Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 11

First Upper Paleolithic Cave Art Found in the Balkans

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that artwork that may date to the Upper Paleolithic period has been discovered in Croatia’s Romualdova Cave by archaeologist Aitor Ruiz-Redondo of the University of Southampton and his colleagues. Some 30,000 years ago, a river flowing toward a vast plain where the Adriatic Sea now rests would have been on view from the cave’s entrance. The images were created with reddish paint applied to a layer of fossilized calcite that has crumbled away in places. Graffiti dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has also damaged some of the ancient artworks. However, the researchers were able to make out the figures of a bison and ibex, which are commonly found in cave art in Western Europe. An excavation and further analysis could help confirm the art's age. “In this case, expanding the Upper Paleolithic cave art to a new area is really interesting, because it implies linking the culture of the groups that painted Romualdova with cultural features from groups well documented in Spain, France, and Italy,” Ruiz-Redondo said. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

Possible New Early Human Discovered in the Philippines

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to an NPR report, archaeologist Armand Salvadore Mijares of the University of the Philippines and an international team of researchers have unearthed bones in a cave on the island of Luzon that they say came from three individuals of a previously unidentified human species. The specimens, dated to between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago, include toe bones, finger bones, part of a thigh bone, and seven teeth. Dubbed Homo luzonensis, after the island where they were discovered, the bones combine primitive and modern traits, such as an ape-like curved toe bone that may have been used for climbing trees, and several teeth that resemble those of modern humans. Paleoanthropologist Florent Détroit of France’s National Museum of Natural History said Homo luzonensis may have descended from a population of Homo erectus that migrated out of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. “This is yet another piece of evidence to show that the features [of the body] definitely do not evolve at the same speed,” he said, “especially in different species in different geographical places.” Other scientists suggest Homo luzonensis and other fossil species found in Asia may have descended from other early Homo migrants out of Africa. For more, go to “Our Tangled Ancestry.”

Wednesday, April 10

Cherokee Inscriptions Found in Alabama Cave

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—Science Magazine reports that inscriptions written in Cherokee script have been discovered at the head of an underground stream in Alabama’s Manitou Cave. Made up of 85 characters based on the syllables of the Cherokee language, the syllabary used in the inscriptions was invented in the early nineteenth century by Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith. It was officially adopted by the Cherokee Nation in 1825, and was widely used to communicate in daily life and in print. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee, along with scholars from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, as well as additional colleagues worked together to understand the cave’s inscriptions. They concluded that the text commemorated a sacred game similar to the modern game of lacrosse played on April 30, 1828. The rituals conducted before the game are thought to have been presided over by Sequoyah’s son, Richard Guess, whose name appears in an adjoining inscription. A third inscription, reading “I am your grandson,” was found written backwards on the ceiling of the cave and is thought to have been a message for Cherokee ancestors and other supernatural beings. The Cherokee were forced westward from these ancestral lands on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. For more on the Cherokee, go to “Inheritance of Tears.”

Avebury’s Stone Circles May Have Honored Neolithic Dwelling

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Ground-penetrating radar has revealed traces of a structure within the southern stone circle at Avebury, according to a Live Science report. It had been previously thought that the structure dated to the medieval period, but Josh Pollard of the University of Southampton and his colleagues say its shape matches other structures in the British Isles that are known to date to the early Neolithic period. Pottery and flint tools dating to the early Neolithic period have also been found in and around the structure. Pollard thinks the building may have been a house constructed for a high-status family sometime after 3700 B.C., and that it probably fell down before the site was enclosed with a square of stones, and eventually large rings of standing stones and earthworks. Mark Gillings of the University of Leicester said the team members plan to take the ground-penetrating radar equipment to the northernmost small stone circle at Avebury to look for traces of another Neolithic structure. “We should be able to see an echo of any house in terms of artifact densities in the surrounding soil, and if this house was also monumentalized by an enclosing square megalithic setting, we should see that too,” he said. For more, go to “The Square Inside Avebury’s Circles.”

Cholera Sample Collected During World War I Analyzed

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Reuters reports that researchers led by Nick Thomson and Matthew Dorman of the Wellcome Sanger Institute have mapped the genome of a sample of cholera bacteria collected from a sick British soldier sent to Egypt to convalesce in 1916, during World War I. Cholera, which is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the bacteria, causes severe diarrhea, and can spread rapidly in areas with poor sanitation. Dorman said, however, that the bacteria in the sample had faults that rendered it nontoxigenic, including the lack of a flagellum—the tail that allows the bacteria to swim. It is unlikely that this strain of cholera caused the widespread outbreak of cholera that occurred during World War I, Thomson explained. The scientists concluded that the British soldier probably had another infection that caused his symptoms. For more on bacteria in the archaeological record, go to Bronze Age Plague.

Tuesday, April 9

Archaeologists Examine Cold War–Era Images of the Middle East

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Science Magazine report, anthropologist Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleague Jason Ur of Harvard University have created an index of several thousand high-resolution photographs taken with sophisticated cameras suspended from U-2 spy planes that flew reconnaissance missions throughout the Middle East during the 1950s and 1960s. These images, declassified in 1997, offer a more detailed look at the surface of the ground than do modern images on Google Earth. However, archaeologists have not previously used the images for research purposes because they have not been digitized, have been hard to access, and information about where the photographs were taken has remained classified. Hammer and Ur employed their knowledge of the Middle East and geographic clues in the photographs to reconstruct possible flight paths of 11 of the formerly top secret missions. The researchers also identified three known sites in the U-2 photographs: Iraqi marsh villages whose residents were displaced in the 1990s, canals at Nimrud, and prehistoric walled hunting traps known as “desert kites” in eastern Jordan. For more on the use of aerial imagery in archaeology, go to “Satellites on the Silk Road.”

Excavations Reveal Traces of Greek Island’s Medieval Past

MYKONOS, GREECE—Foundations of a pier and the islet on which the St. Nicholas chapel was first built in the fourth century A.D. were uncovered during excavations at the port of Mykonos, according to Greek Reporter. Traces of the bridge that once connected the chapel and the pier were unearthed as well. Archaeologists have also found medieval foundations in the town’s neighborhood of Kastro, including a tower next to the whitewashed church of Panagia Pyrgiani. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “A Bronze Age Landmark.”