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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 27

DNA Sheds Light on Peopling of the Western Pacific

SOUTH EAST QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, the partial skeleton of a young woman who lived about 7,200 years ago has been found in Leang Panninge Cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi by an international team of researchers led by Adhi Agus Oktaviana of Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology and Adam Brumm of Griffith University. Dubbed “Bessé” after the local Bugis language nickname for a newborn princess, the young woman belonged to the Toalean culture, which hunted wild pigs and collected shellfish from rivers in Sulawesi’s forests between about 8,000 and 1,500 years ago. Scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute were able to recover DNA from Bessé’s inner ear bone. “It’s the first time we’ve really had the story told to us by the ancient DNA in this part of the world,” Brumm explained, since DNA is rarely preserved in the tropical climate of Wallacea, the islands between mainland Asia and Australia. The analysis indicates that the young woman is related to present-day Aboriginal Australians and Papuans, but she belonged to a previously unknown ancient population thought to have arrived in the region some 65,000 years ago. About two percent of her DNA is Denisovan, which suggests that the two groups may have encountered each other in Sulawesi or another island in Wallacea, added Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about the world's oldest known cave art, which was found on Sulawesi, go to "Shock of the Old."

Bone Study Offers Clues to Herculaneum’s Cuisine

YORK, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that an international team of researchers analyzed well-preserved bones from the Roman seaside town of Herculaneum and found that its residents consumed a diet heavy in fish and olive oil. The bones in the study belonged to people who gathered in boathouses along the Bay of Naples when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, and were killed instantly by a hot blast of gas and ash. The chemical composition of the bones indicates that one quarter of the protein these people ate came from the nearby sea, and at least 12 percent of their overall calories came from olive oil. “Oil wasn’t a condiment, it was a proper ingredient,” said Silvia Soncin of Sapienza University of Rome. “They got a lot of energy out of it.” The study also suggests that women ate fewer grains and cereals than men, while men ate more kinds of fish and shellfish. This added variety in men’s diets may be a sign that they enjoyed more of their meals outside of the home, the researchers explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on research at Herculaneum, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."

Thursday, August 26

“Hobbit” Chomping Power Tested With Virtual Skull

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—According to a statement released by Duke University, researchers from Duke University and the University of Bologna used X-ray CT scans to build a virtual 3-D model of the damaged, incomplete fossil skull of Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin nicknamed “the Hobbit” that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. Rebecca Cook of Duke University said the skull exhibits a heavyset lower jaw, which is usually associated with earlier human ancestors, and a smaller face similar to that of modern humans, who slice and pound food with tools and cook it, making it easier to eat. The researchers then employed computer simulations to mimic the stiffness of bones and the pulling action of muscles to investigate how Homo floresiensis might have bitten off and chewed its food. These results were then compared to similar tests of the skulls of chimpanzees, modern humans, and early human ancestors who lived in Africa two to three million years ago. The study suggests that the bite exerted by Homo floresiensis was similar to that of modern humans, but with a greater risk of straining or dislocating the jaw when eating hard or tough foods. Justin Ledogar of Duke University said analysis of other members of the Homo genus, such as Homo erectus, could help researchers place Homo floresiensis in the human evolutionary tree. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Interface Focus. To read about the last known members of Homo erectus, go to "Around the World: Indonesia."

Charred Bouquets Recovered from Tunnel at Teotihuacan

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Live Science reports that charred remains of 2,000-year-old flower bouquets have been found in a tunnel under the pyramid at Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Feathered Serpent by a team of researchers led by Sergio Gómez-Chávez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. The pyramid stood some 75 feet tall, while the deepest part of the tunnel was 59 feet below ground. Pottery, including a sculpture of the god Tlaloc, who is associated with rainfall and fertility, were found with the bouquets. A large amount of wood had been placed on top of the bouquets and pottery and set on fire, perhaps in a ritual associated with fertility, Gómez-Chávez explained. The researchers will attempt to identify the 40 flowers in one bouquet and the 60 flowers in the other in order to shed light on what took place in the tunnel. For more on the temple, go to "Mythological Mercury Pool," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Wednesday, August 25

Remnant of Edinburgh’s Historic Tram Network Uncovered

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that work to extend a tram line in Edinburgh has uncovered original brickwork and a pulley wheel. Edinburgh’s pulley wheel tram system, dated to about 1899, ran on cables powered by stationary steam engines and replaced horse-drawn trams. This cable-winding mechanism was found near the so-called “Pilrig muddle,” where passengers transferred from Edinburgh’s trams to Leith’s separate transportation system, which was electrified in 1901. Edinburgh’s tram system was electrified in 1922, after Leith became part of Edinburgh. City archaeologist John Lawson said that archaeologists will try to remove the obsolete pulley wheel for safekeeping. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Letter from Scotland: Land of the Picts."

Hundreds of Bronze Age Artifacts Found in France

TOULOUSE, FRANCE—According to a report in The Connexion, pottery vessels filled with bronze objects have been discovered at a fortified settlement site in central France that has been dated to 800 B.C. Pierre-Yves Milcent of the University of Toulouse said that two of the vessels held bracelets, anklets, and pendants worn by women or children, while a third contained tools and weapons. Chariot decorations, riding equipment, and wheel parts were recovered from yet another vessel. Each one was topped with bronze axes. “They could be offerings as found in Greece at that time, deposited during the foundation or abandonment of the settlement, to help ensure divine protection,” Milcent explained. To read about ritual activity from the Neolithic period through the Bronze Age at a megalithic site in central France, go to "Megalithic Mystery."

Clovis Camp Site Discovered in Michigan

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—According to a statement released by the University of Michigan, a Clovis camp site has been discovered on farmland in southwest Michigan. It had been previously thought that the presence of glaciers in the region some 13,000 years ago made it uninhabitable beyond an occasional hunting trip in the ice-front environment. Independent researcher Thomas Talbot explored the farmer’s fields each spring after they had been plowed for more than ten years, and recovered nine pieces of Clovis points over that time. He contacted archaeologists Henry Wright and Brandon Nash of the University of Michigan, who investigated the area where Talbot found the points. Digging down some five feet, Nash and his colleagues uncovered two artifacts in an undisturbed layer below the plow zone. In all, the team has recovered more than 20 Clovis tools and hundreds of pieces of stone debris left behind by tool production. Nash thinks the camp may have been used for a short period by a small group of people who split from their main group for a season. Residue analysis could reveal what animals they hunted and what plants they processed, he added. To read about pre-Clovis peoples in the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."