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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 11

Ancient Genomes from Central Andes Analyzed

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a Science Magazine report, a new genetic study of ancient human remains unearthed in the highlands and coastal regions of Peru’s Central Andes Mountains indicates that some 9,000 years ago, groups that lived in the highlands were genetically distinct from those that lived along the Pacific coast, and that by 5,800 years ago, the population that lived in the north was genetically distinct from the population in the south. Population geneticists David Reich and Nathan Nakatsuka of Harvard University, paleogenomicist Lars Fehren-Schmitz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and their colleagues note that genes flowed between these groups in the Andes, and with populations living outside the Andes, but the exchanged slowed about 2,000 years ago. These regional genetic differences persist today, they added. This genetic continuity suggests that the fall of Andean cultures such as the Moche, Wari, and Nazca was not the result of massive immigration, and that local people did not die out when they were invaded. In contrast, they added, people living in the cosmopolitan urban centers of the Tiwanaku and Inca cultures came from varied genetic backgrounds. To read about burials of large marine animals uncovered under a ritual platform at the site of Pampa la Cruz in Peru, go to "Remembering the Shark Hunters."

Historic Weapon Unearthed in Croatia

LOZOVAC, CROATIA—Croatia Week reports that an artillery weapon was found in a defensive wall in a tower at the fourteenth-century site of Nečven fortress, which is located in southern Croatia’s Krka National Park. The bronze object, known as a mačkula, is similar to a mortar and was used to attack fortified settlements. This one is thought to date to the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Nečven fortress overlooks the Krka canyon, and is connected to the Trošenj fortress on the other canyon wall by a 1,500-foot-long pedestrian suspension bridge over the Krka River. Both structures were built by powerful families as part of a medieval defense system. For more on historical artillery, go to "Weapons of the Ancient World: Siege Weapons." 

Study Suggests Malting Makes Lasting Changes to Grain Cells

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—A new study suggests the process of malting creates lasting changes to grain cell structure that could help archaeologists identify microscopic evidence of beer consumption in the archaeological record, according to a Science News report. Archaeobotanist Andreas Heiss of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues compared the cell structure of modern malted barley that had been baked in a furnace with the cell structures found in residues recovered from containers unearthed at two ancient Egyptian brewery sites. The researchers found that the outer cell walls of the grains had thinned in a similar way in both the ancient and modern samples. The team members then examined residues obtained from 5,000- to 6,000-year-old containers from sites in Germany and Switzerland where beer-brewing tools were not found. The condition of the cells in these residues suggest the grain had been malted. The residue at one of the German sites probably came from a dried liquid, which may have been beer, while the other malted foods may have been bread or porridge. To read about a Bronze Age kiln unearthed in Cyprus that seems to have been used to dry malt for beer brewing, go to "A Prehistoric Cocktail Party."

Roman-Era Burial Mound Excavated in Bulgaria

LYASKOVETS, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that archaeologist Kalin Chakarov of the Regional Museum of History in Veliko Tarnovo and his team conducted a rescue excavation of a Thracian burial mound in north-central Bulgaria. The mound held 19 graves. The cremated dead had been placed in chambers with offerings and personal belongings. The grave in the center of the mound held parts of a vessel made from an ostrich eggshell that was probably imported from Africa or Asia; a gold-plated silver brooch, or fibula, bearing an image of the deity known as the Thracian Horseman; and a ceramic jug decorated with a sculpture resembling a theatrical face mask. “The fibula is extremely expensive,” said museum director Ivan Tsarov. “It was custom-made, probably in the atelier of some Aegean craftsman. This is the first such adornment with a depiction of the Thracian Horseman.” The team members also recovered a warrior’s belt decorated with silver, two gold earrings, pottery, vessels for collecting tears at burial rituals, copper and bronze coins dating to the first half of the third century A.D., and one worn coin dated to the beginning of the second century A.D. To read about an anthropomorphic oil vessel found in the grave of a Thracian man, go to "Bath Buddy."

Friday, May 8

Study Examines Possible Medieval Longbow Wounds

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Exeter, an examination of bones and bone fragments led by archaeologist Oliver Creighton indicates that arrows shot from medieval longbows inflicted small entry and large exit wounds similar to those caused by modern bullets. The arrowheads that caused this damage may have been the “bodkin” type, which were square- or diamond-shaped and designed to pierce armor, Creighton explained. The bones, which were unearthed at a Dominican friary in southwest England, are thought to be the remains of warriors killed in battle at other locations. Their bones were later honored with reburial in holy ground. Creighton and his colleagues identified an arrow puncture wound at the top of the right eye in a cranium dated to the early fifteenth century, with an exit wound at the back of the head. Creighton suggests the arrow had been spinning clockwise, and was thus fletched with feathers. Another puncture wound was found in a right tibia, at what would have been the top of the knight’s calf. This bone was dated to the fourteenth century. Removing an arrow’s shaft from an injured person probably would have caused additional damage, Creighton noted. The study could help archaeologists identify longbow wounds in the archaeological record. To read about arms used throughout history, go to "Weapons of the Ancient World."

Eighteenth-Century Mass Grave Unearthed in Romania

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA—According to a Romania-Insider report, a mass grave dating to the eighteenth century has been found in western Romania by a team of researchers from West University of Timişoara. The grave holds the remains of six adults and one child who are thought to have died during a plague outbreak between 1737 and 1740. Two Christian symbols were found with the child’s remains. The first is a Cross of Lorraine, which features two horizontal bars. The second, a pendant found at the child’s neck, bears the images of the Blessed Delphina on one side and Saint Elzear on the other. The two lived in France and are known as the patrons of newlyweds, the poor, and lepers. Archaeologist Andrei Stavilă said the pendant helps to date the grave, since Delphina was beatified in 1694. Flintlock bullets were also found in the grave. Researchers want to know if the dead had been shot, if they had moved to the region from Lorraine, in what is now northeastern France, and if the seven individuals were related, Stavilă added. To read about a Neolithic mass grave uncovered in Poland, go to "We Are Family."

Turtle Statue Discovered in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Khmer Times reports that a team of archaeologists led by Chea Socheat of Cambodia’s Apsara National Authority discovered a large turtle sculpted from sandstone at the Kandal Srah Srang temple of Siem Reap province’s Angkor Archaeological Park. Socheat said the statue, which measures approximately 22 by 37 inches, is estimated to be about 1,000 years old, and may have been used in the preparation of offerings to the Hindu god Vishnu associated with the Sea of Milk churning ceremony. A rectangular-shaped mark on the turtle’s shell resembles a lid, suggesting something may have been kept inside it. “The turtle is known as one of the avatars of the Hindu god, Vishnu," said Socheat. "Sometimes, turtles are placed as a votive object in a temple’s foundations or at its center." A white crystal stone also thought to have been used in Vishnu rituals, two metal tridents, and a carved head of a naga, a part human, part-serpentine being, were also found. To read about a bodhisattva statue recently unearthed at Angkor, go to "Around the World: Cambodia."

Historic Monastery Surveyed in Czech Republic

SOUTH BOHEMIA, CZECH REPUBLIC—Radio Prague International reports that archaeologists found a secret corridor while creating a 3-D scan of the Premonstratensian Monastery in the town of Milevsko. “We squeezed through the corridor with speleologists and at the end we found a sort of extended space,” said researcher Jiři Šindelář. “When we put all the facts together, the only explanation is that it is a corridor with a safe.” First constructed in the twelfth century, the monastery was burned down in the early fifteenth century during the Hussite Wars. Tradition indicates that the abbot of the monastery had hidden its valuables before the attack at Přibĕnice Castle, but the items went missing when the castle was also conquered. The researchers suggest some of those items may be found hidden in the rubble-filled secret corridor. Timbers in the corridor have been dated to the fifteenth century. The archaeologists also found a passageway with a staircase within a surviving twelfth-century wall, a niche with its original decorations, and illusory paintings of gothic windows. To read about the skeleton of a warrior that has long been at the center of conflicts over Czechoslovakia's national identity, go to "The Man in Prague Castle."

Thursday, May 7

Drone Operator Discovers Ring Fort in Ireland

COUNTY CLARE, IRELAND—The Journal reports that hobbyist Matthew Kelly spotted a previously unknown cliff ring fort on Ireland’s western coast near the town of Lahinch while flying a drone. “I have been filming forts and stone circles for years so I knew what it was when I found it,” he said. “I emailed the National Monuments Service who checked in out and added it to their database which means it is now recorded and protected.” Kelly and artist Jim Fitzpatrick named the fort Dun Cliodhna, after the Irish goddess of love and beauty whose sweet song heals the sick. To read about excavations of an island stronghold of early Irish kings, go to "Inside a Medieval Gaelic Castle."

Possible Iron Age Defenses Found in Denmark

LOLLAND, DENMARK—Traces of a 2,500-foot-long section of a massive defensive structure have been uncovered on the Danish island of Lolland, which is located in the Baltic Sea, according to a report in The Copenhagen Post. Archaeologist Bjørnar Måge of the Museum Lolland-Falster said the defensive belt structure was probably built sometime between the first and fourth centuries A.D., about one-half mile from the coast, situated between two wetland areas. At least 10,000 holes in the structure held sharpened poles to deter invaders, he explained. “We haven’t found any signs of the belt being kept up after its construction. It’s been allowed to decay,” he added. To read about ancient "chewing gum" recently found on Lolland, go to "Around the World: Denmark."

Archaeologists Recover Civil War Soldiers’ Remains in Mississippi

VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI—According to a Magnolia State Live report, archaeologists from the National Park Service Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC) are recovering the remains of Civil War soldiers exposed last February when a section of Cemetery Road collapsed in Vicksburg National Cemetery. The graves of approximately 15 unnamed soldiers were affected by the collapse. The remains will be stored while researchers attempt to identify them. “These soldiers served and died for their country and they deserve our respect for their sacrifice,” said SEAC archaeologist Dawn Lawrence. The Battle of Vicksburg was fought from March 29 through July 4, 1863, which ended with the surrender of the city of Vicksburg and Union control of the Mississippi River. To read about a Civil War camp in Georgia that held Union prisoners of war, go to "Life on the Inside."

Sinkhole in Rome Reveals 2,000-Year-Old Pavers

ROME, ITALY—ANSA reports that an eight-foot-deep sinkhole has opened up in front of the Pantheon, a Roman structure dedicated to all the gods that was rebuilt in the second century A.D. by the emperor Hadrian. The sinkhole revealed seven travertine blocks laid between 27 and 25 B.C., when an earlier temple was built on the site. The 2,000-year-old paving stones were last seen during construction work in the 1990s, according to Daniela Porro, Special Superintendent for Rome's cultural heritage. To read about the marble plan of Rome, go to "Mapping the Past: The Forma Urbis Romae."