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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 1

Mississippi Repatriates Native American Remains and Artifacts

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI—The Associated Press reports that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will hand over more than 400 sets of human remains and 83 artifacts in its collections to The Chickasaw Nation under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The remains have been dated to between 750 and 1,800 years old. “These are our grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins from long ago,” said Amber Hood, director of historic preservation and repatriation for The Chickasaw Nation. The remains and artifacts will be transported and reburied in decomposable muslin bags sewn by volunteers, according to archaeologist Meg Cook. More than 1,000 sets of human remains in Mississippi have yet to be identified and repatriated. Many of the remains held in Mississippi were unearthed during construction projects. For more on Native American communities in the southeastern United States, go to "Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth."

Medieval Decorative Tile Unearthed in Southeastern England

MAIDSTONE, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that a well-preserved decorative floor tile dated to the thirteenth century has been found at St. Andrews, a building that once served as a gatehouse chapel to Boxley Abbey, a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery. St. Andrews is currently being investigated by a team led by archaeologist Graham Keevill and conserved by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Boxley Abbey was known for the production of floor and roof tiles that were used in the construction of Canterbury Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral. The floor tile kiln was discovered to the north of St. Andrews in the 1920s. To read about England's most famous church, go to "Westminster Abbey's Hidden History."

100,000-Year-Old Artifacts Found in Africa’s Kalahari Desert

NATHAN, AUSTRALIA—According to a Science News report, calcite crystals and fragments of burned ostrich eggshell and animal bone dated to 105,000 years ago have been unearthed in a rock shelter in southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, more than 350 miles from the coast. Archaeologist Jayne Wilkins of Griffith University and her colleagues suggest that the eggshells may have been used as water containers, as they are sometimes used by modern hunter-gatherers, or were discarded after the contents were eaten. Some of the animal bones bear butchery marks. The calcite crystals, Wilkins added, are thought to have come from sources located about 1.5 miles from the rock shelter. None of the crystals had been modified for use as tools, and may therefore have held ritual or symbolic significance, she explained. Stone tools and a piece of red pigment bearing scrape marks were also recovered at the site, however. It had been previously suggested that cultural innovation at this time was centered along Africa’s southern coastline, but Wilkins thinks the emergence of Homo sapiens involved the interaction of many different populations across Africa. To read about 200,000-year-old grass bedding found in South Africa's Border Cave, go to "Paleolithic Bedtime."

Neolithic Salt Factory Found in England

NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that an industrial-scale salt production site dated to 3800 B.C. has been uncovered on a coastal hilltop in northern England by archaeologist Steve Sherlock and a team of volunteers. The site includes a trench containing three hearths, pottery, stone tools, and a storage pit. Salt deposits were detected on some of the pottery, which is thought to have been made by people who migrated from northern France around 4000 B.C. A cairn, a mortuary structure, a dwelling, and pottery bearing traces of dairy products have also been unearthed in the area. Salt, Sherlock explained, would have allowed the early farmers to preserve food for winter use as they became dependent upon growing crops and keeping animals. The discovery is the first evidence of Neolithic salt-making to be found in Britain, he added, perhaps because rising sea levels and coastal erosion have erased other examples. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about large gatherings in southwest England more than 4,000 years ago, go to "Neolithic Henge Feasts," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Wednesday, March 31

Family Shares History of 19th-Century Lifeboat in Australia

JURIEN BAY, AUSTRALIA—A nineteenth-century lifeboat has been carefully retrieved from the rafters of a hay shed in Western Australia, according to an ABC News Australia report. Constructed in South Australia in 1885, The Maid of Lincoln was laden with a load of guano from the Abrolhos Islands when it sank off the coast of Western Australia in 1891. The captain and crew escaped the sinking vessel and traveled by lifeboat to the coast, where they were rescued by the Grigson family who connected the survivors with the police in the sparsely populated town of Jurien Bay. The captain gave the lifeboat to the Grigson family, who used it for fishing before storing it in the rafters of a hay shed some 70 years ago. After carefully measuring the boat in case it disintegrated during the removal, archaeologist Bob Sheppard, caver and ropes expert Ian McCann, and a team of volunteers extricated the boat from its perch and stored it intact in a weather-proof shed. It will be restored and put on display for the community, said descendant John Grigson. “There’s nothing like it in Australia. It’s just remarkable,” Sheppard added. To read about excavations of a nineteenth-century prison outside Melbourne, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Genetic Link Between Australasians and South Americans Studied

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Science Magazine reports that researchers led by Tábita Hünemeier of the University of São Paulo have detected a genetic signal associated with early people living in South Asia, Australia, and Melanesia in additional populations in South America. A previous study found this so-called “Y signal” in two groups of Indigenous people living in the Amazon. The new study analyzed the genomes of nearly 400 Indigenous peoples living in the middle of South America, and identified the Y signal in people living on the Brazilian plateau in central Brazil, and in the Chotuna people of coastal Peru. The researchers now think that migrants carrying the Y signal southward from Beringia along the coast settled in more of South America than previously thought. The study also suggests that the migrants may have arrived in two separate waves. The Y signal has not been detected in Indigenous people in North and Central America, however. Hünemeier said that carriers of the Y signal in these areas may have been wiped out by the arrival of Europeans, or further study may soon identify the Y signal in additional populations. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. For more on the peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

1,500-Year-Old Tropical Parrots Found in Chile’s Desert Analyzed

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a statement released by Penn State University, archaeologist José M. Capriles and his colleagues analyzed the remains of 27 scarlet macaws, Amazon parrots, and other parrot species recovered from five different sites in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Capriles explained that between A.D. 1100 and 1450, live birds were probably transported on llamas through cold weather and across the Andes Mountains and other difficult terrain to reach the Atacama, where they were highly prized for their feathers. Chemical analysis indicates that the birds ate the same diet as the people who imported them. Their feathers were plucked as soon as they grew in, he added. Parrot feathers have been found in burials, and secured in leather boxes and other protective materials. After death, many of the birds were eviscerated and mummified in poses with their beaks open and tongues sticking out, or with their wings spread. Sometimes the mummified parrots were wrapped in textiles or placed in bags, which helped to preserve them. To read about macaws raised for their plumage by Ancestral Puebloans, go to "Angry Birds." 

Tuesday, March 30

Rabbits Reveal Prehistoric Artifacts on Welsh Island

PEMBROKESHIRE, WALES—The Guardian reports that burrowing rabbits on Skokholm Island, which is located in the Celtic Sea off the coast of Wales, turned up stone tools and pieces of pottery. Archaeologist Andrew David identified the stone tools as beveled pebbles that may have been used by hunter-gatherers to process shellfish or prepare seal hides between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago. “Although these types of tools are well known on coastal sites on mainland Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well as in Scotland and northern France, this is the first example from Skokholm, and the first firm evidence for late Mesolithic occupation on the island,” David said. A piece of thick-walled pottery is thought to be the rim of an Early Bronze Age urn thought to have been made some 3,750 years ago for a cremation burial, according to Jody Deacon of the National Museum Wales. This is also the first artifact of its kind to be found on any of the western Pembrokeshire islands, she explained. Further investigation of the area is being planned. To read about Late Bronze Age lock-rings found on Wales, go to "Artifact."

Rock Art in Australia Analyzed With Machine Learning

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Cosmos Magazine reports that Daryl Wesley of Flinders University and Mimal and Marrku Traditional Owners of the Wilton River area used machine learning to analyze changes in rock art styles in northern Australia’s Arnhem Land. The computer was supplied with information of more than 1,000 types of objects and a mathematical model to determine how similar two images are to one another. The model was then applied to images of the rock art. “One amazing outcome is that the machine learning approach ordered the styles in the same chronology that archaeologists have ordered them in by inspecting which appear on top of which,” said team member Jarrad Kowlessar of Flinders University. Styles of artwork that are closer to each other in age are also closer to each other in appearance, he explained. The team members suggest that this approach takes tiny details easily missed by humans into account, and removes possible human bias from the evaluation of rock art sites. To read about dating rock art using millennia-old wasps' nests on rock faces, go to "Around the World: Australia." 

Ancient Greek Terracotta Relief Fragments Found in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that fragments of a 2,500-year-old terracotta relief depicting Greek warriors wearing helmets and carrying spears have been discovered in the St. Cyricus Island area of the town of Sozopol, which is now a peninsula in the Black Sea. The island was home to the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, and the Colossus of Apollonia, a 42-foot-tall bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo. Krastina Panayotova and Margarit Damyanov of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, and Daniela Stoyanova of Sofia University, unearthed the sculpture fragments at the site of two temples dedicated to Apollo Iatros. The older temple, covered by a layer of limestone rubble, has been dated to the Late Archaic period, while the other has been dated to the Early Classical period. Other fragments thought to be part of the same sculpture were discovered at the site in 2018 and 2019. Fragments of fragrance vessels, pottery, and two bronze arrow tips were also recovered from the older temple layer. A coin and fragments of a two-handed wine cup were found along with the relief fragments in the upper layer. To read about a first-century A.D. marble gravestone recovered at a Roman settlement in northwestern Bulgaria, "A Dutiful Roman Soldier."