Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 11

Scotland’s Neolithic Rock Art Mapped

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that Tertia Barnett of Scotland’s Rock Art Project and her colleagues have found evidence of a “ring” of settlements dating back 5,000 years in the area around Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire. She suspects there were probably more settlements, but they have been lost over the years. “It is likely the [River] Clyde was an important artery, connecting different areas to the sea and to the islands,” she said. “People would have traveled by water instead of through the wooded interior of the country and people were generally concentrated in the coastal regions.” Discovered in the late nineteenth century, the Cochno Stone, a Neolithic cup and ring rock art panel, is one of the 30 markers in West Dunbartonshire. Another 36 carvings in Inverclyde to the north have also been recorded. The next step is to plot the rock art sites on a map of other Neolithic remains. Barnett said the project could help scholars understand how rock art was used, and if it may have marked meeting points for trade and the sharing of news. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

3,000-Year-Old Road Will Be Preserved in Ireland

COOLE, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a 3,000-year-old log road endangered by peat milling will be preserved under a new agreement approved by Ireland’s High Court. The agreement establishes a buffer zone around the 20-foot-wide oak road, which cuts through a bog in Ireland’s Midlands region. An embankment will also be built to keep the area around the ancient road and its support structures moist. For more on archaeology in Ireland, go to “Irish Vikings.”

Byzantine-Era Winepresses Discovered in Israel

TZIPPORI, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that two winepresses constructed in the fourth century A.D. have been unearthed in northern Israel, in Zippori National Park. The presses are unusual in that they were found inside a repurposed water cistern built with five arches sometime during the first or second centuries A.D. “[The] winepresses were found in the largest of two arched-reservoirs in the Zippori National Park, which are part of the impressive water system at the site, including long aqueducts that provided water to the ancient city of Zippori,” explained archaeologist Zvika Tzuk of Israel’s National Parks Authority. He also said that it is impossible to know who built the roofed winepresses, since during the Byzantine period, Tzippori was home to Jews, Christians, and pagans. To read about another recent discovery in Israel dating to the Byzantine period, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Possible Forgotten Illyrian City Found in Albania

SHKODER, ALBANIA—Science in Poland reports that a 2,000-year-old archaeological site covering about 50 acres has been found in northwestern Albania. The city is thought to be Bassania, which was described by the Roman historian Livy in his discussion of battles with Gentius, the last king of Illyria. Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw said the city’s gate, two bastions, and wide stone walls have been uncovered. The ten-foot wide walls were constructed of stone blocks and filled with small stones and earth. Coins and pottery found near the walls have been dated to as early as the fourth century B.C. Dyczek thinks the city was forgotten after the defeat at the hands of the Romans, since it is not known to have been mentioned in the writings of later travelers. Erosion of the site’s stone features eventually blended them into the site’s rocky surroundings. For more on archaeology in Albania, go to “Letter From Albania: A Road Trip Through Time.”

Friday, June 08

Peru’s Ancient Skull Surgeries Studied

CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA—Neurologist David Kushner of the University of Miami and bioarchaeologist John Verano of Tulane University conducted a study of skulls from throughout Peru bearing evidence of trepanation, and found that during various periods as many as 80 percent of the pre-Columbian patients survived the procedure, according to a report in Science Magazine. The earliest skulls in the study to show signs of trepanation—the act of drilling, cutting, or scraping a hole in a skull for medical reasons—dated back to 400 B.C., and came from Peru’s southern coast. The latest skulls in the study, from the Inca Empire, dated to the sixteenth century A.D. If the surgical hole showed no signs of healing, the researchers concluded that the patient had died either during surgery or shortly thereafter. Smooth bone around the opening was taken to indicate the patient survived long enough for the bone to heal. The study suggests that about 40 percent of the earliest patients survived, but by the Inca period, between 75 and 83 percent of the patients recovered. Kushner also noted that the trepanation technique appears to have improved over time—the holes became smaller with less cutting and drilling of bone, and thus less risk of brain injury. For more on archaeology in Peru, go to “Unknown Elites.”

Bronze Age Bubonic Plague Bacteria Found in Russia

JENA, GERMANY—The Independent reports that Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague, has been detected in 3,800-year-old skeletons in southwestern Russia, pushing back the origins of the disease by at least 1,000 years. Maria Spyrou of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said other samples of the bacteria dating to the Bronze Age have been found, but they did not have the genetic components necessary to transmit the bubonic form of the disease, which is thought to have been spread by fleas, rats, humans, and other mammals. This form of the disease probably spread easily along emerging trade networks, leading to the plague outbreak in A.D. 541 that devastated Europe and the Eastern Roman Empire. For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

Remains of Possible Executed Man Found in England

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a well-preserved skeleton dating to the early eleventh century was unearthed in southeast England during an investigation ahead of the construction of a wind farm. The man, who died sometime between the ages of 25 and 35, had been buried without a coffin and on his own, rather than in a Christian cemetery, as would have been expected. Two cut marks found on the vertebrae in his neck would have been fatal, according to Jim Stevenson of Archaeology South East. He thinks the man was executed during the later Anglo-Saxon period. The man’s bones also show evidence of a healed fracture on his left arm, and stress on the vertebrae from repeated bending and twisting motions. For more on the Anglo-Saxon period in England, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Napoleonic War Graves Exhumed in Austria

DEUTSCH-WAGRAM, AUSTRIA—According to a Live Science report, archaeological investigations ahead of highway construction through the area where the Battle of Wagram was fought on July 5 and 6, 1809, have uncovered mass graves of Austrian and Napoleonic troops. “We are in the hotspot of the battle,” said Alexander Stagl of Novetus, a cultural resources firm conducting rescue excavations at the site. Many of the soldiers were buried fully clothed, leaving behind their uniform buttons in the graves. Archaeologist Slawomir Konik said the research team may eventually be able to identify a French officer whose buttons were recovered. Anthropological study of the bones has detected scurvy, a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency; inflammation of the joints from carrying heavy loads over long marches; pneumonia and other respiratory diseases; and “a lot of impressive trauma,” said Michaela Binder of the Austrian Archaeological Institute. “These were the men that bore the brunt of the battles…55,000 people dead in two days—that’s hard to imagine,” she added. For more on excavations of soldiers who took part in the Napoleonic Wars, go to “The Grand Army Diet.”

Thursday, June 07

France Returns Artifacts to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that nine artifacts recovered in France have been returned to Egypt. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of the repatriation department at the Ministry of Antiquities said five of the artifacts are pieces of an ancient sarcophagus. The other pieces include two cat statues, a basalt sculpture of a human head, and a plaster-covered wooden mummy mask that had been stolen from a storage area on Elephantine Island in 2013. To read about a genetic analysis of two Egyptian mummies, go to “We Are Family.”

Rat Study Offers Clues to Island Ecology

MUNICH, GERMANY—Smithsonian Magazine reports that Jillian Swift of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and her colleagues analyzed the levels of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in 145 rat bones collected at archaeological sites on three Polynesian island chains to see how the arrival of humans and rats some 2,000 years ago impacted their ecology. Although not domesticated, rats eat and live in environments created by humans. Based on the levels of carbon isotopes in the bones, researchers could determine the balance of tropical grasses and cultivated plants, such as breadfruit, yam, and taro, in the rats’ diets. Levels of nitrogen isotopes provide evidence of the balance of land-based and marine food sources. The study indicates that the rats’ consumption of sea birds and other marine resources declined at times when agricultural food sources increased. These changes occurred at different times on different islands, except for one island with steep hills and poor soil, which continually relied on fishing for survival. “The ecosystems we see today are a result of deep-time historical process,” Swift said. For more on archaeology in Polynesia, go to “Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past.”

Did Most Men Die Off 7,000 Years Ago?

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that population geneticist Marcus Feldman of Stanford University has proposed a new explanation for the population bottleneck between 5,000 to 7,000 years ago detected in the genes of modern men, which suggest that during this stretch, there was just one male for every 17 females. Feldman and his team conducted 18 simulations that took into account factors such as Y chromosome mutations, competition between groups, and death. The study suggests that warfare among people living in clans made up of males from the same line of descent could have wiped out entire male lineages and decreased the diversity of the Y chromosome. In this scenario, there are not dramatically fewer males, but there was significantly less diversity in their genes. “In that same group, the women could have come from anywhere,” Feldman said. The study found no bottleneck in mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child. “[The women] would’ve been brought into the group from either the victories that they had over other groups, or they could’ve been females who were residing in that area before,” he said, since the victorious male warriors may have killed all the men they conquered, but kept the women alive and assimilated them. To read about genetic adaptation to life at high elevations, go to “The Heights We Go To.”

Small, Sculpted Head May Depict Ancient King

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, the intricately carved head from a statue estimated to have stood between eight and ten inches tall has been uncovered in a large building situated on the highest point of the ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah, in northern Israel. Robert Mullins of Azusa Pacific University said the glazed ceramic head depicts an elite bearded man with long, black hair held with a yellow and black headband. He thinks the statue may have represented a king, since it was found in a possible administrative building. Radiocarbon dating of organic material found in the same room as the sculpture suggests it is about 2,800 years old. Mullins explained that at that time, different kingdoms, including Israel, Tyre, and Aram-Damascus, controlled the site of Abel Beth Maacah, so there are many possible royal candidates for the portrait. To read about recent discoveries of mosaic inscriptions in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”