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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 7

Rock Art Discovered in Remote Cave in Thailand

BANGKOK, THAILAND—AFP reports that archaeologist Kanniga Premjai and her team of climbers have discovered rock art in one of the remote, unmapped caves in Sam Roi Yot National Park, which is located in the northern Malay Peninsula. Kanniga estimates the ochre drawings are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. Noel Hidalgo Tan of Southeast Asia’s Regional Center for Archaeology and Fine Arts said the rock art was likely created by hunter-gatherers who had a camp in the mountains. Thailand’s oldest-known rock art, located further north, is between 5,000 and 11,000 years old, Kanniga added. To read about 44,000-year-old rock art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, go to "Shock of the Old."

Ice Core Offers Insight Into 20th-Century Spanish Flu Pandemic

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a statement released by Harvard University, Alexander More of Long Island University and the University of Maine and his colleagues compared climate data collected from an ice core from a central European glacier with early twentieth-century historical records, and found that a six-year period of “miserable weather” preceded and overlapped with major battles of World War I and peaks in the numbers of deaths from the Spanish flu. “Basically, we saw a spike in cold, wet marine air from the northwest Atlantic that came down into Europe and lingered,” More said. Trench warfare in the cold, torrential rains and the resulting mud likely contributed to the run-down condition of soldiers’ health, in addition to malnutrition brought on by crop failures. The weather may have also disrupted the migratory patterns of disease-carrying waterfowl, More explained. The outbreak of the Spanish flu in the spring of 1918 is thought to have been connected to troop movements, infecting more than 500 million people and killing between 30 and 50 million. To read about graffiti on a barn door that recorded Great Britain's entrance into World War I, go to "Bicycles and Bayonets."

Possible Roman Salt-Making Site Discovered in England

SPALDING, ENGLAND—Spalding Today reports that excavations ahead of road construction in England’s East Midlands have uncovered Roman pottery, charcoal, two ditches, and holding tanks that may have been used by the Romans to make and transport salt. “Before this it was believed that the area did not have much activity up until recent times,” said project manager Mick McDaid. “There are no signs that this was any sort of settlement but was purely for industrial use.” The Romans would have used a hearth to heat tidal water and create brine in the holding tanks. The ditches and the region’s creeks may have provided transport for the salt, he added. To read about writing tablets unearthed at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in northern England, go to "Commander's Orders."

2,400-Year-Old Kitchen Uncovered in Turkey

ANTALYA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that a 2,400-year-old house, with a kitchen and a neighboring room containing mirrors, ornaments, loom weights, and fragrance containers, has been unearthed at the site of the ancient Lycian city of Patara. “We found the kitchen items in bulk. We found crush pots, oil pots, casseroles and a hairpin,” said archaeologist Erkan Dündar of Akdeniz University. The house may have belonged to the family of a member of the military garrison brought to the region by Alexander the Great, he added. To read about the oldest-known polychrome mosaic floor at a Hittite settlement in Turkey, go to "Polychrome Patchwork."

Copper-Smelting Furnace Found in Negev Desert

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by Tel Aviv University, a 6,500-year-old copper-working site complete with a furnace has been discovered in Beer Sheva by a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Talia Abulafia of the Israel Antiquities Authority said a lot of copper slag was found at the site, along with traces of the furnace where the copper ore was smelted at a high temperature. “Tossing lumps of ore into a fire will get you nowhere. You need certain knowledge for building special furnaces that can reach very high temperatures while maintaining low levels of oxygen,” explained Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University. Analysis of ore from the site indicates it originated at Wadi Faynan, which is located in Jordan, more than 60 miles away. The study also suggests that each copper workshop in the area followed its own “secret recipe” to produce high-status or ritual goods with the shiny metal. To read about Mesoamerican copper-smelting technology beginning around A.D. 700, go to "The Means of Production."

Tuesday, October 6

Early Anglo-Saxon Warlord’s Grave Unearthed

BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a sixth-century grave containing the remains of a man and an array of weapons, including a sword with a decorated wood and leather scabbard; bronze and glass vessels; dress fittings; and shears has been uncovered in southeastern England, at a site overlooking the River Thames at the borderland between the regions of Marlow and Maidenhead. “He is positioned deliberately to look over that territory,” said archaeologist Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading. Dubbed the Marlow Warlord, the man is thought to have stood about six feet tall with well-developed muscles capable of wielding the iron spears and sword placed in the grave. Considering his stature, strength, and wealth, Thomas said, the man may have been a tribal leader. To read about excavations at an Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, go to "The Kings of Kent."

Hominins in Israel May Have Controlled Fire 300,000 Years Ago

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a Gizmodo Australia report, hominins living in central Israel’s Qesem Cave some 300,000 years ago heated their flint at varying temperatures before knapping it into different tools. Heating the stone would have given the toolmakers more control of the knapping process, but if done incorrectly, the rock would have broken and become unusable. Archaeologist Filipe Natalio of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and his colleagues evaluated two types of flint tools recovered from Qesem Cave with spectroscopic chemical analysis, and then heated flint samples in a laboratory oven in order to estimate the temperatures to which the ancient stones had been heated. They found that the blades had been heated to nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while the flakes had been heated to 775 degrees. Pot lids recovered from the cave had been heated to more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit. While the study suggests that hominins were able to control fire and manage the resources necessary to keep it burning, the scientists still do not know the techniques the hominins might have employed. To read about early hominin tools found in Kenya, go to "Earliest Stone Tools," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Scientists Search for Human Gut Bacteria in Medieval Latrines

JENA, GERMANY—Analysis of microorganisms recovered from a medieval communal latrine in Jerusalem and one in Riga, Latvia, identified human intestinal bacteria from other microorganisms that live in the soil, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. “We found that the microbiome at Jerusalem and Riga had some common characteristics: they did show similarity to modern hunter gatherer microbiomes and modern industrial microbiomes, but were different enough that they formed their own unique group,” said Susanna Sabin of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. But additional studies of samples taken from cesspits at other archaeological sites dated to different time periods are needed to understand how the human microbiome has changed over time, explained ancient bacterial DNA specialist Kirsten Bos of the Max Planck Institute. Such research could help scientists understand what microorganisms made up the human microbiome before the widespread use of antibiotics and the consumption of processed foods. To read about sanitation in medieval Holland, go to "Letter from Leiden: Of Cesspits and Sewers."

19th-Century Church Foundation Found in Colonial Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—According to a report in The Virginia Gazette, the foundations of First Baptist Church, one of the first congregations to have been founded by free and enslaved African Americans, have been uncovered in Colonial Williamsburg, near the intersection of Nassau and Francis streets. The structure, built in 1856, was spotted with ground-penetrating radar earlier this year. Archaeologist Jack Gary of Colonial Williamsburg said the excavation has also uncovered the foundations of a smaller building at the site and a posthole that could date to the late eighteenth century. “What’s exciting about that is that there’s intact stuff out here that hasn’t been completely disturbed by other activity,” he said. It is not clear yet if the earlier foundation could be from the congregation’s first Meeting House, which was constructed in 1818. “It is possible they are connected, but more extensive excavation will be needed to make that determination,” Gary explained. Pieces of ceramic, glass, bricks, and nails have also been recovered. To read about a tombstone that has lain for centuries in the Jamestown church, go to "Knight Watch."

“Masked” Statue Discovered in 5,000-Year-Old Grave in Siberia

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—According to a Siberian Times report, a small statue depicting a person wearing a mask has been recovered from a grave in western Siberia by a team of researchers led by Vyacheslav Molodin of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. The 5,000-year-old grave has been attributed to the people of the Odinov culture, who raised cattle, sheep, and horses, in addition to hunting and fishing. The figure’s mask, Molodin said, is made of a horse vertebra and may represent a bear’s muzzle. “We’ve never come across anything like this, despite our extensive knowledge of the Odinov culture’s burial rights,” he explained. The statue was placed near the remains of a woman whose body had been placed face-down on a man’s remains. The two were then wrapped in birch bark that had been set on fire. The statue was placed on its front, but with its head broken off and turned face up. A stripe is painted on its face, perhaps to represent a tattoo, while its body features a groove down its middle. Molodin and his team will analyze residues on the statue to try to determine if anything had been placed in the groove. Another two people were buried beneath the pair in the tiered grave, he added. To read about evidence found in northwest Siberia for reindeer domestication some 2,000 years ago, go to "Reindeer Training."

Monday, October 5

Potential Royal Statue Fragment Unearthed in England

DORSET, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a team of researchers led by archaeologist Julian Richards unearthed a carved stone head at the site of Shaftesbury Abbey, which was founded as a religious house for women in southwestern England in the late ninth century by Alfred the Great and dissolved in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII during the English Reformation. The statue fragment features flowing locks and headgear featuring raised bits suggestive of jewels. Richards thinks the statue may date to the 1340s and represent Edward II, who relinquished the crown to his son in 1327. “It could be a stylized image of a Saxon king, possibly even Alfred,” Richards added. “The quality of the carving is absolutely stunning. You can even see the eyelids.” The head is thought to have been part of a gallery of statues of monarchs that would have screened the nuns from other worshippers. Although much of the abbey’s stone was hauled away as building material by local people in the sixteenth century, Richards explained, the head would have been useless to them. For more on Alfred the Great, go to "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Alfred, King of Wessex."

Possible Religious Objects Unearthed at Zominthos

ATHENS, GREECE—The National Herald reports that excavators led by archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki at the site of Zominthos, a palace built around 2000 B.C. on Crete’s Mount Psiloritis, have uncovered two additional complexes that were constructed around 1700 B.C. One of these additions may have served as a religious sanctuary. Last year, the team members uncovered an altar in this area. This year, they found a burnt wooden object surrounded by gold flakes that may have been a statuette covered in gold leaf; a pestle; a seal depicting an animal; and traces of an earlier sanctuary dating back to 1900 B.C. A figurine dubbed the “Lady of Zominthos” was recovered from this earlier sanctuary. The second room, constructed with flagstone floors and both a sophisticated drainage system and a sewage system, contained a seal bearing a flower image dated to 2000 B.C. Pottery at the site indicates it was occupied even before the first palace was built, while a coin issued by the Doge of Venice between 1289 and 1311 attests to Venetian rule of the island during the Fourth Crusade. For more on ancient palaces on the island, go to "The Minoans of Crete."

2,500-Year-Old Bronze Statue Found at Saqqara

CAIRO, EGYPT—Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced the discovery of several statues, including a 14-inch-tall bronze figure of the god Nefertum, lying beside intact, painted wooden coffins in a deep burial shaft in the Saqqara necropolis, according to an Ahram Online report. The statue of Nefertum, the god of the lotus blossom and perfume, is inlaid with red agate, turquoise, and lapis lazuli, and engraved with the name “Badi Amun.” Three shafts at the site have recently yielded dozens of sealed coffins dated to the 26th Dynasty, from 688 to 525 B.C. To read about a wooden statue head uncovered at Saqqara, go to "Queen of the Old Kingdom."

Scientists Analyze Remains of Iron Age Massacre Victims

OXFORD, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers including Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of Oxford and Javier Ordoño of France’s National Center for Scientific Research has analyzed human remains recovered during previous excavations at La Hoya, the site of an Iron Age village in northern Spain, according to a Live Science report. The charred, dismembered remains, dated to the mid-fourth to late third century B.C., place the attack before the Roman invasion in 218 B.C. No weapons were found near the more than one dozen unburied skeletons of both men and women, which showed no signs of defensive injuries. The presence of jewelry, hobbled livestock, craft items, and vessels full of grain suggests the surprise attack occurred on a market day in the summer or early autumn. Because the marauders left these goods behind, the researchers think the attack was politically motivated, rather than a raid for economic gain. The unburied remains also suggest that the village was then abandoned. To read about research on the destruction of an Iron Age fortified hilltop site in northwest Iran, go to "The Price of Plunder."