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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 26

Genome of Ancient Arctic Sled Dog Analyzed

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—NBC News reports that researchers have compared the genome of a 9,500-year-old dog who lived at a site on Siberia’s Zhokhov Island, where archaeological evidence of dogsleds was also recovered, with DNA extracted from a 33,000-year-old wolf’s jaw found in northeastern Siberia, and the genomes of 134 modern sled dog breeds, including Alaskan and Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and Greenland dogs. The study found that the ancient dog had long fur and thick foot pads, and shared many genes with modern sled dog breeds. The Greenland dogs, long thought to be the closest modern breed to ancient sled dogs, were found to be genetically closest to the wolf, while the modern sled dogs were more closely related to the Greenland dogs than other dog breeds. The study also suggests that the sled dog lineage may date back some 15,000 years. “Dogs already had different populations 10,000 years ago, and one would imagine that domestication happened quite a bit of time before that,” said population geneticist Shyam Gopalakrishnan of the University of Copenhagen. To read about the specialized breed of sled dog brought to North America by the first Inuit migrants, go to "Around the World: Arctic."

16th-Century Cemetery in Poland Yields Children’s Remains

NISKO, POLAND—The First News reports that the remains of 115 children were found in a sixteenth-century cemetery associated with a large Catholic church in southeast Poland during road construction. Some of the children were buried with coins in their mouths. Most of them were minted during the reign of Sigismund III Vasa, who ruled Poland from 1587 to 1632, or from the reign of John II Casimir, who ruled from 1648 to 1668. “It’s certainly a sign of their beliefs,” said archaeologist Katarzyna Oleszek. “The coins are called obols of the dead or Charon’s obol. It is an old, pre-Christian tradition. But it’s been cultivated for a long time, even as late as the nineteenth century.” According to the ancient tradition, the coin was intended to be a payment or bribe to Charon, the ferryman who conveyed the dead across the river that separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. Oleszek also said that no buttons, nails, or coffin handles were recovered from the sandy soil, which suggests the children had come from a very poor community. All of the remains will eventually be reburied in a local cemetery. To read about the burials of four medieval knights near the Polish village of Cieple, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

17th-Century Artifacts Found at Soldiers’ Barracks in Ireland

ATHLONE, IRELAND—According to a report in the Roscommon Herald, excavations at the Athlone Garda Barracks in central Ireland have uncovered a cobbled area and courtyard dated to the late seventeenth century. Soldiers stationed at the site left behind coins, musket balls, a thimble, a fine-toothed bone comb, a clay curler, clay pipes, glassware, military buttons, and uniform buckles. Zooarchaeologist Siobhan Duffy also identified a rooster’s lower leg bone whose spur had been sawn off. “This procedure would have been carried out during the bird’s life, to facilitate the attachment of an artificial spur for the purposes of cockfighting,” she said. The artifacts suggest that senior officers who wore curled wigs and drank from fine glassware participated in the sport of cockfighting. To read about a British fort in Cork Harbor that became a notorious prison, go to "Letter from Ireland: The Sorrows of Spike Island."

Thursday, June 25

Study Links Alaskan Volcano to Fall of Roman Republic

RENO, NEVADA—According to a statement released by the Desert Research Institute, Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute, Michael Sigl of the University of Bern, and an international team of their colleagues found evidence of two volcanic eruptions in Arctic ice cores that may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic and Egypt’s Ptolemaic Kingdom. Two years of fallout from the eruptions are thought to have triggered the extreme drop in temperatures and increase in rainfall experienced in the Mediterranean world at that time. Archaeologist Andrew Wilson of the University of Oxford explained that the change in weather would have probably reduced crop yields and increased transportation difficulties, possibly contributing to the famine and disease described by ancient sources. Atmospheric phenomena described as omens at the time of the assassination of Julius Caesar may have been caused by the eruption of Sicily’s Mt. Etna in 44 B.C., while analysis of ash from a second, massive event determined that it came from a 43 B.C. eruption of the Okmok II volcano, which is located on Alaska’s Umnak Island. McConnell said that researchers have long speculated that volcanic eruptions contributed to the unrest of the period. For more on correlating evidence from ice cores with historical events, go to "History in Ice."

Kilns and Walls Found at Egypt’s Avenue of Sphinxes

LUXOR, EGYPT—According to an Ahram Online report, several structures were uncovered during an excavation at the Avenue of Sphinxes, a ceremonial passageway lined with ram-headed sculptures that once connected temples in Luxor and Karnak. Mudbrick kilns dating to the Roman period (30 B.C.–A.D. 640) are thought to have been used to fire pottery. A wall dated to the Egyptian Late Period (712–332 B.C.) would have protected Luxor from the floodwaters of the Nile River. Another 100-foot-long section of wall made of sandstone blocks still stands about eight feet tall and ten feet wide. To read about a chapel east of the Avenue of the Sphinxes, go to "Honoring Osiris."

Wednesday, June 24

Late 19th-Century Neighborhood Uncovered in Australia

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—The Age reports that more than 200 artifacts dating to the late nineteenth century, including tobacco and opium pipes, leather goods, bottles, crockery, books, and animal bones, have been unearthed in Brisbane, a city located on Australia’s eastern coast. Archaeologist Kevin Rains of Niche Environment and Heritage said the site was the city’s original Chinatown area, and that the objects belonged to people who moved there at the end of the gold rush in the 1880s and founded a working-class neighborhood known as Frog’s Hollow. The residents included people from China, the South Sea Islands, and other parts of Asia, Europe, and Britain, Rains explained. “It had food shops, opium dens, hotels, lots of boarding houses, and a mix of grocers, all sorts of things,” he added. Rains and his team have also identified the sites of a hotel, a saddlery, and other shops among the walls and foundations they uncovered. To read about material culture unearthed in other early Chinese immigrant communities, go to "America's Chinatowns."

Amazon’s Ancient Farmers Still Impact Biodiversity

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Exeter, researchers from the University of Exeter and Brazil’s State University of Mato Grosso sampled some 4,000 trees in southern and eastern Amazonia, and found that areas of the Amazon where so-called “dark earth” is found have more diverse ecosystems. Edmar Almeida de Oliveira explained that this vegetation includes more edible fruit trees and different species of colossal trees than are found in the surrounding forest. The study shows that these patches of dark earth, which were created over a period of 5,000 years by early farmers who fertilized the soil with charcoal from fires and food waste, still have more nutrients and are thus more fertile than untreated soils. Early farmers are thought to have grown food in the treated soils and forested trees from untreated areas. Dark earth areas were abandoned, the researchers added, when indigenous communities collapsed after the arrival of Europeans. To read about the early civilizations of the Amazon, go to "Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms."

Early Ninth-Century Viking Structure Found in Iceland

STÖÐVARFJÖRÐUR, ICELAND—Live Science reports that traces of a longhouse dated to the early ninth century A.D. have been found in eastern Iceland, under the remains of another Viking structure thought to have served as a chieftain’s house decades later in the late ninth century, based upon the decorative beads, pieces of silver, and Roman and Middle Eastern coins recovered there. It had been previously thought that Vikings escaping the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair first came to the island in A.D. 874. Researchers led by archaeologist Bjarni Einarsson think the older building may have been used as a summer settlement by workers who were fishing and trapping whales, seals, and birds. Traces of a metalworking shop were also uncovered in the hall’s westernmost end. He added that the seasonal camp in Iceland resembles the Viking site discovered in Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows, which has been dated to A.D. 1000. “This was a pattern of the settlement of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean,” Einarsson said. “First, we had the seasonal camps, and then the settlement followed.” To read about the excavation of a Viking hall in the Orkneys, go to "Skoal!"