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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, March 14

Roman Lead Coffin Unearthed in Northern England

GARFORTH, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that 1,600-year-old skeletal remains thought to have belonged to an aristocratic Roman woman have been found in a lead coffin in an ancient cemetery of about 60 burials in northern England. Initial analysis suggests the burials in the cemetery date to the later Roman and early Saxon eras, according to David Hunter of West Yorkshire Joint Services. Some of the graves held Saxon knives and pottery, and some of the dead may have held Christian beliefs. “The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether their use of this graveyard overlapped or not will determine just how significant the find is,” Hunter said. The burials will be carbon dated, and chemical analysis of the bones will attempt to determine what the people ate and where they lived, he concluded. To read about another Roman burial in England, go to "Identifying the Unidentified."

Monday, March 13

17th-Century Coin Hoard Uncovered in Poland

ZANIÓWKA, POLAND—Live Science reports that a metal detectorist discovered a cache of some 1,000 copper coins on a farm in eastern Poland while looking for missing tractor parts. The coins had been placed in a one-handled jug with a narrow neck known locally as a siwak. Provincial heritage conservator Dariusz Kopciowski said that most of the Polish and Lithuanian coins were minted between 1663 and 1666. Oxidation of the metal has bound about 60 of the coins together, he added. More than 570 million of these coins, called boratynki today after Titus Livius Boratini, a seventeenth-century manager of the Kraków mint, were produced after Poland had been devastated by wars with Sweden and Russia. “Around 1,000 boratynki would pay for two pairs of shoes,” Kopciowski explained. He thinks the person who buried the hoard of coins may have been killed by enemy forces, or perhaps moved away before the treasure could be recovered. The coins will be sent to the Southern Podlasie Museum. To read about another archaeological discovery in Poland, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

When Did Hominins Begin to Produce Tools?

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a Science News report, Tomos Proffitt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues suggest that it may be necessary to develop new guidelines for evaluating whether or not stone flakes were produced by ancient hominins on purpose or by accident. Proffitt and his team members identified more than 200 complete and fragmented stone flakes at 40 locations in southern Thailand where long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) use rocks to crack open oil palm nuts. Sharp-edged flakes sometimes break off the monkeys’ pounding stones inadvertently in the process. These flakes resemble those thought to have been produced on purpose by ancient hominins living in East Africa between 3.3 and 1.56 million years ago, Proffitt explained. The team members did observe some differences between the flakes left behind by macaques and those uncovered in East Africa, however. For example, many of the macaque flakes are damaged only on one side, while many of the hominin flakes are damaged on two sides. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about a 4,500-year-old burial of a rhesus macaque at Shahr-i-Sokhta, go to "World Roundup: Iran."

Friday, March 10

U.S. Repatriates Looted Artifact to Iraq

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—11 Alive reports that U.S. officials repatriated a 2,700-year-old artifact known as “Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth” in a ceremony held at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C., this week. FBI officials believe the ivory artifact, which is decorated with pigment and gold leaf, was taken from Baghdad during the looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003. The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University eventually purchased the object in 2006. “While we realize there was no ill intent on behalf of Emory University, we are glad our agents could return a small part of history back to where it belongs in Iraq,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in charge of FBI Atlanta. To read about an eccentric Mesopotamian ruler in ancient Iraq, go to "The Last King of Babylon."

Bronze Age Ice Skates Found in China

XINJIANG, CHINA—According to a Live Science report, 3,500-year-old ice skates have been found in a tomb at the Goaotai Ruins in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Goaotai Ruins, thought to have been inhabited by cattle herders of the Andronovo culture, consists of a settlement and a well-preserved tomb complex surrounded by a platform of stone slabs. Made from straight pieces of bone taken from oxen and horses, the skates have holes at both ends to strap the flat “blade” to footwear. Ruan Qiurong of the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said that the skates are almost exactly the same as 5,000-year-old skates discovered in Finland, and may reflect the exchange of ideas during the Bronze Age. To read about the genetic origins of enigmatic mummies found in the Tarim Basin, go to "Around the World: China."

Unusual Ancient Temple Blocks Unearthed in Sudan

WARSAW, POLAND—Live Science reports that blocks from a possible ancient temple have been unearthed in Sudan, at the medieval citadel in Old Dongola, by a team of researchers led by Artur Obłuski of the University of Warsaw's Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. Hieroglyphic inscriptions and figures found on some of the stone blocks date them to some 2,700 years ago, when the region was part of the kingdom of Kush. Nothing this old has previously been uncovered at Old Dongola. Egyptologist Dawid Wieczorek said that one inscription suggests that the temple was dedicated to Amun-Ra of Kawa, another archaeological site in Sudan. It is unclear, however, if the blocks came from the temple at Kawa, from another site in Sudan, or from an unknown structure that once stood at Old Dongola. To read about the capital of the kingdom of Kush, go to "A Nubian Kingdom Rises."