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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 03

Section of Hadrian's Wall Discovered in Newcastle

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A previously recorded stretch of Hadrian's Wall has been rediscovered in Newcastle in northeastern England, according to a report in ChronicleLive. Archaeologists working on a project to restore a building in the city's center unearthed the section, which was last seen during 1952 construction on the same site. More sections of the wall are understood to occupy space underneath Newcastle, and the remains of a milecastle—a small Roman fort—have also been found nearby. To read more about Hadrian's Wall go to “The Wall at the End of the Emire.”

Norse Meeting Place Investigated in Scotland

  THURSO, SCOTLAND—A geophysical survey may have detected evidence of a medieval Norse parliament meeting place in the Scottish Highlands, according to a report from BBC News. The survey of Thing’s Va Broch, which was carried out by researchers from the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology, the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, and the Caithness Broch Project, detected “faint features” that may relate to activity associated with the meetings. Thing’s Va, which is the site of an Iron Age broch, or stone-built roundhouse, derives its name from “ting,” the Norse word for meeting place. Archaeologists will undertake exploratory excavations this month to try to learn more about the site. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

How Agriculture Developed in Northern Mesopotamia

TELL BRAK, SYRIA—Science Nordic reports that a new study of grains excavated from ancient cities in northern Mesopotamia is giving archaeologists a new picture of how agriculture developed in the area. A team led by Oxford University archaeologist Amy Styring measured the stable isotopes of 276 grain samples taken from the Syrian site of Tell Brak, as well as four other settlements dating from 6500 to 2000 B.C. They compared the results with modern samples grown under controlled conditions, which allowed them to assess how much manure was used to cultivate the grains. Among their findings was that as the cities grew in size, farmers cultivated larger areas and used less manure, in contrast with southern Mesopotamia, where irrigation became widespread and the land was farmed very intensively. To read more, go to “Urbanization at Tell Brak, Syria.”

19th-Century Flour Mill Unearthed in Northern Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA— The Alexandria Times reports that archaeologists are working at the site of Robinson Terminal South, a planned luxury condiminum and retail complex near the banks of the Potomac River. They have uncovered the foundation of a flour mill called Pioneer Mills, which dates back to 1854. At its height, Pioneer Mills produced thousands of barrels of flour a month, which were brought down the Potomac and out to the Atlantic Ocean for shipment up and down the east coast. After surviving multiple ownerships, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction, the mill was damaged by a cyclone and an interior fire in 1896. The space subsequently housed a grain warehouse, a shipbuilding facility, and an airplane engineering facility, among other ventures, before the Washington Post purchased the building. The paper sold the property to its current owners, the development company EYA, in 2013. To read more about archaeology in Virginia, go to “Letter from Virginia: American Refugees.”

Monday, October 02

How Did Modern Humans Contract HSV2?

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Virologist Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues think Paranthropus boisei may have infected the ancestors of modern humans with herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2), the virus that results in genital herpes. According to a report in Live Science, an earlier genetic study of HSV2 suggests the virus infected the ancestors of modern humans between three and 1.4 million years ago. So, the team of researchers found tropical rainforest areas in Africa where the ancestors of modern chimpanzees may have lived during the last three million years. Then they layered the climate data with the locations of hominin fossils. The scientists found that Paranthropus boisei, known for its massive jaws and huge molars, was the most likely of the hominin species living during the time period in question to have come in contact with ancestral chimpanzees and other hominins. They speculate that Paranthropus boisei contracted the virus from these ancestral chimps and eventually passed it on to Homo erectus. For more, go to “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”

Archaeologists Investigate Site of the Battle of Grunwald

GRUNWALD, POLAND—Archaeologists and metal detectorists joined forces to look for traces of the Battle of Grunwald, fought on July 15, 1410, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. On that day, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania defeated the German-Prussian Teutonic Knights in what is remembered as one of the largest battles in medieval Europe. Szymon Drej of the Battle of Grunwald Museum said the team recovered about 300 artifacts, including arrowheads, Prussian spearheads, and a seal bearing a Christian image of a pelican feeding blood to chicks in a nest. The seal, thought to be connected to a chapel that later stood on the battlefield, resembles one found in the courtyard of Malbork, a castle built by the Teutonic Knights in what is now northern Poland. After the battle, Polish and Lithuanian forces laid siege to the Malbork Castle in an attempt to crush Prussia. But the castle withstood the siege and the Teutonic Knights lost little territory in the Peace of Thorn of 1411. The researchers will continue to search the area for evidence of the battle. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Fragment of Akhenaten Sculpture Unearthed in Egypt

MINYA, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, the head of a statue of the 18th dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten has been discovered in the first hall of the Great Atun Temple at Tel El-Amarna, Akhenaten’s capital city, by a joint Egyptian-English archaeological mission headed by Barry Kemp of the University of Cambridge. The head, which was carved from gypsum, measures about five inches long. Akhenaten is remembered for abandoning polytheism in favor of worship of the sun god, Aten, alone. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt.”

Friday, September 29

DNA Study Suggests New Dates for Modern Humans

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of scientists has used a “molecular clock” to push back the emergence of anatomically modern humans in Africa by about 100,000 years, to between 260,000 and 350,000 years ago. Marlize Lombard of the University of Johannesburg, Carina Schlebusch and Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University, and colleagues examined DNA obtained from the 2,000-year-old bones of a young boy discovered on a beach in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa. Known as the Ballito Bay child, his genome indicates he was a member of the San branch of the Khoe-San peoples. The Khoe-San are thought to have diverged from a common Homo sapiens ancestor long before any other groups, and therefore carry unique DNA. The scientists compared the Ballito Bay child’s DNA to that of six other individuals from KwaZulu-Natal who lived between 300 and 2,300 years ago—before and after the Khoe-San mixed with migrants from the north—and then estimated how long it would have taken for various mutations to have occurred over the course of many generations, in order to arrive at a date for the split between anatomically modern humans and archaic humans. The information also suggests that anatomically modern humans may have evolved in multiple places in Africa. “We’re at the stage now where we are going to meet up with paleontological and archaeological estimates to see how archaic humans transitioned to modern humans,” Schlebusch said. For more, go to “Our Tangled Ancestry.”

Carvings of Maya Ball-Game Players Found in Belize

CAYO DISTRICT, BELIZE—According to a report in Live Science, two stone panels engraved with images of the Maya ball game have been discovered at the site of Tipan Chen Uitz by Christopher Andres of Michigan State University and his colleagues. The table-sized engravings, thought to date to between A.D. 600 and 800, may have been part of the façade at the entrance to the city’s palatial complex. The first carving shows a large ball and a ball player wearing a protective belt. Hieroglyphics refer to a “nine-hand-span ball,” but the researchers don’t know if the measurement refers to the piece of latex used to make the ball, or to the size of the finished object. The second panel also shows a man wearing a protective belt. He is lunging forward, braced against his left knee. The image may depict a player attempting to strike a ball, the researchers said. His name, which has also been seen at a ball court in Naranjo, a Maya city in Guatemala, was included on the panel as well. The two carved names could refer to the same person. Architectural evidence also suggests a link between the two cities. To read about the burial of a Maya ruler in Guatemala, go to “Tomb of the Vulture Lord.

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