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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 3

Study Reveals Ancient Fish-Cleaning Techniques

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Irit Zohar of the University of Haifa examined fish preparation methods practiced today by traditional fishing communities in central Pacific Panama and Egypt's southern Sinai, and found that the modifications made to fish skeletons, using three main preparation techniques, resemble processed fish remains recovered from archaeological sites. The size of the fish body, and not the geographic location of the fishing community, influenced how the fish was prepared, Cooke and Zohar explained. Therefore, they suggest, humans have been employing the same basic techniques to clean fish for thousands of years. The researchers also determined that fish processing sites are rare and difficult to identify in the archaeological record because discarded fish remains are usually either thrown into the water or eaten by other animals. To read about early evidence for fish fermentation in the Mesolithic period, go to "World Roundup: Sweden."

Black Death Bacteria May Have Originated in Russia

JENA, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that researchers led by Maria Spyrou of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History analyzed the genomes of 34 samples of Y. pestis, the bacteria that caused the Black Death, obtained from the teeth of people buried at ten different European sites between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The study suggests that the oldest bacteria DNA came from Laishevo, a town in Russia’s southwestern Volga region, and that this strain is ancestral to the strains in the remaining samples, although it may have originated somewhere else in western Asia. Once it arrived in Europe, Y. pestis is likely to have lived on local rodent hosts, where it evolved, diversified, and caused later outbreaks of the Black Death. Additional samples of the bacteria from western Asia could offer more information about the spread of the disease, Spyrou explained. For more, go to "Bronze Age Plague," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.

Houston Excavation Reveals 19th-Century Neighborhood

HOUSTON, TEXAS—Houstonia Magazine reports that a team of researchers and volunteers led by archaeologist Doug Boyd of Prewitt & Associates excavated areas of the site of Frost Town, a nineteenth-century working-class community located in what is now the city of Houston’s James Bute Park, ahead of a highway construction project. German and Irish immigrants were the first to arrive in Frost Town, which was established by Jonathan Benson Frost and his brother Samuel Frost in the 1830s. Boyd said the team members discovered border markers for yards and gardens made of upturned bottles that tend to be associated with German households dating to the later nineteenth century. One intact border included three Carl Conrad & Company Budweiser bottles dating to the 1870s. A French-made bone handle of either a toothbrush or a small butter knife was also recovered. “This was found in one of the German-household areas in Frost Town, and came from another German businessman in San Antonio,” Boyd explained. Later waves of immigration brought African-American freedmen to Frost Town after Emancipation in 1863, and Mexican Americans after the 1910 Mexican Revolution, he added. Most of the town’s houses, cisterns, and brick sidewalks were demolished in the 1950s. To read about an unmarked cemetery for prison laborers outside Houston, go to "Another Form of Slavery."

Wednesday, October 2

Tomb Inscription Translated in Pompeii

NAPLES, ITALY—Live Science reports that an inscription discovered at a tomb in Pompeii in 2017 has been translated by Massimo Osanna, director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. The text describes the tomb occupant’s coming-of-age party as a young man, which featured a banquet for 6,840 people and a gladiator show with more than 400 fighters. Osanna said the guests would have only been adult men who possessed political rights, or about 27 to 30 percent of the population, putting the city’s total at about 30,000 people around A.D. 59. The inscription also relates how the man sold wheat at discounted prices to Pompeii citizens and distributed free bread during a four-year famine. Osanna thinks this gesture may have been depicted in a now famous Pompeii mosaic showing bread distribution to two men and a child. This citizen was also remembered for successfully speaking to Emperor Nero on behalf of Pompeians who were ejected from the city after a riot during a gladiator show. Based upon the contents of other inscriptions in the city, Osanna thinks the tomb’s occupant may have been Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, but the area where a name had been carved in the tomb was destroyed by looters in the nineteenth century. To read more about recent research in the ancient city, go to "Digging Deeper into Pompeii's Past."

Remote Buildings in Scotland May Have Hidden Illicit Distilleries

ALEXANDRIA, SCOTLAND—Forestry and Land Scotland archaeologist Matt Ritchie thinks two long, narrow buildings built deep in Loch Ard Forest in the late eighteenth century may have been illicit distilleries, according to a BBC News report. Richie and his colleagues recorded the ruins with laser scanners and built 3-D digital models of the sites. The buildings, which were both associated with large corn drying kilns, were constructed on farms close to water sources and not far from Glasgow markets, he explained. The 1788 Excise Act banned the use of stills producing less than 100 gallons of whiskey at a time, but legal whiskey was often of poor quality, since the large distilleries tended to use raw unmalted grain in order to avoid paying the heavy tax imposed on malted grain. Ritchie said grain could have been malted in the remote corn drying kilns, fermented and distilled in the long narrow buildings, and smuggled southward where it would have sold for a higher price than the inferior legal product. Both farms were abandoned in the 1840s, he added. To read about a nineteenth-century Scottish peasant community, go to "Letter from Scotland: Living on the Edge."

Possible Minoan Throne Room Unearthed in Crete

ATHENS, GREECE—According to the Greek Reporter, recent excavation of the first floor of the so-called Zominthos palace, a large, two-story Minoan structure situated on a plateau near Crete’s Mount Ida, has uncovered a possible storage room and a list of what might have been stored there; a hallway lined with pillars ending in a room where layers of a possible throne were unearthed; and traces of a sophisticated drainage system of clay pipes. Archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellarakis and her team also recovered hundreds of pottery vessels, some of which may have been used in rituals, and evidence of metalworking in the complex. Traces of an earlier structure were found beneath the palace, which was abandoned after an earthquake around 1600 B.C. To read more about Bronze Age Crete, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

Elizabethan-Era Theater Site Excavated in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The East London Advertiser, a team of researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) is investigating the site of the Boar’s Head Playhouse in the Whitechapel district of East London. Historic records show that rowdy plays were performed in open-air spaces at the inn, which was owned by Oliver Woodliffe, as early as 1557. Woodliffe added tiered galleries, a 360-degree stage, and a central yard to the inn complex in 1598, and a roof over the stage and additional galleries a year later. Acting troupes including the Lord Derby’s Men, the Lord Worcester’s Men, and the Queen’s Men all performed on the Boar’s Head stage. Any surviving remnants of the theater will be featured in the student housing and community performance space planned for construction on the site. To read about excavations at one of London's earliest Elizabethan theaters, go to "Behind the Curtain."

Tuesday, October 1

Mesolithic Human Remains Identified in England

TAUNTON, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, radiocarbon dating has revealed that some of the human remains found in two boxes stored at the Somerset Heritage Centre are more than 9,000 years old. Osteoarchaeologist Sharon Clough of Cotswold Archaeology said the bones were first discovered in a cave near a Roman cemetery in southwest England in the 1960s, and at the time, had been thought to date to the Roman era as well. “But they’d been picked out of the rubble in the cave and weren’t seen as part of the main dig so they were only mildly interesting and were archived and forgotten about,” Clough reasoned. The bones, which include thigh bones, cranial pieces, and pelvis fragments, belonged to at least seven different people, she added, and are remains of some of the oldest-known people to have lived in what is now England. The cave where the bones were discovered was destroyed by quarrying in the 1990s. To read about an 11,000-year-old engraved shale pendant found in England, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

Viking Sword Parts Recovered in Estonia

TALLINN, ESTONIA—ERR News reports that pieces of some 100 Viking swords and spearheads dating to the middle of the tenth century A.D. were found in two caches placed about 260 feet apart along a remote Viking trade route near Estonia’s northwestern coast. Archaeologist Mauri Kiudsoo of Tallinn University said the bits of broken weapons may have been cenotaphs, or items left as a monument to warriors who had died and were buried somewhere else. The surviving sword parts provide enough information, however, to know the weapons included H-shaped double-edged swords. Eight nearly intact type H swords and fragments of 100 more have been found in Estonia alone, Kiudsoo explained. Most of those artifacts have been found along the country’s northern coast, he added. For more, go to "The First Vikings."

Dirt from Siberia’s Denisova Cave Analyzed

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—A new study has carefully analyzed soil from different levels of Siberia’s Denisova Cave for microscopic traces of coprolites, bone, charcoal, ash, and stone flakes over a period of 300,000 years, Cosmos reports. Denisovans are thought to have first occupied the cave some 287,000 years ago, while Neanderthals are thought to have arrived 140,000 years ago. However, the test results suggest hominins only visited the cave sporadically, if at all. Archaeologist Mike Morley of Flinders University said the amount of fossilized hyena and wolf droppings in the cave suggest non-human carnivores were the cave’s primary inhabitants. In addition, the limited evidence for the use of fire in the cave could mean that hominin bones might have been carried into the cave by scavenging hyenas. The study also revealed that the climate in the region changed from a cold and arid open steppe during glacial periods to warmer, wetter forested steppe during interglacial periods. Morley said Neanderthals and Denisovans were probably both well adapted to living in cold weather. To read about another recent discovery at Denisova Cave, go to "Hominin Hybrid," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.