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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, October 26

Smuggling Attempt Foiled at Egypt’s Port of Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that officers from the Alexandria Port Customs Office seized three artifacts under Antiquities Protection Law 117 of 1983, which claims for the Egyptian state all movable and immovable objects produced from prehistory through the nineteenth century A.D. and found within Egypt’s borders. The confiscated objects, including a nineteenth-century porcelain lantern, a nineteenth-century pear-shaped porcelain vessel with a round mouth, and a decorated glass vessel dated to the early Islamic era, had been hidden in a container being prepared for export. The items have been handed over to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. To read about an ancient port city that predated the rise of Alexandria, go to "Egypt's Temple Town."

Mummified Remains of Sacrificed Llamas Found in Peru

ALBERTA, CANADA—Live Science reports that Lidio Valdez of the University of Calgary and his colleagues discovered the naturally mummified remains of five young llamas thought to have been sacrificed by the Inca some 500 years ago at Tambo Viejo, an archaeological site on the coast of Peru. The animals wore colorful string necklaces and earrings, and had been decorated with red paint and the feathers of tropical birds attached to wooden sticks. One brown llama and three white ones were found beneath the clay floors of one building, in an area disturbed by looters. A single brown llama was found under the floor of a second building. Valdez said no cut marks have been found on the animals, but their legs had been tied, so they may have been buried alive to honor the gods as part of a huge feast. “The adornments suggest that the offerings were very special,” Valdez said. “Indeed, historical records indicate that brown llamas were sacrificed to the creator Viracocha, while white llamas to the sun, the Inca main deity.” A guinea pig was found with one of the white llamas, he added. Pits holding maize cobs, lima beans, guinea pigs, and a package of ash that may have been used when chewing coca leaf were also found near the three white llamas. To read about mass sacrifices of llamas and children at the site of Pampa la Cruz, go to "Peruvian Mass Sacrifice," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

New Dates Suggest Clovis Culture Lasted Just 300 Years

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—The Clovis people of North America made their distinctive stone tools for a period of just 300 years, according to a statement released by Texas A&M University. Michael Waters and David Carlson of Texas A&M University and Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research radiocarbon dated bone, charcoal, and carbonized plant remains from ten Clovis sites in South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Montana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, and found they ranged in age from 13,050 and 12,750 years old. Waters said that it is not clear why Clovis technology emerged and then disappeared so quickly, but noted that the timing corresponds with the extinction of mammoths and mastodons. The weapons, he explained, may have been used to hunt the last of the megafauna. The new, accurate dates also show that people living in North and South America some 13,000 years ago had created their own adaptations to their environments, Waters added. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on the Clovis culture and peopling of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."

Possible 15th-Century Cemetery Uncovered in Scotland

SHETLAND, SCOTLAND—A possible medieval cemetery has been uncovered at a private residence on Mainland, the largest of the Shetland Islands, according to a report in The Herald. The homeowner was beginning to build a bike shed when he found a human skull under just ten inches of soil. Researchers from Historic Environment Scotland were called to the site, and they proceeded to discover the remains of 26 people ranging in age from one to 60, who appear to have been buried in family groups. Below these burials, archaeologists found traces of four Pictish roundhouses and artifacts dated to the Iron Age. “The archaeologists left with two van loads filled to the roof with ancient artifacts,” said homeowner Kristian Leith. Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust said that archaeologists would like to return to the site to look for additional Pictish artifacts. To read about carvings of a warrior figure on Pictish monoliths unearthed in Scotland, go to "Warrior Stone."

Friday, October 23

More Possible Graves of Oklahoma Race Massacre Victims Found

TULSA, OKLAHOMA—Tulsa World reports that researchers looking for the remains of victims of Tulsa's 1921 Race Massacre have found an unmarked trench holding the poorly preserved remains of ten wooden coffins in Oaklawn Cemetery. The trench was found near a single burial discovered earlier this week, in an area of the cemetery noted in old funeral home records as a burial site for some of the 300 Black people killed by a white mob on May 31 and June 1, 1921. State archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said the single burial differs slightly from the burials in the trench. The bones in the trench, she added, are too fragile to examine in place, and so will remain covered while the research team makes plans to exhume them. “We have a lot of work to do to determine the nature of [this] mass grave and who is buried in it, but what we can say is that we have a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery where we have no record of anyone being buried,” commented city mayor G.T. Bynum. For more, go to "A Sight Which Can Never Be Forgotten: The Tulsa Race Riot."

19th-Century Polish Sword Unearthed in Bulgaria

WARSAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a nineteenth-century sword bearing the remnants of a Polish inscription has been unearthed in northern Bulgaria, near the historic capital of Veliko Tarnovo, which is located on the Yantra River. The inscription, “Vivat Szlachcic Pan I fundator wojska,” translates to “Long live the Noble Lord and founder of the army.” Archaeologist Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw said this phrase was usually followed by the phrase, “Long live the will and the common good.” Polish swords from the period were normally engraved on both sides with inscriptions and patriotic motifs, he added. “The sabre was probably the spoils of an officer of the Tsarist army who participated in the suppression of the January Uprising in 1863 and 1864, who then fitted it with a silver hilt typical for a shashka—a sabre with an open hilt with a split pommel,” Dyczek surmised. This officer might have then lost the weapon in Bulgaria while fighting in the Russo-Turkish War, between 1877 and 1878, he added. To read about a sword and other weapons found in Viking warrior burials in Poland, go to "Viking Knights, Polish Days."

Cache of Medieval Silver Pennies Found in Slovakia

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that a cache of medieval coins was discovered under an uprooted tree in western Slovakia by a tourist who reported the find to the Regional Monuments Board. Archaeologist Matúš Sládok said most of the 147 small, silver coins were Wiener pfennigs minted in Austria, and imitation Wiener pfennings made in Hungary between 1251 and 1330. Sládok thinks the coins may have been wrapped in fabric or leather that has not survived. “Owners hid their movable property, especially finances, in unstable times when they were trying to protect it from enemies and robbers,” he said. The owner may have died or forgotten about the money, he added. To read about a cache of 2,500 silver pennies discovered last year in southwest England, go to "Norman Conquest Coin Hoard," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Homo erectus May Have Invented Barbed Bone Points

FORT COLLINS, COLORADO—According to a Science News report, biological anthropologist Michael Pante of Colorado State University and his colleagues found an 800,000-year-old barbed point among 52 animal bones recovered from East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The unfinished implement, which features three curved barbs and a carved tip, was crafted from a piece of a large animal’s rib. The set of animal bones also included choppers, hammering tools, and hammering platforms. These tools are similar to those found at other sites with Homo erectus fossils, and are therefore thought to have been made by Homo erectus. But because the barbed bone point is unfinished, it is unclear how the hominins might have used it. It had been previously thought that barbed bone points were first made by Homo sapiens some 90,000 years ago, based upon artifacts uncovered in central Africa. The bases of these finished weapons suggest they had been attached to wooden shafts, perhaps to catch fish and hunt larger land animals. For more on the first human species to migrate out of Africa, go to "Homo erectus Stands Alone," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.

Thursday, October 22

East Africa Sediment Core Offers Human Evolution Clues

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a Science News report, a 450-foot-long sediment core from Kenya’s Koora Basin holds one million years of environmental data that could elucidate details of human evolution. Paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution said that chemical and microscopic studies of the layers in the sediment core revealed that some 400,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions reduced the size of lakes and the amount of available water, while the climate fluctuated dramatically. As large animals died out, they were replaced by smaller ones with more diverse diets, he explained. Between 500,000 and 320,000 years ago, hominins living at Kenya’s Olorgesailie site, which is located about 15 miles away from the core-drilling site, shifted from making cutting tools of local stone to the smaller, more carefully made objects made from imported materials that are characteristic of the Mesolithic. Potts and his colleagues suggest this shift in technology and the possible beginning of trade between hominin groups may have been prompted by fluctuating food and water shortages. “A cascade of ancient ecological changes led to alternating periods of resource abundance and scarcity, likely helping to make us the most adaptable [hominin] species that ever existed,” he explained. To read about evidence for stone toolmaking from West Turkana, Kenya, go to "Earliest Stone Tools," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Possible Neanderthal Artifacts Unearthed in Denmark

ROSKILDE, DENMARK—Yahoo! News reports that worked flint and mussel shells thought to have been shaped by Neanderthals some 120,000 years ago have been found in a steep cliff on the Danish island of Ejby Klint by archaeologists from Denmark’s National Museum and Roskilde Museum. It had been previously thought that reindeer hunters first settled Denmark some 14,000 years ago. “I did not think we would find anything at all, but we have actually found some stones that have possible traces of being worked by people, and that in itself is amazing,” said Lasse Sørensen of the National Museum. Between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago, Denmark was about four degrees warmer than it is today, and was home to beavers, steppe bison, fallow deer, wood rhinos, forest elephants, Irish giant deer, and red deer. “The door may have been opened for more excavations to be made for Neanderthals in Denmark,” added Ole Kastholm of Roskilde Museum. To read about a Neanderthal gene variant that may make those who have inherited it more susceptible to pain, go to "Painful Past."

Search for Tulsa Race Massacre Victims Yields Remains

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA—The Associated Press reports that Oklahoma state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck and her colleagues identified an unmarked, intact grave shaft through a geophysical search of an area in Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery noted in old funeral home records as the burial place of victims of the 1921 Race Massacre. “We do have one confirmed individual and the possibility of a second,” Stackelbeck said. The remains, found just three feet underground, will be examined for signs of trauma, returned to their coffin, and reburied, she added. An estimated 300 people were killed and 800 wounded on May 31 and June 1 when a white mob attacked businesses, homes, and churches in the area of Tulsa’s prosperous Black Wall Street. For more, go to "A Sight Which Can Never Be Forgotten: The Tulsa Race Riot."