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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, September 4

Hepatitis B Virus Detected in Ancient Remains

NITRA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that scientists have detected the Hepatitis B virus in the remains of a fourth-century Germanic prince whose tomb was discovered in northern Slovakia in 2005. The prince was buried in a wooden sarcophagus placed in an underground chamber made of logs. Although the burial was looted in antiquity, the remains—in addition to the wood, leather, and textile artifacts—were preserved by the tomb’s microclimate. Karol Pieta of the Slovak Academy of Sciences said analysis of the remains suggests the man died around the age of 20, probably of Hepatitis B. The testing also indicates he grew up near the Tatras Mountains, where he was buried. But Pieta said the young man spent a significant part of his life in the Mediterranean region. “We know it thanks to isotope analysis that revealed his eating habits, and those are Mediterranean,” he said. “It is possible that he was part of an imperial Roman court or served in the Roman army as a prominent officer.” To read about how scientists discovered the pathogen responsible for a 1545 epidemic in Mexico, go to "Conquistador Contagion."

Mosaic Fragments Uncovered at Roman Villa in Georgia

BATUMI, GEORGIA—Science in Poland reports that fragments of a mosaic floor dating to the second century A.D. have been unearthed in a Roman garrison commander’s villa at the fortress of Apsaros, which is located on the coast of the Black Sea. Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski of the University of Warsaw, who works with Shota Mamuladze of the Gonio-Apsaros Museum-Reserve, said the room where the mosaic was found may have served as a bedroom, since it is located deep within the villa structure. The mosaic was originally laid over a hypocaust, or under-floor heating system. The recovered tiles, in green, black, white, red, and yellow, fell into the hypocaust when the floor collapsed, and are thought to have formed a decorative motif, but not enough of the design survives to determine what it was. “Floor mosaics were uncommon in military structures built by the ancient Romans,” Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski explained, although a well-preserved mosaic floor featuring a geometric design was found in the adjacent room during earlier excavations. To read about a Roman villa with well-preserved mosaic floors unearthed in England, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

Scientists Examine 15th-Century Remains in Scotland

BRADFORD, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, archaeologists are examining two complete skeletons and four skulls discovered during the 1997 excavations of a grave at Tarbat Old Parish Church in the Scottish Highlands. The bones, which are thought to date to the fifteenth century, may be the remains of men killed during a feud between the Ross and Mackay clans. Cecily Spall of York's Fieldwork Archaeological Services said one of the skeletons belonged to a powerfully built man who had suffered a fatal sword wound to the head. Chemical analysis of the bones could reveal where the men were born and even what they had eaten, she added. In addition to radiocarbon dating the remains, the research team will also attempt to extract DNA samples from them. “Are these men related?” Spall asked. “Are they father and son, brothers, or are they clan chiefs who were related to each other, or are they rivals?” To read about Scottish clan conflicts, go to "A Dangerous Island."

Tuesday, September 3

Hohokam Human Remains Found in Arizona

NOGALES, ARIZONA—Nogales International reports that human remains belonging to a Hohokam individual were discovered by maintenance crews at a golf resort near the Arizona-Mexico border. Bioarchaeologist James T. Watson of the University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum determined that the human remains belonged to a member of the Hohokam, a Native American group that lived in the area from about A.D. 640 to 1450. The archaeological site now occupied by the golf course was a vast Hohokam settlement, Watson explained, though it's unclear whether the human remains came from a single burial or a larger cemetery. "It's at a nice bend at the Santa Cruz River, so you can see how it would have been a nice area for a Hohokam village," he said. The remains have been transported to Tucson so that they may be returned to the appropriate descendant community, likely the Tohono O'odham Nation that is now resident in the region. To read about another culture who occupied the ancient American Southwest, go to "On the Trail of the Mimbres."

New Clues Sought at Meadowcroft Rockshelter

AVELLA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Tribune Review reports that scientists collected sediment samples from western Pennsylvania’s Meadowcroft Rockshelter for DNA analysis. Beginning in the 1970s, excavations under the direction of James M. Adovasio have yielded evidence that people first camped at the site some 19,000 years ago. Adovasio said the new investigation will look for human DNA in sediments from the oldest area of the site, and will evaluate potential remaining environmental DNA to determine how long organisms have been in the area. “If there is environmental DNA left, we will see what information it gives us about the past and the occupation sequence at this site,” added archaeologist Devlin Gandy of the University of Cambridge. For more, go to "Peopling the Americas: Meadowcroft Rockshelter."    

19th-Century Industrial Site Excavated in New Jersey

MONTVALE, NEW JERSEY—Researchers from Harvard University and Montclair State University, in partnership with the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, uncovered worked conch shells on private property in northeastern New Jersey, according to a report in The Pascack Press. Such conch shells were used to make wampum, and arrived in New Jersey as ballast on ships from the Caribbean. Historic records suggest the home where the shells were discovered was once owned by people who worked at the Campbell Wampum Mill, which was located about two miles away. The Campbell Wampum Mill used machines to mass produce shell beads and hair pipes, which were won by Native Americans at important ceremonies, as late as 1890. Earlier archaeological investigations in the region failed to find any evidence of wampum-making. “This is the smoking gun archaeological signature we have been searching for all summer,” said Eric Johnson of Harvard University. Finished wampum was sold to New York merchants, who traded with Native Americans. Evidence of a workshop was uncovered at the site of the residence, based on the large quantities of shell pieces recovered. To read about Pequot wampum beads and other colonial artifacts recently unearthed at the site of Connecticut's oldest English town, go to "World Roundup: Connecticut."

Artifacts from England’s Battle of Worcester Unearthed

WORCESTER, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, artifacts thought to be related to the final battle of the English Civil War have been discovered under layers of silt in the bottom of a river valley in the West Midlands. The artifacts include musket balls, pistol shot, horse harness fittings, belt buckles, a powder container cap, a musket trigger guard, and a piece of metal that may have been the cross hilt of a sword. The opening skirmish of the war, fought by Royalists and Parliamentarians, took place on horseback to the north of Powick Bridge in 1642. On September 3, 1651, King Charles II was defeated by Oliver Cromwell in a battle that occurred to the south of the same bridge. The king escaped, however, and fled to Europe, where he lived in exile until he was restored to the throne in 1660. Lead archaeologist Richard Bradley said the distribution of the artifacts, such as pistol shots fired by the cavalry and musket shots fired by infantry, reflect the different troops that had been fighting in the last battle, and indicate that it took place even further south than previously thought. “Many of the lead musket and pistol balls show evidence of firing or impact and these tangible signs of the conflict offer a poignant connection to the soldiers who fought and died here,” he explained. To read about the aftermath of the English Civil War's Battle of Dunbar, go to "After the Battle."

Friday, August 30

Feathered Garments Discovered in Ancient Peruvian Burial

HUANCHACO, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that excavations in Pampa La Cruz have unearthed the burial of a Chimú individual whose body was placed in a squatting position and covered with a tabard, a garment similar to a poncho, made of red and yellow feathers. A headdress made of blue, white, green, black, and yellow feathers was also found in the grave. “We need to conduct studies to identify the type of birds from which such feathers were taken and the manufacturing technique,” said archaeologist Gabriel Prieto of the University of Florida, who believes a black resin was used to fasten the headdress' ropes and threads. A similar burial containing a feathered garment featuring mostly blue feathers was uncovered in another area of the site last year, he added. To read about macaws seemingly raised for their feathers by the Puebloan people of the American Southwest, go to "Angry Birds."

Chimú Child Sacrifice Site Found in Peru

HUANCHACO, PERU—The Guardian reports that 227 skeletons of children ranging in age from five to 14 have been uncovered at a coastal desert site in northern Peru. “This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found,” said National University of Trujillo archaeologist Feren Castillo, part of an excavation team led by Gabriel Prieto of the University of Florida. The children are thought to have been sacrificed by the Chimú culture some 500 years ago, during a period when the El Niño weather pattern caused torrential rains and flooding. Muddy footprints suggest the children marched one mile from the adobe city of Chan Chan to the burial site, and lesions on their breastbones indicate they were killed with ceremonial knives before they were buried facing the sea. Some of the well-preserved remains still have skin and hair, and some of the children were wearing silver earrings at the time of death. To read about funerary idols found in an elite Chimú tomb, go to "Artifact."

Idaho Finds Suggest Earlier Date for First Humans' Arrival in North America

CORVALLIS, OREGON—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by Loren Davis of Oregon State University have unearthed stone tools, the butchered remains of an extinct horse, and a hearth or fire pit at the Cooper’s Ferry site, which is situated at the junction of Rock Creek and the lower Salmon River in western Idaho. Charcoal and bone samples from the site's oldest layers associated with human artifacts have been radiocarbon dated to between 16,560 and 15,280 years ago. The evidence, Davis suggested, indicates that people were living in western Idaho some 1,000 years before melting ice created a corridor through what is now the western United States. He said this increases the chance that the first Americans traveled in boats from Beringia down the Pacific Coast, then made their way inland via waterways. To read about evidence for the peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."