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Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 6

Drug Residues Detected on Ancient Ritual Bundle From Bolivia

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—New Scientist reports that Melanie Miller of the University of Otago and her colleagues detected traces of five psychoactive chemicals on a collection of drug paraphernalia discovered in a rock shelter in southwestern Bolivia. The rock shelter is thought to have been a funerary enclosure where members of the Tiwanaku state may have held ceremonies believed to enable contact with the dead. Radiocarbon dating indicates the artifacts, including a leather bag, wooden snuffing tablets and a snuffing tube carved with human-like figures, llama-bone spatulas, a textile headband, bits of dried plants, and a pouch made from three fox snouts stitched together, are approximately 1,000 years old. The scientists suggest plant matter may have been ground and prepared for use in the snuffing tablets and inhaled with the tube. Because none of the plants these psychoactive chemicals are made from are native to the region, the scientists suggest travelling shamans may have carried their own supplies, or the Tiwanaku may have obtained them through trade networks. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui.”

Roman Game Board Unearthed at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Chronicle Live reports that a rectangular stone board for the game Ludus latrunculorum has been uncovered at Vindolanda, the site of a Roman fort located just south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Two players would have moved game pieces made of pottery, glass, or stone around the board and attempted to surround and capture each other’s tokens. The board dates to the third century A.D., and is thought to have been reused as flooring in a building behind a bathhouse after it was broken. To read about another recent discovery at Vindolanda, go to “Hand of God.”

4,500-Year-Old Pyramid Builders’ Cemetery Found in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—A cemetery dating to the Old Kingdom period has been discovered on the Giza Plateau, according to an Ahram Online report. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said his team uncovered several tombs and shafts where the remains of workers who built the pyramids were buried. The oldest tomb belonged to a family that lived during the Fifth Dynasty, around 2500 B.C., and contained the remains of two people: Behnui-Ka, a priest, judge, and purifier who served the kings Khafre, Userkaf, and Niuserre; and Nwi Who, who served as chief of the great state, the overseer of new settlements, and purifier of Khafre. Among the artifacts in the tomb is a limestone statue depicting one of the two men with his wife and son. The cemetery was later reused, and also held painted wooden coffins, and wooden and clay funerary masks dating to the eighth century B.C. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Reburial in Luxor.”

Friday, May 3

Riverside Settlement Unearthed in Brussels

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—According to a report in The Brussels Times, routine archaeological investigations at a construction site in Brussels’ city center have uncovered the remains of a settlement along the river Senne that may be 1,400 years old. A parking garage on the site was demolished to make way for a new administrative center, but the building project has halted to allow for ongoing excavations. Archaeologists initially discovered a stone quay dating to the tenth century A.D. and even older wooden structures. More recent finds, however, indicate that people might have occupied the area well before the Middle Ages. Artifacts and tools related to craft production, such as wooden combs and leather shoes, could date to the seventh century. Continued excavations at the site will include microscopic examination of soils. To read more about medieval settlements along European waterways, go to “Letter from Rotterdam: The City and the Sea.”

WWII-Era Bomber Recovered Off Martha's Vineyard

EDGARTOWN, MASSACHUSSETS—According to a report in the Vineyard Gazette, researchers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have recovered remnants of a World War II–era, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver-type bomber plane that crashed in the waters off Chappaquiddick Island—on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard—in the winter of 1946. Throughout World War II, the U.S. Navy used Martha's Vineyard for training exercises and, particularly, as a testing ground for bombers, as its seashore was thought to approximate island combat zones in the the north Pacific. The discovery of the bomber follows a three-year-long effort by the Army Corps to clear some 60 acres of land on Chappaquiddick, where, estimates say, some 20,000 practice bombs were dropped between 1944 and 1947, and the danger of live ordnance remains. While the search for official records of the crash initially came up empty, the team discovered a 1946 newspaper article naming ensign Cecil M. Richards and aviation radioman second class William Robert Garrett as the Navy fliers who perished in the crash. To read more about the archaeology of World War II, go to "December 7, 1941."

Genetic Analysis Shows Yams Domesticated in West Africa

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE—Science Magazine reports that a recent genetic survey shows that yams, a key crop in African agriculture, were first domesticated in the Niger River basin. A team led by France's Institute for Research and Development plant geneticist Nora Scarcelli sequenced 167 genomes of wild and domesticated yams collected from West African countries such as Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon. They found that yams were domesticated from the forest species D. praehensilis. Researchers had believed yams may have been domesticated from a different species that thrives in Africa's tropical savanna. Previous genetic studies have shown that African rice and the grain pearl millet were also domesticated in the Niger River basin. The finding that yams were first farmed there supports the theory that the region was an important cradle of African agriculture, much like the Fertile Crescent in the Near East. To read about recent research into ancient microbial DNA, go to "Worlds Within Us."

Thursday, May 2

New Study Tracks Domesticated Horses Over Time

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Science Magazine report, a new genetic study of horses, spanning a total of 42,000 years, has identified two new horse lineages, and suggests that speed in domestic horses has only been valued over the past 1,500 years. Prior to this study, Przewalski’s horse and the domestic horse were the only known horse lineages. Ludovic Orlando of the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Toulouse, and the University of Copenhagen, and an international team of archaeologists, geneticists, and evolutionary biologists analyzed the genomes of 279 horses whose remains were uncovered at various archaeological sites across Eurasia. One of the now-extinct lineages the researchers identified lived in the Iberian Peninsula, and the other lived in Siberia. Both were still alive between 4,000 and 4,500 years ago, Orlando said. The scientists also detected a shift in the genetic makeup of horses living in Europe and Central Asia between the seventh and ninth centuries A.D. The change could be related to Islamic expansion, Orlando explained, and the spread of popular traits carried by so-called Arabian horses. The researchers also detected a steep decline in overall genetic diversity in domestic horses over the past 200 to 300 years, perhaps due to the rise of the concept of “purebred” animals. To read more about ancient horses, go to "The Story of the Horse."

4,000-Year-Old Burials Unearthed in Northern India

NEW DELHI, INDIA—According to a report in The Daily Pioneer, an excavation led by SK Manjul of the Archaeological Survey of India has uncovered 4,000-year-old burials at the Harappan site of Sanauli, which is located on the bank of the River Yamuna in northern India. The burials are thought to have consisted of wooden coffins resting on platforms with “legs,” or pillars. One of the “legged coffins,” decorated with stone inlays, held a woman’s skeleton. Traces of a bow, bone points, an armlet of semiprecious stones, gold beads, and pottery were found in her burial. A second platform held the remains of a woman, a copper mirror, a hairpin, and beads. Two large pots under her platform may have held food such as rice, dal made from black lentils, and the remains of cattle and wild pigs. Mongoose remains were also recovered. Three chariots, shields, swords, and helmets that may have belonged to a warrior class have also been discovered at the site. To read about another recent discovery in India, go to "India's Temple Island."

Fifteenth-Century Anchor Found Off Mexico’s Gulf Coast

VERACRUZ, MEXICO—Mexico News Daily reports that a fifteenth-century anchor has been found covered in sediment under about 40 feet of water off the coast of Veracruz by members of the Underwater Archaeology Project at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The anchor is thought to have come from a ship in Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés fleet. Cortés scuttled 10 of his 11 ships in 1519, in order to quash a mutiny among his crew members and force them to travel inland with him. Archaeologist Roberto Junco Sánchez and anthropologist Chris Horrell said wood on the anchor has been dated to sometime between the mid-fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and has been identified as a type of oak that grows only in northern Spain. The team members are creating a 3-D reconstruction of the anchor, and plan to bring it to the surface and conserve it. They will continue to search the area with a magnetometer and sonar to look for the rest of the ship. To read more about underwater archaeology in the Gulf of Mexico, go to "All Hands on Deck."

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