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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 18

Three Bronze Sculptures Repatriated to India

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Hindustan Times reports that in a remote ceremony, British police officials handed over three sculptures stolen from a temple site in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1978 to Prahlad Singh Patel, India’s Minister for Culture and Tourism. The sculptures represent Lord Ram, his brother Lakshman, and wife Sita, who are central to the ancient epic the Ramayana. “The Metropolitan Police are proud to have been involved in the return of these Chola bronzes to India,” said Tim Wright, detective chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police. The sculptures, which had been held in a private collection in England, will be returned to the temple from which they were taken. To read about a 2,000-year-old island temple complex in Tamil Nadu, go to "India's Temple Island."

120,000-Year-Old Hominin Footprints Found in Saudi Arabia

JENA, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that seven hominin footprints dated to some 120,000 years ago with optical stimulated luminescence were identified among hundreds of animal prints in northern Saudi Arabia’s Nefud Desert. The prints are thought to have been left by two or three modern humans who may have come to what was then a shallow lake along with camels, buffalo, and elephants, according to Mathew Stewart of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. “We know that humans were visiting this lake at the same time these animals were, and, unusually for the area, there’s no stone tools,” Stewart said, explaining that the people may have come to the lake for a short time, in order to forage and hunt. They may have been traveling out of Africa along an inland route, following lakes and rivers toward Eurasia, he added. To read about hominin footprints left on the English coast nearly one million years ago, go to "England's Oldest Footprints."

Neanderthal Child’s Tooth Discovered in Italy

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a statement released by the University of Bologna, researchers from the University of Bologna and the University of Ferrara have uncovered a Neanderthal child’s milk tooth in northern Italy’s Broion Cave. The child is thought to have been 11 or 12 years old when it died between some 45,000 to 48,000 years ago, making the child one of the last Neanderthals to live in Italy. Analysis of DNA recovered from the small canine tooth indicates the child was related, on its mother’s side, to Neanderthals whose remains have been recovered in Belgium. Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna said the information will help researchers to understand how Neanderthals went extinct in Europe. To read about another Neanderthal child's tooth found in the Zagros Mountains, go to "World Roundup: Iran."

Eighteenth-Century Artifacts Unearthed in North Carolina

COLERAIN, NORTH CAROLINA—The Charlotte Observer reports that a farmer in North Carolina discovered a Revolutionary War–era site on his land near the Chowan River. Charles Ewen of East Carolina University said the recovered artifacts include broken wine bottles, china, British-made smoking pipes, large ceramic storage vessels, keys, locks, bone-handled utensils, oyster shells, an ornate marble font, and a glass jewel inscribed with the words “Wilkes and Liberty 45” that is identical to a cufflink jewel recently uncovered at a late eighteenth-century tavern site in Brunswick Town. Such jewels were worn to help rebels recognize each other, since the slogan referred to English pamphleteer John Wilkes, whose Pamphlet 45 argued that the English king was not above reproach. “Everything we had found in Brunswick Town, he has found lots more of,” Ewen said. Ewen thinks the site could be another tavern, or possibly a warehouse at a ferry crossing, since the site is situated just 100 yards from the Chowan River. “People stayed a bit at ferry crossings because it took a long time,” he explained. Ballast stones have been found in the rubble, he added. Ewen and his colleagues plan to examine the area with ground-penetrating radar to look for evidence of structures. To read about the cufflink found in Brunswick Town, go to "World Roundup: North Carolina."

DNA Study Investigates Viking Identities

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science Magazine reports that a team of researchers led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen sequenced the genomes of people who lived in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, and the genomes of people who had been buried elsewhere in Europe, including Italy, Ukraine, and Greenland, in the Viking style or with Viking grave goods, from about A.D. 750 to 1050. The study suggests that Scandinavians were more likely to have black hair than those who live in the region today, and they rarely mixed with each other. “We can separate a Norwegian person from a Swedish person from a Danish person,” explained Søren Sindbæk of Aarhus University. The researchers also found that Vikings from Norway tended to travel to Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland; Vikings from Sweden traveled to the Baltics, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine; and Vikings from Denmark headed to England. Several remains in Norway buried in the Viking style were found to have been indigenous Saami people, and no Scandinavian DNA was detected in the genomes of people buried in Viking-style graves on the Orkney Islands. But, some Vikings buried in Scandinavia had Irish and Scottish parents. “These identities aren’t genetic or ethnic, they’re social,” commented archaeologist Cat Jarman of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. To read about investigations into the origins of the residents of a major Viking town in Sweden, go to "Land of the Ice and Snow."

Thursday, September 17

Wreckage Off Mexico Identified as 19th-Century Slave Ship

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to an Associated Press report, researchers led by Helena Barba Meinecke of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have identified the wreckage of a paddle-wheel steamboat discovered in 2017 as La Unin, a vessel that carried Maya people to Cuba to work in sugarcane fields before it sank near the Yucatan port of Sisal in 1861. Although slavery was illegal in Mexico, the operators of La Unin and similar vessels are thought to have purchased Mayas who were captured as combatants or left landless during the rebellion known as the War of the Castes, which took place from 1847 to 1901. “The grandparents and great-grandparents of the inhabitants of Sisal told them about a steam ship that took away Mayas during the War of the Castes,” Barba Meinecke said. “And one of the people in Sisal who saw how they led the Mayas away as slaves, told his son and then he told his grandson, and it was that person who led us to the general area of the shipwreck.” It is unclear from ship records if La Unin was carrying any Mayas as cargo on its last voyage. The researchers plan to look for descendants of transported Mayas in Havana, in a neighborhood known as “Campeche,” Barba Meinecke added. To read about how Maya clothing and body ornaments reflected their varying societal roles, go to "From Head to Toe in the Ancient Maya World."

Study Says Turkey’s Stored Ancient Grains Were Collected as Tax

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a Nature report, Amy Bogaard of the University of Oxford and her colleagues analyzed 3,000-year-old grain recovered from a subterranean silo at Hattusha, the capital of the Hittite Empire in central Anatolia. Discovered in 1999, the silo contained hundreds of tons of grain stored in 32 chambers that caught fire shortly after they were put into use. Bogaard and her team members sampled grain from five of these chambers. The different chemical profiles of the grains and the types of weed seeds found intermixed with the wheat and barley suggest that the grain in each chamber came from separate farming communities. The researchers believe the grain was collected as a tax from people who lived across Hittite lands as a display of the king’s wealth. To read about a Bronze Age settlement in southeastern Turkey that was likely destroyed by the Hittites more than 3,500 years ago, go to "The Wrath of the Hittites."

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Excavated in the East of England

SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an Anglo-Saxon cemetery that may date to the sixth century A.D has been found at a site slated for residential development in the East of England, within the border of the Kingdom of the East Angles. Brooches, pottery, small iron knives, wrist clasps, amber and glass beads, and silver pennies were uncovered among the more than 200 burials. “Due to the highly acidic soil the skeletons had mostly vanished and were luckily preserved as fragile shapes and shadows in the sand,” said archaeologist Andrew Peachey. The fragile artifacts were removed in blocks of soil for micro-excavation at Norfolk Museum Service, he added. Several generations of a small farming community are thought to have been buried at the site. To read about a copper alloy workbox that was found in an Anglo-Saxon woman's grave, go to "Artifact."

4,300-Year-Old Figurines Unearthed in Central Anatolia

KAYSERI, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that a team of researchers led by Fikri Kulakoğlu of Ankara University uncovered more than a dozen 4,300-year-old figurines thought to depict gods and goddesses at the Kültepe mound in central Anatolia. Previous excavation at the site uncovered 35 similar figurines in one room of the same building. “The building we excavated is probably an official, religious, a very large and unique place in Anatolia,” Kulakoğlu said. Some of the figures are shown sitting on thrones, he added. To read about the oldest-known polychrome floor mosaic unearthed in central Turkey, go to "Polychrome Patchwork."

Wednesday, September 16

Iron Age Winepress Unearthed in Lebanon

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the University of Tübingen, an Iron Age winepress has been unearthed in Lebanon at the Phoenician site of Tell el-Burak, a small settlement inhabited from the late eighth to the middle of the fourth century B.C. The seventh-century B.C. winepress was built into the slope of a hill with plaster made of lime and crushed ceramics. Such lime plaster, made with a technique also used by the Romans, was hardwearing and water-resistant. Adriano Orsingher, Jens Kamlah, Silvia Amicone, and Christoph Berthold of the University of Tübingen and Hélène Sader of the American University in Beirut suggest the settlement was founded to supply the nearby trading town of Sidon with agricultural products. Earlier research at the site uncovered evidence of large-scale grape cultivation and a large number of amphoras that may have been used to transport wine. To read about some of the first evidence for winemaking in France, go to "French Wine, Italian Vine."

Researchers Untangle Crete’s Ancient Number System

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a statement released by Elsevier, Silvia Ferrara of the University of Bologna and her colleagues conducted a new study of the 3,500-year-old Minoan system of fractions in the syllabic sign and numerical notation system known as Linear A. Previous attempts to understand the system of fractions were complicated by damaged documents and the contradictory use of certain signs—perhaps because the system changed over time. The researchers therefore limited the study to documents dated to between 1600 and 1450 B.C. They then combined the study of the fraction sign shapes and their use in inscriptions with statistical, computational, and typological strategies to assign them mathematical values. After excluding impossible outcomes, the computation yielded nearly four million possible solutions. Typological data were then used to compare the results with fractions commonly found in use in history. Statistical tests also helped to trim the list of possibilities. Ferrara and her team concluded that Linear A’s lowest fraction was 1/60. The study also suggests that the Linear B script used by Mycenaean Greek culture between 1450 and 1200 B.C. reused some of these fractions as units of measurement. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science. For more on the Minoans, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

Did Early Humans Cook Their Meals in Hot Springs?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a statement released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an international team of researchers suggests that early humans living in East Africa may have cooked their food in hot springs. Team member Ainara Sistiaga of MIT and the University of Copenhagen was looking for traces of leaf waxes in 1.7 million-year-old sediments found near stone tools and animal bones at a site in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge in order to study the ancient climate when she found lipids similar to those produced by bacteria living in the very hot springs at Yellowstone National Park. Sistiaga said the tectonic activity in the Great Rift Valley could have brought boiling groundwater to the surface. And, she explained, if an animal fell into the water and cooked, the early humans may have eaten it, although Sistiaga noted that detecting direct evidence of such behavior will be difficult. The team members will look for evidence of hot springs at other early human archaeological sites. To read about hominin footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, go to "Proof in the Prints."

Scientists Question Literacy Rate in Ancient Judah

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, a new study of ostraca from Tel Arad, the site of a small military outpost located to the west of the Dead Sea, suggests that literacy was not limited to royal scribes in the period leading up to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. A team of researchers utilized image-processing technologies and machine learning to analyze 18 Hebrew texts, which had been written in ink on pottery dated to about 600 B.C. An initial study in 2016 suggested that at least six different people had written the texts. Now, forensic handwriting specialist Yana Gerber suggests that as many as 12 different hands may have written the inscriptions. Arie Shaus of Tel Aviv University said this knowledge, combined with the content of the inscriptions, offers insight into the chain of command and supply systems within the fortress. Barak Sober of Tel Aviv University explained that for so many of the soldiers at this small outpost to be literate, there must have been an educational system in place in Judah at the end of the First Temple period. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. For more on writing at Tel Arad, go to "Reading Invisible Messages."