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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 29

Sweden’s 1,300-Year-Old Down Bedding Analyzed

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a statement released by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Birgitta Berglund and Jørgen Rosvold identified the birds that contributed feathers to the bedding recovered from two boat graves dated to between A.D. 600 and 700 at Valsgärde, a cemetery of more than 90 graves in central Sweden. It had been previously thought that the feathers could have been imported from eider duck farms in northern Norway, but the analysis revealed that the bedding was made with feathers from geese, ducks, grouse, crows, sparrows, waders, and eagle owls. These choices could have held symbolic meaning, Berglund said. In Nordic folklore recorded in the eighteenth century, she explained, feathers from owls and birds of prey and domestic chickens could prolong the struggle against death, while goose feathers could help the soul to be released from the body. These beliefs may date back to prehistory, Berglund said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. To read about grass bedding used by dwellers in South Africa's Border Cave up to 200,000 years ago, go to "Paleolithic Bedtime."

Study Examines Neolithic Animal Husbandry Practices

MUNICH, GERMANY—According to a statement released by Ludwig Maximilian University, early Neolithic sheep herders in central Anatolia learned how to care for their livestock on the job over a period of about 1,000 years. Curator Nadja Pöllath of the State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy in Munich, and zooarchaeologist Joris Peters and statistician Sevag Kevork of Ludwig Maximilian University, analyzed the bones of fetal and neonatal lambs unearthed at Aşikli Höyük, an early Neolithic site in central Anatolia where compacted layers of animal dung have been uncovered. The researchers then compared what they found with other collections of sheep bones to identify the stages of a young lamb’s life. They determined that between 8350 and 7300 B.C., the life expectancy of newborn lambs gradually improved as herders learned to reduce the number of infections and improve nutrition by moving the animals out to open grass from overcrowded conditions in the settlement. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science. To read about an 8,000-year-old figurine discovered in a house at the site of Çatalhöyük, go to "Figure of Distinction."   

Friday, March 26

Bronze Age Miners May Have Dined on Delivered Meals

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—According to a statement released by the Public Library of Science, evidence of pre-processed plant food has been uncovered at Prigglitz-Gasteil, a site in the Eastern Alps where copper was mined between the eleventh and ninth centuries B.C. Andreas Heiss of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues found cereal plants that had been ground and dehulled, but little chaff or tools used to process grain. The researchers suggest that the cereals were processed and maybe even cooked before they were transported to the miners. Further research is needed to determine where the grains might have been grown and processed. To read about determining medieval lead pollution levels from an Alps ice core, go to "History in Ice."

3,200-Year-Old Spider Mural Identified in Peru

LA LIBERTAD, PERU—The Guardian reports that a 3,200-year-old mural on a mudbrick structure situated near a river in northwestern Peru depicts a knife-wielding spider god associated with rain and fertility. The image was painted with yellow, grey, and white paint in addition to ochre. Archaeologist Régulo Franco Jordán said the structure, named Tomabalito, was a shrine built by the Cupisnique culture. “It’s likely that there was a special, sacred water ceremony held between January and March when the rains came down from the higher areas,” Jordán said. Much of the site was destroyed last fall by farmers with heavy machinery, he added. To read about a feline geoglyph recently restored in southern Peru, go to "Cat's Eye View."

Were England’s Legal Documents Designed to Prevent Fraud?

EXETER, ENGLAND—A new study of British legal documents dating from the thirteenth through the twentieth centuries indicates that most of them were written on parchment containing sheepskin, according to a Science News report. Sean Doherty of the University of Exeter said that 30 to 50 percent of the weight of sheepskin is fat, and when that fat is removed from the skin by submerging it in lime, the resulting parchment has bigger gaps between its layers than parchment made from the leaner skins of other animals. Alterations made to sheepskin documents can detach and shift these layers, making the changes more noticeable, Doherty explained. Sheepskin parchment may have been widely used in legal documents, he added, in order to prevent fraud. For more on the study of parchment documents, go to "The Hidden Stories of the York Gospel."