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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, September 1

Stalin-Era Mass Graves Discovered in Ukraine

ODESSA, UKRAINE—The AFP reports that mass graves that may hold the remains of thousands of people have been found at the site of a garbage dump in southern Ukraine ahead of work to expand Odessa airport. The dead are thought to be victims of Stalin’s Great Terror of the 1930s. “They dug out pits in the garbage and threw these people in or shot them dead as they were standing there,” said archaeologist Tetyana Samoylova. The bodies were then covered with garbage, she explained. More than 400 truckloads of garbage were removed to reach the 29 graves that have been found so far. “The bodies lie in several layers,” added researcher Oleksandr Babych. “Already we can see at least five layers.” A memorial is being planned for the site, according to Odessa mayor Gennady Trukhanov. For more on Ukrainian archaeology, go to "Hail to the Bождь (Chieftain)."

Silver Yad Recovered from the Great Synagogue of Vilnius

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA—The Brussels Times reports that work conducted by a joint Israeli-Lithuanian team of researchers at the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, a seventeenth-century structure looted and burned during World War II by the Nazis, has uncovered a silver Yad, a pointer used to read from a Torah scroll. The Yad was found in front of the synagogue’s Aron Kodesh, or Torah ark, where Torah scrolls were kept. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority said traces of two staircases seen in photographs of the synagogue have also been found. To read about a Torah shield and pointer unearthed in Wieliczka, Poland, go to "Artifact."

400,000-Year-Old Bone Tools Identified in Italy

BOULDER, COLORADO—According to a statement released by the University of Colorado Boulder, Paola Villa and her colleagues have identified 98 flaked tools made from 400,000-year-old elephant bones at central Italy’s site of Castel di Guido. Villa said large numbers of Palaeoloxodon antiquus had died at the site, which is located in a gully carved by a stream, allowing hominins, possibly Neanderthals, to develop complex bone technology and the systematic production of tools from standardized “blank” pieces of long bone. Some of the tools were pointed and may have been used to cut meat, while others were wedges that may have been used to split long bones. A single tool made from a wild cattle bone resembles a “lissoir,” a long tool thought to have been used to smooth leather, she added. Lissoirs are thought to have been commonly used about 300,000 years ago, she added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about the oldest dental filling in the teeth of a late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer whose remains were found in northern Italy, go to "Not So Pearly Whites."

Tuesday, August 31

Two Prehistoric Settlements Found in Czech Republic

HRADEC KRÁLOVÉ, CZECH REPUBLIC—Radio Prague International reports that two prehistoric settlements were discovered in the northern Czech Republic during an investigation ahead of a construction project led by Miroslav Novák of the Museum of Eastern Bohemia. Researchers recovered traces of dwellings, food storage pits, furnaces, and stone molds for casting bronze objects. To read about a Neolithic well uncovered in East Bohemia, go to "Around the World: Czech Republic."

6,000-Year-Old Cemetery Discovered in Transylvania

CLUJ-NAPOCA, TRANSYLVANIA—Live Science reports that a 6,000-year-old cemetery in the Transylvania region of central Romania has yielded the skeletons of people who were buried with urns placed over their skulls or feet. The urns are thought to have held food or drink for the passage to the afterlife. The excavation, conducted by Paul Pupeză of the National Museum of Transylvanian History ahead of a construction project, also uncovered traces of Neolithic wooden walls and a food storage pit. The site was later inhabited by Celts some 2,200 years ago. To read about two eighth-century B.C. bronze hoards found in southern Transylvania, go to "World Roundup: Romania."

Possible Viking-Period Long Knife Unearthed in Poland

GRÓDEK, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that researchers uncovered an eighth-century A.D. combat knife, or langsax, in northeastern Poland while looking for an eleventh-century battlefield in the Wda Landscape Park. The knife, which has a 30-inch blade, is thought to have been made in Norway. “The weapon’s size is impressive for a combat knife, it could easily measure against double-edged swords from that period,” said archaeologist Mateusz Sosnowski. The tip of the blade is slightly bent, but Sosnowski said the damage is thought to have occurred after the weapon was lost. “We intend to carry out detailed metallographic tests that may allow us to gain additional knowledge about this unique weapon specimen,” he added. To read about the burials of four medieval knights unearthed near the village of Cieple, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

Monday, August 30

World War II Bunker Discovered Within Roman Tower

ALDERNEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS—BBC News reports that archaeologists and volunteers excavating a Roman fort at the site of the Alderney Nunnery have found a twentieth-century bunker nestled in the ten-foot-thick walls of an ancient tower. The bunker was constructed by the German military during their occupation of the British Channel Islands from 1940 to 1945, where they operated two concentration camps during World War II. The German army also constructed anti-tank walls and tunnels at the site. Archaeologist Jason Monaghan said the site of the Alderney Nunnery has been occupied for about 1,700 years, with new structures built on top of the old ones during the medieval, Tudor, and Napoleonic eras. “We’ve just come across three floors all on top of each other and we’re just trying to disentangle what eras they come from,” he explained. To read about a coin hoard uncovered on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, go to "Ka-Ching!"

Genetic Study Reveals Bohemia’s Dynamic Prehistory

JENA, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Society, analysis of the genomes of 271 people who lived in the area of the western Czech Republic known as Bohemia between 3,500 and 7,000 years ago has identified three migration events in central Europe. Wolfgang Haak of the Max Planck Society said the region’s genetic landscape changed drastically some 5,000 years ago. People who had ancestors from the Eurasian Steppe were found buried in cemeteries with people who had little to no “steppe” ancestry, yet all of them had been buried according to the same customs of the Corded Ware culture, he explained. Fewer Y-chromosome lineages were detected in Corded Ware males over time, however, which suggests that only a few men fathered a majority of offspring, perhaps because a new social structure had emerged, added Luka Papac of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. When the Bell Baker society emerged some 4,500 years ago, all of the men in the study belonged to a Y-lineage that was new to Bohemia, indicating that a new clan had arrived. The Bell Beaker culture had been previously thought to have given rise to the Early Bronze Age Unetice culture, but the new genetic data suggests that these people came from an area northeast of Bohemia, added Michal Ernée of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Such turnover may have been a result of the trade in amber from the Baltic as centrally located Bohemia became an important trade hub, Ernée said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read about Bell Beaker burials at the site of Pömmelte in central Germany, go to "Letter from Woodhenge: Stonehenge's Continental Cousin."

Archaic Shell Rings Spotted in Southeastern United States

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a statement released by Penn State, Dylan S. Davis and his colleagues identified possible shell rings and mounds using deep machine learning to analyze data collected from lidar surveys, synthetic aperture radar, and multispectral satellite imagery of a 4,000-square-mile area of the southeastern coast of the United States. These technologies detect structures underneath heavy forest or ground cover, provide information on soil attributes, and reveal features not visible to the human eye. Such shell rings were constructed between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, and are thought to have been used as trade centers, Davis said, since copper from the Great Lakes region and imported ceramics and lithics have previously been recovered from the 50 known shell ring sites in the region. The study spotted hundreds of potential new shell ring sites, based upon their slope and elevation change when compared to the surrounding landscape. Some of these sites were found in counties where shell rings have never been identified. Davis said the team has not yet been able to investigate the possible shell rings in person. To read about rituals performed at Georgia's Dyar Mound, go to "Enduring Rites of the Mound Builders," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Bones from Neanderthal Hunting Camp in Spain Analyzed

BURGOS, SPAIN—According to a statement released by the Spanish National Research Center for Human Evolution (CENIEH), researcher Abel Moclán and his colleagues have analyzed 76,000-year-old bones recovered from a large Neanderthal hunting camp at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter, which is located in central Spain. Statistical analysis of the remains suggests that Neanderthals processed large cattle and deer at the rock shelter, but then took their prey to another site to eat it. Evidence for the manufacturing of stone tools and the use of fire have also been recovered at the rock shelter. To read about the inner ear anatomy of pre-Neanderthal hominins from Spain's Atapuerca Mountains, go to "Neanderthal Hearing."