Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, December 13

Ireland’s Genetic Map May Reflect Historic Events

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of Irish, British, and American researchers identified ten genetic clusters in the modern Irish population that accord roughly with ancient boundaries. The 194 Irish individuals in the sample each had ties to specific regions dating back four generations. And although the differences between the groups were “really subtle,” the clusters seemed to reflect either the borders of Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht—the four Irish provinces—or the land's historical kingdoms. Geographical divisions created by mountains may also have played a role. “The likelihood is that it’s a combination of these things—a little bit of geography combined with wars or rivalry generates kinship in each distinct area,” said Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The tests also detected Norwegian-like ancestry in some of the samples, which could reflect the presence of Vikings on the island. Cavalleri noted, however, that if the Vikings carried a large number of Irish individuals back to Norway, it could have reduced the genetic differences between the two groups. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”  

Blunt-Force Trauma Studied in Neolithic Skulls

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that Meaghan Dyer of the University of Edinburgh investigated a possible cause of injuries found on Neolithic skulls unearthed in western and central Europe. Sometimes the head wounds showed signs of healing, while in other instances they had been fatal. A replica wooden club, based upon one discovered in waterlogged soil on the banks of the Thames River in London and radiocarbon dated to around 3500 B.C., was crafted for the experiment. Dyer described the weapon as a “very badly made cricket bat” with a heavy tip. The club was then swung at synthetic skull models by a 30-year-old man in good health, who was instructed to fight as if he were in battle. The fractures he inflicted upon the skull models resemble those seen on the Neolithic remains. One in particular closely matched an injury found on a skull unearthed at a massacre site in Austria dated to 5200 B.C. Dyer concluded the beater “very clearly is lethal.” The study could lead to the re-evaluation of some ancient injuries that had been attributed to falls and accidents. For more, go to 10,000-Year-Old Turf War.

Archaeological Sites in Afghanistan Found With Satellite Imagery

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers are using images taken by commercial and United States government satellites and military drones to look for archaeological sites in areas of Afghanistan that are too dangerous for fieldwork. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership has tripled the number of recorded archaeological features in Afghanistan to more than 4,500. Among the discoveries, the team members have identified 119 caravanserais dating to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. These vast mudbrick buildings, which each had room to shelter hundreds of travelers and thousands of camels, lined routes linking Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Empire, located in what is now Iran, and the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. It had been thought that land travel declined after the Portuguese developed trade routes across the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. “But this shows a huge infrastructure investment of the Safavids a century later,” said Kathryn Franklin of the University of Chicago. To read about another recent discovery made using aerial and satellite imagery, go to “Hot Property.”

Tuesday, December 12

Maori Obsidian Use Explored

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—The New Zealand Herald reports that Caleb Gemmell of the University of Auckland used data on obsidian artifacts unearthed at pre–European contact Maori sites on the North Island to explore possible ways the Maori traveled throughout New Zealand. Previous testing had determined where the material originated. The study suggests that distinct communities of Maori were obtaining obsidian from different sources, even though they may have been geographically close to each other. “This suggests that simple economic explanations for obtaining obsidian based on the distance of an archaeological site to an obsidian source were not valid, and more interesting social factors were coming into play,” Gemmell said. For more, go to “Obsidian and Empire.”

Medieval Grave Excavated in Southern Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers led by Maya Martinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology found an arrow in the chest area of a skeleton dating to the eleventh or twelfth century A.D. at the site of the Antiquity Odeon, which was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for theatrical performances. The site was used as a cemetery during the medieval period, when the city of Plovdiv changed hands between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire several times. Archaeologists do not know if the arrow killed the person in the grave, or if it was placed there as a funeral gift for a warrior. Scientists from Plovdiv Medical University will try to help answer that question. The researchers will also try to determine the person’s age, gender, and health status at the time of death. The excavation is being conducted prior to the conservation and renovation of the city’s archaeological park. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Ritual Vessels Discovered in 3,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, a 3,100-year-old tomb in a necropolis in northwest China has yielded a collection of heavily decorated bronze ceremonial vessels. Researchers led by Zhankui Wang of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology think the tomb’s occupant may have been a high-ranking chief or chief’s spouse. The vessels may have been spoils of war, since at the time of the burial, the Zhou people were at war with a rival dynasty. The vessels are thought to have been used to serve food during ceremonies. Among the containers are two wine vessels shaped like deer and a four-handled bronze tureen covered with 192 spikes, engravings of dragons and birds, and images of bovine heads. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

Monday, December 11

Windmill Doodle Found on Walls of Newton’s English Manor

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that conservator Chris Pickup of Nottingham Trent University discovered a doodle on the wall of Woolsthorpe Manor, Sir Isaac Newton’s childhood home. Pickup examined stone walls in the manor with a photographic technique called reflectance transformation imaging, which captured the faded outlines of an image of a windmill. As a boy, Newton may have drawn the windmill after observing one that had been built near the manor, Pickup says. Newton was born at the manor in 1642, and returned there from the University of Cambridge in 1665 during an outbreak of plague. He is known to have sketched and kept notes on the walls of his rooms as he experimented with splitting white light with prisms, and while developing the laws of motion and theory of universal gravitation. His friend William Stukeley wrote that Newton’s home was “full of drawings, which he [Newton] had made with charcoal. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles & triangles.” To read about excavations at the home of the English scientist Edward Jenner, the inventor of the smallpox vaccine, go to "The Scientist's Garden."

Early Nineteenth-Century Pub Uncovered in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Traces of one of Australia’s first pubs have been uncovered in Parramatta, now a suburb west of Sydney, by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Ted Higginbotham. According to an ABC News report, the pub, known as the Wheatsheaf Hotel, was built in 1801. The excavation team also found the remains of a wheelwright’s workshop, where carts and wagons were made and fixed, which had been added to an early nineteenth-century convict hut. The hut was demolished for a brick cottage in the 1820s, and the brick cottage was taken down in the 1950s. A well, a baker’s oven, dinner plates, toys, and bottles were also recovered. “The baker’s oven, the wheelwright’s workshop, the later brick cottage could all be matched with the known historical occupants of the site,” Higginbotham explained. The archaeological site has been preserved within a new apartment complex. For more on the archaeology of Australia's colonial period, go to “Final Resting Place of an Outlaw.”

12,000-Year-Old Fish Hooks Unearthed in Indonesia

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The International Business Times, five fishhooks made of sea snail shell have been found in a 12,000-year-old burial on Indonesia’s Alor Island. The hooks—one in the shape of a “J,” and four crescent-shaped—had been placed around the chin and jaw of the deceased, who is thought to have been a woman. Sue O’Connor of the Australian National University explained that the hooks are the oldest known to have been found in a burial, and must have been deemed to be essential for survival in the afterlife. She also notes it had been previously thought that most fishing on the islands at the time had been carried out by men. Older fishhooks have been elsewhere in the world, but they were not associated with burial rites. To read about a pair of 23,000-year-old fishhooks found in Japan, go to “Japan's Early Anglers.”

Two New Kingdom Tombs Opened in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two tombs dating to the New Kingdom period have been opened in the Draa Abul-Naglaa necropolis. The tombs were discovered in the 1990s by German archaeologist Frederica Kampp. One of the tombs contained fragments of wooden masks, including one that had been part of a coffin, and one that had been gilded. Four wooden chair legs, and the lower part of a coffin decorated with a scene of the goddess Isis were also found. The second tomb contained a mummy. It may have belonged to Djehuty Mes, whose name is inscribed at the entrance to a long hall, where the cartouche of King Thutmose I is inscribed on the ceiling. The names of a scribe, Maati, and his wife, Mehi, were also found on half of the 100 funerary cones in the tomb. A scene of a seated man offering food to four oxen, and five people making funerary furniture, adorns a pillar in the tomb, which also contained painted wooden masks, more than 400 statues made of clay, wood, and faience, and a small box shaped like a coffin that may have been used to store an Ushabti figurine. To read more about archaeology in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”