Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 08

New Thoughts on Neolithic Israel

GEDERA, ISRAEL—A statue that may represent a fertility goddess and a figurine of a full-figured woman were unearthed during a rescue dig in south-central Israel. The statues, estimated to be 7,000 years old, are similar to figures from the Yarmukian culture that are usually found in northern Israel. The culture in southern Israel at this time had been labeled the Jericho 9 culture. “I think that in the end this is one culture with difference in the way pottery is made. It seems they had a single system of beliefs,” Edwin van den Brink of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz. He and Yitzhak Mermelstein are in charge of the excavation. “The question is whether the figurines represent a single ritual world in which there is an image with a bountiful chest, wide hips and maybe pregnancy. The most important question is whether the figures were made in the south or brought from the north,” Marmelstein added. Chemical tests of the clay used to make the figurines could provide the answer to that question. To read more about the Neolithic in Israel, see "8,000-Year-Old Cult Sites Surveyed in Negev Desert."

Red Blood Cells Found in Ötzi the Iceman

BOLZANO, ITALY—Phys.org reports that a team of researchers from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman used a nano-sized probe to search the cuts on the body of Ötzi the Iceman, who died some 5,300 years ago in the Alps, for red blood cells. As it moved, the probe captured 3-D images of doughnut-shaped cells. These cells were confirmed to be red blood cells with a laser that tested their molecular composition. Raman spectroscopy was then used to detect traces of fibrin, a clotting agent made by the body immediately after an injury occurs. The team of researchers, including Marek Janko, Robert W. Stark, and Albert Zink, suggests in the open-access Journal of the Royal Society that Ötzi died shortly after he received these wounds, since fibrin is quickly absorbed by the body as other agents take over healing. To read about Ötzi's tattoos, click here. 

Controlled Burn Reveals Site on the Northern Plains

HI-LINE DISTRICT, MONTANA—An unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was used by Bureau of Land Management rangers to photograph the Henry Smith archaeological site in Montana’s Hi-Line District, following a controlled burn of some 320 acres of land in the area. “This was the first use of a (UAS) by the BLM to obtain imagery and data in relation to cultural resources in the Northern Plains,” Josh Chase, Hi-Line District archaeologist, said in a statement reported in The Billings Gazette. The removal of vegetation from the site allowed scientists to get a clear view of Avonlea-period complex (A.D. 770-1040), which includes anthropomorphic and zoomorphic stone effigies, stone cairns, drive lines, and stone circles. Avonlea-period hunters may have used the structures in rituals related to bison hunting and butchering. “The project will allow BLM to better study, document and manage this unique location,” Chase said. Temperature sensors were placed in mock cultural sites to measure the maximum temperature of the grass-fueled fire, and to study its effects bone and stone remains. This will help scientists understand how fire interacts with cultural resources. To read in-depth about prehistoric bison hunting in Montana, see "The Buffalo Chasers."

Pollen Suggests Spain’s Red Lady Had Been Buried With Flowers

VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Plant pollen found in the Paleolithic tomb of Spain’s Red Lady suggests that she had been buried with flowers. The tomb, discovered in El Mirón Cave in 2010, contained the 18,700-year-old remains of a woman aged between 35 and 40 years old at the time of death. Her bones, reddish in color from ochre, had been placed between the wall of the cave and an engraved block that had come away from the roof. Ochre was also found in the sediments around the remains. The pollen analysis, conducted by Maria José Iriarte and Alvaro Arrizabalaga of The UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, and Gloria Cuenca of the University of Zaragoza, revealed a high concentration of plants from the goosefoot family that were not present at this time in other parts of the cave. “They put whole flowers on the tomb, but it has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing plants was to do with a ritual offering for the dead person, or whether it was for a simpler purpose like, for example, to ward off the bad smells associated with the burial,” Iriarte said in a press release. To read about a spectacular piece of Paleolithic art, see "A New Life for Lion Man."

Thursday, May 07

19th-Century Schooner Unearthed at Toronto’s Historic Waterfront

TORONTO, CANADA—Parts of an early nineteenth-century schooner were discovered during a construction project near Toronto’s old Lake Ontario shoreline. Archaeologists from ASI, an archaeological and cultural heritage firm, were looking for the remains of the Queens Wharf and other harbor features when they found the ship’s keel, the lowermost portions of the stern and bow, and a limited section of the bottom of the hull on the port side. “Based on what we have seen so far, this seems to be a vestige of one of the earliest vessels found in Toronto,” ASI senior archaeologist David Robertson said in a press release. “We plan to undertake an extensive study to find out everything we can about the vessel. At this time, however, we’re not confident it will be possible to preserve the remains.” The shipwreck will be recorded in detail with 3-D scanning technologies, however. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Stone Bracelet May Have Been Made by Denisovans

NOVOSIBIRSK, SIBERIA—A stone bracelet unearthed in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008 is being called the oldest-known jewelry of its kind. Anatoly Derevyanko, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and the research team believe that the cave’s Denisovan layers were uncontaminated by human activity from a later period. The soil around the two fragments of the jewelry piece was dated with oxygen isotopic analysis to 40,000 years ago. “In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things; until then it was believed these were the hallmark of the emergence of Homo sapiens. First of all, there were symbolic items, such as jewelry, including the stone bracelet as well as a ring, carved out of marble,” Derevyanko told The Siberian Times. Details of the ring have not been released, but the bracelet, fashioned from imported chlorite, is fragile and thought to have been worn only on special occasions by an elite woman or child. “The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as easel speed drilling, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning,” Derevyanko said. Wear near a hole drilled on the outer surface of the bracelet suggests that it may have held a leather strap attached to a heavy charm. This wear also suggests that the bracelet was worn on the right wrist. “The bracelet is stunning—in bright sunlight it reflects the sun’s rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,” he said. To read more about our recently discovered relatives, see "Denisovan DNA."

Lost Cloister Discovered in Iceland

ÁLFTAVER, ICELAND—Icelandic and British archaeologists employing geosensing techniques have detected the remains of a large building that may be Iceland’s lost Þykkvabær cloister, which housed Augustinian monks from 1168 to 1550. “I think we’ve just hit the jackpot, because I think we’ve discovered the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur. It came as a complete surprise, you can say that much. The remains are not on the site it was assumed the cloisters stood,” Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir told Stöð 2 television and reported in The Iceland Review. It had been thought that the cloister would be found near the present-day Þykkvabæjarkirkja church, where researchers have been looking for it. “It is very big compared to the buildings of the time—as it is from the Middle Ages—and the footprint is around 1,500 square meters.” He added that it is possible that the building was the cloister’s cow shed. To read more about life in medieval Iceland, see "Surviving the Little Ice Age."

Wednesday, May 06

Restoration of Sicily’s Selinunte Nearly Complete

PALERMO, SICILY—Restoration of the buildings in the ancient Greek city of Selinunte is scheduled to be finished within the next few months. The projects within the ancient city “call for interventions with innovative materials of the surfaces seen and an improvement and securing of some of the structural parts,” park director Giovanni Leto Barone told ANSA. Walkways from the Acropolis and the Malophoros Sanctuary have been improved, along with the park’s tourist signs. The museum at the site has received upgrades to its electrical, fire-prevention, and air-conditioning systems. To read about the restoration of ancient sites in Italy, see "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries." 

Precise GPS Helps Archaeologists Map Bulldozed Site

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Ruth Young of the University of Leicester and a team of researchers surveyed Hosn Niha, a second-century Roman temple and Roman-Byzantine village in Lebanon that has been heavily damaged by war. German archaeologists described the site in 1938 as “a picture of complete ransacking,” according to a report in Live Science. Military activity and looting later in the twentieth century also took a toll on the site. Even so, Young and the team were able to find enough surviving features and tomb types to learn about the settlement. “What we were trying to do is show that sites that have been quite badly damaged by conflict shouldn’t just be ignored and forgotten,” she said. The researchers used differential GPS to map architectural fragments and then dated the bulldozed piles of pottery fragments. The study suggests that a central village had been established by A.D. 200, and it diminished by the Islamic period, although it is unclear why. The researchers also think that the inhabitants may have grown grapes for wine. “This might explain why they were able to build such big temples. If they were doing wine, they could do it as a cash crop,” explained team member Paul Newson of the American University of Beirut. To read about urban archaeology in Lebanon, see "Rebuilding Beirut."

700-Year-Old Doctor’s Tomb Excavated in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—An inscribed gravestone at a tomb unearthed near the ancient capital of Xi’an identifies the occupant as Wu Jing, a high-profile Confucian doctor who was in charge of local medical services and educating other doctors. The tomb consists of a passage, a door, and a burial chamber. Iron nails, ashes, and bone residue were found, in addition to pottery, jade items, and other artifacts. “The tomb is an important discovery that will shed light on unknown aspects of medical history and social culture in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368),” Duan Yi of Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology told the Xinhua News Agency. The gravestone records the story that Wu Jing once cut flesh from his own arm to feed his sick mother in an act of filial piety. To read more about ancient burial sites in China, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."