Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 21

Scientists Name Hitler’s Suspected Cause of Death

MEAUX, FRANCE—Philippe Charlier of Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and his colleagues examined teeth and skull fragments held in Moscow and identified as Adolf Hitler’s for evidence of the manner of his death in Berlin in 1945, according to an AFP report. Analysis of the tartar deposits on the teeth found no evidence of meat consumption. Charlier said this agreed with Hitler’s known vegetarianism. The researchers also said the skull fragments were consistent with radiographies taken of Hitler’s skull a year before his death. A hole thought to have been made by a bullet was found in one of the skull fragments. The teeth showed no evidence of powder from a gunshot, so the bullet is thought to have entered through the neck or the forehead. Charlier added that bluish deposits on the false teeth may have been caused by a chemical reaction between cyanide and metal. “We didn’t know if he had used an ampule of cyanide to kill himself or whether it was a bullet in the head,” Charlier said. “It’s in all probability both.” For more, go to “The Third Reich’s Arctic Outpost.”

Computer Model Suggests First Australians Planned Migration

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—A computer simulation suggests that Australia was settled by purposeful migrants between 50,000 and 65,000 years ago, and not accidental travelers, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Sean Ulm of James Cook University and his colleagues simulated likely routes from the islands of Timor and Roti to islands off Australia’s northwest coast that are now submerged, in a computer model that included information from deep-sea mapping and wind and ocean currents, and accounted for paddling. The modelling suggests that accidental drifting would not have led to landings on Australia’s northwestern islands. Ulm estimates it would have taken well-prepared voyagers between four and seven days to complete the 90-mile trip. “It has to be purposeful, it has to be coordinated and it has to be fairy large-scale to explain the patterns we see,” Ulm said. Genetic studies have suggested the population that made the original voyage numbered between 100 and 200 individuals. For more on early settlement of the region, go to “Settling Southeast Asia.”

Friday, May 18

Archaeologists Search for Scotland’s Royal Dockyards

AIRTH, SCOTLAND—The Falkirk Herald reports that archaeologists led by historian John Reid are investigating a possible site for the sixteenth-century royal dockyards near Clackmannanshire Bridge, which spans the Firth of Forth. So far the team of researchers has found the foundations of mill buildings next to the channel, a millstone that had been reused as a paver, a corn-drying kiln, a well-built stone sea wall, and posts from a wooden pier. Ships known to have been serviced at the royal dockyards include the Great Michael, flagship of King James IV, and the Margaret, the second ship of the Navy, which was named for the queen, Margaret Tudor. Both ships are thought to have been at the docks in 1513 before sailing to the Battle of Flodden, where James IV was killed. “Although it’s impossible to say for now whether this dates to the right period for James’ docks, we’ve submitted samples of the wood for radiocarbon dating,” said archaeologist Elinor Graham of the University of St. Andrew’s. “We also had a coin from the stone pier, which will need to be looked at by experts, but which might give us a date for its construction, too.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

DNA Reflects History of Migrations in Southeast Asia

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Science News reports that a new genetic study supports archaeological and linguistic evidence for at least three major waves of migration into Southeast Asia over a period of 50,000 years. A team of researchers led by Mark Lipson of Harvard Medical School analyzed DNA from 18 individuals whose remains were unearthed at five different archaeological sites in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. The bones ranged from 4,100 to 1,700 years old. The first wave of migration brought hunter-gatherers to Southeast Asia some 45,000 years ago. Then rice and millet farming spread into the region with migrants from southern China who mixed with the local hunter-gatherers some 4,500 years ago. The 4,000-year-old samples taken from the farmers who lived at Vietnam’s Man Bac site suggest their ancestors were hunter-gatherers and rice farmers from southern China. A third wave of migration arrived in Myanmar some 3,000 years ago, in Vietnam about 2,000 years ago, and in Thailand within the last 1,000 years. Each of these movements are believed to be associated with different languages spoken today. For more, go to “Settling Southeast Asia.”

Bronze Age Burial Excavated in England

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age burial mound in southwest England has yielded pottery, flint tools, two hammer stones, and a 4,000-year-old intact urn containing cremains, according to a Cornwall Live report. Catherine Frieman of Australian National University said analysis of pieces of bone in the urn could reveal the person’s gender, age, diet, and origins. A twelfth- or thirteenth-century pot containing traces of cooked food was also discovered in the mound. It had been buried under several layers of flat stones. Frieman explained that, by the Middle Ages, two monasteries had been built within view of the barrow, so she was surprised to find what appears to be evidence of non-Christian ritual activity. The nature of the ritual, however, is unknown. Traces of a round house dating to around 500 B.C. were also found near the barrow. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

Ancient Communities May Have Planted Evergreens

EXETER, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that South America’s forests of Araucaria, or monkey puzzle trees, naturally grow on south-facing slopes, but are found everywhere in areas where archaeological sites are found. Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and his colleagues measured levels of different forms of carbon in soil samples, concluding that many of today’s forests could have been planted by Southern Jê communities for their timber, fuel, food, and resin. The study indicates that the number of trees expanded between 4,480 and 3,200 years ago, when the region covered by Chile, Brazil, and Argentina experienced an increase in moisture, and again some 800 years ago, when conditions were drier, but when the population of the Southern Jê grew as well. Robinson thinks the communities may have modified the soil of the grasslands where they lived, protected seedlings, or even planted trees to establish the forests in places where they otherwise would not have flourished. He added that five of the 19 species of monkey puzzle trees are currently endangered by the practice of logging and encroaching farmland. For more on the relationship between people and the landscape, go to “Letter From California: The Ancient Ecology of Fire.”

Thursday, May 17

Two-Story Homes With Balconies Unearthed in Pompeii

POMPEII, ITALY—The Local reports that a row of two-story houses with balconies has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Pots of wine, found lying on their sides, were found on one of the balconies. Archaeologists think they may have been set out to dry in the sun. Unlike the nearby city of Herculaneum, which lies closer to Mt. Vesuvius and was buried under more than 65 feet of ash from the ground up, Pompeii was covered in about 13 feet of falling ash, which preserved fewer of the city’s second stories. The area where the building-lined street was found is being excavated in order to stabilize walls at risk of collapse. The houses will be restored and eventually opened to the public. To read more about Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Evidence of Iron-Age Farming Found in England

NIDDERDALE, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that evidence of farming before the arrival of the Romans has been found at three sites in North Yorkshire. Wheat and barley were found at the oldest of the sites, which is about 2,000 years old. This site also had hearths, storage pits, hazelnuts, and remains of trees that had been cut back to ground level to stimulate growth. Traces of houses at the sites include paved floors and walls, and two pieces of Romano-British pottery. For more on Iron-Age settlements in England, go to “A Night Out in Leicestershire.”

Early “ABCs” Identified on Artifact From an Egyptian Tomb

VANCOUVER, CANADA—An inscribed piece of limestone is thought to be the earliest example of our alphabet sequence, according to a Live Science report. Thomas Schneider of the University of British Columbia said three of the words in the 3,400-year-old inscription start with the equivalents of the letters B, C, and D. At the time, he noted, the letter “g” was used to produce the sound we now represent with the letter “c.” So in this case, “B” is for “bibiya-ta,” or “earth snail;” “C” is for “garu,” or “dove;” and “D” is for “da’at,” or kite. Symbols in front of the letters may mean “gecko,” or “lizard,” suggesting the whole phrase read, “and the lizard and the snail, and the dove and the kite.” The stone was discovered in the tomb of an Egyptian foreign affairs official named Sennefer, and although the text was written in hieratic, a form of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, Schneider said the words themselves were Semitic in origin. He thinks the artifact may have been used as a mnemonic device to help Sennefer remember the order of the letters in Eastern Mediterranean languages. Another alphabetic sequence that has since fallen out of use was found on the opposite side of the piece of limestone. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Evidence of Donkey Riding Found in Central Israel

WINNIPEG, CANADA—Microscopic indentations in a 4,700-year-old donkey’s lower premolars are thought to have been made by a metal bit, offering the oldest-known evidence of donkey riding using such equipment in the Near East, according to a report in Science Magazine. Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba, Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, and their colleagues say the animal had been slaughtered and buried as an offering before the construction of a mudbrick house at the site, in the foothills of central Israel. Horses are thought to have arrived in the region about 1,000 years later, relegating donkeys to beasts of burden led from a tether or a nose ring. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”