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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 10

U.S. Repatriates Looted Artifacts to Cambodia

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Reuters reports that the United States repatriated 30 looted artifacts to Cambodia in a ceremony attended by Cambodia’s U.S. ambassador Keo Chhea. Federal prosecutor Damian Williams explained that all of the items had been sold to U.S. museums and private collectors by an antiquities dealer who created false provenances for them in order to conceal their illegal origins. The artifacts include a tenth-century sandstone sculpture of Skanda, the Hindu god of war, riding on a peacock, and other ancient bronze and stone statues. To read about Khmer fire shrines built across Cambodia's Angkor Empire, go to "The Pursuit of Wellness: Rest."

600-Year-Old Kitchen Discovered in Czech Republic

NOVY JIČĺN, CZECH REPUBLIC—Radio Prague International reports that a well-preserved kitchen thought to date to the early fifteenth century has been found near the historic town walls of Nový Jičín, which is located in the Moravian-Silesian region of the eastern Czech Republic. Based upon this location, Pavel Stabrava of the Novojičín Museum suggests the site may have been the home of a burgher family, although wealthier members of the same class were likely to have lived around the town square. The kitchen was part of a house built of logs on a stone foundation, he added, and was equipped with a brick oven and a hearth. Archaeologists also uncovered intact ceramic pots with their lids and a wooden cooking spoon. Burn marks suggest the house’s inhabitants may have been forced to leave, perhaps during an attack by the Hussites in 1427. To read about a Neolithic well unearthed in East Bohemia, go to "Around the World: Czech Republic."

Medieval Artifacts Uncovered in Iceland

SEYðISFJÖRðUR, ICELAND—Traces of a farmstead dated to the earliest settlement of Iceland have been uncovered in the East Fjords of the island by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, according to Iceland Review. The site is situated in a valley where landslides from the high slopes and tephra from volcanic eruptions have protected archaeological materials and provided a means of dating them. So far, researchers have found human remains; the bones of a horse; a spear; a boat; and jewelry, including a red, white, and blue bead dated to between A.D. 940 and 1100. To read about a Viking Age site in Iceland's lava fields, go to "The Blackener's Cave."


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Tuesday, August 9

New Thoughts on Roman Dice

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—According to a ZME Science report, Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis, and Alex de Voogt of Drew University suggest that asymmetrical Roman dice may not have been made as a way to cheat at dice-throwing games. (Asymmetry in a die can impact the probability of a given side landing face up, the researchers explained.) Roman dice are known to have been produced in cubes, flattened cubes, and elongated cubes. Symbols were then placed on the die faces to represent numbers. Eerkens and de Voogt examined 28 Roman die unearthed in the Netherlands, and found 24 of them to be asymmetrical. Many of these irregular dice bear the symbols for one and six opposing each other on the larger surfaces. The researchers calculated that the difference in size in these dice raised the probability of rolling a one or a six to one in 2.4 instead of one in six. The researchers then created reproductions of the dice, and asked 23 students to mark them, thinking that the students would place the marks randomly. Instead, the students placed the one and six on opposing the larger sides, stating that it was easier to fit six marks on the largest surface. Romans may have had the same concern, the researchers concluded. Some Romans may have even believed that their dice throws were governed by the fates, while others may have observed over time that a roll of one or six was more likely to occur when using certain dice. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. To read about changes in dice over time in the Netherlands, go to "No Dice Left Unturned."

Colonial-Period Burials Found on Ancient Temple in Peru

LIMA, PERU—According to an AFP report, a team of researchers led by Lucenida Carrion of the Archaeology Directorate of the Park of Legends has unearthed three burials on top of the remains of a temple. The remains include two adults and a child who had been wrapped in cotton cloth. Traces of a wooden cross were found on the chest on one of the adults. “We are working with the hypothesis that the remains belong to a colonial cemetery,” Carrion said. Sandals, textiles, funeral mantles, ceramic vessels, and bracelets were also uncovered. The temple, known as Huaca Tres Palos, is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. To read about a previously unknown burial treatment recently discovered on Peru's southern coast, go to "Dignity of the Dead."

Excavation Continues at Pompeii’s House of the Lararium

NAPLES, ITALY—The Associated Press reports that excavation of the House of the Lararium, a five-room structure discovered at Pompeii in 2018, has uncovered a collection of household objects, including a translucent blue and green rimmed plate and a cradle-shaped incense burner. The site was named for an area in the home’s courtyard that was dedicated to domestic spirits known as lares, according to Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. The cistern in the courtyard was decorated, he added. The remains of a bed frame and traces of a fabric pillow; a round three-legged table; and a wooden trunk with an open lid were found in one of the rooms. The trunk held an oil lamp decorated with an image of the Greek god Zeus being transformed into an eagle. A closet made of wood with at least four panel doors was found in another room near the kitchen. Cookware and dishes would have been stored on its shelves, Zuchtriegel said. People who lived in such homes would have been ambitious social climbers, but were still vulnerable during political crises and food shortages, he concluded. To read about a nearly intact chariot discovered at a villa near Pompeii, go to "A Ride Through the Countryside."

Monday, August 8

Role of Protein Building Blocks in Brain Evolution Investigated

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of researchers led by Felipe Mora-Bermúdez of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology suggests that modern human brain evolution and function may be independent of brain size. The researchers tested six amino acids present in three proteins of modern human cells that are not found in the cells of Neanderthals and Denisovans, our closest human relatives. The modern human amino acids were introduced into mice, whose brains have identical amino acids to Neanderthals in particular positions. The researchers found that during the process of cell division, three of the modern human amino acids worked to lengthen the period in which chromosomes are prepared for cell division, resulting in fewer errors in the daughter cells. To check these results, the scientists then introduced ancestral amino acids into human brain organoids grown in a lab from modern human stem cells. Mora-Bermúdez explained that as these cells divided, more errors in the distribution of chromosomes occurred than is usually observed in modern human brain cells. Such errors in cell division can result in cancer and genetic disorders, he added. Team member Wieland Huttner concluded that some aspects of Neanderthal brain evolution and function, for example, may have been more affected by chromosome errors. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about a Neanderthal gene variant that makes some modern human populations who inherited it more susceptible to pain, go to "Painful Past."