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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 14

New Thoughts on the Colonization of the Caribbean

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Live Science reports that William Keegan of the Florida Museum of Natural History and Ann Ross of North Carolina State University analyzed the structure of 103 skulls unearthed in the Caribbean, Florida, and Panama, and concluded that the Carib people may have traveled to the Bahamas from South America as early as A.D. 800. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Bahamas in 1492, he recorded conflicts between the indigenous Arawak and Caribs, whom he described as marauding cannibals. But researchers lacked evidence showing that the Caribs had actually migrated so far north, and therefore doubted the accuracy of the explorer’s account. The new test results and archaeological evidence suggest that Carib settlers from the Yucatán Peninsula reached the Caribbean around 5000 B.C., and they then traveled to Cuba and the northern Antilles, while Arawaks from Colombia and Venezuela arrived in Puerto Rico between 800 and 200 B.C. The study also indicates that Caribs from the northwest Amazon were the first to arrive in the Bahamas and the island of Hispaniola. Keegan said this migration pattern fits with the spread of a unique pottery type as well. He and Ross now think Columbus may have actually encountered the Caribs, but they said that there is still no real evidence that the Caribs practiced cannibalism. To read about the fifteenth-century Martellus map that Columbus is believed to have consulted before sailing to the Caribbean, go to "Reading the Invisible Ink."

Study Reveals Material Selection in Early Stone Age Tool Design

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—Alastair Key of the University of Kent and his colleagues experimented with raw materials employed by toolmaking hominins who lived in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, and found that our human ancestors were making complex decisions about tool design as early as 1.8 million years ago, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. Key said the study suggests that Early Stone Age toolmakers considered edge sharpness, cutting force, durability, and availability when choosing between different types of stone. For example, quartzite, Key explained, produced the sharpest tools, but was the least durable, and so was often chosen for flake tools, which are thought to have been used for short-term cutting activities. Chert, which was more durable than quartzite, produced tools that were almost as sharp, and was chosen for tools used for long periods of time. Hominins thus optimized their tools for specific circumstances, Key said. To read more about early hominins in Tanzania, go to "Proof in the Prints."

Gold Bar Recovered in Mexico City Analyzed

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report in The Guardian, fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis conducted by scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico has revealed that a four-pound gold bar, unearthed in downtown Mexico City during a 1981 construction project, was cast between 1519 and 1520. At that time, historical records indicate that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés melted down gold objects taken from the Aztec treasury and formed them into gold bars for transport to Europe. The conquistadors are thought to have dropped this gold bar in what had been a canal in the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan while fleeing a battle that began after Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, was assassinated. A year later, in 1521, Cortés returned and laid siege to and captured Tenochtitlan, whose residents had been weakened by smallpox. For more on Tenochtitlan at the time of Cortés' arrival, go to "Under Mexico City."

Monday, January 13

Sixteenth-Century Wall Unearthed at Japan’s Gifu Castle

GIFU, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a stone wall uncovered at Gifu Castle may have been built by feudal lord Oda Nobunaga, who is remembered for attempting to unify Japan and ruling over much of the island of Honshu. The castle was first built atop central Japan’s Mount Kinkasan in the early thirteenth century A.D. Nobunga captured it in 1567, after a two-week siege, and renovated the structure with stone walls whose gaps were filled with smaller stones. The surviving section of wall measures about six feet long and two feet tall, and matches historic descriptions. It had been previously thought that Nobunaga’s structure was completely torn down during reconstruction work in 1910. To read about an important Shinto shrine where mariners made offerings as early as the fourth century A.D., go to "Japan's Sacred Island."

Remains of Downed World War II Pilot Recovered in France

BENSON, MINNESOTA—Forum News Service reports that the remains of a World War II pilot have been identified as U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency through dental records, anthropological analysis, and other evidence recovered from the crash site. McGowan was 23 years old when he was shot down on June 6, 1944, near Saint-Lô, France, during the D-Day invasion. The crash site was first investigated by the American Graves Registration Command in 1947, when wreckage was removed from the impact crater. Human remains were not recovered, however, until an excavation team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency traveled to the site in 2018. McGowan’s remains will be laid to rest at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. To read about a coded message that may have been sent during the D-Day landings, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War."

Log Cabins in West Virginia Offer Clues to Colonial-Era Ecology

MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA—According to a statement released by West Virginia University, geographers Kristen de Graauw and Amy Hessl are using tree-ring dating of samples of wood taken from historic log structures to study forest ecology in the Appalachian Mountains, and its possible ties to the decrease in the Native American population in the region after the arrival of Europeans. The data suggests that fast-growing, second-growth forests appeared in the late seventeenth century, at about the time that Native Americans are thought to have abandoned their cleared land. A drought in the late seventeenth century in eastern North America may have also thinned forests and brought about a surge in regrowth, de Graauw explained. Hessl said further research, including analysis of samples from additional historic log buildings, dating of charcoal, and archaeological investigations, could help researchers understand what happened to Native American populations in eastern North America after European contact. To read about the effects of European colonization of the Americas on the Earth's climate, go to "Colonial Cooling."

Friday, January 10

New Dates for Arrival of Homo erectus in Southeast Asia

TOKYO, JAPAN—According to a Gizmodo report, Shuji Matsu’ura of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science and his colleagues have analyzed complex sediment deposits and created a new chronology for Sangiran, a site on the Indonesian island of Java where more than 100 hominin fossils have been found. The new dates, obtained through uranium-lead dating and fission-track dating, indicate Homo erectus reached Southeast Asia between 1.3 million and 1.5 million years ago, or about 300,000 to 500,000 years later than previously suggested by argon-argon dating. Because archaeological evidence points to the emergence of Homo erectus in Africa, the extremely old dates for Homo erectus in Java had created controversy among scholars over where the hominin could have originated. The new dates could help to resolve these inconsistencies. “This might not sound like a huge difference, but those 200,000 to 500,000 years swings the balance back to an African center of evolution for Homo erectus and helps to tie in the morphological changes seen between the younger and older hominins at Sangiran to a major climatic shift that occurred around 1.2 million years ago,” commented geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University. To read about hominin brain development, go to "Hungry Minds."

Faces of Past Edinburgh Residents Reconstructed

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that forensic artists Lucrezia Rodella and Karen Fleming have recreated the faces of a middle-aged man and a woman whose remains were uncovered during excavations in the 1980s at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh's Old Town. Construction on the cathedral began in 1124. Rodella said the man, who lived about 900 years ago, was about five feet tall and between the ages of 35 and 45 at the time of his death. His cranium and most of his teeth were intact, but his lower jaw was missing, making it difficult to determine the shape of his face. “In order to hide the jaw line, I decided to add a beard,” Rodella said. The woman, who was also between 35 and 40 when she died in the mid-fifteenth or sixteenth century, is thought to have suffered from leprosy. "She would have contracted this during adulthood and the signs of lesions under the right eye may have led to the loss of sight in that eye," said Fleming. Her burial inside the cathedral suggests that she was an individual of high status, possibly a businesswoman. For more on the process of facial reconstruction, go to "Neolithic FaceTime."

Reburied Medieval Remains Unearthed in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Life in Norway reports that a team from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) is excavating a medieval cemetery containing 32 individual graves and three charnel pits discovered last summer in a Trondheim shopping district near the Nidelva River. NIKU archaeologist Silje Rullestad said some of the burials had been destroyed by later burials or construction work. One of the pits contained the bones of an estimated 200 people placed in deep wooden boxes. The remains are thought to have been moved from other cemeteries to this location, which was recorded on historic city maps, sometime during the seventeenth century. To read about artifacts and animal remains that recently melted out of the ice in Norway's Jotunheimen Mountains, go to "Melting Season."