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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, March 1

Moai Discovered on Easter Island

SANTIAGO, CHILE—ArtNet News reports that a moai has been discovered buried in a dry lake bed on Easter Island. Salvador Atán Hito of Ma’u Henua explained that no one knew about this particular volcanic rock statue because it had been hidden by the lake and the tall reeds surrounding it until recently. Archaeologist Terry Hunt of the University of Arizona added that additional moai may be found. For more on the Easter Island moai, go to "Around the World: Chile."

Iron Age Bone Comb Identified in England

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a comb made from a piece of human skull has been identified among the thousands of artifacts unearthed during an investigation ahead of road construction in eastern England. Known as the Bar Hill Comb, the artifact has been dated to between 750 B.C. and A.D. 43, and is one of three such combs found in Britain. A hole in the object, and lack of wear on the comb teeth, suggest that it may have been worn as an amulet, rather than used for grooming. “It is possible it was carved from the skull of an important member or Iron Age society whose presence was in some way preserved and commemorated through their bones,” said Michael Marshall of the Museum of London Archaeology. To read about an instrument made out of a human femur and other bone relics kept by prehistoric Britons, go to "Bronze Age Keepsakes."

New Thoughts on Chaco Canyon Construction

BOULDER, COLORADO—According to a statement released by the University of Colorado Boulder, the people who built wooden Great Houses in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon between A.D. 850 and 1200 may have carried construction supplies, including more than 200,000 timbers, with tumplines—straps that loop over the top of the head to support weight with the bones of the neck and spine. “Tumplines allow one to carry heavier weights over larger distances without getting fatigued,” said researcher James Wilson. After months of training, he and Rodger Kram used this technique to carry a dried ponderosa pine log weighing more than 130 pounds over 15 miles of forest road at a pace of about three miles per hour. Inspired by Nepalese sherpas, they also carried supports called tokmas, which allowed them to rest the log without lowering it all the way to the ground when they needed to take a break. People who lived in the ancient American Southwest are thought to have woven tumplines from yucca plants to transport food and water, based upon ceramic effigies found close to Chaco Canyon. Construction supplies could have been carried in a similar way, explained team member Robert Weiner. “As these guys showed, you don’t have to be super trained to carry a log,” he said. To read about the remains of scarlet macaws and other exotic goods unearthed at Chaco Canyon, go to "Early Parrots in the Southwest."

Tuesday, February 28

Study Tracks Plague’s Progress in Medieval Denmark

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—According to a statement released by McMaster University, a team of scientists including Julia Gamble of the University of Manitoba and Ravneet Sidhu of McMaster University looked for fragments of DNA from Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague, in the teeth of nearly 300 sets of human remains unearthed at 13 different archaeological sites in Denmark. They detected plague in 13 of these individuals, and were able to collect enough genetic information from nine of them to study the arrival and spread of different strains of plague in Denmark over some 300 years during the medieval period. Jesper L. Boldsen of the University of Southern Denmark said that the results show that as new pathogens were introduced to Denmark, they produced waves of plague in urban and rural areas. Some of these strains were traced to the Baltic region and Russia, he added. Although plague struck Denmark’s port cities the hardest, it was also detected at a rural site in central Denmark with no access to water transport, suggesting that the disease was carried inland by humans or other disease vectors traveling with them. For more on Yersinia pestis, go to "A Killer Bacterium Expands Its Legacy."

Burial in Scotland Dated to the Iron Age

APPLECROSS, SCOTLAND—According to a BBC News report, skeletal remains from six people discovered under a kitchen floor in the Scottish Highlands in 2015 have been dated to 2,000 years ago. It was initially thought that they dated to the eighteenth century. Archaeologist Cathy Dagg said that these are the first remains dated to the Iron Age to be found in the acidic soils of the west Highland coast. These bones survived, she explained, because they were in an area with cobbled stones known as “storm beach” that helped keep them dry. The construction of a building on the site in the nineteenth century also helped to protect the site, Dagg concluded. For more on Scottish archaeology, go to "Letter from Scotland: Land of the Picts."

Monday, February 27

Flotsam May Be Wreckage of Historic 19th-Century Ship

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK—According to an Associated Press report, a piece of wreckage recovered off Fire Island after Tropical Storm Ian may be from the SS Savannah, a 100-foot sailing ship that was initially equipped with a steam-driven sidewheel. In 1819, the steam engine was used for about 80 hours during the three-month trip from Savannah to England, making the Savannah the first vessel to use steam power while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. People were afraid to travel on the hybrid vessel, however, and the steam engine was removed from the ship before it ran aground and broke apart in 1821 on a voyage from Savannah to New York while carrying a load of cotton. The crew escaped and the cargo was salvaged at the time. The 13-foot-square piece of wreckage, currently housed at the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, consists of planks held together with wooden pegs. Iron spikes have also been found in the wood. “It’s plausible, and it’s important, and it’s living history if the scientists confirm that it is what we think it is,” said Ira Breskin of the State University of New York Maritime College. To read about the early history of New York City's status as an economic powerhouse, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

Ancient Inscription Uncovered in Saudi Arabia

NAJRAN, SAUDI ARABIA—ArtNews reports that three gold rings, a bronze bull’s head, and an inscription written in Musnad, a pre-Islamic script used in southern Arabia, have been found at the site of Al Ukhdud. Each of the connected rings bears a butterfly-shaped lobe. Bulls’ heads are thought to have been used to symbolize power, fertility, wisdom, and divinity in pre-Islamic art. The inscription, which covers about seven and one-half feet, describes the life of Wahib Eil bin Magan, a water carrier who lived at the site. Pottery at the site has been dated to the third century B.C. To read about a stone platform dating to the mid-sixth millennium B.C. near the site Dumat al-Jandal, go to "Around the World: Saudi Arabia."

Hunter-Gatherers in Spain Enjoyed Mediterranean Seafoods

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of York, an analysis of the chemical composition of collagen samples taken from 11 people whose remains were unearthed at El Collado, a Mesolithic cemetery in Valencia, Spain, indicates that these hunter-gatherers may have eaten more fish from the Mediterranean Sea than previously thought. Fishing was thought to be more important to hunter-gatherer communities living near the Atlantic and Baltic seas, Maria Fontanals-Coll of the University of York explained, because the Mediterranean Sea does not produce as much food. Fontanals-Coll and her colleagues found, however, that the coastal hunter-gatherers buried at El Collado between 9,500 and 8,500 years ago ate plenty of marine foods, including brackish fish and shellfish. “These findings have implications for understanding how farming, which swept through the Mediterranean in the following Neolithic period, took hold,” she concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. To read about the 18,700-year-old remains of a hunter-gatherer woman recovered from a cave in northern Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."