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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Sunday, November 30

Polish “Vampire” Burials Studied

WARSAW, POLAND—Six people buried in a post-medieval cemetery in northwestern Poland with stones under their chins or sickles across their bodies, traditional means to keep reanimated corpses from biting the living, were local residents, and not newcomers to the region. A team led by bioarchaeologist Lesley Gregoricka from the University of South Alabama tested the teeth enamel from the individuals and found their strontium isotope ratios matched those of animals local to the region. These "vampire" burials were among 285 skeletons recently unearthed at the cemetery, and were not concentrated together, suggesting they were not interred at the same time. In the Slavic areas of Eastern Europe, the tradition of vampires, or reanimated corpses, dates to at least the eleventh century A.D. Folklore had it that the first person to die from an infectious disease was likely to become a vampire, and these six may have been the first to have died from repeated cholera epidemics that struck the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that resulted from it were explained by the supernatural—in this case, vampires,” Gregoricka told Phys.org. To read more about the archaeology of vampires, see “Plague Vampire Exorcism.” 

Friday, November 28

Paleolithic Venus Discovered in France

AMIENS, FRANCE—On the second day of fieldwork this summer at the Paleolithic site of Renancourt, archaeologists discovered limestone fragments that seemed to have been worked by humans. "That same night we carefully pieced together the 20-odd fragments and realized it was a female statuette," archaeologist Clement Paris said at a press conference reported by CNews. The 4.7-inch limestone statue the team reassembled is a highly stylized depiction of a voluptuous woman, and resembles other famous Paleolithic "Venus" figurines discovered throughout Europe. “The fact that the sculpture is not totally realistic shows the intent was to produce a symbolic image of a woman linked to fecundity," Paris said. The work probably dates to about 23,000 years ago. To read more about Paleolithic art, see “A New Life for Lion Man.” 

Rare Finds Unearthed in Kent

AYLESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging ahead of a housing construction project in Kent have unearthed an unusually rich array of artifacts, as well as an Anglo-Saxon skeleton. Among the objects discovered were Bronze Age cremation vessels, as well as Roman domestic artifacts. “The Bronze Age urns are rare, exotic, and wonderful and the ditches were full of very nice Roman domestic property so there was obviously a settlement nearby,” SWAT Archaeology’s Paul Wilkinson told The Dover Express. To read about a royal Anglo-Saxon site discovered in the area, see “The Kings of Kent.”

Wednesday, November 26

Lost Village Uncovered in England

IRONBRIDGE GORGE, ENGLAND—In Shropshire, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of six cottages buried by a slow-moving landslide in 1952. "People were just literally able to see their houses being ripped apart, and there was nothing they could do about it," archaeologist Shane Kelleher of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust told the BBC. Inside one of the homes archaeologists found an ornate mosaic floor, and other cottages are decorated with high-quality tiles, which the area was once famous for producing. The team will rebury the structures after recording them. To read about another recent excavation in England, see "The Scientist's Garden."

Neolithic Handax Discovered in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A Neolithic ax still attached to its wooden handle has been discovered on the Danish island of Lolland. Archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a tunnel unearthed the artifact, which seems to have been ritually deposited on the seabed about 5,500 years ago. "Finding a hafted [handle-bearing] ax as well preserved as this one is quite amazing," Museum of Lolland-Falster archaeologist Soren Anker Sorensen told the BBC. Earlier this year, archaeologists on the project discovered footprints dating to the same period. To read about that discovery, see “Tunnel Reveals Stone Age Footprints.”