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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 6

Genetic Study Examines Europe’s Hunter-Gatherers

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—According to a Live Science report, an analysis of the genomes of 356 European hunter-gatherers who lived between 35,000 and 5,000 years ago suggests that two genetically distinct groups comprised the Gravettian culture, which produced similar weapons and art known today between 33,000 and 26,000 years ago. Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen said that one of these lineages, dubbed Fournol after a site in France, belonged to a group of people whose remains have been recovered in France and Spain, while the other, named Věstonice for a site in the Czech Republic, came from the Czech Republic and Italy. He added that the Fournol were descended from the Aurignacians, who lived in Europe between 43,000 and 33,000 years ago. Ancestors of the Věstonice came from western Russia, however. The study also indicates that the Fournol survived the Last Glacial Maximum, but the Věstonice died out. It had been previously thought that the Věstonice lived in Italy during the Last Glacial Maximum, with their descendants producing what is known as Epigravettian culture after the glaciers retreated. Instead, migrants from the Balkans as early as 17,000 years ago are likely to have produced Epigravettian culture. Finally, the study suggests that as the climate warmed and forests spread across Europe some 14,000 years ago, the Epigravettians spread northward as the descendants of the Fournol died out. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about recent research on a famous Gravettian figurine, go to "The Birth of Venus," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2022.

Were Steel Tools Used in the Late Bronze Age?

FREIBURG, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the University of Freiburg, archaeologist Ralph Araque Gonzalez and his colleagues suggest that steel tools were used by the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula to carve stone pillars some 2,900 years ago. Gonzalez and his colleagues first analyzed the composition of the rock used to make the pillars, and determined that it was made of silicate quartz sandstone, which is extremely hard. They then attempted to reproduce the ancient stone carvings, and found that it was impossible to do so with stone, bronze, and untempered iron tools. The researchers then analyzed the composition of a stonemason’s iron chisel unearthed in Rocha do Vigio, Portugal, which has been dated to 900 B.C., and determined that it contained enough carbon to be considered steel. It had been previously thought that steel was not widely used in Europe before the Roman era. To read about the Persians' creation of a strong steel as early as the eleventh century A.D., go to "Persian Steel."

Friday, March 3

800-Year-Old Hoard Unearthed in Northern Germany

SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN, GERMANY—A metal detectorist discovered an 800-year-old hoard of gold jewelry and silver coins in northern Germany, in the region of the Viking trade center of Hedeby, and reported the find to the State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH), according to a Live Science report. Ulf Ickerodt of the ALSH said that the hoard, which was excavated by archaeologists, includes two Byzantine-style gold earrings set with semiprecious stones, a gilded brooch made to look like an Islamic coin, two gilded rings set with stones, a ring fragment, a perforated disc that had been gilded, a ring brooch, and 30 silver coins minted during the reign of Danish king Valdemar II, between 1202 and 1241. The items in the hoard may have been stolen, meant to have been delivered to someone, buried for ritual reasons, or hidden during a crisis some 200 years after the Vikings abandoned their town, Ickerodt explained. “An extensive north-south and east-west trade network has developed here since the early Middle Ages, in which the Mediterranean region, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea were integrated,” he added. “The hoard was certainly not put down by chance.”  To read about a cache of ancient weapons uncovered in western Germany, go to "A Twisted Hoard."

Camera Glimpses Hidden Corridor in Egypt’s Great Pyramid

CAIRO, EGYPT—BBC News reports that a corridor first detected in the Great Pyramid of Giza in 2016 with muography, a non-invasive technique that tracks the path of muons from space, has been viewed with an endoscope. The corridor, which measures about 30 feet long and seven feet wide, is situated about 22 feet above the pyramid’s main entrance. The endoscope was fed into the corridor through a joint in a stone chevron structure. The vaulted space may have been constructed to redistribute the pyramid’s weight around the entrance, or perhaps over an undiscovered chamber. “We’re going to continue our scanning so we will see what we can do… to figure out what we can find out beneath it, or just by the end of this corridor,” said Mostafa Waziri of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. To read about the highly skilled workers who helped construct the Great Pyramid, go to "Journeys of the Pyramid Builders."

Thursday, March 2

Signs of Surgery Examined on Medieval Woman’s Skull

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a woman’s skull unearthed at an early medieval Lombard cemetery in central Italy in the nineteenth century bears evidence of two possible trepanations. The first, a large cross-shaped incision, shows signs of healing and was probably performed up to three months before the woman died. In the second surgery, the bone of the woman’s forehead was scraped thin after the skin had been peeled back. Bioarchaeologist Ileana Micarelli of the University of Cambridge and the Sapienza University of Rome said the woman may have died during this second procedure, since the hole did not go all the way through the skull and there are no signs of healing on this wound. The rest of the woman’s remains are missing, she added, so the state of her health is unclear. Micarelli suggested, however, that the surgeries may have been attempts to treat a painful brain infection brought on by two large abscesses observed on the woman’s upper jaw. Read the original scholarly article about this research in International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. To read about the practice of trepanation in ancient Andes, go to "World Roundup: Peru."

Ancient Defensive Trench Found in Central China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a trench estimated to be 6,000 years old has been found in central China at the Suyang site in the ancient capital city of Luoyang. The trench was walled with wooden posts and is thought to have been built for defense by the people of the Yangshao culture. Archaeologist Ren Guang said that layers of artifacts found in the trench indicate that it was later used for domestic waste. Pottery and artifacts made of stone, jade, bone, shells, and burned corn and millet seeds were also recovered at the site. To read about another find from Luoyang, go to "Around the World: China."

New Excavation at Pompeii Underway

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a statement released by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, almost an entire block in the central area of the ancient city is under excavation by a team of researchers made up of archaeologists, archaeobotanists, volcanologists, topographers, architects, engineers, and geologists. So far, they have uncovered the masonry ridges of the upper floors of the buildings in Insula 10 of Regio IX, which is located along Via di Nola. One house, previously excavated in 1912, had been converted into a laundry. An oven and an upper floor were uncovered in another structure. Evidence of farming and traces of outbuildings dated to the eighteenth century have also been found. The work is part of the Great Pompeii Project, whose aim is to improve the conservation of the site by strengthening the borders between the excavated areas of the city and those still covered with lapilli and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The heavy layer of ash in unexcavated areas of the city can put pressure on adjacent excavated walls, which can also be exposed to damage from rainwater, explained Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of Pompeii Archaeological Park. To read about other recent archaeological research in the ancient city, go to "Digging Deeper into Pompeii's Past."