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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 16

“Fourth Strand” of European Ancestry Identified

DUBIN, IRELAND—The genomes of two hunter-gatherers whose 13,300 and 9,700-year-old remains were found in caves in the Caucasus have been mapped by an international team of researchers led by scientists from Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and Cambridge University. The study revealed that these two individuals belonged to a previously unknown fourth strand of ancient European ancestry. “This new lineage diverged from western European hunter-gatherers around the time of the first migrations of early modern humans into Europe about 45,000 years ago and from the ancestors of early farmers around the time of the glacial maximum, 25,000 years ago,” Andrea Manica of Cambridge University said in a press release. After the thaw, the Caucasus hunter-gatherers mixed with other groups, probably from the east. “The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now. We can now answer that as we’ve found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation,” she added. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Fortified Greek Settlement Found in Ukraine

WARSAW, POLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw and the National Ukrainian Academy of Sciences confirmed the location of a 2,000-year-old fortified Greek settlement along the Dnieper River, located near the Greek colony of Olbia, with aerial photographs taken with a kite and geophysical surveys. “Over a dozen similar settlements have been identified so far in the lower Dnieper. If we manage to raise adequate funds, we are planning to conduct research on a wider scale. In the first place we would like to do documentary work and geophysical surveys of each of the settlements because they are subject to systematic robbery excavations. Besides, they have never been comprehensively surveyed,” Marcin Matera of the University of Warsaw told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The settlement is thought to have been a trade center that linked the Dnieper steppes to the rest of the ancient world. To read more in-depth about the archaeology of ancient Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

Game Pieces Recovered From Looted Tomb in China

QINGZHOU CITY, CHINA—Live Science reports that a heavily looted tomb located near the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin in southern China has yielded pieces from a board game, including a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 game pieces with numbers painted on them, and a broken tile that was part of the game board. The pieces are thought to belong to a game called “bo,” also known as “liubo.” Researchers are not sure how the game was played, in part because it has not been played for some 1,500 years. Five pits for grave goods had been placed beside the 2,300-year-old tomb, which dates to the Warring States Period and is thought to belong to aristocrats from the state of Qi. Looters had dug 26 shafts into the tomb’s burial mound. “The coffin chamber was almost completely dug out and robbed, suffering severe damage in the process,” the archaeologists wrote in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. To read in-depth about Chinese archaeology, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

1,700-Year-Old Courtyard Mosaic Discovered in Israel

LOD, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a second high-quality mosaic floor in the southern part of a 1,700-year-old villa while preparing to build a visitor center at the site. The first mosaic, which served as the villa’s living room floor, is now touring museums around the world. The second mosaic was located in the villa’s courtyard, which was covered and surrounded by porticos, and depicts hunting and hunted animals, fish, flowers in baskets, vases, and birds. “The villa we found was part of a neighborhood of affluent houses that stood here during the Roman and Byzantine periods. At that time Lod was called Diospolis and was the district capital, until it was replaced by Ramla after the Muslim conquest. The building was used for a very long time,” excavation director Amir Gorzalczany said in a press release. “The eastern part of the complex could not be completely exposed because it extends beneath modern buildings in the neighborhood,” he added. To read in-depth about mosaics of this period, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Friday, November 13

Duck-Shaped Incense Shovel Found in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A 2,200-year-old incense shovel crafted in the shape of a duck was unearthed at Khirbet el-Eika near the Sea of Galilee by a team led by Uzi Leibner of The Hebrew University. Khirbet el-Eika was a fortified town built during the third century B.C. and destroyed around A.D. 140. Leibner thinks that the duck shovel, which is of Greco-Roman design and found in a public building, may have been a cultic object. Similar designs have been found on other ancient objects in the Levant, including two bronze ladles from a shipwreck off the coast of Ashkelon. And Greek amphorae bearing stamps from Rhodes and Kos were found in a nearby structure. These huge wine vessels would have had to have been transported 75 miles inland, and were probably imported by wealthy gentiles. “We can’t say for sure, but the hints seem to point to a pagan population [at Khirbet el-Eika],” Leibner told The Times of Israel. To read about mystery cults in the Greco-Roman world, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Construction Reveals Possible Maori Fortified Village

TARANAKI, NEW ZEALAND—A site that may be a pa, or Maori fortified village, was discovered on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island during a highway construction project. The pa may be Ketemarae, which was taken by imperial British Army troops in 1866 under Major-General Trevor Chute. “The project is on the border of where our ancient pa site was and so when they said they had found palisades there, well straight away I’m thinking there’s other things in the ground,” Clive Tongaawhikau, chair of Araukuuku hapu, a descent group, told Radio New Zealand. He explained that his ancestors may have hidden objects in the swamp when they were invaded, and that other remnants of ancestral housing have been found in the area. “We have had an archaeologist head out on site to have a preliminary look at the situation out there and her recommendation is there needs to be a little more testing to identify the extent of this and get an idea of what the site actually is,” commented Claire Craig of Heritage New Zealand. To read more about archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past." 

Possible World War II Crash Site Found in Northern France

NORMANDY, FRANCE—British aviation archaeologist Tony Graves thinks he has found the wreck site of a World War II British Stirling that was lost on June 18, 1944, in a farmer’s field in France. The plane had been carrying ammunition and paratroopers as part of a covert operation to aid the French Resistance, but it never arrived at its destination. Local people remember the chaos of battle that evening and a plane that fell out of the sky. All 23 people on board were lost. French authorities are reluctant to disturb a war grave with an excavation, however. “If there are any remains here, the police will be called and they’ll have a proper burial instead of laying under a field with cows trampling all over them,” Graves told CBC Canada. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."

Thursday, November 12

Archaeologists Survey the Nez Perce National Historic Trail

CODY, WYOMING—Researchers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Cody and the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist (OWSA) have been looking for evidence of U.S. Army campsites along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail near the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. In 1877, the U.S. Army pursued the Nez Perce for 1,170 miles, from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battleground in Montana, where Chief Joseph surrendered. “The archival materials make searching worthwhile because Army officers wrote about where they camped. Over a thousand men from two different departments made camp in approximately the same location, somewhere in this area—that’s what we’re looking for,” AWSA archaeologist Dan Eakin said in a BLM press release. The team, which included members from the U.S. Forest Service, volunteers, and a Nez Perce tribal member, found worn pieces of horseshoes, cartridge cases, a saddle ring, and a square nail. These artifacts are not conclusive evidence that the team found traces of the trail, but it will help them better define it and protect it in the future. To read more about archaeology in the western United States, go to "The Buffalo Chasers."

Mitochondrial Genome of 500-Year-Old Mummy Sequenced

GALICIA, SPAIN—Antonio Salas Ellacuriaga and Federico Martinon Torres of the University of Santiago de Compostela led a team that analyzed the mitochondrial genome of the Aconcagua boy, the frozen remains of a seven-year-old discovered in Argentina by hikers in 1985. The Inca boy had been ritually killed some 500 years ago; his body naturally mummified in the cold, dry environment of the Aconcagua Mountain. The scientists extracted an uncontaminated sample from the boy’s lung tissue, and found that he belonged to an unknown subgroup of the diverse genetic lineage called C1b, which dates back to the earliest Paleoinidans more than 18,000 years ago. According to a report in Science, the team labeled this unidentified subgroup C1bi, which is thought to have originated in the Andes some 14,000 years ago. A check of genetic databases revealed four other known individuals in the C1bi group: three samples came from modern-day people living in Peru and Bolivia. The fourth sample came from the ancient Wari Empire, which predated the Inca in Peru. Population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity suggests that the two ancient samples indicate that the now-rare genetic variation was common before the arrival of Europeans. To read more about the Inca, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Colosseum Discovered in Volterra, Italy

TUSCANY, ITALY—A Roman amphitheater thought to date to the first century A.D. has been discovered in the town of Volterra, once a well-known Etruscan city that fell under Roman rule. “It’s puzzling that no historical account records the existence of such an imposing amphitheater. Possibly it was abandoned at a certain time and gradually covered by vegetation,” archaeologist Elena Sorge of the Tuscan Superintendency told Discovery News. “This amphitheater was quite large. Our survey dig revealed three orders of seats that could accommodate about 10,000 people. They were entertained by gladiator fights and wild beast baiting,” Sorge explained. A survey conducted with ground-penetrating radar by Carlo Battini of the University of Genoa indicates that much of the amphitheater, which was constructed of stone in the same manner as the nearby theater, is under 20 to 32 feet of dirt. To read about a recent Etruscan discovery, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Pieces of Roman Sign Reunited in England

READING, ENGLAND—In 2013, archaeologists from the University of Reading unearthed a fragment of inscribed marble at the site of Silchester Roman Town, located in southern England. Analysis of the stone fragment, which is etched with the letters ‘ba,’ has shown that it was part of a sign with the letters ‘At’ in the second line that was found at the site in 1891. The sign is thought to have read ‘At(e)ba(tum), or ‘of the Atrebates,’ the French tribe thought to have founded Silchester in the first century B.C. “Matching pieces which were discovered over 100 years apart to a 2,000-year-old object is incredibly rare—perhaps happening only once or twice in the UK before,” Mike Fulford of the University of Reading said in a press release. Fulford thinks that the building may have been destroyed by the legendary Boudica during her rebellion against the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. To read more, go to "Boudica: Queen of the Iceni."