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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 26

Traces of Ancient Tsunami Studied in Southwest Pacific

AITAPE, PAPUA NEW GUINEA—Geologist James Goff of the University of New South Wales and anthropologist John Terrell of the Field Museum in Chicago analyzed sediment samples from the site where a 6,000-year-old skull was discovered embedded in a creek bank some seven miles from the northern coast of Papua New Guinea in 1929. According to a report in The New York Times, the researchers compared features of the sediments to those of some collected after the devastating tsunami that killed more than 2,000 people in Papua New Guinea in 1998. They found microscopic, fossilized deep sea diatoms, which indicate that ocean water had inundated the area, and geochemical signals that matched those recorded after the tsunami of 1998. “Yes, this was a tsunami,” Goff said. “And yes, this is most probably a tsunami victim, and he or she is the oldest one we know.” For more, go to “World Roundup: Papua New Guinea.”

Iron-Age Village Unearthed in Denmark

JELLING, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that traces of almost 400 houses dating to between A.D. 300 and 600 have been unearthed in southern Denmark, in an area where Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark, settled in the tenth century. Katrine Balsgaard Juul of The Vejle Museums said the wooden houses measured, on average, about 110 feet long by 20 feet wide. She thinks many of the village residents were farmers, but evidence of skilled iron and pottery production were also found. Further investigation of the village could offer clues to why Harald Bluetooth chose Jelling as his power center. For more, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Possible Time Capsule Unearthed at Jamestown

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—According to a report in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, archaeologist Bob Chartrand was working in the Memorial Church at Jamestown when he unearthed what could be a time capsule left by archaeologists working at the same site in 1901. “We’re doing archaeology of the first archaeologists,” explained conservator Michael Lavin of Preservation Virginia. The small, rusty iron box was discovered in a cavity behind a brick, underneath the 1640s foundation of the James Fort church. The box was X-rayed in the Jamestown Rediscovery lab, and then carefully opened. Inside, the scientists found what looks like a folded piece of paper, but water damage made it impossible to read what it said. Lavin said the paper has been stabilized. To read about another recent discovery at Jamestown, go to “Knight Watch.”  

Hurricane Irma Uncovered Calusa Artifacts in Florida

NAPLES, FLORIDA—According to a report in the Naples Daily News, archaeologists and a team of “heritage scouts,” who are members of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, are looking for Calusa artifacts on Marco Island’s Otter Mound Preserve. The researchers have been tagging the 20 trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma last month, and then bagging and labeling the pieces of shell, fish bones, shark vertebrae, pottery, and colored glass recovered from the trees’ root balls. Austin Bell, Marco Island Historical Society curator, will clean and conserve the artifacts for the island’s museum. For more, go to “Letter From Florida: People of the White Earth.”

Wednesday, October 25

Coptic Tombstone Update

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a preliminary translation of the Coptic text on a tombstone recently unearthed at the Avenue of Sphinxes names “Takla,” a ten-year-old girl, who died sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. The inscription above the cross image engraved on the stone is an abbreviation of the name “Jesus,” according to Mostafa Waziri of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Scholars are still working on the incomplete, five lines of text below the cross, where the stone is broken. To read more about the Coptic presence at ancient Egyptian sites, go to “A Pyramid Fit for a Vizier.”

Possible Standing Stone Monument Unearthed in Switzerland

KEHRSATZ, SWITZERLAND—The Local reports that archaeologists in the Swiss canton of Bern have uncovered a large, uncut stone near several houses at a Bronze Age archaeological site. Based upon marks in the ground, they think the stone may have been a menhir, or single standing stone, used to signify a meeting place or religious area. The stone may have been also been used during the Neolithic period, and eventually moved to the site of the Bronze Age town. To read more about the period, go to “Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold.”

New Thoughts on England’s Medieval Leprosy Epidemic

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Sarah Inskip of the University of Cambridge says that red squirrel pelts and meat traded by the Vikings of Denmark and Sweden could have introduced leprosy to southeastern England, according to a BBC News report. A strain of the incurable disease, which has also been found in medieval Scandinavian skeletons, was discovered in a medieval woman’s skull dating to between A.D. 885 and 1015. The victim lived in the East of England, where squirrel products probably came into the country through the ports at Kings Lynn and Yarmouth. Inskip suggests the disease became endemic in the East of England earlier than in other parts of the country, requiring the construction of the island’s first leper hospitals in the eleventh century A.D. To read more about the Viking Age in England, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

Tuesday, October 24

Some Modern Humans Regained Lost Genes from Neanderthals

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Science News reports that evolutionary genomicist Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University and his team analyzed the genomes of more than 20,000 people contained in a databank of electronic health records and the 1000 Genomes Project. They found that when a small number of modern humans left Africa some 100,000 years ago, they lost some genes inherited from ancestors shared with Neanderthals. But when Europeans and Eurasians later mixed with Neanderthals, they regained some of these old genes, which can be found in modern African populations, in addition to Neanderthal genes. Capra says Europeans have more than 47,000 of these reintroduced ancestral alleles, and East Asians have more than 56,000 of them. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

700-Year-Old Shipwreck Unearthed in Eastern China

SHANDONG PROVINCE, CHINA—A 70-foot-long shipwreck with a cracked hull has been unearthed at a construction site in eastern China, according to a report in Live Science. The vessel is thought to have been used for river journeys during the Yuan Dynasty, some 700 years ago, before it sank and was covered with silt. Archaeologists from the Shandong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and the Heze Municipal Commission for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, said they unearthed a captain’s cabin containing lacquerware; crew quarters containing porcelain jugs, net sinkers, scissors, oil lamps, and bronze mirrors; cargo compartments containing grain; and a kitchen/control room containing a stove, pot, and ladle all made of iron, and a tiller. The researchers also discovered a cabin they think had been used as a shrine, based upon the incense burner and Buddhist stone figurines known as arhats, or individuals who have attained enlightenment, that they found there. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Neanderthal Remains Re-examined

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—The International Business Times reports that Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis and Sébastien Villotte of the French National Center for Scientific Research examined the remains of a Neanderthal known as Shanidar 1, which were discovered in 1957 in Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. They found that the man had lived into his 40s, while likely suffering from profound hearing loss caused by bone growths in his ear canals. Such hearing loss is thought to have made him vulnerable to carnivores in the environment. Shanidar 1 also suffered from blows to the right side of his face at an early age, the amputation of his right arm at the elbow, injuries to his right leg, and what the scientists called a “systematic degenerative condition.” Trinkaus and Villotte conclude that Shanidar 1 would have relied upon other hunter-gatherers in his network for survival. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Astrolabe Recovered From Portuguese Shipwreck

COVENTRY, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, an astrolabe dating to between 1495 and 1500 has been recovered from a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Oman. Mariners used such navigational instruments to measure the altitude of the sun. This astrolabe was recovered from the Esmeralda, part of a Portuguese fleet led by explorer Vasco da Gama, who was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India. Laser scanning of the instrument, conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick, revealed navigation markings. David Mearns of Blue Water Recovery said the instrument had to have been made before 1502, when the ship left Lisbon. It also bears a Portuguese coat of arms, and the personal emblem of Don Manuel I, who became King of Portugal in 1495. For more, go to “Is it Esmeralda?