Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 7

Neolithic Stone Structure Found in Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—Tornos News reports that a team of archaeologists led by Nikos Efstratiou of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki investigated a Neolithic site in a remote area of the Troodos Mountains, a range located in the center of the island of Cyprus. There the researchers uncovered a circular stone building measuring about 16 feet across that has been dated to between 6400 and 5600 B.C. Smaller structures and a refuse area were found near the circular building. They also recovered tools made from flint, vessels carved from stone, and animal bones. To see a colorful mosaic discovered in a Roman villa in Cyprus, go to "And They're Off."

31,000-Year-Old DNA in Siberia

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a previously unknown population of ancient humans was identified by sampling DNA extracted from 31,000-year-old children’s teeth unearthed in northeastern Siberia. The teeth were the only human remains discovered among the stone tools, ivory objects, and animal bones at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site, which is located on the Yana River. Martin Sikora of the University of Copenhagen said the children’s population group was distantly related to hunter-gatherers from western Eurasia, whose ancestors had separated from them some 40,000 years ago. No signs of inbreeding were detected in the children’s genomes. “This is despite the very remote location, suggesting they were organized in larger networks with other hunter-gatherer groups,” Sikora said. Later migrants to Siberia have been found to be related to peoples from eastern Asia. The differences between Siberian populations have also been noted in differences in material culture, he added. To read about a stunning medieval fortress in the middle of a Siberian lake, go to "Fortress of Solitude."

Well With Stone Stairs Unearthed in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Press and Journal reports that archaeologists led by Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen uncovered a well carved into the granite of Mither Tap, one of the rock outcrops in Bennachie, a range of hills in eastern Scotland. Noble said the well is probably linked to a fort dating back to the Iron Age that stood on the hilltop. “We were really expecting to find a pretty bog-standard well,” he said, “but we uncovered these fantastic steps leading all the way down to the well chamber.” Access to the deepest part of the well is blocked by a large rock that may have been placed there by a shepherd to prevent his animals from falling down the shaft. Noble said if the team members are able to remove the rock, they may be able to recover deposits that would enable them to date the well, and pollen samples that could provide information about the environment at the time the well was in use. To read about  excavations on the Scottish archipelago of Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Ancient Dugout Canoe Discovered in Maine

KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE—According to a Seacoast Online report, a 10-foot-long dugout canoe was discovered in the shifting sands of the intertidal zone at Maine’s Cape Porpoise Harbor. Archaeologist and Maine Game Warden Tim Spahr and his colleagues in the Cape Porpoise Archaeological Alliance carefully removed the canoe from the sands and placed it in a custom-built crate to carry it off the beach. “It was incredibly volatile,” Spahr said. “It did suffer a few cracks in the wood, but we were able to get it into the crate in one piece.” The hollowed-out birch tree trunk, radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 1280 and 1380, would have been used by local Algonquin speakers as they fished and traded. As the next step in the conservation process, the canoe will be immersed in fresh water for about one year. To read about the discovery of an 18th-century ship at the World Trade Center site, go to "The Hidden History of New York's Harbor."

Thursday, June 6

Paleolithic Engraving Discovered in Southwestern France

ANGOULÊME, FRANCE—BBC News reports that a piece of sandstone thought to have been engraved with images of animals and geometric motifs some 12,000 years ago has been discovered at a hunting site in southwestern France. The stone, which measures about ten inches long, seven inches wide, and one inch thick, was inscribed on both sides, according to researchers from France’s National Archaeological Research Institute. A picture of a headless horse with realistic hooves covers at least half of one side of the stone. A second drawing is also thought to represent a horse, while a third animal, which also has distinct hooves, is thought to depict a deer. Fireplaces, pebbles that had been heated, animal bones, and worked flint were also uncovered at the site. For other examples of Paleolithc artwork, go to "Late Paleolithic Masterpieces." 

Genetic Study Examines Arctic Hunter-Gatherers

JENA, GERMANY—Genetic traces of migrants who traveled from Siberia to North America some 5,000 years ago have been detected in living people by a team of researchers led by Pavel Flegontov of the University of Ostrava and Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, according to a Live Science report. The team members searched for rare genetic mutations in samples taken from 48 people whose ancient remains were recovered in the American Arctic and in Siberia. They then examined the genomes of 93 living people of indigenous heritage from Siberia, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Canada, and found the paleo genes in modern people who speak the Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene languages. The model generated by the genetic data suggests Na-Dene-speaking peoples, inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, and the Yup’ik and Inuit of the Arctic descended from a single population in Siberia. The ancestors of the Yup’ik and the Inuit then crossed back and forth over the Bering Strait at least three times, the researchers added. “These populations are very closely related with each other,” Schiffels said, “and it’s very hard to disentangle the different ancestry components.” To read more about the history of the settlement of the Americas, go to "First Americans."

Wednesday, June 5

Gemstone Workshop Discovered at Medieval Island Site

NITRA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a Nestorian Christian community dating to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. is being mapped and investigated on Failaka Island, which is located in the Persian Gulf. Karol Pieta of the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences said the people who lived in the settlement of more than 140 buildings kept cattle, grew grain, and processed semiprecious stones. “The extensive collection of raw materials has been preserved in the complex, semiprecious stones, mostly amethysts, which probably originate from Sri Lanka and are evidence of long-distance trade,” Pieta said, adding that the amethysts were carved into bead shapes that were fashionable and in demand in Europe. Ceramics and decorated glass jars were also uncovered at the site. To read in-depth about investigations on Failaka, go to “Archaeology Island.”

Possible Bishop's Tomb Dating to Holy Roman Empire Examined

MAINZ, GERMANY— reports that a team of researchers used a pulley to lift the 1,500-pound lid from a sarcophagus in the central nave of St. Johannis Church, one of the oldest Christian churches in western Germany. The tomb is thought to belong to Erkanbald, Archbishop of Mainz, who died in A.D. 1021. Archaeologist Guido Faccani said the poorly preserved human remains were likely covered in quicklime at the time of burial. “Not even teeth could be found,” he said. The researchers did, however, recover pieces of fabric, cloth shoes, and what may have been bishop’s headwear. “It’s still possible that it’s him,” Faccani said. The scientists plan to radiocarbon date the contents of the sarcophagus and analyze DNA extracted from tissue and bone samples. To read in-depth about a Roman-era settlement in Germany, go to “The Road Almost Taken.”

Medieval Ammunition Unearthed in Bulgaria

SVISHTOV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an excavation conducted by Nikolay Ovcharov of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology unearthed a collection of small cannonballs at the well-preserved site of Zishtova Fortress, on the Danube River in northern Bulgaria. The cannonballs are thought to have been ammunition for a medieval form of cannon known as a culverin. They may have been fired in 1461, when the Ottoman-held fortress was conquered by Vlad the Impaler, who ruled Wallachia, a region between the Danube and the Carpathian Mountains. “We rejoice at those small cannonballs because they are from culverins,” Ovcharov said. Since the weapons were only used from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries, he added, this means the cannonballs likely date to Vlad the Impaler's time. Zishtova Fortress was in use until 1810, when it was burned by Russian troops during one of the Russian-Turkish Wars. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”