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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 09

Hundreds of Wickiups Documented in the Rocky Mountain Region

MESA COUNTY, COLORADO—The remains of hundreds of wickiups, conical-shaped dwellings built by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado, have been documented by the Forest Service and the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group, in partnership with the Ute Indian Tribe of northeastern Utah, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes of southwestern Colorado, and other public land management agencies. “Wickiups and other aboriginal wooden features, such as tree platforms and brush fences, were once commonplace in Colorado. Few examples are still in existence; the majority of the remaining features can be associated with Ute culture and consequently represent the only surviving architecture of the state’s living indigenous peoples,” said Brian Ferebee, deputy regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region. Metal and stone artifacts are often found at the sites, which range in age from less than 100 years to more than 200 years old. The sites are still used for ceremonial purposes today. “What we find helps us to manage these resources as part of our historic and cultural resource preservation goals,” added Molly Westby, the Rocky Mountain Region Heritage Program leader. To read about archaeological evidence of the Comanche, close neighbors and sometimes enemies of the Utes, see "Searching for the Comanche Empire."

New Thoughts on the Impact of Climate Change in Neolithic China

BEIJING, CHINA—It had been thought that the deserts in northern China are one million years old, but a new study of the Hunshandake Sandy Lands of Inner Mongolia suggests that its desert is only 4,000 years old. Xiaoping Yang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Louis Scuderi of the University of New Mexico, and their colleagues examined the patterns of dunes and depressions in the region and lake sediments, and they dated quartz from the region with a technique known as optically stimulated luminescence. They found that Hunshandake had deep lakes and rivers beginning some 12,000 years ago. “We’re amazed by how much water there was back then. There were very, very large lakes, and grasslands and forests. And based on all the artifacts we’ve found out there, there was clearly a very large population along the lake shores,” Scuderi told Live Science. Then some 4,200 years ago, the region rapidly dried out during a major, worldwide climatic shift that caused droughts throughout the northern hemisphere. These changes may have pushed the people of the Hongshan culture out of the remote north and into the rest of China. “An important possible line of research in the future is to figure out how important the Hongshan culture was to the development of later Chinese culture,” Scuderi explained. In fact, some of the earliest jade artifacts in the country are from Hongshan sites, yet the cradle of Chinese civilization has usually been placed in the Yellow River basin. To read about how climate change is impacting archaeological sites today, see "Climate Change: Sites in Peril."

Workers Uncover Ancient Tomb in Bulgaria

VARNA, BULGARIA—The Sofia News Agency reports that an ancient tomb was uncovered during construction work in the center of the Black Sea city of Varna. The tomb was first discovered in the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was resealed because of ongoing building projects in Nezavisimost Square. The burial spot was once located beyond the city walls of the ancient city of Odesos.

Calgary’s Hunt House Is Being Restored

CALGARY, CANADA—A one-room log cabin constructed in the 1870s or 1880s across the Elbow River from Fort Calgary is being carefully restored. The cabin, known as Hunt House, is thought to be Calgary’s oldest building still in its original location. “It will become Fort Calgary’s most important artifact. We will use that to tell the story of Fort Calgary as a site and we will also use it to tell the story of the Hudson’s Bay Company that first arrived in Calgary,” Fort Calgary’s Cynthia Klaassen told CBC Canada. Among the artifacts recovered during the restoration and conservation process is a rolled up newspaper dating to 1890. It was discovered in the roof of the house, where it was probably placed as added insulation. A pair of shoes and a mummified rat were found under the cabin’s floor, as was a piece of wood that may have served as a child’s block. Several glass bottles from the site include one from London dating to the 1920s, and a vanilla bottle dating to the Hudson’s Bay period. 

Thursday, January 08

Solstice Sun Aligned With Rome’s Hardknott Castle

TURIN, ITALY—The ruins of a Roman fort in England have been analyzed by Amelia Carolina Sparavigna of the Polytechnic University of Turin. One of the strongholds built by Emperor Hadrian to guard the Roman frontier, the fort sits near Hardknott Pass and offers a view of the Eskdale Valley. Live Science reports that Sparavigna used online software and satellite imagery to calculate the angles at which the solstice sun rises and sets at the fort. She found that during the summer solstice, the sun would rise in rough alignment with the fort’s northeastern and southwestern gates, and set in alignment with its northwestern and southeastern gates. During the winter solstice, the sun would rise in line with the fort’s southeastern and northwestern gates, and set in line with its southwestern and northeastern gates. “Moreover, the four towers of the garrison seem aligned to cardinal directions,” Sparavigna wrote in the journal Philica. To read about the unusual culture that emerged in the north of Roman Britain, see "Artifact: Romano-British Brooch."

The Origin & Evolution of Corn in the Southwest

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—An international team of scientists has compared samples of DNA extracted from ancient corn cobs unearthed in the American Southwest, including the multiple stratigraphic layers of New Mexico’s Tularosa Cave. “When considered together, the results suggest that the maize of the U.S. Southwest had a complex origin, first entering the U.S. via a highland route about 4,100 years ago and later via a lowland coastal route about 2,000 years ago,” said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra of the University of California, Davis. The genes also show that maize adapted to the arid climate of the Southwest and to the preferences of the local people. “These unique data allowed us to follow the changes occurring in individual genes through time,” Rute Fonseca of the University of Copenhagen said of the samples taken from Tularosa Cave. To read more about how agriculture developed in the ancient Southwest, see "Early Irrigators."

Chief Monk’s Belongings Discovered in Phanigiri

HYDERABAD, INDIA—A red earthenware pot with a silver container holding 11 miniature beads was discovered at the northeastern corner of the Mahastupa during restoration and conservation work in Phanigiri, a Buddhist center of learning. “The Buddhist findings are pertaining to the third century A.D. [This is] the first time we have a Buddhist cascade with material in it and this puts Phanigiri area as an important Buddhist heritage site,” BP Acharya, principal secretary of tourism, Telangana, told The New Indian Express. A Potin coin, made from an alloy of copper and lead in the third century, was also recovered from the site.

Tombs Yield Chariots, Horses, and China’s Oldest Instruments

ZAOYANG CITY, CHINA—A complex made up of 2,800-year-old tombs is under excavation in central China by a team of archaeologists from Peking University. The tombs are thought to have belonged to high-ranking Chinese nobility from the Spring and Autumn Period, from 770 to 476 B.C. Near the 30 tombs, separate pits containing at least 28 wooden chariots and 49 pairs of horses have been found. “The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the rest of the parts of the chariots were placed one by one,” Liu Xu of the School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University told China Central Television, and reported in The International Business Times. The tombs have yielded fine pottery, a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a dragon-shaped pot, and a thin, flat, metal object painted with Old Chinese characters that may have been a tool. Some of the oldest musical instruments in China were also recovered from the tombs, including a frame for a set of bronze chimes and a se, or stringed instrument. The wealth of the tombs suggests that the independent Chu state may have been more powerful than previously thought. To read about China's looting epidemic, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Wednesday, January 07

New-World Dog DNA Examined

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A study of a region of the mitochondrial DNA of 84 dogs from more than one dozen ancient sites in North and South America suggests that the animals came to the Americas only 10,000 years ago. “This also is about the same time as the oldest dog burial found in the Americas. This may not be a coincidence,” said Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois. Some of the remains came from Colorado, British Columbia, and the Janey B. Goode site, located near the ancient city of Cahokia, where dogs were carefully buried. Dog remains at Cahokia, however, are sometimes burned and found with food debris. The new research found ancient dog populations that were more diverse than previously thought. Low genetic diversity was found in other dog populations, however, suggesting that people in those regions may have been breeding dogs. And, some samples featured similarities with American wolves, indicating that the wild animals may have interbred with domesticated dogs. “Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans. They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” added Kelsey Witt, who has sequenced the full mitochondrial genomes of 20 ancient dogs for further study. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Medieval Tannery Discovered in Norwich

NORWICH, ENGLAND—Excavation at a construction site in the center of Norwich has unearthed a medieval tannery. Goat horncores and bones from cattle and cats suggest that animals were processed at the leather-tanning site, which may have produced vellum for making scrolls and books at two nearby friaries. “The cat bones in the assemblage are of interest, especially the cut juvenile bone. It is quite possible that cats were also providing skins and fur at this site—a common practice in medieval Britain and one that has been seen in Norwich. There is the possibility that cat fur could have made small items or contributed to other garments being produced, [such as] fur trims to leather gloves or hats,” read an archaeologists’ report quoted in EDP 24. County archaeologist David Gurney adds that the tannery was located within the city walls. “We know that from the late thirteenth century there were more than 120 different crafts and trades going on in Norwich and leather working gets mentioned quite a lot,” he said. To read about an archaeological site in England occupied in the prehistoric, Roman, and medieval periods, see "Letter From England: The Scientist's Garden."

Unusual Metal Recovered from Ancient Greek Shipwreck

GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, Sebastiano Tusa, told Discovery News. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s cargo. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

New Thoughts on Nichoria’s Dark Age

CINCINNATI, OHIO—W. Flint Dibble of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Fallu of Boston University have examined soil clinging to poorly preserved bones collected in the 1960s from the Greek village of Nichoria, Messinia. Located near the palace of Pylos, the village thrived during the Greek Bronze Age, and was still occupied after the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 B.C., in a period known as the Dark Age, when other Greek settlements and palaces were abandoned. Excavations in the 1960s suggested that Nichoria survived through cattle ranching because of the number of cattle bones that were recovered. But Dibble and Fallu say that the acidic soil at the site that has damaged the cattle bones could also have destroyed crucial evidence. “Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants—key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that,” Dibble explained. To read about how Bronze Age names persisted in Dark Age poetry, see "Evidence From Homer."