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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 10

England’s Remarkable Bronze Age Cremation Burial

DEVON, ENGLAND—Three years ago, archaeologists excavated a 4,000-year-old stone box from a mound of peat in order to protect it from erosion on the remote White Horse Hill on Dartmoor. Since then an international team of scientists has been working to conserve the contents of the box, which included cremated human remains, a tin bead and 34 tin studs, a belt made of nettles with a leather fringe, jewelry made of Baltic amber and shale from Whitby, wooden ear studs, and a woven bag. All of the items had been wrapped in a fur that may have come from a now-extinct bear, and placed in a basket. The tin items are the earliest evidence of metal-working in the southwest of England, and the ear studs are the earliest examples of wood turning every found in Britain. “The last Dartmoor burial with grave goods was back in the days of the Victorian gentleman antiquarians. This is the first scientifically excavated burial on the moor, and the most significant ever,” Jane Marchand, chief archaeologist at the Dartmoor National Park Authority, told The Guardian.

Marcavalle Burial Site Excavated in Peru

LIMA, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that the 3,000-year-old remains of three adults, one child, and one adolescent from the Marcavalle culture were unearthed in Cusco at a center for juvenile rehabilitation. The individuals had been buried in two double graves and one single grave. Necklaces, tools made from obsidian and camelid bones, and fragments of ceramics were also found. Further excavations in the area are planned.

Construction in Rio Unearths History of Slave Trade

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL—In preparation for this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, many construction projects are underway in Rio De Janeiro, and they are uncovering evidence of the city’s historic involvement in the Atlantic slave trade—more than 1.8 million enslaved Africans landed in Rio. The sites include Valongo wharf, where early nineteenth-century ships docked and unloaded their human cargo, the ruins of the slave market, and the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos, or the Cemetery of New Blacks, a mass grave for the thousands of people who did not survive. “We’re finding archaeological sites of global importance, and probably far more extensive than what’s been excavated so far, but instead of prioritizing these discoveries our leaders are proceeding with their grotesque remaking of Rio,” Sonia Rabello, a legal scholar and former city councilwoman, told The New York Times.

California Racehorse’s Remains Moved

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA—Archaeologist Thomas Garrison and professor of religion Lynn Swartz Dodd from the University of Southern California and their students exhumed the remains of the legendary racehorse Native Diver, who died in 1967 from colic at the age of eight. He was buried at the Hollywood Park racetrack and given a stone memorial. The track, however, has now closed and will be torn down. Richard Shapiro, grandson of Native Diver’s owners, wanted to move the horse’s remains. “He brought pictures and some of Native Diver’s prizes. He did a little presentation of the horse to the students. It really showed that we’re actually digging up the human past and things people have a connection with,” Garrison explained to The Daily Trojan. Native Diver’s remains will be stored at the Del Mar racetrack until a new burial site is found.

Friday, March 07

Low Water Level at Wanapum Dam Reveals Human Bones

QUINCY, WASHINGTON—When the water level of the reservoir behind the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River had been drawn down 26 feet earlier this week, human bones were exposed along the shoreline. Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison told The Spokesman Review that he thought the bones were “hundreds, if not thousands,” of years old because of the wear pattern on the teeth. The skeletal are being guarded at the site until someone from the Washington’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation can pick them up.

Rare Rock Art Discovered in Wales

BRECON BEACONS, WALES—While walking in the Brecon Beacons, geologist Alan Bowring spotted prehistoric rock art on a 4-foot, 9-inch long stone lying on the ground. The stone, decorated with 12 cup marks joined by connecting lines, may have stood upright during the Bronze Age as a way marker for farming communities. “We might have been able to predict a discovery of this kind considering the large amount of prehistoric ritual sites in the Brecon Beacons but this is the first evidence of prehistoric rock art to be ever recorded [in the Beacons],” commented George Nash of Bristol University to BBC News.

Lizard Bones Found in Middle East Food Waste

PARIS, FRANCE—Zooarchaeologist Hervé Monchot of the Université-Paris Sorbonne identified 145 lizard bones, most likely from the spiny-tailed lizard Uromastyx aegyptia, in a bone dump at the mosque complex at al-Yamâma in the Saudi Arabian desert. This is the first archaeological evidence of this protein source in the Arabian diet, even though the consumption of lizards is mentioned in the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad and in an eleventh-century travel log. “It is necessary to distinguish the Bedouin, who ate and [still] eat lizard when traveling in the desert because it is a source of easy-to-find protein, and urban populations who do not eat lizard,” Monchot told Live Science.

Statue of Princess Iset Unearthed in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Reuters reports that an alabaster statue of Princess Iset has been unearthed in Luxor at the temple of her father, Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Iset’s figure was found between the feet of her father’s colossal, seated statue, and although her name and royal title are inscribed near her feet, her face has eroded. A statue depicting Amenhotep with all of his children is on display at the Egyptian Museum. 

Thursday, March 06

Victorian Tunnels Found in Ireland’s Anglo-Norman Castle

COUNTY ANTRIM, NORTHERN IRELAND—Excavations at Carrickfergus Castle by a team from Queen’s University have revealed a Victorian-era tunnel into the Great Hall of the 800-year-old fortification. Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan has granted the team another month to investigate the areas that had been disturbed by the Victorian diggers, including what could be medieval walls. “From the Victorian works through to medieval pottery from Carrickfergus, Britain and even France, these finds will help bring this site to life,” he told The News Letter. The restoration and renovation work will open the castle’s dungeons and the ammunition room to visitors. 

Ancient Papyrus Is a Soldier’s Letter Home

HOUSTON, TEXAS—Grant Adamson of Rice University has translated a papyrus discovered 100 years ago outside a temple in the Egyptian town of Tebtunis. Infrared images of the papyrus have made parts of the text, written mostly in Greek, more legible. It is a letter written 1,800 years ago by an Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion, who was serving in a Roman legion in Europe. He is desperate to hear from his family, and wants to make the long journey home to see his mother, sister, and brother. “I think that some aspects of military service belong to a common experience across ancient and modern civilizations—part of our human experience in general really. Things like worry and homesickness,” Adamson told Live Science.

Early Pacific Islanders Enjoyed Wild Foods

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—A study of the isotope ratios in the skeletons of Lapita people who lived on Vanuatu’s Efate Island some 3,000 years ago suggests that they relied on reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, and “free-range pigs and chickens,” for their food rather than on cultivated crops. Rebecca Kinaston of the University of Otago told Z News that as they moved eastward across the Pacific, the Lapita foraged for wild food to supplement whatever horticultural food they produced.

12th-Century Cahokia Was a “Melting Pot”

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—Thomas Emerson, State archaeologist and director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois, told the University of Illinois News Bureau that the population of 20,000 people living at Cahokia around A.D. 1100 probably included a number of immigrants. “Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate,” he explained. Items thought to have traveled to the urban center through trade may have been carried by new residents. And, an analysis of strontium isotope ratios in the teeth of people buried at Cahokia by bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater indicates that as many as one-third of the residents spent their childhoods somewhere else. “Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual ‘melting pot’ that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs,” Emerson added.