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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, June 10

Diet of Siberia’s Neanderthals Studied

VALENCIA, SPAIN—Neanderthals whose remains were recovered in Siberia’s Altai Mountains consumed large and medium-sized game and a wide range of plants, according to a statement released by Asociacion RUVID, the Network of Valencian Universities for the Promotion of Research, Development, and Innovation. An international team of scientists, including Robert Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Domingo Carlos Salazar García of the University of Valencia, Bence Viola of the University of Toronto, Amanda G. Henry of Leiden University, and Natalia Rudava of the Russian Academy of Science analyzed the chemical composition of 60,000-year-old Neanderthal bones from Chagyrskaya Cave, and identified microscopic plant particles in their dental calculus and in the soil where the remains were found. Previous genetic research indicates that Neanderthals colonized the Altai Mountains at least twice, but faced a constant risk of extinction. This new analysis of the Neanderthal diet suggests the hominins readily adapted to the Siberian environment, however. Other hominins in the region, such as the Denisovans, may have been a source of challenge, the researchers explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Human Evolution. To read about new evidence that suggests Neanderthals intentionally buried their dead, go to "Around the World: France."

DNA Analysis Reunites Viking Relatives 1,000 Years Later

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The AFP reports that DNA analysis has linked the remains of two men who died some 1,000 years ago. The remains of one man, who was in his early 20s when he died from head wounds, were found in a mass grave in Oxford, England. His relative, whose remains were unearthed in Denmark, died in his 50s. These bones bear the marks of healed wounds. “This is a big discovery because now you can trace movements across space and time through a family,” said Jeanette Varberg of Denmark’s National Museum, where the two skeletons have been reunited in one display. “It’s very difficult to tell if they lived in the same age or [if] they differ maybe by a generation, because you have no material in the grave that can give a precise dating,” she added. The men could have been half-brothers, grandfather and grandson, or an uncle and nephew. The younger man may have been killed during a Viking raid in England, or killed in 1002 when King Ethelred the Second ordered the deaths of all Danes in England. For more on Viking genetics, go to "Largest Viking DNA Study," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Hoard of Medieval Silver Coins Unearthed in Poland

WARSAW, POLAND—Live Science reports that a hoard of more than 100 silver coins has been discovered in a farmer’s field in northeastern Poland. Mateusz Bogucki of the University of Warsaw said the 1,200-year-old coins, which bear Latin inscriptions and a central cross, were minted in the Carolingian Empire—an area that covered much of what are now France, Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy. Only three such coins had previously been found in Poland, at the Norse trading center of Truso, which is located on the Baltic coast. Some researchers suggest that the coins may have been part of a ransom of more than five tons of silver and gold paid by a Carolingian king to the Vikings who threatened to sack the city of Paris, since the coins were found about 100 miles from Truso. “If a larger number of the coins can be attributed to Paris, then yes, it is possible—and some have already been attributed to Paris,” Bogucki cautioned. To read about a rare Carolingian cup found in Scotland, go to "Viking Treasure Trove."

Wednesday, June 9

Ancient Necropolis Found on Croatian Island

HVAR, CROATIA—Croatia Week reports that a section of stone wall dated to the second century A.D., ramparts and a fifth-century city gate, and a well-preserved necropolis dated to the late fourth century were uncovered by Eduard Viskovic, Joško Barbarić, Marko Bibić, Jure Tudor, Marina Ugarković, and Josip Baraka Perica of Kantharos d.o.o. during excavations ahead of a construction project on the island of Hvar, which is located in the Adriatic Sea. The remains of 12 people were recovered from one tomb made of masonry. Other tomb structures had been fitted with tile roofs. Amphoras were also used for burials. Most of the 20 graves contained jugs, lamps, glass bottles, money, and small utensils, the researchers explained. To read about a 15,000-year-old bone pendant found in a Croatian cave, go to "The Venus of Vlakno."

Search for Lost Settlement of Sarabay Yields Site in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—According to a statement released by the University of North Florida, a team of researchers has uncovered the remains of a possible settlement in northeastern Florida that could be the Mocama-speaking Timucua community of Sarabay. French and Spanish chroniclers described Timucuan communities as having wooden palisade walls, houses, public buildings, and granaries. The researchers have uncovered Spanish pottery, locally produced pottery, and items made from bone, stone, and shell, in addition to fragments of burned corn cobs. The researchers are continuing to look for evidence of dwellings and public architecture. To read about the engineering projects of Florida's Calusa Indians, go to "Around the World: Florida."

Shackled Roman-Era Skeleton Unearthed in England

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a CNN report, construction workers in central England discovered the skeletal remains of a man with iron fetters around his ankles. The bones have been radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 226 and 427. “We do know that the Roman Empire relied quite heavily on slave labor,” said osteologist Chris Chinnock of the Museum of London Archaeology. Chinnock and his colleagues suspect that this man, who was found on his right side with his left side and arm on a slope in a ditch, had been enslaved. Examination of the skeleton shows the man led a physically demanding life, but his cause of death is unknown. In particular, the growth of a bony spur on an upper leg bone may have been the result of a healed injury from a fall or a blow, or repeated activity. Team member Michael Marshall suggests the expensive shackles may have been left on the body as a symbolic punishment to exert power. Some Roman sources indicate that the dead were restrained in order to keep them from rising and influencing the living. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Britannia. To read about the remains of a man from Pompeii who performed repetitive physical labor, go to "More Vesuvius Victims."

Tuesday, June 8

DNA Study Investigates Early Goat Herd in Iran

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Courthouse News Service reports that an international team of scientists led by Kevin G. Daly of Trinity College Dublin examined the remains and DNA samples of goats that lived at Ganj Dareh, an archaeological site in western Iran’s Zagros Mountains, at least 10,000 years ago. Several bricks bearing the imprint of goat hooves have been found at the settlement, Daly added. The animals resembled the wild bezoar ibex, with robust bodies, large cloven hooves, and scimitar horns. The study suggests that male goats were slaughtered once they matured, while female goats were kept to maximize the number of breeding animals. Daly said the genomes of some of the goats in the study resembled that of the bezoar ibex. These goats may have been hunted from wild herds, he explained. The other goats, while morphologically wild, were genetically on the path to domestication, with reduced Y-chromosome diversity from fewer breeding males, and an increase in relatives mating. To read about a fossilized Neanderthal tooth unearthed in the Zagros Mountains, go to "World Roundup: Iran."

Possible Traces of 4,500-Year-Old Cabin Found in China

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that possible traces of a cabin made of bamboo and mud some 4,500 years ago have been uncovered at the Baodun Ancient Town site in southwest China. Tang Miao of the Chengdu Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute said that the six pieces of carbonized bamboo show that bamboo and mud structures were built on the Chengdu Plain earlier than had been previously thought. Pottery, stoneware, and possible traces of rice paddies were also unearthed, he added. To read about another recent archaeological discovery in China, go to "Around the World: China."

The Special Status of Britain’s Ancient Chickens

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Exeter, researchers led by Sean Doherty have developed a method to determine the age of domesticated chickens at the time of death. Scientists rely upon tooth wear and bone fusion to determine the age at death of mammals, but these methods do not apply to birds. Instead, the team members measured the size of modern chickens’ tarsometatarsal spur, which begins to grow on the legs of adult cockerels and continues to increase in size as the bird ages. They then compared this data to that collected from more than 100 Iron Age, Roman, and Saxon-period specimens unearthed in Britain. Doherty points out that many of these birds were buried intact, and not as butchered food waste. The study suggests that more than half of the ancient chickens lived more than two years, and more than a quarter lived more than three years. Doherty said the study also shows that there were more older cockerels than hens, perhaps indicating the popularity of cockfighting during the Iron Age and Roman periods. For more on the domestication of chickens, go to "Fast Food."