Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 4

Two Types of Brewing Detected in China’s Neolithic Pottery

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—New Scientist reports that Li Liu of Stanford University and an international team of researchers found evidence of fermented starch granules on pottery sherds uncovered at two early farming sites located about 185 miles apart in north China. The pottery fragments ranged in age from 8,000 to 7,000 years old, and came from vessels that had small mouths, thin necks, and wide sides that blocked fresh air and promoted the brewing process. At the site of Lingkou, Liu said, the early farmers began the fermentation process by allowing grains to sprout, which freed up their natural sugars for fermentation. Meanwhile, at the site of Guantaoyuan, fungi, herbs, and grains were added to cereals as a “fermentation starter” known as qū. The researchers suggest the production of alcoholic beverages may have been linked to social and religious activities, thus fueling the development of agriculture. For more, go to “A Prehistoric Cocktail Party.”

Herders and Hunter-Gatherers Shared Genes in East Africa

MADRID, SPAIN—It had been previously thought that the practice of herding domesticated animals may have spread across Africa through exchange networks, but Science News reports that a new genetic study of human remains unearthed in East Africa tells a different story. The researchers found that early herders, who were related to Middle Eastern pastoralists, first mixed with foragers in northeast Africa between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago. They then traveled south to the Rift Valley, where they mated with foragers there between 4,500 and 3,500 years ago. Mary Prendergast of Saint Louis University and her colleagues say that after this time, herders and foragers living in East Africa remained isolated from each other, although the herders spread rapidly throughout the region. Then, some 1,200 years ago, the study suggests that additional groups of people from northeastern and western Africa migrated into East Africa, where they produced another genetic shift that paralleled the rise of farming and ironworking. For more on hunter-gatherers in Africa, go to “First Use of Poison.”

Ancient Tomb Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a brick burial chamber held together with pale yellow mortar and covered with a stone slab was discovered just under the modern street level near Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The tomb measures nearly seven feet long and four feet wide, and is thought to have been built in the third or fourth century A.D., based on its resemblance to other tombs in a nearby necropolis. No human remains were found in the tomb, which was damaged, likely during the construction of the square around the cathedral in the early twentieth century. Researchers from Sofia’s Regional History Museum think more tombs may be found in the area. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Monday, June 3

Stone Tools Were Invented Multiple Times

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in The Independent, researchers led by David Braun of George Washington University and Christopher Campisano of Arizona State University uncovered a collection of 327 Oldowan tools dated to more than 2.58 million years ago in northeastern Ethiopia. Sediments at the site revealed that the tools, found along with animal remains, were dropped at the edge of a water source and quickly buried. “This is the first time we see people chipping off bits of stone to make tools with an end in mind,” explained Kaye Reed of Arizona State University. “They only took two or three flakes off, and some you can tell weren’t taken off quite right. The latest tools seem slightly different in the way they’re made from other examples.” The discovery suggests flaked stone tools were invented multiple times, since these examples are distinct from “percussive” tools made by other primates and earlier human ancestors that date back as early as 3.3 million years ago. After about 2.6 million years ago, at about the time when the teeth of human ancestors began to get smaller, they also became more accurate and skilled tool makers, the researchers explained. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

Who Were Scotland’s First Famers?

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that pottery made in the carinated bowl tradition has been unearthed at Kirkton of Fetteresso, a site located near eastern Scotland’s Stonehaven Bay, and dated to between 3952 and 3766 B.C. The presence of the pottery at the site, which was occupied for at least 4,500 years, means that farming was practiced in the region more than 100 years earlier than had been thought, according to Robert Lenfert of Cameron Archaeology and his colleagues. There are only two other sites in Britain with pottery of similar style and age, and both are in the northeast as well, Lenfert explained. The researchers suggest that early farmers may have traveled directly to the region from mainland Europe by boat, rather than following major rivers, as had been previously suggested. For more, go to “Letter from Scotland: Living on the Edge.”

New Dates Obtained for Turkey’s Kula Footprints

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that a new study of the “Kula footprints,” which were discovered in a layer of volcanic ash in western Turkey’s Kula Volcanic Geopark in the 1960s, employed two separate dating methods—radiogenic helium dating and cosmogenic chlorine exposure—to determine the footprints were left behind some 4,700 years ago. It was previously suggested that the footprints may have been made by Neanderthals some 250,000 years ago, and that the individuals had been fleeing a volcanic eruption. But Inan Ulusoy of Hacettepe University and Martin Danišík of Curtin University say the footprints were made by modern humans walking with staffs at normal speeds along with an unidentified species of wolf, coyote, or dog. The walkers may have approached the volcano for a closer look after its initial eruption, and may even have recorded the event, Ulusoy explained, with an illustration that is now known as the Kanlitaş rock painting, located about 1.2 miles away from the footprint site. The artwork shows a line that might represent lava flowing out of a crater-like circular shape. “Anyone can imagine that this is an event that one may face rarely in a lifetime,” Ulusoy said. “This may have given the inspiration to the Bronze Age people to leave the note behind.” For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Skull Cult at Göbekli Tepe.”

Friday, May 31

Turkey’s Neolithic Farmers Suffered From Intestinal Parasites

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Cosmos Magazine reports that evidence of intestinal parasite infection has been detected in 8,000-year-old feces from Turkey’s well-preserved Neolithic village of Çatalhöyük. Archaeologist Piers Mitchell of Cambridge University and his colleagues think the residents may have relieved themselves in the midden, where the coprolites, or fossilized feces were found, or in clay pots inside their homes, and then emptied the pots into the midden. First, the researchers analyzed sterols and bile acids in the samples to confirm they were produced by humans. Microscopic examination of the feces revealed the eggs of whipworms (Trichuris trichiura) in two of the coprolites. This parasite lives in the human large intestine and can cause health problems, particularly in children. Mitchell said the team members now want to find fecal material left behind by earlier hunter-gatherers, in order to understand how the transition to farming and village life, and the resulting change in sanitary practices, may have affected human health. To read about another discovery at Çatalhöyük, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

Stone Age Ax Unearthed in Wales

TALSARN, WALES—BBC News reports that a Stone Age ax and nine other flint tools were unearthed in western Wales by a team of archaeology students from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The ax is still sharp, according to archaeologist Martin Bates. The artifacts were recovered from low mounds surrounded by present-day marshland that is thought to have been dry ground when the tools were abandoned. The team plans to return to the site for additional investigations. To read about a nearby fortification that was exposed during the 2018 heat wave, go to “Medieval Castle: Ceredigion, Wales.”

Hunter-Gatherers Cooked Starches in South Africa

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Science News reports that archaeologist Cynthia Larbey of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues have found evidence that modern humans roasted tubers and roots for food as early as 120,000 years ago. The starch granules found in charred plant remains that they unearthed in South Africa’s Klasies River Cave have not been linked to any known starchy plants, however. Cooked starches would have been easier to digest and would have provided a more efficient source of glucose, and thus energy, to the hunter-gatherers, Larbey explained. The roots and tubers would have been available year round, she added, and would have supplemented a diet of shellfish, fish, and game animals. Roots and tubers were cooked in the cave up until about 65,000 years ago, despite changes in tool technologies and hunting strategies. Starchy crops are thought to have been farmed in Africa beginning about 10,000 years ago. For more on hunter-gatherers in South Africa, go to “First Use of Poison.”