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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, June 04

New Study Blames Hunters for Megafauna Extinctions

AARHUS, DENMARK—A new study concludes that the extinctions of large mammals such as woolly mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons, and cave lions around the world over the past 130,000 years correlates more closely with the arrival of humans than with changes in climate. “The evidence really strongly suggests that people were the defining factor,” Chris Sandom, who was a researcher at Aarhus University at the time of the study, told Live Science. In sub-Saharan Africa, where large animals evolved alongside humans as they learned to make and use tools, there was the least extinction. When humans moved to Asia and Europe, they encountered animals unaccustomed to human hunters, and extinction rates rose. Climate may have interacted with human arrival in Eurasia, with temperatures determining where people migrated. Sandom found that extinctions were most extreme in Australia and the Americas, where humans arrived comparatively late. The new predators may have disrupted the animals’ ability to adapt to new habitats. “You’ve got this very advanced hunter arriving in the system,” he explained. 

3,000-Year-Old Remains of an Infant Found in Ireland

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A baby’s intact skeleton has been discovered at Tlachtga, on the Hill of Ward in Athboy. The child is thought to have been between seven and ten months old at the time of death. “We may never know what caused the death of the child. The skeleton probably dates back 3,000 years and was found on the bedrock at the base of a 1.5 meter ditch,” Stephen Davis of University College Dublin told The Meath Chronicle. The site is thought to have been a key ritual site where Samhain was first celebrated with the lighting of the winter fires. Davis doesn’t think the baby’s death was sacrificial, however. 

Bronze Age Settlement Excavated in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—A site that was in use from the early Bronze Age (2300 B.C.) through the 1800s is being excavated ahead of the construction of a new park and ride facility. Archaeologists have found 4,000-year-old pottery, small pits and post-holes from roundhouses, and partial quern stones, used for grinding grains. Residues from working metal have also been uncovered. “The site appears to have been significant over a 2,000 year period with Iron Age occupation and evidence of smithing and domestic life,” archaeologist Steve Thomson told Culture 24.  

Unusual Foundation Unearthed at Montpelier

ORANGE, VIRGINIA—Archaeological work at Montpelier, James Madison’s home, has uncovered an unusually shaped foundation near the main house. The eighteenth-century brick building is thought to have been taken down in 1808, when Madison added two wings to the mansion. “It’s totally different than anything else. It’s not square, and we have no idea what it is. It’s going to be cool, that’s all we know,” Matt Reeves, director of Montpelier’s archaeology department, told C-Ville. The house had eight owners after the former president and his wife Dolley died, and it was only in 2008 that the house was restored to what it would have looked like when the couple had lived there. Now the focus is on finding and returning their possessions to the house, and rebuilding the quarters where some 300 enslaved people lived. 

Tuesday, June 03

Arab Dhow Unearthed in Thailand

SAMUT SAKHON, THAILAND—An Arab dhow dating to the eighth or ninth centuries has been discovered in the mud beneath a shrimp farm that may have once been a canal or a shoreline in a mangrove forest. The parts of the wooden ship had been stitched together with rope. It had been carrying earthenware and stoneware from China and Europe, coconuts, toddy palms, betel nuts, rice, a horn, fish, animals, and seeds when it sank. “Some of the earthenware is extraordinary and had never been found anywhere in Thailand. They are oval-shaped containers with a pointed bottom. Comparison studies found they are similar to amphoras usually found in Europe, the Middle East, and India,” Preeyanuch Chumphrom, an archaeologist for the Regional Office of the Fine Arts Department in Ratchaburi, told The Bangkok Post. The team is researching the best way to preserve the vessel. 

Neolithic Homes Recreated at Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Volunteers have built five structures at Stonehenge, based upon the 4,500-year-old archaeological remains of Neolithic homes unearthed at nearby Durrington Walls, with 20 tons of chalk, 5,000 rods of hazel and three tons of wheat straw. The one-room dwellings contain replica axes, pottery, and other items to reflect what is known about living conditions at about the same time as the placement of the large sarsen stones at the site. “We know for example, that each house contained a hearth and that puddled chalk was used to make the floor. And far from being dark and primitive, the homes were incredibly bright and airy spaces with white chalk walls and floors designed to reflect sunlight and capture heat from the fire,” a spokesperson from English Heritage told BBC News

Mesolithic Site in Ireland Destroyed by Construction

DUNDONALD, NORTHERN IRELAND—A rare archaeological site at Ballymaglaff that had yielded more than 2,000 pieces of struck flint from the Mesolithic period has been badly damaged by the construction of a road into a new housing development. The site was discovered in 1984 by local historian Peter Carr, and had been listed on the Department of the Environment’s Sites and Monuments record. “Over 20 of the period’s rare and highly distinctive microliths have been discovered here. Very few sites can claim over ten,” Carr told The Belfast Telegraph. Much of the archaeological layer was left in spoil heaps near the new road, but they have since been redistributed. Excavation of the site could have produced evidence of dwellings and fireplaces. “If the department gets its act together, material could still be salvaged from what remains of the heaps,” Carr said.

Monday, June 02

World’s Oldest Pants Unearthed in China

BERLIN, GERMANY—Science News reports that the remains of two men wearing trousers have been recovered from the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin by Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute. They say that the trousers are the oldest known examples of their kind. Dated to between 3,300 and 3,000 years ago, the pants have straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch. They were sewn together from three pieces of wool cloth that had been woven on a loom to the correct size, and fashioned with side slits, strings at the waist for fastening, and designs on the legs. One of the men had been buried with a decorated leather bridle and a wooden bit, a battle ax, and a leather bracer for arm protection. The other man was accompanied by a whip, a decorated horse tail, a bow sheath, and a bow. “This new paper [in Quaternary International] definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,” commented Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Prehistoric Pottery Examined in Southern Florida

WESTERN BOYNTON BEACH, FLORIDA—Graduate student Rebecca Stitt of Florida Atlantic University is investigating the pottery of the Belle Glade culture from a trash mound in Boynton Beach. “Work needed to be done at the Boynton mounds because nothing has been done there for a while. I wanted to look at ceramics specifically, to see which ceramics came from which times,” she told CBS 12 News. The people living in the Belle Glade community at Boynton Beach built their homes above the saw grass and swamps of Lake Okeechobee so that they could see others approaching. They also built canals for transportation and trade. “They were an interior culture and had no direct contact with Europeans in the early years,” added Debi Murray of the Palm Beach Historical Society.  

Settler’s Cabin Revealed by Arizona Wildfire

SEDONA, ARIZONA—The ruins of a log cabin estimated to be at least 100 years old were discovered near Barney Spring, on land cleared by the 21,000-acre Slide fire in Arizona. “The finding itself was very subtle. It’s a collapsed, degraded cabin related to the earliest Euro-American settlement of this rugged, remote piece of Arizona,” Jeremy Haines, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist, told The Los Angeles Times. The cabin, which was probably destroyed by a wildfire many years ago, may have been built by Jim Barney, who kept cattle near Oak Creek, or it may have belonged to bear hunter Bear Howard, who is known to have had a cabin in front of Oak Creek Canyon. He may have also had this one at the back end. “Imagine you’re on horseback in a remote area 100-plus years ago; with very limited tools, you’re constructing your own living space,” Haines explained.

Satellite Imagery Helps Egypt Battle Looting Problem

  CAIRO, EGYPT—Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham uses satellite imagery to identify what she calls “hot spots” of organized looting activity in Egypt. “It was really hard before this technology to get a full sense of site damage from looting all over the world. It was one thing to see the pits, but it was really hard to systematically count them. The satellite imagery allows us to track extent of damage at site—not only get a sense of numbers, but also track change to a site over time,” she told The Guardian. That information could help Egyptian officials stop the sale of illegal antiquities before they leave the country. And, in March, Egypt’s minister of state for antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim Ali, met with officials from the Obama administration to ask for emergency restrictions on the import of antiquities. “The agreement would make us capable of controlling the situation. Many objects are being sold here in the United States,” he said.