Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 19

New Thoughts on Prehistoric Tool Making in China

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—According to a New Scientist report, new dates have been obtained for stone tools made with Levallois techniques that were discovered in a cave in south China some 40 years ago. Made by chipping flakes off a stone so that the flakes themselves become the tools, Levallois tools are considered to be a “middle stage” in the development of stone tool technology. Such tools appeared in Africa and western Eurasia about 300,000 years ago. It had been previously thought that they were not made in China until about 40,000 years ago, but Bo Li of the University of Wollongong said the Levallois cores uncovered in Guanyindong Cave were recently dated to between 170,000 and 160,000 years ago with optically stimulated luminescence. No bones were found in the cave, however, so scientists do not know which early human species might have crafted the tools. For more, go to “An Opportunity for Early Humans in China.”

Possible Vanilla Chemicals Detected in Bronze Age Tomb in Israel

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Science News reports that evidence of the use of vanilla has been found in three jugs in a 3,600-year-old tomb in Israel. Archaeologist Vanessa Linares of Tel Aviv University said the Bronze Age jugs, unearthed near a palace and monumental city gate at the site of Megiddo, contained traces of two of the major chemical compounds in natural vanilla extract. Evidence of olive oil and other plant oils were also detected. Linares said vanilla-infused oils may have been added to foods and medicines, and may have been used in rituals and for embalming the dead. She thinks the vanilla, which comes from beans grown on vanilla orchids in East Africa, India, and Indonesia, arrived in the Middle East through trade. The remains of three elite individuals—a man, a woman, and a boy estimated to have been between the ages of eight and 12—and of six other people were recovered from the tomb, which also contained elaborate bronze, gold, and silver jewelry. For more on the archaeology of food, go to “The Neolithic Palate.”

Fresco Depicting Leda and the Swan Uncovered in Pompeii

ROME, ITALY—The Associated Press reports that a fresco illustrating the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan has been uncovered in Pompeii. The artwork is thought to have decorated a bedroom in a wealthy person's home located on the Via del Vesuvio, near the center of the ancient Roman city, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the first century A.D. Massimo Osanna, director of Pompeii Archaeological Park, said the Spartan queen in the painting appears to be looking out into the room while she Zeus, disguised as a swan, sits on her lap. Because the fresco is situated in an area of Pompeii that is not open to the public, it may be removed from the site so that it can be protected and put on display. To read in-depth about conservation of frescoes at Pompeii's most famous house, go to “Saving the Villa of the Mysteries.”


More Headlines
Friday, November 16

Wooden Boat Unearthed in Downtown Sydney

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a 9 News report, remains of a nineteenth-century wooden boat were discovered during subway construction near the southern end of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Archaeologist Cosmos Coroneos said such roughly finished boats were used to carry goods around Sydney Harbor and to settlements along the coast, so they were designed to handle traveling the seas, but were not expected to have a long working life. The boat is thought to have been constructed in the 1830s and was unearthed near an area that was home to a shipyard in the 1850s. The vessel may have been buried in the sand on a beach where old craft were stored. Coroneos and his team will attempt to remove the vessel from the site in one piece. For more on discoveries in the Sydney area dating to the nineteenth century, go to “Messages from Quarantine.”

Site of Late 19th-Century Mansion Investigated in Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO—KRDO News reports that archaeologists are investigating the grounds of the Glen Eyrie Estate, the home of William Jackson Palmer, who is remembered for founding the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1870 and the city of Colorado Springs in 1871. Palmer’s home is unusual in that he disposed of his trash on his property, rather than having it hauled away to a dump. So far, the researchers have unearthed bottles, shoes, plates, pottery, and a wooden spoon from the trash heaps. An enameled brick of the kind used to build the estate has also been recovered. Jon Horn of Alpine Archaeological Consultants said the team even discovered evidence of Palmer’s love for innovative technology, such as an early battery that powered an automatic gate, and incandescent light bulbs, which were patented in 1879. “There have been hundreds of artifacts recovered from each of the units, so the sites are really giving a voice to Palmer and his family’s everyday life,” said archaeologist Mike Prouty. For more on archaeology in the American Southwest, go to “Searching for the Comanche Empire.”

Study Looks for Location of Medieval Volcano Eruption

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a Science Magazine report, archaeologist Michael McCormick of Harvard University and glaciologist Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine say a volcanic eruption in Iceland in A.D. 536 could have been responsible for the fog and drop in temperatures reported in medieval records from Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Previous studies had linked such changes in climate to cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, but it had been thought the eruption in A.D. 536 might have taken place in North America. McCormick, Mayewski, and their colleagues conducted an “ultraprecise analysis” of slivers of ice from a core taken from a Swiss glacier in 2013, which allowed them to pinpoint the occurrence of storms and volcanic eruptions, as well as levels of lead pollution over the past 2,000 years. The chemical composition of two microscopic particles of volcanic glass, located in a section of the ice core dating to the spring of 536, resembled volcanic rocks from Iceland. Vulcanologist Andrei Kurbatov of the University of Maine said the next step is to look for particles from the volcano in lakes in Europe and Iceland. For more on evidence of past volcanic eruptions, go to “Pinpoint Precision.”

Thursday, November 15

Ice Age Art Revealed in France

TUBINGEN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that Ice Age artwork has been found in eastern France’s Grottes d’Agneux under graffiti dating from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Harald Floss of the University of Tubingen and his colleagues used scanning technology to look for ancient drawings under the later names, dates, and pictures, and then processed the data with special software in order to reveal the images of deer and horses. Radiocarbon dating of samples of the art and charcoal in the cave indicates the paintings are 12,000 years old. Floss said the paintings are the first Paleolithic art to have been found in the region. For more on cave art in France, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

New Thoughts on Neanderthal Head Injuries

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—According to a Science News report, researchers led by paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati of the University of Tubingen analyzed information collected from more than 100 Neanderthal skulls and 90 Upper Paleolithic modern human skulls and found that the two species suffered head injuries at about the same rate. It had been previously suggested that Neanderthals were more prone to head injuries when compared to modern humans, based upon what was assumed to be a lifestyle filled with combat, hunting with hand-held weapons, and cave bear attacks. The investigation, which accounted for sex, age at death, geography, and state of preservation of the bones, does suggest, however, that males were more frequently injured then females in both species. And while the levels of head trauma for the two groups were similar overall, Neanderthals may have experienced more head injuries earlier in life than modern humans did, and they may have died more often from those wounds. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

500-Year-Old Tombs Discovered in Bolivia

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Reuters reports that human remains and artifacts estimated to be 500 years old have been found in Bolivia, in an underground burial chamber accessed through a nine-foot-deep chimney measuring just 27.5 inches in diameter. Several of the tombs were found to have been ransacked. The site, discovered by miners, is thought to have belonged to the Pacajes people of the Aymara kingdom, who were conquered by the Incas in the mid-fifteenth century. “There are objects that are clearly attributed to the Inca culture, and others that are not Inca, but rather Aymara,” said archaeologist Wanderson Esquerdo. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

Pregnant Woman’s Remains Unearthed in Egypt

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the remains of a pregnant woman who died at about 25 years of age some 3,700 years ago have been found in Upper Egypt. Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the grave was located in a cemetery used by nomads from Nubia, which is located to the south of Egypt. The mother and child may have died during childbirth, since the baby’s skeleton was found in a “head down” position in the woman’s pelvic area. Her pelvis was misaligned, Waziri explained, perhaps from a poorly healed fracture, which may have led to problems during labor. Waziri added that the woman’s body was wrapped in a leather shroud and placed in a contracted position in the grave with a well-worn pottery jar and a polished red bowl with a black interior, made in the Nubian style. Unfinished ostrich eggshell beads were also found. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Let Them Eat Soup.”