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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, April 11

Cache of Meroitic Texts Recovered in Sudan

KHARTOUM, SUDAN—Live Science reports that a cache of Meroitic funerary texts has been found at the Sedeinga necropolis in Sudan. Meroitic is the oldest known written language from south of the Sahara. It borrows characters from the ancient Egyptian language, but is not fully understood. Archaeologist Vincent Francigny of the French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service explained that although scholars can translate much of the known funerary texts written in Meroitic, there are so few Meroitic texts overall that each one has the potential to yield new information. “Every text tells a story—the name of the deceased and both parents, with their occupations sometime[s]; their career in the administration of the kingdom, including place names; their relation to extended family with prestigious titles,” Francigny said. To read in-depth about excavations at Sedeinga, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

1,500-Year-Old Onion Discovered in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—According to a report in The Local, a burned lump recovered near a fireplace at Sandby Borg on the island of Öland is a 1,500-year-old onion. However, archaeologist Helena Victor explained that onions were not grown in Scandinavia at the time. She thinks the vegetable may have been imported from the Roman Empire as an exotic vegetable. “An onion doesn’t sound very interesting,” Victor said, but she notes that the next-oldest onion to have been found in Scandinavia dated to A.D. 650. The inhabitants of Sandby Borg were killed and the settlement burned by unknown attackers. Victor suggests imported items such as the onion, as well as Roman gold rings and coins found in the ancient ring fort, may have been a motive for the massacre. To read in-depth about the massacre at Sandby Borg, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Additional Fragments of Colossus Found in Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that an excavation in the ancient city of Heliopolis has uncovered thousands of fragments of a colossal statue of King Psamtek I, who ruled in the seventh century B.C. This discovery adds to the more than 6,000 pieces of the statue, which had been deliberately destroyed, that were recovered last year. “The new fragments confirm that the colossus once depicted King Psamtek I standing, but it also reveals that his left arm was held in front of the body, an unusual feature,” said Ayman Ashmawy of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. “A very carefully carved scene on the back pillar shows the kneeling King Psamtek I in front of the creator-god Atum of Heliopolis.” The quartzite colossus was part of a temple dating back to Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.) that had been remodeled by later pharaohs until it was eventually dismantled in the tenth or eleventh century A.D. Fragments of a frieze of falcons and a colossal red granite sphinx were among the objects recovered from the temple ruins. To read about another recent Egyptological discovery, go to “We Are Family.”

Tuesday, April 10

Red-Figure Krater Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOZOPOL, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a dwelling dating to the sixth century B.C. has been discovered in the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, located on the Skamni Peninsula of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Among the artifacts in the house, archaeologists found a krater decorated with red figures depicting the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and an askos, or small jug, for pouring small amounts of liquids. The site was situated about six feet underneath the foundations of a home built in the nineteenth century. Layers of soil in between the two homes contained Classical Period artifacts such as pottery, loom weights, spindle parts, coins, seals, and game pieces, and a medieval necropolis in use during the eleventh century and the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. One of the eleventh-century graves yielded a small cross made of bronze and one made of bone. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

Possible Royal Palace Uncovered in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Nation (Thailand), archaeologists led by Jean-Baptiste Chevance have been excavating a site they think may be the ninth-century royal palace of Jayavarman II in Phnom Kulen National Park, located in a mountain range some 20 miles north of Angkor Wat. Jayavarman II was the first ruler of the Angkor Empire. The massive compound was investigated with lidar technology in 2012. “It’s obviously one of the most important buildings because of the quality of the construction,” Chevance said. The square building, made of high-quality brick, was surrounded by a series of concentric walls. Radiocarbon dates obtained from the site suggest the building was abandoned late in the ninth century, which corresponds with inscriptions relating to the reign of Jayavarman II. No inscriptions have been found to date in the well-made building, however. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Monday, April 09

Why Do Modern Humans Have Expressive Brows?

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in Vox, evolutionary anthropologist Penny Spikins and anatomist Paul O’Higgins of the University of York and their colleagues think modern humans may have evolved smooth, long foreheads with agile eyebrows as a way to communicate emotions, and thus, enhanced the ability to survive. The researchers created a 3-D computer model of Kabwe I, a Homo heidelbergensis skull, and manipulated it to see whether shaving back its heavy brow ridge affected simulations of chewing meat, or how the brain case and eye sockets fit together. The analysis suggests that reducing the creature’s thick brow ridge would not have caused any functional problems. Spikins and O’Higgins speculate that the brow ridge may have instead served as a social signal of strength and dominance. Larger foreheads and smaller brow bones may have evolved along with more complex muscles for controlling subtle eye and eyebrow movements capable of expressing the modern human state of mind. For more on the evolution of the human face, go to “Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?

Historic Slaughterhouse Unearthed in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC News report, a slaughterhouse dating to the nineteenth century has been uncovered at a construction site in Edinburgh. The site, which is located just outside the historic city walls, is in an area where cattle and horse markets were held as early as the fifteenth century. Traces of a well that may have been used to water the cattle at the slaughterhouse were also found. “Now this gives flesh to the bones of what we already know,” said archaeologist Bruce Glendinning of CFA Archaeology. “It tells us how it looked inside with cobbled floors and the different floors and how the drains worked so they could sluice the blood away.” The features will be filled, capped, and preserved under the new construction. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Stone Age Scandinavians May Have Relied on Fish

LUND, SWEDEN—Science Nordic reports that scientists from Lund University analyzed the isotope levels in 82 sets of Stone Age skeletal remains found in Sweden and Denmark, and fish and animal bones uncovered at four Stone Age sites in Sweden spanning a period of about 3,000 years. The study suggests that people in the region heavily relied on fish, which made up just over half of their protein intake, and that they ate locally sourced foods. Those who lived by lakes and rivers ate carp, perch, and pike regularly, while those who lived by the sea ate mostly cod, but also herring, pollock, haddock, and dogfish. Adam Boethius of Lund University said the prevalence of fish in the Stone Age diet could indicate that people living in Scandinavia were not as mobile as previously believed. Seal meat made up 10 percent of the diet, and land animals, such as wild boar and red deer made up about 37 percent, while plants, mushrooms, berries, and nuts accounted for only about three percent of the foods eaten by Stone Age Scandinavians at one settlement. The prevalence of fish in the diet may have been underestimated in the past because the delicate bones are difficult to detect at archaeological sites. For more on archaeology in Scandinavia, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

Early Migrants May Have Traveled Beyond the Levant

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A finger bone unearthed at the Al Wusta site in Saudi Arabia suggests that modern humans migrated out of Africa and into a widespread area as early as 85,000 years ago, according to a BBC News report. Huw Groucutt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues identified the bone by comparing a 3-D model of it to the finger bones of other modern humans and Neanderthals, whose finger bones are usually shorter and squatter. The age of the bone was determined with a technique called uranium series dating, which measures the ratio between radioactive elements in bone. The fossils of other African animals found at the site, such as those of hippos, wild cattle, and antelope, also dated to the same time period, suggesting that at the time it had a far more inviting and hospitable climate than it does today. But genetic studies have indicated that today’s living non-Africans are descended from people who dispersed from Africa some 60,000 years ago. Groucutt said the earlier human populations may have gone extinct, or may have been replaced by later waves of migrants. “The interesting thing,” Groucutt said, “is that in the past some people have said we couldn’t really spread into Asia until we had complex tools. [Our findings] suggest that that kind of migration didn’t really reflect a technological breakthrough, but reflects climate change.” To read about other recent discoveries in Saudi Arabia, go to “Hot Property.”

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