Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 18

Rabbit Bone Dated to First Century A.D. Found in England

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that zooarchaeologist Fay Worley of Historic England spotted a small fragment of a rabbit’s tibia bone in a box of artifacts that were unearthed in 1964 at Fishbourne Palace in southeast England. This was the site of a Roman villa whose wealthy inhabitants are known to have kept a varied menagerie. Worley said the bone, dated to the first century A.D., bears no butchery marks and appears to have been part of the earliest known rabbit in England. Further analysis suggests the rabbit was kept in confinement, she added, and may have been an exotic pet. Rabbits are native to Spain and Portugal, and it had been previously thought they were first introduced to Britain in the eleventh century by the Normans. To read about another recent discovery dating to the Roman period in England, go to Foreign Funeral Rites.”

13,500-Year-Old Burial Unearthed in China

GUANGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 13,500-year-old tomb at the site of the Qingtang ruins in southeastern China has yielded the remains of a young woman who died between the ages of 13 and 18 and was buried, without her head, in a squatting position. Liu Suoqiang of the Guangdong Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology said the woman was deliberately put in a squatting posture. “It points to the emergence of the concepts of life and death and of primitive religious beliefs,” Liu explained. Researchers are also trying to determine whether the woman’s head was missing due to natural causes, or whether it was removed. Burials containing remains arranged in a squatting posture have been found in other prehistoric tombs in southern China and Southeast Asia, though the symbolism of the posture is unclear. A bone pin was also found in the young woman's grave. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Urine Salts in Soil May Mark Advent of Herding

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to a report in The Atlantic, Jordan Abell of Columbia University and his colleagues were able to detect a possible shift from hunting and gathering to herding at the site of Aşıklı Höyük, in Turkey’s central Anatolia region. Because the area is dry, Abell hypothesized that the sodium, nitrate, and chlorine salts contained in the urine of people and animals would not have been washed away from the soil by rain. The scientists analyzed soil samples from trash heaps, bricks, and hearths from different layers of the site, and found that between 10,000 and 9,700 years ago, the salt concentrations rose dramatically. This possible increase in urine output corresponds with archaeological evidence suggesting that the hunter-gatherers began to keep sheep and goats, but it appears that the shift toward herding may have occurred more rapidly than had been previously thought. Over a period of about 1,000 years, the researchers estimate that on average, some 1,800 people and animals lived at the settlement. That’s many more individuals than archaeologists estimate the housing for people at the site would have accommodated, suggesting that the number of goats or sheep living there had increased. The team members are now looking for a way to distinguish between human and animal urine salts as their research continues. For more on archaeology in Turkey dating to the Neolithic period, go to “Skull Cult at Göbekli Tepe.”

Wednesday, April 17

Scientists Analyze 2,000-Year-Old Remains in Poland

BAGICZ, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, scientists from the University of Szczecin and the University of Warsaw examined the remains of a woman that eroded out of a cliff in northwestern Poland in the late nineteenth century. Estimated to have been between the ages of 20 and 35 at the time of her death, the woman suffered from osteoarthritis that may have been caused by hard physical labor. She was buried in a wooden log with a bone pin, a wooden stool, and a clasp, a bead necklace, and bracelets, all made of bronze. Fragments of woolen clothing and leather were also recovered. Radiocarbon dating of the woman’s skeleton indicates she died around A.D. 30, or about 100 years earlier than had been previously thought based on the style of the grave goods. The researchers looked for evidence of the woman’s diet in the chemical make-up of her teeth, since a diet heavy in ocean fish can skew the results of radiocarbon testing. “We didn’t find any traces of Baltic fish in her diet,” said Rafał Fetner of the University of Warsaw, “but she had consumed many animal products, as evidenced by the type of proteins preserved in her teeth.” This result surprised the team members because the woman was buried near the Baltic Sea coast. To read about an investigation into a much more recent period of Polish history, go to “Cold War Storage.”

Who Was Buried in Megalithic Tombs?

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Paleogenomicist Federico Sánchez-Quinto of Uppsala University and his colleagues suggest European megalithic societies may have invested social power in male family lines across multiple generations, according to a Science Magazine report. The researchers investigated possible relationships among 18 men and six women buried in four megalithic tombs in Scotland, Ireland, and Sweden between 4500 and 3000 B.C. Analysis of nuclear DNA samples obtained from the remains suggests there were close kinship ties among the men buried at the Scottish site and among those buried at the Swedish site. In addition, at least six of the nine men buried in the Primrose Grange tomb, on the northwest coast of Ireland, may have descended from the same paternal line over as many as 12 generations. One of these men may also have been the father of a man whose remains were found in another megalithic tomb about a mile away. Critics of the study note the small number of individuals in the test sample, the fact that women received identical high-status burials when interred in megalithic tombs, and a separate genetic study that found a lack of close kinship ties among individuals buried at another megalithic tomb in Ireland. To read about new insights into a standard of measurement that appears to have been used at Stonehenge, go to “Epic Proportions.”

Bronze Age Cremation Burials Found in Slovakia

RIMAVSKÁ SOBOTA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that 17 graves containing cremated human remains were discovered during archaeological investigation ahead of a construction project in the town of Rimavská Sobota, in southern Slovakia. Archaeologist Alexander Botoš of the Gemersko-Malohontské Museum said the burial site was used for about 800 years during the Bronze Age by members of the Piliny culture. The cemetery site was eventually covered over by construction of the town during the medieval period. The burials will be studied at the Gemersko-Malohontské Museum, where Botoš thinks researchers may find Bronze Age jewelry during restoration work. To read about another discovery from the same period, go to “Bronze Age Plague.”

Tuesday, April 16

Possible Ritual Burials Discovered in Oxfordshire

OXFORD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that 26 skeletons have been uncovered in southern England during excavation work for a new water pipeline. The oldest burials are nearly 3,000 years old and may be associated with the people who built monumental hillforts and created the Uffington White Horse, a 360-foot-long figure carved into a nearby hillside. Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology said some of the graves resemble Iron Age pit burials known to contain human sacrifices. In addition to human remains, the site also contained traces of dwellings, animal remains, pottery, cutting implements, and a decorative comb. For more on the Uffington White Horse, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

Patent Medicine Bottles and Specimen Jars Found in Arkansas

EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS—The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that more than 400 glass bottles were uncovered in what may have been a root cellar located behind a building that housed the Baker Hospital and Health Resort over a period of 20 months between 1938 and 1940. The so-called hospital was owned by Norman Baker, an entrepreneur, former vaudeville performer, broadcaster, and failed politician who claimed to have found a cure for cancer. Archaeologist Mike Evans of the Arkansas Archeological Survey said printed advertisements for the hospital featured pictures of tumor specimens kept in alcohol in bottles resembling those found in the bottle dump. Some of the bottles still contain alcohol and what appears to be tissue. Evans said the samples will be analyzed by scientists at the state crime laboratory and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The team also recovered bottles that may have held Baker’s cancer-cure elixir, which contained a mixture of brown corn silk, red clover, ground watermelon seeds, peppermint, glycerin, and carbolic acid. The hospital was closed in 1940 after Baker was convicted of mail fraud. For more on archaeology in Arkansas, go to “Off the Grid: Rock House Cave.”

Migrant Farmers May Have Replaced Britain’s Hunter-Gatherers

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to an Associated Press report, a genetic study of human remains dating to as early as 8500 B.C. indicates that early farmers from the region around the Aegean Sea arrived in Britain some 6,000 years ago and replaced the local hunter-gather population. Previous studies have suggested these same early farmers mixed with local populations as they dispersed across continental Europe, and those who reached Britain were genetically similar to those living in Spain and Portugal. It appears, however, that the farmers did not mix with the Britons. “It is difficult to say why this is, but it may be that those last British hunter-gatherers were relatively few in number,” said Mark G. Thomas of University College London. “Even if these two populations had mixed completely, the ability of adept continental farmers and their descendants to maintain larger population sizes would produce a significant diminishing of hunter-gatherer ancestry over time.” For more on Europe's early farmers, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Face of Neolithic Dog Reconstructed

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, scientists have reconstructed the face of a dog that lived on Mainland, the largest of the Orkney Islands, some 4,500 years ago. Unearthed in 1901, its skull was one of 24 dog skulls that were deposited in a chambered cairn known as Cuween Hill some 500 years after the tomb was built. The animal, though domesticated, retained some wolf-like characteristics, and stood about as tall as a large collie. “People have speculated as to whether the fact you get so many dogs in one tomb, which is very, very unusual, suggests there was some kind of totemic thing,” said Alison Sheridan of National Museums Scotland. Similar collections of animal parts, from creatures such as sea eagles and red deer, have been discovered in other Neolithic tombs, Sheridan explained, so the people who lived near Cuween Hill may have considered themselves “the dog people.” To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”