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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 02

World’s Oldest Pants Unearthed in China

BERLIN, GERMANY—Science News reports that the remains of two men wearing trousers have been recovered from the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin by Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute. They say that the trousers are the oldest known examples of their kind. Dated to between 3,300 and 3,000 years ago, the pants have straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch. They were sewn together from three pieces of wool cloth that had been woven on a loom to the correct size, and fashioned with side slits, strings at the waist for fastening, and designs on the legs. One of the men had been buried with a decorated leather bridle and a wooden bit, a battle ax, and a leather bracer for arm protection. The other man was accompanied by a whip, a decorated horse tail, a bow sheath, and a bow. “This new paper [in Quaternary International] definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,” commented Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Prehistoric Pottery Examined in Southern Florida

WESTERN BOYNTON BEACH, FLORIDA—Graduate student Rebecca Stitt of Florida Atlantic University is investigating the pottery of the Belle Glade culture from a trash mound in Boynton Beach. “Work needed to be done at the Boynton mounds because nothing has been done there for a while. I wanted to look at ceramics specifically, to see which ceramics came from which times,” she told CBS 12 News. The people living in the Belle Glade community at Boynton Beach built their homes above the saw grass and swamps of Lake Okeechobee so that they could see others approaching. They also built canals for transportation and trade. “They were an interior culture and had no direct contact with Europeans in the early years,” added Debi Murray of the Palm Beach Historical Society.  

Settler’s Cabin Revealed by Arizona Wildfire

SEDONA, ARIZONA—The ruins of a log cabin estimated to be at least 100 years old were discovered near Barney Spring, on land cleared by the 21,000-acre Slide fire in Arizona. “The finding itself was very subtle. It’s a collapsed, degraded cabin related to the earliest Euro-American settlement of this rugged, remote piece of Arizona,” Jeremy Haines, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist, told The Los Angeles Times. The cabin, which was probably destroyed by a wildfire many years ago, may have been built by Jim Barney, who kept cattle near Oak Creek, or it may have belonged to bear hunter Bear Howard, who is known to have had a cabin in front of Oak Creek Canyon. He may have also had this one at the back end. “Imagine you’re on horseback in a remote area 100-plus years ago; with very limited tools, you’re constructing your own living space,” Haines explained.

Satellite Imagery Helps Egypt Battle Looting Problem

  CAIRO, EGYPT—Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham uses satellite imagery to identify what she calls “hot spots” of organized looting activity in Egypt. “It was really hard before this technology to get a full sense of site damage from looting all over the world. It was one thing to see the pits, but it was really hard to systematically count them. The satellite imagery allows us to track extent of damage at site—not only get a sense of numbers, but also track change to a site over time,” she told The Guardian. That information could help Egyptian officials stop the sale of illegal antiquities before they leave the country. And, in March, Egypt’s minister of state for antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim Ali, met with officials from the Obama administration to ask for emergency restrictions on the import of antiquities. “The agreement would make us capable of controlling the situation. Many objects are being sold here in the United States,” he said.  

Friday, May 30

3-D Model Made of Richard III’s Spinal Column

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A 3-D model of the spine identified as belonging to Richard III shows strong evidence that the king suffered from scoliosis. His spine curved to the right and twisted to form a somewhat spiral shape, according to a report published in The Lancet by a team from the University of Cambridge, Loughborough University, and the University Hospitals of Leicester. This new analysis suggests that Richard III’s right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs. His head and neck, however, would have been straight, and he probably did not have a limp. “His leg bones were normal and symmetric,” osteoarchaeologist Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester told Red Orbit. “The arthritis in the spine meant it could only be reconstructed in a specific way, meaning that we can get a very accurate idea of the shape of the curve,” she added. The scientists think that well-designed clothes and armor would have been able to mask the curvature. 

Stone Age Camp Uncovered in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—A flint tool, campfires, animal bones, and a possible fish trap made of two rows of wooden stakes have been found on the construction site of the new U.S. Embassy in London. Kasia Olchowska of the Museum of London Archaeology thinks that the land would have been too wet to have been a permanent settlement, but it would have made a fine hunting or fishing camp. The flint, which was discovered among water-smoothed gravel, was probably swept out of its original context by a river channel. Experts think that it was probably crafted between 100,000 and 12,000 years ago. Other stone tools include scrapers and a plunging blade. Carbon dating suggests that the rest of the site is up to 11,750 years old. “We think that [the fires] are potentially marking a spot that people were coming back to seasonally,” Olchowska told Live Science.   

Dogs May Have Helped Early Mammoth Hunters

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—Were early human hunters responsible for the tens of thousands of bones collected at some 30 spots known as mammoth cemeteries? Evidence of huts made of mammoth bones have been found at some of the locations, and some of the bones bear cut and burn marks. Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, thinks that people may have ambushed the large animals at these sites, perhaps with the help of dogs. The dogs could have corralled the mammoths and they may have also protected the meat after the kill. “All of that mammoth meat would have brought predators from miles around. In return, the humans may have provided these canines with food and protection. And slowly, a closer relationship may have begun to form,” she told Science Now. Skulls with both wolf- and doglike features have been found among the mammoth bones at several of these cemetery sites, and some of the bones have healed fractures, a possible sign of human care, but more evidence is needed to support Shipman’s hypothesis. 

Bones May Be Remains of a Viking King of Ireland

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—Human bones unearthed in Auldhame in 2005 may be the remains of Olaf Guthfrithsson, the King of Dublin and Northumbria from 934 to 941, or a member of his entourage, according to an announcement made by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. Olaf Guthfrithsson, a Viking king of Ireland, sacked the churches at Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame, which were both part of a complex of churches dedicated to eighth-century St. Balthere, shortly before his death. “Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack on the locale,” Alex Woolf of the University of St. Andrews and a historical consultant on the project told BBC. “Since we have a single furnished burial in what was probably perceived as St. Balthere’s original foundation, there is a strong likelihood that the king’s followers hoped that by burying him in the saint’s cemetery he might have benefited from some sort of post-mortem penance,” he explained.  

Thursday, May 29

Weak Muscles May Be the Price of Human Cognitive Powers

SHANGHAI, CHINA—A new study of metabolites—small molecules such as sugars, vitamins, amino acids, and neurotransmitters that represent key elements of our physiological functions—suggests that human muscle may be as unique as the human brain. Scientists from the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology and teams from the Max Planck Institutes found that the metabolome of the human brain has evolved four times faster than that of the chimpanzee, and human muscle accumulated metabolic changes ten times faster than chimpanzees. “For a long time we were confused by metabolic changes in human muscle, until we realized that what other primates have in common, in contrast to humans, is their enormous muscle strength,” Josep Call of the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Leipzig told Science Daily. The team thinks that humans may have evolved a special energy management system that powers the brain at the expense of muscle strength.

Ireland’s Lia Fail Vandalized

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—Vandals poured red and green paint over the Lia Fail, a 5,000-year-old standing stone on top of the Hill of Tara. Tradition holds that the stone would “roar” when touched by the rightful king of Tara. “This act of mindless vandalism, on one of our premier archaeological sites, is truly shameful,” Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts and the Gaeltacht, told The Irish Mirror. Police are investigating the crime. The stone was damaged with an ax in 2012.

World War I Training Trenches Found at Camp Dodge

JOHNSTON, IOWA—Trenches dug by American soldiers under the instruction of French military officers at Camp Dodge have been found with aerial photographs, historic maps, and geographic information systems technology. Zig-zag trenches that were used at the front of World War I combat areas, and trenches for communications, supplies, and other purposes were located. Artifacts such as ammunition casings, a practice hand grenade, a suppressor for a machine gun, barbed wire, and a glass medicine bottle were also unearthed. “This is a snapshot of time of what we were doing then as a nation. This is our legacy. You have to understand where you have been to know where you are going. This is a piece of where we have been,” Col. Gregory Hapgood Jr., public affairs officer for the Iowa National Guard, told The Des Moines Register.  

Fisherman Catches Bronze Age Figurine

KEMEROVO, RUSSIA—Nikolay Tarasov was fishing with a net in a river near his home in Tisul, Russia, when he recovered what he thought was an unusual stone, but he realized it was carved with almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious expression before he threw it back into the water. “On the reverse side on the head the carver etched plaited hair with wave like lines. Below the plait there are lines looking like fish scales,” he told The Siberian Times. He donated the figurine to the Tisul History Museum, where it was dated to the early Bronze Age. The 4,000-year-old figure was carved in horn that had fossilized. “Quite likely, it shows a pagan god. The only things we have dated approximately to the same age are a stone necklace and two charms in the shapes of a bear and a bird,” said Marina Banschikova, director of the museum.