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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.”


More Headlines
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.”

Wednesday, March 20

Roman Tile Factory Unearthed in Northern England

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—Cumbria Crack reports that a Roman tile factory and a medieval foundation and burial were discovered in the original path of a water pipeline in northwest England. Archaeologists had expected to find the remains of a medieval farm at the site. The medieval structure was built within the Roman one, perhaps as an outbuilding for the farm. The body was found within the outline of the medieval building. “Usually a grave cut can be seen during excavation, but here there was no evidence of one, suggesting the body may have been put into the rubble of the Roman building during the medieval period,” said archaeologist Phil Mann. Coins, pottery, and an oven that may have been used to make tiles for use in Roman under-floor heating systems were also uncovered. The tiles are thought to have been transported to a nearby Roman settlement and fort. The pipeline will be rerouted to preserve the site. To read about evidence of religious practice by Roman troops stationed at Hadrian's Wall found at a site in Cumbria, go to “The Ritual Landscape.”

Traces of York’s First Railway Station Uncovered

YORK, ENGLAND—Minster FM reports that traces of York’s first railroad station, which was built in 1840 for George Hudson’s York and North Midland Railway, have been uncovered in the city’s historic center during construction work. The structure, designed by architect George Townsend Andrews, was the terminus of a line that traveled to London. The station fell out of use in 1877 when a new station, which is still used today, opened nearby. A recently excavated train turntable that belonged to the original station will be included in the new construction plans. To read about remains of nineteenth-century train facilities unearthed in London, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

Song Dynasty Shipwreck In South China Sea Conserved

GUANGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 140,000 artifacts have been recovered from a Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279) shipwreck discovered in the South China Sea in 2007. Cui Yong of the Guangdong Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said the merchant ship measured about 72 feet long and about 30 feet wide. It carried a cargo of porcelain, gold, silver, copper, iron, bamboo, and lacquered wood items, as well as copper coins. The remains of plants and animals have also been found. The vessel itself has been moved to the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang, where it is being conserved. To read about an informative item recovered from a different Song Dynasty shipwreck, go to “Artifact.”