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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, August 15

Genetic Study Suggests Human Role in Cave Bear Extinction

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—A genetic study conducted by paleogeneticist Verena Schūnemann of the University of Zurich and her colleagues suggests that modern humans contributed to the extinction of cave bears some 20,000 years ago, according to a report in The Washington Post. The scientists analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the female line, collected from 130 Ursus spelaeus individuals, and estimated the size of the female bear population over time. They determined that the bear population was stable between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago, before it began to crash about 40,000 years ago, when modern humans are thought to have arrived in Europe. Modern humans and Neanderthals probably hunted the bears for their skins and meat, but may have also been in competition with them for the shelter provided by caves. When combined with diminished food supplies brought on by climate change, Schūnemann said, the pressure of contact with humans may have driven the bears to extinction. To read about Neanderthal cave structures, go to "Early Man Cave," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2016.

Archaeologists Explore Medieval Castle’s Cave in Poland

SILESIA, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a range of artifacts and some 200 Neanderthal knives and scrapers were discovered in a cave on the grounds of a ruined castle in northeastern Poland. The cave’s vault may have been buttressed in the thirteenth century, when the castle was built, in order to support the weight of the structure above it. Archaeologist Mikołaj Urbanowski of the Foundation Nature and Man said the stone tools are estimated to be about 40,000 years old, and crafted at a time when Neanderthals and modern humans both lived in Europe, but were made with a technique known to have been employed by early human relatives. Other finds from the cave include a furnace that was used to produce bronze in the fifteenth century. The skeleton of a young dog found underneath the furnace may have been placed there as an offering. “The purpose of the offering,” Urbanowski said, “whose roots can be traced back to pagan times, was to make the smelting process successful. Metallurgists had a lot of knowledge, but intuition and luck were crucial.” He speculates that the furnace may have been hidden in the cave to conceal a coin-counterfeiting operation or some other illegitimate purpose. To read about kinship among Neolithic people buried together in southern Poland, go to "We Are Family."

Some Neanderthals May Have Suffered From Surfer’s Ear

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—CNN reports that bony growths associated with the condition known as “surfer’s ear” have been detected in the ear canals of about half of the Neanderthal skulls examined by a team of researchers led by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, and Sébastien Villotte and Mathilde Samsel of the University of Bordeaux. The presence of the growths in Neanderthals suggests the ancient hominins had the sophisticated technology necessary to exploit aquatic resources more often than previously thought, since the condition is usually found in people who frequently participate in water sports in colder climates. Few fish and aquatic mammal remains have been found at Neanderthal archaeological sites, however. The researchers suggest this may be because many Neanderthal coastal sites could now be underwater. Trinkaus said the study “reinforces a number of arguments and sources of data to argue for a level of adaptability and flexibility and capability among the Neanderthals, which has been denied them by some people in the field.” To read about Neanderthals' use of eagle talons as jewelry, go to "Neanderthal Fashion Statement."

Shard of Ancient Economic Record Discovered in Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—According to an Associated Press report, a 2,500-year-old piece of pottery inscribed with an inventory of goods has been found at Paphos, an ancient city located on the southwestern coast of Cyprus. Maria Iacovou of the University of Cyprus suggests the document, written in a Greek syllabic script, indicates that Cypriot city-states invented their own methods of managing their economies, rather than importing a management system from Phoenicia or another foreign kingdom. A similar inscription has been found at the Cypriot city-state of Idalion, but it was written in the Phoenician alphabet. Idalion had been conquered by the Phoenician-speaking rulers of Kition, who maintained the Cypriot economic management system, Iacovou explained. To read about another discovery from Cyprus, go to "And They're Off!"

Wednesday, August 14

Archaeologists Investigate The Alamo

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—According to a KSAT News report, archaeologist Kristi Miller Nichols and her colleagues are excavating the long barracks and church at the Alamo in order to assess their condition and prepare a conservation plan. Built as a Roman Catholic mission in what is now southern Texas in the eighteenth century, the site became a military compound in the early nineteenth century. In 1836, during the Texas Revolution, Mexican General Santa Anna laid siege to the Texas-held fortress for 13 days, ending in a Texan defeat. “We want to see what the stones look like, and really, the goal is to go deep enough to where we see where the stones are sitting on top of dirt,” Miller Nichols explained. Once the excavators reach that layer of stone, historic architects will install sensors to monitor groundwater movement before replacing the soil. “This is the first time there is an actual, formalized archaeological project happening inside of the long barracks,” Miller Nichols added, “and it’s going to tell us a lot of information we don’t know yet.” For more on archaeology in Texas, go to "Letter from Texas: On the Range."

Inscription Identifies Ancient Greek Island Site

PALEOCHORIA, GREECE—The National Herald reports that a partially preserved inscription, reading “of Artemis in Amarynthos,” has been uncovered on the island of Euboea, at the site of a sanctuary of the goddess Artemis discovered two years ago near the modern village of Amarynthos. Karl Reber of the University of Lausanne and Amalia Karapashalidou of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea said the inscription, which is the first at the site to bear the place name of Amarynthos, links the Greek goddess of hunting to the remains of the 2,500-year-old monumental structure. The block was reused in the Roman era to construct a fountain. To read about an inscription bearing text from the Odyssey that was recently found at Olympia, go to "Epic Find," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.

Tuesday, August 13

3,300-Year-Old Chamber Tombs Discovered in Greece

ATHENS, GREECE—According to The Greek Reporter, two chamber tombs dating to the Late Mycenaean period (1400–1200 B.C.) have been discovered at the Aidonia burial site, which is located near the ancient town of Nemea in southern Greece. One of the rock-cut tombs had an intact roof and contained the bones of 14 people whose remains had been moved from other burial sites, in addition to two complete burials. The roof of the second tomb, which contained three burials, had collapsed. Pottery, figurines, and other small artifacts such as buttons were also recovered from both of the tombs. To read about the discovery of another Mycenaean chamber tomb, go to "A Monumental Find."

Colonial-Era Brass Ring Fragment Found in Michigan

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—The Sault News reports that a fragment of a brass ring has been discovered under the floor of a house in Colonial Michilimackinac, a fort constructed by French soldiers in 1715 on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac. Archaeologist Lynn Evans of Mackinac State Historic Parks said the ring featured a circular bezel adorned with the raised bust of an unknown person. The image was probably covered with clear glass, she explained. A piece of circular clear glass carved with a bust was found on the opposite end of the house in 2014. For more on archaeology in Michigan, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

Archaeologists Investigate Massacre Site in Scotland

GLENCOE, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that archaeologists led by Derek Alexander of the National Trust for Scotland have uncovered traces of buildings at the site of Achtriochtan, one of three small settlements in the Highlands valley of Glencoe. In February of 1692, soldiers belonging to the Campbell clan, who had been billeted in the Glencoe homes of members of the MacDonald clan, were ordered by the government to kill MacDonald men, perhaps because they failed to swear allegiance to William of Orange. Many of the MacDonald women and children who fled to the mountains died of exposure. One of the newly unearthed buildings measured about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, and might have served as an inn, since it was located alongside the road. “It might just be that you rested your horse there, stated who you were and got something to eat, or water or whisky or something like that,” Alexander said. A piece of manganese-mottled ware found in the structure may have been part of a tankard, he added. The building’s three-foot-wide walls are thought to have been covered with a layer of turf as insulation against the mountain weather. Many of the structure’s stones are thought to have been reused to build a road through the valley. To read about an earlier massacre also involving the MacDonald clan, go to "A Dangerous Island."