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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 20

100-Year-Old Beer Bottle Found at Ancient Church Site

PERRANPORTH, ENGLAND—An intact beer bottle dating to the early twentieth century has been recovered from St. Piran’s Oratory, a sixth-century church in Cornwall. Archaeologist James Gossip thinks that the beer, brewed by Walter Hicks & Company, may have been left behind by a worker in 1910, when the ruins of the oratory were encased in a concrete structure to protect them from sand and waves. In the 1980s, the ruins were covered in sand. Now, the church site is being excavated by archaeologists and a team of volunteers. “There are plenty of stories about St. Piran and his fondness of the hop, so it’s sort of appropriate that some quality local ale managed to find its way on to such a hallowed site,” Chris Knight, archivist of St. Austell Brewery, told the Western Morning News. The contents of the bottle will be tested at St. Austell Brewery.

Brick Reportedly Recovered From Teen Visitor to Colosseum

ROME, ITALY—A Canadian teenager reportedly tried to remove a brick from the Colosseum while visiting on a school trip, according to The Local. Another visitor to the ancient monument spotted the 15-year-old placing the brick in her backpack, took a photograph, and alerted the staff. The teen was stopped by police who recovered the artifact. 

“Unnatural Selection” Drives Evolution of Conch Size

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—Human collection of the largest Caribbean fighting conchs (Strombus puglis) from the shallow lagoons of Panama’s Bocas del Toro over the past 1,500 years has resulted in the shellfish reaching maturity at a smaller size, according to a study of subsistence harvesting conducted by a team of ecologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Mature shells from 7,000 years ago, before humans settled in the region, held 66 percent more meat than the shells of today’s animals. Shells harvested by humans over time were also recovered from middens for the study. “These are the first evidence that low-intensity harvesting has been sufficient to drive evolution. The reason may be because the conch has been subjected to harvesting for a long period of time,” Aaron O’Dea of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute told Red Orbit

Overhunting Killed Off New Zealand’s Moas

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—An international team of scientists has conducted a study of the genetic diversity of moa fossils spanning 4,000 years. Their results indicate that the large, flightless birds went extinct in the thirteenth century due to overhunting by humans, and not because a long, natural decline caused by disease and volcanic eruptions, as had been suggested. Mike Bunce from Australia’s Curtin University and Morten Allentoft of the University of Copenhagen found that the population of birds was stable until the arrival of Polynesians in New Zealand, and then they disappeared within 200 years. “You see heaps of the birds’ bones in archaeological sites. If you hunt animals at all their life stages, they will never have a chance,” Allentoft told Science Now

Wednesday, March 19

Footless Body Unearthed in England

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The remains of an Iron Age woman and three Roman-period individuals were discovered in West Knoyle by archaeologists investigating the route of a new water main. The Iron Age woman's feet were “reburied alongside her,” and with the bones of at least two sheep or goats “on her head,” archaeologist Peter Cox told BBC News.  “We’re unsure why the female skeleton has been found without her feet or why she may have been buried with sheep, but perhaps it was to protect her soul from bad spirits,” Cox added. The Roman remains belonged to a child of about ten years old, and two men who had suffered sword wounds to their hips.

19th-Century Skeletons Recovered Near Portsmouth

CRANFIELD, ENGLAND—The nineteenth-century remains of four people have been recovered near the naval base on Burrow Island, also known as Rat Island, by a team of wounded soldiers from Operation Nightingale. The rapid-reaction team was called in for rescue excavations when a member of the public spotted the bones, which had been exposed by severe weather conditions. The four individuals are thought to have been French or American citizens held in floating prisons in the harbor. “Post-excavation work in our laboratories should contribute to shedding light on the living conditions of those individuals and the history of Rat Island,” Nicholas Márquez-Grant and Kelly Domoney of the Forensic Institute at Cranfield University told Culture 24

Medieval Archway Uncovered at Cardigan Castle

CEREDIGION, WALES—Part of the medieval entrance to the tower at Cardigan Castle has been unearthed as part of the renovation project intended to reopen part of the castle to the public. The top of the archway was found when workmen removed floorboards to Castle Green House, a Georgian-era structure. “Building works revealed a possible entrance into the medieval tower which forms the back of the existing house. The entrance is formed by an opening capped by the vaulted ceiling of the basement, flanked by massive stone walls which form parts of the south wall of the medieval tower,” project manager Nigel Page explained to BBC News. The excavations at the castle have also recovered more than 9,000 artifacts, including iron arrowheads and a dolphin skull.

Shaman Statue Guards Shaft Tomb in Mexico

COLIMA, MEXICO—An intact, 1,500-year-old shaman figure has been found at the entrance to a shaft tomb in the city of Villa de Alverez. “He was found upright and is holding some kind of weapon, probably an ax. He was placed exactly at the entrance, towards the crypt. He is some kind of a guardian of the main character deposited inside the shaft tomb,” archaeologist Marco Zavaleta of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Daily Mail. The vault contains the remains of one or two individuals that had been moved to the sides of the tomb to make room for a third individual at a later time. Six pots and an earthenware bowl were also found.

Tuesday, March 18

Architecture Analysis Offers New Clues to Petra’s Culture

LA PALMA, TENERIFE—Statistical analysis of the measurements of the monuments, temples, and tombs of Petra, the ancient city carved from rock in modern-day Jordan, suggests that the Nabateans oriented their buildings so that the sun would highlight them during certain times of the year. “The facades of Petra are not only beautiful in themselves, but they also show something additional,” archaeoastronomer Juan Antonio Belmonte of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands told National Geographic News. For example, during the winter solstice, lights and shadows are produced around a sacred podium in Ad Deir, the Monastery, by the setting sun. “These [structures] are such huge marvels of human ability created with a sense of beauty, which is related to the sky,” Belmonte said.

Bronze Age Burial Discovered in Cornwall Cliff

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age cist containing a partial skeleton that may have belonged to a young woman was found in a cavity in a cliff face at Harlyn Bay. “This area is one of the most important for prehistoric burials in Cornwall. The sand protects bone from the acidic soil conditions making it one of the few places in Cornwall where unburnt bone will survive,” archaeologist Andy Jones told The Western Morning News. The bones will be radiocarbon dated. “There were no grave goods and the only find was a quartz block,” Jones added.

Tracking Human Migration With Chicken DNA

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—A new analysis of mitochondrial DNA in domestic chicken bones from Polynesian archaeological sites and modern chickens by Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide challenges the idea that a genetic mutation in South American chickens links them to early chickens from Polynesia. “We found instead this quite distinct Pacific genetic signature—with four particular markers—that we only find in the Pacific and seems to be in all of the ancient Polynesian birds,” Cooper told Australia’s ABC Science. He and his colleagues think the genetic link between South American and Polynesian fowl found by archaeologist Alice Storey resulted from the contamination of the ancient Polynesian chicken bones with modern chicken DNA. “In chickens in particular we know that mitochondrial DNA doesn’t tell us anything about the past,” countered Storey.

Fresco Stolen From Pompeii

ROME, ITALY—A small section of a fresco depicting the goddess Artemis has been stolen from the House of Neptune in Pompeii, according to a report in ANSAmed. In the image, Artemis had been seated and shown with her brother, Apollo. “I am very saddened by news of the loss of an ancient fresco at Pompeii. Those responsible for such thoughtless vandalism, or as is more likely, outright theft, should be ashamed of themselves,” said EU Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. Police add that the fresco was stolen by expert thieves from an area of the ancient city that is off limits to the public.