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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 10

Traces of a Neolithic Longhouse Uncovered in Denmark

VINGE, DENMARK—The postholes of a 4,000-year-old dwelling have been uncovered at a construction site in Denmark, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post. Found on the northern island of Zealand, the outline of soil stains indicates the house measured nearly 150 feet long and more than 20 feet wide. It had two aisles, where archaeologists think a wealthy family lived with their farmhands and livestock. “It proved to be a gigantic farmhouse from the Late Neolithic Period,” said Jens Johannsen of the Roskilde Museum. “The house is nearly three times as big as other houses from this period, and it is the only one like it in the area.” For more on archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

1,100-Year-Old Iron Objects Discovered in Slovakia

BOJNÁ, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a treasure trove of iron objects was discovered in a stone oven in western Slovakia. Karol Pieta of the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences said that some 1,100 years ago, the items, including bits for horses’ bridles and two keys, were placed in an earthenware pot and hidden in the oven, which was located in a system of Great Moravian hill forts guarding a pass through the mountains. “We can assume that the inhabitants hid the precious iron objects in a functioning oven when the fortification was suddenly invaded,” Pieta said. The forts are thought to have been burned down and abandoned in the tenth century. The fortifications are being reconstructed to look as they did in the ninth century. For more, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Luwian Scholar Translates Possible Sea Peoples Inscription

BEYKÖY, TURKEY—According to a report in Live Science, Fred Woudhuizen, a Dutch scholar of the ancient language known as Luwian, has translated a 3,200-year-old inscription discovered in the late nineteenth century on a 95-foot stretch of stone at an archaeological site in Beyköy, a town located near Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The ancient stone, said to have been recycled in local building project, no longer exists, but a copy of the inscription was reportedly found in the estate of archaeologist James Mellaart, remembered for his excavation of Turkey’s 9,500-year-old city of Çatalhöyük. Assisted by Swiss geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, Woudhuizen says the inscription describes how King Kupantakuruntas came to rule the kingdoms of Mira and Troy, and how the two kingdoms engaged in naval campaign, led by the Trojan prince Muksus, against Ashkelon. Woudhuizen and Zangger think it would have been difficult for Mellaart, who was part of an earlier translation team as an expert on the archaeology of western Turkey, to forge such a long text in Luwian. They cannot be certain that the text is authentic, however, until records of the inscription are found apart from Mellaart’s estate. To read in-depth about another ancient inscription discovered in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Friday, October 06

5,000-Year-Old Copper Ax Found in Switzerland

ZUG-RIEDMATT, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in Live Science, a copper ax similar to the one carried by Özti the Iceman some 5,000 years ago has been found at the northern foot of the Alps, where prehistoric villages were built on wooden stilts. “It was a very efficient general-purpose ax, especially proper for woodworking,” said Gishan Schaeren of the Canton of Zug’s Office for Monuments and Archaeology. Chemical analysis of the lead in the blade linked the metal to the same source in southern Tuscany used to produce the larger, heavier blade carried by Özti. But it had been thought that people living to the north and south of the Alps did not have much contact. Schaeren disagrees. He thinks the people who traveled the Alps during the Copper Age probably had extensive knowledge of the landscape and its natural resources. “It is one step to a much more connected worldview,” he said. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

More on Florida’s Latest Dugout Canoe

TALAHASSEE, FLORIDA—WHAS 11 reports that the Florida Division of Historical Resources has released more information on the 15-foot log vessel that washed up from the Indian River during Hurricane Irma. Radiocarbon dating of the wood indicates there is a 50 percent chance the tree used to make the canoe died or was cut down between 1640 and 1680, and a 37 percent chance it dates to between 1760 and 1818. “The canoe has some interesting features, like the presence of paint and wire nails, that indicate it may have been made in the nineteenth or twentieth century, so this adds to the mystery,” said Sarah Revell of the Florida Department of State. She explained that the canoe might have been made in the early twentieth century from an old log, or even crafted in the 1600 or 1700s, and then modified over time. After being discovered in September, the canoe was stored in a freshwater pond and then transported to a conservation laboratory, where it will be desalinized and any algae on the exterior will be removed. Then the vessel will be soaked in polyethylene glycol for strengthening. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”  

Genetic Study Hints at Prehistoric Social Networks

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A new genetic study of Eurasians who lived 34,000 years ago suggests that hunter-gatherers have long practiced marrying outside their home groups, according to a report in Science News. DNA samples were taken from four males whose remains were unearthed at the Sunghir site in eastern Russia. Evolutionary geneticist Martin Sikora of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and his colleagues say the individuals in the study shared no signs of close biological kinship, which could have resulted from small bands of hunter-gatherers mixing at random. The researchers think the hunter-gatherers developed a system to limit the chance of inbreeding, which also strengthened their ties to other social groups. Communication with in-laws and larger networks could have transmitted cultural advances and social learning, thus increasing the chance of survival while foraging over a large area. It had been thought that hunter-gatherers lived among close kin and competed with other kin groups, much like modern chimpanzees do. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

6th-Dynasty Obelisk Found in Saqqara

SAQQARA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that an eight-foot-long piece of an Old Kingdom obelisk has been discovered at the Saqqara necropolis. Inscriptions on one side of the side of the red granite monument name Queen Ankhnespepy II, who lived around 2350 B.C. and ruled as regent for her young son. “This is probably why her pyramid is the biggest of the necropolis after the pyramid of the king himself,” said Philippe Collombert of the University of Geneva. The researchers think the obelisk originally stood about 15 feet tall. An indentation on the obelisk's tip suggests it was capped with copper or golden foil. “Queens of the 6th Dynasty usually had two small obelisks at the entrance to their funerary temple, but this obelisk was found a little far from the entrance of the complex of Ankhnespepy II,” added Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Waziri suggested stonecutters may have moved the obelisk from the queen’s funerary temple, perhaps during the New Kingdom or Late Period, when much of the stone in the Saqqara necropolis was recycled. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

Thursday, October 05

Study Tracks Neanderthal Traits in Modern Humans

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Scientists linked 15 physical traits in modern humans to Neanderthal DNA based on analysis of the genomes and information on physical appearance, diet, sun exposure, behavior, and disease of more than 100,000 present-day Britons. According to an Associated Press report, the study suggests that genetic material passed down from Neanderthals has contributed to the skin tone, hair color, and sleep and mood patterns of non-Africans. All of these traits can be linked to people's exposure to sunlight, explained Michael Dannemann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He and his colleagues speculate that Neanderthals were well adapted to lower levels of ultraviolet radiation when modern humans arrived in Eurasia and the two populations began to mix. The study also indicates that Neanderthals could have had as wide a variety of hair and skin tones as people do today. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Unusual Stone Tools Uncovered in Wales

DENBIGHSHIRE, WALES—According to a report in Live Science, members of the Clwydian Range Archaeological Group, a team of amateur researchers led by professional archaeologists, have uncovered about 20 unusual stone tools at a Bronze Age site in the hills of northeast Wales. The heavily used tools are triangular in shape and range in size from about two inches to eight inches long. Consulting archaeologist Ian Brooks says they appear to have been deliberately buried in what was the bottom of a stream some 4,500 years ago. “I’ve not seen anything like them before, and I’ve talked to a number of colleagues who’ve never seen anything like them,” Brooks said. He explained that the tools’ purpose is unknown, but the battered points on the hard limestone tools could have been used to chip ornamental designs onto the surfaces of boulders and rock faces. “The point on these things would be about the right sort of size for pecking that sort of design,” he said. For more, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron AgeHillforts of the Iron Age.”

Merchant Ship Sunk During World War II Found Near Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Kyodo News reports that the SS Macumba, an Australian merchant ship sunk by Japanese aircraft on August 6, 1943, has been found off the coast of northern Australia. “Three people died on that ship and one body wasn’t recovered so it’s a war grave site,” explained senior heritage officer David Steinberg of the Northern Territory government. The captain and 36 crew members survived. The Macumba had been transporting supplies from Sydney to Darwin, where Japanese air raids had killed more than 200 people in 1942. Pictures of the vessel, which rests under more than 130 feet of water, suggests it is sitting upright and has formed an artificial reef. “We’re looking to put a protected zone around the site to prohibit entry into it until we understand its full significance,” added Steinberg. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”