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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 13

Miniature Terracotta Army Discovered in China

ZIBO, CHINA—Live Science reports that a miniature terracotta army, complete with hundreds of statues of cavalry, chariots, infantry, watchtowers, and musicians, has been discovered in a pit in northeastern China. Researchers from the Cultural Relics Agency of Linzi District of Zibo City and the Shandong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology estimate the army was placed in the pit some 2,100 years ago, or about 100 years after a life-sized terracotta army was buried near the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. This army, whose soldiers stand between nine and 12 inches tall, is thought to have been created for Liu Hong, son of Han Dynasty Emperor Wu, who reigned from 141 to 87 B.C. The presence of the pit and its army, arranged in a formation usually reserved for the burials of monarchs or high-ranking officials, suggests there should be a royal burial mound nearby, but the archaeologists think it may have been destroyed decades ago during railway construction. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Possible Piece of Antikythera Mechanism Identified

ANTIKYTHERA, GREECE—Haaretz reports that a bronze object that may be an additional piece of the Antikythera Mechanism or a similar device was recovered from the site of a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea last year. The Anitkythera Mechanism, discovered by sponge divers in 1901, is a 2,200-year-old complicated system of cogwheels thought to have been used to calculate the movements of the sun, moon, and planets, and predict eclipses and equinoxes. An X-ray of the newly recovered bronze disc, which measures about three inches in diameter, has four metal arms, and holes for pins, shows that it bears an image of a bull. Scholars think the disc may have been a gear in the device that predicted the location of the zodiac constellation of Taurus. For more on the Antikythera shipwreck, go to “Bronze Beauty.”

Update from Greece’s Ancient City of Tenea

ATHENS, GREECE—According to an Associated Press report, Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced the excavation of residential areas at a site identified as the ancient city of Tenea in southern Greece. Ancient texts say Tenea was founded by Trojan War captives after the sack Troy. Archaeologist Elena Korka and her team have uncovered walls, door openings, floors, and pottery dating from the fourth century B.C. through the late Roman period at the site. Cemeteries have also been found nearby, with burials containing coins, de corated vases, and gold, copper, and bone jewelry. This year, the team also found nine burials. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

Monday, November 12

Traces of First-Century A.D. Roman Fort Found

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, researchers led by Emil Jęczmienowski of the University of Poland's Institute of Archaeology have found traces of a first-century A.D. Roman fort in a farmer’s field near the Romanian-Serbian border and mapped it with geophysical equipment. “We know that it was certainly an important strategic point,” Jęczmienowski said. “It is almost at the entrance to the Iron Gate, a rather long section of the middle Danube, which was not navigable in antiquity due to the rocky bottom.” An auxiliary unit of no more than 1,000 soldiers is thought to have been stationed in the fort, which was situated in the border area between the Roman provinces of Dacia and Moesia. The study revealed sections of the fort’s embankment, wall, and ditch, and structures within it, such as the command building and possible barracks. The project also identified roads, aqueducts, and the civilian settlement that abutted the fort. To read about a Roman fort in Wales that housed an auxiliary unit, go to “Roman Fort: Caerhun, Wales.”

Ancient South Americans Quickly Adapted to Harsh Environments

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Live Science reports that people may have adapted to living in the cold temperatures, low oxygen levels, and intense ultraviolet radiation of the Andes Mountains within a few thousand years of migrating to South America. An international team of researchers collected DNA samples from the remains of people who lived in the highlands around Lake Titicaca, including hunter-gatherers who lived between 8,000 and 6,500 years ago at the site of Soro Mik’aya Patjxa, the 3,800-year-old remains of early farmers, and 1,800-year-old remains found in the Rio Uncallane, a series of cave-crevice tombs. They then compared these people's DNA with DNA samples from other ancient peoples and present-day populations in the coastal lowlands and the highlands. The study suggests people living in the highlands developed adaptations to life at higher altitudes such as bigger hearts and slightly higher blood pressure, splitting from lower-altitude populations about 8,750 years ago, or at about the same time permanent settlements appeared in the Andes. Highlanders also appear to have adapted to digesting potato starch while they transitioned from hunting and gathering to domesticating wild tubers. To read in-depth about adaptations of people around the world to high-altitude life, see “The Heights We Go To.”

Old Kingdom Tomb Yields Cat Artifacts and Mummies

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an NPR report, dozens of mummified cats, 100 gilded cat statues, and a bronze statue of Bastet, the goddess of cats, were discovered in a 4,500-year-old tomb in the Saqqara necropolis. The tomb also contained mummified scarab beetles in sealed sarcophagi decorated with images of scarabs. Two of the largest beetles were wrapped in linen. “The (mummified) scarab is something really unique,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Let Them Eat Soup.”

Friday, November 9

Genetic Studies Attempt to Track Peopling of the Americas

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—According to a Science News report, two new genetic studies explore the complex history of the peopling of the Americas. Geneticist Nathan Nakatsuka of Harvard University and his colleagues analyzed samples collected from the remains of 49 individuals, and found that at least three waves of people traveled from North America into South America. The first wave consisted of people related to a child buried some 12,600 years ago in Montana with artifacts from the Clovis people. The second wave of migrants replaced them about 9,000 years ago. Then, some 4,200 years ago, people from California’s Channel Islands migrated south and spread across the Central Andes. A separate study of the remains of 15 different ancient Americans, led by geneticist Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, suggests people living in the Americas were more genetically diverse than had been previously thought. Willerslev’s study confirmed that at least one group living in Brazil possessed DNA similar to that found in modern indigenous Australians, perhaps inherited from a common ancestor. Analysis of DNA collected from a 9,000-year-old baby tooth unearthed in Alaska suggests that the ancient Beringians, who lived on a temporary land bridge between Alaska and Siberia, were genetically distinct from the ancestors of Native Americans. Willerslev also examined the genome of the 10,700-year-old remains discovered in Nevada’s Spirit Cave and found that, like the 8,500-year-old Kennewick Man, these individuals were more closely related to modern Native Americans than to any other group. For more on early inhabitants of the Americas, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

Traces of Twelfth-Century House Found in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—City archaeologist John Lawson says he and his team have uncovered a dwelling site situated along the medieval town wall that could date to before the town of Edinburgh was founded by King David I in the mid-twelfth century, according to The Edinburgh Reporter. “We suspect that because it’s cut through by a large ditch which dates to the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century,” he explained. The ditch may have even been a boundary for the early town. The estimated date of the house is based upon the style of pottery found in the ditch, but Lawson plans to obtain radiocarbon dates for the site, and tree-ring dating from the timber in the house’s postholes. The presence of the house indicates there was a bigger settlement in the area in the early twelfth century than had been previously thought. To read about a hoard of medieval silver items discovered in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Byzantine Fortress Investigated in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—According to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report, Ivan Hristov of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History and his team have uncovered evidence suggesting the Early Byzantine city of Chrisosotira may have been sacked and burned by the Slavs and Avars in the early seventh century A.D. The excavators investigated the remains of a large building situated near the harbor side of the fortress that may have been part of a large commercial complex. Its roof collapsed when it burned, preserving fragments of amphoras, pots, and jars; intact stacks of roof tiles probably intended for roof repairs; iron farming tools; and parts of a bronze scale. Three coin hoards found in the building helped the researchers to date the fire. Most of the 100 bronze and 10 gold coins found in the hoards depict Emperor Heraclius and his son, Constantine III, the latter of whom ruled for just four months in A.D. 641. The researchers also found traces of the fortress’ southern wall, made from stones and mortar containing crushed ceramics measuring more than five feet wide and surviving more than three feet tall. The placement of the wall indicates that the city was larger than previously thought. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”