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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.”

Wednesday, August 30

Roundhouse Excavated in Scotland’s Highlands

ASSYNT, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a stone roundhouse known as Clachtoll Broch may have been abandoned after a fire some 2,000 years ago. “The fire could have been caused by an attack or caused by accidental burning of the building,” said Graeme Cavers of AOC Archaeology. Among the artifacts recovered are stone lamps, pottery, and a knocking stone filled with burned grain. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Lost Medieval Village Discovered With Aerial Laser Scanner

WROCLAW, POLAND—According to a report in The International Business Times, archaeologist Maria Legut-Pintal of Wroclaw University of Science and Technology has discovered the village of Goschwitz in southwest Poland. The small village consisted of about 20 farmhouses, constructed of timber framing on stone foundations, arranged around a central square. Scholars have been searching for the village, thought to have been founded some 700 years ago by the Duke of Löwenberg, who was also known as Bolko I the Strict, for more than 70 years. Using airborne laser-scanning technology, Legut-Pintal found the village, which was occupied for only 50 years. She has two ideas regarding the failure of Goschwitz: The village may have been destroyed during the Hussite Wars, or poor soil may have made survival impossible. “We will be able to answer this question only after excavation studies, when we establish the exact time of village abandonment,” she explained. For more on archaeology in Poland, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”

Skull Study Offers View of Violence in Medieval London

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Kathryn Krakowka of the University of Oxford examined hundreds of skulls recovered from six London cemeteries dating between A.D. 1050 and 1550. According to a report in New Scientist, she found that violence in medieval London may have been tied to sex and social status. Nearly seven percent of the skulls bore evidence of violent trauma, or about double the rate of trauma found in cemeteries in other parts of England. And, the rate of signs of violence was even higher in the skulls of young men aged 26 to 35, and higher in those who had been buried in free parish cemeteries rather than monastic cemeteries, usually associated with the paying upper classes. Krakowka speculates that the upper classes may have turned to officials in the developing legal system of the time to address disputes, or even resorted to formal duels while wearing armor. Historic coroners’ rolls record that most homicides occurred on Sunday nights, when Krakowka says men would have been visiting taverns, and on Monday mornings. “This, in combination with my results, possibly suggests that those of lower status resolved conflict through informal fights that may or may not have been fueled by drunkenness,” she said. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”