Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 19

Cold-Resistant Yeast Discovered in South American Pottery

TEMUCO, CHILE—According to a report from NBC News, traces of yeast have been detected on 1,000-year-old pottery discovered near the Chile-Argentina border. The yeast, called Saccharomyces eubayanus, is thought to have been an ancestor of the yeast currently used to brew lager. Researchers have been looking for the origin of this unusual fungus, which thrives in cold temperatures and has been found growing wild in Patagonia and Tibet. Saccharomyces eubayanus has not been found growing wild in Europe, however. “Our findings confirm the historical presence of the yeast in this region and now we have confirmation of its use,” explained archaeologist Alberto Perez of Universidad Catolica de Temuco in Chile. Scholars now want to know whether Saccharomyces eubayanus traveled from South America to Bavaria, where lager was first brewed in the 1400s. To watch a short film on the work, click here.

Porpoise Bones Unearthed at Medieval Monks’ Retreat

GUERNSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS—The remains of a porpoise have been unearthed at the site of a medieval religious retreat on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, according to a report in The Guardian. Archaeologists expected the carefully dug grave to contain human bones, and were surprised to find a porpoise skull and other body parts. “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?” asked States of Guernsey archaeologist Philip de Jersey. He suggests that the body could have been salted and kept in the hole as a way to preserve it. The bones will be studied by a marine scientist. To read about a massive Celtic coin hoard discovered on the Channel Islands, go to “Ka-Ching!

Excavators Return to the Minoan Palace of Zominthos

PSILORITIS, CRETE—Recent excavations at the Minoan palace of Zominthos uncovered two entrances, an internal stairway, and a second-century A.D. Roman coin, according to The Greek Reporter. The first entrance, on the northeast corner of the palace, led to a sanctuary with an altar and featured an anteroom with two desks. The second entrance, on the southeastern corner, is said to be in poor condition. It had been modified by the Mycenaeans and the Romans, and was damaged by looters in the 1960s. An internal stairway and the remains of ten-foot-tall walls indicate that the building was multistoried. The upper floors were supported by central pillars. The excavation also revealed floors made of glittering limestone and pebbles. Traces of frescoed mortar has also been found on the walls. In another area of the palace, above a metallurgical workshop, a claw-shaped pendulum and a vase decorated with the image of a pig were uncovered. Next door, the excavators found a small bronze scarab that had been made locally, and sea shells. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

World War I–Era German Submarine Found

WEST FLANDERS, BELGIUM—BBC News reports that the wreckage of a World War I–era submarine has been found in the North Sea. The type UB-II vessel, thought to have been snagged in a cable and sunk by a mine, is expected to hold the remains of 23 people—a crew of 22 and one commander—according to West Flanders Governor Carl Decaluwé. The upper part of the submarine was damaged, but its hatches are still shut, and the conning tower is said to be intact. Periscopes and torpedo tubes have also been spotted on the sea floor. To read in-depth about the archaeology of a legendery World War I battlefield, go to “Letter From Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

Monday, September 18

World War II Dog Tags Unearthed in England

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that dog tags, a piece of window from a B-17 Flying Fortress, and the grate from a wood-burning stove were uncovered at a former Royal Air Force base in Norfolk. Members of the United States’ 100th Bomb Group were stationed at the site during the Second World War. The excavation was conducted by the University of East Anglia, with assistance from the American Veterans Archaeology Recovery Program, the 100th Bomber Memorial Group, and the Waveney Valley Archaeology Group. The archaeologists hope to reunite the tags with their owners or their descendants. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

Graves of Yuan Dynasty Chieftains Found

GUIZHOU PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that five tombs belonging to tribal leaders have been unearthed in southwest China. Three of the tombs date to between 1271 and 1368 A.D. and belonged to the Yang family, who were appointed as Tusi chieftains by the imperial government to rule over the city of Bozhou for 721 years. The last Yang family chieftain died during a rebellion in 1601. Officials from the Guizhou Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology say the discovery will help scholars understand the Tusi chieftain system and culture. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Sugar Molecule May Help Identify Human Ancestors

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in The San Diego Tribune, scientists led by Anne K. Bergfeld and Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, have identified a molecule made by many animals, and all apes, but not modern humans. It could help distinguish between fossils of hominins related to modern humans, and those of species that belong to side branches of the human family tree. The loss of the substance, called Neu5Gc, may have even created a fertility barrier between the ancestors of modern humans and other hominins. The scientists first tested a 50,000-year-old cave bear fossil, and found an unusual form of chondroitin sulfate, a surviving remnant of Neu5Gc, and then a four-million-year-old bovine fossil, which also contained the molecule. Since human ancestors are thought to have lost the ability to make Neu5Gc between two and three million years ago, it appears that the technique could help researchers more accurately identify the period of when the loss occurred. Varki and his colleagues are now refining the testing process so that a smaller amount of fossil would have to be destroyed in the analysis. When that work has been completed, hominin fossils may be considered for testing. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”

Friday, September 15

Long-Term Site Excavated on Dalmatian Island

ZADAR, CROATIA—An ancient building with a hypocaust, or central heating system, has been found underneath a site dating to late antiquity and a medieval necropolis in Croatia’s Nature Park Telašćica, which is located on the Dalmatian island of Dugi otok. Total Croatia News reports the building was heated with hot air circulated through clay pipes under the floor and through the walls. Archaeologists from the University of Zadar also uncovered pottery, metal tools, and glass objects during the excavation. To read about another discovery in Croatia, go to “Neanderthal Necklace.”

Cave Paintings Identified in Spain

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—The International Business Times reports that four new sets of cave paintings in northern Spain have been identified with 3-D laser scanning and photometric techniques by a team led by Roberto Ontañón of the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria. The sites had been identified by speleologists, but the images were degraded and difficult to see with the naked eye. “These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, ‘reveal’ paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to distinguish,” Ontañón explained. He estimates the paintings are between 20,000 and 30,000 years old. For more on cave paintings, go to “The First Artists.”

Painted Jade Mask Discovered in Classic-Era Maya Tomb

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—According to a report in Newsweek, a burial chamber at the Maya site of Waka’, which is located in northern Guatemala’s Laguna del Tigre National Park, has yielded a 700-year-old jade mask. The mask helped the researchers from the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project to identify the tomb’s occupant as a member of the royal Wak dynasty. It had been painted red with cinnabar, along with the ruler’s remains, and was found under the ruler’s head. The mask depicts the ruler with the same forehead hair decoration worn by the Maya maize god. Ceramic vessels, spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a crocodile-shaped pendant carved from shell were also recovered from the tomb. David Freidel of Washington University in St. Louis explained that the Maya of the Classic period revered their rulers as divine, so the king’s tomb turned the royal palace acropolis into holy ground. For more, go to “Letter From Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”