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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 30

Roman Legion’s Headquarters Found in Serbia

KOSTOLAC, SERBIA—Reuters reports that the headquarters of the VII Claudia Legion has been discovered in a farmer’s field in eastern Serbia, near what had been the Roman provincial capital of Viminacium. The Roman legion was active between the second and fifth centuries A.D. Archaeologist Miomir Korać said more than 100 such headquarters are recorded in historical documents, but most of them are now covered by modern cities. This principium had 40 rooms with heated walls, a treasury, a shrine, parade grounds, and a fountain, he added. Some 120 silver coins, thought to have been left behind during an invasion or natural disaster, were uncovered in one of the rooms. “The distribution of coins from a corner to the door…suggests they [the coins] spilled while someone was fleeing,” said archaeologist Nemanja Mrdjic. To read about a ship and dugout longboat discovered in a strip mine near Viminacium, go to "Roman River Cruiser."

New CT Scans Reveal Egyptian Mummy’s Secrets

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Stuart Stock of the University of Chicago and his colleagues examined computed X-ray tomography (CT) scans of a small Egyptian mummy decorated with a woman’s portrait, and found that it contained the remains of a five-year-old girl, according to a Live Science report. Known as “Hawara Portrait Mummy No. 4,” the mummy, which dates to the first century A.D., was discovered in the early twentieth century and is currently housed in the collection at Northwestern University. The team also used additional targeted, high-intensity X-rays to determine the chemical composition of materials used in the preparation of the mummy. More than 30 needle-like structures thought to have been inserted in the wrappings to stabilize them within the last 100 years were detected, along with an unusual layer of sediment, and a small, elliptical object made of calcite. Stock said this object may be an amulet placed on the body’s abdomen as a protection for the deceased in the afterlife because the body had been damaged during the process of mummification. A higher-resolution CT scan would be necessary to see the object in finer detail, however. “Every time you go into a study like this you get good answers,” Stock said. “But then you just raise more questions.” Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. To read about CT scans of mummies from around the world, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

How Did Neanderthals Use Their Thumbs?

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—Gizmodo reports that Neanderthal thumbs may have been better suited to squeezing grips, rather than the precision grips employed by modern humans, according to a study conducted by Ameline Bardo of the University of Kent. Bardo and her colleagues created 3-D maps of the joints in five Neanderthal hands and wrists in order to investigate the ways Neanderthals could move their thumbs. The researchers then compared the Neanderthal thumbs to those of five early modern humans and 50 modern people. The study suggests that the base of the Neanderthal thumb was flatter than that of modern humans, and it had a smaller contact surface. This grip, Bardo said, would have helped Neanderthals haft stone tools or grip stones to use as hammers, but would have made it more difficult for them to handle tools requiring a strong, precise grip with the pads of the finger and thumb. “If you were to shake a Neanderthal hand you would notice this difference,” she added. “There would be confusion over where to place the thumb, and for a thumb fight I think you would win in terms of speed and movement.” Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports. To read about a piece of cord fashioned by Neanderthals more than 40,000 years ago, go to "Twisted Neanderthal Tech."

Jeweled Beetle Wing Ornament Unearthed in Japan

FUKUOKA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an ornamental piece of a horse’s harness has been recovered from an offering pit situated next to the Bunabaru burial mound, which is located near the northern coast of the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. The mound has been dated to the late sixth or early seventh century A.D. The ornament, known as a gyoyo, measures about four inches wide and consists of a layer of about 20 jewel beetle wings sandwiched between an iron base plate and upper heart-shaped open-carved plate of gilt bronze. This is the first time such an item has been unearthed in Japan, but pieces of tack decorated with beetle wings have been previously found in South Korea, in royal Silla burial mounds. Naoto Isahaya of Kyoto Prefectural University suggests that these ornaments may have been made in Silla with jewel beetles imported from Japan’s warmer climate. The person buried in the Bunabaru burial mound may have been a diplomat to the Silla kingdom, added Yusuke Momosaki of Fukuoka University. The gyoyo may have been received as a gift, he explained. To read about clay dolls unearthed at a Silla palace in South Korea, go to "Doll Story."

Turkey Feather Blanket from the American Southwest Analyzed

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—According to a statement released by Washington State University, a team of researchers including Bill Lipe and Shannon Tushingham analyzed a turkey feather blanket thought to have been crafted by Ancestral Pueblo people some 800 years ago in the Upland Southwest. Such blankets would have provided warmth as people expanded into colder regions, Lipe explained. The researchers determined that the blanket, which measures about 42 inches long and 39 inches wide, was produced by wrapping some 11,500 downy feathers around nearly 200 yards of yucca fiber cord. An examination of wild turkey pelts suggests it would have taken the feathers of four to ten turkeys, depending upon the size of the feathers, to produce a blanket of this size. But the feathers were likely to have been collected from domesticated birds during their natural molting periods, Lipe said. Turkeys may have been treated as individuals important to the household, he added, since their remains are often found intact and intentionally buried at Ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites predating A.D. 1100 to 1200. To read about an Ancestral Pueblo tattoo needle found in Utah, go to "Artifact."


More Headlines
Wednesday, November 25

Possible Graves Spotted at Historic Black Church Site in Virginia

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The Washington Post reports that the tops of two possible grave shafts have been found at the site of Colonial Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church, a congregation founded by free and enslaved African Americans in 1776. The graves are in an area of the church property traditionally thought to hold burials. Community members at a recent online meeting expressed interest in investigating the identity of the occupants of the graves. Many current members of the church are descendants of past members. “They are wanting to know who those people are so that they can correctly memorialize and mark their graves,” commented Connie Matthews Harshaw, president of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation of the current First Baptist Church congregation. Jack Gary, director of archaeology for Colonial Williamsburg, thinks additional unmarked grave shafts could be found. “This story is familiar to everybody who’s African American that has not been able to wrap their arms around their history,” Harshaw added. “It’s pretty emotional.” To read about a tombstone belonging to one of the Jamestown colony's early governors, go to "Knight Watch."

Medieval Christian Grave “Pillow” Unearthed in Bulgaria

VELIKO TARNOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers have found a thirteenth-century grave in the wall of a monastery church in the Frankish quarter of Tarnovgrad, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. A block engraved with Christian scripture verses written in Old Bulgarian and a two-barred cross was found under the head of the grave’s occupant. “Such ‘underhead’ [or pillow] bricks were placed beneath the heads of members of the senior clergy in their graves,” said archaeologist Hitko Vachev. “At this point, there is no way to say with absolute certainty who the buried man was but it can be assumed that he was at least Father Superior of the monastery. There is a hypothesis that he was one of the Bulgarian Patriarchs. It is possible that he was a senior clergyman named Yoan [Ivan, John] who had requested that a quote from the Holy Gospel of John be placed beneath his head in his grave.” The verses on the block were translated by Kazimir Popkonstantinov of Veliko Tarnovo University, who cautioned that a study of the man’s clothing and crozier, or staff, would be necessary to determine his status in the church hierarchy. To read about a Byzantine icon fragment unearthed at the fortress of Rusokastro in southeastern Bulgaria, go to "Iconic Discovery."

Looted Ancient Egyptian Carving Repatriated

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—A looted limestone relief dated to between 712 and 332 B.C. has been handed over to the Egyptian consulate in New York, according to an Ahram Online report. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of the Antiquities Restitution Department said the tablet, which was spotted for sale on the internet by Egypt’s Antiquities Repatriation Department, is thought to have been illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country in 2019 with forged export documents. The relief depicts a man named Padi-Sena with the two gods Horus and Hathor. To read about an ancient African capital on the Nile, go to "A Nubian Kingdom Rises."

Early Bronze Age Goddess Statue Uncovered in Central Turkey

ANKARA, TURKEY—Yeni Şafak reports that more goddess statues have been discovered in central Anatolia, at the site of Kültepe, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kanesh. Fikri Kulakoğlu of Ankara University said that the largest of the 4,200-year-old statues unearthed this excavation season stands about 17 inches tall. “No idols of men have been found so far,” he added. “The women statues are naked and have a decorated throne, and there are braids on their back.” The statues are likely to be connected to religious beliefs in the region, Kulakoğlu explained. To read more about the site of Kanesh, go to "The Mesopotamian Merchant Files."

Tuesday, November 24

Evidence Links Hallucinogen Use and California Rock Art

PRESTON, ENGLAND—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire have found evidence that the Chumash people ingested hallucinogens at a rock art site in California some 400 years ago. Known as Pinwheel Cave, the rock art features an image of a pinwheel and a moth drawn with ochre. Examination of quids recovered from the cave ceiling with 3-D digital microscopy revealed that the lumps of matted plant fibers had indentations likely to have been made by chewing. Chemical analysis showed that the quids contained the hallucinogenic compounds atropine and scopolamine, which are produced by Datura, a plant also known as jimsonweed and angel trumpet. The pinwheel-shaped flower is twisted up during the day, but it unfurls at dusk and dawn for visiting insects such as the hawk moth, which is known for “loopy” flight after ingesting Datura nectar. The scientists then viewed the quids through a scanning electron microscope, and identified all of the quids but one as Datura flowers. The rock art, Robinson explained, probably “set the scene” for the shared tradition of taking the hallucinogen in the cave. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To read about a 1,000-year-old bundle unearthed in Bolivia that contained psychotropic substances, go to "Half in the Bag."

Medieval Metalworking Site Found in Poland

PONIATY WIELKIE, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that some 200 metal artifacts, a kiln, storage pits, furnaces, slag, and wells have been found at an unfortified medieval settlement site in east-central Poland. The site may have served as a regional metallurgical center between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. “Such wealth is rare in open settlements from this period, in this part of Mazovia and beyond,” said archaeologist Jakub Affelski of the Mazovian Provincial Conservator of Monuments. The metal objects include a piece of lead plate engraved with a face motif that may have been used as a seal; a copper-alloy, highly detailed face-shaped ornament equipped with mounting holes; and an encolpion, a capsule worn on the chest by Christians to hold holy relics or scripture quotations, he added. All of the artifacts will be conserved and displayed at the regional museum. For more on medieval archaeology in Poland, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

Islamic Cemetery Investigated in Northeastern Spain

TAUSTE, SPAIN—CNN reports that more than 4,500 graves have been identified at a cemetery in northeastern Spain, in an area thought to have been largely untouched by the Arab invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century A.D. Radiocarbon dating suggests the necropolis was in use from the eighth century through the eleventh century A.D. Miriam Pina Pardos of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste said that more than 400 of the graves have been exhumed, and all of the bodies had been buried facing southeast toward Mecca, according to Islamic customs. “We can see there was a big Muslim population here in Tauste from the beginning of the presence of Muslims in Spain,” explained archaeologist Eva Gimenez. “It is very important—the 400 Muslim tombs show the people lived here for centuries.” To read about medieval Muslim burials in Nimes, France, go to "Islam North of the Pyrenees."

Scientists Study West Africa’s Paleolithic Tools

JENA, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, a team of researchers led by Khady Niang of Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar has reexamined artifacts collected from Tiémassas, a Paleolithic site located in Senegal near the interface of forest, savannah, and mangrove habitats on the west coast of Africa. The scientists then conducted new excavations at Tiémassas, and dated what they found, in order to better understand the occupation of West Africa during the Middle Stone Age. The stone tool assemblages were dated to between 62,000 and 25,000 years ago. Niang explained that these assemblages are distinct and consistent with one another, allowing the researchers to use them to date tools unearthed in earlier excavations and each phase of occupation. Team member Jimbob Blinkhorn added that this continuity at Tiémassas contrasts with the technological changes observed at East African sites within the same time period. To read about Neolithic artifacts uncovered in a Dakar suburb, go to "World Roundup: Senegal."