Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, May 20

More on the World’s Oldest Tools from Lomekwi 3

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Stone tools from northern Kenya have been dated to 3.3 million years ago, making them 700,000 years older than Oldowan artifacts. Louise Leakey and her team at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) created 3-D laser scans of the Lomekwi 3 tools to reveal very fine details on their surfaces. “The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone,” Sonia Harmand of TBI, Stony Brook University, and the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) said in Stony Brook University Happenings. Harmand and her colleague Jason Lewis discovered the site while looking for early stone tools in a dry riverbed along the western shore of Lake Turkana. Yet no hominin fossils or cut-marked bones have been found at the site, so the team isn’t sure who made the tools or how they were used. “Many have expected the threshold of stone tool-making to be pushed back in time, but the Lomekwi excavations really do represent a major advance in our understanding,” commented Richard Leakey, chair of TBI. For another recent discovery, see "Neanderthal Tool Time."

The Origins of Madagascar’s Dogs

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Peter Savolainen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology looked for traces of Indonesian ancestry in modern dogs from Madagascar, but found no connection to the pets of ancient Austronesian migrants. “Dogs, together with pigs and chickens, were important domestic animals in the Austronesian culture. So it would be expected that dogs were brought in the colonization of major new areas, and a seemingly total absence in Madagascar of dogs with Austronesian heritage is surprising,” he said in a press release. Madagascar’s human population has a high diversity of maternal and paternal lineages of Indonesian origin, however. Those migrants are thought to have traveled with domesticated pigs, chickens, and their dogs, whose genes have been detected in dogs in Hawaii, Southeast Asia, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand. “It is possible that if the dogs were brought along on these long journeys, they died from the hardship, or were used as a food source,” Savolainen speculated. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Navy Divers Recover Civil War-Era Ironclad

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—The wreckage of the CSS Georgia is being recovered by Navy divers to make way for the expansion of a shipping channel as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The ironclad gunboat was launched in 1863, but it was too heavy to travel under its own steam and leaked badly. The vessel was moored some five miles from Savannah and was scuttled by Confederate forces as Union troops seized the city in 1864. Sections of the wreckage will be recovered in segments from the muddy river bottom because they are too large to handle, and special precautions are being taken to handle the ship’s projectiles and ordnance. “You’re dealing with something that’s been down there for 150 years; I can’t imagine that any part will be easy,” Navy Diver 2nd Class Jonny Pounders told 13 News Now. The project is expected to take two months to complete. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Tuesday, May 19

8,000-Year-Old Village Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Sixty houses have been unearthed at a Neolithic settlement by archaeologists working ahead of road construction in southwestern Bulgaria. The 8,000-year-old planned settlement had three parallel, wide streets set between two-story houses made of wooden frames and clay. The walls of the houses are thought to have been preserved by fires set within the structures. Pieces of the houses have also been found in small burial pits. “We can assume that there was a string of problems connected with the corresponding cycle of life and perhaps they wanted to break this cycle, to complete it and start a new cycle of life elsewhere, and therefore burnt the village,” lead archaeologist Vassil Nikolov told The Sofia Globe. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, see "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Genetic Study Identifies Young Paternal Lineages in Europe

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, geneticists from the University of Leicester sequenced DNA from the Y chromosomes of 334 men from 17 populations in Europe and the Middle East. Using new methods for analyzing DNA variation and the timing of population events, the team, led by Mark Jobling and Chiara Batini, found that two out of three modern European men have descended from just three paternal lineages that branch out from the genealogical tree of European Y chromosomes. The study also suggests that this explosion in the size of the male population occurred between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago. “The population expansion falls within the Bronze Age, which involved changes in burial practices, the spread of horse-riding, and developments in weaponry. Dominant males linked with these cultures could be responsible for the Y-chromosome patterns we see today,” Jobling said in a press release. It had been thought from previous genetic studies that the population expansion occurred at an earlier time. “Given the cultural complexity of the Bronze Age, it’s difficult to link a particular event to the population growth that we infer. But Y-chromosome DNA sequences from skeletal remains are becoming available, and this will help us to understand what happened, and when,” added Batini. To read in-depth about Europe's first great Bronze Age civilization, see "The Minoans of Crete."

Size of Domestic Animals Linked to Farming Practices

VIZCAYA, SPAIN—The remains of more than 2,500 domestic cows, sheep, and pigs from 41 archaeological sites across the Iberian Peninsula were measured and analyzed by Idoia Grau-Sologestoa of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country. She found that the size of domestic animals is linked to livestock management practices over time. “The increase in animal size is normally linked to improvements of an environmental type (for example to new ways of feeding) or of a genetic type (for example, by importing larger animals). Larger domestic animal size entails a number of economic advantages with an increase in meat production or traction strength. What is more, improved domestic animals tend to grow faster which helps to increase their productivity,” she explained in a press release. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the size of domestic animals did not undergo significant changes, and between the eighth and ninth centuries, domestic animals were actually smaller, perhaps because of the semi-free foraging practices of the Early Middle Ages, as confirmed by the analysis of stable isotopes in cattle bones. But the size of domestic animals, especially sheep, has been increasing since the Late Middle Ages. “This increase is linked to the importance of sheep husbandry in this period not only for meat production but also to take advantage of the wool and milk of these animals,” she said. Grau-Sologestoa will soon examine the changes in livestock management during the transition to the modern era. To read more, see "The Origins of Domestic Cattle."

Monday, May 18

Water Tank Excavated at Vindolanda

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Recent excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall, have uncovered a free-standing water tank, animal bones, pens, hairpins, barrels, and a stone engraved with a hare and a hound, perhaps for Diana, the goddess of hunting. “The excavators concentrated on the water tank feature and the roads surrounding it. They managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill, and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment. These would have carried the large flag stones which were to eventually cover the feature entirely,” director of excavations Andrew Birley told Culture 24. Coins, animal bone, and pottery in the fill will help the researchers determine when the backfilling took place. The tank was encased with an outer wall within a temple or shrine. “The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter. Instead, they could have obtained their water from the small header tank in front of the building and been restricted to looking into the temple to see a raised platform at the back, perhaps with the effigy of the god or goddess reflected in the water below,” Birley said. To read more about life at Vindolanda, see "Artifact: Latin Party Invitation."

Evidence of Beheading Detected on Wata Wata Skulls

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Forbes, osteological analysis of three skulls dating between A.D. 200 and 800 from the site of Wata Wata in Bolivia suggests that the one man and two women experienced extreme violence at or near the time of death. The victims were incapacitated, but may have still been alive at the time of the torture. Sara Becker, now of the University of California at Riverside, and Sonia Alconini of the University of Texas at San Antonio wrote in the journal Latin American Antiquity that the marks on the skull of the first woman show that she had been scalped and beheaded. Cut marks on her upper cheekbones, around her eyes indicate that her eyes may have been gouged out. The man had suffered a broken nose that had healed before his death, but he also had a large, unhealed skull fracture and there are cut marks around his eye orbit. The second woman had also experienced a blow to the head. Cut marks indicate that her head was defleshed, and her lower jaw and eyes were removed. “The physical extraction of the eyes of the Wata Wata heads may be a symbol of blindness and blinding the power of these individuals,” they said. Becker and Alconini think the three may have been decapitated, dismembered, and buried by a new regime during a political transition. For more on ancient political machinations in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Ancient Egyptian Temple Found in Sandstone Quarry

ASWAN, EGYPT—A team of archaeologists led by Maria Nilsson of Sweden’s Lund University has unearthed rock inscriptions and cartouches for Amenhotep III and Ramses II at a 3,300-year-old temple site in the Gebel El Silsila quarry. Beads dating to the 18th Dynasty, colored plaster, faience, pottery, and a blue-colored scarab were recovered from the temple area. The temple had four visible layers, column bases, and inner and outer walls. The oldest phase of the temple had been built from limestone and “may signify the official changeover from limestone construction to sandstone,” Nilsson told The Cairo Post. For more on Egyptian temples, see "The Cult of Amun."

Teeth Marks Show Carnivores Attacked Neanderthals

TARRAGONA, SPAIN—Edgard Camaró, Carlos Lorenzo, and Florent Rivals of the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social (IPHES) examined the bones of people who were recently killed by large carnivores such as lions, tigers, bears, and leopards, and compared the injuries they found with the injuries found on Neanderthal fossils. The “same pattern is observed and therefore we infer that Neanderthals were also attacked by large carnivores,” Camaró said in a press release. “This remarks the importance that predation has on human evolution, and the strong pressure that existed between Neanderthals and large carnivores during prehistory,” he added. The research has also identified the particular marks made by various carnivores, which will benefit forensic medicine. “The use of forensic medicine to explain the past provides useful information and provides new approaches between sciences and transfer of knowledge,” he said. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"