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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 30

Study Suggests Neanderthals Regularly Enjoyed Sea Food

GÖTTINGEN, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that an international team of researchers has uncovered evidence that Neanderthals systematically collected and processed seafood between 86,000 and 106,000 years ago at Figueira Brava, a cave on the coast of Portugal. The massive cave deposit includes remains of mussels, limpets, crabs, sharks, fish, eels, seals, dolphins, and marine birds. João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona explained that the fatty acids found in marine foods are thought to promote the growth of brain tissue. It had been previously thought that the cognitive abilities of modern humans alone benefited from the consumption of these nutrients. But the discovery of a massive deposit of marine foods at a Neanderthal site offers additional evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans were very similar to each other. The cave also contained stone tools, traces of roasted plants, and the bones of horses and deer. Some 100,000 years ago, Zilhão added, the cave was set back about one mile from the coastline, indicating that Neanderthals must have made baskets or bags in order to carry large quantities of shellfish to the shelter. The researchers suspect that the location of this deposit was key to its preservation. To read about Neanderthals using eagle talons as jewelry, go to "Neanderthal Fashion Statement."

Historic African American Cemetery Mapped in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—According to a statement released by Brown University, graduate students Alex Marko, Dan Plekhov, and Miriam Rothenberg assembled an interactive map of God’s Little Acre, an African American burial ground in Newport, Rhode Island. The cemetery, in use between 1720 and 1990, holds the remains of generations of free and enslaved people, some of whom were born in Africa. The map, created using 3-D photogrammetry and images captured through the use of a drone, will be linked to a database of information engraved on headstones, which can include the names of the deceased, birth and death years, the names of relatives, epitaphs, and occupations. Such information is rarely available for enslaved people, who were not recorded during the census in early Newport history. Marko said that the project, when completed, will be available to the public, and will allow anyone to search the cemetery for information about a particular family or for people who died during a particular year. The map will also allow users to see how the cemetery evolved over time. To read about an unmarked cemetery for African American prison laborers that was discovered in Texas, go to "Another Form of Slavery."

Friday, March 27

New Guinea Artifacts Point to Neolithic Culture

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Science News reports that Ben Shaw of the University of New South Wales and his colleagues have uncovered artifacts that suggest a transition to farm-village life occurred in the highlands of New Guinea between 4,200 and 5,050 years ago. The artifacts include mortars; pestles bearing traces of yam, fruits, and nuts; a piece of a sculpture of a human or animal face; club heads; cutting or chopping tools; a stone marked with deep incisions and pigment stains; and a rock fragment that may have been struck with other stones to light fires. Chemical analysis of a worked piece of obsidian at the site indicates it was imported from at least 500 miles away. It had been previously thought that village life and the cultural changes associated with it were introduced to New Guinea with the arrival of Lapita farmers from Southeast Asia some 3,000 years ago. To read about decorated stone statues that may have been placed in a New Guinea cemetery more than 3,000 years ago, go to "Honoring the Ancestors."

Possible Use of Copper Cookware Detected in Bones

ODENSE, DENMARK—According to a statement released by the University of Southern Denmark, chemical analysis of the levels of copper in human bones can indicate the use of copper cookware in the past. Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his colleagues measured the level of copper in 55 skeletons ranging from 200 to 1,200 years old that were recovered from nine cemeteries in rural and urban areas in Denmark and northern Germany. The researchers found high levels of copper in the bones of people who lived in towns during the Viking and medieval periods, which they believe came from copper pots scraped by metal cooking utensils. Acidic foods stored in copper vessels may have absorbed the metal as well, Rasmussen explained. People who lived in rural areas did not ingest enough copper for it to be detectable in their bones, however. Rasmussen suggests country-dwellers were likely to have prepared their food in pots made of other materials, despite the popular historic image of a country kitchen equipped with a copper pot. Rasmussen thinks a copper pot may have been so unusual in rural areas that it may have been talked about and recorded. To read about the unusual diet of wild boars roaming Denmark's Jutland Peninsula some 5,000 years ago, go to "Mild Boars."

Civil War-Era Letter Found in West Virginia Museum

CEREDO, WEST VIRGINIA—The Wayne County News reports that Isabella Carpintero, a student at Morehead State University, discovered a letter written by President William McKinley in a book at the Z.D. Ramsdell Civil War House. Located near the Ohio River, Ramsdell House is thought to have served as one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before escaped slaves crossed into the North. The letter is addressed to Zophar D. Ramsdell, an abolitionist who served as a captain and quartermaster for the Union Army, and dated June 27, 1862, when McKinley was a lieutenant in the 23rd Ohio Infantry. McKinley is thought to have written the letter himself, and not dictated it to a scribe. A copy has been sent to the McKinley Presidential Museum and Library for authentication. To read about one of the first self-contatined communities established by African-Americans, go to "Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation."

Colonial-Era Shipwreck Identified in Maine

YORK, MAINE—Researcher Stefan Claesson has determined that the remains of a ship that periodically appear in the shifting sands of southern Maine date to the mid-eighteenth century, according to a Seacoast Online report. The hull currently measures about 50 feet long, but Claesson thinks the narrow vessel was about 60 feet long when it was built. “I believe it is the sloop Defiance,” Claesson said. “I think the ship is a pink, a type of cargo ship.” Claesson said he mapped the site with a drone and geographic information system technology. Wood samples analyzed by the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory were found to be from trees cut down in 1753. Using that information as a starting point, Claesson then examined notary records kept by Daniel Moulton between 1750 and 1794, and found that the Defiance ran aground in Cape Neddick Cove in 1769. “Defiance fit every description,” he explained. Additional research revealed that on its last journey, the Defiance left Salem, Massachusetts, and was headed for Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay, carrying a crew of four, flour, pork, and other supplies when it hit rocks in Cape Neddick Cove during a storm. The crew survived, but the ship was lost. Claesson has also recommended procedures to protect the wreckage from further damage. Photographs taken of the ship in the 1950s and the 1970s show that its mast has since been cut off. To read about Maine's Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, go to "Off the Grid."

Thursday, March 26

Survivor of Transatlantic Slave Trade Identified

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, research conducted by Hannah Durkin of Newcastle University has identified Matilda McCrear as one of the last survivors of the transatlantic slave trade. Captured by slave traders in West Africa at the age of two, McCrear arrived in Alabama on the slave ship Clotilda in 1860. The ship is thought to have been scuttled shortly after its arrival in Mobile Bay in an effort to destroy evidence of the journey, because the importation of slaves to the United States had been outlawed in 1808. McCrear, her mother, and one of her three sisters who made the journey were purchased by the same plantation owner, Memorable Walker Creagh. After the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, the family worked as share croppers. Durkin said McCrear changed her surname, and had a common-law marriage with a white German-born man. They had 14 children. At the age of 70, McCrear was interviewed by the Selma Times-Journal after she and Sally “Redoshi” Smith, another Clotilda survivor, made a claim for compensation for their enslavement at the county courthouse, which was dismissed. McCrear died in Selma, Alabama, in January of 1940. Sally “Redoshi” Smith died in 1937, and Oluale Kossala, also known as Cudjo Lewis, another known Clotilda survivor, died in 1935. For more, go to "The Case for Clotilda."

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

RYE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement from Flinders University, an international team of researchers investigated the wreck of the Barbara, which sank near the coast of southeastern Australia in 1853. The Barbara was constructed in Tasmania in 1841 to carry lime for brickmaking, which was an early industry practiced in southern Australia. Analysis of wood samples revealed the ship was built from timbers grown in Victoria, New South Wales, Northern Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmanian blue gum, a type of eucalyptus tree. “This is possibly the first time such a wide variety of timbers have been found in an Australian built vessel,” said Wendy Van Duivenvoorde of Flinders University. “It indicates that early shipbuilders had developed a detailed knowledge of the properties of indigenous timbers appropriate for shipbuilding.” Analysis of metal and fiber samples taken from the wreck is still underway, she added. To read about excavations at a nineteenth-century prison in the suburbs of Melbourne, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Japanese Internment Camp Considered for National Park Status

GRANADA, COLORADO—UPI reports that Camp Amache, a World War II-era Japanese internment camp located in southeastern Colorado, could become part of the National Park system. Between 1942 and 1945, some 10,000 people were detained at Camp Amache, where they lived in 29 blocks of military-style barracks surrounded by barbed wire fence, six watch towers, and armed guards. Local teacher John Hopper, with the assistance of the city of Granada and his high school students, have worked to maintain and restore the site since 1993. Archaeology field school students under the direction of Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver have uncovered traces of gardens kept by the detainees, building foundations, and artifacts now kept in a student-run museum. The students’ work could become the basis of a National Park interpretive center, Clark explained. “I hope it helps people remember that this happened,” added her student, Kylie Dillinger. To read about the remains of a Japanese village in Canada that was abandoned when its residents were forced into internment camps, go to "World Roundup: Canada."