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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 13

Sixteenth-Century Wall Unearthed at Japan’s Gifu Castle

GIFU, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a stone wall uncovered at Gifu Castle may have been built by feudal lord Oda Nobunaga, who is remembered for attempting to unify Japan and ruling over much of the island of Honshu. The castle was first built atop central Japan’s Mount Kinkasan in the early thirteenth century A.D. Nobunga captured it in 1567, after a two-week siege, and renovated the structure with stone walls whose gaps were filled with smaller stones. The surviving section of wall measures about six feet long and two feet tall, and matches historic descriptions. It had been previously thought that Nobunaga’s structure was completely torn down during reconstruction work in 1910. To read about an important Shinto shrine where mariners made offerings as early as the fourth century A.D., go to "Japan's Sacred Island."

Remains of Downed World War II Pilot Recovered in France

BENSON, MINNESOTA—Forum News Service reports that the remains of a World War II pilot have been identified as U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency through dental records, anthropological analysis, and other evidence recovered from the crash site. McGowan was 23 years old when he was shot down on June 6, 1944, near Saint-Lô, France, during the D-Day invasion. The crash site was first investigated by the American Graves Registration Command in 1947, when wreckage was removed from the impact crater. Human remains were not recovered, however, until an excavation team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency traveled to the site in 2018. McGowan’s remains will be laid to rest at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. To read about a coded message that may have been sent during the D-Day landings, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War."

Log Cabins in West Virginia Offer Clues to Colonial-Era Ecology

MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA—According to a statement released by West Virginia University, geographers Kristen de Graauw and Amy Hessl are using tree-ring dating of samples of wood taken from historic log structures to study forest ecology in the Appalachian Mountains, and its possible ties to the decrease in the Native American population in the region after the arrival of Europeans. The data suggests that fast-growing, second-growth forests appeared in the late seventeenth century, at about the time that Native Americans are thought to have abandoned their cleared land. A drought in the late seventeenth century in eastern North America may have also thinned forests and brought about a surge in regrowth, de Graauw explained. Hessl said further research, including analysis of samples from additional historic log buildings, dating of charcoal, and archaeological investigations, could help researchers understand what happened to Native American populations in eastern North America after European contact. To read about the effects of European colonization of the Americas on the Earth's climate, go to "Colonial Cooling."

Friday, January 10

New Dates for Arrival of Homo erectus in Southeast Asia

TOKYO, JAPAN—According to a Gizmodo report, Shuji Matsu’ura of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science and his colleagues have analyzed complex sediment deposits and created a new chronology for Sangiran, a site on the Indonesian island of Java where more than 100 hominin fossils have been found. The new dates, obtained through uranium-lead dating and fission-track dating, indicate Homo erectus reached Southeast Asia between 1.3 million and 1.5 million years ago, or about 300,000 to 500,000 years later than previously suggested by argon-argon dating. Because archaeological evidence points to the emergence of Homo erectus in Africa, the extremely old dates for Homo erectus in Java had created controversy among scholars over where the hominin could have originated. The new dates could help to resolve these inconsistencies. “This might not sound like a huge difference, but those 200,000 to 500,000 years swings the balance back to an African center of evolution for Homo erectus and helps to tie in the morphological changes seen between the younger and older hominins at Sangiran to a major climatic shift that occurred around 1.2 million years ago,” commented geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University. To read about hominin brain development, go to "Hungry Minds."

Faces of Past Edinburgh Residents Reconstructed

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that forensic artists Lucrezia Rodella and Karen Fleming have recreated the faces of a middle-aged man and a woman whose remains were uncovered during excavations in the 1980s at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh's Old Town. Construction on the cathedral began in 1124. Rodella said the man, who lived about 900 years ago, was about five feet tall and between the ages of 35 and 45 at the time of his death. His cranium and most of his teeth were intact, but his lower jaw was missing, making it difficult to determine the shape of his face. “In order to hide the jaw line, I decided to add a beard,” Rodella said. The woman, who was also between 35 and 40 when she died in the mid-fifteenth or sixteenth century, is thought to have suffered from leprosy. "She would have contracted this during adulthood and the signs of lesions under the right eye may have led to the loss of sight in that eye," said Fleming. Her burial inside the cathedral suggests that she was an individual of high status, possibly a businesswoman. For more on the process of facial reconstruction, go to "Neolithic FaceTime."

Reburied Medieval Remains Unearthed in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Life in Norway reports that a team from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) is excavating a medieval cemetery containing 32 individual graves and three charnel pits discovered last summer in a Trondheim shopping district near the Nidelva River. NIKU archaeologist Silje Rullestad said some of the burials had been destroyed by later burials or construction work. One of the pits contained the bones of an estimated 200 people placed in deep wooden boxes. The remains are thought to have been moved from other cemeteries to this location, which was recorded on historic city maps, sometime during the seventeenth century. To read about artifacts and animal remains that recently melted out of the ice in Norway's Jotunheimen Mountains, go to "Melting Season."

Thursday, January 9

New Thoughts on Translation of Viking Runestone

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by the University of Gothenburg, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from several universities has produced a new translation of the Rök monument, a stone which was carved with runes and erected in southern Sweden around A.D. 800. Scholars had previously thought that the inscription described a series of battles, but the new interpretation suggests the text consists of nine riddles featuring the sun and Odin, king of Asgard, and his warriors. Recent archaeological research indicates that cooler temperatures in Scandinavia brought about crop failures, hunger, and extinctions during the Viking era. Archaeologist Bo Gräslund of Uppsala University said a solar storm and a solar eclipse also occurred before the runestone was erected. Scholars now say the riddles describe the conflict between light and darkness, warmth and cold, and life and death. For more on Viking-era Sweden, go to "Hoards of the Vikings."

Scientists Examine Well-Preserved Iron Age Brain Tissue

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a CNN report, researchers led by Axel Petzold of University College London examined the Heslington brain, a 2,600-year-old organ discovered in a decapitated skull found in a clay-rich pit in northern England. Made up of more than 80 percent water, brains usually decompose quickly due to the action of enzymes present in human tissues. Petzold and his colleagues found that the outer areas of the Heslington brain still had proteins in place that normally act like scaffolding and maintain brain structure. But, the proteins had folded together even more tightly after death, and had caused the Heslington brain to shrink and become more compact. The scientists also observed this process in another brain about three months after death. They suggest that some sort of acidic fluid may have come in contact with the remains and deactivated the enzymes usually responsible for decomposition. Further research into such brain protein folding and unfolding could be useful for the study of neurodegenerative diseases, Petzold added. To read about the "Egtved Girl," whose brain was partially preserved in waterlogged soil after she died around 1370 B.C., go to "Bronze Age Bride," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Possible Slave Cemetery Found in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Ground-penetrating radar has been used by archaeologist Jeffrey Shanks of the National Parks Service to find a Civil War-era cemetery under a country club golf course in northern Florida, according to a WFSU News report. Shanks said he and his team have detected about 40 graves in the cemetery, which is thought to hold the remains of enslaved people who worked on a nearby plantation owned by the Houston family of Savannah, Georgia. “We also have human remains detection dogs that came out, and they alerted in those same areas,” Shanks said. “So that’s just another level of evidence that these are almost certainly graves.” There are no plans to excavate the graves, but historian Jonathan Lammers is looking for possible descendants of those who labored on the Houston family plantation. A memorial or marker may also be placed at the cemetery site. To read about an unmarked cemetery on a Texas plantation that is believed to contain the remains of African-American prisoners forced to work the land after the Civil War, go to "Another Form of Slavery."