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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, November 21

3,000-Year-Old Temple Excavated in Peru

LAMBAYEQUE, PERU—Live Science reports that archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum and his colleagues have discovered a 3,000-year-old temple at the site of Huaca El Toro in northwestern Peru’s Zaña Valley. The temple, built on a foundation of cone-shaped clay with large, carved stones carried to the site from mountains located about two miles away, is situated between two rivers, and is thought to have been used for fertility rituals by a water cult. Small wells called pocitos, which were hollowed out of rocks near the temple, may have helped to predict rainy seasons, Bracamonte said. A man was buried at the temple with a ceramic bottle with two spouts and a bridge handle during this period, he added. The temple was abandoned around 250 B.C., but the Chumy people reused the site as a cemetery around A.D. 1300. The team has uncovered 20 Chumy graves so far. To read about human sacrifices in Peru around A.D. 850, go to "Women in a Temple of Death."

Double Viking Boat Burial Discovered in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) announced the discovery of a single grave in central Norway containing the poorly preserved remains of two people who had been interred on separate occasions. The original burial dates to the eighth century A.D. and consists of a boat measuring nearly 32 feet long, in which the remains of a man and weapons were found. Some 100 years later, this burial was carefully excavated, and the remains of a woman were placed in a boat measuring about 26 feet long, which was then carefully fitted into the older, larger vessel. Buried with the woman were two large shell-shaped brooches made of gilded bronze, a crucifix-shaped brooch made from an Irish harness fitting, a pearl necklace, two scissors, a spindle whorl, and a cow head. NTNU archaeologist Raymond Sauvage said only the wooden keel of the smaller boat survived, but the boats’ rivets revealed their positions in the grave. The two people were likely related, Sauvage explained. The researchers hope to be able to extract information about the woman’s appearance, health, and where she lived from her few remaining skull bones. NTNU historian Aina Heen Pettersen added that the crucifix-shaped brooch may have been crafted from an Irish harness fitting acquired during a trade expedition or a raid, reflecting the status of the woman’s family. To read about boat burials of slain warriors found on an Estonian island, go to "The First Vikings."

1,400-Year-Old Anglo-Saxon Burial Unearthed in Canterbury

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that archaeologists investigating a site ahead of a construction project on the grounds of Christ Church University in southeastern England uncovered the remains of a young Anglo-Saxon woman who was buried sometime between A.D. 580 and 600. The grave was close to St. Augustine’s Abbey, which was first constructed in the early seventh century A.D. by Christian monks who arrived in Canterbury in A.D. 597. The woman was wearing a disc brooch made of silver inlaid with garnets, a necklace of amber and glass beads, a belt fastened with a copper alloy buckle, and a copper alloy bracelet. The garnets in the brooch, which was probably a gift from Kentish royalty, are thought to have been imported from Sri Lanka. The researchers suggest the woman may have known the Kentish King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha. Andrew Richardson of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust said the burial suggests that people of high status were buried at the site before the cemetery at the Christian abbey was established. To read about a box discovered in an Anglo-Saxon woman's grave that may have been used to hold personal items, go to "Artifact."

Wednesday, November 20

New Technique Could Help Identify Modern Human Ancestors

DENTON, TEXAS—The University of North Texas announced that an international team of scientists including archaeologist and geologist Reid Ferring developed a way to identify a species of creatures that lived more than one million years ago by analyzing proteins extracted from fossils. Ferring explained that proteins can survive in fossilized collagen from tendons, ligaments, skin, bone, and teeth for a longer period of time than DNA, which is limited to about 200,000 years. To test the process, scientists extracted protein from a 1.7-million-year-old rhinoceros tooth found under a 20-foot layer of volcanic ash at the Dmanisi site in the country of Georgia, and determined it belonged to a Stephanorhinus, an extinct type of rhino. The team members were also able to fit this individual into the modern rhino’s evolutionary line. Such information could help scientists identify evolutionary links between early hominins and modern humans, Ferring explained. For more on protein analysis, go to "Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle."

Farmer’s Field in Poland Contains 2,000-Year-Old Cemetery

KRAKÓW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, heavily damaged artifacts dating back some 2,000 years have been discovered in a farmer’s field in south-central Poland by a team of researchers led by Jan Bulas of Jagiellonian University. The artifacts include fragments of urns, cremated remains, and 200 pieces of corroded iron making up four swords, nine spears or javelins, and brooches known as fibulae. Bits of bone, stone, and pottery items were also recovered. “We do not know exactly how many graves were in the cemetery, because our research is still in an initial stage,” Bulas said. “The graves are destroyed and often spread over a large area of the field.” However, Bulas and his team estimate that there were at least 20 burials in an area measuring about 2,100 square feet. The cemetery also featured squares carved into the soil and oriented by the cardinal directions. Fragments of pottery and metal objects had been placed in the squares, Bulas explained. He thinks the squares may have been used to designate family space within the cemetery. Further research could help identify the cultural identity of the people who were buried there, he added. To read about a Neolithic mass grave in Poland containing 15 relatives, go to "We Are Family."

Roman-Era Bath Identified in Bulgaria

VARNA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a public bath complex dating to the fifth century A.D. has been uncovered in the ancient city of Odessos, which is located on the Black Sea coast. At first, archaeologists led by Elina Mircheva of the Varna Museum of Archaeology thought the well-decorated structure, which featured a water-storage facility and a fountain, might have been part of a nymphaeum, or shrine dedicated to divine spirits often depicted as beautiful young women. Recent excavations, however, revealed an underfloor heating system typical of Roman public baths, and more than 200 coins thought to have been lost by bathers. Mircheva suggested that the building may have been modified during the medieval period for water storage. To read about Pompeii's public Stabian Baths, go to "Digging Deeper into Pompeii's Past: Water and Bathing."

New Nazca Lines Spotted in Peru

YAMAGATA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that researchers led by Masato Sakai of Yamagata University have discovered 143 new geoglyphs in the southern Peruvian desert—home to a group of previously identified geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines—through a combination of fieldwork and analysis of high-resolution 3-D data. Sakai said the newly-discovered geoglyphs date to between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300, and are spread over a six-mile area on the west side of the Nazca plateau. One of the glyphs, which measures about 16 feet long and is thought to represent a human form, was identified using new artificial intelligence technology developed by IBM Japan that can rapidly process aerial photographs. Others depict animals such as birds and camels. The researchers plan to investigate another 500 possible geoglyph sites spotted by artificial intelligence technology. To read more about the Nazca Lines, go to "Partially Identified Flying Objects."

Tuesday, November 19

Rescue Excavation in Wales Recovers Skeletal Remains

GLAMORGAN, WALES—BBC News reports that the bones of at least six people were recovered at the edge of an eroded cliff at Nash Point, a beach on the coast of South Wales, by a team of archaeologists from Cardiff University and Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, climbing experts, geologists, and ecologists. Previous rescue missions at the cemetery site have retrieved bones radiocarbon dated to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth centuries. Bioarchaeologist Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University said the newly discovered bones may have belonged to Tudor or Stuart-era men killed in a shipwreck. The remains of one younger person were found buried away from the others, who had been placed in graves dug side-by-side, and multiple men had been placed in a single grave. Analysis of the bones could help pinpoint when the men lived and who they were, Mulville added. Additional graves at the site were found empty because the bones had already washed out to sea. To read about a medieval castle in Wales whose footprint was exposed by a summer drought, go to "The Marks of Time."

Ancient Remains of Infants Wearing “Helmets” Found in Ecuador

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Sara Juengst of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and her colleagues discovered the remains of two infants who had been buried some 2,100 years ago wearing “helmets” crafted from the crania of other children, according to a Live Science report. The infants’ remains, discovered with nine other burials in central Ecuador, were interred not long after a volcanic eruption had covered the region in ash. Lesions on the bones indicate the infants and children had all suffered from stress, perhaps brought on by malnutrition. A human hand bone was found between the head of one of the infants and its “helmet.” The researchers plan to extract and analyze DNA and strontium isotopes from the bones to try to determine if the hand bone belonged to any of the infants or children. Stone figurines thought to depict ancestors were also found in the burials, leading the researchers to speculate that the “helmets” may have been intended to offer the infants protection and empowerment. More study is necessary to determine if the burials were part of a ritual response to the environmental impact of the eruption, the researchers explained. To read about the use of cacao seeds more than 5,000 years ago in southeastern Ecuador, go to "Ancient Amazonian Chocolatiers." 

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