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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 21

Cold War Sites Investigated in Poland

SZCZECIN, POLAND—According to a Live Science report, archaeologist Grzegorz Kiarszys of Szczecin University has examined declassified CIA satellite images and employed remote sensing techniques to study three Soviet facilities in west-central Poland. Built in the late 1960s, the buildings were concealed from view, not recorded on maps, and described in Soviet documents as communication centers. Kiarszys’ research, however, suggests the buildings housed military personnel and nuclear warheads. “The power of warheads varied from about 0.5 to 500 kilotons,” he said. “Those warheads were to be used in the so-called Northern Front, for invasion of the northern part of western Germany and Denmark.” Each of the sites consisted of three zones, including a restricted area where warheads were likely kept, a garage area, and housing for Russian troops. Nuclear physicists did not detect any lingering radiation at the sites. To read in-depth about the archaeology of the atomic age, go to “Dawn of a Thousand Suns.”

Brick Structures and Artifacts Discovered at India’s Asurgarh Fort

ODISHA, INDIA—Archaeologists led by Dibishada B. Garnayak of the Archaeological Survey of India have uncovered brick structures and artifacts as much as 2,300 years old at the site of Asurgarh Fort, which is located in eastern India, according to a report in The Hindu. The four-sided fort was protected by a moat on its northern, eastern, and southern sides, and by the Sandul River to the west. Gates, each guarded by a deity, were placed in each of the four cardinal directions. Circular structures within the fort were formed with wedge-shaped bricks and terracotta tiles. “The Asurgarh people during that time probably used stone rubbles and tile fragments for flooring their houses and the streets,” Garnayak said. “Besides, silver punch-marked coins, silver and copper toe ring[s] and earrings, [and] and beads of carnelian, jasper, beryl, garnet, agate, and coral have been found.” The coral beads and silver coins suggest the people living at the fort traded with seafaring people, Garnayak added. Glass bangle pieces, sling balls, a pestle, and iron artifacts, including a small wheel, a ring, and an arrowhead, were also recovered. To read about another recent discovery in India, go to “Double Vision.”

Roman Barracks Unearthed in England

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—According to a Daily Gazette report, the block walls of a first-century Roman barracks have been found at a construction site in southeastern England, where archaeologists have been uncovering a series of buildings near an ancient Roman wall. “We expected the remains of the walls would be below those tessellated Roman floors we have been uncovering,” said Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archaeological Trust. The walls were in fact about three feet below the tessellated floors. Crummy said the original fortress and barracks were built by the men of the Twentieth Legion. “In A.D. 43, the emperor traveled to Britain to lead [the] army into Camulodunum where he took the submission of a number of British kings,” he explained. The structures will likely be damaged by pilings for a new building, and so were carefully recorded. The rest of the site was covered with a thick layer of sand. For more on Roman England, go to “What’s in a Name?”

Friday, January 18

Terracotta Figurines Uncovered in Southern India

KERALA, INDIA—The Hindu reports that flooding in southwest India has revealed a collection of terracotta figurines along the banks of the Pamba River. So far, researchers have identified images of Sapta Matrika (mother goddesses), naga (serpent) idols, and figures of men. Archaeologist K. Krishnaraj said iconographic studies and thermoluminescence dating of the sculptures are expected to offer more information about who might have produced them. For more, go to “India's Anonymous Artists.”

Nineteenth-Century Periodic Table Found in Scotland

FIFE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a historic lithograph of the periodic table was found in a storage area at St. Andrews University, rolled up with other large-scale charts. The late nineteenth-century teaching tool, printed in Vienna and annotated in German, is thought to be the oldest surviving example of a classroom-sized periodic table. The information included in the table helped Eric Scerri of the University of California, Los Angeles, to date the document to between 1879 and 1886. Scerri explained that the elements gallium, discovered in 1875, and scandium, discovered in 1879, are included on the classroom table, but the element germanium, discovered in 1886, is not. The fragile, brittle document has been conserved. To read about study of the Roman site of Carnuntum, east of Vienna, go to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

2,000-Year-Old Mint Discovered in Central China

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that heavy rains in central China have revealed a mint estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. An excavation of the site recovered copper coins, copper smelting slag, pottery, animal bones, and pieces of coin molds, according to Bai Yunxiang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Yang Jun of the China Numismatic Society said inscriptions on the molds suggest they were used during the reign of Wang Mang, a Western Han Dynasty official who seized power and established the Xin Dynasty, which lasted for several decades in the first century A.D. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Thursday, January 17

Damaged Carving Recovered from Shrine at Tell Edfu

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that a carving of a man and a woman recovered from a 3,500-year-old shrine in a villa at Tell Edfu, in southern Egypt, may have been damaged in antiquity by someone who wanted to erase the couple’s existence in the afterlife. Nadine Moeller of the Tell Edfu Project and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute said the shrine may have been dedicated to the ancestors of those who lived in the villa. The faces of the man and woman, along with identifying hieroglyphics, were scratched out of the sculpture, so the researchers are trying to reconstruct the information. “For the ancient Egyptians, being remembered after death was very important, so they would receive offerings in the netherworld,” Moeller explained. “By erasing someone’s name, you are also taking away their identity and the good deeds they did during their lifetimes for which they will be remembered after death.” Other artifacts recovered from the shrine could offer clues to help solve the puzzle, Moeller said. For example, a black diorite statuette depicts a scribe identified in hieroglyphic inscriptions as “Juf,” but scholars at this point do not know whether he is the same man shown in the damaged carving. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Mummy Workshop.”

Scientists Analyze 100,000-Year-Old Child’s Teeth

BEIJING, CHINA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Song Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and her colleagues examined the teeth of a child who died at about six and one-half years of age at least 104,000 years ago, and perhaps more than 200,000 years ago. They found that the child’s dental growth and development proceeded slowly, at a pace similar to that experienced by modern human children living today. X-rays of the child’s fossilized upper jaw revealed the first molars had erupted a few months before death, and their roots were three-quarters grown, as is common in six-year-old modern human children. Xing and the other team members say the child’s skeletal remains have a mix of features resembling traits of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. The child may even have been Denisovan, Xing added. The scientists may try to retrieve a DNA sample from the child’s jaw or teeth for further testing. For more on research involving teeth, go to “Not So Pearly Whites.”

Dogs May Have Helped Humans Hunt 11,500 Years Ago

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a Haaretz report, dogs may have assisted human hunters living some 11,500 years ago in what is now northwest Jordan. While excavating a year-round settlement site known as Shubayqa, a team of researchers led by zooarchaeologist Lisa Yeomans of the University of Copenhagen noticed a dramatic increase in the number of bones of small animals such as hares. The condition of many of the bones indicates they were digested by a carnivore, but they were too large to have been swallowed by humans. The researchers suggest the bones are more likely to have been digested by dogs, who may have helped the human residents of Shubayqa increase the number of small, fast animals they caught by chasing the prey into traps or enclosures. To read about another recent discovery at Shubayqa, go to “The First Bakers.”