Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 21

Teotihuacán’s Grid System Analyzed

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Michael Smith of Arizona State University compared the city of Teotihuacán with other Mesoamerican cities built before and after it, and found Teotihuacán to be unique, according to a report in The International Business Times. Mesoamerican cities usually had a well-planned central area of temples, a palace, a ball court, and a plaza surrounded by a residential area. Smith says the residential areas were often haphazardly arranged, but all of Teotihuacán was arranged on a grid system, making it easier to navigate. Between A.D. 100 and 650, Teotihuacán was home to as many as 100,000 people, making it the largest city in the Americas at the time, yet it seems to have lacked a royal palace, a ball court, and central areas. Teotihuacán also had well-planned residential areas with spacious, well-designed apartment buildings. Some 1,000 years after it was abandoned, Teotihuacán was revered by the Aztecs, who gave the city its name, which means “the birthplace of the gods.” The Aztecs repeated many of Teotihuacán’s innovations in their capital, Tenochtitlan, founded in the early fourteenth century. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

“Ancient Genomics Revolution” Now Includes Africa

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of scientists has extracted fragments of DNA from the remains of 16 ancient sub-Saharan Africans and compared them to the genomes of living Africans and populations on other continents, according to a report in The New York Times. The oldest sample in the study, which also included the genome extracted from 4,500-year-old bones found in a cave in Ethiopia in 2015, came from 8,100-year-old bones recovered in caves in the highlands of Malawi. Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues think the branches on Africa’s family tree may be older than previously thought. The study also suggests that genes did not flow between Africans and non-Africans for tens of thousands of years. But the 3,100-year-old genes of a girl whose remains were found in Tanzania have been linked to early farmers in the Near East. “This puts a time stamp on this connection,” explained team member Pontus Skoglund. Eventually the Near Eastern farmers reached Africa’s southern edge, where their DNA was found in a 1,200-year-old skeleton. Archaeologists had previously tracked the migration of the Bantu through their iron tools. The new genetic study suggests they may have pushed hunter-gatherers off prime farming land as they traveled. To read about another application of genetics to study of the past, see “The Heights We Go To.”

Neanderthal Children May Have Matured Slowly

MADRID, SPAIN—Live Science reports that the paleoanthropology group at Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences studied the rate of Neanderthal development by analyzing the nearly complete skeleton of a young male Neanderthal discovered at the site of El Sidrón. The scientists estimated the boy’s age at 7.7 years old at the time of death, some 49,000 years ago, based upon the growth layers in his teeth. They also noted that the boy’s skull was still growing when he died. “We think this Neanderthal boy’s brain was still growing in volume,” said Antonio Rosas. The team estimated that the boy’s brain was about 87.5 percent of the size of the brain of a fully grown Neanderthal adult. In contrast, Rosas said modern humans of the same age have brains about 95 percent of the size of an adult’s brain. The team of researchers also noted that some veterbrae in modern human children have fused between the ages of four and six, but those same bones had not yet fused in the Neanderthal boy’s remains. The study suggests that, overall, Neanderthals shared a common pattern of growth with modern humans, which may have been inherited from a common ancestor. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Neolithic House Unearthed in Southern Scotland

EAST AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a 6,000-year-old dwelling has been found in a field in southwestern Scotland. Kenneth Green of GUARD Archaeology said the building’s post holes indicate it measured about 45 feet long by 25 feet wide. Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shells, and charcoal were also recovered at the site. Green noted that just the deepest sections of some post holes remain after thousands of years of plowing, but that the width and depth of the holes suggest they once held very large upright posts. Early farmers are thought to have lived in the structure with extended family or groups of families. They probably grew wheat and barley, and kept cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The excavation also uncovered evidence of a stream that ran by the house. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”


More Headlines
Wednesday, September 20

15th-Century Epitaph Tablet Returned to South Korea

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The widow of a Japanese collector has returned a rare Joseon-era epitaph tablet, or myoji, to South Korea, according to a report in the Korea JoongAng Daily. “This myoji will act as a crucial material for studies on the history of ceramics,” said Lee Su-kyung of the National Museum of Korea. The blue-gray tablet, made of buncheong celadon, stands 11 inches tall, and is inscribed on all four sides with the biographical information of a scholar named Yi Seon-je, who lived from A.D. 1390 to 1453. It would have been placed in his grave, as was customary during the Joseon Dynasty. To read about another recent discovery in South Korea, go to “Doll Story.”

Temple of Artemis Found on Greek Isle of Euboea

  AMARYNTHOS, GREECE—Swissinfo reports that a team of Swiss researchers led by Karl Reber of the University of Lausanne has discovered the lost temple of Artemis at the foot of the Paleoekklisies hill, on the Greek island of Euboea. The site, identified with artifacts inscribed with the name “Arthemidos,” is located about six miles from the place where the temple was previously thought to have stood. Archaeologist Denis Knöpfler of the University of Neuchâtel found a key clue to the temple’s location in a nearby Byzantine church that had pieces of the temple’s Doric columns and blocks in its façade. So far, the foundations of the building’s portico and inner courtyard have been uncovered. The temple was the end point of an annual procession from the city of Eretrea and home to a festival in honor of the goddess of hunting. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

Possible Viking Boat Burial Uncovered in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a report in Live Science, a possible boat burial dating to between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. has been discovered in a market square in Trondheim. The burial, which may have at one time been covered with a mound, was damaged by later construction. Ian Reed of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage said nails and lumps of rust are all that remain of what could have been a flat-bottomed, wooden boat built to travel the shallow waters of the Nidelven River. Two long bones were found in the boat, but they were not well preserved. DNA tests may be able to determine whether the bones came from a human. A piece of bronze, part of a spoon, and the remains of a key that would have opened a chest were also found in the grave. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Tuesday, September 19

Cold-Resistant Yeast Discovered in South American Pottery

TEMUCO, CHILE—According to a report from NBC News, traces of yeast have been detected on 1,000-year-old pottery discovered near the Chile-Argentina border. The yeast, called Saccharomyces eubayanus, is thought to have been an ancestor of the yeast currently used to brew lager. Researchers have been looking for the origin of this unusual fungus, which thrives in cold temperatures and has been found growing wild in Patagonia and Tibet. Saccharomyces eubayanus has not been found growing wild in Europe, however. “Our findings confirm the historical presence of the yeast in this region and now we have confirmation of its use,” explained archaeologist Alberto Perez of Universidad Catolica de Temuco in Chile. Scholars now want to know whether Saccharomyces eubayanus traveled from South America to Bavaria, where lager was first brewed in the 1400s. To read more on archaeology in the area, go to “Atacama’s Decaying Mummies.”

Porpoise Bones Unearthed at Medieval Monks’ Retreat

GUERNSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS—The remains of a porpoise have been unearthed at the site of a medieval religious retreat on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, according to a report in The Guardian. Archaeologists expected the carefully dug grave to contain human bones, and were surprised to find a porpoise skull and other body parts. “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?” asked States of Guernsey archaeologist Philip de Jersey. He suggests that the body could have been salted and kept in the hole as a way to preserve it. The bones will be studied by a marine scientist. To read about a massive Celtic coin hoard discovered on the Channel Islands, go to “Ka-Ching!

Excavators Return to the Minoan Palace of Zominthos

PSILORITIS, CRETE—Recent excavations at the Minoan palace of Zominthos uncovered two entrances, an internal stairway, and a second-century A.D. Roman coin, according to The Greek Reporter. The first entrance, on the northeast corner of the palace, led to a sanctuary with an altar and featured an anteroom with two desks. The second entrance, on the southeastern corner, is said to be in poor condition. It had been modified by the Mycenaeans and the Romans, and was damaged by looters in the 1960s. An internal stairway and the remains of ten-foot-tall walls indicate that the building was multistoried. The upper floors were supported by central pillars. The excavation also revealed floors made of glittering limestone and pebbles. Traces of frescoed mortar has also been found on the walls. In another area of the palace, above a metallurgical workshop, a claw-shaped pendulum and a vase decorated with the image of a pig were uncovered. Next door, the excavators found a small bronze scarab that had been made locally, and sea shells. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

World War I–Era German Submarine Found

WEST FLANDERS, BELGIUM—BBC News reports that the wreckage of a World War I–era submarine has been found in the North Sea. The type UB-II vessel, thought to have been snagged in a cable and sunk by a mine, is expected to hold the remains of 23 people—a crew of 22 and one commander—according to West Flanders Governor Carl Decaluwé. The upper part of the submarine was damaged, but its hatches are still shut, and the conning tower is said to be intact. Periscopes and torpedo tubes have also been spotted on the sea floor. To read in-depth about the archaeology of a legendery World War I battlefield, go to “Letter From Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”