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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 13

Ancient Necropolis Unearthed on Island of Corsica

ÎLE-ROUSSE, CORSICA—According to an RFI report, a necropolis made up of more than 40 tombs dated from the third to the sixth centuries A.D. have been found on the western coast of Corsica. Researchers from the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research said that the remains of adults and children were found in large amphoras that had transported wine, olive oil, and other products from Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, to the island. Such jars were usually used to bury children, the researchers explained. Some of the remains had been placed in pits dug into the rock, and some were covered with Roman terracotta tiles. The necropolis confirms that the area was inhabited long before the current village at the site was founded in the mid-eighteenth century. Construction at that time damaged many of the graves, the researchers said. A funeral complex may be located nearby, they added. To read about an Etruscan burial excavated on Corsica, go to "A Funeral Fit for Etruscans."

New Thoughts on Europe’s Cave Paintings

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that Yafit Kedar and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University suggest that Europe’s Paleolithic artists may have experienced hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, while painting by torchlight in remote areas of caves. The researchers simulated deep caves entered through narrow mouths and long corridors with software created to plan ventilation for underground parking lots. They found that use of fire deep in a cave would have caused a significant drop in oxygen levels. The dark cave spaces may have been chosen, the researchers explained, because this lack of oxygen produced euphoric, transformative experiences, and perhaps even hallucinations, making them sacred spaces. The caves were thus painted, Kedar and Barkai explain, to reflect their significance. The rock face itself may have been understood as a connection to another world. To read about ritual imagery painted deep in the caves of the American South, go to "Artists of the Dark Zone."

Study Examines Evolution of Human Brain Organization

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—According to a Science News report, a new study of early human skulls suggests that more modern human–like brain structures began to evolve about 1.7 million years ago. It had been previously thought that such brain structures first arose roughly 2.8 million years ago, soon after the Homo lineage appeared. Paleoanthropologist Marcia Ponce de León of the University of Zurich and her colleagues re-created the possible outer surface of brains from impressions preserved on the inner surfaces of fossil skulls, including the 1.77-million to 1.85-million-year-old remains from the Dmanisi site in Georgia and fossils from Africa and Southeast Asia ranging in age from two million to 70,000 years old. The researchers concluded that the 1.8-million-year-old Dmanisi remains and those of the same age from Africa exhibited brains organized like those of great apes. “These people ventured out of Africa, produced a variety of tools, exploited animal resources, and cared for elderly people, as we know from the site of Dmanisi,” Ponce de León said. The study also suggests that brain organization became more modern human–like in Africa between about 1.5 to 1.7 million years ago, she added, and about 1.5 million years ago in Southeast Asia. Analysis of changes in the environment throughout this period could help scientists understand what drove the changes in brain organization. To read more about Homo erectus skulls recovered from Dmanisi, go to "Homo erectus Stands Alone," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.

Possible Embassy Complex Unearthed at Maya City of Tikal

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—According to a Science Magazine report, recent investigation of an area of the Maya city of Tikal in northern Guatemala has uncovered a complex that resembles the citadel at Teotihuacan, which is located more than 600 miles away, in what is now Mexico City. Archaeologist Edwin Román Ramírez of the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage and his colleagues said they found Teotihuacan-style weapons, some of which were made from green obsidian from central Mexico; incense burners; carvings of Teotihuacan’s rain god; and a burial with Teotihuacan-style offerings in the pyramid, its enclosed courtyard, and two nearby buildings. Ceramics found within the pyramid have been dated to around A.D. 300, or about 100 years before Teotihuacan is thought to have invaded Tikal in A.D. 378. “We can’t say for sure that the people who built this were from Teotihuacan,” Román Ramírez said. “But they were certainly people who were very familiar with its culture and traditions.” Analysis of the human remains recovered at the site could reveal where the person was raised. An elite Maya compound, whose murals had been smashed and buried, has also been discovered in Teotihuacan. The researchers suggest that the mirror-image sites reflect embassies staffed with diplomats in the two cities before the invasion. For more on recent research at Tikal, go to "Around the World: Guatemala."

Monday, April 12

Study Pushes Back Herding in Central Asia by 3,000 Years

JENA, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, animals were domesticated in Central Asia’s Tian Shan and Alay mountain ranges at least 8,000 years ago, or some 3,000 years earlier than previously thought. An international team of researchers, including Svetlana Shnaider of Russia’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Aida Abdykanova of the American University of Central Asia, and William Taylor of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Museum of Natural History and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, reexamined stone tools and animal remains recovered from a rock shelter in southern Kyrgyzstan by Soviet archaeologists. Radiocarbon dating revealed the great age of the fragmented, butchered bones, while examination of the composition of the animals’ teeth indicated they had been slaughtered in the fall, which is a common practice among herding societies. The chemical composition of the bones was then compared to that of wild and domestic sheep species in the region, revealing that the animals had been domesticated, Taylor said. The researchers plan to look for evidence of the use of the animals’ milk and wool, and whether other animals may have been kept by Central Asia’s early pastoralists. To read about the first modern apple seed found in the Tian Shan Mountains, go to "On the Origin of Apples," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Monumental Neolithic Tomb Discovered in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, SAUDIA ARABIA—According to a statement released by Taylor & Francis, the remains of a dog and 11 people have been found in a monumental tomb near the region of Al-Ula, which is located in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The tomb, dated to 4300 B.C., was discovered at a volcanic uplands site during a survey that employed satellite imagery and aerial photography. It is thought to have been in use for a period of at least 600 years. Melissa Kennedy of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Al-Ula (AAKSAU) project said residents of the ancient village may have remembered for hundreds of years that their kin had been buried in the tomb, which would have been highly visible on the landscape. The dog remains push back the evidence for dog domestication in the Arabian Peninsula by about 1,000 years, she added. A leaf-shaped mother-of-pearl pendant was also recovered from the site. Rock art in the region depicts dogs assisting with the hunting of ibex and other animals. A second tomb, dated to the fourth millennium B.C., was found some 80 miles away in arid badlands. This tomb yielded a carnelian bead and would have also been a recognizable feature in the surrounding scenery, Kennedy said. To read about a 7.500-year-old stone monument recently discovered near the oasis of Dumat al-Jandal, go to "Around the World: Saudi Arabia."

Friday, April 9

1,600-Year-Old Industrial Kiln Site Mapped in Poland

WRZĘPIA, POLAND—Some 130 kilns have been mapped with a magnetometer at a 12-acre industrial site in southern Poland, according to a Science in Poland report. Archaeologist Jan Bulas said that two of the kilns, where food storage vessels made on potter’s wheels were fired between the late third and the fifth century A.D., have been excavated. “The site in Wrzępia is unique for many reasons,” he said. “It should be emphasized that in the light of current knowledge it is not only the largest production site of this type in Poland, but also one of the largest in the entire barbaric Europe of the Roman period.” Further research at the site will investigate how long the site was used and how widely the pots were distributed. “It seems, however, that it was local, because there are no discoveries of vessels with the characteristic technology known from this region north of the nearby Vistula [River],” Bulas concluded. Other industrial kiln sites in the region may have made different sorts of vessels, he added. To read about eleventh-century A.D. warrior burials uncovered near the village of Cieple, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

DNA Analysis Detects 17th-Century Relationship

LUND, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by Lund University, scientists have analyzed DNA obtained from the well-preserved remains of Bishop Peder Winstrup, who died in 1679, and small bones found in a linen bundle placed between his legs. Examination of the bones and comparison of the genetic material revealed that the small bones belonged to a male fetus that was stillborn at about five or six months' gestation. He shared about 25 percent of his genes with Winstrup, including a Y-chromosome match, which indicates the bishop shared a second-degree relationship with the child on the father’s side, and was perhaps his grandfather. Maja Krzewinska of Stockholm University said the bishop’s son, Peder Pedersen Winstrup, died without a male heir. The researchers think the remains of the fetus may have been added to the bishop’s coffin, which rested in a vaulted tomb in Lund Cathedral, sometime after his funeral. For more on WInstrup's death and mummified remains, go to "World Roundup: Sweden."

Egypt’s “Lost Golden City” Discovered in Luxor

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that mudbrick walls unearthed on Luxor’s West Bank have been identified by a team led by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass as the remains of a 3,400-year-old city built by Amenhotep III (r. ca. 1390–1352 B.C.). Historical references to the city suggest it was home to three of the pharaoh’s palaces and served as his administrative and industrial center. Rings, scarabs, colorful pottery, and tools for spinning and weaving were found within the well-preserved buildings lining the ancient streets, where some of the walls stand more than nine feet tall, Hawass said. The excavation also revealed a large bakery and food preparation area thought to have fed a large number of workers, an industrial area with ovens for making glass and faience, a production area for mudbricks bearing Amenhotep’s cartouche, and molds for making amulets and delicate decorations for temples and tombs. The administrative and residential district is thought to have been fenced off with a zig-zag wall controlled by one entry point. The excavation team also found two gallons of meat in a vessel bearing the inscription, “Year 37, dressed meat for the third Heb Sed festival from the slaughterhouse of the stockyard of Kha, made by the butcher Iuwy.” Further investigation of the city may reveal why the capital was moved to Amarna in the year 38, Hawass explained. To read about a recent reinvestigation of an underground mausoleum at Luxor, go to "Reburial in Luxor."

New Thoughts on the Paleolithic Diet

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Early humans were apex predators who ate mostly meat for a period of two million years, according to a statement released by Tel Aviv University. Miki Ben-Dor and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University and researcher Raphael Sirtoli reconstructed the Paleolithic diet through an examination of current metabolism, genetics, and physical build, and a variety of scientific disciplines, suggesting that even though human behavior changes rapidly, our bodies evolve slowly. Ben-Dor explained that modern humans have highly acidic stomachs compared to omnivores, which would have provided some protection from harmful bacteria found in old meat. The researchers also claim that modern humans have a larger number of smaller fat cells, similar to other predators. Omnivores, in contrast, have a small number of large fat cells. The modern human genome, they add, allows for the digestion of a diet rich in fats, rather than a diet rich in sugars. Archaeological evidence for the consumption of a diet rich in fat includes the chemical makeup of human fossils, and tools made to hunt large and medium-sized animals. Humans in Africa began to eat more plants some 85,000 ago, while the diets of humans in Europe and Asia made the shift about 40,000 years ago, as environmental conditions changed, Ben-Dor said. To read about the connection between diet and changes in language, go to "You Say What You Eat."