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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 13

Bioarchaeologists Examine Diet Consumed by Paracas Culture

TEMPE, ARIZONA—Hair samples taken from 14 mummies discovered in Peru’s Paracas Necropolis of Wari Kayan, and two artifacts made of human hair, have been analyzed by a team made up of Kelly Knudson of Arizona State University, Ann H. Peters of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Elsa Tomasto Cagigao of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. The mummies, each found bound in a seated position and wrapped in a cone-shaped bundle of textiles and finely embroidered garments, were discovered in 1927. The testing has shown that during the last months of their lives, the Paracas individuals ate primarily marine products, and plants such as maize and beans. If they traveled between the inland highlands and the coastal regions, they continued to eat marine products. “By using small samples of hair from these mummies, we can learn what they ate in the months and weeks before they died, which is a very intimate look at the past,” Knudson said. To read about another discovery in the region, see "Tomb of the Wari Queens."

New Thoughts on the Bones from Bluefish Caves

MONTRÉAL, CANADA—Lauriane Bourgeon of the University of Montréal used a stereomicroscope to examine more than 5,000 bone fragments from Cave 2 of the Bluefish Caves site, which is located near the Alaska-Yukon border. The bones were discovered in the late 1970s, and are covered with deep scrapes and sharp gouges usually associated with human tool use, but the samples produced radiocarbon dates as much as 25,000 years old. “The history of the Bluefish Caves has been controversial for a very long time because of the hypothesis that modern humans were occupying the site at around 25,000 years ago,” Bourgeon told Western Digs. She concluded that the majority of the marks on the bones were made by scavenging carnivores, but at least two of the bones have deep, straight, parallel marks indicating that the animals were butchered by humans. “That is typically the mark of a stone tool used to de-flesh or disarticulate a carcass,” she said. The fragmentation of the bones could be a sign of processing by humans as well. “Humans…used hammer stones to break the shaft and extract its marrow. They could also break the epiphysis [the rounded end of a long bone], to boil them extract the grease,” she explained. Bourgeon expects that new radiocarbon dates will place the bones between 10,000 and 14,000 years old, a range of dates similar to those of other well-documented sites in the region. To read about the first people to reach the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."

Today’s Europeans Rooted in Ancient Migration From Russia

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in Nature News, a study of nuclear DNA from the remains of 69 individuals who lived across Europe between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago, and the genome data of another 25 ancient Europeans, has uncovered evidence of a previously unidentified migration of people into Europe from the east. The research team, led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School, discovered that the DNA of the Yamnaya, 5,000-year-old steppe herders in western Russia, was a close match for 4,500-year-old individuals from Germany’s Corded Ware culture. Contemporary northern Europeans, including Norwegians, Scots, and Lithuanians maintain the strongest genetic link to the Yamnaya, but Reich’s team says it’s possible that the Yamnaya completely replaced populations in what is now Germany. Reich adds that the data supports the idea that at least part of the Indo-European language family was spread by the steppe herders. The domestication of horses and the invention of the wheel would have allowed them to travel long distances. To hear what Proto-Indo-European would have sounded like, see "Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European."

8,000-Year-Old Cult Sites Surveyed in the Negev Desert

HEVEL EILOT, ISRAEL—Stone structures, circles, and artifacts that may symbolize death and fertility have been found at some 100 prehistoric sites in Israel’s Eilat Mountains. The stone circles, measuring roughly five to eight feet across, have phallus-shaped installations pointing toward them. There are also 2.6-foot-tall standing stones, stone bowls, human-shaped stone carvings, and stones with vulva-shaped holes cut into them. “The circle is a female symbol, and the elongated cell is a male one,” Uzi Avner of the Arava Institute told Live Science. Burial of the stone objects and setting them upside down is thought to signify death. Bones at the sites suggest that animals may have been sacrificed. The sites may have been places where extended families of several dozen people could gather, although only two small habitations and one small campsite have been found in the region. Avner adds that more than 300 cult sites in the area still need to be surveyed. “Taking in consideration the topography, environmental conditions and the small number of known Neolithic habitations in the general southern Negev, the density of cult sites in this region is phenomenal,” the research team wrote in the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society. To read about efforts to reconstruct technology dating to this time, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Thursday, February 12

War of the Roses Cannonball Recovered

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The Eagle Drive Cannon Ball, thought to be the oldest surviving cannonball in England, has been rediscovered at the site of the Battle of Northampton. “It is highly likely that the projectile was fired during the battle in 1460,” Glenn Foard of Huddersfield University told Culture 24. As many as 12,000 men may have been killed while fighting the battle called the turning point in the War of the Roses. The cannonball is thought to have been fired by Yorkist gunners targeting Lancastrian troops. It was damaged by at least two bounces, and it may have hit a tree. A gouge on the ball contains small fragments of local sand and ironstone. “It supports the long-held belief that the 1460 Battle of Northampton was the first time artillery was used in battle on English soil, raising the importance of the conflict as part of the story of England,” added David Mackintosh, Leader of the Northampton Borough Council. To read more about battlefield archaeology, see "Reconstructing Medieval Artillery." 

Foundations of Tudor Apartments Seen at Hampton Court

MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND—The removal of squeaky floorboards from a room used by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court palace revealed the foundations of the royal apartments built for Anne Boleyn when she became queen in 1533. This is the first time that the Tudor brickwork has been recorded by researchers, who could see evidence of its hasty construction and later repairs. Problems with the foundation in 1536 required the construction of a new inner wall, and renovations for another new queen. Jane Seymour’s son then lived in the rooms after her death in October 1537. The Tudor apartments were eventually demolished and the foundations covered up by Christopher Wren in the late seventeenth century. The new floor was laid on supports to keep it off the historic bricks. “It’s taken far longer, and cost a lot more, than originally expected, but it’s been worth it,” Dan Jackson, curator of historic buildings for Hampton Court, told The Guardian. To read about a suprising royal discovery beneath the floorboards of another English palace, see "Treason, Plot, and Witchcraft."

“Wine of the Negev” Grape Seeds Found

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced that charred grape seeds dating to the Byzantine era could help scientists learn about “the Wine of the Negev,” noted in historical sources as one of the finest wines in the Byzantine Empire. “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said excavation director Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa. Previous excavations in the Negev have uncovered the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where the drink was produced, and the Gaza jugs in which it was stored, but this is the first time that the grape seeds, recovered from the middens surrounding the ancient city of Halutza, have been found. Pottery and coins in the middens suggest that the seeds date to the sixth and seventh centuries A.D., when the city was at the peak of its economic success. “After washing the dirt and gently sifting the findings all that remained was to separate the botanical findings, which included seeds, pits and plant remains, from small animal bones, which included the remains of rodents that were drawn to the refuse,” Bar-Oz said. Study of the seeds could reveal if the vines were native to the Negev, or if they had been imported. For more, see "Ancient Wine Press Discovered in Tel Aviv."

Wednesday, February 11

Shamsheer Studied With Non-Destructive Tests

LONDON, ENGLAND—A curved single-edged sword called a shamsheer has been studied using metallography and neutron diffraction by a team led by Eliza Barzagli of the University of Florence. The sword, made in a Persian design, had been crafted in India in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Samples were collected from an area of the weapon that had already been damaged to be examined under a microscope. Then the sword was sent to the ISIS pulsed spallation neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom, for non-invasive testing. The results of the tests revealed that the sword, now housed at the Wallace Collection, was made of wootz steel, which is quite pure and has a high carbon content, characteristic of high-quality swords made in India and Central Asia. Such cast pieces of metal were cooled slowly and forged carefully at low temperatures. This particular sword was probably used in battle. “A non-destructive method able to identify which of the shiny surface blades are actually of wootz steel is very welcome,” Barzagli told Eureka Alert. To read about a similar study, see "Army Assists With Study of Anglo-Saxon Sword."

Excavation of the Nissia Begins Off the Coast of Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—A shipwreck dating to the Ottoman period is being excavated off the southeast coast of Cyprus by the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory of the University of Cyprus, in collaboration with the department of antiquities. Called the Nissia, “it is the only shipwreck of this period known in Cyprus, and one of the few that are under investigation in the eastern Mediterranean,” the Cyprus antiquities department announced. The Cyprus Mail reports that three iron cannons, wooden rigging, bullets, ceramics, glass tableware, bricks, and a section of the ship’s hull have been found so far. The project members also want to protect the site, which is a favorite of recreational divers, from looting and wear and tear. For more on nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Evidence of Nighthawking Found at Hadrian’s Wall

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Evidence of illegal digging has been found at a center section of Hadrian’s Wall, constructed in the second century at the edge of the Roman frontier. The police and officials from English Heritage suspect that metal detectors were used to look for artifacts because of the discoveries that have been made at the nearby site of Vindolanda Roman fort. “The trust deplores the illegal use of metal detecting,” Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, told The Telegraph. Volunteers have been recruited to patrol and inspect stretches of the wall for signs of damage. “The objects they are stealing belong to the landowner, in this case the National Trust, and the history they are stealing belongs to all of us,” said Mark Harrison, English Heritage national crime advisor. To read more about metal detecting in England, see "Heads Won, Tales Lost."

Ancient Pueblo Indian Rock Art Damaged by Vandals

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—Trash, motorcycle tracks, and graffiti were discovered at Boca Negra Arroyo in the Petroglyph National Monument. The fencing was down, semi-trailer tires had been dumped in the canyon, traces of campfires were found, and an archaeologically sensitive dry cave had been spray-painted with graffiti. “We have to be careful and sensitive so we don’t damage the rocks and create our own markings. We have a variety of methods to try, ranging from high-pressure water, to a pumice removal method to a new product, an environmentally friendly solvent. In the very near future, we’ll have it looking better,” Dennis Vásquez, the National Park Service superintendent at the Petroglyph National Monument, told The Associated Press.