Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 24

Switzerland Repatriates Ancient Coins to Serbia

BERN, SWITZERLAND—Expatica reports that Yves Fischer of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture handed over more than 500 coins dating to the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods to Danijela Vanusic, Serbia’s deputy minister of culture. The coins had been listed online, and Swiss officials seized them before they were sold. A second-century sesterce bearing the likeness of the Roman Empress Faustina, and a gold solidus depicting the Byzantine emperor Heraclius dating to the seventh century are among the recovered coins. For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

New Thoughts on Shovel-Shaped Teeth

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—A genetic mutation linked to shovel-shaped incisors may have had a more consequential impact on breastfeeding, according to a report in Science Magazine. Researchers led by Leslea Hlusko of the University of California-Berkeley suggest a genetic mutation that became prevalent among the ancestors of Native Americans some 20,000 years ago may have helped them survive the dark, cold Arctic climate of Beringia by enhancing mothers’ milk ducts and increasing the amount of fat and vitamin D passed to infants. This gene is also linked to growth of thicker hair, increased development of sweat glands, and the shift to shovel-shaped incisors. The gene mutation is thought to have first occurred some 30,000 years ago in China, which had a hot, humid climate, leading researchers to speculate that the increased sweat glands offered a particular advantage. Hlusko says the shovel-shaped incisors seen in both East Asians and Native Americans were incidental to the benefits brought by natural selection through the sweat glands and improved infant nutrition. It had been previously thought that the shovel-shaped incisors themselves provided some sort of benefit to early Native Americans since their presence was widespread in known populations. For more, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

Denmark's Roman-Era Burial Rites

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Science Nordic report, chicken and geese served as status symbols in Denmark during the Early and Late Roman Iron Age, ranging from the first through the fourth centuries A.D. Graves in Denmark from the period that contained hens also contained valuable artifacts, while expensive imported Roman goods were only found in graves that contained geese. “In the Roman Empire, hens and geese were a common burial gift, while in Denmark they were new and exotic species,” explained Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen of the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. Gotfredsen also pointed out that chicken and goose bones were not found among domestic waste. Geese were considered holy in Roman culture, added Mogens Bo Henriksen of Odense City Museums, because they represented the goddess Juno, who was married to Jupiter, the supreme god of the Roman pantheon. To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to “Messengers to the Gods.”

Scientists Evaluate Claims of Carib Cannibalism

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of researchers led by Reg Murphy of Syracuse University is looking for evidence of the foods eaten by the Caribs who lived on a 12-acre site in Indian Creek on the island of Antigua from about A.D. 1300 until they were displaced by Europeans. Colonial-era historians claimed that the Caribs were cannibals who wiped out the Arawak people who had inhabited Antigua before them. The excavation has uncovered tiny bones, pollen, and stone tools bearing residues of fish and corn. “From analyzing their diet we have found no evidence that Caribs ever ate humans,” Murphy said. The researchers are now investigating why the Caribs and Arawaks chose to live in an inland area, away from marine resources, for some 2,000 years. “We don’t know what was so special about here, or how they could have survived in this scrubby area,” Murphy said. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Tracing Slave Origins.”


More Headlines
Monday, April 23

Footprints Suggest Early Humans May Have Walked Upright

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary anthropologist David Raichlen of the University of Arizona led a team of researchers who compared footprints made by volunteers and those left some 3.6 million years ago in Laetoli, Tanzania, by members of the genus Australopithecus. Some of the volunteers walked normally, and some walked with bent knees and bent hips, otherwise known as BKBH. Raichlen suggests the Australopithecus footprints resemble those made by modern human upright walkers. “Upright, humanlike bipedal walking goes back four to five million years,” he said. To read about previous research on the Laetoli footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

Researchers Return to Wreckage of Australia’s First Sub

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to ABC News, a team of Australian and American researchers has returned to the site of HMAS AE1, discovered last December near Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York Island, to create a 3-D map of the World War I wreckage site. The vessel, Australia’s first submarine, and its crew of 35 were lost in September 1914 while patrolling the area for German naval vessels. Rear Admiral Peter Briggs said the submarine’s stern cap, on the rear torpedo tube, had been fully opened. “It’s certainly a deliberate action from the crew,” he said. “It requires quite a few turns on a hand wheel to physically open it, it’s the first step in preparing a torpedo tube for firing.” The researchers suggest the crew may have been prepared for an encounter with a German ship when it ran into trouble on a dive and was crushed by water pressure, but they will continue to examine the high-definition video of the wreckage to try to determine what happened. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Shrine and Sculpture Unearthed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that excavations in Upper Egypt have uncovered a fragment of a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius and a shrine dedicated to Osiris. While working to reduce the level of water under the Kom Ombo temple in Aswan, archaeologists discovered the sculpture of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities described the head as having wavy hair and a beard. The rare depiction of the emperor, who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180, will be cleaned and conserved. At the Karnak Temple in Luxor, archaeologists discovered the entrance, foundation, columns, inner walls, and floor paving stones to a shrine dedicated to Osiris-Ptah-Neb. It is thought to have been constructed during Egypt’s Late Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., and to have been expanded during later periods. Essam Nagy, head of the excavation, said pottery, statues, and a relief depicting a sheep and a goose and bearing the names of the kings Taharka and Tanut Amun, the last ruler of the 25th Dynasty, were also recovered. To read in-depth about Egyptian tomb paintings, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

Friday, April 20

When Did Humans First Use Symbols?

AARHUS, DENMARK—According to a report in Science Magazine, cognitive scientist Kristian Tylén of Aarhus University led a team of scientists who investigated the possibility that markings found on rocks at sites in South Africa could have been used as symbols by early humans. If the marks, which ranged in age from 52,000 to 109,000 years old, were made as decorations, Tylén reasoned, modern humans should be able to recognize the patterns, and if the marks had been reproduced as local cultural traditions to convey meaning, they should still be memorable. The scientists took 24 images found on stones and shells in Blombos Cave and another site in South Africa, cleaned them up, and showed them to 65 Danish university students, who were asked to distinguish between the marks and reproduce them after a brief glimpse. Tylén’s team found that the students were better able to remember and reproduce the more recent markings, but they were not able to distinguish them from each other, or sort them into groupings based upon where they had been found. Thus, Tylén thinks it is unlikely the markings were made as symbols with individual meanings. To read more about research at Blombos Cave, go to "In Style in the Stone Age." 

Traces of Neolithic Henge Exposed

  RAUNDS, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a Neolithic monument known as Cotton Henge, which was discovered through the use of aerial photography in the 1970s, has been completely exposed for study in advance of a construction project in Northamptonshire. The henge’s outer ditch measures about 330 feet in diameter, and although the henge never contained any standing stones, it did have associated external banks. Researchers led by archaeologist Liz Mordue of Northamptonshire County Council discovered a possible entranceway to the enclosure on the southern side of the outer ditch. It may have been closed as a way of marking the end of its use. No entrance has been found in the inner ditch. The structure is thought to have been part of a Neolithic ceremonial landscape on the floodplain of the River Nene. To read more about the British Isles during that period, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Dragon Tiles Recovered in Vietnam

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnam Net reports that recent excavations in Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel of Thang Long have uncovered traces of large buildings dating from about A.D. 1000 to 1400 in an area to the east of the Kinh Thien Palace. The researchers uncovered the stone bases of columns and foundations, building and perimeter walls, courtyards, and drainage structures. They also unearthed pieces of the palace’s distinctive roof tiles shaped like dragons and decorated with bright yellow and green enamel. Archaeologist Tong Trung Tin said the dragon-shaped tiles, which date to the early Le Dynasty (A.D. 980 to 1009), “are exactly how they have been described in history.” The line of tubular “body” tiles began with a dragon’s head and ended with its tail. The beasts on the roof of the king’s palace had legs and feet with five claws each, while the dragons on the crown prince’s palace sported legs and feet with four claws. The excavation team members also found pottery from the Mac Dynasty dating to the early sixteenth century, but no traces of Mac architecture. Tin says this reflects the historic record, which suggests Mac Dynasty rulers repaired the palaces of their predecessors, rather than building new ones. The palace was eventually torn down by French colonialists. To read more about archaeology in Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Laos: A Singular Landscape."

New Dates Reveal North America’s Oldest-Known Dogs

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Dog remains recovered at two archaeological sites in Illinois have been dated to 10,000 years ago, according to a report in Science News. Angela Perri of Durham University said the three dogs had been buried individually, and that their bones did not bear any stone tool marks, which suggests they had died of natural causes. Examination of the animals’ lower jaws and teeth indicate that one of the dogs, from the Stilwell II site, and one of the dogs from the Koster site, resembled modern wolves. The second dog from Koster shared traits with today’s coyotes. The previously oldest-known dogs in North America lived some 9,300 years ago, before they were eaten by people living in what is now Texas. To read about the earliest New World settlers, go to "The First Americans."