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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 12

Moonlit Rock Art Revealed in Southern England

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Telegraph, Andy Jones of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit says he has found more than 100 additional marks on Hendraburnick Quoit, an ax-shaped engraved stone panel dating to about 2500 B.C. “When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight,” Jones explained. His team also found pieces of quartz in the ground around the monument. Jones thinks it may have been placed there for its luminescent properties. To read more about archaeology in Cornwall, go to "Witches of Cornwall."

Varied Sleep Habits May Protect Mixed-Age Groups

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—A study of modern hunter-gatherers suggests that sleeping habits may have evolved to help humans avoid nighttime threats such as predators, natural disasters, and enemy attack, according to a report in Seeker. Healthy men and women of the Hadza of Tanzania agreed to wear small devices that recorded their nighttime movements. Out of the 220 hours of the study, everyone was asleep at the same time for a total of only 18 minutes. Sleep expert Dave Samson of Duke University explained someone was always awake during the night, whether it was a mother with a newborn, or an elder who got up to relieve himself or herself. He added that younger people like to stay up late, while older people tend to get up early. Occasional social rituals also disrupted sleep. “The idea behind the ‘poorly sleeping grandparent hypothesis’ is that, for much of human history, living and sleeping in mixed-age groups of people with different sleep habits helped our ancestors keep a watchful eye and make it through the night,” he said. Samson also notes the Hadza take frequent daytime naps. To read about the earliest evidence for warfare between hunter-gatherer groups, go to "10,000 Turf War." 

Scientists Re-examine Easter Islanders’ Diet

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—A new study of the diet eaten by the Rapa Nui suggests that the people of Easter Island may have made better use of their natural resources than had been previously thought. According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Carl Lipo of Binghamton University conducted carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human, animal, and botanical remains recovered from the Anakena and Ahu Tepeu archaeological sites. The oldest samples dated from A.D. 1400. The scientists found high levels of nitrogen in the human bones, which suggests that Rapa Nui farmers enriched the soil with bedrock when they realized its nutrient level had dropped. The results also suggest the people obtained more than half of their protein from marine foods. It has long been thought that the Rapa Nui depleted the soil by relying on crop production after they wiped out the island’s forests by building canoes for fishing. Rather than drawing a picture of catastrophic failure, Lipo suggests that the people of Easter Island adapted to environmental challenges. To read in-depth about how Native Americans managed marine resources, go to "The Edible Landscape." 

New Thoughts on Ancient Greek Theaters

KUMAMOTO, JAPAN—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Ryuichi Yoshitake of Kumamoto University believe that the heavy, 100-foot-long stage structures in some ancient Greek theaters may have moved independently. In these theaters, it had been previously suggested that the proskenion, a one-story building used as background scenery, and the two-story skene, which provided an additional background and dressing rooms, were linked together and set on three wheels along a single axle. The wheels are thought to have traveled along three shallow stone tracks, each measuring between three and five inches wide, like those found in the theaters at Sparta and Megalopolis. Yoshitake’s team uncovered a large storage area, in addition to three stone tracks, at the theater at Messene. After studying all three theaters, Yoshitake thinks the proskenion and skene would have been too unwieldy to have been moved as one piece. He suggests that the proskenion and skene were set on their own sets of two wheels per axle. In this scenario, four stone tracks would have been needed, however. To read about the archaeology of Elizabethan theaters, go to "Behind the Curtain."

Tuesday, July 11

Human Remains Found at World War II Underwater Wreckage Site

ZAGREB, CROATIA—The Norman Transcript reports that divers found human remains near The Tulsamerican, the last B-24 Liberator bomber built in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a 17-year search, the wreckage was discovered under 130 feet of water off the coast of Croatia in 2010. The crew ditched the plane in the Adriatic Sea on December 17, 1944, because it had been hit by enemy fire after a bombing run over German-occupied Poland. Three of the ten men on board were killed. Some of the wreckage may be recovered and returned to Oklahoma for display at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. To read more, go to "The  Archaeology of World War II."

Christian Saint’s Hut Possibly Identified

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that the wattle and timber hut where St. Columba is said to have worked and prayed in the sixth century A.D. has been identified on the island of Iona, home of the Iona Abbey, a Christian pilgrimage site. Sixty years ago, historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas uncovered what he thought could be the saint’s cell on a hill traditionally known as Tòrr an Aba, or “the mound of the abbot.” After the structure burned down, the site is thought to have been covered with beach pebbles to preserve it, and a hole at the site suggests that a cross may have been placed to mark it. Archaeologists Ewan Campbell and Adrián Maldonado of the University of Glasgow recently radiocarbon dated some of the pieces of hazel charcoal carefully preserved by Thomas and obtained a date range of A.D. 540 to 650. “What Charles Thomas and his team found—and couldn’t prove until now—was that we’ve been walking on the early monastery this whole time,” Maldonado said. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Scotland: Living on the Edge."

4,500-Year-Old Man's Face Reconstructed

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—Forensic experts at Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab reconstructed the countenance of a man thought to have lived in England’s East Midlands some 4,500 years ago, according to a report in Live Science. The man’s remains were recovered from Derbyshire’s Liff’s Low bowl barrow during excavations in the 1930s and the 1980s, and have been housed at the Buxton Museum. He had been buried with a beaker-shaped pot and a stone pendant thought to have been worn as a necklace. Previous studies of the bones indicate that the man stood approximately five feet, seven inches tall, and died between the ages of 25 and 30. His cause of death is not known, but Claire Miles of the Buxton Museum said that a fracture in his left elbow had “healed poorly.” The Face Lab team scanned the surviving pieces of his skull with an Artec 3-D scanner and reassembled them digitally. The portions of the man’s face corresponding to the missing bones were produced from estimates based upon the surviving data, and appear blurred in the final image. To read in-depth about prehistoric Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Monday, July 10

Remains of Women in Wari Tomb Studied

WARSAW, POLAND—Scientists led by Milosz Giersz of the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Archaeology have analyzed samples of tooth enamel and rib bone taken from some of the 64 skeletons found in a 1,200-year-old Wari tomb in Huarmey, Peru. According to a report in Science & Schoarship in Poland, most of the skeletons in the tomb, which also contained imported luxury items and artifacts made of gold, silver, and bronze, belonged to women. Some scholars have suggested that the women were elites, or wives of Wari rulers, who traveled to Huarmey from different parts of the Wari Empire. The analysis of the levels of strontium isotopes in the bone and tooth enamel suggests that the women had been born, raised, and continued to live in the Huarmey area. DNA analysis, however, indicates that the women in the tomb were not closely related to other people who had lived in the Huarmey area. “This allows us to suppose that the women buried in the tomb we examined could have been daughters or granddaughters of immigrant women from different parts of the Wari Empire,” Giersz said. To read about the initial discovery of the women's remains, go to "A Wari Matriachy?

1,400-Year-Old Manuscript Revealed in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—A palimpsest containing an ancient medical treatise beneath biblical text has been discovered by the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai, according to a report in Ahram Online. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was found during restoration work in the monastery’s ancient library, which holds some 6,000 manuscripts. The leather pages of the palimpsest were first used in the sixth century A.D. for a recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates. Three other medical recipes, and pictures of medicinal herbs, had also been recorded on its pages by an anonymous scribe. During the medieval period, the pages were scraped and reused for the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, an early version of the Christian scriptures. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” explained Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology for the ministry. To read more about recovering ancient texts, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum." 

Fourth Denisovan Fossil Found

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Live Science, a fourth fossil of an individual of the extinct hominin species known as the Denisovans has been found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. The specimen is estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 years older than the other three known Denisovan fossils. “This would indicate that Denisovans were present in the Altai area for a very long time—at least as long as modern humans have been in Europe, if not much more,” said paleogeneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The new fossil is a well-worn baby tooth probably shed by a girl between the ages of ten and 12. Slon and her team examined the tooth with 3-D X-rays, and analyzed a tiny bit of powdered tooth to look for DNA. The results suggest that there was a low level of genetic diversity among the Denisovans, which could indicate a small, isolated population lived in the cave. To read more about Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Roman Tablets Unearthed in England

HEXHAM, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that well-preserved documents written in ink on wafer-thin pieces of wood have been discovered at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. The documents, which are about the size of a modern postcard, include letters, lists, and personal correspondence, and are thought to have been discarded toward the end of the first century A.D. Some of the writing was protected in the damp soil by the backs of adjoining wooden pages. In one letter, a man named Masclus, known from other documents discovered at Vindolanda, applied for leave, or commeatus. Once the tablets have been conserved, they will undergo infrared photography and the texts will be translated. To read in-depth about the forts of Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."

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