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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 09

Well-Preserved Murals Discovered in Pompeii

ROME, ITALY— reports that a residence with a well-preserved lararium has been discovered in Pompeii. A lararium was a shrine dedicated to the Lares, who were deities believed to protect the Roman home. Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii archaeological park, said this lararium was decorated with an “enchanted garden” complete with snakes, a peacock, golden beasts fighting a black wild boar, birds in the sky, a well, a tub, and a part-man, part-dog figure. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Tools at Maya Saltworks Analyzed

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA—Archaeologist Heather McKillop of Louisiana State University and anthropologist Kazuo Aoyama of Ibaraki University suggest salt produced along the coasts by the Maya between A.D. 300 and 900 was widely traded at inland markets, according to an NPR report. McKillop has found more than 100 salt-producing kitchens in Belize. She and Aoyama analyzed stone tools at one of these saltworks, which is now underwater. “I thought findings would be that they cut a lot of wood, but in fact, the majority of the stone tools were used for cutting meat and fish,” she said. No animal or fish bones were preserved in the acidic mangrove peat at the site, but more than 4,000 wooden posts survived in the soil. The posts outline the buildings where the salt was processed, and hardened in pots. The resulting salt cakes and salted fish and meat could have been transported by canoe to inland markets, the researchers added, where it could have provided the Maya population with necessary nutrients. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

Neanderthal Child’s Finger Bones Identified in Poland

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that two tiny 100,000-year-old finger bones of a Neanderthal child were identified among a collection of animal bones unearthed in deep layers in Ciemna Cave, which is located in southern Poland. Paweł Valde-Nowak of Jagiellonian University and Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis said the poorly preserved finger bones belonged to a child who was probably between the ages of five and seven at the time of death. The porous surface of the bones suggest they may have passed through the digestive tract of a large bird. The only other known Neanderthal remains to have been found in Poland are three molars from Stajnia Cave, estimated to be about 50,000 years old. However, thousands of Neanderthal tools, dating back some 200,000 years, have been recovered from across southern Poland. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

First-Century Inscription Found in Israel Mentions “Jerusalem”

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—UPI reports that a 2,000-year-old Aramaic inscription unearthed during roadwork near the Jerusalem International Convention Center mentions Jerusalem, written in Hebrew letters, as it is spelled today. References to the city from the time period usually refer to “Shalem.” The complete inscription, which reads “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem,” was found on a limestone column drum that was reused in a later Roman structure. Danit Levy of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the area where the column was found had been used for pottery and cooking vessel production in antiquity. To read about another recent discovery in Jerusalem, go to “Front Row Seats.”

Friday, October 05

Lake Erie Shipwreck Possibly Identified

TOLEDO, OHIO—According to an Associated Press report, a ship discovered in 2015 in Lake Erie may be Lake Serpent, a schooner that sank in 1829. Newspapers at the time reported that the bodies of three crew members were seen in the lake or washed ashore. Lake Serpent was built in 1821 in Cleveland, when only 1,000 people lived there, and she carried produce, flour, whiskey, and limestone between ports on the Great Lakes. Carrie Sowden of the National Museum of the Great Lakes said the shipwreck is the same size as Lake Serpent, and the wreck's cargo of stone matches historic records. The vessel also has a carved serpent’s head at her bow. “I don’t know what else it could be,” she said, “but there’s still enough unknown that we haven’t seen.” Much of the wreckage is still covered with mud and sediment. Further investigation of the shipwreck site is planned for next year. To read in-depth about shipwrecks of Lake Superior's Thunder Bay, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

Sock from Roman Egypt Analyzed

LONDON, ENGLAND—Joanne Dyer of the British Museum led a team of researchers who used multispectral imaging and digital microscopy to analyze a 1,700-year-old child’s sock recovered from a dump in Antinoupolis, a city in Roman Egypt, according to a report in The Guardian. The sock, shaped for the left foot with a separate section for the big toe, was fashioned from wool yarn in six or seven colors with a single-needle looping technique. The non-invasive tests revealed the wool for the tiny garment had been dyed with madder, woad, and weld to create the colors red, blue, and yellow, respectively. Double and sequential dying and weaving, and twisting the fibers, produced the sock’s different colored stripes. For more on the use of pigments in ancient Egypt, go to “Hidden Blues.”

Tax Records Tell of British Trip to the New World

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that Evan Jones and Margaret Condon of the University of Bristol have found historic documentation of a trip to North America led by Bristol merchant William Weston in 1499. A letter from King Henry VII, published nine years ago, states that Weston was preparing for the voyage, but the completion of the first British-led trip to the New World had not been confirmed. The researchers used ultraviolet light to read official tax records on 500-year-old rolls of parchment, each measuring more than six feet long and made from the skins of more than 200 sheep. While reading a scroll dating to the year 1500, Condon found a record of a payment of the hefty sum of 30 British pounds sterling made to Weston, suggesting that the king was pleased with the results of his voyage. The scrolls also show that Weston and well-known Venetian explorer John Cabot received rewards from the king in 1498, while Weston was preparing for his journey. Cabot traveled to the New World in 1497 and 1498. To read about a settlement originally founded by representatives of Bristol merchants, go to “Off the Grid: Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, Maine.”

Evolutionary Biologists Explore Interbreeding and Immunity

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in The Atlantic, research conducted by evolutionary biologists Dmitri Petrov of Stanford University, David Enard of the University of Arizona, and their colleagues suggests an influx of Neanderthal genes may have boosted the immunity of modern human populations who moved into Europe from Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Genes can offer protection from disease by altering the way human proteins interact with viruses. Scientists think both groups of early humans would have been vulnerable to unfamiliar viruses when they first came in contact with each other, but interbreeding could have exchanged genes that offered some resistance to infections. “We call it the poison-antidote model,” Enard said. So Enard and his team compared genes in segments of modern human DNA known to have been inherited from Neanderthals with a list of more than 4,500 human proteins known to interact with viruses. They found that genes inherited from Neanderthals by modern Europeans react with RNA viruses such as HIV, influenza A, and hepatitis C, which indicates the genes may have helped modern human ancestors combat ancient RNA viruses. Enard also examined the sequenced genome of a Neanderthal man who lived in Siberia some 50,000 years ago, and found that he carried stretches of modern human DNA that also corresponded with human-virus-interacting proteins. These genes may have offered him some protection from viruses introduced by modern humans. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Thursday, October 04

Morocco’s 90,000-Year-Old Bone Knives Studied

RABAT, MOROCCO—Science News reports that a bone knife recovered from Morocco’s coastal Dar es-Soltan 1 cave has been dated to 90,000 years ago. According to geoarchaeologist Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of Morocco’s National Institute of Archaeological and Heritage Sciences and Silvia Bello of London’s Natural History Museum, the tool was made by people of the Aterian culture during the Middle Stone Age who shaped and sharpened the rib of a large mammal. The technique used to craft the knife is similar to that used to make two other tools of the same era found in Morocco, but is different from 90,000-year-old bone tools found in southern Africa. Bello said the technology may have developed as people adapted to seafood as a dietary staple. “Whatever its use, this tool was produced by very skilled manufacturers,” she said. To read about the discovery in Morocco of 300,000-year-old human bones, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”

Intact Mycenaean Tomb Discovered in Greece

AIDONIA, GREECE—According to an Ekathimerini report, a large, intact tomb dating to the early Mycenaean era (1650-1400 B.C.) has been discovered in a cemetery at the ancient site of Nemea in southern Greece by a team of researchers from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Corinth, the University of Graz, and the University of California, Berkeley. A wide path leads to the tomb entrance and a rounded room. The oldest burials were recovered from four large pits dug into the floor of the burial chamber that had been covered with megaliths. Decorated pottery, copper knives, swords, arrows, obsidian, pins, jewelry, and seal stones were also recovered from the pits. During the late Mycenaean period (1400-1200 B.C.), bodies are thought to have been placed on the floor of the tomb. The eventual collapse of the tomb’s roof in antiquity helped to protect the site. To read about the recent discovery of another Mycenaean tomb, go to “A Monumental Find.”

Roman Statues Unearthed in Jordan

AMMAN, JORDAN—ANSAmed reports that at least 14 sculptures have been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Gerasa, whose ruins are located in Jerash, in northern Jordan, by an international team of archaeologists. Some of the figures are intact, while others were decapitated. The large sculptures include images of Aphrodite and Zeus, known to the Romans as Venus and Jupiter, respectively. Ziyad Ghuneimat of the Jerash Department of Antiquities explained that Zeus was a popular deity in the ancient city. This statue will eventually join other statues of the god in the temple of Zeus at the site. Figures of seven of the nine Muses, who were daughters of Zeus, have also been recovered. Ghuneimat hopes statues of the two remaining Muses will be found. To read about recent discoveries in Jerash dating to the eighth century A.D., go to “World Roundup: Jordan.”