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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 11

Medieval Shipwreck Discovered in Russia

KAZAN, RUSSIA—Samara Polytech announced the discovery of a boat dated to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century in the Volga River in southwestern Russia. A survey conducted with underwater ultrasound scanners revealed the wreckage measures more than 160 feet long and 65 feet wide. Under 30 feet of water, much of the ship is covered in silt, but the ultrasound images revealed its timbers, a large chain, and ropes. Team leader Ekaterina Semenova said such a large ship may have been built in Asia, Scandinavia, or Western Europe, although there were also Slavic settlements along the Volga at the time. It is not clear if the vessel was used for trade or military purposes. In addition, a corroded metal nail recovered from the shipwreck was examined using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at Samara Polytech and atomic emission spectroscopy at Samara University, and found to consist of nearly pure iron, which is consistent with a medieval date for the vessel. To read about the naturally mummified remains of a woman discovered in the Russian High Arctic, go to "Arctic Ice Maiden."

Possible 17th-Century Warships Found Near Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Guardian, two shipwrecks thought to be seventeenth-century warships have been found in the Swedish archipelago in a strait that leads to Stockholm. One of the vessels may be the sister ship of the Vasa, which was built between 1626 and 1628, equipped with 64 cannon, and capsized and sank on its maiden voyage in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea, just outside Stockholm’s harbor. The Vasa’s well-preserved hull is now on display in Stockholm’s Vasa Museum. Maritime archaeologist Patrik Höglund said three other ships built by the same shipwright—Applet, Kronan, and Scepter—may have been deliberately sunk in the same area after they were decommissioned from the Swedish navy. Wood samples from the wrecks will be dated and analyzed. “Then we can even see where the timber has been cut down and then we can go back and look in the archives and I think we have good chances to tell exactly which ship this is,” added maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson. To read more about the wreck of Vasa, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...

Friday, November 8

Genetic Study Reflects Rome’s History of Immigration

ROME, ITALY—Alfredo Coppa of the Sapienza University of Rome, Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna, and Jonathan Pritchard of Stanford University have found traces of Rome’s immigration history in the genomes of 127 people who were buried at 29 different archaeological sites in and around the city over a period of about 12,000 years, according to a Science Magazine report. The genomes of hunter-gathers who lived in the region between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago resembled those of other hunter-gatherers in Europe, the scientists explained, and also reflect the arrival of early farmers from Anatolia. But from 900 to 200 B.C., as the city grew, the residents’ genomes began to reflect ancestry from the Middle East and Africa. During the imperial period, the Roman population's genetic “diversity was just overwhelming,” Pinhasi said, as immigrants came from Greece, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as from Europe, North Africa, and other places in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. After the fourth century A.D., however, the diversity of Rome’s population decreased as trade shifted to the new capital in Constantinople and epidemics and invasions took their toll. By the Middle Ages, Rome’s population once again genetically resembled that of other parts of Europe. To read more about migration in the Roman Empire, go to "Off with Their Heads."

Neolithic Sewer System Uncovered in Southeastern Turkey

MARDIN, TURKEY—The Anadolu Agency reports that an excavation team under the direction of archaeologist Ergül Kodaş of Artuklu University has found evidence of an 11,800-year-old sewer system at the ancient settlement of Boncuklu Tarla East in southeastern Turkey. “We were only able to unearth a certain portion of the sewer system, and confirmed it was in a public use area,” Kodas said. The team has also uncovered traces of buildings thought to have stood about 23 feet tall. An 11,300-year-old building was also found at the site recently. To read about the sudden destruction of a Bronze Age settlement in southeastern Turkey, go to "The Wrath of the Hittites."

Mammoth-Hunting Pits Discovered in Mexico

TULTEPEC, MEXICO—The Guardian reports that two pits containing hundreds of 15,000-year-old butchered bones from more than a dozen mammoths have been discovered in northeastern Mexico ahead of the construction of a landfill site. The straight-sided pits, which measure nearly six feet deep and 80 feet in diameter, are thought to have been dug as traps to catch the enormous herbivores, according to Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. It had been previously thought that Pleistocene hunters only occasionally killed mammoths when they found them trapped in bogs or swamps. Numerous traps were probably dug in a line in order to increase the chances of capturing an animal, added archaeologist Luis Córdoba Barradas. He suggests that groups of 20 to 30 hunters might have separated an individual mammoth from a herd with torches and branches and then driven it toward the traps. For more on early humans' hunting of mammoths, go to "Leftover Mammoth."

Thursday, November 7

Minoan Purple Dye Workshops Excavated on Greek Island

ATHENS, GREECE—The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports announced the discovery of a large quantity of Hexaplex trunculus shells, which were used in the production of valuable purple dye, at a Minoan settlement dating to between 1800 and 1500 B.C. on the now uninhabited Greek island of Chryssi. One large, two-room building in the settlement was equipped with built-in buckets, terraces, work desks, stoves, and a staircase made of stone slabs. Pottery and stone tools were also found in the building, although it lacked the dye-producing shells found in other structures in the settlement. One of the rooms contained treasures including a gold ring, a gold bracelet, gold beads, a silver bead, bronze beads, glass beads in various colors, an amethyst bead, ten lapis beads, an agate seal carved with an image of a ship, and three copper vases. Researchers from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Lassithi suggest inhabitants of this building may have managed the production and trade of purple dye for the entire settlement. To read about a facility for purple dye production unearthed at the site of Tel Shikmona, go to "World Roundup: Israel."

Interior of Ancient Egyptian Cat Mummy Revealed

RENNES, FRANCE—Live Science reports that a computerized tomography (CT) scan of a 2,500-year-old Egyptian cat-shaped mummy held in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Rennes revealed a ball of fabric in the cat’s head, and five cat hind-leg bones from three different cats in its bundle-shaped body. Théophane Nicolas of France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research said the bones all showed signs of decomposition and insect damage. No skull, vertebrae, or ribs were detected in the bundle. The researchers created a 3-D digital reconstruction of the interior of the object that can be projected onto a 3-D printed model of the mummy, and a transparent 3-D printed version complete with replicated interior bones. “Cat mummies have been found in very large quantities sometimes in extremely degraded states and reduced to the state of accumulation of bones,” Nicolas added. He and his colleagues suggest ancient Egyptians may have had numerous legitimate ways to produce animal mummies for purchase as offerings to the gods. To read in depth about the Egyptians' practice of mummifying animals, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Great Ape Fossils Spark New Thoughts on Evolution of Bipedalism

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that the 11-million-year-old fossils of four or more individuals from a previously unknown great ape species have been discovered in southeastern Germany. Paleontologist Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen said the anatomy of the species, dubbed Danuvius guggenmosi, points to a previously unknown style of locomotion that may offer clues to the evolution of bipedal walking. The 21 bones of a male Danuvius guggenmosi indicate the creature weighed between 37 and 68 pounds, and had human-like legs with grasping toes and elongated, ape-like arms that would have allowed it to move easily through the tree tops. But, in all, the creatures’ fingers were not as robust as those found in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, who use their knuckles while walking. Böhme thinks Danuvius moved by a process of “extended limb clambering,” and would have been able to stand in the treetops by grasping small branches with its toes. “Danuvius is like an ape and a hominin in one,” she explained. For more on the evolution of bipedalism, go to "The Human Mosaic."

Giant Fin Whale Bone Identified at Iron Age Site in Scotland

KIRKWALL, SCOTLAND—DNA analysis of whalebone artifacts unearthed at two Iron Age sites in the Orkney Islands has revealed that a vertebra—hollowed out to fashion a vessel containing a human jawbone and the remains of two newborn lambs—came from a giant fin whale, according to a BBC News report. Giant fin whales can grow to nearly 90 feet long, and are second in size only to the blue whale, the world’s largest known animal. Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the vessel had been placed just outside the broch, or stone roundhouse, at The Cairns on the island of South Ronaldsay, in the mid-second century A.D., at about the time the broch was put out of use. Two sets of red deer antlers had been set alongside the whale vertebra vessel and held in place against the broch wall with a quern stone. Carruthers said the animal might have beached itself, or may have been stranded in shallow water, since scholars have different opinions as to whether or not Iron Age hunters would have been able to take down such a large marine mammal. To read about the long-inhabited Orkney site known as the Ness of Brodgar, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."