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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 05

New Dates Obtained for Vindija Neanderthals

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologists Thibaut Devièse and Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford obtained new radiocarbon dates for Neanderthal bone fragments unearthed in Croatia’s Vindija Cave, according to a report in Science Magazine, by isolating and testing the amino acid hydroxyproline. Previous carbon dating of the Neanderthal remains in the late 1990s relied upon bone collagen, a gelatinous substance which can be contaminated by sediments. These earlier tests indicated the bones were between 29,000 and 34,000 years old, and suggest late-surviving Neanderthals shared the site with modern humans, whose remains and tools are also found in the cave. But the new dates indicate that Neanderthals used the cave some 40,000 years ago, or 8,000 years before modern humans lived in the region. “With this dating work, we are continuing our work to understand where and for how long the two species coexisted,” Devièse said. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Cache of Silver Coins Unearthed at Castle in Poland

WARSAW, POLAND—Eighteen silver coins dating to the seventeenth century were discovered in a defensive tower at Czluchów Castle in northwestern Poland, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. Michal Starski of the University of Warsaw said the valuable coins, which had been minted for foreign trade, may have been hidden during a period of war known as the Deluge, between 1655 and 1657, when the castle was captured by Swedish forces. “The Czluchów fortress resisted the Swedes for a long time,” Starski said. “The siege lasted for several months—ultimately, in the winter of 1655-56, when the surrounding lake fortress froze, the invaders captured it.” A similar cache of coins was found at a nearby cemetery in the beginning of the twentieth century. Starski thinks the coins may have come from the same collection. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”

Obsidian Artifacts Unearthed at Maya Site of Ceibal

CEIBAL, GUATEMALA—The International Business Times reports that 42 pieces of obsidian, or volcanic glass, were discovered in ritual contexts at the Maya site of Ceibal, which is located in the Maya lowlands. The artifacts date to the Preclassic period, between 700 and 350 B.C. In one grave, a long obsidian blade and an unshaped piece of obsidian rested with the remains of two sacrificed children, who had been buried facing each other. Another burial contained the remains of five children, all of whom were less than one year old. Four of the children’s bodies had been placed at the points of the compass, with a piece of obsidian buried at the center. The fifth child had been placed at the southwest corner. Caches of obsidian artifacts were also found in cross-shaped holes along the east-west axis of Ceibal’s public plaza. Kazuo Aoyama of Ibaraki University in Japan thinks the obsidian was transported from the highlands along early trade routes to Ceibal. Burying such rare, valuable tools would have been a significant sacrifice, according to Aoyama. For more, go to “Letter From Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

Friday, September 01

Roman Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Southeast England

WEST BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The International Business Times reports that archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology, assisted by volunteers, have uncovered the first half of a 1,600-year-old mosaic floor in a modest villa dating to the late fourth century A.D. So far, images in the large mosaic, which measures nearly 20 feet long, include a depiction of the the Greek hero Bellerophon attacking the Chimaera as he rides the winged horse Pegasus. Other scenes show King Iobates offering his daughter Philonoe to Bellerophon as a reward for killing the beast, which breathed fire and had a lion head affixed to the torso of a goat and the rear of a dragon, and a man wearing a lion skin, perhaps Hercules, fighting a centaur with a club. “The range of imagery is beyond anything seen in this country previously,” said archaeologist Duncan Coe. He notes, however, that the images lack the fine details of those executed by first-rate craftsmen. For more on Roman England, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

Ancient Sunken City Found Off the Coast of Tunisia

NABEUL, TUNISIA—Ruins of the ancient Roman city of Neapolis have been discovered off the northeast coast of Tunisia, according to an AFP report. Underwater archaeologists from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and Italy’s University of Sassari have found streets, monuments, and some 100 tanks that were used to produce garum, a popular fermented fish sauce. “This discovery has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major center for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest center in the Roman world,” said team leader Mounir Fantar. The city is thought to have been submerged during a tsunami in A.D. 365. For more, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

Thursday, August 31

Navy Scientists Weigh in on Sinking of Confederate Sub

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The Post and Courier reports that Navy scientists disagree with Duke University researchers, who claimed that the sailors aboard the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley were killed when their spar-mounted torpedo rammed Housatonic, a Union blockade ship. Paul Taylor, a spokesperson for the Naval History and Heritage Command, said Navy scientists have also tested the forces of the explosion, but concluded that the men were not seriously injured by them. And James Downs, former chief medical examiner for the state of Alabama, examined the men’s intact brains, and found no sign of trauma. Kellen Correia, president and executive director of Friends of the Hunley, said that the Duke University researchers lacked the data collected by scientists at Clemson University, where the submarine is being conserved, and other research institutions. Additional theories on what led to the deaths of the Hunley crew implicate a small hole in its forward conning tower; a lack of oxygen while waiting for the tide to change after the attack; a possible collision with USS Canandaigua, which came to rescue the survivors of the Housatonic explosion; and a breach in the ballast tank, perhaps as a result of the explosion. But Navy researchers point out that there are clues that support and contradict each of these theories as well. To read in-depth about H.L. Hunley, go to “History's Greatest Wrecks: USS Monitor and H.L. Hunley.”

Study Suggests Neanderthals Used Adhesives

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Paul Kozowyk of Leiden University and his colleagues suggest that Neanderthals pioneered the use of adhesives some 200,000 years ago, according to a report in Seeker. Neanderthals are known to have used tar to strengthen and waterproof the bindings between stone and bone tools and their handles. The team of researchers analyzed archaeological evidence for tar production at Neanderthal sites in Europe, and used the information to test three possible techniques developed by the early human relatives for producing tar by heating birch bark with embers and ash. Kozowyk said the different techniques varied in the amount of time and resources they required, and the amount of tar they produced as a result, and may have met different needs. It had been previously thought that adhesives were first produced by modern humans in Africa some 70,000 years ago. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Study Offers Insight Into Amazonia’s Earthworks

HELSINKI, FINLAND—It had been previously thought that Amazonia was populated by small hunter-gatherer societies who left little trace in the dense forest. But Pirjo Kirstiina Virtanen of the University of Helsinki has been studying large earthworks in Brazil that were built by the ancestors of the Apurina and Manchineri peoples as early as 3,000 years ago, according to a report in The International Business Times. Virtanen’s consultation with the Apurina and Manchineri suggests the structures were related to the changing pathways of the sun and moon. Along these pathways, people could communicate with animals, departed spirits, and celestial bodies. “What is important here is that the indigenous perspective is key,” Virtanen said. Some of the geoglyphs were used continually, and some used at different stages of life, such as puberty. The forms of the earthworks could also have meaning, such as the strength of the shape a square, and its connection to the four cardinal directions. When the sites were abandoned, they were swallowed by the forest, or houses and farms were built in them and around them. “The ancestral people here didn’t use stones or other materials, they simply moved the land,” Virtanen explained. For more on archaeology in South America, go to “A Life Story.”

Bones From Underwater Cave in Mexico Dated

HEIDELBERG, GERMANY—Nature News reports that human remains recovered from Mexico’s Chan Hol Cave are at least 11,300 years old, and could be more than 13,000 years old. A nearly complete skull and other human bones were discovered by divers in the underwater cave in 2012, but by the time scientists visited the cave a few weeks later, only fragments of bone remained on the cave floor, including a piece of pelvic bone covered by a stalagmite. Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of the University of Heidelberg dated the calcite surrounding the recovered piece of pelvic bone by analyzing its levels of uranium and thorium isotopes. Calcite two centimeters away from the bone was determined to be 11,300 years old. The rate at which the calcite formed suggests the skeleton had been on the cave floor for more than 13,000 years. The condition of the bone fragments has made it impossible to recover DNA samples from them, but Stinnesbeck is hopeful that the few teeth not removed by the thieves will produce usable genetic material. To read about the discovery of another ancient skeleton in a cave in Mexico, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”