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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, July 15

Food Remains Found in Store Dated to Australia’s Gold Rush

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—9 News reports that well-preserved coffee beans were among the artifacts recovered from the site of a general store in Melbourne during archaeological investigations conducted as part of the Metro Tunnel project. When the store burned down during the Gold Rush in the 1850s, more than 500 coffee beans were carbonized, along with imported English biscuits, fruit, and other perishable goods. Deputy Premier of Victoria Jacinta Allan quipped that the coffee beans show that the beverage has long been important to Melburnians. To read about excavations of a nineteenth-century prison in the Melbourne suburbs, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched." 

Possible Cancer Detected in Ancient Egyptian Mummy

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, researchers from the Warsaw Mummy Project suggest that the extensive facial defects observed in a computed tomography scan of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy may have been caused by nasopharyngeal cancer. Previous studies of the mummified remains, which were brought to Poland in the early nineteenth century, have determined that they belonged to a young woman who was pregnant at the time of her death. “Firstly, we have unusual changes in the nasopharyngeal bones, which, according to the mummy experts, are not typical of the mummification process,” said Rafał Stec of the Medical University of Warsaw. Radiologists have also noted that the changes observed in the bones could have been caused by tumors. The team members plan to collect tissue samples from the mummy and compare them with cancer samples taken from other Egyptian mummies. The results of the tests could also be compared with modern cancer samples, and perhaps offer information on the evolution of the disease. To read about what researchers have learned from CT scans of other mummies from around the world, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Ancient DNA in East Asia Linked to Native Americans

YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a statement released by Cell Press, analysis of a genome obtained from a 14,000-year-old hominin fossil recovered from southern China’s Red Deer Cave indicates that the individual was a modern human. It had been previously thought that these fossils could represent an unknown archaic human species, or a hybrid of an archaic population and modern humans. Comparison of this individual's genome with genomes of people from around the world suggests that this branch of modern humans may have contributed to the East Asian ancestry of Native Americans, explained team member Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Some of the population is thought to have traveled north from southern East Asia along China’s eastern coastline and on to Siberia, the Bering Strait, and North America. Others became the ancestors of people living in East Asia, the Indo-China peninsula, and islands in Southeast Asia, Su added. “It’s an important piece of evidence for understanding early human migration,” he said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Current Biology. To read about a hominin skull unearthed in China that has been dated to at least 146,000 years ago, go to "China's New Hominin Species."

Bronze Age Pot Discovered in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—BBC News reports that a well-preserved 3,000-year-old pot has been found in an enclosure ditch at the site of a roundhouse in Cardiff’s Trelai Park. The dwelling, thought to date to between 1500 and 1100 B.C., is located about one-half mile from Caerau Hillfort, a triangular structure built in the Iron Age. “The enclosure definitely predates the hillfort, people were living here before the hillfort was built,” said archaeologist David Wyatt of the Caerau and Ely Rediscovering Heritage Project. Further study could reveal where the pot was made and how it was used. Researcher Oliver Davis added that there are only one or two other sites in Wales dated to the Bronze Age. For more on hillforts in Wales, go to "Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

Thursday, July 14

Human Remains Recovered at Waterloo Battlefield

WALLONIA, BELGIUM—The Brussels Times reports that a human skeleton, amputated limbs, the remains of at least three horses, and ammunition boxes have been found in a ditch at the site of an allied field hospital during the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought on June 18, 1815 by a French army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, an army made up of soldiers from Britain and its allies, and a Prussian army. Additional amputated limbs were uncovered nearby during excavations conducted in 2018. “Dead soldiers, horses, amputated limbs, and more would have been quickly buried in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of disease around the hospital,” said archaeologist Véronique Moulaert of the Walloon Heritage Agency. Only one other complete skeleton has been found near the battlefield. Most of the human remains from the bloody battle are thought to have been exhumed and ground into agricultural fertilizer in the nineteenth century. Behind what had been Napoleon’s front line, a metal detector survey has revealed more than 20 musket balls thought to have been left behind by fighting between French and Prussian troops. To read about the remains of a British soldier who perished in the battle, go to "A Soldier's Story."

Investigations Continue at Warsaw’s World War II Jewish Ghetto

WARSAW, POLAND—Notes from Poland reports that archaeologists working in the Warsaw ghetto have uncovered children’s shoes, tableware, ceramic tiles, diary pages, burned books, and book pages written in Hebrew and Polish. Established by the Nazis in 1940, an estimated 460,000 Jews were held captive in the ghetto, an area covering just 1.3 square miles. Researchers led by Jacek Konik of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum have been investigating an area near a memorial mound named for Mordechai Anielewicz, head of the Jewish Combat Organization, which was based nearby at 18 Miła Street. Anielewicz is thought to have died at the site in May 1943 during an uprising triggered by the deportation of many of the captives to death camps. “It was here that the soldiers of the Jewish Combat Organization, surrounded by the Germans, probably committed mass suicide,” Konik said. The Nazis demolished the Warsaw ghetto after the uprising. To read about a torah pointer uncovered in a Polish town whose Jewish community was decimated by the Nazis, go to "Artifact."

Roman Gold Coins Recovered from Farmer’s Field in England

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that 11 Roman gold coins have been discovered to date by metal detectorists on farmland in an area of eastern England known as The Broads. The first four coins were found in 2017, after the soil had been plowed at the end of the harvest season. Each year since, additional coins have been recovered. “They’re slowly coming to the surface; I think there’s more,” said numismatist Adrian Marsden of Norfolk County Council. He has dated the coins to the first century B.C. and the early first century A.D. All of them were minted before the Roman conquest of Britain in A.D. 43, he explained, and were buried on land once occupied by British Celts known as the Iceni before the invasion. “It’s possible that a local tribe could’ve gotten ahold of the coins and perhaps planned to use them for other things, such as melting them down to make jewelry,” he said. Some of the coins bear images of Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, with Gaius and Lucius, his grandsons, on the reverse. The others feature Augustus in profile with Gaius on horseback on the reverse. Small indentations on the tops of the coins indicate that someone had tested them for their purity. To read about a cache of late Iron Age gold and silver coins unearthed in Derbyshire that predate the Roman invasion, go to "The Dovedale Hoard."

Workshop and Elite Woman’s Burial Uncovered at Palenque

CHIAPAS, MEXICO—According to a statement released by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), preparations for the construction of visitor resources have uncovered a stone workshop and a cemetery at Palenque, a Maya city in southern Mexico. Tools for hunting, food preparation, and ritual sacrifices were constructed in the workshop between A.D. 600 and 850. More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the workshop, said Diego Prieto Hernández, director general of INAH. In the cemetery, researchers uncovered the remains of a woman who died around A.D. 800. Her remains show cranial deformation and inlays of precious stones in her teeth. The burial could offer insights into the role of women in ancient Maya society, Hernández explained. To read about a brilliantly decorated burial at Palenque, go to "Inside a Painted Tomb."

Wednesday, July 13

19th-Century Industrial Site Uncovered in Southwest England

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Bristol Live reports that traces of the Bedminster Smelting Works have been found under a parking lot in South Bristol. The smelting works operated in a heavily populated area for more than 100 years before it closed in 1963, and is remembered for producing solder for the production of metal cans and pollutants such as chemical fumes and smoke. The archaeological features at the site include the foundations of chimneys, furnaces, and stoking cellars. Simon Cox of Bristol and Bath Heritage Consultancy explained that many of the processes that went on at the smelting works were experimental, unpredictable, and kept as closely guarded secrets. The excavation and analysis of industrial residues will also yield information about how those processes evolved from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. “One of the things our excavations have shown is that the company seems to have been constantly rebuilding the works,” said Cai Mason of Wessex Archaeology. The new designs were presumably more efficient and created through a process of trial and error, he added. To read about copper smelting technology in Mesoamerica, go to "The Means of Production."

Quarry Discovered Under Ancient Church in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that traces of a fourth-century A.D. rock quarry were uncovered at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian site built on top of the Roman emperor Hadrian’s temple of Capitoline Jupiter. Francesca Romana Stasolla, Beatrice Brancazi, and Stefano De Togni of the Sapienza University of Rome and their colleagues found the remains of the quarry while they were systematically restoring pavement stones in the ancient structure. Stasolla said that the quarry is marked by deep, uneven cuts, so that the builders in A.D. 326, during the reign of the emperor Constantine (r. A.D. 306–337), had to level the surface with soil mixed with ceramic materials to allow for water drainage. The quarried stones were then used to construct the early church. To read more about Roman-period architecture in Jerusalem, go to "Front Row Seats."