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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 27

German World War II Rocket Unearthed in England

ST MARY’S PLATT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that archaeologist brothers Colin Welch and Sean Welch have uncovered remnants of a German V2 terror rocket that detonated in southeast England in 1944. Such rockets could travel at speeds of up to 3,300 miles per hour. “The rockets would enter the earth at an angle, in this case a trajectory of about 70 degrees,” Colin Welch said. Underground stone stopped this rocket’s travel, and so its remnants were found closer to the impact point than other V2 terror rockets impact sites the team has excavated. The researchers recovered this rocket’s combustion chamber, where liquid oxygen mixed with alcohol to produce its great speed. Rust and grime covering the rocket parts will be removed during the conservation process in an effort to find source codes that would tell researchers the factories in which the parts had been made. “If only we had known at that time, we could have bombed that factory and solved the threat of the V2s,” Sean Welch explained. To read about the operation that thwarted Nazi Germany's atomic plans, go to "The Secrets of Sabotage."

Lidar Mapping Reveals Teotihuacan’s Ancient Landscape

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a Gizmodo report, aerial scanning technology known as lidar has been used to investigate the eight square miles of landscape once covered by the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which was constructed between 100 B.C. and A.D. 450. Nawa Sugiyama of the University of California, Riverside, said that the city planners conducted large-scale quarrying and excavation projects, including rerouting the San Juan and San Lorenzo rivers to conform to Teotihuacan’s astronomical alignment. Some 65 percent of modern construction in the region is built on the ancient city’s alignments, she added. “These changes made nearly two millennia ago still affect how we construct our buildings, align our roads, and terrace our crops,” Sugiyama concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about a Mesoamerican trade hub that was once under the influence of Teotihuacan, go to "Off the Grid: Chalcatzingo, Mexico."

DNA Analysis Offers Clues to Settlement of Polynesia

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Science News reports that computational biologist Alexander Ioannidis of Stanford University, population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, and their colleagues examined the genomes of 430 present-day people from 21 Pacific Island populations, and identified DNA segments of exclusively Polynesian origin. The researchers were also able to pinpoint rare gene variants specific to individual Polynesian islands, which allowed them to reconstruct settlement paths. Comparison of the genes between individuals from different islands was used to estimate when those migrations occurred. The study suggests that travelers left Samoa, which is located in western Polynesia, headed south to Fiji and Tonga, and then east, reaching Rarotonga by about A.D. 830, and the Tuamotu Islands, which are located to the east of Tahiti, by about 1100. Estrada said that the DNA evidence indicates the tradition of carving massive statues began on a single island, likely in the Tuamotus, and spread with the migrants, reaching as far east as Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, by about 1250. Analysis of eastern Polynesian language dialects and archaeological evidence, however, has shown that people living in eastern Polynesia had extensive trade contacts throughout the early settlement period. To read about the first settlement of Tonga's Lapita people, go to "World Roundup: Tonga."

Shell Beads in Morocco May Be World’s Oldest

RABAT, MOROCCO—Science Magazine reports that perforated shells unearthed in western Morocco’s Bizmoune Cave may be 10,000 to 20,000 years older than early shell beads discovered in Israel’s Skhul Cave and Morocco’s Contrebandiers and El Mnasra caves. Similar shell beads have been recovered at other sites in the region and are thought to have been in widespread use. All but one of the 33 thumbnail-sized, oval mollusk shells in Bizmoune Cave were recovered from an ashy layer that also contained stone blades and scrapers, campfire charcoal, and bone fragments from wildebeest, gazelles, and zebras. Dating of stalagmites and flowstones at the same layer as the beads are thought to have formed at the same time the beads were made. The radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in the flowstone indicates it was formed between 120,000 and 171,000 years ago; the researchers suggest the shell beads are at least 142,000 years old. “North Africa has played a major role in the origins of symbolic behavior,” said Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Researchers think shell beads may have been used as personal adornments, to signal clan identity or partnerships, or as gifts to solidify bonds. To read about excavations at the medieval city of Aghmat, go to "Letter from Morocco: Splendor at the Edge of the Sahara."

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Friday, September 24

800-Year-Old Tomb Discovered in Peru

LIMA, PERU—The remains of eight people estimated to be 800 years old were discovered by workers laying gas pipes near Lima, according to an AFP report. The bodies, which included adults and children thought to have lived in the nearby ancient town of Chilca, had been wrapped in bundles of plant material before being placed in the mass grave. Archaeologist Cecilia Camargo said that shells had been placed on some of their heads, and some of them had bags for holding coca leaves, which can be chewed as a stimulant. Corn, dishes, and wind instruments such as flutes were also recovered. “It is an important find that gives us more information about the pre-Hispanic history of Chilca,” Camargo commented. To read about mass sacrifices of llamas and children at the site of Pampa la Cruz, go to "Peruvian Mass Sacrifice," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

600-Year-Old Muisca Jars Recovered in Colombia

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA—Live Science reports that archaeologist Francisco Correa and his colleagues discovered eight ceramic jars containing metal figurines and emeralds in a temple at a Muisca site in central Colombia during an investigation ahead of a road construction project. Many of the Muisca died when the Spanish conquered the region between 1537 and 1540. The jars, known as ofrendatarios, are estimated to be 600 years old. The figurines resemble snakes, other animals, and people wearing headdresses and carrying staffs and weapons. Correa said he thinks the temple may have been dedicated to a cult of the ancestors, or worship of gods associated with the moon and the sun. Ofrendatarios containing metal figurines and emeralds are often found at Muisca sites, he added. To read more about prehispanic Colombian metallurgy, go to "The Pink Standard." 

Human Footprints in North America Dated to 23,000 Years Ago

TUCSON, ARIZONA—According to a statement released by the University of Arizona, human footprints found in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park have been dated to 23,000 years ago. Jeff Pigati and Kathleen Springer of the U.S. Geological Survey radiocarbon dated seeds found above and below multiple layers of footprints left behind in stream beds at White Sands National Park over a 2,000-year period. The size of the footprints suggest they were made mainly by playing teenagers and younger children, but an occasional adult did visit the stream, said Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University. It had been previously thought that migrants waited to enter North America until the melting of the ice sheets opened up overland migration routes, but these new dates for the site’s oldest tracks show that people had arrived in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum. The prints of mammoths, giant sloths, and other extinct animals were also found, indicating that they shared the landscape with humans. To read about pre-Clovis peoples in the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Thursday, September 23

Long-Distance Trade Detected in Genomes of Siberian Dogs

MUNICH, GERMANY—According to a statement released by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), a team of researchers led by Laurent Frantz of LMU and Tatiana Feuerborn of the University of Copenhagen has analyzed the genomes of 49 dogs whose remains were unearthed at archaeological sites in Siberia and Eurasia. The study found an increase of genetic material from dogs from the Eurasian steppes and Europe in Siberian dogs between the Iron Age and the medieval period. Archaeologist Robert Losey of the University of Alberta explained that dogs, like other goods uncovered at Siberian archaeological sites, could have been traded as a means of transport, as hunting partners, and even as sources of food. In contrast, human genomes in Arctic Siberia during this period remained stable, with little input from non-Arctic populations. The mixing of Siberian dogs with imported dogs may have helped the animals make the transition from serving primarily as sledding dogs to herding reindeer as Siberian populations turned to pastoralism, explained Frantz. Eventually, modern Siberian dog lineages, such as the Samoyed, emerged from this population. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More than Man's Best Friend."

Composition of Stone Tools From Roman Morocco Analyzed

AUSTIN, TEXAS—According to a statement released by the University of Texas at Austin, a team of archaeologists and geoscientists analyzed a collection of stone fragments from mixing vats and millstones unearthed at Morocco’s ancient Roman city of Volubilis. The researchers discovered that specific types of rock had been chosen to improve the function of these tools. For example: grain millstones were made of volcanic basalt with sharp-edged pores, olive mills were made from limestone containing fragments of other rocks and small fossil shells, and dough mixers were made from limestone without such rough fragments. Jared Benton of Old Dominion University said the craftspeople who made the tools may have consulted with the workers who used them in order to make them more effective. The study also found that each rock type came from sources near Volubilis, when it had been previously thought that the basalt was imported from Italy. Benton thinks a single supplier may have been meeting the city’s industrial stone needs. To read about the archaeology of a once-bustling medieval city in Morocco, go to "Letter from Morocco: Splendor at the Edge of the Sahara." 

New Thoughts on Maya Pyramid in El Salvador

BOULDER, COLORADO—According to a Live Science report, the Campana structure, a Maya pyramid in El Salvador’s Zapotitán Valley, was built with cut stone, earth, and tephra ejected by the Tierra Blanca Joven eruption of the Ilopango caldera, which is located about 25 miles away. Recent radiocarbon dating of tree trunks in El Salvador indicates that the eruption occurred around A.D. 539. It had been previously thought that the Maya abandoned their settlements in the ash-covered region for centuries after the eruption, but archaeologist Akira Ichikawa of the University of Colorado Boulder said that the dating of carbon samples from the pyramid’s building materials suggests construction occurred between A.D. 545 and 570. Ichikawa thinks the inclusion of tephra in the pyramid could reflect the spiritual significance of volcanoes in Maya culture. To read about the only Maya city with an urban grid, go to "The City at the Beginning of the World."

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