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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 27

17th-Century Toddler May Have Died from Lack of Sunlight

MUNICH, GERMANY—Frontiers Science News reports that a team of researchers led by Andreas Nerlich of the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen examined the mummified remains of a one-year-old child recovered from an unmarked wooden coffin in a crypt in Austria where the Counts of Starhemberg, their wives, and heirs were buried. Radiocarbon dating of the remains indicates that the child died sometime between A.D. 1550 and 1635. Nerlich thinks the child was likely buried after the crypt was renovated around 1600, and could be the remains of Reichard Wilhelm, the firstborn son of a count, who died in 1626. Although the child was overweight, a CT scan showed malformations on his ribs characteristic of malnutrition and severe rickets or scurvy. He did not have the bowing of the bones typical of rickets, but this could be because he may not have walked or crawled. The tests also revealed inflammation of the lungs characteristic of pneumonia. “The combination of obesity along with a severe vitamin deficiency can only be explained by generally ‘good’ nutritional status along with an almost complete lack of sunlight exposure,” Nerlich concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Frontiers in Medicine. To read about the world's earliest known identical twins whose remains were uncovered in Austria, go to "A Twin Burial."

Late-Roman Ruins and Pottery Uncovered at Antioch

HATAY, TURKEY—According to an Anadolu Agency report, excavations in southern Turkey at the ancient city of Antioch have uncovered rooms and offering vessels dated to the Late Roman period. Ayse Ersoy of the Hatay Archaeology Museum said the offering vessels may have been brought to the site by early Christian pilgrims who came to visit the Church of St. Peter, which was carved into the side of Mount Starius in the fourth or fifth century A.D., to fill them with holy water. To read about a fifth-century curse tablet unearthed in Antioch, go to "Hold Your Horses."

Ship’s Cargo Offers Clues to Medieval Trade Routes

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by the University of Gothenburg, the Skaftö, a shipwreck discovered near Sweden’s western coastline in 2003, was loaded with quicklime, copper, oak timbers, tar, bricks, and roof tiles when it sank around A.D. 1440. Analysis of these materials conducted by maritime archaeologist Staffan von Arbin and his colleagues suggests that the bricks, timber, and tar came from Poland; the copper came from mines in two areas in what is now Slovakia; and the quicklime originated on the Swedish island of Gotland. Medieval sources indicate that copper from the Carpathian Mountains was usually transported via rivers to Gdańsk, Poland, where the Skaftö probably took on cargo. It had not been known that quicklime was exported from Gotland in the fifteenth century, von Arbin added. Once the quicklime was on board, von Arbin and his colleagues think the ship was headed to Bruges, Belgium, when it sank, because much of the copper produced in Central Europe during this period was shipped there for distribution to various Mediterranean ports. Read the original scholarly article about this research in International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. To read about another fifteenth-century shipwreck, go to "Around the World: Sweden."

Wednesday, October 26

Roman Villa Found in Southeastern England

KENT, ENGLAND—Art News reports that archaeologists spotted the outlines of a Roman villa complex where wealthy farmers may have lived in southeast England in Google Earth images. Volunteers then assisted archaeologist Richard Taylor of the Kent Archaeological Society to uncover the foundations of the main villa and the adjacent bathhouse. Parts of the hypocaust system that circulated heat through the walls and floors of the bathhouse also survived. “There are many villas spread across Kent, but the fact that there’s a hypocaust system remaining is rare,” Taylor said. “Operating a hypocaust was expensive, requiring a constant supply of fuels—firewood—and a workforce to operate it.” The archaeologists also unearthed a fourth-century A.D. amphora-shaped belt adornment, a small Romano-British key, two fourth-century coins, pottery, and some wall plaster. To read about a mid-fifth century A.D. mosaic uncovered at a Roman villa in Gloucestershire, go to "After the Fall."

DNA Study Identifies Two Early Populations in Britain

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by University College London, radiocarbon dating and chemical and DNA analysis of samples obtained from remains found in southwestern England’s Gough’s Cave, and Kendrick’s Cave in North Wales, suggest that two distinct populations with their own cultural traditions migrated to Britain as temperatures warmed in northern Europe after the end of the last Ice Age. Researchers from University College London and the Francis Crick Institute said that the woman whose remains were found in Gough’s Cave ate a diet made up of red deer, wild cattle, and horses, and died about 15,000 years ago. She was descended from people who had come from northwestern Europe about 16,000 years ago. The man whose remains were found in Kendrick’s Cave consumed a diet of marine and freshwater foods, and died some 13,500 years ago. His ancestors came to Britain from the Near East some 14,000 years ago. Mateja Hajdinjak of the Francis Crick Institute said the study adds to the emerging picture of Europe’s dynamic Paleolithic population. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature Ecology & Evolution. To read about evidence for a lost Mesolithic world under the North Sea, go to "Letter from Doggerland: Mapping a Vanished Landscape."

Maya Stela Discovered at Uxmal

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Mexico News Daily reports that a stela has been uncovered in a sunken patio at Uxmal, an ancient Maya city founded around A.D. 700 in the eastern Yucatán Peninsula, by a team of researchers led by José Huchim Herrera of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). An image thought to represent death is carved on one side of the monument. It shows a goddess with big eyes, a bare chest, and barbels at the corner of her mouth. She is holding a quetzal bird in her left hand, and wears a pectoral decoration with three rows of pearls, bracelets with pearl details, and a long skirt. An image of a god who may represent life was carved on the opposite side of the stela. He is shown wearing a wide-brimmed feathered headdress featuring an owl’s head, a cape, bracelets, a loincloth, and leg bandages. He holds a cane in his left hand and a bundle in his right. INAH director Diego Prieto explained that such images are commonly found in the southern Yucatán Peninsula. To read about the possible influence of the planet Venus on Uxmal's architecture, go to "The Maya Sense of Time: An Eye on Venus."

Tuesday, October 25

Early Greenlanders Enjoyed a Varied Diet

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Phys.org reports that the Saqqaq people who lived in Greenland as early as 4,500 years ago ate a more varied diet than had been previously thought. An international team of researchers led by Frederik V. Seersholm of the University of Copenhagen identified 42 different creatures when they analyzed some 2,500 bone fragments recovered from middens on the island. The bones include the remains of a now-extinct species of small reindeer and 20 different mammal species; fin, sperm, narwhal, and bowhead whales; nine kinds of fish; and 13 types of birds. Knowing what the Saqqaq ate will shed light on their technology as well, the researchers said. Some of the fish, for example, were small enough that they are likely to have been caught with nets. For more on Greenland's middens, go to "Letter from Greenland: The Ghosts of Kangeq."

Ancient Fish Weir Identified Off Coast of Alaska

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—The News Tribune reports that the one-foot-tall remains of a stone fish weir thought to have been built close to shore 11,100 years ago have been identified under 170 feet of water more than one mile off the coast of southeastern Alaska. The trap consists of five or six semi-circular structures each measuring about six feet wide. These structures are thought to have been maintained seasonally by restacking the rocks and perhaps even wooden stakes to form the walls. During high tide, the traps would have been covered with water, but when the tide receded, some salmon would have been left behind in the weir, where they could be caught with nets or spears. “It further substantiates the great antiquity of Native people in Southeast Alaska,” said Rosita Worl of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. “It also demonstrates that Native people had acquired knowledge about salmon behavior and migrations, then developed the technology to harvest a significant number of salmon,” she added. To read about excavations of a Yup'ik village in southwestern Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."

Did Fighting the Black Death Change the Immune System?

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Science News reports that a genetic variant that may have helped some medieval Europeans to survive the Black Death could contribute to a slight increase in the odds of developing inflammatory and autoimmune conditions today. Between 1346 and 1350, bubonic plague is estimated to have killed at least 25 million people, or about one-third of Europe’s population. Luis Barreiro of the University of Chicago and his colleagues obtained DNA samples from more than 500 people who died in London or Denmark between 1000 and 1800, and examined immune-related genes and areas of the genes associated with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. The team members identified four locations on the chromosomes where changes may have been driven by exposure to bubonic plague, including an increase in the frequency of the ERAP2 variant. They found that immune cells in people who carry this variant were more effectively able to kill Y. pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plaque, thus increasing the odds of surviving the disease by as much as 40 percent. But the ERAP2 variant has also been associated with a slight increase in the risk of developing Crohn’s disease, which is caused by inflammation of the digestive system. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about the possible origin of the bacterium that caused the Black Death, go to "Around the World: Russia."

Wreckage of 17th-Century Swedish Warship Identified

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—The Guardian reports that a shipwreck discovered in 2021 has been identified as the Applet by researchers from the Vrak Museum of Wrecks. Launched in 1629, the Applet was built by the same shipbuilder who constructed the Vasa, a warship that sank with 64 cannon near Stockholm on its maiden voyage. Maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson said that the wreckage looked similar to Vasa, but its identity as a sister ship was confirmed through measurements and wood samples. The hull of the Applet is preserved up to the lower gundeck, while parts of its sides have fallen off, he added. The ship had been decommissioned by Sweden’s royal navy and scuttled to serve as underwater spike strips to damage enemy vessels. “With Applet, we can add another key piece of the puzzle in the development of Swedish shipbuilding,” Hansson explained. For more on Vasa, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...Mary Rose and Vasa." 

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