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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 31

Megalithic Statues Discovered in Indonesia

JAYAPURA, PAPUA—Antara News reports that two megalithic statues standing about three feet tall and weighing about 110 pounds each have been discovered at the Srobu Mountain site in Indonesia’s Papua Province on the island of New Guinea. Archaeologist Erlin Novita Idje Djami said the statues are in the Polynesian style, but are different from other known megalithic statues in the region. Decorated pottery fragments, stone axes, and shell tools estimated to be about 3,800 years old were also recovered from the site, which is located on a cape in Youtefa Gulf. To read about a recent discovery on Indonesia's Alor Island, go to “Old Woman and the Sea.”

Early English Colony Excavated in Connecticut

WETHERSFIELD, CONNECTICUT—WSHU Public Radio reports that a site occupied by English colonists in the 1630s and 1640s has been excavated in northern Connecticut. “This is the earliest archaeological evidence of the English in Connecticut,” said archaeologist Sarah Sportman. “And it’s about as early as it can be, because this is basically the founding of the Connecticut colony.” Among the items associated with the seventeenth-century English settlement uncovered by the team were ceramics, window pane fragments, wampum beads, English farthing coins, and brass and glass trade beads. The settlement, founded in 1634, was located near a Dutch fur trading post. Sportman said that the Dutch had a different strategy, however, and did not plan to stay in the New World, while the English did. For more on the archaeology of Colonial America, go to “Jamestown's VIPs.”

Neanderthal Rib Cage Analyzed

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A new study of Neanderthal anatomy suggests the extinct human relatives had greater lung capacity and straighter spines than modern humans, according to a report in New Scientist. An international team of researchers created 3-D scans of the remains of Kebara 2, a 60,000-year-old male Neanderthal skeleton discovered in Israel in 1983, and compared them with scans of living modern human men. Asier Gómez-Olivencia of the University of the Basque Country in Spain said the shape of the Neanderthal rib cage could have accommodated a larger diaphragm, making it possible for the individual to take in a large amount of air without expanding his ribs. Neanderthals probably required more air than modern humans to power their greater muscle mass, he explained. The large thorax may have also helped Neanderthals to conserve heat in cold regions as well. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Ancient Ramp Uncovered in Egyptian Alabaster Quarry

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a Live Science report, researchers from the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology and Liverpool University have discovered a possible system for moving stone blocks out of an alabaster quarry at the site of Hatnub in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Tool marks and the presence of two inscriptions related to Pharaoh Khufu suggest the system dates to the Fourth Dynasty, some 4,500 years ago, when the Great Pyramid was constructed in Giza. “This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous postholes,” said Yannis Gourdon, codirector of the joint mission. He suggests the stone blocks would have been placed on a sled and attached to the wooden posts with ropes. The ropes would have acted as a “force multiplier,” making it easier to pull the sled up the ramp, even on steep slopes. To read about a recent discovery regarding meals that may have been eaten by workers who built the pyramid of Khafre, go to “Let Them Eat Soup.”

Tuesday, October 30

Red Bag Recovered from One-Time Raleigh Manor

SURREY, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a red silk velvet bag that may have once held the severed head of Sir Walter Raleigh after he was executed for treason has been discovered in the attic of West Horsley Place. This was once the home of Carew Raleigh, Sir Walter's son. After Raleigh was beheaded in 1618 at Whitechapel, London, his body is said to have been removed from the execution site and buried in St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster. Less clear is what happened to his head. According to some accounts, it was turned over to Raleigh's widow, Elizabeth Throckmorton, who stored it in a red bag until her death. Historical records also indicate the head was eventually buried in 1660 with the remains of Carew Raleigh’s three children, who died in an epidemic. Peter Pearce, director of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, which manages West Horsley Place, said the red velvet bag will be analyzed for possible connections to Raleigh. However, it had been presumed that Raleigh’s head was buried along with its bag in 1660. Historian Anna Beer also has doubts, noting that a range of myths have attached themselves to the dashing explorer, soldier, and courtier since his death. To read about analysis of items associated with the death of Belgium's King Albert I, go to “The Blood of the King.”

Smoking in the Pacific Northwest Dates Back at Least 1,200 Years

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Archaeologist Shannon Tushingham and chemist David Gang of Washington State University detected nicotine residues on fragments of ancient pipes from the Pacific Northwest using mass spectrometry, according to a Jefferson Public Radio report. Tushingham said she had suspected the tests would reveal traces of bearberry in the pipes, which were recovered from three Nez Perce archaeological sites along the Snake River and are now held in museum collections, since it had been previously thought that tobacco was introduced to the region by European explorers. Tushingham suggests that Nicotiana quadrivalvus, also known as Indian tobacco, may have been cultivated by the Nez Perce, since it does not grow naturally so far north. The researchers explained that the locally produced tobacco was less potent than the dried tobacco later carried to the region by European explorers, and was therefore quickly replaced. To read about an archaeological project involving collection of cigarette butts to determine how they reflect social identity, go to “Where There's Smoke...

Lamprey Teeth Found in Medieval London Cesspit

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, archaeozoologist Alan Pipe of the Museum of London Archaeology identified the teeth of a river lamprey, or Lampetra fluviatilis, in a collection of refuse recovered from a waterlogged, medieval cesspit in London. Cartilaginous river lampreys are jawless parasites that latch onto host fish with circular rows of keratin teeth. Their lack of bone means evidence of lampreys rarely survives in the archaeological record. Historical records, however, indicate the creatures were prized during the Middle Ages for their rich taste and meaty texture. This lamprey was probably served up between 1270 and 1400, Pipe said. To read about an investigation into the source of cod consumed in medieval London, go to “Off With Their Heads.”

Monday, October 29

New Dates Obtained for Scotland’s Pictish Symbols

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that Scotland’s Picts may have begun carving symbols onto stone, bone, and metal objects some 1,700 years ago, perhaps as a form of written language. Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen and scientists with the Northern Picts Project excavated sites where Pictish carvings had been discovered in the past. These including Dunnicaer, a coastal fort found to have been in use between the second and fourth centuries A.D., and a wooden enclosure known as Rhynie, found to have been in use between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. The researchers suggest the new dates for these sites push back the Picts’ use of symbols, which may have been inspired by contact with the Romans and their writing system. Noble said it is unlikely scholars will crack the Pictish code, however, unless a text written in both Pictish symbols and a known language can be found. To read about attempts to reassemble a broken sandstone slab carved by the Picts, go to “Game of Stones.”

Castle Corridor Discovered in Slovakia

SEDLISKÁ, SLOVAKIA—A vaulted, brick-lined corridor connecting the northern and western wings has been discovered at eastern Slovakia’s Čičva Castle, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. The castle was built in the early fourteenth century. L’ubomír Hutka of Pro Futuro said the bricks used in the construction of the corridor are usually found in Poland, and may have been made by Polish workers brought to the site by the Hungarian Drugeth family in the seventeenth century. Recent excavations have also unearthed ceramics, jugs, bowls, and two broken stone cannonballs. Emergency restoration work on the northern and southern castle walls repaired two cannon loopholes. To read about a range of items discovered in Slovakia that dated to the second to fifth century A.D., go to “World Roundup.”

Evidence of Early Cacao Use Found in Ecuador

VANCOUVER, CANADA—The Guardian reports that members of the Mayo Chinchipe culture, who lived in what is now Ecuador, made a beverage with the seeds of the cacao tree about 1,500 years earlier than the peoples of Mesoamerica. Michael Blake of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues detected residues of cacao in elaborate funerary containers and on stone tools unearthed at Santa Ana-La Florida, an archaeological site in the highlands of Ecuador. The samples, radiocarbon dated to more than 5,000 years ago, contained traces of theobromine, a substance found in high concentrations in cacao seeds, as well as genetic material from cacao. Blake added that the greatest genetic diversity among cacao trees is found in the Amazonian region, indicating that they may have originated there before traveling to Mexico and Central America some 3,600 years ago and being fully domesticated by the Maya. To read about the discovery of mysterious spiral structures at several sites including Santa Ana-La Florida, go to “Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

Smoking and Oral Health Studied in Irish Famine Victims

BELFAST, IRELAND—According to a report in the Belfast Telegraph, heavy pipe smoking among Irish famine victims caused tooth decay and tooth loss. Researchers led by Eileen Murphy of Queen’s University Belfast examined the remains of more than 350 men and women who died in the Kilkenny Union Workhouse between 1847 and 1851 and were buried in an unmarked mass grave. More than half of the individuals in the study were missing teeth, and around 80 percent suffered from tooth decay. Clay pipe stems clenched between the teeth also left marks. Jonny Geber of the University of Otago added that, in the past, the condition of the teeth of the poor men and women who lived in Ireland during the Victorian period has been blamed on their diet of milk and potatoes, but studies of twentieth-century people who consumed a similar diet have not found evidence of poor oral health. To read about the discovery of a large quantity of items that offered a glimpse into life in seventeenth-century Ireland, go to “Treasures of Rathfarnham Castle.”