Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 30

3-D Casts Replicate Ancient Tools for Students

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA—Francis Smiley has built a collection of more than 900 epoxy resin lithic artifact casts at the lithic casting lab at Northern Arizona University. The casting processes uses grains of eroded rock to mold 3-D replicas of artifacts from North America, Europe, South America, and North Africa so that students can handle and study them. “The original artifacts are locked away in museums or private collections that are almost entirely inaccessible to students. The lithic casting process gives students and researchers hands-on experience with exact, museum-quality replicas of artifacts,” he explained in a press release. Some of the duplicated artifacts are more than two million years old, but Smiley focuses on replicating Clovis artifacts, which date back some 13,000 years. “Here, we get to experience all lithic technologies from every time period from around the world. Not only that, but we get to see actual data preserved in the casted stone. It’s pretty amazing,” commented graduate student Tim Murphy. To read about early peoples who may have predated Clovis, go to "Migrating Away From Clovis."

Neolithic Settlement Unearthed in Wales

ANGLESEY, WALES—A Neolithic site that was in use for at least 1,000 years has been discovered on an island off the northwest coast of Wales at the site of a new school. “This settlement (at Llanfaethlu) has the best preserved houses and is the only one which has more than one house,” archaeologist Cat Rees told The Daily Post. The team has unearthed three buildings, and more than 2,000 flint, stone, and pottery artifacts. “We also have burnt hazelnuts, acorns, and seeds which will allow us to radiocarbon date the site and reconstruct the Neolithic diet,” she said. Archaeologist Matt Jones of CR Archeology added that the site may have been a stone ax factory, since stone imported from the quarries at Penmaenmawr has been found there. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Wales: Iron Age Hillforts."

Animal Bones Tell Tales of Maya Social Class

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Ashley Sharpe of the University of Florida and Kitty Emery of the Florida Museum of Natural History examined 22,000 animal remains from three Maya sites in Guatemala—Aguateca, Piedras Negras, and Yaxchilan—that are held in the museum’s collections. “The Maya used animals for things like hides, tools, jewelry, and musical instruments, but they were also vitally important as emblems of status, royalty, and the symbolic world of the gods, and thus often were prime resources jealously guarded by the rich and powerful,” Emery said in a press release. They found that while the royalty ate animals that were considered prestigious delicacies, the middle-ranking elites used the widest variety of animals. The poor ate mostly fish and shellfish from local rivers. Animal products were also transported from deep in the forests and from the ocean to the city centers. “They had complicated systems in place for trade relations, distribution of food and access to species, which varied among the cities and social classes much like they do today,” Sharpe explained. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Species Added to the Root of Hominoid Family Tree

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Fossils from the site of Abocador Can Mata in Catalonia have been identified as a new genus and species, Pliobates cataloniae, by scientists from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP). Dubbed “Laia,” this small adult female primate lived some 11.6 million years ago, before hominids and hylobatids, or gibbons, split from a last common ancestor, and shares features with living hominoids. “The origins of gibbons is a mystery because of the lack of fossil record, but until now most scientists thought that their last common ancestor with hominids must have been large, because all of the undoubted fossil hominoids found so far were large-bodied,” ICP researcher David M. Alba said in a press release. “This find overturns everything,” he said. While the last common ancestor of all living humans was thought to be more similar to great apes, the new discovery suggests that it was probably more similar to living gibbons. In fact, some of Laia’s features are exclusive to extant gibbons. “This suggests that, alternately, Pliobates might be the sister group of extant gibbons only,” added Salvadore Moyà-Solà, ICREA researcher and director of the ICP. To read about another recently discovered species, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Thursday, October 29

Global Project Documents Sites in the Middle East

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Archaeological sites in the Middle East will be documented with 3-D imaging technology by the Institute for Digital Archaeology (a partnership between Harvard University and the University of Oxford), The Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation, and UNESCO. The project team plans to take up to one million digital images of cultural heritage monuments by the end of 2015. This information would permit scholars to recreate ancient monuments through 3-D printing. “It is important to preserve heritage sites as they serve as a source of inspiration for innovators and pioneers to build the future. What we are doing today is part of our efforts to give back to the history of our region and build on the achievements of our rich past,” Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi of the Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation said in a press release. To read about efforts to 3-D scan archaeological sites, go to "The Past in Hi-Def."

Inca Platforms, Storeroom, and Court Found in Peru

CUZCO, PERU—Guards and conservation workers at the Peñas site in Ollantaytambo archaeological park have discovered a complex of Inca platforms, a food storeroom, and a ceremonial court in a 12-acre area that had been covered by vegetation. “We have cut away and removed the thick vegetation from the area and we will now proceed to make the corresponding study of the site. Later we will work up an emergency conservation project for this archaeological site whose existence was unknown up to now,” archaeologist and park manager Oscar Montufar told Fox News Latino. The platforms are thought to have been built to control landslides and to expand available land for agriculture. Construction of the Cuzco-Quillabamba highway in 1933 is thought to have caused some damage to the site. To read more about the Inca, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Mesolithic Dwelling Unearthed Near Stonehenge

BUCKINGHAM, ENGLAND—Last week, David Jacques of the University of Buckingham discovered a Stone Age dwelling near the constant-temperature spring at Blick Mead, about a mile away from Stonehenge. The house was constructed from a large tree that had fallen. The pit left by the tree’s roots was lined with stones, and the tree itself was used to make a flint-lined wall. A roof was fashioned from animal skins, and nearby, a stone hearth has also been uncovered. Large stones placed near the wall may have been heated in a fire and used for overnight warmth. “This is a key site for where Britain began. It is the only continuously occupied Mesolithic site in Western Europe and we believe the ‘eco’ home is the sort of place the first Brits lived in,” Jacques said in a press release. Plans to build a tunnel to accommodate Stonehenge traffic could destroy the site. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."

Wednesday, October 28

Pre-European Land Use in Amazonia Was Highly Variable

MELBOURNE, FLORIDA—Some scholars have argued that today’s Amazonian rainforests are the result of ancient managed landscapes, but a new study suggests that people who lived in Amazonian forests prior to the arrival of Europeans had dense settlements in areas near rivers and little impact at all on other areas. Dolores Piperno of the American Museum of Natural History and Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology examined plant fossils, estimates of mammal density, and information from remote sensing and human population modeling, and found that Amazonian forests in remote regions are slow-growing, fragile ecosystems that may be very vulnerable to logging, mining, and other disruptive enterprises. “Nobody doubts the importance of human actions along the major waterways. But whether humans had a greater impact on the ecosystem than any other large mammal has yet to be established in much of western Amazonia,” Bush explained in a press release. To read about work in Mesoamerican rainforests, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

Silver Viking-Era Coins Unearthed in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A cache of Viking-era coins including some dating to the reign of Harald Bluetooth was found on the island of Omø by a Danish man with a metal detector. “A treasure like this is found once every ten to 15 years. It contains many items and is extremely well kept because it has been buried in sandy earth,” Hugo Hvid Sørensen, a curator from the Museum Vestsjælland, told The Copenhagen Post. The site was excavated by a team from the museum, where the treasure is now on display. “It’s very rare to have found so many Harald Bluetooth coins—one of the earliest coins of that era,” added Sørensen. To read more, go to "The First Vikings."

22 Ancient Shipwrecks Discovered in Greek Waters

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Twenty-two shipwrecks have been discovered and mapped in a 17-square-mile area near Greece’s Fourni archipelago. The islands are in the middle of high-traffic routes that connected the Aegean to the Levant, the Black Sea regions, and Egypt. “Surpassing all expectations, over only 13 days we added 12 percent to the total of known ancient shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters,” Peter Campbell of the University of Southampton and the RPM Nautical Foundation told Discovery News. The wrecks range in age from the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C) through the sixteenth century A.D. More than half of them date to the Late Roman Period (300-600 A.D.). “What is astonishing is not only the number of the shipwrecks but also the diversity of the cargoes, some of which have been found for the first time,” said underwater archaeologist George Koutsouflakis. Three of those cargoes include Archaic pots from the island of Samos, second-century A.D. amphoras from the Black Sea region, and carrot-shaped amphoras from Sinop, which is located on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The team expects to find many more wrecks along the archipelago’s coastline next season. To read more about underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Chickens Get a New Molecular Clock

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Twelve mitochondrial genomes from two lineages of the White Plymouth Rock chicken, which has a well-documented pedigree, have been sequenced by an international team of scientists. The researchers found that in one case, mitochondrial DNA was passed from a father to its offspring, and overall, the rate of mutation since the two lineages split is up to 30 times faster than had been thought. Two mutations occurred within the past 50 years, or a rate of four percent per million years, rather than one percent per million years. “If we use an incorrect mutation rate, then our estimates of the timing of chicken domestication will be very wrong,” Simon Ho of Sydney University told ABC News Australia. Chickens are thought to have been carried by the people who colonized the islands of the Pacific Ocean. “We may be able to apply this new rate to our data and see whether the dates for the original chickens in the islands and Southeast Asia and their movement out into the South Pacific correlates well with radiocarbon dating of human remains along that translocation route,” commented Jeremy Austin of the University of Adelaide. For more about archaeology and chickens, go to "Kon Tiki Fried Chicken?"