Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, November 30

Scientists Revisit Unusual Cave Burial in Poland

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, researchers led by Małgorzata Kot of the University of Warsaw's Institute of Archaeology are investigating the burial of a child whose remains were discovered 50 years ago in a shallow grave in a cave in south-central Poland’s Sąspowska Valley. Some of the child’s bones were found in university storage boxes, but the location of the skull, which was sent out for study shortly after the original excavation, is currently unknown. Radiocarbon dating of the bones revealed the child, who died at about the age of ten, lived in the second half of the eighteenth century or the turn of the nineteenth century, at a time when most people were buried in cemeteries, making the cave burial unusual. A photograph of the excavation, published in the 1980s, shows that the child was buried with the skull of one chaffinch in his or her mouth, and another near his or her cheek. The birds’ skulls were recently reexamined, but no clues to their significance in the grave were detected. “We only know that these were the remains of adult birds,” Kot said. To read about bird remains discovered in New Mexico, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Who Made Saudi Arabia’s Acheulean Tools?

JENA, GERMANY—Live Science reports that stone hand axes similar to those made by human ancestors some 1.5 million years ago in Africa have been recovered in Saudi Arabia and dated to as recently as 190,000 years ago. It is unclear who made the tools at the site, which is known as Saffaqah. “However, hominins that have been found with Acheulean tools include Homo erectus, who was probably a direct ancestor of humans,” explained Eleanor Scerri of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. The study suggests the hominins who crafted the tools, and traveled throughout the region on its waterways, may have encountered modern humans, who are thought to have entered the Arabian Peninsula at about that time. “Although the site of Saffaqah was not a desert when these Acheulean hominins were there, it was probably still quite an arid environment,” Scerri added. For more on early stone tools, go to “The First Spears.”

Mesolithic Cuisine Analyzed in Germany

DRESDEN, GERMANY—According to a report in Cosmos, a team of scientists led by Anna Shevchenko of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology has analyzed food residues in pots unearthed at the Mesolithic site of Friesack 4, which is located in northeastern Germany. Shevchenko and her team explained that protein analysis allows scientists to distinguish between ancient substances and recent contaminants, and may even identify ingredients from specific animals and plants. Changes in the properties of the proteins can also point to cooking methods, they said. In one of the 6,000-year-old pots, they found traces of poached freshwater carp eggs. A crust on the rim of the pot, spotted with electron microscopy, suggests it was probably covered with a cap of leaves. The scientists were not able to determine the species of the leaves, and they are not sure whether they were used to flavor the roe as it cooked, or just keep the heat of the fire in the pot. Analysis of another dish from the site detected a meal made of pork cooked with bones, sinews, or skin. To read about the use of proteins and DNA to study ancient manuscripts, go to “The Hidden Stories of the York Gospel.”

Thursday, November 29

Stone Tool Workshop Unearthed in Tibet

BEIJING, CHINA—Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of researchers led by Xiaoling Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has unearthed a 30,000-year-old stone tool workshop in central Tibet—some 15,000 feet above sea level. Evidence from the site, known as Nwya Devu, suggests humans were able to survive at the area's extremely high altitude at least 15,000 years earlier than previously thought. The researchers suspect the toolmakers were hunters who followed herds of gazelles, horses, yaks, and maybe even woolly rhinoceroses to the Tibetan Plateau, and speculate that Denisovan genetic material may have contributed to their ability to adapt to the harsh environment. The types of tool technologies at the site also point to interactions between early Tibetans and people living in Siberia and Mongolia. To read in-depth about research into people's ability to live at high altitude, go to “The Heights We Go To.”

2.4-Million-Year-Old Tools Uncovered in North Africa

BURGOS, SPAIN—Science News reports that stone tools unearthed in Algeria amid butchered animal bones suggest the evolution of human ancestors was not limited to East Africa. Mohamed Sahnouni of Spain’s National Research Center for Human Evolution and his colleagues say meat-chopping tools found in North Africa were made about 2.4 million years ago, or about 200,000 years more recently than the oldest known tools in East Africa. The scientists think the tools could have been crafted by descendants of East African toolmakers who migrated into North Africa, or they may have been created independently. The animal bones came from savanna-dwellers such as elephants, horses, rhinoceroses, antelopes, and crocodiles that may have been hunted or scavenged from carnovores’ fresh kill sites, Sahnouni said. No hominin remains were found with the tools, so the researchers are not sure who made them. To read about early remains of modern humans discovered in Morocco, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”

Late Period Mummies Discovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced the discovery of eight mummies in the Dahshur royal necropolis, according to an Associated Press report. Dahshur, located on the west bank of the Nile River about 25 miles south of Cairo, is noted for Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid, which was built during the Fourth Dynasty, around 2600 B.C. The mummies, dated to between 664 and 332 B.C., were covered with painted cartonnage and placed in limestone sarcophagi. They were found near a pyramid built by the 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat II, who ruled from roughly 1919 to 1885 B.C. To read about the use of mathematics to study structures at Dahshur, go to “Fractals and Pyramids.”

1,500-Year-Old Painting Depicting Jesus Found in Negev Desert

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, art historian Emma Maayan-Fanar of the University of Haifa has found a heavily eroded painting depicting Jesus Christ at his baptism in the Jordan River amid the ruins of a 1,500-year-old church at the site of the ancient city of Shivta, which is located in the Negev Desert. The painting was located on a fragment of ceiling in the baptistery, the area of the church where the rite of admission to the Christian faith was performed. The image is thought to be one of the oldest representations of Jesus Christ to have been found in Israel. To read about a hat bearing a depiction of Jesus that was found in a very different part of the world, go to “Mongol Fashion Statement.”

Wednesday, November 28

Hoard of Ottoman-Era Coins Unearthed in Bulgaria

PLEVEN, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that inmates discovered two pots filled with silver coins dating to the Ottoman Empire on the grounds of Pleven Prison, which is located in northern Bulgaria. The more than 7,000 akces, weighing more than 18 pounds in all, are thought to have been buried in the nineteenth century. Archaeologist Vladimir Naydenov said the coins are of different face values and were issued at different times, indicating that they were probably collected over a period of many years. No signs of Ottoman structures have been uncovered in the area where the treasure was found. To read about another large coin hoard, found on the British Channel island of Jersey, go to “Ka-Ching!

Neolithic Stone Mask Unearthed

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to an AFP report, a rare, 9,000-year-old mask made of pink and yellow sandstone was found in the Pnei Hever region of the West Bank. “The last one that we know was found 35 years ago,” said archaeologist Ronit Lupu of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Stone masks have been linked to the rise of agriculture and an increase in ritual activities, such as ancestor worship, she added. To read about another, much more recent, mask discovered in the area, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”