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Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 17

Sarmatian Kurgan Discovered in Russia

NIKOLSKOYE, RUSSIA—A farmer who discovered a kurgan on his property in southwestern Russia alerted archaeologist Georgiy Stukalov of the Astrakhan State Museum and his team, according to a Live Science report. Their excavation revealed that the kurgan had been looted in antiquity, but still contained three human skeletons, a horse skull, a harness, weapons, gold jewelry, and a bronze cauldron. The three individuals are thought to have been buried in wooden coffins some 2,500 years ago and to have belonged to a group of nomads known as the Sarmatians, who later migrated to eastern and central Europe. The artifacts and bones will be analyzed at the Astrakhan State Museum. To read about another recent discovery in southwestern Russia, go to “Hellenistic Helmet Safety.”

Rock Art in Australia May Depict 19th-Century British Ship

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—Mirage News reports that an image of an early nineteenth-century British naval ship has been found scratched into a boulder on an island in the Dampier Archipelago, off the coast of Western Australia. Peter Veth of the University of Western Australia and rangers from the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation Land and Sea Unit found the rock art during a survey of the area in 2017. The image is thought to depict HMC Mermaid, a cutter captained by Phillip Parker King during his survey of the continent’s coastlines between 1817 and 1822. The ship’s crew of researchers, which included an Aboriginal man from Sydney named Boongaree and botanist Allan Cunningham, also wrote about the Yaburara people’s traditional lifeways. The image was probably created by King or members of his crew, according to Jo McDonald of the University of Western Australia. For more on rock art in Australia, go to “Off the Grid: Kakadu National Park.”

DNA Extracted From Sweden’s Prehistoric “Chewing Gum”

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, scientists have recovered DNA from pieces of birch bark chewed into sticky pitch by toolmaking hunters and fishers some 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists Per Persson and Mikael Manninen of the University of Oslo found the chewed bits of “gum” at a Mesolithic campsite on Sweden’s west coast, and asked Natalija Kashuba, then a researcher at Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, to check them for genetic material. Although the style of artifacts at the site suggests the people who camped there came from the east, in what is now Russia, the DNA analysis indicates the two women and one man who chewed on these pieces of bark actually came from Europe, to the south. Persson explained that DNA obtained from such gums at other sites could offer information about migration patterns, relationships, diseases, and food preferences. To read about an engraved pendant dating to around the same period, go to “Mesolithic Markings.”

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Thursday, May 16

Tooth Study Suggests Earlier Neanderthal-Modern Human Split

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a Science News report, Neanderthals and modern humans split from a common ancestor more than 800,000 years ago, or significantly earlier than previously thought. Paleoanthropologist Aida Gómez-Robles of University College London calculated the rate of changes in tooth shape for eight ancient hominid species, and then examined 430,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth recovered from Sima de los Huesos, a site in Spain. Based upon the steady rate of change of tooth crowns in the other hominid species, she determined that the distinctive shape of the Neanderthal teeth began forming between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago. Analysis of Neanderthal DNA has suggested the last common ancestor of the two species lived between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago, but researchers do not agree on the speed of genetic mutations, or how consistent that change may have been over time. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

New Dates for Florida’s Ancient, Underwater Burial Site

SARASOTA, FLORIDA—The Herald Tribune reports that a Native American burial ground located off Florida’s Manasota Key is about 8,000 years old, or some 1,000 years older than previously thought. Ryan Duggins of the Bureau of Archaeological Research for the Florida Department of State said the site, which was discovered in 2016, was once a shallow, freshwater burial pond that was used for about 1,000 years before it was innundated by the rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Surveys in 2017 revealed a six-foot-deep bed of peat containing human remains, an infilled river channel, and three infilled springs. Charred wood at the northern end of the site has been dated to between 8,949 and 8,200 years ago. For more, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Altar Dedicated to Nemesis Uncovered in Mytilene

LESBOS, GREECE—According to The Greek Reporter, a temple dedicated to Nemesis, a goddess who enacted retribution against those guilty of foolish pride, was discovered in an entrance to the ancient theater in Mytilene, a port city on the Greek island of Lesbos. The temple is thought to date to the first century A.D., as is a later construction phase of the theater, which had room for at least 10,000 attendants. Pavlos Triantafyllides of the Lesvos Ephorate said the temple, which was identified by its altar and dedicatory inscriptions, was placed near an arena dedicated to gladiator combat. “As their contests had to conclude with the serving of justice and the awarding of victory to the best gladiator,” Triantafyllides explained, “the existence of a temple dedicated to Nemesis was obligatory.” To read about another discovery in Greece, go to “A Bronze Age Landmark.”

Wednesday, May 15

Paleolithic Footprints Studied in Italian Cave

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A team of researchers led by Marco Romano of the University of the Witwatersrand used laser scans, sediment analysis, geochemistry, archaeobotany, and 3-D modeling to analyze 180 footprints discovered in northern Italy’s Grotta della Bàsura in the 1950s, according to a Live Science report. The evidence suggests that some 14,000 years ago, a group of two adults, one preteen, and two children—aged six and three—entered the cave barefoot while carrying bundles of burning pine sticks to light their way. As they traveled through the cave, they crouched and crawled when the ceiling was too low to walk upright. At times, they moved in single file, with the youngest bringing up the rear. “[They] walked very close to the side wall of the cave,” Romano said, “a safer approach also used by other animals (e.g. dogs and bears) when moving in a poorly lit and unknown environment.” The group eventually reached the cave’s final room, where Roman said the children smeared clay from the cave floor on a stalagmite, at different levels according to their height. Charcoal on the walls is thought to have been left by their torches, he added. To read more about cave archaeology in Italy, go to “Ice Age Necropolis.”

Romans May Have Repaired Roads with Molten Iron

AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Live Science reports that Eric Poehler of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, independent researcher Juliana van Roggen, and Benjamin Crowther of the University of Texas at Austin suggest iron droplets, spatters, and stains found on Pompeii’s streets are evidence of ancient road repairs. Over decades, the repeated passage of carts on the city’s stone-paved streets eroded away ruts and holes that made travel difficult. The researchers said complete repaving of the streets would have been difficult and expensive, and would have blocked important routes through the city for months at a time. Molten iron, however, when poured, would have filled the holes and ruts and hardened into a smooth surface. Stone and ground-up pieces of terracotta may also have been placed in the holes. Poehler explained that the small amounts of iron that team members identified on the streets may have been spilled as slaves carried molten iron from furnaces to ruts and holes in need of repair. The researchers plan to analyze the chemical composition of the iron next, in order to determine where it was mined. To read more about the archaeology of Pompeii, go to “Return to Pompeii.” 

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