Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 19

Storm Ophelia Uncovered 1,500-Year-Old Skeleton in Ireland

COUNTY WEXFORD, IRELAND—The Irish Post reports that people walking on the beach at Forlorn Point in southeast Ireland after Storm Ophelia discovered skeletal remains eroding from the soil. A forensic anthropologist thinks the bones could possibly date to the Iron Age. The remains have been removed from the site and are in the custody of the National Museum of Ireland. For more on archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Ancient Stone Walls Spotted in Satellite Images of Saudi Arabia

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—David Kennedy of the University of Western Australia and his colleagues discovered nearly 400 low stone walls in west-central Saudi Arabia with satellite imagery, according to a report in Live Science. Most of the walls, which resemble field gates, had been built in the lava fields of Harrat Khaybar. Some were covered with lava flow, or were even placed on the sides of old lava domes. Kennedy said the smallest of the gates is about 43 feet long, while the longest is about 1,700 feet long. Some of the structures are rectangular-shaped, while others are “I” shaped, or have one stone wall with piles of stones at each end. The gate-like structures may be about 7,000 years old, and are thought to be older than other stone structures in the lava fields, such as those known as kites, which are thought to have been used in hunting. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Army Training Base Yields 1980s Ammunition

FORT MCCOY, WISCONSIN—Archaeologists investigating the Army training center at Fort McCoy uncovered more than 30 .30-caliber blank cartridges and metal ammunition belt links, according to a report from the Westby Times. The cartridges were stamped with the identification “LC 81,” which indicates they had been manufactured in 1981 at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri. Markings were also found on the belt links, which were shipped with the blank cartridges for use with the M60 machine gun. To read about another discovery involving ammunition, go to “Fact-Checking Lawrence of Arabia.”

Genome of 40,000-Year-Old "Tianyuan Man" Analyzed

BEIJING, CHINA—According to a report in Science Magazine, scientists led by Qiaomei Fu of the Molecular Paleontology Lab at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology examined genome material extracted from the thighbone of a 40,000-year-old skeleton discovered in China’s Tianyuan Cave. The study indicates that “Tianyuan Man” was a modern human carrying only four to five percent of his DNA from Neanderthals, and no detectable DNA inherited from the Denisovans. It had originally been thought that Tianyuan Man was the offspring of a Neanderthal and a modern human. Tianyuan Man was found to share DNA with a person whose 35,000-year-old remains were discovered in Belgium’s Goyet Caves. The study indicates that about nine to 15 percent of the DNA of the Karitiana and Sururi peoples of Brazil and the Chane people of northern Argentina and southern Bolivia came from an ancestor also shared by Tianyuan Man, making them distant cousins. But this ancestor was not common to Native Americans living in North America, thus suggesting there were two different source populations for Native Americans. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Wednesday, October 18

An Update From Canada’s Old Parliament

MONTREAL, CANADA—Excavators have uncovered two nineteenth-century copper alloy stamps at the site of the old Parliament of the United Province of Canada, according to a report in The Star. The building was destroyed by fire during a riot on April 25, 1849. The stamps, which would have usually been kept in the Parliament’s archives, were found in areas corresponding to the office of the clerk of the legislative assembly, and the legislative council library. “The fact that it was a quick and violent fire resulted in them being left on site and rediscovered more than a century-and-a-half later,” said Louise Pothier of Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière Museum. The fire also destroyed the two parliamentary libraries and documents dating back to the beginning of French colonization of Canada. The excavators recovered about 30 charred document fragments in one of the libraries. Scientists at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa determined the pages were minutes of the lower chamber of France’s parliament dating to 1830. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

2,000-Year-Old Children’s Graves Discovered in Northern China

SHIJIANZHUANG, CHINA—According to a Xinhua News Agency report, the burials of more than 100 children and just six adults have been unearthed in a 2,000-year-old cemetery in northern China’s Hebei Province. Located near the ancient city of Fudi, the cemetery could contain as many as 700 more burials. Zhang Baogang of the Huanghua City Museum said the children had been buried in pottery urns made from local clay containing sea shells. Skulls and foot bones have been found in smaller pots, while other parts of the body have been found in larger pots, he added. Many of the children appear to have been only two to three years old at the time of death, but samples of the bones and teeth will be tested for information on their age and sex. Archaeologist Li Jun of Shanxi University suggested the many children may have been gathered together for a specific purpose, and were perhaps sacrificed, died in a plague, or worked to death. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

Sculpture of Queen Ankhnespepy II Unearthed at Saqqara

GIZA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a wooden sculpture, thought to represent the head of Queen Ankhnespepy II, has been discovered near her pyramid at Saqqara. Ankhnespepy II ruled during the 6th Dynasty as regent for her young son after the death of Pepy I, around 2350 B.C. The sculpture measures about a foot long, retains traces of paint, and shows the queen wearing earrings. Earlier this month, the Egyptian-Swiss excavation team recovered the upper part of a granite obelisk that may have been part of the queen’s funerary temple, in addition to a pyramidion, or the capstone for a pyramid. “It is a promising area that could reveal more of its secrets soon,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Tuesday, October 17

Climate May Have Contributed to the Fall of Egyptian Dynasty

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Guardian, an analysis of environmental records and historic documents suggests a volcanic eruption may have contributed to the Roman victory over Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C. Egypt’s defeat has long been blamed on the shortcomings of the 300-year-long Ptolemaic dynasty, including infighting, decadence, and incest. But ice core data, Islamic records of water levels in the Nile River, and ancient Egyptian histories written on papyrus suggest a volcanic eruption somewhere in the world in 44 B.C. may have disrupted the annual flooding of the Nile and triggered famine, plague, and social unrest. Historian Joe Manning of Yale University and climate historian Francis Ludlow of Trinity College Dublin say failure of the Nile floodwaters, and the resulting social stresses, could have weakened Cleopatra’s power and left her reign vulnerable to the Romans. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Possible Missing Jewelry Box Piece Found at Viking Fortress

KØGE, DENMARK—A small silver artifact has been uncovered at Borgring, a Viking fortress in eastern Denmark. According to a report in Science Nordic, the object resembles one of the three parts known to be missing from an elaborate box brooch discovered in a Viking woman’s grave at the Fyrkat fortress in Hobro, which is located to the north of Borgring. “It will be incredible if this fitting is connected with the find from Fyrkat,” said Jeanette Varberg of the Moesgaard Museum. “If this really is where it comes from then it’s like finding a needle in the ocean.” The woman in the grave at Fyrkat is thought to have been a high-status shaman or sorceress. Analysis of her “well-used and highly treasured” box suggests it held white lead, which appears to have been used as a sealant to waterproof the box. Perhaps she traveled between the two castles, which are both thought to have been built by Harald Bluetooth, who was king of Denmark between A.D. 958 and 987. Analysis of the metal could offer more information on the origins of the two pieces. For more, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Bronze Age Toys Recovered in Southeastern Turkey

SANLIURFA, TURKEY—The International Business Times reports that 5,000-year-old toys have been discovered in one of the 120 tombs in the necropolis at the ancient religious center of Sogmatar, which was dedicated to Sin, the god of the moon. Excavation leader Celal Uludag said the first toy, found in a child’s grave, is an earthenware horse carriage with four wheels. The front of the vehicle was decorated with incised lines. Uludag thinks it was made for the children of the city’s ruler or administrators. The second toy from the tomb is a rattle with a bird motif. All of the tombs in the necropolis were situated around a large, central mound. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”