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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 12

Collagen Analysis Detects Human Bone in Paleolithic Ornaments

HELSINKI, FINLAND—Live Science reports that Kristiina Mannermaa of the University of Helsinki and her colleagues examined tooth and bone artifacts recovered in the 1930s from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, an 8,200-year-old cemetery located on an island in northwestern Russia’s Lake Onega. Testing of the collagen in the bone of 37 of the objects revealed that at least 12 of them had been made with human remains, and at least two of them had been made from the same human femur. Mannermaa said that these ornaments appear to have been carved quickly with notched ends where a cord could be fastened. They were also similar in size and shape to ornaments made from bear, elk, and beaver teeth, which are thought to have been sewn onto the hems of cloaks or coats as noisemakers or rattles. The human bone ornaments may have been crafted as replacements for lost animal teeth, she added. “It gives an impression that when a human or animal died, they didn’t see so much difference in the body and the parts,” Mannermaa said. The human bone ornaments came from three graves, two that each contained the remains of an adult man and one that held the remains of an adult man and a child. Mannermaa and her team are now comparing the human bone ornaments with those made of animal bone to see if they were created in a similar way. The researchers may also to try to extract DNA from the ornaments, and the people buried with them, to see if they were related. To read about bone relics from Bronze Age Britain, including a human femur fashioned into a musical instrument, go to "Bronze Age Keepsakes."

Monday, July 11

Isotope Analysis Identifies South Australia’s Early Colonists

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by Flinders University, a team of researchers led by Christine Adams has measured the levels of strontium isotopes in the teeth of early South Australian colonists who were buried before 1880 in unmarked graves in the free ground section at the Anglican Parish of St. Mary’s Church in Adelaide. The study suggests that just one of the 13 people had been born in Adelaide, while eight of them had been born in Britain or Ireland. Just three of the individuals could have spent their childhoods in either location. The last person in the sample was likely born and raised somewhere else. Team member Donald Pate explained that isotope analysis offers important information about migration and mobility in the colonial population because the lives of these people were not well documented. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Australian Archaeology. To read about the diverse origins of New Zealand's settlers, go to "Kiwi Colonists."

Neolithic Ceramic Figurine Found in Golan Heights

SHA’AR HAGOLAN, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, a possible mother goddess figurine crafted by members of the Yarmukian culture some 8,000 years ago has been uncovered in the Golan Heights. Anna Eirikh-Rose of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the Yarmukians living in the settlement where the figurine was uncovered produced pottery vessels on a large scale. This seated figurine, found in two pieces next to the wall of a dwelling, measured about eight inches long. “This is one of the largest examples of the figurine found,” she explained. “It is of a large seated woman with big hips, a unique pointed hat and what is known as ‘coffee-bean’ eyes and a big nose. One hand is positioned on her hip and the other one under her breast.” The eyes may actually represent kernels of wheat or barley, she added. Eirikh-Rose and her colleagues will analyze the clay used to make the figurine and try to determine how it was used. “This is a big question to study—the development of religious beliefs and culture,” she concluded. To read about Neolithic clay cylinders that might have been the world's first matches, go to "World Roundup: Israel."

Jawbone Discovered in Spain May Be Oldest Known Hominin Fossil

BURGOS, SPAIN—The AFP reports that a jawbone fragment discovered in northern Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains last month may be Europe’s oldest known hominin fossil. Paleoanthropologist Jose-Maria Bermudez de Castro of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) said the jawbone was found in a layer of earth about six feet deeper than the one in which another hominin jawbone, dated to 1.2 million years ago, was found in 2007. He estimates that the newly discovered fossil could be 1.4 million years old. CENIEH researchers will date the newly unearthed fossil and also attempt to determine if it belonged to Homo antecessor or another hominin species. To read about reconstructions of the inner-ear anatomy of hominins, including specimens of pre-Neanderthal hominins recovered from the Atapuerca Mountains, go to "Neanderthal Hearing."

Friday, July 8

Possible Prehistoric Burial Uncovered in Wales

CRICCIETH, WALES—The National reports that Tom Fildes of the Gwynedd Archaeological Planning Service and his colleagues discovered a possible stone-lined burial in northwestern Wales during an investigation conducted ahead of a construction project. “In the cist there were no human remains found during the excavation but experts say this could be a result of the preservation conditions at the site,” Fildes said. This cist is thought to date to the prehistoric era, since a possible grinding stone and a piece of worked chert were also recovered nearby. To read about the arc of standing stones in western Wales known as Waun Mawn, go to "A Welsh Ancestor."

Ancient Mosaic Floors in Israel May Depict Biblical Heroines

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—According to a statement released by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), 1,600-year-old mosaic floor panels depicting biblical heroines have been uncovered in the ancient Galilean synagogue at Huqoq by a team of researchers led by UNC archaeologist Jodi Magness and Dennis Mizzi of the University of Malta. The researchers suggest that the images depict an episode in Judges, one of the books of the Hebrew scriptures, in which Israelite forces, led by the prophetess and judge Deborah and the military commander Barak, defeat a Canaanite army led by Sisera. In the story, Sisera took refuge after the battle in the tent of Jael, who killed him as he slept. The first strip, or register, of the mosaic shows Deborah under a palm tree and Barak holding a shield. What is left of the poorly preserved middle register appears to show a seated Sisera, while the bottom register shows him lying on the ground, bleeding from the head, as Jael hammers a tent stake through his temple. Other recently uncovered mosaics at the site include a fragment of a Hebrew inscription inside a wreath flanked by vases holding sprouting vines. The vines, in turn, frame a hare, a fox, a leopard, and a wild boar eating grapes. To read about other mosaics previously uncovered in the synagogue, go to "Mosaics of Huqoq."

“Head of Eros” Reunited with Sarcophagus in Turkey

ANKARA, TURKEY—The Anadolu Agency reports that the Victoria & Albert Museum returned a piece of a 30-ton sarcophagus to Turkey after renewing a cultural partnership with the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. The Roman sarcophagus was discovered in the ancient city of Sidamara by British military consul general Sir Charles Wilson in 1882. He took the piece, known as the “head of Eros,” with him back to London. The head was re-attached to the Sidamara sarcophagus by a team of conservators from both institutions. To read about the discovery of a Roman amphitheater in western Turkey's ancient city of Mastaura, go to "In the Anatolian Arena."