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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, July 7

Germany Agrees to Repatriate Artifacts to Africa

BERLIN, GERMANY—DW reports that Germany will return artifacts housed in more than 20 German museums to Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Namibia. Most of the more than 1,100 Benin Bronzes to be repatriated were looted by British forces who conquered Nigeria’s city of Benin in 1897. A statue of Ngonnso, a mother deity of the Nso people, will be returned to Cameroon. This artifact was taken from Kumbo, the capital of the Nso kingdom, by colonial officer Kurt von Pavel, who was accompanied by armed soldiers. He donated the statue to Berlin’s Ethnological Museum in 1903. An additional 23 objects will be handed over to Namibia, and an unnamed number of items to Tanzania that were taken during the Maji-Maji War, an uprising against German colonial rule from 1905 to 1907. To read about honey production among central Nigeria's Nok people, go to "Around the World: Nigeria."

DNA Study Offers Clues to the Peopling of Remote Pacific Islands

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a statement released by Harvard University, a new study of the genomes of 164 people who lived between 2,800 and 300 years ago, and 112 modern individuals, has identified five migrations across open water in long-distance canoes to Remote Oceania between 2,500 and 3,500 years ago. Three of these migrations to Micronesia and other remote Pacific islands came from East Asia, one came from Polynesia, and the last came from the northern edge of mainland New Guinea. The study, conducted by geneticists David Reich and Yue-Chen Liu of Harvard University, Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna, and independent researcher Rosalind Hunter-Anderson, also determined that mitochondrial DNA sequences obtained from remains unearthed in Guam, Tonga, and Vanuatu were almost completely different, even though they shared some of the rest of their DNA. This suggests that the early seafarers lived in matrilocal systems, in which women remained in their communities after marriage, since mitochondrial DNA is inherited only through the maternal line. This pattern of leaving the community must have been nearly unique to males in order to explain why genetic differentiation is so much higher in mitochondrial DNA than in the rest of the genome, Reich explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science. To read about plants that the Lapita Culture brought to Oceania, go to "Around the World: Vanuatu."

Update from Albania’s Lost City

SHKODER, ALBANIA—Science in Poland reports that two of the three unusual buildings discovered on a hill in northwestern Albania in 2018 have been excavated by a team of researchers led by Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw and Saimir Shpuza of the Institute of Archaeology in Tirana. The fortified site of Bushat was located between Scodra, the capital of Illyria, and the Greek city of Lissos. The surviving walls were made from large blocks of local stone, which were later reused in surrounding structures or had slid down the side of the hill as it eroded over the past 2,000 years. But no signs of violence or fire have been uncovered to explain the abandonment of the city, Dyczek said. Analysis of pottery at the site suggests that the hill was first occupied in the second millennium B.C. Fragments of amphoras from Italy dated to the third and second centuries B.C., and Greek two-handled wine cups were also recovered. “Most of them are very small,” Dyczek said. “In antiquity, such miniature vessels were either toys or cult items. It is difficult to determine the functions they had in this place.” He thinks the structures were not used as residences. “We could make different guesses, but we have to wait for the results of further research,” he concluded. The team members are still looking for any evidence to support the idea that the site could be Bassania, a city mentioned by the Roman historian Livy in his description of battles between the Romans and Gentius, the last Illyrian king. For more on Albania's archaeological history, go to "Letter from Albania: A Road Trip Through Time."

Wednesday, July 6

Site of Scotland’s First Legal Distillery Examined

SPEYSIDE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that archaeologists from the National Trust for Scotland, who have been studying illegal still sites in the Scottish Highlands, are now investigating the site of a distillery where farmer George Smith began producing legal whisky in 1824. To do so, he paid a licensing fee under the 1823 Excise Act, and a set payment per gallon of spirit he produced. “The distillery we are working on here is a nice bridge between the small-scale illicit distilling and large-scale industrial production,” explained archaeologist Derek Alexander. So far, the excavation has uncovered a piece of an exciseman’s padlock and pieces of a barrel. “We have also found the outline of the fireplaces where the stills were sitting,” Alexander said. The researchers have uncovered waste products of the distillation process, and hope to find evidence of grain drying. Smith’s operation eventually outgrew the site and moved in 1859 about a half-mile away to take advantage of a better supply of running water to power the machinery necessary to produce Glenlivet on an industrial scale. For more about the site's discovery, go to "Around the World: Scotland."

Sassanid Fire Temple Discovered in Iran

TEHRAN, IRAN—The Tehran Times reports that traces of a fire temple have been unearthed at the site of Bazeh Hur in northeastern Iran. Archaeologist Meysam Labbaf-Khaniki said that the temple has been dated to the period of the Sassanid Empire, from about A.D. 224 to 651, and appears to be the third largest fire temple in Iran. Researchers have found engraved plasterwork, inscriptions in Pahlavi, and columns that supported the temple’s main hall. Scholars are now working to categorize and arrange the inscriptions so that they can be deciphered, Labbaf-Khankiki concluded. To read about an ancient city in southern Turkey that the Sassanids attacked in A.D. 253, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Pre-Roman Settlement Excavated in Southern England

DORSET, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by Bournemouth University, the remains of people placed in crouched positions in oval-shaped pits have been uncovered at a settlement site in southwestern England dated to about 100 B.C. Such storage pits were usually filled with grain in Iron Age Britain, while the dead were cremated or placed in rivers, explained archaeologist Miles Russell. Animal parts in the burials suggest the dead had been buried with joints of meat, while pottery in the burials is thought to have held drinks. The amount of meat in the pits, Russell added, would have been enough to feed the settlement’s residents for weeks. Sometimes the animal parts were mixed—for example, a cow’s head had been placed on the body of a sheep, he explained. Analysis of the graves could offer insights into the inhabitants’ belief systems, he said. Samples of the human bones will be analyzed before they are returned to the ground. To read about Dorset's famous Cerne Abbas Giant chalk figure, go to "Man of the Moment."

Tuesday, July 5

Historic Tomahawk Returned to Ponca Tribes

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS— The Associated Press reports that Harvard University has repatriated tomahawk once owned by Chief Standing Bear to members of the Ponca tribes of Nebraska and Oklahoma. Standing Bear was arrested in 1878 for leaving a reservation in Oklahoma in order to fulfill a promise and bury his son in traditional lands in Nebraska’s Niobrara River Valley. In a federal trial in 1879, Standing Bear successfully argued for the recognition of Native Americans as persons entitled to rights and protection under the law. He subsequently gave the tomahawk to one of his lawyers. The university acquired the tomahawk in 1982. “We talk about generational trauma, but we don’t talk about generational healing, and that’s what we’re doing now,” said Stacy Laravie, who is a descendant of Standing Bear and the historic preservation officer for the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “This is healing.” To read about efforts to compile U.S. archaeological radiocarbon dates, the first of which was obtained in 1949 in Nebraska, go to "Save the Dates."

Norway’s Medieval Monks Discussed Their Meals in Silence

OSLO, NORWAY—Science Norway reports that archaeologist Marianne Vedeler of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History and her colleagues have examined the dining practices of a group of twelfth-century English Cistercian monks who established a monastery on the island of Hovedøya, which is located off the coast of Oslo in the Oslofjord. “The rules were written down, so we know a lot about how these monks lived in the Middle Ages,” Vedeler said. The Christian monks sat side by side when eating, in order to avoid conversation, and developed a sign language to keep this rule of silence. Vedeler has analyzed food remains uncovered at the ruins of the monastery and found that the monks sustained themselves through fishing and growing fruits and vegetables. They also constructed a fish farm on the island where they kept freshwater fish. Seven species of fish, including squid, eel, and fast-swimming pike, had their own signs, added Kirk Ambrose of the University of Colorado Boulder, in addition to signs for other foods such as honey, beans and eggs. Cistercian monks continue to use some of the signs today, Ambrose concluded. To read about an unusual community of French Cistercian monks in the thirteenth century, go to "World Roundup: Ireland."

Researchers Examine Neolithic Grave Goods in the Netherlands

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—According to a statement released by the University of Leiden, a new analysis of skeletal remains and grave goods recovered from 7,000-year-old burials at the Elsloo grave field, a Neolithic cemetery in the southern Netherlands excavated in the 1960s, suggests that male-female gender roles were less defined than previously thought. Luc Amkreutz of the National Museum of Antiquities and Leiden University said that arrowheads and stone axes, although traditionally attributed to men, were frequently found in women’s graves. Amkreutz and his colleagues also noted that the graves of the elderly, especially those of elderly women, were richly furnished with heavily used goods including items related to hunting, food preparation, woodworking, and body decoration. Many of the dead in these burials had also been sprinkled with red ochre, he added. To read about upended gender norms in the Viking Age, go to "Viking Roles."