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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, July 16

Roman Settlement Unearthed in Devon, England

DEVON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists and students from the University of Exeter are excavating a Romano-British settlement in Ipplepen. They have unearthed a rutted road with repairs to its surface; Roman coins; fine, imported Roman pottery and local pottery made in the Roman style; and a Roman hair pin, brooch, and bracelet. “Roman women had some very elaborate hairstyles which changed through time like our fashions do today. Hairpins were used to hold complex hairstyles like buns and plaits together and suggests that Devon women may have been adopting fashions from Rome,” Danielle Wootton of the Portable Antiquities Scheme told the Exeter Express and Echo. The team also found green and blue glass beads, and two amber beads that were probably imported from the Baltic coast. “During the Roman period amber was thought to have magical, protective and healing properties. These very personal items worn by the women that lived on this site centuries ago have enabled us to get a glimpse into the lives of people living everyday lives on the edges of the Roman Empire,” she added. 

Original Church Found at England’s Rufford Abbey

  NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Traces of a medieval church thought to have been destroyed during the Reformation were discovered at Rufford Country Park during an excavation at Rufford Abbey. “Uncovering the remains of the original church is momentous,” Emily Gillott, Nottinghamshire County Council’s community archaeologist, told BBC News. A piece of Tudor pottery and two teeth, thought to belong to a monk who had been buried there, have been found at the site of the church, which was constructed in 1160.   

Wall Painting Discovered in Giza Tomb

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—A painting has been discovered on the walls of the tomb of Perseneb, a priest and steward who had been buried to the east of the Great Pyramid of Giza during the fifth dynasty, sometime between 2450 and 2350 B.C. “Known since the nineteenth century, the [tomb] could hardly present any new principal features. Therefore, it was a real surprise to discover an Old Kingdom painting on the eastern wall of the central room,” Maksim Lebedev of the Russian State University for the Humanities told Live Science. The painting had been covered with soot and dirt, and much of it has been damaged. Yet “none of the scenes has been lost completely. The remaining traces allow [for the] reconstruction [of] the whole composition,” he said. The images reflect the deceased’s high status, and depict boats sailing on the Nile River, agricultural scenes, and a man hunting marsh birds. There’s also an image thought to represent Perseneb with his wife and his dog.

Tuesday, July 15

New Technique Diagnoses Historic Disease

  COVENTRY, ENGLAND—Microbial genomist Mark Pallen of Warwick Medical School and his colleagues used “shotgun metagenomics” to sample all of the DNA present in the bony nodules on a 700-year-old skeleton unearthed in Sardinia. They thought that the man had suffered from tuberculosis, but the results showed the DNA signature of Brucella melitensis, a microbe caught from working with livestock or consuming contaminated milk or cheese. The disease, known as brucellosis, causes chronic fatigue and recurring fevers, and has been diagnosed in other ancient skeletons, including a possible case in the human ancestor Australopithecus africanus. Pallen’s team is now using “shotgun metagenomics” to test other historic tissue samples. “We’re cranking through all of these samples, and we’re hopeful that we’re going to find new things,” he told Live Science.  

Tonga Served as a Pacific Trade Hub

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to Phys.org, Geoffrey Clark of Australian National University and his colleagues think that Tonga served as a trade hub and the seat of a maritime empire for people across Polynesia in the first half of the second century A.D. The team analyzed more than 500 stone artifacts found in Tongan political centers, and traced the types of rocks to different Central Pacific islands. They found that two-thirds of the stone tools had been imported from Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti, some 2,500 miles away from Tonga. Yet very few stone tools in Samoa were imports. Valuable goods and ideas could have been shared by people throughout Polynesia in areas formed by Tongan rulers’ centralizing authority.

Gomphotheres Added to Clovis Menu

  TUCSON, ARIZONA—Clovis projectile points and cutting tools have been found mingled with the bones of two juvenile gomphotheres, elephant-like relatives of mastadons and mammoths, in northwestern Mexico. Gomphotheres are known to have been hunted in Central and South America, but this is the first time such evidence has been found in North America. “At first, just based on the size of the bone, we thought maybe it was a bison, because extinct bison were a little bigger than our modern bison. We finally found the mandible, and that’s what told the tale,” Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona told Science Daily. The bones have been dated to 13,400 years ago, making them the last known gomphotheres in North America.   

Pathogen Identified in Ötzi’s Bone Sample

BOLZANO, ITALY—A bone sample taken from the natural mummy known as Ötzi, found in a melting glacier on the Austrian-Italian border by hikers 1991, was used to decode his genome. Now a team of experts from the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC) and the University of Vienna analyzed the non-human DNA in the sample and identified traces of Treponema denticola, a pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. And, in fact, the Iceman was diagnosed with periodontitis with a computer tomography scan last year. “What is new is that we did not carry out a directed DNA analysis but rather investigated the whole spectrum of DNA to better understand which organisms are in this sample,” Frank Maixner of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman told Science Daily. The team of scientists also detected Clostridia-like bacteria in the bone sample that are thought to be in a dormant state. If they were to grow, they could cause the 5,300-year-old mummy’s tissues to degrade. Continued preservation of the Iceman will require additional micro-biological monitoring.

Monday, July 14

The Skeletons of Jebel Sahaba

LONDON, ENGLAND—New technology has detected dozens of additional wounds on skeletons excavated from a 13,000-year-old cemetery on the east bank of the Nile River in northern Sudan. The bones were unearthed in the 1960s by American archaeologist Fred Wendorf, when arrow heads were found and their impact marks were noted. The bones were eventually moved to the British Museum, and they have also been studied by scientists from Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Alaska, and Tulane University. “The skeletal material is of great importance—not only because of the evidence for conflict, but because the Jebel Sahaba cemetery is the oldest discovered in the Nile Valley so far,” Daniel Antoine, a curator in the British Museum’s Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, told The Independent. The new research indicates that the men, women, and children had been killed by enemy archers over time, during the drought of the Younger Dryas period. Human ethnic groups would have been drawn to the waters of the Nile, where they would have inevitably clashed. The victims are said to be from the world’s oldest-known large-scale armed human conflict. Further study will investigate the health of the victims at the time of death.

Ornamental Paws With Claws Discovered in Moche Tomb

  TRUJILLO, PERU—The tomb of a male ruler has been discovered at the Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon, in the ancient Moche capital of Cerro Blanco in northern Peru. In addition to the man’s remains, the 1,500-year-old tomb held a copper scepter, bronze earrings, a mask, and sharpened metal claws shaped like feline paws that may have been part of a ritual full-body costume. Santiago Uceda, co-director of the excavation, thinks that the paws may have been used in ceremonial combat. He told El Comercio that the winner of the battle would receive the costume, while the loser would be sacrificed.    

Neo-Assyrian Information Technology

  CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Excavations in southeastern Turkey, in the lower town of Tušhan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, have uncovered hundreds of clay tokens dating to the first millennium B.C. It had been thought that record-keeping with such tokens had been replaced with cuneiform two thousand years earlier, but these tokens were found in two rooms that may have served as a delivery area in an administrative building. “We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer or herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock,” John MacGinnis of the MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge told Science Daily. The information collected with the tokens would have been recorded onto cuneiform tablets somewhere else. “The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn’t require everyone involved to be literate,” he explained. MacGinnis hopes that the codes of the token system will one day be fully understood.