Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 01

Polynesians Spread Rapidly Across the Tongan Archipelago

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—People first arrived on the Tongan island of Tongatapu around 2,800 years ago, according to a study by Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and David Burley of Simon Fraser University. In a new study, Weisler and his colleagues obtained dates for coral abraders, animal bones, shell tools, and charcoal from ovens from 20 Lapita sites across the Tongan archipelago using uranium- and radiocarbon-dating techniques. “We now have a precise chronology for the settlement of Tonga and the radiating out and occupying the islands of Tonga,” he told ABC Science. “Within one human generation or so the first settlers explored the rest of the archipelago and put down additional daughter communities.” The depletion of resources at the original site, the love of seafaring, and even sibling rivalry could have fueled the rapid settlement, he added. To read more about the colonization of the Pacific, see "Letter From Hawaii."

Neolithic Fishing Spear Retains Its Bone Point

LOLLAND, DENMARK—A pronged spear with a center bone point was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. “It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic,” Line Marie Olesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster told Discovery News. Known as a leister, this Stone Age spear is the first to have been found with the lateral prongs and the bone point still in place. “It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much,” Olesen said. Radiocarbon dates for the leister are in the works. To read in-depth about Neolithic technology in Europe, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."

Were Neolithic Societies Egalitarian?

VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of the Basque Country suggests that late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were starting to become hierarchized, based upon data obtained from five megalithic graves in La Rioja and two in Araba-Álava, which together contained the remains of 248 individuals. “We propose that the people buried were intentionally selected,” she said in a press release. “The demographic composition of the megaliths displays significant anomalies with respect to a natural population of an ancient type. The bias identified, which almost systematically affects children under five, but certain adults as well, above all female ones, could be indicating that access to graves was restricted to those people who enjoyed certain rights and privileges only, against what is usually maintained in the traditional archaeological literature,” she said. Isotope analysis of the remains could shed more light on who was buried in the dolmens. Fernández-Crespo and her colleague, Concepción de la Rua, think that people of lower social status may have been buried in as-yet undiscovered natural caves, sheltered spaces under rocks, or pits. To read about similar structures in India, see "India's Village of the Dead."

13th-Century Rune Stick Unearthed in Denmark

ODENSE, DENMARK—A rune stick dating to the thirteenth century has been unearthed among market stalls buried beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense. “The stick itself had the consistency of cold butter before it was conserved, and some little devil of a root has gouged its way along the inscription on one side, which is a bit upsetting,” Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark said in a press release reported in Science Nordic. The fragile, round stick was found in three pieces that had been carved with the words “good health” and “Tomme his servant,” thought to refer to the owner of the stick as a servant of God. The stick may have been worn as a talisman. For more on runes, see "Viking Code Cracked."

Thursday, April 30

“Waterloo Uncovered” Discovers Battle’s First Shots

GHENT, BELGIUM—Musket balls thought to be from some of the first shots fired in the Battle of Waterloo have been discovered by a team led by Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. “The full team has only been working on site for two days and we have made some very interesting discoveries. In particular, we have started a comprehensive survey, including metal detecting, of the area of the former wood to the south of the Hougoumont buildings and we have already found spent and unfired musket shots at the southern-most tip of the wood, also fragments of firearms and clothing such as uniform buttons,” he said in a press release. The French and Allied armies exchanged fire in these woods during the night before the battle. “Today, we have the technology to scan these lands efficiently in sufficient detail to direct archaeological excavations. The opportunity to do this jointly with veterans from a regiment who played a key role at the battle, the Coldstream Guards, is unique and adds an impressive social dimension to this project,” added Marc Van Meirvenne of Ghent University. To read in-depth about archaeology at Waterloo, see "A Soldier's Story."

Iron-Age Burial in England Contains Man & His Shield

POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—One of 38 square barrows unearthed at an Iron Age cemetery in Yorkshire has yielded the skeleton of a man of the Arras culture who had been buried on his shield. Jewelry and a sword have also been recovered from the site. “Naturally we’re still investigating our findings, so at present we aren’t able to share much more detail—however we’re looking forward to learning more and understanding what these new discoveries mean for the local area,” Paula Ware of MAP Archaeological Practice told The Pocklington Post. The site is being excavated ahead of the construction of a housing development. To read about an Iron Age chariot burial discovered in northern England, see "Riding Into the Afterlife."

Tooth Enamel Shows Young People Moved to Harappa

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Analysis of the isotope ratios of lead and strontium in tooth enamel from people who lived 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley shows that they had not been born in Harappa, where they had been buried. This study looked at different tooth types in order to get an idea of where the people were living at different times in their lives, and the chemical signatures of water, fauna, and rocks of the time, and found that they had been born in the hinterland. “Previous work had thought the burial sites represented local, middle-class people. There was no notion that outsiders were welcomed and integrated by locals within the city. It’s not clear why certain young hinterland people were sent to the city,” biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida said in a press release. To read in-depth about a contemporary civilization in Iran, see "The World in Between."

The Search for the Site of the Bear River Massacre

PRESTON, IDAHO—On January 29, 1863, a regiment of 200 California Volunteers approached the confluence of the Bear River and a frozen creek, where a Northwestern Band of Shoshone were wintering. The regiment’s commander, Col. Patrick Connor, wrote in a letter to the War Department that he sent troops into the village to “chastise” the Shoshone for recent raids and deadly attacks on white settlers. The Shoshone returned fire, and Conner sent in another wave of troops. “That set up what initially was a battle, but that lasted a very short period of time. The Shoshone probably ran out of ammunition, and they were overwhelmed by the California Volunteers,” archaeologist Ken Cannon of USU Archaeological Services told Western Digs. He and his team from Utah State University have used ground-penetrating radar, magnetic gradiometer, and metal detectors, in addition to witness accounts and maps, to look for the site where approximately 23 soldiers and 250 Shoshone died in what is now known as the Bear River Massacre. The land has been disturbed by railroad, canal, and highway construction, so the team began by looking for what became known as Battle Creek to try to find the missing village. “That was the most important landmark for us—to understand where the course of Battle Creek was—because that’s where the village was,” Cannon said. So far, the team has found some anomalies that could be traces of lodges from the village. “Nobody knows about these events. They’ve been lost, and yet they’re incredibly important,” he said. To read about close relatives of the Shoshone, see "Searching for the Comanche Empire."

Wednesday, April 29

Tibetan Millet Mystery Solved With New Agricultural Model

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau may have left in 2000 B.C. because of climate change, according to Jade D’Alpoim Guedes of Washington State University. She found that cooling temperatures would have made it impossible to grow millet, the primary food source. Farmers who moved into the region hundreds of years later would have been able to cultivate wheat and barley, which have overall lower heat requirements. “Wheat and barley came in at the opportune moment, right when millets were losing their ability to be grown on the Tibetan Plateau,” Guedes said in a press release. “The introduction of wheat and barley really enabled Tibetan culture to take the form it has today, and their unique growth patterns may have played a crucial role in the spread of these crops as staples across the vast region of East Asia,” she added. Now that the region is warming rapidly, millet may become useful again. For more on recent research into agriculture in the region, see "How to Thrive on the Roof of the World."

DNA Links Modern Arctic Villages to Prehistory

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A study of the mitochondrial DNA of modern-day Iñupiat people suggests that all of the Iñupiat and Inuit populations from Alaska, Canada, and Greenland came from the Alaskan North Slope. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, with few changes from generation to generation. All of the mitochondrial DNA haplogroups that have been found in the remains of Neo- and Paleo-Eskimos and living Inuit peoples were found among the people from the North Slope villages, including the haplogroup of Paleo-Eskimos, which until this study had only been detected in their ancient remains. The haplogroup of the Neo-Eskimos, thought to have replaced the Paleo-Eskimos, was also detected. “We think the presence of these two haplotypes in villages of the North Slope means that the Paleo-Eskimos and the Neo-Eskimos were both ancestors of the contemporary Iñupiat people,” Jennifer A. Raff of Northwestern University said in a press release. A third haplogroup, typically seen in Native Americans living further south, may have been carried by the first people to enter the Americas. It could also have entered the peoples of the North Slope through recent marriages between Athapascan and Iñupiat families, or ancient contact between the two groups. “We found that there were many lineages shared between villages along the coast, suggesting that women traveled frequently between these communities. In fact, when we compared the genetic composition of all the communities in the North Slope, we found that they were all so closely related that they could be considered one single population. This fits well with what the elders and other community members told us about Iñupiat history,” added Northwestern’s M. Geoffrey Hayes. Future studies will examine the genetic markers on the male Y-chromosome. For more about early people in the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."

Male & Female A. Afarensis Closer in Size Than Thought

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—It had been thought that there was a large difference in size between male and female Australopithecus afarensis individuals, but a new study conducted by researchers from Penn State University and Kent State University suggests that the sexual dimorphism among the early hominids was similar to that of modern humans. The difference in body size is usually seen in body size, weight, and the size of the canine teeth, which are about the same in male and female Australopithecines. “Lucy,” who stood about 3.5 feet tall, and other smaller A. Afarensis individuals have been thought of as females. Their brains were not yet large enough to require the alteration of the pelvic structure to allow for the birth of large-headed babies, however. “There is no reason why Lucy, if female, would have the wide notched pelvic bone of a human female. We can’t really sex Australopithecines,” Philip Reno of Penn State said in a press release. Reno and C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State compared the bones of Lucy, and another larger, reasonably intact specimen known as Kadanuumuu, who stood between five and 5.5 feet tall, to the partial remains of other individuals. By determining the ratio of these fossils to Lucy, the team members could calculate the relative size of individuals from incomplete skeletons. “The range shows intermediate moderate levels of sexual dimorphism, A. afarensis is within the human dimorphic range,” Reno explained. For an annotated image of Lucy's remains, see "Lucy Up Close."

World War II-Era Japanese Submarine’s Aircraft Hangar Found

MANOA, HAWAII—A recent survey of I-400, a World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy mega-submarine, has located and mapped the submarine’s hangar and conning tower, and found the submarine’s bell. The vessel was sunk outside of Pearl Harbor after the war to keep its technology from the Soviet Union, and in 2013, was rediscovered by a team from the University of Hawaii and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We made a lucky guess where to start when we approached the main hull of the I-400 from the northwest,” Terry Kerby, operations director and chief submarine pilot of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL,) said of the recent expedition in a press release. “Our guess started to pay off when the giant hangar door came into view, followed by the conning tower and hangar. Many items were amazingly intact for something that had ripped out of the hull of a sinking 400-foot-long submarine,” he said. The aircraft hangar had been large enough to launch three float-plane bombers. The bell was found close to the conning tower on the seafloor. To read more, see "Archaeology of World War II."