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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 22

Study Suggests Hominin Could Walk and Swing Through Trees

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Gizmodo reports that a new study of a human ancestor's shoulder blade and collarbone suggests that Australopithecus prometheus was able to swing through trees some 3.7 million years ago. Discovered in South Africa in the 1990s, the fossilized remains of an individual known as "Little Foot" were carefully excavated from concrete-like rock over a period of 15 years. Previous studies of Little Foot’s anatomy indicate the early hominin was able to walk upright and move its head in ways that are useful for climbing. A computer tomography scan of the pectoral girdle fossils at the University of the Witwatersrand allowed researchers to create a digital image of what Little Foot’s shoulder would have looked like, and then compare it to the shoulders of other primates. “By understanding how the shoulder joints of early hominins are structured, and more broadly how their shoulder blades are capable of moving on their torsos, we can understand how they used their upper limbs while interacting with the environment,” explained biological anthropologist Kristian Carlson of the University of Southern California. Overall, it appears that although Little Foot had human-like adaptations in its lower body, it had ape-like structures in its upper limbs. For more on Little Foot, go to "Sticking Its Neck Out."

Iron Age Weapons Found at Hillfort Site in Germany

NORTH RHINE-WESTPHALIA, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a metal detectorist working with Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe archaeologists has discovered more than 150 objects at Wilzenberg, an Iron Age hillfort site in western Germany. The objects include bent weapons, fragments of shield bosses, tools, belt hooks, parts of a horse’s bridle, three silver coins, and bronze jewelry, according to archaeologist Manuel Zeiler. Most of the artifacts date to about 300 B.C., except for the coins and swords, which date to the first century B.C., he added. The bridle may have been worn by a horse pulling a chariot, since it has handle parts for reins and a bit for a horse’s mouth that was designed for precise steering. The weapons are thought to have been confiscated from a vanquished enemy, and destroyed as a symbolic act, said archaeologist Michael Baales. “This ceremony was possibly the last step to celebrate the triumph,” Zeiler said. A battle does not appear to have been fought at the site, however, and it is not clear if the weapons were damaged and buried in one event, or over a period of centuries. To read about excavations of a Bronze Age ringed sanctuary in central Germany, go to "Letter from Woodhenge: Stonehenge's Continental Cousin."

19th-Century Medicine Analyzed With Muons in Japan

OSAKA, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, researchers from Osaka University and their colleagues employed muonic X-ray analysis at the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex to identify the contents of a sealed nineteenth-century glass bottle in their collections. The bottle is one of more than 20 in a medicine chest used by Ogata Koan, a physician who established an academy of Western-style technology and medicine in Osaka in the mid-nineteenth century. The bottle’s lid is marked with a kanji character for “kan,” which was thought to indicate the bottle held “kanko,” or mercuric chloride. The light generated by the muons passing through the glass and striking the powder revealed that it does contain mercury and chlorine. “It is thought that kanko was not used by itself, but was blended with other medicinal substances to treat patients suffering from strokes and rheumatism-like symptoms,” said team member Kyoko Takahashi, who has examined Ogata’s letters and treatment instructions. To read about Japanese peasants' resistance to wildly fluctuating taxes on rice yields during the Tokugawa era, go to "Rice Farmer Rebellions."

Update on Roman Gladiator Arena Discovered in Turkey

MASTAURA, TURKEY—Live Science reports that researchers have been investigating the site of a Roman amphitheater discovered in western Anatolia last summer. As many as 20,000 spectators could have been seated in the structure, which was found overgrown with shrubs and trees. Mehmet Umut Tuncer, provincial director of Aydin Culture and Tourism, and archaeologist Sedat Akkurnaz of Adnan Menderes University said their study of the site has revealed that the amphitheater was constructed with gladiator waiting rooms and entertainment rooms for private spectators around A.D. 200, when the city of Mastaura was very rich. People would have traveled from Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Magnesia, Miletus, and Priene to watch the bloody gladiator battles and wild animal fights held at the amphitheater, which is thought to have been the only one in the region, the researchers explained. The underground parts of the structure are well-preserved, they added, and some of the seating areas have been preserved, although many of the aboveground structures have crumbled. The next step is to address cracks in the walls and clean and preserve the arena. The team members are planning geophysical surveys and laser scans of the site. To read about Roman-era clay seals unearthed at the ancient city of Doliche in modern Turkey, go to "Seals of Approval."

Wednesday, April 21

Original 15th-Century Castle Wall Found in Tokyo

TOKYO, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that a 400-year-old stone wall standing about 13 feet tall has been uncovered at Edo Castle, which was constructed in the mid-fifteenth century A.D. by Ōta Dōkan, a samurai warrior-poet who eventually became a Buddhist monk. In the mid-nineteenth century, the castle site became the home of the emperor. The 53-foot-long section of wall was found during the renovation work in the East Garden at the Imperial Palace, near the Otemon Gate. Officials from Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward think it may have been part of Edo Castle’s water-filled moat because a water line remains on the surface of the stones. The wall is thought to have been shortened and buried during castle renovations in the mid-seventeenth century. The remains will be covered over with soil after they have been fully examined. To read about hidden Buddhist paintings in the Saimyoji Temple that were rediscovered via infrared imaging, go to "Around the World: Japan."

Site of Harriet Tubman’s Childhood Home Located in Maryland

DORCESTER COUNTY, MARYLAND—Herald Mail Media reports that traces of a cabin that belonged to Ben Ross, Harriet Tubman’s father, have been unearthed in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Born into slavery as Araminta Ross in 1822 on the Thompson farm, she and her mother were separated from Ben Ross a few years later. Ross was bequeathed ten acres, where he built his cabin, and achieved his freedom five years after the death of Anthony Thompson in the early 1840s. Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky of the Maryland Department of Transportation said nineteenth-century nails, brick, glass, dish fragments, and a button have been recovered at the site. “[Tubman] would’ve spent time here as a child, but also she would’ve come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him,” Schablitsky said. The experience of living in this difficult landscape probably helped Tubman to learn the navigation and survival skills she needed to escape slavery, make her way to Philadelphia in 1849, and later help others, including her parents, do the same. To read about excavations at a mountain cabin owned by a formerly enslaved man who became a California legend, go to "The Amazing True Story of Nathan Harrison."

17th-Century Mourning Ring Unearthed on Isle of Man

DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN—Manx Radio reports that a metal detectorist on the Isle of Man uncovered a piece of jewelry identified as a Stuart-period mourning ring made of crystal and gold inlaid with black enamel. The ring bears the letters “J” and “D,” and may commemorate James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and Lord of Man, who signed his name as J Derby. Allison Fox of Manx National Heritage explained that Stanley supported the Royalists during England’s Civil War and was executed by the Parliamentarians in 1651. His wife Charlotte, Lady Derby, may have distributed such a high-status ring to commemorate him. “The quality suggests that it was made for, or on behalf of, an individual of high status,” she explained. The ring is currently on display at the Manx Museum. To read about a 4,000-year-old jet necklace found on the Isle of Man, go To "Jetting Across the British Isles."

Roman Temple at Egyptian Emerald Mine Investigated

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a statement released by the University of Chicago Press Journals, a team of researchers including J. Oller Guzmán, D. Fernández Abella, V. Trevín Pita, O. Achon Casas, and S. García-Dils de la Vega has investigated three buildings at Wadi Sikait, a Roman-era emerald mine in Egypt’s eastern desert. In the first structure, thought to have been used as a temple between the first and the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., members of the excavation team uncovered 19 coins, incense burners, bronze and steatite figurines, bones, terracotta body parts, and amulets. Hieroglyphs and artifacts discovered in the structure’s inner shrines suggest some areas of the temple may be older. Another structure, once thought to have been related to mining activities, is now thought to have served as storage or living space. The researchers concluded that Sikait could be linked to other Roman imperial emerald mines in the eastern desert, which also featured religious areas. To read about the world's oldest geological map that depicts a riverbed in the eastern desert, go to "Mapping the Past: The Goldmine Papyrus."

Tuesday, April 20

Possible Bronze Age Tomb Discovered in Ireland

COUNTY KERRY, IRELAND—According to an RTÉ report, a farmer discovered a possible Bronze Age tomb on private land in southwestern Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. The intact grave, known as a wedge tomb, was lined and topped with stone. It contained human bone and a smooth, oval-shaped stone, which has been removed for safekeeping during the investigation. “Given its location, orientation and the existence of the large slab your initial thought is this is a Bronze Age tomb,” said archaeologist Mícheál Ó Coileáin. “But the design of this particular tomb is not like any of the other Bronze Age burial sites we have here.” Much of the tomb remains underground. Further investigation could help researchers pin down its age, explained archaeologist Breandán Ó Cíobháin. To read about Irish metallurgy some 4,000 years ago, go to "Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold."

U.S. Repatriates Pre-Hispanic Artifacts to Mexico

EL PASO, TEXAS—According to a statement released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and National Park Service representatives handed over more than 500 stone artifacts to Mexican consul General Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León at the Mexican Consulate last week. Special agents traced the smuggled knives, arrowheads, and stone tools to a single individual after National Park Service rangers spotted some of the artifacts in Big Bend National Park, which is located in southwest Texas. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners and foreign governments to ensure that individuals do not profit from these criminal acts,” said Erik P. Breitzke, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. Trafficking in antiquities is estimated to be a multi-billion-dollar transnational criminal enterprise, as reported by Homeland Security Investigations. To read about Texas' Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, go to "Off the Grid."

Study Reexamines Remains from Spain’s Gran Dolina Cave

BURGOS, SPAIN—Live Science reports that the remains known as “The Boy of Gran Dolina” actually belonged to a young girl, based upon microscopic dental analysis which has been used to identify sex in other human species. The remains of 22 individuals, discovered in 1994 in Grand Dolina Cave, which is located in northern Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains, have been identified as Homo antecessor, a species that lived in Europe between 1.2 million and 800,000 years ago. But the remains are highly fragmented, perhaps because they had been cannibalized, and belonged to pre-adolescents, making it difficult to determine their sex. Older children, however, often have some adult teeth. Individual “H1” was thought to be a male who died at about 13 years of age, while individual “H3,” dubbed The Boy of Gran Dolina, was thought to be about 11 years old. Cecilia García-Campos of Spain’s National Center for Research on Human Evolution and her colleagues examined their upper canines and found that these two individuals were sexually dimorphic. When compared to the teeth of other hominins, H3 was determined to be likely a female. To read about nearly one-million-year-old footprints that may belong to Homo antecessor, go to "England's Oldest Footprints."

Early Alphabet Spotted on Jar Fragment in Israel

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Live Science reports that an inscription on a jar fragment unearthed at the site of Tel Lachish in south-central Israel could offer a missing link between early examples of alphabetic writing from Egypt and later writing samples found in the Levant. The Egyptian alphabet dates to the 12th Dynasty, from about 1981 to 1802 B.C., while the previously known oldest alphabetic writing samples found in the Levant had been dated to around 1300 B.C. Felix Höflmayer of the Austrian Archaeological Institute and his colleagues said that the inscription, which was dated to 1450 B.C. through the radiocarbon dating of barley found next to it, employs hieroglyphic symbols for letters. This alphabet may have been brought to the region by the Hyksos, who ruled both in the Levant and northern Egypt, he surmised. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about a 3,500-year-old alphabet table found in Luxor, Egypt, go to "Artifact."