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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, September 22

DNA Analysis Identifies Japanese Ancestors

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a Live Science report, analysis of DNA samples obtained from ancient bones unearthed at various sites across Japan has detected a previously unidentified genetic group that migrated to Japan during the Kofun period, between A.D. 300 and 700, when Japan transitioned into an imperial state. This group is thought to be one of three populations ancestral to modern Japanese people. The other two groups have been identified as Jomon-period hunter gatherers who arrived in Japan as early as 20,000 years ago, and Yayoi-period farmers who migrated to Japan from East Asia between 900 B.C. and A.D. 300. Were the political changes that took place during the Kofun period brought about by this newly detected influx of new people? “Cultural transitions could have happened without involving genetic changes,” said Shigeki Nakagome of Trinity College Dublin. But the Kofun-period migrants came from East Asia and may have been Han people from China, he added. “To see if this East Asian ancestry played a key role in the transition, we need to sequence people with a higher rank,” he said. For more, go to "Japan's Early Anglers." 

Ritual Objects Discovered in Northern Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that researchers from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have uncovered artifacts used in rituals honoring the goddess Hathor in the Temple of the Pharaohs at the site of the ancient city of Buto, which is located in the Nile Delta. The instruments, which date to the 26th Dynasty (688-525 B.C.), include a limestone pillar shaped like the goddess; faience incense burners, one of which is decorated with the head of the god Horus; pottery; statuettes of the deities Tawart and Djehuty; a maternity chair; an offering holder; a gold Udjat eye; and golden scales thought to have been used in the gilding of other objects. The researchers also found ivory carved with scenes of women carrying offerings and pictures of plants, birds, and animals; a limestone lintel carved with hieroglyphic texts; and part of a painting of a king performing a ritual in the temple. To read about the sacred site of Heliopolis on the Nile, go to "Egypt's Eternal City."

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Tuesday, September 21

Medieval Mass Graves Excavated in Lebanon

POOLE, ENGLAND—Two mass graves thought to contain the remains of European soldiers killed during the Crusades have been found in a dry moat at the site of Lebanon’s St. Louis Castle, according to a Live Science report. Christian soldiers first captured St. Louis Castle after the First Crusade in 1110, and held the port of Sidon for more than a century. But records also show that the castle was attacked by Mamluks in 1253 and the Mongols in 1260, when it was destroyed. The men in the mass graves, which have been dated to the thirteenth century, are thought to have been killed during these attacks. Richard Mikulski of Bournemouth University said that the chemical composition of the men’s teeth and analysis of DNA samples indicate that some of them were born in Europe. Many of the brutal injuries had been inflicted from behind, and perhaps from horseback, he explained. Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge added that a Frankish belt buckle found in one of the graves supports Crusader records, which state that King Louis IX of France, who was on crusade in the Holy Land in 1253, visited the site and personally helped bury the dead. To read about how archaeologists are investigating the history of the Crusades and uncovering surprising facts about the Knights Templar and the spectacular castles built by the Crusaders, go to "Reimagining the Crusades." 

Three Phases of Wooden Wagon Way Uncovered in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that three layers of wooden tracks constructed for the horse-drawn Tranent Waggonway have been uncovered in East Lothian by researchers from the 1722 Waggonway Project. The line was first built in 1722 to haul coal along a two-mile route from a pit in Tranent to the coast of the Firth of Forth at Cockenzie and Port Seton, where it was used as fuel for making salt. The distance between the two rails was initially set at about three feet, three inches apart, and was expanded to four feet across in the second phase, between 1722 and 1725, when cobbles were also set between the rails as a path for the horses. The third phase of construction lasted from 1743 to 1744. “The wagonway excavation has shown that these waggonways are far more complex that the single-phase structures previously excavated, and the survival of timber on site including joints, helps us further understand the construction of these early railways,” commented railway historian Anthony Leslie Dawson. To read about DNA analysis of remains dating to the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries interred in a peculiar Scottish grave, go to "Heads of the Family."

Rare Shell Artifacts Discovered in South Australia

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by Flinders University, modified freshwater mussel shell objects have been recovered from shell middens along south-central Australia’s Murray River by researchers from Flinders University and Griffith University, in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation and the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation. The shells range in age from 6,000 to 600 years old. Two of them had been perforated, and one has a finely serrated edge. Ngarrindjeri archaeologist Chris Wilson explained that accounts from Aboriginal elders who lived along the Murray River indicate that the perforated shells could have been used as ornaments, for tool stringing, and for fiber scraping, while the serrated shell could be evidence of experimental tinkering, or it may have also been used as an ornament or a food utensil. To read about newly discovered rock art panels that illustrate how ancient Aboriginal Australians envisioned their creation, go to "Letter from Australia: Where the World Was Born." 

Burned Layer at Jamestown Linked to Bacon’s Rebellion

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Virginia Gazette reports that new excavations at the site of the memorial church at Jamestown have uncovered intact burn deposits and several artifacts. The burned surface is thought to date to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, according to archaeologist Sean Romo, who first spotted burned deposits just below the surface of the ground at the church in 2019. He thought the deposits could be evidence of Nathaniel Bacon’s siege of Jamestown, the fire that burned the fort in 1608, or the retreat of Confederate troops in 1862. “We expected this space to be disturbed in some way, but once we took off the modern deposits, we were shocked. The fact that this site is really intact is incredible,” he said. The artifacts on top of the burn deposits include window leads dated to the period just after the 1676 fire. An investigation along the church’s eastern wall also found evidence of the construction of the brick church tower after the fire. “We have positive evidence of Bacon’s Rebellion and the burning that took place,” explained Dave Givens, Jamestown’s director of archaeology. “The nice thing about this dig is that, as it evolves, it will help us understand more about the layers and what we’re seeing every day.” To read about about work by archaeologists and tribal community members to document the traditional homeland of Virginia's Rappahannock people, go to "Return to the River." 

Monday, September 20

Possible Grave of Medieval Christian Hermit Excavated in Spain

BURGOS, SPAIN—According to a statement released by the National Research Center on Human Evolution (CENIEH), a team of researchers has excavated a rock-lined burial placed near the entrance to the San Tirso and San Bernabé Hermitage, a medieval Christian site in Ojo Guareña, a series of caves in northern Spain’s Cantabrian Mountains. Archaeologist Ana Isabel Ortega said the site has been dated to the early eighth century A.D., pushing back the founding of the hermitage by several centuries to about the time of the arrival of Islamic Moors in Spain. The burial is thought to hold the remains of one of the first Christian hermits to live an isolated life in the caves. Ortega and her colleagues will now analyze the chemical composition of the bones and date them to learn more about the individual. To read about the rise of a Visigothic city in Spain amid the collapse of the Roman empire, go to "The Visigoths' Imperial Ambitions."

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