period of when the loss occurred. Varki and his colleagues are now refining the testing process so that a smaller amount of fossil would have to be destroyed in the analysis. When that work has been completed, hominin fossils may be considered for testing. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”


More Headlines
Friday, September 15

Long-Term Site Excavated on Dalmatian Island

ZADAR, CROATIA—An ancient building with a hypocaust, or central heating system, has been found underneath a site dating to late antiquity and a medieval necropolis in Croatia’s Nature Park Telašćica, which is located on the Dalmatian island of Dugi otok. Total Croatia News reports the building was heated with hot air circulated through clay pipes under the floor and through the walls. Archaeologists from the University of Zadar also uncovered pottery, metal tools, and glass objects during the excavation. To read about another discovery in Croatia, go to “Neanderthal Necklace.”

Cave Paintings Identified in Spain

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—The International Business Times reports that four new sets of cave paintings in northern Spain have been identified with 3-D laser scanning and photometric techniques by a team led by Roberto Ontañón of the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria. The sites had been identified by speleologists, but the images were degraded and difficult to see with the naked eye. “These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, ‘reveal’ paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to distinguish,” Ontañón explained. He estimates the paintings are between 20,000 and 30,000 years old. For more on cave paintings, go to “The First Artists.”

Painted Jade Mask Discovered in Classic-Era Maya Tomb

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—According to a report in Newsweek, a burial chamber at the Maya site of Waka’, which is located in northern Guatemala’s Laguna del Tigre National Park, has yielded a 700-year-old jade mask. The mask helped the researchers from the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project to identify the tomb’s occupant as a member of the royal Wak dynasty. It had been painted red with cinnabar, along with the ruler’s remains, and was found under the ruler’s head. The mask depicts the ruler with the same forehead hair decoration worn by the Maya maize god. Ceramic vessels, spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a crocodile-shaped pendant carved from shell were also recovered from the tomb. David Freidel of Washington University in St. Louis explained that the Maya of the Classic period revered their rulers as divine, so the king’s tomb turned the royal palace acropolis into holy ground. For more, go to “Letter From Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

Thursday, September 14

Bones’ Cut Marks Hint at Funeral Rites in Neolithic Ireland

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—The Leitrim Observer reports that evidence for the dismemberment of the dead has been found on bones unearthed at the 5,300-year-old passage tomb complex at Carrowkeel by an international team of scientists led by Thomas Kador of University College London. “We found indications of cut marks caused by stone tools at the site of tendon and ligament attachments around the major joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip, and ankle,” said Jonny Geber of the University of Otago in New Zealand. The bones were unearthed at the Neolithic site in 1911, presumed lost, and then rediscovered recently in boxes at the University of Cambridge. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

New Dates Push Back Use of Zero

OXFORD, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that new radiocarbon dates have been obtained for the Bakhshali manuscript, which was written in an ancient form of Sanskrit on 70 pieces of birch bark, by members of the Heritage Science team at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. The text, discovered in 1881 in a village located in what is now Pakistan, is thought to have been a training manual complete with practice arithmetic problems for merchants trading on the Silk Road, and is known for its use of a dot to represent the concept of zero. The new dates indicate the oldest pieces of the Bakhshali manuscript date to the third or fourth century A.D., or about 500 years earlier than had been previously thought, based upon the style of writing and the content. The new dates make the Bakhshali manuscript the oldest-known record of the use of the zero symbol. For more on ancient writing, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

Hurricane Irma Uncovered Dugout Canoe

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Hurricane Irma revealed a dugout canoe that had been resting on the bottom of the Indian River, according to a report by Orlando News 6. Concerned citizen Randy Shots spotted the canoe among the storm debris and alerted officials at Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, who will conserve the vessel. The cypress canoe weighs between 600 and 700 pounds. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”