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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 23

Poland’s Prehistoric Diet Analyzed

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, researchers led by Krzysztof Szostek of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University analyzed the skeletons of people buried in southern Poland over a period of about 5,000 years, and compared the isotopes in those remains with the composition of animal bones and grains recovered from the archaeological sites. “Until now, isotope research on diet reconstruction was performed without taking archaeobotanical analyses into account,” Szostek explained. The comparison suggests that people ate little meat during the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. Instead, Szostek said, their diet was made up of about 50 percent plants. “The use of animals was maximized, for example, to obtain milk or skins,” he added. “Obtaining meat from animals was not a priority.” To read about vessels used in Neolithic Poland for cheese-making, go to "A Prehistoric Cocktail Party." 

Massive Prehistoric Monument Detected Near Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a ring made up of 20 or more shafts has been found surrounding the site of the Neolithic settlement of Durrington Walls, which is located about two miles from Stonehenge. Arranged in a circle measuring more than one mile across, each shaft measures about 30 feet in diameter and about 15 feet deep with nearly vertical sides. “When these pits were first noted, it was thought they might be natural features,” said researcher Vincent Gaffney of the University of Bradford. “Only through geophysical surveys, could we join the dots and see there was a pattern on a massive scale.” The pits are thought to have been dug more than 4,500 years ago to mark a boundary around Durrington Walls. Analysis of sediments from the shafts suggests that they were cut and left open, and filled slowly over time, Gaffney added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Internet Archaeology. For more on Durrington Walls, go to "Neolithic Henge Feasts," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Roman Lead Ingot Discovered in Wales

ROSSETT, WALES—The Shropshire Star reports that a metal detectorist alerted a local finds officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales after uncovering the corner of a metal object that appeared to have markings on it. Archaeologists from Wrexham Museum and the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust who reported to the scene unearthed a large lead ingot measuring about one and one-half feet long and weighing nearly 140 pounds. The writing on the possibly ancient ingot turned out to be a cast Latin inscription mentioning Marcus Trebellius Maximus, governor of the province of Britannia from A.D. 63 to 69. “We don’t yet know where this ingot has come from and we will probably never know where it was going to,” said Finds Officer Susie White. “However given the find spots of other ingots from Britain of similar date, it may have been destined for continental Europe, perhaps even Rome itself.” To read about a Viking hoard of silver ingots, coins, and jewelry discovered west of London, go to "Alfred the Great's Forgotten Ally."

Monday, June 22

Possible Friary Cemetery Found in Northern England

YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that human remains have been unearthed in York’s city center. The construction site where the bones were found may have been a cemetery placed up against a friary wall that operated in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. “It was six bodies that we uncovered,” said Tom Coates of the York Archaeological Trust. “They are not as neat as you would expect them to be, they’ve been heavily disturbed.” Roman-era pottery, a hairpin, mosaic tiles, and medieval coins have also been recovered. To read about excavations of a medieval friary in Cambridge, go to "Common Ground."

Third Neanderthal Genome Sequenced

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, a third Neanderthal genome has been sequenced by a team of researchers led by Fabrizio Mafessoni. The first sequenced genome belonged to a Neanderthal whose 40,000-year-old remains were found in Croatia’s Vindija Cave, while the second came from a Neanderthal individual whose remains were found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave and dated to about 120,000 years ago. This DNA sample came from female Neanderthal remains dated to between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago that were recovered from Chagyrskaya Cave, which is located in Russia’s Altai Mountains, just 65 miles away from Denisova Cave. Her ancestors are likely to have lived in groups that were smaller and more isolated than Neanderthals who lived elsewhere, the researchers explained. And, she was more closely related to the Neanderthals living in Croatia than those who lived 40,000 years earlier in the same region. Mafessoni said the study therefore supports the idea that Neanderthal populations from the west probably replaced Siberia’s Neanderthal population. The researchers also detected more changes in genes expressed during adolescence in the area of the brain that coordinates planning, decision-making, motivation, and reward perception than in other areas of the brain. These genes may have been affected by small population size or other factors, Mafessoni said. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Cist Burials Uncovered in Southern India

TAMIL NADU, INDIA—According to a report in The Hindu, J. Ranjith of the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology and his colleagues have discovered a total of 250 cairn circles in southern India’s trade and industrial center of Kodumanal, which was inhabited from the fifth through the first centuries B.C. Inside most of the megalithic circles, Ranjith said the excavations have revealed chambered burial cists and three or four pots and bowls. Ten pots and bowls, however, were recently unearthed in a circle made of boulders and rectangular-shaped cists made of stone slabs. Each of these cists measures about 20 feet long and six and one-half feet wide. The grave could have belonged to a village head or the head of the community, Ranjith explained, because the size of the boulders, each facing east and west, are bigger than the boulders found in the other circles. The pots and bowls, once filled with grain, may have been placed outside the chambers for use in the afterlife, he added. Ranjith said the excavation team members have also recovered an animal skull that may have belonged to a wolf or a dog; beads; gold pieces; needles; copper; a workshop with mud walls; grooved tiles in a trench; pieces of beryl, carnelian, quartz, and jasper; and texts written in Tamil Brahmi. To read about 300 rock paintings recently discovered in Madhya Pradesh, go to "Around the World: India."

Iron Age Cremation Burials Unearthed in England

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Birmingham Live reports that investigations conducted ahead of the construction of a high-speed train line in England’s West Midlands have uncovered more than 40 cremation burials estimated to be 2,000 years old. The cemetery is thought to have been placed along the banks of the River Cole. Traces of Iron Age roundhouses, found nearby, may have been inhabited during the summer farming season, explained archaeologist Emma Carter of Wessex Archaeology. For more on Iron Age settlements in the British Isles, go to "Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Friday, June 19

Giant Jar Burials Unearthed in Iran

ISFAHAN, IRAN—The Tehran Times reports that researchers led by archaeologist Alireza Jafari-Zand are investigating the site of Tepe Ashraf, which is located in central Iran, in the city of Isfahan. The northern side of the burial mound there has been damaged by construction and other projects. The researchers have uncovered two giant jar-tombs, and Jafari-Zand suspects the hill may contain a Parthian cemetery. The Parthians ruled the region from 247 B.C. to A.D. 224. The investigation has also uncovered a square-shaped stone well thought to have been built by the Sassanids, who ruled from A.D. 224 until the arrival of Islam in the mid-seventh century. To read about excavations at Hasanlu Tepe, a fortified Iron Age hilltop site in northwest Iran, go to "The Price of Plunder." 

Sand Mining Reveals Temple in Southeastern India

ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA—The Hindu reports that a brick temple was revealed during sand mining in southeastern India’s Penna River. Estimated to be about 200 years old, the temple may have been submerged and buried as the river changed its course after flooding in 1850, according to Rama Subba Reddy of the Archaeological Survey of India. “A detailed examination of the site will be made and steps taken to preserve it for posterity,” Reddy said. To read about the medieval site of Hampi, go to "Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk."

Fossil Reefs Yield Evidence of Prehistoric Meals

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of York, migrants moving from Africa to Arabia some 5,000 years ago may have traveled along a now-submerged Red Sea coastline and survived by eating marine mollusks. It had been previously thought that drought conditions would have hampered the movement of hunter-gatherers, but researchers led by Niklas Hausmann found millions of shells at Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands and determined that Conomurex fasciatus would have been widely available and was collected year-round by prehistoric fishers. To read about people of the Saladoid culture foraging for mollusks in the Caribbean, go to "Putting Dinner on the Table."