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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 31

Family Shares History of 19th-Century Lifeboat in Australia

JURIEN BAY, AUSTRALIA—A nineteenth-century lifeboat has been carefully retrieved from the rafters of a hay shed in Western Australia, according to an ABC News Australia report. Constructed in South Australia in 1885, The Maid of Lincoln was laden with a load of guano from the Abrolhos Islands when it sank off the coast of Western Australia in 1891. The captain and crew escaped the sinking vessel and traveled by lifeboat to the coast, where they were rescued by the Grigson family who connected the survivors with the police in the sparsely populated town of Jurien Bay. The captain gave the lifeboat to the Grigson family, who used it for fishing before storing it in the rafters of a hay shed some 70 years ago. After carefully measuring the boat in case it disintegrated during the removal, archaeologist Bob Sheppard, caver and ropes expert Ian McCann, and a team of volunteers extricated the boat from its perch and stored it intact in a weather-proof shed. It will be restored and put on display for the community, said descendant John Grigson. “There’s nothing like it in Australia. It’s just remarkable,” Sheppard added. To read about excavations of a nineteenth-century prison outside Melbourne, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Genetic Link Between Australasians and South Americans Studied

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Science Magazine reports that researchers led by Tábita Hünemeier of the University of São Paulo have detected a genetic signal associated with early people living in South Asia, Australia, and Melanesia in additional populations in South America. A previous study found this so-called “Y signal” in two groups of Indigenous people living in the Amazon. The new study analyzed the genomes of nearly 400 Indigenous peoples living in the middle of South America, and identified the Y signal in people living on the Brazilian plateau in central Brazil, and in the Chotuna people of coastal Peru. The researchers now think that migrants carrying the Y signal southward from Beringia along the coast settled in more of South America than previously thought. The study also suggests that the migrants may have arrived in two separate waves. The Y signal has not been detected in Indigenous people in North and Central America, however. Hünemeier said that carriers of the Y signal in these areas may have been wiped out by the arrival of Europeans, or further study may soon identify the Y signal in additional populations. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. For more on the peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

1,500-Year-Old Tropical Parrots Found in Chile’s Desert Analyzed

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a statement released by Penn State University, archaeologist José M. Capriles and his colleagues analyzed the remains of 27 scarlet macaws, Amazon parrots, and other parrot species recovered from five different sites in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Capriles explained that between A.D. 1100 and 1450, live birds were probably transported on llamas through cold weather and across the Andes Mountains and other difficult terrain to reach the Atacama, where they were highly prized for their feathers. Chemical analysis indicates that the birds ate the same diet as the people who imported them. Their feathers were plucked as soon as they grew in, he added. Parrot feathers have been found in burials, and secured in leather boxes and other protective materials. After death, many of the birds were eviscerated and mummified in poses with their beaks open and tongues sticking out, or with their wings spread. Sometimes the mummified parrots were wrapped in textiles or placed in bags, which helped to preserve them. To read about macaws raised for their plumage by Ancestral Puebloans, go to "Angry Birds." 

Tuesday, March 30

Rabbits Reveal Prehistoric Artifacts on Welsh Island

PEMBROKESHIRE, WALES—The Guardian reports that burrowing rabbits on Skokholm Island, which is located in the Celtic Sea off the coast of Wales, turned up stone tools and pieces of pottery. Archaeologist Andrew David identified the stone tools as beveled pebbles that may have been used by hunter-gatherers to process shellfish or prepare seal hides between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago. “Although these types of tools are well known on coastal sites on mainland Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well as in Scotland and northern France, this is the first example from Skokholm, and the first firm evidence for late Mesolithic occupation on the island,” David said. A piece of thick-walled pottery is thought to be the rim of an Early Bronze Age urn thought to have been made some 3,750 years ago for a cremation burial, according to Jody Deacon of the National Museum Wales. This is also the first artifact of its kind to be found on any of the western Pembrokeshire islands, she explained. Further investigation of the area is being planned. To read about Late Bronze Age lock-rings found on Wales, go to "Artifact."

Rock Art in Australia Analyzed With Machine Learning

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Cosmos Magazine reports that Daryl Wesley of Flinders University and Mimal and Marrku Traditional Owners of the Wilton River area used machine learning to analyze changes in rock art styles in northern Australia’s Arnhem Land. The computer was supplied with information of more than 1,000 types of objects and a mathematical model to determine how similar two images are to one another. The model was then applied to images of the rock art. “One amazing outcome is that the machine learning approach ordered the styles in the same chronology that archaeologists have ordered them in by inspecting which appear on top of which,” said team member Jarrad Kowlessar of Flinders University. Styles of artwork that are closer to each other in age are also closer to each other in appearance, he explained. The team members suggest that this approach takes tiny details easily missed by humans into account, and removes possible human bias from the evaluation of rock art sites. To read about dating rock art using millennia-old wasps' nests on rock faces, go to "Around the World: Australia." 

Ancient Greek Terracotta Relief Fragments Found in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that fragments of a 2,500-year-old terracotta relief depicting Greek warriors wearing helmets and carrying spears have been discovered in the St. Cyricus Island area of the town of Sozopol, which is now a peninsula in the Black Sea. The island was home to the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica, and the Colossus of Apollonia, a 42-foot-tall bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo. Krastina Panayotova and Margarit Damyanov of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, and Daniela Stoyanova of Sofia University, unearthed the sculpture fragments at the site of two temples dedicated to Apollo Iatros. The older temple, covered by a layer of limestone rubble, has been dated to the Late Archaic period, while the other has been dated to the Early Classical period. Other fragments thought to be part of the same sculpture were discovered at the site in 2018 and 2019. Fragments of fragrance vessels, pottery, and two bronze arrow tips were also recovered from the older temple layer. A coin and fragments of a two-handed wine cup were found along with the relief fragments in the upper layer. To read about a first-century A.D. marble gravestone recovered at a Roman settlement in northwestern Bulgaria, "A Dutiful Roman Soldier."

Monday, March 29

Sweden’s 1,300-Year-Old Down Bedding Analyzed

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a statement released by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Birgitta Berglund and Jørgen Rosvold identified the birds that contributed feathers to the bedding recovered from two boat graves dated to between A.D. 600 and 700 at Valsgärde, a cemetery of more than 90 graves in central Sweden. It had been previously thought that the feathers could have been imported from eider duck farms in northern Norway, but the analysis revealed that the bedding was made with feathers from geese, ducks, grouse, crows, sparrows, waders, and eagle owls. These choices could have held symbolic meaning, Berglund said. In Nordic folklore recorded in the eighteenth century, she explained, feathers from owls and birds of prey and domestic chickens could prolong the struggle against death, while goose feathers could help the soul to be released from the body. These beliefs may date back to prehistory, Berglund said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. To read about grass bedding used by dwellers in South Africa's Border Cave up to 200,000 years ago, go to "Paleolithic Bedtime."

Study Examines Neolithic Animal Husbandry Practices

MUNICH, GERMANY—According to a statement released by Ludwig Maximilian University, early Neolithic sheep herders in central Anatolia learned how to care for their livestock on the job over a period of about 1,000 years. Curator Nadja Pöllath of the State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy in Munich, and zooarchaeologist Joris Peters and statistician Sevag Kevork of Ludwig Maximilian University, analyzed the bones of fetal and neonatal lambs unearthed at Aşikli Höyük, an early Neolithic site in central Anatolia where compacted layers of animal dung have been uncovered. The researchers then compared what they found with other collections of sheep bones to identify the stages of a young lamb’s life. They determined that between 8350 and 7300 B.C., the life expectancy of newborn lambs gradually improved as herders learned to reduce the number of infections and improve nutrition by moving the animals out to open grass from overcrowded conditions in the settlement. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science. To read about an 8,000-year-old figurine discovered in a house at the site of Çatalhöyük, go to "Figure of Distinction."