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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 10

New Thoughts on Southern Africa’s Prehistoric Tool Shapes

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by the University of Sydney, populations of early humans living in southern Africa some 65,000 years ago shared information with each other. An international team of researchers led by Amy Way found that tools known as Howiesons Poort blades, which were used for cutting wood, plants, bone, skin, feathers, flesh, and in hunting technology, were all made in a similar shape across the different environments of the region. Way and her colleagues suggest this similarity was brought about by communication and cooperation between various groups of people. Such social connections may have even assisted the large migration out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, Way postulated. Team member Paloma de la Peña of Cambridge University added that tool shape may have also been influenced by changes in climate across southern Africa that occurred at the time. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports. To read about the discovery of possible intentional burials made by Homo naledi in South Africa's Rising Star cave system, go to "Cradle of the Graves."

Remains of Possible Early Muslims Identified in Syria

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by Uppsala University, archaeogeneticist Cristina Valdiosera of the University of Burgos and her colleagues recently attempted to extract DNA from the remains of 14 people unearthed at Syria’s Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa more than 10 years ago. DNA was only preserved in two of the sets of remains, which were radiocarbon dated to the late seventh and early eighth centuries of the Umayyad era. The scientists then reassessed the burials, and found that they were consistent with early Muslim burial practices. Megha Srigyan of Uppsala University said that the genetic analysis indicates that the genomes of the two people were more similar to modern Bedouins and Saudis than people who live in the Levant today. The data, when taken together, suggests that the man and woman may have been members of a traveling group of early Muslims, population geneticist Torsten Günther of Uppsala University concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Communications Biology. To read about a funerary wand from Tell Qarassa that dates to the late ninth millennium B.C., go to "Artifact."

Thursday, June 9

Researchers Return to Medieval Monastery in Northern Greece

CHALCIDICE, GREECE—A medieval Christian monastery located on the coast of northern Greece was once surrounded by a wall of granite rocks standing about six feet tall, according to a Live Science report. The excavation of the site is being conducted by a team of researchers led by Theodoros Dogas of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Chalcidice and Mount Athos. Team member Errikos Maniotis of Masaryk University explained that a rare medieval saber was discovered at the site about 20 years ago. He thinks the one-edged curved iron weapon could have been lost by raiding Turkish pirates or the monastery’s Byzantine defenders in the fourteenth century. “They both used similar weapons in this period,” he said. The monastery may have been used as a refuge by local people during military events and as a safe place to store grain. Seeds have been found in the lower levels of a tower at the site, Dogas added, along with weapons such as axes, arrowheads, and the saber. Evidence of a fire indicates that the tower was damaged in the second half of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth century, he concluded. To read more about Byzantine archaeology, go to "Shipping Stone."

Study Suggests Chickens Were Domesticated 3,500 Years Ago

MUNICH, GERMANY—“Cereal cultivation may have acted as a catalyst for chicken domestication,” zooarchaeologist Joris Peters of Ludwig Maximilian University said in a Science News report. Peters and his colleagues, including bioarchiologist Julia Best of Cardiff University, examined Gallus gallus domesticus bones recovered from more than 600 archaeological sites in 89 countries. The earliest known chicken remains, dated to between 1650 and 1250 B.C., have been identified at Ban Non Wat, a site in central Thailand where rice was planted on upland soil soaked by seasonal rains. The rice fields are thought to have attracted wild red jungle fowl who then came in contact with humans. Partial skeletons and remains of whole early chickens have been found in human burials at Ban Non Wat and other Southeast Asian sites, indicating that they may have held social or cultural significance, Peters added. Domesticated chickens are then thought to have arrived in central China, Iran, and Iraq about 3,000 years ago, Europe some 2,800 years ago, and Africa between 1,100 and 800 years ago. Previous studies had suggested that chickens arrived in Eurasia and Africa several thousand years earlier, but the new study indicates that the bones may have settled into lower sediment layers over time, throwing off attempts to date them. For more on the domestication of chickens, go to "Fast Food."

Wednesday, June 8

Spain’s Cueva de Ardales May Have Held Symbolic Value

MÁLAGA, SPAIN—Cosmos Magazine reports that a review of artifacts and more than 50 new dates obtained from the layers of southern Spain’s Cueva de Ardales indicates that the cave was not used as a campsite, but was periodically visited for the creation of rock art and the burial of the dead from the Palaeolithic period through the Neolithic period. The international team of researchers, led by José Ramos-Muñoz of the University of Cadiz, suggests that the cave was probably first used by Neanderthals more than 65,000 years ago. The oldest artworks in the cave, including dots, finger tips, and hand stencils made with red pigment, have been dated to more than 58,000 years ago. Modern humans then used the cave some 35,000 years ago, after the disappearance of the Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago. Burials dated to the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, were also unearthed. Modern humans continued to use the site sporadically until about 7,000 years ago, the researchers concluded. For more on Neanderthal finds from Spanish caves, go to "Neanderthal Medicine Chest," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2012.

1,000-Year-Old Aztatlán Burials Uncovered in Coastal Mexico

SINALOA, MEXICO—According to a statement released by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, an excavation at the port of Mazatlán ahead of a construction project has uncovered burials of the Aztatlán culture dated to between 900 and 1200 A.D. Archaeologist Víctor Joel Santos Ramírez said that the site in northwestern Mexico was once a natural high point in the landscape of estuaries. Many Aztatlán burials consist of human remains placed inside pots, he added, but these poorly preserved remains were found under a layer of shell debris and accompanied by ceramic artifacts. An unknown Aztatlán settlement probably stood nearby, he added. For more, go to "Under Mexico City."