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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, March 06

Researchers Analyze Beer From 1840s

ESPOO, FINLAND—Bottles of beer recovered from a nineteenth-century shipwreck in the Baltic Sea have been sampled by researchers from the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland and the University of Munich. “These bacteria were still alive,” said Brian Gibson of the VTT Technical Research Centre. “We have a reasonably good idea about what kind of hops were used, different ones than today. These hops would have been harsher, these days they are quite mild. The one surprising thing is the beers were quite mild. The original alcohol level was 4.5 percent, nothing extreme,” he told Discovery News. Seawater had seeped through the bottle’s cork, however, replacing about thirty percent of the bottle’s original contents. Chemical analysis suggests that the beer, which was brewed in the 1840s, was similar to a modern amber or lambic ale. “We looked at esters, which give beer a fruity or flowery taste. Most of the compounds that we would expect were there,” Gibson said. To read about vodka preserved in a bottle from another Baltic shipwreck, see "A 200-Year-Old Bottle's Suprising Contents."

25th Dynasty Artifacts Found at the Karnak Temple Complex

PARIS, FRANCE—A pit, or favissa, near the temple of the god Ptah at Karnak has yielded 38 religious artifacts that had been placed around a seated statue of the god Ptah. The items date from the eighth to seventh centuries B.C. and include 14 statues and figurines of Osiris; three statuettes of baboons; two statuettes of the goddess Mut; one head and fragments of a statue of Bastet, the cat goddess; two unidentified statuette bases; a small plaque and part of a small stele marked with the name of the god Ptah; and several inlays—an iris, cornea, beards, and headdresses. A sphinx statue and a small statue head, possibly of the god Imhotep, were found in the upper part of the pit. The removal of the objects from the pit was recorded by a topographer specialized in archaeology, who complied hundreds of photographs taken during the fieldwork to make a virtual 3-D reconstruction of each step of the excavation. This allowed the scientists from the Centre franco-égyptien d’étude des temples de Karnak (CNRS/Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities) to excavate the site quickly, in order to protect the valuable artifacts, and preserve all the data. To read more about the excavation of a tomb belonging to a priestess at Karnak, see "Tomb of the Chantress."

Oregon’s “Tantalizing” Evidence of Human Occupation

PORTLAND, OREGON—Near the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter, beneath a layer of ash from an eruption of Mt. St. Helens some 15,800 years ago, archaeologists have found a tool made of orange agate thought to have been used for scraping animal hides, butchering, and possibly even carving wood. “The discovery of this tool below a layer of undisturbed ash that dates to 15,800 years old means that this tool is likely more than 15,800 years old, which would suggest the oldest human occupation west of the Rockies,” said Scott Thomas, Bureau of Land Management Burns District archaeologist. A blood residue analysis of the tool revealed animal proteins consistent with the ancestor of the modern buffalo. The director of the excavation, Patrick O’Grady of the University of Oregon, adds that the excavation will be expanded to look for more artifacts underneath the ash layer. “We want to assemble indisputable evidence because these claims will be scrutinized by researchers. That said, the early discoveries are tantalizing,” commented Stan McDonald, BLM Oregon/Washington lead archaeologist. To read more about the earliest people to live in the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."

Thursday, March 05

“Significant Variation” Found in Skulls From Pre-Contact Peru

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—It had long been thought that there was very little skeletal variation among the pre-Columbian peoples in the New World, based upon a sample of individuals from the Yauyos people of the central Peruvian highlands. But anthropologists from North Carolina State University, the University of Oregon, and Tulane University evaluated the facial features of 507 skulls from seven pre-Columbian peoples from Peru, and found significant differences between all of them. “And our work shows that the Yauyos had facial features that were very different even from other peoples in the same region. This raises questions about any hypothesis that rests in part on the use of the Yauyos sample as being representative of all South America,” Ann Ross of North Carolina State University told EurekaAlert. The scientists found that the farther apart the groups lived from each other, the less they looked alike. “Next we want to compare variation across Latin America, to see if we can identify patterns that suggest biological relationships, which could be indicative of migration patterns,” Ross said. To read about more skeletons found in the region, see "Unusual Sacrifices Unearthed in Peru."

Neolithic Town Unearthed at Greece’s Alepotrypa Cave

CHIGAGO, ILLINOIS—The Diros Project has uncovered the remains of Ksagounaki, an ancient town and burial complex, located outside the entrance to Alepotrypa Cave in southern Greece. The large underground cave may have been seen as the entrance to the mythic Greek underworld, and the ancient town is thought to have been an important ritual and settlement complex during the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. (The recently discovered grave of a man and woman who had been buried together in an embracing position some 6,000 years ago was found at Diros.) However, William Parkinson of The Field Museum said that some 2,000 years after the settlement at Ksagounaki was abandoned, the Mycenaeans built a structure there and filled it with the bones of dozens of individuals, Late Bronze Age pottery, stone beads, ivory, and a bronze Mycenaean dagger. Perhaps the Neolithic buildings had drawn the attention of the Mycenaeans to this natural wonder. For more about Alepotrypa Cave, see "Portals to the Underworld."

Celtic Tomb Sheds Light on Iron Age Trade

LAVAU, FRANCE—A tomb dating to the fifth century B.C. has been discovered in eastern France. “It is probably a local Celtic prince,” Dominique Garcia, president of France’s National Archaeological Research Institute (INRAP), told The Connexion. Within the burial mound, his team has found a large cauldron decorated with the head of the horned Greek river god Acheleos that may have been made by Etruscan or Greek craftsmen. A Greek wine pitcher trimmed with gold depicts Dionysos, the god of wine, with a woman. Garcia says that the artifacts “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between the Mediterranean and the Celts.” At the time, the Mediterranean city of Marseille, in southern France, was a Greek settlement. The burial chamber, which also holds the remains of the deceased and his chariot, is one of the largest recorded for the period. To read about Iron Age Celtic rituals, see "Celtic Sacrifice."

Wednesday, March 04

Dates Obtained for Earliest-Known Homo Fossil

STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA—The earliest-known fossil of a human ancestor, discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia, has been dated to between 2.8 and 2.75 million years ago by an international team of scientists. Known as LD 350-1, the team dated the layers of volcanic ash above and below the Ledi-Geraru fossil mandible. “We are confident in the age of LD350-1. We used multiple dating methods including radiometric analysis of volcanic ash layers, and all show that the hominin fossil is 2.8 to 2.75 million years old,” Erin N. DiMaggio of Penn State University said in a press release posted on EurekaAlert. Other fossils in the area include prehistoric antelope, elephants, a type of hippopotamus, crocodiles, and fish. These types of animals suggest that the habitat at the time was made up of mixed grasslands and shrub lands with trees lining rivers or wetlands. “We can see the 2.8 million-year-old aridity signal in the Ledi-Geraru faunal community. But it’s still too soon to say that this means climate change is responsible for the origin of Homo. We need a larger sample of hominin fossils and that’s why we continue to come to the Ledi-Geraru area to search,” added Kaye E. Reed of Arizona State University. To read more about human origins, see "Our Tangled Ancestry."

13th-Century Fortress May Have Belonged to Genghis Khan

MORIGUCHI, JAPAN—Japanese and Mongolian archaeologists have investigated a structure they say was commissioned for Genghis Khan by a close aide in 1212. The site, located in southwestern Mongolia, was first photographed from the air and surveyed in 2001 because its geographical features were similar to the landscape depicted in a medieval travel book. Surrounded by an earthen wall, the castle may have served as a military base when Genghis Khan was invading central Asia. Thirteenth-century Chinese ceramics were also recovered at the site. “We hope the discovery will be useful in ascertaining the history of the Mongolian Plateau between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,” team leader Koichi Matsuda of Osaka International University told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about the search for great khan's tomb, see "Genghis Khan: Founder of the Mongol Empire."

Was Rome Really a “City of Marble?”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Architectural historian Diane Favro of the University of California, Los Angeles, has employed advanced modeling software to reconstruct the city of Rome in its entirety over the period of the rule of Augustus Caesar, from 44 B.C. to A.D. 14. According to legend, Augustus boasted, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Favro’s model uses a technique called procedural modeling that automatically regenerates as new information is added. The buildings are represented by massing models that are color-coded: marble buildings are pink, brick buildings are gray, and buildings under construction are yellow. She found that only a small proportion of the buildings in Augustan Rome were converted from brick to marble, and that they would have been difficult to see from ground level. “Given the literary descriptions and artwork, I thought these glittering marble temples on high would be very visible, but they were not,” she explained. She thinks that the movement of Carrara marble blocks from the northwest coast of Italy through the city probably caused congestion on the streets and created the illusion of a city of marble. “Because they saw construction taking place constantly, I believe people really did think that Rome had been transformed into marble. But in reality, the city did not greatly transform.” To read about how the construction of Rome's port fueled the empire's rise, see "Rome's Imperial Port."