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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 11

New Thoughts on Stone Age Art in the Basque Country

LEIOA, SPAIN—A new study of Paleolithic artwork recently discovered in the Basque Country suggests the region had its own so-called Iberian style that was distinct from what is known as the French/Continental style, according to a Haaretz report. In fact, the eroded, Iberian-style images found in Mount Ertxiña’s Danbolinzulo Cave date to between 40,000 and 20,000 years ago, during a period when it had been previously thought that very little artwork had been created in what is now the Basque Country. Blanca Ochoa of the Universidad del Pais Vasco and her colleagues Marcos García-Diez and Irene Vigiola-Toña said the differences between the two styles of artwork are surprising because the groups lived in close proximity to each other and are likely to have come in contact as they roamed in search of food. “We think maybe that they have different cultural backgrounds,” Ochoa said. “But we don’t know why they chose to have two very distinct styles.” Between 20,000 and 13,000 years ago, she added, the differences in styles disappeared. To read about Cherokee ritual imagery deep in the caves of the American South, go to "Artists of the Dark Zone."

Prehistoric Eggshell Beads Hint at Exchange Networks

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—CNN reports that a team of scientists led by Brian Stewart of the University of Michigan analyzed levels of strontium isotopes in 30,000-year-old ostrich eggshell beads recovered from southern Africa’s Lesotho highlands, and compared the data with how much strontium is found in soil and vegetation samples in different regions. The researchers determined that about 80 percent of the beads in the study had been made from shells that did not originate in the Lesotho highlands. Stewart said the ornaments had come from at least 200 miles away, and may have been crafted by hunter-gatherers living some 620 miles away. Modern hunter-gatherers, he added, use such beads to begin and maintain relationships with other groups. Ancient beads may have served a similar purpose, he explained. The beads may have been exchanged along with information about resources, the condition of the landscape, other groups of people or potential marriage partners, animals, and plants. To read about a 24,000-year-old poison-tipped stick and other artifacts—including ostrich eggshell beads—recovered from a South African cave, go to "First Use of Poison," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2012.

Tuesday, March 10

Korean War Dead Identified

CHEORWON, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Times reports that the remains of another four soldiers killed during the fourth battle on Arrowhead Ridge, which took place just two weeks before a Korean War truce was signed on July 27, 1953, have been identified through DNA testing by members of Korea’s National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification (MAKRI) taskforce. The remains were found inside what is now the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea. Water bottles, ammunition, identification tags, insignias, certificates, bayonets, combat shoes, and helmets were found with the remains of a sergeant first class, a staff sergeant, and two sergeants. Three of the men were married and had children. As many as 10,000 war dead are thought to have been buried in the area. To read about royal gardens at Seoul's Palace, go to "The Archaeology of Gardens."

Medieval Burial Cave Discovered in Gabon

LIBREVILLE, GABON—According to an AFP report, the remains of some 30 people dated to the fourteenth century A.D. have been discovered in a cave in southeastern Gabon by a team of researchers led by French archaeologist Richard Oslisly. Acidic soils in sub-Saharan Africa make the discovery of human remains in the region very rare, explained archaeologist Geoffroy de Saulieu of France’s Research Institute for Development. Objects recovered from the cave, which is known as Iroungou, include more than 500 metal artifacts, such as knives, axes, spears, bracelets, and collars, and 39 pierced hyena and panther teeth. “This cave will enable us to find out a little more about these peoples of central Africa, largely unrecorded in history,” Oslisly said. Scientists will examine the bones for information about diet and disease. The researchers also hope to obtain DNA from the remains for analysis. To read about a study that found traces of hominin DNA in modern human populations from sub-Saharan Africa, go to "Living Evidence."

Alcohol Bottles Uncovered at Convict Station in Tasmania

HOBART, TASMANIA—According to an ABC News Australia report, archaeologist Eleanor Casella of the University of Tasmania and a team of researchers have found ceramics, tableware, bottles, bones, and tools at the site of the former Picton Road Station, where 160 convicts lived in solitary cells while building a highway between the towns of Hobart and Launceston between 1838 and 1847. Many of the bottles held alcohol, Casella explained. “It’s supposed to be heavily regulated in these kinds of punishment stations,” she said. “We’ve got gin case bottles that have been imported all the way from the Netherlands, plus beer bottles.” Deborah Baldwin of the Southern Midlands Council added that the number of sheep bones at the site indicates the men also consumed a lot of meat. To read about excavations at Australia's Pentridge Prison, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

Secret World War II Bunker Found in Scotland

MOFFAT, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a World War II-era bunker was found by Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) survey technician Kit Rodger in southern Scotland’s Craigielands Forest. The bunker, which was missing from official records, measures 23 feet long by 10 feet wide, and is thought to have served as a secret base for a local Auxiliary Unit tasked with fighting to the death if the Nazis invaded. “This discovery gives us an insight into one of the most secretive units that were operating during World War II,” said FLS archaeologist Matt Ritchie. “It’s quite rare to find these bunkers as their locations were always kept secret—most were buried or lost.” The bunker would have been used by seven men armed with revolvers, submachine guns, a sniper’s rifle, and explosives, he added. Such bunkers were also equipped with bunk beds, a table, and a cooking stove. To read about one of World War II's most brutal battles on the island of Peleliu, go to "Place of the Loyal Samurai."

Monday, March 9

Egypt’s Step Pyramid of Djoser Restored

CAIRO, EGYPT—ABC News reports that the 14-year restoration of the step pyramid of Djoser, which is located in the Saqqara necropolis, has been completed. The 4,700-year-old structure was damaged during an earthquake in 1992 and was in danger of collapse, according to tourism and antiquities minister Khaled el-Anany. Conservators strengthened the pyramid by filling in gaps in its six rectangular mastabas with stone blocks. Djoser’s interior burial chamber and passages through the pyramid were also restored. To read about the engineering behind the Great Pyramid of Giza, go to "The Great Parallelogram."

Possible Remains of Anglo-Saxon Princess Analyzed

FOLKESTONE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Independent, researchers led by Andrew Richardson of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust have examined and dated human remains from a church in southeast England. The study found that the bones belonged to a young woman who died between the ages of 17 and 21 in the mid-seventh century A.D. An examination of her teeth indicates she ate a refined diet, and her bones show little sign of injury. Researchers plan to analyze DNA samples from the remains to try to detect any possible traces of disease or connection to a royal lineage, because tradition suggests the bones could be the remains of Eanswythe, daughter of the Anglo-Saxon king Eadbald. The princess is remembered as a devout Christian who founded England’s first nunnery after she refused to marry, and died in her late teens or early twenties, possibly of bubonic plague. Her remains were moved several times before they were hidden in the church’s wall in the sixteenth century, when the Church of England was established and the veneration of saints fell out of favor. The bones were found in the church wall in the late nineteenth century and have since been stored in a special wall niche. To read about Anglo-Saxon kings in the fifth century A.D., go to "The Kings of Kent."