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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 25

New Thoughts on the Origins of Iron Smelting in Anatolia

TOKYO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a small lump of iron processed sometime between 2500 and 2250 B.C. may have been brought to Anatolia’s Kaman Kalehoyuk site from a distant land. Analysis conducted by Takafumi Matsui of the University of Tokyo indicates that the sample was not obtained from a meteor, as was some early iron, but was produced by the application of fire to iron ore. The composition of the lead in the sample, however, does not match that of iron ore found in the region. Similar lumps were found above a three-foot layer of scorched soil at the site. Traces of wood and mud buildings, which are unlike the sun-dried brick structures usually built in the region during this time period, were found on top of the scorched soil. “It shows that an ancient city that existed there was destroyed on a large scale, and then a group of people came to the area,” said Sachihiro Omura of the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology. He thinks these people may have brought iron-making technologies to Anatolia with them. “By making further comparisons with iron ore of other regions, we’d like to figure out where iron-making originated and clarify the key role played by Anatolia in the arrival of the Iron Age,” he explained. For more on archaeology in Anatolia, go to “Seals of Approval.”

Neolithic Jade Workshop Discovered in East China

HANGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a Neolithic jade workshop complex has been uncovered in east China. Researchers from the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said the complex, built by the Liangzhu culture, dates back some 4,500 years. They found 1,600 pieces of raw jade, and 200 pieces of finished and partially worked jade, in a dumping site placed on a mound. Whetstones for working jade, homes, and tombs were also found at the site. For more on the Liangzhu culture, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

2,500-Year-Old Pottery Fragment May Depict Jokester Deity

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Times of Israel, a Persian-period fragment of a pottery vessel bearing the image of a deity named Bes has been discovered in a refuse pit in City of David National Park. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained that Bes, a character from Egyptian mythology, was often depicted as a fat, bearded dwarf with googly eyes and a protruding tongue. The god was also sometimes portrayed as a slim jester wearing a feathered hat. Bes was thought to drive away evil spirits with laughter, and was considered the protector of households, children, mothers, and women giving birth. Similar Bes vessels have been found in Persian-period settlements along the Mediterranean coast, and are thought to have been carried there by Egyptian traders. This fragment, the first depiction of Bes discovered in Jerusalem, shows two wide-open eyes, a nose, one ear, and a corner of a mouth. To read about Bes' presence in tattoos, go to “Ancient Tattoos: Faience Figurine and Bowl.”


More Headlines
Friday, March 22

DNA Study Investigates Migrations to Canary Islands

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LA LAGUNA, SPAIN—According to a New York Times report, migrants from North Africa first arrived in the Canary Islands around A.D. 100, and inhabited all seven of the islands by A.D. 1000 at the latest. The study, conducted by population geneticist Rosa Fregel of the University of La Laguna and her colleagues, examined human mitochondrial DNA recovered from skeletons unearthed at 25 sites scattered over all of the Canary Islands, which are located off the coast of Morocco. “In the Canary Islands indigenous people, we find typical North African lineages, but also some other lineages with a Mediterranean distribution, and also some lineages that are of sub-Saharan African origin,” Fregel said. The researchers also found four new lineages unique to Gran Canaria and two of the eastern islands, suggesting there may have been at least two waves of migration, one of which was large enough to result in a great deal of genetic diversity. Europeans who traveled to the islands in the 1400s claimed the Canarians lacked navigational skills, leading to the suggestion that they may have been brought to the islands by Romans or Carthaginians. For more on the use of mitochondrial DNA in genetic studies, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

Which Came First, Big Gods or Big Societies?

KANAGAWA, JAPAN—Live Science reports that Patrick Savage of Keio University and his colleagues employed “Seshat,” a global history databank spanning the end of the Paleolithic period to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, to expand on the work of previous studies that looked at the relationship between belief in moralizing gods and the rise of complex societies. Authors of some smaller-scale studies have suggested that belief in moralizing gods and supernatural judgment helped shape emerging complex societies, while others have argued that belief in the threat of divine punishment appeared later in societies' development. Savage explained that the use of “Seshat” allowed his team members to take into account more than 50 measures of social complexity and four measures of belief in supernatural enforcement in more than 400 societies living in 30 different regions of the world over the past 10,000 years. The researchers found that belief in moralizing gods usually appeared after civilizations reached populations estimated at more than one million people. “It was particularly striking how consistent it was [that] this phenomenon emerged at the million-person level,” Savage said. “First, you get big societies, and these beliefs then come.” Religion, he added, may help stabilize large societies in which people live more anonymous lives, unlike small hunter-gatherer societies, in which everyone knows what everyone else is doing. To read about the nineteenth-century discovery of a tablet containing a story that was eerily similar to that of Noah in the Old Testament, go to “Cuneiform: Religion.”

Thursday, March 21

Imperial Palace Gate Uncovered in Central China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that the rammed-earth base of a fortified gate has been found in the ancient capital of Luoyang, at the site of an imperial palace dating to the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386–534). Liu Tao of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said historical records indicate that officials of the Northern Wei Dynasty would park their sedan chairs and carriages outside this gate before entering the palace’s main hall to see the emperor. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Tomb from a Lost Tribe.”

Bronze Age Stone Platform Found in Northwest China

URUMQI, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a large stone platform surrounded by polished stones has been discovered in northwest China at the Jartai Pass site, which dates to between 1600 and 1000 B.C. The stone platform measures nearly 1,300 square feet, and was built about one-half mile south of a 3,000-year-old residential area. Archaeologist Wang Yongqiang of the Xinjiang Uygur Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute said stone walls, pottery, animal bones, stone artifacts, and ash mixed with blocks of coal were uncovered within the structure. “The new findings are very important to [the] study [of] the history of the Kax River basin in the Bronze Age,” Wang added. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Seventeenth-Century Artifacts Unearthed in Connecticut

WETHERSFIELD, CONNECTICUT—Connecticut Magazine reports that artifacts dating to the time of the 1637 Wethersfield Indian Massacre, such as diamond-pane window glass, wampum beads, medicine and liquor bottles, ceramics, food remains, shells, nails, furniture hardware, buttons, and coins minted in the 1620s and 1630s have been unearthed in the historic town of Old Wethersfield, which is located in central Connecticut. Traces of a possible stockade wall have also been found. Sarah Sportman of the Public Archaeology Survey Team said the wall suggests the colonists were fearful of the Pequot, who lived in the area, while Charles Lyle of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum said the wampum suggests the two groups engaged in trade. By 1637, he said, the Indians were concerned about the region’s limited food supply, attacked the colonial settlement, and kidnapped two girls in an effort to convince the settlers to leave. The girls were returned, but the colonists retaliated, triggering the beginning of the Pequot War. It had been thought all evidence dating to the early seventeenth century at the site had been destroyed during later development. To read about the use of lidar to investigate the influence of humans on Connecticut's landscape, go to “Peeping through the Leaves. ”

4,000-Year-Old Burial Discovered in Northern England

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that construction workers uncovered the top stone slab of a Bronze Age cist in northern England, at the site of a hotel built in the eighteenth century. The human bones within the stone-lined burial chamber are estimated to be 4,000 years old. Archaeologist Roger Miket said a small flint knife was found by the skeleton’s legs. “It would have been a precious item at the time of the burial and was included in the grave for use in the afterlife,” he explained. To read in-depth about Northumberland's Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”