Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, December 16

Thracian Necropolis Excavated in Western Bulgaria

CHUKOVEZER, BULGARIA—Rescue excavations in western Bulgaria, along the route of the Bulgaria-Servia Gas Interconnector, have revealed a 3,000-year-old Thracian necropolis. Borislav Borislavov of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences told Archaeology in Bulgaria that at least 11 gold beads had been found in a woman’s grave, and a bronze amulet in the shape of a human head in another. This is the first time archaeologists have recovered elite grave goods in this part of Bulgaria. The project team also found buildings from the Late Roman period. In one of the buildings they discovered an earthenware jar containing 18 coins that have yet to be studied. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Looted Carving From an Unknown Temple Returned to Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that a looted limestone wall carving has been recovered from a London auction house and returned to Egypt. The relief, brought to the government’s attention by a curator at the British Museum, depicts the 19th dynasty King Seti I before the goddess Hathor and the god Web Wawat. Hieroglyphic text on the two-foot-long wall relief lists the names of deities from what the region that is now the Assiut governorate in Upper Egypt. “It is a very important relief as it depicts a not yet discovered temple of King Seti I in Assiut,” Ali Ahmed, director of the Recuperation of Antiquities Department, told Ahram Online. To read more about Egyptology, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Marble Sphinx Unearthed in Northwest China

YINCHUAN, CHINA—An ancient tomb located in a cemetery along the Silk Road trade route in northwest China has yielded a sphinx carved from marble--a material rarely seen in this part of the world. The well-preserved statue stands approximately 14 inches tall and has a human face on a lion’s body. According to an epitaph, the tomb belonged to Liu Jun and his wife, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). “The style carvings had features from the west and are considered rare for ancient Chinese tombs during that period,” Fan Jun, head of the excavation team for the Ningxia Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, told Xinhuanet. Archaeologists have recovered more than 150 artifacts from the 29 graves at the site, including pottery, bronze and iron wares, and carvings of warriors, horses, camels, and lions that had also been carved from marble. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Seismic Shift."

Tuesday, December 15

Skin Mites May Help Scientists Track Human Evolution

BRUNSWICK, MAINE—The mites that live on human skin could help scientists study the history and relationships of human populations. Evolutionary biologist Michael Palopoli of Bowdoin College and his team have found that people can carry four different subgroups of Demodex folliculorum, a microscopic arthropod whose last common ancestor lived more than three million years ago. Samples were collected from people with European, Asian, African, and Latin American ancestries. Analysis of the mites’ mitochondrial DNA showed that people of African descent had a mixture of all the subgroup types, while people of European ancestry tended to have mites from only one group. “As they diverged into Asia and Europe, some individual lineages were lost,” Palopoli told Science Magazine. The research also suggests that a person’s mite population remains stable for as long as three years, even when someone moves to another part of the world. Mite populations also appear to be stable across human generations, even in new locations. Differences in the hydration, hair follicle density, and lipid production in human skin may account for the differences in the mite populations. For more, go to "Insights from Insects."

Hanging Coffins Discovered in Central China

HUBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—Hanging coffins estimated to be 1,200 years old have been found in man-made caves carved into a remote cliff in central China, according to a report in ECNS. The 131 coffins, thought to have been constructed and placed by the Bo people, were found in an area called “Cave of the Fairies” by the people who now live in the remote village of Yanglinqiao. The hanging coffins are thought to have protected the bodies from scavengers. Yu Bo, chief of the Zigui Cultural Relics Bureau, said that the cliffs will be conserved and added to the list of China’s protected cultural heritage sites. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Chit-Chat May Have Evolved to Reinforce Relationships

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Scholars have speculated that human ancestors used grooming each other as a way to form social bonds until group sizes increased and it became too time consuming. Ipek Kulahci of Princeton University and her colleagues have observed that the ring-tailed lemurs living at Duke University’s Lemur Center and on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, groom each other as a means of social bonding, but use vocalizations to stay in touch with those individuals that they groomed the most frequently, independent of group size. “By exchanging vocalizations, the animals are reinforcing their social bonds even when they are away from each other,” Kulahci said in a press release. And, when the researchers played recordings of lemur calls to the group, only the lemurs that shared a close grooming relationship with the individual that made the call responded. “This social selectivity in vocalizations is almost equivalent to how we humans keep in regular touch with our close friends and families, but not with everyone we know,” she explained. To read about ancient languages, go to "The Wolf Rites of Winter."

Monday, December 14

Roman Wreck Discovered in Deep Waters Near Italy

ALASSIO, ITALY—A Roman ship dating to between the first and second century A.D. has been found off the Ligurian coast. Italy’s scuba diver-police force, the Carabinieri Subacquei, assisted with the investigation of the wreck, which rests under more than 650 feet of water. The ship is estimated to have been nearly 100 feet long and, due to the shape of most of the amphoras on board, it is thought to have been carrying a load of garum on a route between Italy, Spain, and Portugal. “After we filmed the wreck and analyzed an amphora and some fragments that a robotic craft brought back to the surface, we realized the ship was carrying a huge quantity of fish sauce when it sank,” team leader Simon Luca Trigona of the Archaeological Superintendency of Liguria told The Local. Other jars only made in the area around the Tiber River in Rome suggest the vessel carried Italian wines to the Iberian Peninsula. “It’s a nice find because it means we are almost sure about the route this ship was on,” Trugona said. To read about how maritime trade fueled the growth of the Roman Empire, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

Historic Ham & Peanut Get High-Tech Treatment

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA—Bernard Means of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of World Studies specializes in making 3-D scans or archaeological artifacts. He visited the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, home of the world’s oldest ham and the world’s oldest peanut. “The ham and the peanut are clearly important to the people of Isle of Wight County, and Virginia as well, and the lab is pleased to help them tell the story,” Means said in a press release. The ham, cured in 1902, was left hanging from a rafter in a packing house, and by 1924, it had become a tourist attraction. “It did have a powerful scent that I cannot describe,” commented Means. The peanut dates to 1890, and was also used to advertise Smithfield food products. The museum staff plans to use the scans as teaching tools. “Not only will we have more documentation on the ham and peanut, but if those items change over time (by nature), we’ll know,” explained Jennifer England, director of the museum. To read more about archaeological scanning, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

Modern Humans Enjoy Efficient Sleep Patterns

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Humans evolved to have efficient sleep patterns, according to a study of data on the sleep habits of hundreds of mammals, including 21 species of primates, complied by researchers from Duke University. Modern humans sleep an average of seven hours a night, with up to 25 percent of that time in deeper stages of sleep such as REM, or rapid eye movement sleep. Other primate species need as many as 14 to 17 hours, and in some, such as mouse lemurs, mongoose lemurs, and African green monkeys, only five percent of sleep time is spent in REM sleep. “Humans are unique in having shorter, higher quality sleep,” anthropologist David Samson said in a press release. He and colleague Charlie Nunn suggest that human ancestors started getting the most out of their rest when they started sleeping on the ground, near warm fires and in protective groups. The researchers add that a good night’s sleep may have helped human ancestors cement the skills they learned during those extra hours they were awake. To read more recent evolutionary research, go to "Our Tangled Ancestery."

First Farmers Carried Millet Seeds Across Eurasia

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers examined the DNA of modern millet varieties, and carried out radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis on charred millet grains, a crop that was first domesticated some 10,000 years ago in North China, from archaeological sites across China and Inner Mongolia, and concluded that early nomadic early shepherds carried the seeds with them across Eurasia and into Europe. The early farmers also mixed millet seeds with other crops, which gave rise to crop diversity and the use of extended growing seasons. This practice provided food security, but it also required settled populations and elaborate social contracts to regulate the use of water and land. “These findings have transformed our understanding of early agriculture and society. It has previously been assumed that early agriculture was focused in river valleys where there is plentiful access to water. However, millet remains show that the first agriculture was instead centered higher up on the foothills—allowing this first pathway for ‘exotic’ eastern grains to be carried west,” Martin Jones of the University of Cambridge said in a press release. For more, go to "Analyzing the Neolithic Revolution."

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