Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 01

Egyptian “Hawk Mummy” Evaluated

LONDON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that high-resolution CT scans of what had been thought to be the 2,100-year-old mummified remains of a hawk are actually the remains of a stillborn human fetus. The fetus, estimated to have been born at a gestational age between 23 and 28 weeks, suffered from anencephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull fail to develop normally. Bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario said the identification of the mummy as a hawk votive had been based upon the decoration of the mummy’s cartonnage, which includes depictions of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. A bird with a human head is shown flying over Osiris, who is lying on a coffin frame. An Udjat eye, a symbol of protection and good health, is shown at the top of the image. The mummy has been in collections of England’s Maidstone Museum since 1925. Its origins are otherwise unknown. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

Icelanders' Genetic Heritage Analyzed

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, a new genetic study of Icelanders led by S. Sunna Ebenesersdóttir of the University of Iceland suggests the population rapidly shifted from a roughly even mix of Norse and Gaelic ancestry some 1,000 years ago, to mostly Norse ancestry today. The team analyzed genomes obtained from 27 ancient skeletons found across Iceland, and found that these early settlers of the island had genes associated with populations from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and Scotland. The researchers then used a computer simulation to model the change to predominantly Norse ancestry, and found evidence for genetic drift, or random fluctuations in gene frequencies, which has been seen in isolated populations of animals. The study notes that recent immigration from Scandinavia, and especially from Denmark, also had an impact on Iceland’s gene pool. The scientists note that those settlers with Gaelic ancestry were likely to have been enslaved, giving those with Norse ancestry a reproductive advantage. In addition, the enslaved may have been buried in unmarked graves, possibly leaving them underrepresented in the test sample. To read in-depth about a mysterious site in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

New Dates Push Back Use of Olive Oil in Italy

TAMPA, FLORIDA—According to a Live Science report, 4,000-year-old olive oil has been detected in residues obtained from an egg-shaped ceramic pot unearthed at Castelluccio, an archaeological site in Sicily. The jar, which is decorated with rope bands and three vertical handles on each side, was discovered in hundreds of pieces in one of 12 huts on a rocky ridge at the site in the 1990s. The three-foot-tall jar was reconstructed by conservators at the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum in Syracuse, Italy. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida and his colleagues said the new dates for the residues suggest olive oil was being systematically produced in Italy about 700 years earlier than previously thought. Two ceramic basins with internal dividers and a large terracotta cooking plate were also found at the site. To read about extensive evidence of olive oil use by Rome, go to “Trash Talk.”

Archaeologist Examines Possible Waka in New Zealand

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff reports that a kauri tree unearthed during a road construction project on the North Island is not a partially complete waka, or Maori canoe, as had been previously thought. The 55-foot-long piece of trunk had been modified, however. “There is evidence of stones and rocks wedged into the wood to try to split parts off and there are cut edges, but it’s not consistent with waka carving,” said archaeologist Sarah Phear. Branches and logs had been placed under the trunk as part of the preparations to process it. The log was reburied in the trench where it had been found. To read about another Maori site, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Thursday, May 31

Intact Roman Sarcophagus Found in Serbia

KOSTOLAC, SERBIA—According to a Reuters report, an intact sarcophagus containing two skeletons, gold and silver jewelry, a silver mirror, and three glass perfume bottles has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Viminacium. Founded in the first century A.D., the city was capital of the province of Moesia Superior and home to as many as 40,000 people. Anthropologist Ilija Mikic said the skeletons belonged to a tall, middle-aged man and a younger woman. She was buried wearing gold earrings, a necklace, and hair pins, while he wore a silver belt buckle. Remains of his shoes were also found. “We can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class,” Mikic said. To read about a Gallo-Roman necropolis discovered in France, go to “Shackled for Eternity.”

Geoglyphs Discovered in Southern Peru

PALPA, PERU—Reuters reports that an additional 25 geoglyphs, including an image of a killer whale and a dancing woman, have been found in Peru’s coastal desert, near the Nazca Lines, using drones. Archaeologist Johny Isla of Peru’s Ministry of Culture said the geoglyphs are thought to have been etched by the Paracas culture more than 2,000 years ago. The so-called Palpa Lines were carved into hillsides and can be seen from the ground, unlike the Nazca Lines, which are best viewed from above. To read about the only known prehistoric geoglyph in Europe, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

Alaska’s Ancient Landscape Reconstructed

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—A new survey of southeastern Alaska conducted by geologist Alia Lesnek of the University at Buffalo suggests a boat route headed southward into the New World would have been mostly free of ice some 17,000 years ago, according to a report in Science Magazine. To determine how long rocks from four islands along the southeastern coast of Alaska had been exposed to air, Lesnek measured the concentration of beryllium-10 in the rocks. Since cosmic rays change individual oxygen-16 atoms in quartz to beryllium-10 atoms, higher levels of beryllium-10 translate to longer exposure. The study also indicates that the early migrants from Beringia would have found plenty of plant and animal life along the Pacific coastline. Lesnek and her colleagues reexamined animal bones recovered from caves, and adjusted their radiocarbon dates for the effects of marine diets. The results suggest that the oldest bones had been left behind by carnivores some 45,000 years ago. The researchers also found a lack of bones dating to between 20,000 and 17,000 years ago, which could suggest the area had been covered in ice in the years before the Beringians took to the sea. To read in-depth about excavations in southwestern Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

Wednesday, May 30

Constantine’s Bronze Finger Found in France

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in The Art Newspaper, researcher Aurelia Azema has identified a piece of a bronze sculpture in the collections at the Louvre as a bronze index finger from the colossal bronze statue of Emperor Constantine housed in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. All that survives of the fourth-century statue in Rome is the head, the left forearm, the left hand missing part of its middle finger and most of its index finger, and a sphere that rested in the palm of the statue’s left hand. The missing digit arrived at the Louvre in the 1860s with items from the collection of the Italian Marquis Giampietro Campana. It was eventually cataloged as a toe in 1913. Azema, joined by specialist in ancient metallurgy Benoît Mille and archaeologist Nicolas Melard, created a 3-D model of the finger which they took to Rome earlier this month. The finger turned out to be an exact fit with Constantine’s colossal hand. To read about another Roman statue, go to “Artifact: Roman Dog Statue.”

Ötzi Receives Cardiovascular Check-Up

BOLZANO, ITALY—Scientists have examined a full-body computed tomography scan of Ötzi the Iceman for evidence of his heart health, according to a report in Live Science. Ötzi is the name given to the man whose naturally mummified, 5,300-year-old remains were discovered frozen in the Alps by hikers in 1991. Previous studies have determined that Ötzi may have suffered from bad teeth and knees, propensity to ulcers, and perhaps even Lyme disease, before he likely died around the age of 46 from a blow to the head and an arrow wound in his shoulder. The new study has revealed three calcifications in the region of his heart. Scientists say these hardened plaques put him at an increased risk of a heart attack. He also had calcifications around his carotid artery, and in the arteries at the base of his skull, which could have increased his risk of stroke. An earlier study had found that Ötzi carried a genetic predisposition for atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the arteries from fatty deposits. Patrizia Pernter, a radiologist at the Central Hospital in Bozen-Bolzano and a member of the research team, said this was probably the most important factor in Ötzi’s heart disease, since he was fit and didn’t smoke tobacco. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

Possible Early Maori Village Found in New Zealand

EASTLAND PORT, NEW ZEALAND—The Gisborne Herald reports that fourteenth-century artifacts found in northeastern New Zealand suggest a Maori village could be in the area. Moa bones and other food remains, fish hooks made of moa bone, and tools made of obsidian and chert have been recovered. Richard Walter of the University of Otago said Maori canoes, or waka, are thought to have first landed in the region, so an early village site could help fill in gaps in knowledge about the first Maori settlers. The team of researchers also found evidence of trade with the South Island, including artifacts from Cook Strait, the body of water separating New Zealand’s two islands, and Nelson, a city on the South Island’s northern coast. To read about another recent discovery of remains of a Maori village, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Pictish Trash Pit Yields Artifacts in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that Pictish artifacts have been recovered from the remains of a fort at Burghead, which is located on the coast of northeast Scotland. The fort is thought to have been burned during a tenth-century Viking invasion. The fire preserved a layer of oak planks that had been part of a wall in the fort, which otherwise would not have survived. Excavation of a trash pit has also yielded jewelry, including hair and dress pins, and animal bones, which do not usually survive in Scotland’s acidic soil. Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen said the artifacts will provide more information about the daily lives of the Picts. To read about the study of a Pictish artifact, go to “Game of Stones.”