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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, December 14

2,500-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered on Tiny Indonesian Island

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that 2,500-year-old cave art depicting boats, dogs, horses, and people has been discovered on the small Indonesian island of Kisar. In some of the images, the people are holding what may be shields, while in other scenes, they are playing drums or perhaps performing ceremonies. The artwork is small in size, like the drawings found on the neighboring island of Timor, according to Sue O’Connor of Australia National University. The images also resemble those found on metal drums made in northern Vietnam and southwest China and traded throughout the region some 2,500 years ago. For more on cave art in Indonesia, go to “The First Artists.”

Face of 17th-Century Scottish Soldier Reconstructed

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The Northern Echo reports that the face of one of 1,700 Scottish soldiers imprisoned in Durham after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 has been digitally reconstructed by FaceLab experts at Liverpool John Moores University. Researchers from Durham University led by Chris Gerrard have been studying the remains of the soldiers since they were recovered from a mass grave in 2013. The skull of this man, known as “Skeleton 22,” was carefully reassembled and scanned, then combined with information gleaned from his dental calculus, and his age and anatomy, in order to create the 3-D image. The process revealed a previously unidentified scar on the soldier’s forehead. He is shown wearing a Scottish soldier’s typical gear, including a blue bonnet, and a brown jacket and shirt. The team had previously determined that the soldier was between the ages of 18 and 25 at the time of death, experienced periods of poor nutrition during his childhood, and had lived in southwest Scotland during the 1630s. The soldiers’ remains will eventually be reburied at the Elvet Hill Road Cemetery in Durham City. To read in-depth about the Scottish soldiers imprisoned in Durham, go to “After the Battle.”

Roman Engineering Revealed in Corinth’s Ancient Harbor

ATHENS, GREECE—According to a report in The Guardian, members of the Lechaion Harbor Project are investigating structures built by the Romans in 44 B.C. in Lechaion, the ancient port of Corinth. Foundations of two large structures are visible in the outer harbor, but most of the ancient port is covered with sediment. The researchers suggest that by the first century A.D., large moles and quays had been built in the harbor basins with five-ton stone blocks. Pieces of wooden caissons and pilings used as foundations have also been found under the sediments. These remains can help archaeologists understand the Roman engineering process. An island in the middle of the inner basin may have served as a religious sanctuary, the base of a large statue, or a customs office. Seeds, bones, part of a wooden pulley, anchors, fishhooks, and ceramics from Italy, Tunisia, and Turkey have also been recovered. To read recent underwater excavations at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece, go to “Bronze Beauty.”

Artifacts Recovered in Aswan Excavations

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that archaeological teams working with Egyptian archaeologists in the Aswan area have unearthed four intact burials of children in Gebel El-Silsila, a cemetery dating to the First Intermediate Period at Kom Ombo, and a statue thought to depict the Greek goddess Artemis in the old town of Aswan. Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that Maria Nilsson and Swedish researchers discovered the children’s tombs, which yielded a mummy in linen wrappings, traces of wooden coffins, and funerary furniture, including amulets and pottery. The tombs date to the 18th Dynasty, between 1550 and 1292 B.C. In Kom Ombo, Austrian researchers uncovered mudbrick tombs, pottery, and other grave goods in a cemetery dating to between 2181 and 2055 B.C. The cemetery had been built on top of an older one, as well as an Old Kingdom town. Abdel Moneim Saeed, general director of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, added that a mission headed by Swiss Egyptologist Wolfgang Muller found a statue missing its head, feet, and right hand. The figure’s dress resembles that worn by Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, procreation, and virginity, who had been combined with the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Bastet. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

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Wednesday, December 13

Ireland’s Genetic Map May Reflect Historic Events

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of Irish, British, and American researchers identified ten genetic clusters in the modern Irish population that accord roughly with ancient boundaries. The 194 Irish individuals in the sample each had ties to specific regions dating back four generations. And although the differences between the groups were “really subtle,” the clusters seemed to reflect either the borders of Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht—the four Irish provinces—or the land's historical kingdoms. Geographical divisions created by mountains may also have played a role. “The likelihood is that it’s a combination of these things—a little bit of geography combined with wars or rivalry generates kinship in each distinct area,” said Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The tests also detected Norwegian-like ancestry in some of the samples, which could reflect the presence of Vikings on the island. Cavalleri noted, however, that if the Vikings carried a large number of Irish individuals back to Norway, it could have reduced the genetic differences between the two groups. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”  

Blunt-Force Trauma Studied in Neolithic Skulls

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that Meaghan Dyer of the University of Edinburgh investigated a possible cause of injuries found on Neolithic skulls unearthed in western and central Europe. Sometimes the head wounds showed signs of healing, while in other instances they had been fatal. A replica wooden club, based upon one discovered in waterlogged soil on the banks of the Thames River in London and radiocarbon dated to around 3500 B.C., was crafted for the experiment. Dyer described the weapon as a “very badly made cricket bat” with a heavy tip. The club was then swung at synthetic skull models by a 30-year-old man in good health, who was instructed to fight as if he were in battle. The fractures he inflicted upon the skull models resemble those seen on the Neolithic remains. One in particular closely matched an injury found on a skull unearthed at a massacre site in Austria dated to 5200 B.C. Dyer concluded the beater “very clearly is lethal.” The study could lead to the re-evaluation of some ancient injuries that had been attributed to falls and accidents. For more, go to 10,000-Year-Old Turf War.

Archaeological Sites in Afghanistan Found With Satellite Imagery

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers are using images taken by commercial and United States government satellites and military drones to look for archaeological sites in areas of Afghanistan that are too dangerous for fieldwork. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership has tripled the number of recorded archaeological features in Afghanistan to more than 4,500. Among the discoveries, the team members have identified 119 caravanserais dating to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. These vast mudbrick buildings, which each had room to shelter hundreds of travelers and thousands of camels, lined routes linking Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Empire, located in what is now Iran, and the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. It had been thought that land travel declined after the Portuguese developed trade routes across the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. “But this shows a huge infrastructure investment of the Safavids a century later,” said Kathryn Franklin of the University of Chicago. To read about another recent discovery made using aerial and satellite imagery, go to “Hot Property.”

Tuesday, December 12

Maori Obsidian Use Explored

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—The New Zealand Herald reports that Caleb Gemmell of the University of Auckland used data on obsidian artifacts unearthed at pre–European contact Maori sites on the North Island to explore possible ways the Maori traveled throughout New Zealand. Previous testing had determined where the material originated. The study suggests that distinct communities of Maori were obtaining obsidian from different sources, even though they may have been geographically close to each other. “This suggests that simple economic explanations for obtaining obsidian based on the distance of an archaeological site to an obsidian source were not valid, and more interesting social factors were coming into play,” Gemmell said. For more, go to “Obsidian and Empire.”

Medieval Grave Excavated in Southern Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers led by Maya Martinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology found an arrow in the chest area of a skeleton dating to the eleventh or twelfth century A.D. at the site of the Antiquity Odeon, which was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for theatrical performances. The site was used as a cemetery during the medieval period, when the city of Plovdiv changed hands between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire several times. Archaeologists do not know if the arrow killed the person in the grave, or if it was placed there as a funeral gift for a warrior. Scientists from Plovdiv Medical University will try to help answer that question. The researchers will also try to determine the person’s age, gender, and health status at the time of death. The excavation is being conducted prior to the conservation and renovation of the city’s archaeological park. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Ritual Vessels Discovered in 3,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, a 3,100-year-old tomb in a necropolis in northwest China has yielded a collection of heavily decorated bronze ceremonial vessels. Researchers led by Zhankui Wang of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology think the tomb’s occupant may have been a high-ranking chief or chief’s spouse. The vessels may have been spoils of war, since at the time of the burial, the Zhou people were at war with a rival dynasty. The vessels are thought to have been used to serve food during ceremonies. Among the containers are two wine vessels shaped like deer and a four-handled bronze tureen covered with 192 spikes, engravings of dragons and birds, and images of bovine heads. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

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