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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, February 20

Remains of a Possible Roman-Era Family Unearthed in Bulgaria

NOVA VARBOVKA, BULGARIA—According to a Live Science report, a farmer discovered two Roman graves while plowing a field in northern Bulgaria late last year. Archaeologists from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History dated the graves to the third century A.D. Both of the brick graves had been lined with plaster and covered with large slabs of limestone. The remains of a man and a woman between the ages of 45 and 60 at the time of death were found in the larger tomb, which measures about 10 feet long. They were buried with jewelry made of glass beads and gold, six coins dated to between A.D. 200 and 225, a lamp, a leather shoe, and vessels made of ceramic and glass. Three of the glass vessels were lacrimaria, or small flasks for collecting the tears of the mourners. The smaller grave contained the remains of a child aged between two and three years old at the time of death. A bronze medallion depicting the Roman emperor Caracalla, who ruled from A.D. 198 to 217, was recovered from this grave. Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov thinks the deceased may have been members of the same family, but DNA analysis of samples of the bones has not yet been conducted. “The discovery of such tombs in the territory of Bulgaria is not a surprise, since the climate and soils are very good for growing agricultural crops,” added museum director Ivan Tsarov. The researchers plan to look for an estate where these people might have lived. To read about artifacts recovered from a Roman frontier camp in northern Bulgaria, go to "Legionary Personal Effects."

Monumental Stone Circle Found in Northern Peru

LARAMIE, WYOMING—According to a statement released by the University of Wyoming, a monumental circular plaza made up of two concentric walls has been discovered in the Andes Mountains of northern Peru by Jason Toohey and Melissa Murphy of the University of Wyoming, Patricia Chirinos Ogata of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and their colleagues. The plaza, constructed with upright megaliths at the Callacpuma archaeological site, measures about 60 feet in diameter and has been radiocarbon dated to 4,750 years ago with charcoal samples uncovered within the plaza. “It was probably a gathering place and ceremonial location for some of the earliest people living in this part of the Cajamarca Valley,” Toohey said. “These people were living a primarily hunting and gathering lifestyle and probably had only recently begun growing crops and domesticating animals,” he added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about an Andean city built in northern Peru's Moche River Valley a millennium ago, go to "Peru's Great Urban Experiment."

Monday, February 19

New Dates Obtained for Rock Art in Patagonia

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA—Live Science reports that samples of black pigment from rock art in a cave in Patagonia have been radiocarbon dated to 8,200 years ago, making some of the images several thousand years older than previously thought. “[The cave] is not the oldest occupation in South America, but it is the oldest directly radiocarbon-dated pigment-based rock art in South America,” said Ramiro Barberena of Temuco Catholic University and Argentina’s National Research Council. In all, 895 paintings have been recorded in the cave. These paintings have been grouped into 446 motifs, or segments. “These [drawings] span more or less across 3,000 years within a single motif,” Barberena explained. He and his colleagues suggest that the drawings were used to transmit information across generations in a landscape with very little water. “It would’ve been hard to make it on your own, so an exchanging of information was important,” the researchers concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about how hunter-gatherers adapted to Patagonia's harsh environments for 13,000 years, go to "Letter from Patagonia: Surviving a Windswept Land."

Study Dives Deep Into Life of Denmark’s “Vittrup Man”

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—A new analysis of the skeletal remains known as Vittrup Man has been completed by a team of researchers led by Anders Fischer and Karl-Göran Sjögren of the University of Gothenburg, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. The skeleton, discovered in 1915 in a peat bog in northwest Denmark along with a wooden club, a ceramic vessel, and cow bones, has been dated to between 3300 and 3100 B.C. Vittrup Man is thought to have been between 30 and 40 years old at the time of death. His remains include the pieces of a smashed skull, which may have occurred during a ritualistic sacrifice, a fight, or a murder, the researchers suggest. The study has found that Vittrup Man had a different genetic signature than people who lived in the region, and was more closely related to Mesolithic people from Sweden and Norway. Isotopes in his bones also indicate that he spent his early childhood some 45 miles away across open sea, while isotopes and proteins in his teeth show that his diet shifted during his later teen years from marine mammals and fish to farm foods, such as sheep or goat. The scientists suggest that the young man may have moved from Sweden to Denmark because he was involved in the flint trade, or because he may have been taken prisoner. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about canine remains recovered from a bog, go to "Denmark's Bog Dogs."

Friday, February 16

Unusual Animal Burials Excavated in Ancient Cemetery in Italy

VERONA, ITALY—According to a Newsweek report, the excavation of a cemetery at the Cenomane site of Seminario Vescovile has uncovered the remains of 161 people, 16 of whom were buried with complete animal skeletons or animal parts. Zita Laffranchi of the University of Bern, Stefania Zingale of the Institute for Mummy Studies, Umberto Tecchiati of the University of Milan, and their colleagues suggest that some of the partial animal remains may have been intended as food offerings, but noted that horses and dogs were not commonly eaten in northern Italy between the third and first centuries B.C. For example, one grave contained the remains of a baby and a complete dog skeleton; another held a young man who had been buried with parts of a horse; a third grave consisted of a middle-aged man buried with a small dog; and a fourth held the remains of a middle-aged woman who had been buried with a whole horse, a dog skull, and parts of other horses. No genetic link was found among the people who had been buried with animals. The researchers suggest that the animals may have been pets, or were perhaps important to the person’s life, although the inclusion of animals in the burials could also reflect the person’s status, or specific funeral rites involving organic materials that have not survived. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about a Roman tomb uncovered in southern Italy whose walls were adorned with a painting of the mythological three-headed guard dog Cerberus, go to "Watchdog for the Afterlife."

Possible Viking-Age Marketplace Found in Norway

STAVANGER, NORWAY—According to a statement released by the University of Stavanger, a ground-penetrating radar survey conducted on Klosterøy, an island off Norway’s southwestern coast, has detected traces of possible pit houses, cooking pits, and pier or boathouse foundations that may have been part of a Viking Age marketplace. Investigation of this area of private farmland around the medieval Utstein Monastery over the years with metal detectors has also revealed coins and weights usually associated with trade, explained archaeologist Håkon Reiersen of the University of Stavanger Museum of Archaeology. “While many indicators suggest that this may be a marketplace, we cannot be 100 percent certain until further investigations are conducted in the area to verify the findings,” added archaeologist Grethe Moéll Pedersen of the Museum of Archaeology. To read about possible evidence for the Vikings' long-distance trading activity, go to "Viking Trading or Raiding?"

19th-Century Chocolate Factory Identified in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—According to an ArtNet News report, excavation of a medieval manor house in Barcelona, combined with historical research, has identified several uses for the building over the past 600 years. The researchers found original fourteenth-century arches and doors in the structure. By the fifteenth century, the building was used as a hostel, until there was a major renovation in the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century, the manor house was divided into three different properties. Large containers from this period have been found, but additional analysis is needed for researchers to determine their contents. In 1825, another renovation was carried out, which corresponds to what is still visible at the site. Reference to “Guardia (Clemente) Chocolates y pastillaje” appears with the chocolate shop’s address in the Almanac of the Universal Exhibition of 1888. Researchers have also uncovered engraved lead plates in the manor house that would have been used to make “Clemente Guardia” labels for the chocolates. To read about early consumption of cacao seeds in Ecuador, go to "Ancient Amazonian Chocolatiers."