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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 27

Medieval Knight, Roman House Unearthed in Italy

AREZZO, ITALY—Andrea Pessina, regional superintendent of archaeological heritage, announced that a first-century Roman structure has been discovered at the Medici Fortress of Arezzo in central Italy. According to a report in ANSAmed, the building, which sits on a steep slope overlooking a valley, was probably used as a residence. Painted walls and floors have been found in two of the three uncovered rooms. Archaeologists also excavated the medieval burial of a man with a long iron sword. 

Unknown Mummy Examined in Germany

MUNICH, GERMANY—A CT scan of a mummy of a woman in the collection at the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection shows that she had been killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. “She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death. The skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today,” Andreas Nerlich of Munich University told Live Science. Isotopes in her hair, which had been held with bands made of alpaca or llama hair, indicate that she lived near the coastline of Peru or Chile, and ate a diet high in seafood and maize. She was dying from Chagas disease, caused by parasites, when she was killed. She was probably then buried in the dry sands of the Atacama Desert, which preserved her body. 

The Origins of Human Skin Colors

LONDON, ENGLAND—Mel Greaves of The Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom thinks that human ancestors had pale skin when they lost their body hair some two to three million years ago. The lack of hair was “almost certainly to facilitate heat loss by sweating in physically very active hunters, especially in the more open, dry and hot Savannah” of East Africa, Greaves told Discovery News. It had been theorized that melanin, the pigment that gives skin color, evolved as an adaptation to limit damage to the skin from sun exposure. Greaves studied albinos living in Africa, who lack any pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes, and found that they are indeed highly susceptible to skin cancer. “We assume that all hominin migrants from Africa over the past 100,000 years would have been dark skinned. What happened to those migrant populations’ skin color later depended upon geography and UVR (ultraviolet radiation) exposures,” he added.

Tracking Disease in Ancient Mesopotamia

WARSAW, POLAND—How healthy were the people of ancient Mesopotamia? Arkadiusz Soltysiak of the University of Warsaw collected information from all 44 previously published reports on human remains from Mesopotamia, where winters are moist and summers are hot, making ancient bones fragile and poorly preserved. “Despite the few published data, it can be concluded that the communities of Mesopotamia were quite healthy. We can also identify some trends—for example, least diseases visible on the bones were recorded in the early and mid-Bronze Age. Interestingly, this correlates well with written sources of that time—it was a heyday of farming communities,” Soltysiak told Science & Scholarship in Poland. He noted that the dental health of the people suffered as date palms spread and eating habits changed up to the medieval period.

Wednesday, February 26

Storms Reveal German Ship Off Cornish Coast

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A German ship that sank off the southern coast of England during World War I has been revealed by heavy storms that have washed away tons of sand from the beach. The SV Carl “was a sailing ship that was being towed to London and broke its tow. The majority of the ship was salvaged and this is all that is left which is remarkably good condition from being under the sand all these years,” film maker Crispin Sadler told the Cornish Guardian

Scholars Map Gladiator School in Austria

  VIENNA, AUSTRIA—An international team of archaeologists has used noninvasive technologies to map the second-century gladiatorial school near the site of Carnuntum, where at least 80 gladiator-slaves lived in a two-story building. The facility, which had a practice arena, heated floors for winter training, baths, infirmaries, plumbing, and a graveyard, was more like a fortress where the men were kept as prisoners, according to Wolfgang Neubauer of the University of Vienna, whose team recently published its findings. “Lots of other people were likely killed at the amphitheater, people not trained to fight. And there was lots of bloodshed. But the combat between gladiators was the point of them performing, not them killing each other,” he told National Geographic Daily News. The initial discovery and reconstruction of the school were included in ARCHAEOLOGY magazine's Top 10 Discoveries of 2011.

World’s Oldest Cheese Dates to 1615 B.C.

DRESDEN, GERMANY—Analysis of the odd lumps found on the necks and chests of mummies from northwestern China’s Taklamakan Desert has shown them to be made of cheese. “We not only identified the product as the earliest known cheese, but we also have direct …evidence of ancient technology,” Andrej Shevchenko of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics told USA Today. The low-lactose cheese had been made by combining milk with a “starter” of bacteria and yeastnot the killing of a young calf, lamb, or kid for rennet. Shevchenko adds that the low cost of producing this cheese would have helped encourage the spread of herding throughout Asia. 

Artifacts Missing From Indonesian Administration Hall

PONOROGO, INDONESIA—An inventory of the ancient artifacts at the Ponorogo Regency administration hall in East Java revealed that eight of them are missing. “The items, mostly statue fragments, dating from the East Javanese classical era between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, went missing,” Rizki Susantini, an archaeologist at the Trowulan Cultural Heritage Conservation Center, told The Jakarta Post. The administration is looking for the items, but they may have been stolen.

Tuesday, February 25

Elusive Rock Art Exposed in Hawaii

OAHU, HAWAII—Unusually strong sea swells off the coast of Oahu’s North Shore have exposed more than 70 petroglyphs carved into the lava rock along Pupukea Beach for the first time since 2010. Many of the images depict human-shaped figures and dogs. According to Western Digs, scholars think the petroglyphs may have been used to document travel, to mark trails and boundaries, and to commemorate important events. 

Erosion Threatens Buddhist Caves in China

XINJIANG, CHINA—Erosion threatens a network of more than 200 sandstone caves in the dry climate northwestern China. Situated along the ancient Silk Road, the caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks who painted the walls with murals in the style of Indian art. The structures were used as temples from the third through the eighth centuries. Preservationists have tried to fortify the complex with cement and metal poles, but, as conservator Giorgio Bonsanti told Il Giornale dell’Arte, “the signs of progressive decay, which in the long term would turn everything to sand, are dramatically evident.” 

France’s Fort Caroline May Be in Georgia

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Historian Fletcher Crowe and anthropologist Anita Spring think that Fort Caroline, a French fortified settlement built in 1564, could be located near the mouth of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia. Crowe examined sixteenth and seventeenth-century maps of the Southeast at the Bibiliothèque Nationale de France, and compared them to modern maps of the region. The team then used GPS coordinates to locate a triangular structure surrounded by moats, and dozens of Native American villages. Researchers had long been looking for traces of the fort in Jacksonville, Florida, near the St. Johns River, based upon what was known about the languages spoken by Native Americans living near the fort. “We proved that the Native Americans living near the fort spoke a language called Guale. The Guale speakers lived in the Altamaha area. They did not live in Northeast Florida, where Jacksonville is,” Spring explained to Science Daily. “The next step is to do archaeological excavations to confirm this discovery,” Crowe added.