Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, November 9

Genetic Studies Attempt to Track Peopling of the Americas

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—According to a Science News report, two new genetic studies explore the complex history of the peopling of the Americas. Geneticist Nathan Nakatsuka of Harvard University and his colleagues analyzed samples collected from the remains of 49 individuals, and found that at least three waves of people traveled from North America into South America. The first wave consisted of people related to a child buried some 12,600 years ago in Montana with artifacts from the Clovis people. The second wave of migrants replaced them about 9,000 years ago. Then, some 4,200 years ago, people from California’s Channel Islands migrated south and spread across the Central Andes. A separate study of the remains of 15 different ancient Americans, led by geneticist Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, suggests people living in the Americas were more genetically diverse than had been previously thought. Willerslev’s study confirmed that at least one group living in Brazil possessed DNA similar to that found in modern indigenous Australians, perhaps inherited from a common ancestor. Analysis of DNA collected from a 9,000-year-old baby tooth unearthed in Alaska suggests that the ancient Beringians, who lived on a temporary land bridge between Alaska and Siberia, were genetically distinct from the ancestors of Native Americans. Willerslev also examined the genome of the 10,700-year-old remains discovered in Nevada’s Spirit Cave and found that, like the 8,500-year-old Kennewick Man, these individuals were more closely related to modern Native Americans than to any other group. For more on early inhabitants of the Americas, go to “Naia—the 13,000-Year-Old Native American.”

Traces of Twelfth-Century House Found in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—City archaeologist John Lawson says he and his team have uncovered a dwelling site situated along the medieval town wall that could date to before the town of Edinburgh was founded by King David I in the mid-twelfth century, according to The Edinburgh Reporter. “We suspect that because it’s cut through by a large ditch which dates to the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century,” he explained. The ditch may have even been a boundary for the early town. The estimated date of the house is based upon the style of pottery found in the ditch, but Lawson plans to obtain radiocarbon dates for the site, and tree-ring dating from the timber in the house’s postholes. The presence of the house indicates there was a bigger settlement in the area in the early twelfth century than had been previously thought. To read about a hoard of medieval silver items discovered in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Byzantine Fortress Investigated in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—According to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report, Ivan Hristov of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History and his team have uncovered evidence suggesting the Early Byzantine city of Chrisosotira may have been sacked and burned by the Slavs and Avars in the early seventh century A.D. The excavators investigated the remains of a large building situated near the harbor side of the fortress that may have been part of a large commercial complex. Its roof collapsed when it burned, preserving fragments of amphoras, pots, and jars; intact stacks of roof tiles probably intended for roof repairs; iron farming tools; and parts of a bronze scale. Three coin hoards found in the building helped the researchers to date the fire. Most of the 100 bronze and 10 gold coins found in the hoards depict Emperor Heraclius and his son, Constantine III, the latter of whom ruled for just four months in A.D. 641. The researchers also found traces of the fortress’ southern wall, made from stones and mortar containing crushed ceramics measuring more than five feet wide and surviving more than three feet tall. The placement of the wall indicates that the city was larger than previously thought. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

Thursday, November 8

New Thoughts on Chile’s Ancient Desert Structures

ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE—Live Science reports that Catherine Perlès of the Université Paris Nanterre and Lautaro Nuñez of Chile’s Universidad Católica del Norte reevaluated two archaeological sites located less than one mile apart from each other in the Atacama Desert. One of the two sites, a ceremonial complex last excavated in 2015, flourished between 1200 and 500 B.C., and features massive stone monuments, infant burials, mortars for preparing food and pigments, and artifacts made of gold and materials imported from the Amazon and Pacific regions. The older of the two sites, constructed some 5,000 years ago, was originally thought to have been a settlement when it was excavated in 1985. But Perlès and Nuñez say its structures, with vertical stones and capping slabs, are similar to those at the nearby ceremonial complex and probably served a similar purpose. Many of its mortars and grinding stones were also marked with red pigment, they add. The researchers suggest the sites were built by small groups of people who found enough water and food to survive in the desert, and came together to build the sites, perhaps for religious purposes. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Atacama’s Decaying Mummies.”

2,000-Year-Old Repair Revealed on Wooden Bowl

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that work to conserve a wooden bowl discovered in a well under the floor of a broch on the Orkney Island of South Ronaldsay has revealed a repaired crack. Conservators at AOC Archaeology extracted the bowl from a block of mud that had preserved it, and found it had been carved from an alder tree log. When the bowl cracked, it was repaired with a staple and strips of bronze that serve as wood rivets. Martin Carruthers of the University of Highlands and Islands said wooden bowls and other wooden objects may have been more common in Iron Age Orkney than previously thought, since the islands are mostly free of trees. The repair, however, suggests the wooden bowl was a valued object. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Engraved Stones Unearthed in Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced the discovery of several inscribed fragments of stone in the Matariya neighborhood of Cairo, which was once part of the ancient city of Heliopolis. Most of the ancient structures in Heliopolis were dismantled and reused to build the city of Cairo during the medieval period. Egyptologist Dietrich Raue of the University of Lepipzig said one of the inscriptions dating to the Later Period, between 664 and 332 B.C., mentions that the deity Atum was responsible for the flooding of the Nile River. The oldest of the inscriptions dates back some 4,000 years. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Let Them Eat Soup.”

Wednesday, November 7

17th-Century Palisade Uncovered in Quebec City

QUEBEC CITY, CANADA—According to CBC News, renovations of a building on Sainte-Ursule Street in Quebec City have revealed wooden fortifications thought to have been designed by French military engineer Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours and constructed in 1693 to protect the colony of New France after the Battle of Quebec in 1690. The remains of the stockade, preserved in clay and water, stretch about 65 feet in length. Archaeologist Jean-Yves Pintal said the structure, built to withstand heavy artillery and cannon balls, at one time stood nearly 13 feet tall, and was anchored in a trench filled with sand. In 1745, under a growing threat of British invasion, the wooden palisade was replaced with stone walls. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Off the Grid: Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal.”

Possibly Embalmed Heads Unearthed in France

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE—Live Science reports that scientists led by archaeologist Réjane Roure of Paul Valéry University examined thousands of Iron Age skull fragments recovered from the fortified Celtic site of Le Cailar, which is located on a lagoon of the Rhône River. The researchers estimate the fragments, which date to the third century B.C., represented about 50 broken-up skulls. Weapons were found alongside the bones. Chemical analysis of 11 of the skulls detected conifer resin in six of them, suggesting the heads had been embalmed. Roure and his team think the weapons and embalmed heads may have been put on display in a large, open space near the settlement gate, where they would have been seen by visiting Mediterranean traders. Ancient Greek and Roman sources claimed that Celts living in Gaul decapitated their enemies after battle and hung the heads around their horses’ necks as trophies. Iron Age sculptures depicting the practice have been found in southern France. Roure said sources also indicate the Celts displayed the heads in front of their homes “to increase their status and power, and to frighten their enemies.” For more, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt.”

Rock Art in Indonesia Dated to 40,000 Years Ago

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The Guardian, images of animals discovered in Indonesian Borneo’s Lubang Jeriji Saléh Cave could be at least 40,000 years old, based upon uranium series analysis of calcite on the limestone cave walls. The dates suggest the images are some 4,500 years older than cave art depicting animals found on the nearby island of Sulawesi. The three animals, drawn with reddish-orange ochre, are thought to be Bornean banteng, a type of wild cattle that still lives on the island. Hand stencils were created above and between the images of the animals. To read about the discovery of cave art on Sulawesi, go to “On the Origins of Art.”