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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 22

Farming in Medieval Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—A new picture of the late medieval farming life is emerging in northwest Scotland, according to a report in the Press and Journal. During excavations near an electrical substation, archaeologists surveying the area discovered the well-preserved remains of a barn which they were able to date the structure using the remains of charcoal and burnt bone they also found at the site. What makes the site rare and special, says archaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick of Guard Archaeology, is that “discoveries like this rarely survive in rural areas as the ground is usually used for rural purposes and is ploughed or used for cattle or livestock.” For a glimpse of what Scotland's medieval residents really looked like, go to ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Faces of Medieval Scots Reconstructed." 

What Paleolithic People Were Really Eating

BENIDORM, SPAIN—At the rock shelter site of Cova de la Barriada, archaeologists have discovered that even 30,000 years ago, vitamin-rich snails were part of the Iberian dinner table. Researcher Javier Fernández-López de Pablo told Livescience that the findings—hundreds of burnt snail shells found near fireplaces and alongside cooking tools—suggest the ancient inhabitants of the region ate the snails as a regular part of the diet more than 10,000 years before the mollusks were consumed in other parts of the Mediterranean. By harvesting only adults—the snails were about one year old when they were roasted— the region’s Paleolithic inhabitants had developed a sustainable farming practice that persevered the availability of this food resource for thousands of years. In fact, the species of land snail represented at the site, Iberus alonensis, are still eaten in Spain as part of many favorite dishes. To read more about the Paleolithic diet, go to ARCHAEOLOGY”s “Stocking the Paleolithic Pantry.”

WWII U.S. Cruiser Identified in Java Sea

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII—The U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command announced that a vessel in the Java Sea is the cruiser USS Houston, which sank during the Battle of the Sunda Strait on February 28, 1942. Over the course of 19 dives earlier this year, U.S. Navy underwater archaeologists and Indonesian Navy divers surveyed the site and collected enough data to confirm the ship's identity. Nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast," the vessel is the final resting place of some 700 sailors and marines. To read more about the historical legacy of WWII, go to ARCHAEOLOGY's "Archaeology of World War II." 

Possible European Skull Found in Chinese Tomb

YINCHUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports archaeologists excavating a 1,400-year-old tomb in northwest China have unearthed a skull that appears to have belonged to a European man of about 40 years of age. "The man had a protruding nasal bone and a sunk nasion, which are typical features of Europeans," said Jilin University anthropologist Zhang Quanchao. When the tomb was constructed early in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), one of the routes of the fabled Silk Road connecting Europe and China ran through the region, which might explain the presence of a European in the area. To read about a Tang Dynasty-influenced site in Siberia, read ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude." 

Thursday, August 21

When Did Neanderthals Really Go Extinct?

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Scientists using new, more precise radiocarbon dating techniques to study 40 Paleolithic sites from across Europe have determined that our close genetic cousins disappeared from Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago. "I think that for the first time, we have a reliable extinction date for Neanderthals," University of Oxford scientist Tom Higham told Livescience. The new findings suggest that the two species may have coexisted for up to 5,400 years and that modern humans did not quickly wipe out the Neanderthals, as some scholars believe. Rather, they could have dramatically influenced each other both culturally and genetically. Higham notes that the Neanderthal extinction event "might have been more complex and drawn out than previously thought." To read about the debate over cloning our closest extinct relatives, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Should We Clone Neanderthals?" 

Oldest Metal Object Unearthed in the Middle East

HAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at an ancient village in the Jordan Valley dating between 5200 and 4600 B.C. have discovered a copper awl that is believed to be the oldest metal object yet unearthed in the Middle East. According to a University of Haifa press release, the awl was discovered in the grave of a 40-year-old woman who was also buried with a belt made of 1,688 ostrich-egg shell beads. “The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it’s possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity,” says dig leader and University of Haifa archaeologist Danny Rosenberg. The discovery pushes back the appearance of metal in the area by several hundred years, and chemical testing of the awl has revealed it was made of copper from the Caucasus Mountains, more than 600 miles away, suggesting long-range trade may have been more prevalent during the period than previously thought. To read about the elaborate burial of a Copper Age woman unearthed in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "High Status Burial Unearthed in Windsor." 

Sea Mammals Spread Deadly Tuberculosis

PHOENIX, ARIZONA—Professor Anne Stone of Arizona State University may have provided an answer to one of science’s great debates—the origins of tuberculosis in the New World. Stone’s new research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the infection to South America, where it was eventually transmitted to the native population. For their work, researchers collected ancient DNA samples and tested them for the presence of TB. Three of the samples taken from sites in Peru dating to between A.D. 750 and 1350 showed evidence of TB infection and the genome could be mapped and studied. The researchers discovered that the ancient strains of TB were most closely related to strains present in pinnipeds. “What we found was really surprising. The ancient strains are distinct from any known human-adapted tuberculosis strain,” Stone told the ASU NewsTo read more about tuberculosis in the ancient Andes, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”    

Geometric Tomb Uncovered in Corinth

CORINTH, GREECE—Archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies in Athens have revealed the results of their excavation of a tomb in the important ancient Greek city of Corinth. The tomb, which dates to between 800 and 750 B.C. contained a burial pit filled with a limestone sarcophagus with a single person buried inside, reports Livescience. Next to the sarcophagus the team found several pottery vessels, as well as a sealed niche containing 13 almost complete pots. Many of the pots are decorated with zig-zagging patterns of lines and spirals that give this era of Greek history, often called the Geometric Period, its name.

Wednesday, August 20

Bronze Age Irish Cooking Trough

GALWAY, IRELAND—On Ireland's western coastline, archaeologists have unearthed an oaken structure that they suspect is a complete Bronze Age fulacht fiadh, or wooden cooking trough. The structure was was exposed by storms last winter and spotted by a local resident. "It is very significant, as it is unusual to find a fulacht fiadh at such a level of preservation, but the sea obviously conserved it when levels began to rise,” Ireland's Underwater Archaeology Unit's Finnbar Moore told the Irish Times. Radiocarbon dating of the structure puts its construction around 1700 B.C., when the area would have been covered in forests and lagoons. Archaeologists took the opportunity to survey around the fulacht fiadh before excavation. "It highlights the fact that there was several thousand years of human activity in this area before sea level rise, and this part of the coastline, and further, is akin to a time capsule—with enormous potential,” says Moore. To read more about fulachtaí fia, read ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh." 

Excavation Continues at Massive Hellenistic Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Archaeologists excavating the enormous tomb at Amphipolis have decided not to remove the two sphinxes guarding the entrance, reports Ekathemerini. The winged lions, which weigh nearly 1.5 tons each, will remain in situ as the archaeologists work to gain access to the tomb’s interior. A black and white geometric mosaic will also be left in place while excavation and stabilization work continues in the hopes that the tomb can soon be entered safely as there is significant risk of collapse once the tomb is opened. For more on the discovery read ARCHAEOLOGY's "Massive Hellenistic Tomb Discovered in Northern Greece." 

Workshops at Fortified Celtic Settlement Exposed

BURGUNDY, FRANCE—Polish archaeologists are unearthing metal workshops at the site of a 2,000-year-old Celtic oppidum, or fortified settlement, in central France. Led by University of Rzeszów archaeologist Tomasz Bochnak, the team is working near the settlement's main gate, and has so far identified bronze-smith and enamelers' workshops, according to Science & Scholarship in Poland. "This year, we discover[ed] mainly traces of metallurgical operations, primarily slags, but also coins and fibulas, or pins," says Bochnak. "After two weeks of work we have also dug up close to 100 kg [220 lbs] of fragments of ancient amphorae. This number is likely to increase significantly before the study ends." The oppidum was a stronghold of a powerful Celtic tribe known as the Aedui, and was founded in the late third or early second century B.C. The settlement was abandoned not long after the Romans defeated a coalition of Celtic tribes in 52 B.C. To read about the excavation of a Celtic oppidum in Turkey, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Celtic Sacrifice."   

Dozens of Anglo-Saxon Burials Uncovered

SALISBURY PLAIN, ENGLAND—More than a dozen new Anglo-Saxon graves have been found at the site of Barrow Clump. The site, which has now been backfilled, was originally a Neolithic settlement that was later used as a burial mound in the Bronze Age and even later as a Saxon cemetery. According to Culture24, a team from Wessex Archaeology has now discovered a total of 75 graves dating to the Anglo-Saxon period at Barrow Clump, one of which contained a skeleton in a crouched fetal position along with numerous weapons. In addition to the warrior’s grave, three female burials were found, each containing glass beads in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. The team was also able to locate the original 19th-century excavation trench, something they had been unable to do in earlier seasons, explains Wessex Archaeology’s Steve Winterton. To read about the excavation of a royal Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Kings of Kent."