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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 18

Water Tank Excavated at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Recent excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall, have uncovered a free-standing water tank, animal bones, pens, hairpins, barrels, and a stone engraved with a hare and a hound, perhaps for Diana, the goddess of hunting. “The excavators concentrated on the water tank feature and the roads surrounding it. They managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill, and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment. These would have carried the large flag stones which were to eventually cover the feature entirely,” director of excavations Andrew Birley told Culture 24. Coins, animal bone, and pottery in the fill will help the researchers determine when the backfilling took place. The tank was encased with an outer wall within a temple or shrine. “The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter. Instead, they could have obtained their water from the small header tank in front of the building and been restricted to looking into the temple to see a raised platform at the back, perhaps with the effigy of the god or goddess reflected in the water below,” Birley said. To read more about life at Vindolanda, see "Artifact: Latin Party Invitation."

Evidence of Beheading Detected on Wata Wata Skulls

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Forbes, osteological analysis of three skulls dating between A.D. 200 and 800 from the site of Wata Wata in Bolivia suggests that the one man and two women experienced extreme violence at or near the time of death. The victims were incapacitated, but may have still been alive at the time of the torture. Sara Becker, now of the University of California at Riverside, and Sonia Alconini of the University of Texas at San Antonio wrote in the journal Latin American Antiquity that the marks on the skull of the first woman show that she had been scalped and beheaded. Cut marks on her upper cheekbones, around her eyes indicate that her eyes may have been gouged out. The man had suffered a broken nose that had healed before his death, but he also had a large, unhealed skull fracture and there are cut marks around his eye orbit. The second woman had also experienced a blow to the head. Cut marks indicate that her head was defleshed, and her lower jaw and eyes were removed. “The physical extraction of the eyes of the Wata Wata heads may be a symbol of blindness and blinding the power of these individuals,” they said. Becker and Alconini think the three may have been decapitated, dismembered, and buried by a new regime during a political transition. For more on ancient political machinations in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Ancient Egyptian Temple Found in Sandstone Quarry

ASWAN, EGYPT—A team of archaeologists led by Maria Nilsson of Sweden’s Lund University has unearthed rock inscriptions and cartouches for Amenhotep III and Ramses II at a 3,300-year-old temple site in the Gebel El Silsila quarry. Beads dating to the 18th Dynasty, colored plaster, faience, pottery, and a blue-colored scarab were recovered from the temple area. The temple had four visible layers, column bases, and inner and outer walls. The oldest phase of the temple had been built from limestone and “may signify the official changeover from limestone construction to sandstone,” Nilsson told The Cairo Post. For more on Egyptian temples, see "The Cult of Amun."

Teeth Marks Show Carnivores Attacked Neanderthals

TARRAGONA, SPAIN—Edgard Camaró, Carlos Lorenzo, and Florent Rivals of the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social (IPHES) examined the bones of people who were recently killed by large carnivores such as lions, tigers, bears, and leopards, and compared the injuries they found with the injuries found on Neanderthal fossils. The “same pattern is observed and therefore we infer that Neanderthals were also attacked by large carnivores,” Camaró said in a press release. “This remarks the importance that predation has on human evolution, and the strong pressure that existed between Neanderthals and large carnivores during prehistory,” he added. The research has also identified the particular marks made by various carnivores, which will benefit forensic medicine. “The use of forensic medicine to explain the past provides useful information and provides new approaches between sciences and transfer of knowledge,” he said. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Friday, May 15

Hunter-Gatherer Family Groups

LONDON, ENGLAND—Researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project at University College London lived among populations of hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines to investigate why these small communities are made up of large numbers of individuals with no kinship ties to each other. Computer simulations show that camp relatedness is low when men and women share the influence over where the family lives, and alternate between moving to camps where husbands have close kin and camps where wives have close kin. “While previous researchers have noted the low relatedness of hunter-gatherer bands, our work offers an explanation as to why this pattern emerges. It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin. Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no one ends up living with many kin at all,” lead researcher Mark Dyble said in a press release. Such living arrangements may have helped high cognition, cumulative culture, and hyper-cooperation to evolve in human ancestors. To read about hunter-gatherers in Chile's Atacama Desert, see "The Desert and the Dead."

European Artifacts Unearthed Outside Fort Edmonton

EDMONTON, CANADA—Artifacts dating to 1810 have been discovered on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, across from the location of Fort Edmonton. This is the first time that artifacts from this time period, including a ring, glass beads, and other European decorative items, have been found outside the original fort. “Once you start to have things associated with the fort outside its walls, then you start to see a community establishing itself in an area,” archaeologist Ryan Eldridge of Turtle Island Cultural Resource Management told CBC Canada. These residents on the other side of the river may have been Métis people, who were often born of First Nations women and European men. “People would have been employed as hunters to supply the fort, carpenters, cooks, tailors. All of that support structure that you needed to keep the facility operating,” Eldridge explained. To read about historical archaeology in Canada, see "Saga of the Northwest Passage."

Japan’s Oldest Basil Identified

NARA, JAPAN—A tiny amount of pollen from basil plants has been detected at the Makimuku ruins, thought to be the palace of Himiko, the shaman queen of the Yamataikoku kingdom. The pale-colored pollen is more than 1,500 years old and originated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, according to archaeologist Masaaki Kanehara and environmental archaeologist Masako Kanehara of the Nara University of Education. “Basil of Southeast Asian origin could have been brought here as dried medicinal herbs through exchanges with the Chinese,” Masako Kanehara told The Asahi Shimbun. The pollen was recovered from a ditch near a huge burial mound during excavations in 1991. The husband and wife team identified the species of basil by growing about ten different kinds and comparing pollen from the samples to the ancient specimen. Since only a small amount of the pollen was found, basil was probably not cultivated in the area. To read about another pollen study, see "America's Chinatowns: Food."

Thursday, May 14

Canal Turbine Revealed in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—Nova News Now reports that a section of the nineteenth-century Shubenacadie Canal has been uncovered at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Pleasant Street in Dartmouth. This section of the canal, which linked Halifax to northern Nova Scotia by connecting a series of lakes, carried boats via a pulley powered by a turbine installed in 1862. “It’s very rare,” Terry Gallagher, manager of facility design and construction for the city, said of the surviving piece of machinery. The canal was widely used during the gold rushes of the 1860s but eventually closed in 1871 after a fixed railroad bridge that blocked steamships was built over the canal. The site will be reconstructed and interpreted as part of the Dartmouth Canal Greenway Project. To read more about canals in the Archive, see "The Canal Age."

Tall Brick Wall Unearthed at Iran’s Burnt City

SISTAN-BALUCHESTAN PROVINCE, IRAN—Archaeologists working in southeastern Iran at the Bronze-Age site known as the Burnt City have uncovered a brick wall standing more than five feet tall. The wall, located at Taleb Khan Mound, dates to the fourth phase of the city, between 2300 and 2100 B.C. Archaeologists also recently recovered intact dishes, bricks bearing fingerprints, and the leg of a small cow figurine made of clay. “This is the most naturalistic artwork from 4,500 years ago. The hoof cleft and the back of the leg have been realistically created and present a unique simulation,” team leader Hossein-Ali Kavosh told Press TV. The 5,200-year-old city was burned three times, but not rebuilt after the last fire. To read in-depth about the Burnt City, see "The World in Between."

Looking for Iceland’s Lost Monasteries

REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND—Because of the low population density in Iceland during the Middle Ages, it had been assumed that monks shared parish churches with the people. Last week, British and Icelandic scientists looking for the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur in South Iceland found them away from the parish church. Now they are looking for the cloisters at Möðruvellir and MunkaÞverá in North Iceland, and have ruled out possible sites near those parish churches. “I think it is highly unlikely that, when cloisters were established, that churches nearby were used. Because there is so much difference between monastic chapels and parish churches, or home churches. They were the churches of the people, the flock, and not of the cloisters,” archaeologist Steinunn J. Kristjánsdóttir told Iceland Review. It appears that the monks preferred to build their own chapels. To read in-depth about archaeology in Iceland, see "Surviving the Little Ice Age."

Leprosy Confirmed in Great Chesterford Skeleton

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—A new study of a 1,500-year-old skeleton from eastern England confirms that the man, who was probably in his early 20s at the time of death, suffered from leprosy. Changes consistent with the disease can been seen in the narrowing of his toe bones and in damage to his joints. “Not all cases of leprosy can be identified by changes to the skeleton. Some may leave no trace on the bones; other will affect bones in a similar way to other diseases. In these cases the only way to be sure is to use DNA fingerprinting, or other chemical markers characteristic of the leprosy bacillus,” Sonia Zakrzewski of the University of Southampton said in a press release. In this case, the bacterial DNA was in good condition, and the team of scientists, which also included researchers from the University of Leiden and the universities of Birmingham, Surrey, and Swansea, was able to identify the strain of leprosy. It has previously been found in burials from medieval Scandinavia and southern Britain, and is thought to date to the fifth or sixth century A.D. Analysis of isotopes from the man’s teeth show that he probably grew up in northern Europe, so he may have brought the Scandinavian strain of leprosy with him when he came to Britain. “We plan to carry out similar studies on skeletons from different locations to build up a more complete picture of the origins and early spread of this disease,” said team leader Sarah Inskip of the University of Leiden. To read more about the study of diseases in ancient remains, see "Heart Attack of the Mummies."