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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 27

Water Filtration System Found at Ancient Maya City of Tikal

CINCINNATI, OHIO—According to a statement released by the University of Cincinnati, evidence of a 2,000-year-old water-filtering system has been found at the Corriental reservoir in Tikal, which is located in northern Guatemala. Archaeologist Kenneth Tankersley said the crystalline quartz and zeolite detected in the reservoir’s sediments had been transported some 18 miles from the ridges around the Bajo de Azúcar. The Maya probably observed that the water bleeding out of these cliffs was clean and sweet, and associated it with the ridges’ exposed volcanic tuff, added researcher Christopher Carr. Tankersley said the Maya’s system would have removed microbes, nitrogen-rich compounds, heavy metals, and other toxins to produce pools of clean water. To read about how residents of Tikal used their land to feed the city's immense population, go to "Mapping Maya Cornfields."

Lost Medieval Villages Found in The Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that maritime archaeologist Yftinus van Popta has detected traces of four settlements in the Noordpoostpolder, an area to the northeast of Amsterdam flooded by the Zuiderzee in the late thirteenth century. It had been previously suggested that the bricks, bones, and pottery found in the area had fallen from passing ships. Van Popta pointed out that the objects date from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries A.D., but shipping did not begin to pass through the area until A.D. 1250. He plans to continue to look for remains of the villages, named Marcnesse, Nagele, Fenehuysen I, and Feneguysen II, with the help of old maps and other historical source materials. “We have found a lost piece of the Netherlands,” he said. To read about a sixteenth-century Dutch shipwreck, go to "Spring Boards."

Scientists Reevaluate Germany’s Bronze Age Battlefield

MECKLENBURG-WEST POMERANIA, GERMANY—According to a report in The Times, new genetic and chemical analyses of an estimated 145 sets of human remains unearthed in what had been thought to be a Bronze Age battlefield in northern Germany’s Tollense River Valley suggest that the dead were not members of a local army, but had come from many different regions. In addition, few of the individuals shared kinship ties. Wear and tear on the bones of the lower body also shows that some of the dead had been used to carrying heavy loads. “The picture that is emerging does not necessarily correspond to the picture of a warrior, but rather to the picture of people who spent their lives transporting things,” said Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist for the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. The remains of women have also been found among the bones, in addition to gold rings, cylinders made of bronze, and glass beads from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Jantzen and his team think the site could be the remains of a large caravan of merchants who were attacked by raiders. “These are luxury goods we have found here and they have a very long journey behind them,” he explained. For more on analysis of remains from this battle, go to "World Roundup: Germany."

Monday, October 26

Smuggling Attempt Foiled at Egypt’s Port of Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that officers from the Alexandria Port Customs Office seized three artifacts under Antiquities Protection Law 117 of 1983, which claims for the Egyptian state all movable and immovable objects produced from prehistory through the nineteenth century A.D. and found within Egypt’s borders. The confiscated objects, including a nineteenth-century porcelain lantern, a nineteenth-century pear-shaped porcelain vessel with a round mouth, and a decorated glass vessel dated to the early Islamic era, had been hidden in a container being prepared for export. The items have been handed over to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. To read about an ancient port city that predated the rise of Alexandria, go to "Egypt's Temple Town."

Mummified Remains of Sacrificed Llamas Found in Peru

ALBERTA, CANADA—Live Science reports that Lidio Valdez of the University of Calgary and his colleagues discovered the naturally mummified remains of five young llamas thought to have been sacrificed by the Inca some 500 years ago at Tambo Viejo, an archaeological site on the coast of Peru. The animals wore colorful string necklaces and earrings, and had been decorated with red paint and the feathers of tropical birds attached to wooden sticks. One brown llama and three white ones were found beneath the clay floors of one building, in an area disturbed by looters. A single brown llama was found under the floor of a second building. Valdez said no cut marks have been found on the animals, but their legs had been tied, so they may have been buried alive to honor the gods as part of a huge feast. “The adornments suggest that the offerings were very special,” Valdez said. “Indeed, historical records indicate that brown llamas were sacrificed to the creator Viracocha, while white llamas to the sun, the Inca main deity.” A guinea pig was found with one of the white llamas, he added. Pits holding maize cobs, lima beans, guinea pigs, and a package of ash that may have been used when chewing coca leaf were also found near the three white llamas. To read about mass sacrifices of llamas and children at the site of Pampa la Cruz, go to "Peruvian Mass Sacrifice," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

New Dates Suggest Clovis Culture Lasted Just 300 Years

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—The Clovis people of North America made their distinctive stone tools for a period of just 300 years, according to a statement released by Texas A&M University. Michael Waters and David Carlson of Texas A&M University and Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research radiocarbon dated bone, charcoal, and carbonized plant remains from ten Clovis sites in South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Montana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, and found they ranged in age from 13,050 and 12,750 years old. Waters said that it is not clear why Clovis technology emerged and then disappeared so quickly, but noted that the timing corresponds with the extinction of mammoths and mastodons. The weapons, he explained, may have been used to hunt the last of the megafauna. The new, accurate dates also show that people living in North and South America some 13,000 years ago had created their own adaptations to their environments, Waters added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on the Clovis culture and peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Possible 15th-Century Cemetery Uncovered in Scotland

SHETLAND, SCOTLAND—A possible medieval cemetery has been uncovered at a private residence on Mainland, the largest of the Shetland Islands, according to a report in The Herald. The homeowner was beginning to build a bike shed when he found a human skull under just ten inches of soil. Researchers from Historic Environment Scotland were called to the site, and they proceeded to discover the remains of 26 people ranging in age from one to 60, who appear to have been buried in family groups. Traces of four Pictish roundhouses and artifacts dated to the Iron Age were also recovered. “The archaeologists left with two van loads filled to the roof with ancient artifacts,” said homeowner Kristian Leith. Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust said that archaeologists would like to return to the site to look for additional Pictish remains. To read about carvings of a warrior figure on Pictish monoliths unearthed in Scotland, go to "Warrior Stone."

Friday, October 23

More Possible Graves of Oklahoma Race Massacre Victims Found

TULSA, OKLAHOMA—Tulsa World reports that researchers looking for the remains of victims of Tulsa's 1921 Race Massacre have found an unmarked trench holding the poorly preserved remains of ten wooden coffins in Oaklawn Cemetery. The trench was found near a single burial discovered earlier this week, in an area of the cemetery noted in old funeral home records as a burial site for some of the 300 Black people killed by a white mob on May 31 and June 1, 1921. State archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said the single burial differs slightly from the burials in the trench. The bones in the trench, she added, are too fragile to examine in place, and so will remain covered while the research team makes plans to exhume them. “We have a lot of work to do to determine the nature of [this] mass grave and who is buried in it, but what we can say is that we have a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery where we have no record of anyone being buried,” commented city mayor G.T. Bynum. For more, go to "A Sight Which Can Never Be Forgotten: The Tulsa Race Riot."

19th-Century Polish Sword Unearthed in Bulgaria

WARSAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a nineteenth-century sword bearing the remnants of a Polish inscription has been unearthed in northern Bulgaria, near the historic capital of Veliko Tarnovo, which is located on the Yantra River. The inscription, “Vivat Szlachcic Pan I fundator wojska,” translates to “Long live the Noble Lord and founder of the army.” Archaeologist Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw said this phrase was usually followed by the phrase, “Long live the will and the common good.” Polish swords from the period were normally engraved on both sides with inscriptions and patriotic motifs, he added. “The sabre was probably the spoils of an officer of the Tsarist army who participated in the suppression of the January Uprising in 1863 and 1864, who then fitted it with a silver hilt typical for a shashka—a sabre with an open hilt with a split pommel,” Dyczek surmised. This officer might have then lost the weapon in Bulgaria while fighting in the Russo-Turkish War, between 1877 and 1878, he added. To read about a sword and other weapons found in Viking warrior burials in Poland, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

Cache of Medieval Silver Pennies Found in Slovakia

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a cache of medieval coins was discovered under an uprooted tree in western Slovakia by a tourist who reported the find to the Regional Monuments Board. Archaeologist Matúš Sládok said most of the 147 small, silver coins were Wiener pfennigs minted in Austria, and imitation Wiener pfennings made in Hungary between 1251 and 1330. Sládok thinks the coins may have been wrapped in fabric or leather that has not survived. “Owners hid their movable property, especially finances, in unstable times when they were trying to protect it from enemies and robbers,” he said. The owner may have died or forgotten about the money, he added. To read about a cache of 2,500 silver pennies discovered last year in southwest England, go to "Norman Conquest Coin Hoard," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Homo erectus May Have Invented Barbed Bone Points

FORT COLLINS, COLORADO—According to a Science News report, biological anthropologist Michael Pante of Colorado State University and his colleagues found an 800,000-year-old barbed point among 52 animal bones recovered from East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The unfinished implement, which features three curved barbs and a carved tip, was crafted from a piece of a large animal’s rib. The set of animal bones also included choppers, hammering tools, and hammering platforms. These tools are similar to those found at other sites with Homo erectus fossils, and are therefore thought to have been made by Homo erectus. But because the barbed bone point is unfinished, it is unclear how the hominins might have used it. It had been previously thought that barbed bone points were first made by Homo sapiens some 90,000 years ago, based upon artifacts uncovered in central Africa. The bases of these finished weapons suggest they had been attached to wooden shafts, perhaps to catch fish and hunt larger land animals. For more on the first human species to migrate out of Africa, go to "Homo erectus Stands Alone," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.

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