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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 2

Gene Study Reflects Japan’s Prehistoric Population Decline

TOKYO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Jun Ohashi of the University of Tokyo and his colleagues have used genetic analysis to find evidence of a decline in population that occurred in Japan several thousand years ago. The team analyzed the genomes of modern Japanese men and other men of East Asian heritage and isolated sections of the Y chromosome found only in ethnically Japanese men. These sections are thought to have been inherited from Japan’s prehistoric Jōmon population. Archaeological evidence suggests the population of Jōmon hunter-gatherers declined some 3,000 years ago, at a time when global temperatures and sea levels dropped. The researchers found a corresponding decrease in the number of different ancestral Y-chromosome sequences. During such a drop in the population, one particular DNA sequence may have become more common, which would explain why it makes up more than 35 percent of the Y chromosomes of ethnically Japanese men today, Ohashi explained. Japan’s population rebounded and increased some 2,500 years ago with the arrival of Yayoi farmers from the Korea Peninsula, who mixed with the surviving Jōmon hunter-gatherers, he added. To read about evidence of a Jōmon tattooing tradition, go to “Dogu Figurine.”

Adhesive Detected on Neanderthal Tools

BOULDER, COLORADO—According to a report by The Denver Channel, Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Boulder and her colleagues detected residues of adhesives on 10 of more than 1,000 stone tools recovered from two caves on the coast of western Italy. The tools, dated to between 40,000 and 55,000 years ago, were crafted by Neanderthals. Analysis of the adhesive suggests Neanderthals used pine resin or a mixture of pine resin and beeswax to haft the tools to wooden or bone handles, Villa explained. Because pine resin solidifies when exposed to air, the mixture was probably made over a fire, she added. For more, go to “Neanderthal Smorgasbord.”

Mummies Unearthed Near Saqqara’s Pyramid of Djoser

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, archaeologists led by Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz of the University of Warsaw uncovered dozens of poorly preserved 2,000-year-old mummies in the area of the so-called “Dry Moat,” which surrounds Saqqara’s Pyramid of Djoser. Kuraszkiewicz said the mummies had received basic embalming treatments and were placed in wooden coffins before they were buried in pits in the sand. Painted images that survived on one coffin, which was damaged in antiquity, show a multicolored necklace and an imitation of a hieroglyphic inscription. “Apparently, the artisan who painted it could not read,” Kuraszkiewicz said, “and perhaps he tried to re-create something that he had seen before. In any case, some of the painted shapes are not hieroglyphic signs, and the whole does not form a coherent text.” Two blue images of Anubis, an Egyptian god associated with mummification and the afterlife, adorn the feet of the coffin, he added. Anubis, however, is usually depicted in black. Kuraszkiewicz suggests the blue coloring of the painting may reference the ancient Egyptian belief that the hair of the divine jackal was made of precious blue stone. To read about another recent discovery at Saqqara, go to “Mummy Workshop.”

Monday, July 1

World War II–Era Fighter Plane Parts Recovered in Ireland

COUNTY MONAGHAN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Irish Times, parts of an American World War II fighter plane have been recovered in County Monaghan, near the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, by archaeology students working with officials from the Monaghan County Museum. The plane, a P38 Lightning aircraft, was piloted by Second Lieutenant Milo E. Rundall of Iowa, who bailed out when he got lost during an evening flight from the eastern shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland to his home base with the 82nd Fighter group stationed in Derry on December 17, 1942. Most of the wreckage was recovered by Irish Defense Forces at the time, but recent ground-penetrating radar surveys identified additional plane parts. “This excavation will be the final project in our three-year examination of the impact of the Second World War on our border county,” said Liam Bradley of the Monaghan County Museum. For more on the archaeology of World War II, go to “The Secrets of Sabotage.”

Roman Sculpture and Chamber Pot Unearthed in Bulgaria

SVISHTOV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the head from a small statue of a child dating to the third century A.D. and a chamber pot were unearthed at the site of the ancient city of Novae during excavations led by Pavlina Vladkova of the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. Two other carvings similar to the head have been previously found at the site, and are thought to have been part of statues depicting playing children, Vladkova said. The chamber pot measures nearly two feet deep, has a stable bottom, and was found in a Roman villa, in an area where the bedrooms are thought to have been located. Three other chamber pots have been recovered from the structure, but this one is smaller, Vladkova explained, and may have been used by children. A latrine at the villa was connected to several canals with a pipeline, she added. The city of Novae was founded as a Roman military camp at the southernmost point of the Danube River in A.D. 69, and was occupied into the seventh century, when it was destroyed by invading Avars and Slavs. To read about a discovery at a Roman villa in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

New Thoughts on the Dry Moat at the Pyramid of Djoser

WARSAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that the so-called Dry Moat, a ditch surrounding Saqqara’s Pyramid of Djoser, might have served as a 3-D model of what was believed to be a pharaoh’s difficult path to the afterlife through a series of obstacles guarded by dangerous creatures. Djoser, the first pharaoh to be buried in a pyramid, ruled Egypt from about 2630 to 2611 B.C. Researchers led by Kamil O. Kuraszkiewicz of the University of Warsaw have uncovered unusual tunnels containing transverse walls, stairs, and rows of deep niches that lead to the Pyramid of Djoser, and may date to the same period. They also found a ritual harpoon decorated with carved images of snakes in a small room connected to one of the tunnels. “This weapon could be either one of the threats awaiting the king, or a weapon prepared for the ruler to be used against them,” Kuraszkiewicz explained. A rectangular hole blocked by a huge rocks may lead to additional tunnels. For more on Egypt's pyramids, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Friday, June 28

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity Yields Ancient Baptismal Font

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK—According to a Live Science report, conservators working in the Church of the Nativity, an ancient Christian church thought to mark the site of the birthplace of Jesus, have discovered a small baptismal font within a larger one dated to the sixth or seventh century A.D. Ziad al-Bandak, head of the Restoration Commission for the Church of the Nativity, said the stone of the smaller font appears to be made of the same sort of stone as the church’s columns, and so may date to the construction of the church in the early fourth century A.D. Further study of the font is being planned. To read about the search for additional fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, go to “Scroll Search.”

Neanderthal Landscape Investigated in Israel

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a report to The Times of Israel, researchers led by Erella Hovers of Hebrew University have found Neanderthal remains and some 12,000 artifacts that suggest Neanderthals repeatedly camped at Ein Qashish, an open-air site near the Kishon River in northern Israel, over a period of thousands of years between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. Neanderthal sites are usually found in sheltered locations such as caves and rock shelters. Hovers and her colleagues suggest Neanderthals returned to Ein Qashish to knap tools, find resources, hunt, and eat. To read about another site used by Neanderthals over a long period of time, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Drought Reveals Ancient Palace in Iraq

KURDISTAN REGION, IRAQ—CNN reports that drought has revealed the remains of a 3,400-year-old palace in northern Iraq’s Mosul Dam reservoir. The palace, at a site known as Kemune, once stood on an elevated terrace on the eastern banks of the Tigris River. Researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization said the structure dates to the Mittani Empire, which ruled parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. Some of the site’s mudbrick walls measure more than six feet thick and stand more than six feet tall. Rare traces of bright red and blue wall paintings have also been uncovered. “Kemune is only the second site in the region where wall paintings of the Mittani period have been discovered,” explained Ivana Puljiz of the University of Tübingen. Ten cuneiform tablets at the site could offer new information about the politics, economy, and history of the Mittani Empire, and possibly identify the site as the ancient city of Zakhiku, mentioned in an ancient source dating to 1800 B.C. The palace has been submerged anew since the archaeological investigation took place. “It is unclear when it will emerge again,” Puljiz said. To read in-depth about cuneiform, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”