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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, June 17

Ireland Recovers Artifacts From Exposed Spanish Armada Ship

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Recent stormy weather off the coast of Ireland has exposed a ship from the Spanish Armada that sank near Sligo while attempting to invade England in 1588. Some ship timbers had washed ashore, so divers from Ireland’s Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s Underwater Archaeology Unit conducted surveys and have begun to recover artifacts, including a cannon, to be conserved by the National Museum of Ireland. “We have uncovered a wealth of fascinating and highly significant material, which is more than 425 years old. The National Monuments Service believes that all of the material has come from La Juliana, one of the three Armada ships wrecked off this coastline in 1588. On current evidence, the other two wreck sites remain buried beneath a protective layer of sand, but the wreck of La Juliana is now partly exposed on the seabed along with some of its guns and other wreck material,” Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, told UTV Ireland. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Fire Damages Artifacts From Israel’s Tel Kishon

MOUNT TABOR, GALILEE—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that arsonists had destroyed two storerooms filled with artifacts from the salvage excavation at Tel Kishon in northern Israel. Among the artifacts were Bronze Age pottery and weapons from the late fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. Tel Kishon had been excavated ahead of road construction. “It’s significant and serious damage to the study of historical objects [belonging to] everyone,” archaeologist Amir Golani told The Times of Israel. The police are investigating the incident. To read about a recent discovery in Israel, go to "Egyptian Artifacts Found in Southern Israel."

Team Reconstructs Face of Tehran’s 7,000-Year-Old Woman

TEHRAN, IRAN—Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his team have created a 3-D reconstruction of the 7,000-year-old remains of a woman unearthed in Tehran. “The model was developed drawing upon the supine position of the skeleton to represent its true position when interred; to reconstruct the face we added a digital version of missing parts mounted on the 3-D model; the prepared model was pinpointed in 11 points on the face, on eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, lips, and chin, and then the digital texturing filled these pinpoints to give us a clear image of the face,” he told Mehr News Agency. The team based the woman’s hair upon images from pottery from Cheshmeh Ali, a late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village in northern Iran. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between." 

Air Pollution Detected in 400,000-Year-Old Dental Plaque

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Potential respiratory irritants have been found in the dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth from Israel’s Qesem Cave. The irritants, including traces of charcoal, are thought to have come from smoke inhaled from cooking fires in the cave. “Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque. However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well,” Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a press release on The hardened plaque also contained traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, particles of starch, and fibers that may have been used for teeth cleaning. “Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed,” added Ran Barkai of TAU. To read about another finding based on the analysis of dental plaque, go to "Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking."

Tuesday, June 16

Tool Use Is “Innate” in Chimpanzees

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Kathelijne Koops of the University of Cambridge and colleagues from Kyoto University tracked wild chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and Congo and recorded their tool use, the surrounding environmental conditions, and social time. They also observed the young apes when manipulating objects, and whether or not those objects were deployed as tools. The researchers found that bonobos had similar access to as many tools and the opportunities to use them as the chimpanzees, but the bonobos rarely used tools, and never used them to forage for food. Immature chimpanzees were also observed playing with objects more frequently, and with more objects. “Chimpanzees are object-oriented, in a way that bonobos are not,” Koops said in a press release. “Given the close evolutionary relationship between these two species and humans, insights into the tool use difference between chimpanzees and bonobos can help us identify the conditions that drove the evolution of human technology. Our findings suggest that an innate predisposition, or intrinsic motivation, to manipulate objects was likely also selected for in the hominin lineage and played a key role in the evolution of technology in our own lineage,” she explained. For more, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."

Palenque Tomb Was “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Guillermo Bernal of the National Autonomous University of Mexico has translated hieroglyphs on the tomb of the Maya king K’inich Janaab’ Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque as “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears.” Bernal’s study of the jaguar, an animal sacred to the Maya, connected a hieroglyph that looks like a jaguar molar and has been interpreted to mean “edge,” with an inscription in the tomb. “This is a name linked with war and an aspect which was not previously known as the hieroglyphic (could not be) deciphered until now,” Bernal said in a press conference reported by NBC News. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Excavation Begins at England’s Marden Henge

READING, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologists from the University of Reading has just begun an excavation of a Neolithic building at Marden Henge in the Vale of Pewsey. Constructed in 2400 B.C., the earthworks is the largest henge in England, yet very little is known about it. The people who used the building may have even participated in the construction of Stonehenge. “Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out,” archaeologist Jim Leary said in a press release. The Vale of Pewsey was also inhabited during the Roman and medieval periods. “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there—a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved—from prehistory to history,” he said. To read more about recent discoveries in the area, go to "Under Stonehenge."

3,000-Year-Old Canaanite Name Found Inscribed on Jar

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The name Eshba’al Ben Bada’, written in Canaanite script, has been found on a 3,000-year-old jar from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafain in the Valley of Elah by a team led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country. Eshba’al Ben Shaul, who ruled over Israel at the same time as David, is known from the Bible. Eshba’al was murdered by assassins and decapitated and his head was brought to David in Hebron (II Samuel, Chapters 3-4),” the researchers said in a press release. They also note that the name Eshba’al appears in the Bible and in the archaeological record only during the first half of the tenth century B.C., and was probably a common name during this period. However, “the name Beda’ is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition,” they add. The name on the jar suggests that Eshba’al Ben Bada’ owned an agricultural estate and that its produce was packed and shipped in jars inscribed with his name. To read more about this period, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."

Monday, June 15

Bulgarian Customs Officers Recover Ancient Silver Coins

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Eighty-two silver coins, some bearing an image of the head of King Philip II of Macedon, were recovered by Bulgaria’s customs agency at Sofia International Airport. The coins were hidden in three routers in a package headed for the United States. “Each of the coins is a cultural artifact as per [Bulgaria’s] Cultural Heritage Act. In addition to their extremely high financial and collectors’ worth, the coins are also priceless from a scientific point of view because they are completely unknown for the historical science,” read a statement from the Customs Agency in Sofia, reported in Archaeology in Bulgaria. Customs officers are continuing to investigate the case. They have not released any information about where the coins may have been unearthed. To read more about ancient coins, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."

New Evolutionary Theory Turns Disability Into Advantage

YORK, ENGLAND—The need to socialize, and the ability to experiment and learn, may have helped early humans to survive genetic bottlenecks, when the pool of potential mates was small or even crossed species boundaries. The father and daughter research team of Isabell Winder of the University of York and Nick Winder of Newcastle University speculates in their model of hominins as “Vulnerable Apes” that selection pressure would favor those who were able to cope with the challenges of hereditary disabilities such as weak jaws, hairless bodies, short, weak arms, and straight feet that might have emerged during times when the population dwindled. “In situations where the probability of producing disabled offspring was high, the ‘fittest’ individuals would be those that could help their offspring co-exist with this vulnerability. Those that were a little smarter, more flexible, and more compassionate would have been at an advantage,” Nick Winder said in a press release. To read more, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Well-Preserved Graffiti in Aphrodisias Is 1,500 Years Old

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Many graffiti in the Greek-speaking ancient city of Aphrodisias, named for the goddess Aphrodite, depict battling gladiators, according to Angelos Chaniotis of the Institute for Advanced Study. “And this abundance of images leaves little doubt about the great popularity of the most brutal contribution of the Romans to the culture of the Greek east,” Chaniotis said in a lecture given at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and reported in Live Science. The images, most of which date to between A.D. 350 and 500, may have been scratched into the rock by spectators who had seen gladiator battles in the arena. There are also sexual images, pictures that show chariot races, and religious graffiti, including Christian crosses, the double ax of Carian Zeus, and a depiction of a Jewish Hanukkah menorah. “This may be one of the earliest representations of a Hanukkah menorah that we know from ancient times,” he said. The graffiti declined around the time that Justinian became emperor of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 527. Justinian restricted or banned polytheistic and Jewish practices, and renamed Aphrodite’s city Stauropolis. For more, go to "The Gladiator Diet."

Stone Tools Reflect Social Networks in Transition

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Liv Nilsson Stutz and Jonas Aaron Stutz of Emory University suggest that the variety of stone tools from Mughr el-Hamamah, a cave overlooking the Jordan Valley, supports the idea that between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago, people were organizing themselves into more complex social groups. “These toolmakers appear to have achieved a division of labor that may have been part of an emerging pattern of more organized social structures,” Arron Stutz said in a press release. The cave sits midway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, and would have been in the path of migrating modern humans and Neanderthals. Prior to the Upper Paleolithic, tools in the Near East looked similar to each other and served many uses. Toolmakers at Mughr el-Hamamah, however, efficiently produced large quantities of different types of tools using different techniques. “They were investing in the kinds of activities that require maintaining relationships and group planning. They were gearing up for a clearly defined division of labor, including firewood gathering, plant gathering, hunting, and food foraging,” Stutz said. To read more about diverse Paleolithic stone tools, go to "Neanderthal Tool Time."