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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 23

Glass Bracelet Stamped With Menorah Motif Unearthed in Israel

MOUNT CARMEL NATIONAL PARK, ISRAEL—A refuse pit in an industrial area dating to the late Roman and early Byzantine periods has yielded a fragment of a glass bracelet. “Stamped impressions of two menorahs survived on the small fragment that was found—one a plain seven-branched menorah, of which only the surface of the menorah is visible and the other one consisting of a seven-branched menorah with flames depicted above its branches,” excavation co-directors Limor Talmi and Dan Kirzne for the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Jerusalem Post. Glass bracelets are usually found in the region as funerary offerings. This bracelet may indicate that Jews lived in the settlement, or that the bracelet had been made in a local workshop for export. “The refuse that was discovered in the pit included numerous glass vessels and fragments of glass window panes, as well as a selection of jewelry, indicative of a population that lived a life of comfort and affluence,” they said. To read about other depictions of menorahs found in Israel, see "First Century Focus."

Turkey’s Oldest Tool Is 1.2 Million Years Old

LONDON, ENGLAND—The oldest stone tool ever found in Turkey has been dated to approximately 1.2 million years ago. Danielle Schreve of Royal Holloway, University of London, found the quartzite flake in ancient deposits of the River Gediz in western Turkey. “I had been studying the sediments in the meander bend and my eye was drawn to a pinkish stone on the surface. When I turned it over for a better look, the features of a humanly-struck artifact were immediately apparent,” she recalled. An international team of researchers then used high-precision radioisotopic dating and palaeomagnetic measurements from lava flows, which both pre-date and post-date the meander, to date the artifact to between approximately 1.24 and 1.17 million years ago. “This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe,” Schreve said. To read about the oldest tools made by modern humans found in Europe, see "43,000-year-old Aurignacian tools found at Willendorf."

Active Hunter-Gatherers Had Strong Skeletons

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Activity throughout life is the key to building strong bones, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge. Colin Shaw of the Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation and Evolution (PAVE) Research Group and his colleagues x-rayed samples of the heads of human femur bones taken from four archaeological populations, all from the state of Illinois, including 7,000-year-old mobile hunter-gatherers, and 700-year-old sedentary agriculturalists. They found that the hunter-gatherers had more “spongy” bone, which can change shape and direction depending on the loads placed on it, and resist fracture. The thickening of the bone was caused by the constant physical activity required of hunter-gatherers. “We’ve shown that hunter-gatherers fall right in line with primates of a similar body size. Modern human skeletons are not systemically fragile; we are not constrained by our anatomy,” Shaw explained. Hominids that lived 150,000 years ago had even stronger skeletons than the hunter-gatherers. “Something is going on in the distant past to create bone strength that outguns anything in the last 10,000 years,” he said. To read about how hunter-gatherers fared in Sweden, see "Neolithic Farmers Assimilated Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers."

Monday, December 22

“Reservoir Effect” Detected in Remains From Corded Ware Culture

POZNAŃ, POLAND—Lukasz Pospieszny of the Polish Academy of Sciences has used new carbon 14 dates to explain discrepancies at a site discovered 15 years ago in northern Poland. The burials, found on an island in Lake Lańskie, appeared to be from the Corded Ware culture, but carbon dating of the human bones indicated that the site was 1,000 years too old for that to be the case. “The C14 method is based on the carbon isotope analysis, the content of which in the atmosphere is quite stable and predictable. The situation is different in an aqueous environment, where so-called old carbon can be present,” he told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Large quantities of mussel shells at the site suggest that the people may have ingested this “old carbon.” Pospieszny and his colleagues sent decorated tiles made from deer antlers that had been discovered in a child’s grave to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and obtained dates in the expected range for the Corded Ware culture. Yet some things about the site are still puzzling—members of the Corded Ware culture in other locations in Europe did not usually fish or consume freshwater shellfish. “Objects found in the graves indicate that the inhabitants of the island belonged to shepherd communities, but their diet was different,” he said. He thinks that the people may have adopted some Neolithic agricultural techniques while retaining some traditional means of hunting and gathering. To read about how researchers are refining the technique of carbon dating, see "Dating on a Curve." 

Artifacts Recovered in California

OROVILLE, CALIFORNIA—California State Parks Rangers recovered thousands of artifacts thought to have been taken from public lands illegally over the past several decades. The suspect had been seen removing artifacts from the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, and the rangers, assisted by the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, continued the investigation and obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s residence. “The recovery of these items is critical to the preservation of the cultural resources of our state, which helps us better understand our past and our history,” Leslie Steidl, California State Parks Archaeologist, told the Sierra Sun Times. To read about the recovery of artifacts looted from the archaeological museum in Baghdad, read "National Museum: 10 Years Later."

Cause of Chopin’s Death Investigated

WARSAW, POLAND—Genetic and forensic scientists have examined a heart thought to have belonged to Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, who died in Paris in 1849. His doctor, Jean Cruveilhier, had diagnosed the pianist with tuberculosis, but then noted after an autopsy that he had suffered from a “disease not previously encountered.” Scientists have since wondered if Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis, or an inherited form of emphysema. The heart, preserved in alcohol and held in a crystal jar, bore “TB nodules,” and was “much enlarged, suggesting respiratory problems, linked to a lung disease,” the scientists reported. “TB pericarditis can be nodular of a diffuse process. Nodules sound good for TB as the diagnosis, but other diseases can mimic that appearance—cancer, and a fungus infection such as aspergillosis. You can’t tell which one by the naked eye,” Sebastian Lucas of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London explained to BBC News. But the investigating team was denied permission to open the jar and test a tissue sample. “It’s not absolutely certain it’s Chopin’s heart,” adds Rose Cholmondeley, president of the London-based Chopin Society. The heart has been returned to its resting place in a pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. For the story of how tuberculosis may have arrived in the New World, see "Sea Mammals Spread Deadly Tuberculosis."

Friday, December 19

Coin Cache Discovered at Copenhagen’s Kastellet

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to The Copenhagen Post, a cache of coins has been discovered at Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress in the center of Copenhagen that was built in the seventeenth century. The coins, nine copper and 23 silver, date between 1649 and 1787. Most of them had been minted in Copenhagen, although some came from Norway and Germany. Musket balls and other pieces of ammunition were also found during the restoration work at the fortress, which is being conducted by the Museum of Copenhagen. To read about the largest coin hoard discovered in Britain see "Seaton Down Hoard."

Blick Mead in Path of Proposed Stonehenge Tunnel

AMESBURY, ENGLAND—The site of a Mesolithic camp known as Blick Mead, or Vespasian’s Camp, could be destroyed if a new 1.8-mile-long tunnel for the A303 is dug near Stonehenge. The 6,000-year-old camp is located about a mile and a half away from the monument, and is thought to have been occupied by hunter-gatherers who returned to Britain after the Ice Age. The bones of aurochs, flint tools, and possible structures have been uncovered. “Our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told Buckingham Today. A team from the university uncovered the 7,000-year-old remains of a meal of frogs’ legs and a natural spring at the site. To read more about the site, see "Frog Legs Eaten in Mesolithic England."

The Search for Spanish Vikings

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Irene García Losquiño of the University of Aberdeen is conducting the first comprehensive study of Viking sites in Spain. “There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale,” she said. She visited Galicia, in northern Spain, last spring, when a number of Viking anchors washed ashore in a storm. Working with Jan Henrik Fallgren of the University of Aberdeen and Ylva Backstrom of the University of Lund, García Losquiño found tell-tale signs of Vikings. “On the beach where the anchors were found there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction, which was used by the later Vikings in France. But with the help of a geographer using tomography we now think this was a longphort—a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbor,” she explained. The team has been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with satellite images to look for additional camps. “We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps,” she said. To read in-depth about some of the earliest evidence of Viking warfare, see "The First Vikings."