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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, September 8

Wreckage of World War II Minesweeper Identified in Irish Sea

POOLE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by Bournemouth University, one of 300 shipwrecks in the southern Irish Sea has been identified as the minesweeper HMS Mercury by a team of researchers from Bournemouth University and Bangor University. Built as a passenger steamer in 1934 for the London Midland Scottish Railway, the ship was requisitioned for service in World War II by the British Admiralty in 1939. In 1940, the vessel was damaged by a mine it was attempting to clear, and sank vertically after the entire crew had been rescued. It had been previously thought that the wreckage at the site was a submarine, but data collected with high-resolution multibeam sonar indicated the vessel had a boxed paddle wheel. The researchers were able to match the specifications with information in marine archives to identify the Mercury. For more on the archaeology of World War II, go to "Letter from Alaska: The Cold Winds of War."

Study of Seals in Turkey Seeks Birth of Bureaucracy

MALATYA, TURKEY—According to an Anadolu Agency report, researchers led by Francesca Balossi Restelli of Sapienza University are investigating the formation of state administration and bureaucracy at eastern Anatolia’s site of Arslantepe through the analysis of 250 seal impressions recovered from a 5,600-year-old temple. Microscopic examination of the impressions suggests that the seals themselves were made of stone, metal, and wood. The impressions, depicting lions, snakes, and human figures, were placed on vases, bags, baskets, and doors. The seals were not found within the temple because they were kept in the homes of officials, explained retired director of excavations Marcella Frangipane. This year, the excavation team found houses dated to the late Chalcolithic period. “We hope we can understand how this important system [bureaucracy] was born from these houses,” Restelli said. To read about an ivory plaque unearthed at Arslantepe, go to "Artifact."

Sixth-Century Cache of Gold Objects Discovered in Denmark

JELLING, DENMARK—The AFP reports that a cache of 1,500-year-old gold objects weighing a total of about two pounds was discovered in southwestern Denmark by a metal detectorist. Mads Ravn of Vejle Museums said the 22 objects, which bear runes and motifs not seen before, were buried in an Iron Age longhouse. While one inscriptions refers to the fourth-century ruler Constantine, the others may refer to rulers of the time or Norse mythology, he explained. “The find consists of a lot of gold items, including a medallion the size of a saucer,” Ravn said. To read about ship settings on the Danish island of Hjarnø, go to "Viking Fantasy Island."

Tuesday, September 7

New Study Analyzes Louisiana’s Poverty Point Earthworks

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—According to a statement released by Washington University in St. Louis, Tristram R. Kidder and his colleagues conducted a new investigation of a site on Ridge West 3 at Poverty Point, a 3,000-year-old site in northern Louisiana known for its well-preserved, 72-foot-tall earthen mound and concentric half-circle ridges. Artifacts found within and around the ridges suggest that people lived there, Kidder said. New radiocarbon dating, microscopic analysis of soil, and magnetic measurements of soils at Ridge West 3 found no evidence of weathering between layers of soil, suggesting that the earthwork had been built rapidly, he added. These hunter-gatherers therefore had a large, organized labor pool to move such large amounts of earth, he explained. The analysis also suggests that the soil was mixed from clays, silts, and sand to make the structures strong and erosion-resistant. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Southeastern Archaeology. For more on Poverty Point, go to "Archaic Engineers Worked on a Deadline."

Wooden Piles Reveal History of Balkan Settlement

BERN, SWITZERLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Bern, researchers led by Albert Hafner have dated some 800 submerged wooden posts on what were the eastern banks of Lake Orhid, which is located in the southwest Balkans, through a study of their tree rings and radiocarbon dating. It had been previously thought that the site, known as Ploča Mičov Grad, was first built around 1000 B.C. and densely inhabited, but the range of dates indicates that dwellings were first built at the site in the middle of the fifth millennium B.C. Over time, new structures were built on top of the old ones into the second millennium B.C., thus explaining the large number of wooden piles. Hafner explained that the lake bed’s sediments also hold artifacts from the settlement such as harvested grain, plants, and animal remains that will offer information about the development of agriculture in the Balkans. To read about excavations during construction of a pipeline through the Balkans, go to "Letter from Albania: A Road Trip Through Time."

Two Stone Balls Recovered from Neolithic Tomb in Scotland

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that two balls carved from stone have been found in a tomb on the island of Sanday, which is located off Scotland’s northeastern coast, by a team of researchers led by Hugo Anderson-Whymark of the National Museum of Scotland. Dated to 3500 B.C., the tomb is a stalled cairn split into several compartments and has been damaged by erosion. Anderson-Whymark said one of the balls is still perfectly spherical and beautifully finished, while the other has split. Such stone balls, which have only been discovered in Scotland, are thought to have been used during the Neolithic period as weapons to inflict trauma to the head. Several skeletons with head wounds that may have been inflicted by stone balls have been found in tombs on the nearby island of Orkney. This tomb is thought to have been built by people who lived at a settlement located about one and one-half miles away. For more on these stone balls, go to "Spheres of Influence."

Friday, September 3

Periodic Prehistoric Rainfall Made Northern Arabia Navigable

JENA, GERMANY—According to a Science News report, Huw Groucutt of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and an international team of researchers suggest that hominins repeatedly migrated through northern Arabia as early as some 400,000 years ago, as monsoon rains periodically transformed the desert landscape into habitable grassland. The researchers collected sediments from five ancient lake beds in hollows between large sand dunes in northern Saudi Arabia, and detected six phases of lake formation. They also recovered fossils of hippos, wild cattle, and other animals that are likely to have traveled along rain-fed lakes, wetlands, and rivers, in addition to thousands of stone tools. Five of those phases of lake formation were associated with stone tools dated to 400, 300, 200, 100, and 55 thousand years ago through luminescence dating, which detects the last time the grains of sediment were exposed to sunlight. These dates also correspond to times when rainfall is known to have increased in the region, Groucutt explained. Meanwhile, the different types of tools the researchers identified suggest that the people who traveled through the grasslands came from different places, and may have even belonged to different species originating in Africa and Eurasia. To read about more than 1,000 rectangular complexes that were recorded in the deserts of northwest Saudi Arabia, go to "Around the World: Saudi Arabia."

Cache of Medieval Jewelry Unearthed in Russia

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—According to a Live Science report, researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences have discovered a trove of finely made medieval jewelry at the site of Old Ryazan, the fortified capital of Rus in southwest Russia that was sacked by Batu Khan and his invading Mongol army in the thirteenth century. The silver cache weighs more than four pounds and includes eight pendants, 14 bracelets, seven rings, and several small, six-sided ingots. The items are thought to have been placed in a cylindrical container that may have been made of birch bark. The composition of the silver in the pieces varies, suggesting the jewelry was accumulated over time rather than made all at once. But the style of the jewelry and ceramics found nearby indicate that the treasure was hidden at the end of the eleventh century or the beginning of the twelfth, some 100 years before the Mongol invasion. Old Ryazan was probably powerful enough that it occasionally went to war with its neighbors, the researchers explained. To read about the mummified remains of a woman who was buried some 800 years ago at a necropolis in the Russian High Arctic, go to "Arctic Ice Maiden."

Remains of Chile’s Early Farmers Bear Traumatic Injuries

ARICA, CHILE—Evidence of violent death has been found on the remains of early farmers who were buried in cemeteries in Chile’s Atacama Desert some 3,000 years ago, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. Vivien Standen of the University of Tarapacá and her colleagues said about 21 percent of the 194 uncovered individuals bore wounds consistent with maces, sticks, or arrows. Many had suffered head wounds, about half of which were likely fatal. Chemical analysis of the farmers’ bones indicates that all of the dead lived locally. Such violence may have been brought on by fights over water, land, or other scarce resources, or perhaps by the emergence of elites who defended their resources, Standen and her colleagues explained. To read about other burials in the Atacama Desert, go to "Atacama's Decaying Mummies."