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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 30

4,000-Year-Old Ritual Site Discovered in Poland

WARSAW, POLAND—A 4,000-year-old ritual site has been unearthed on a hilltop in northeastern Poland. Fragments of decorated cups and bowls made by the Bell Beaker culture were found surrounded by burned bones and a fragment of an amber bead. A second amber object was found nearby. “Amber was an exotic and prestigious material for the Bell Beaker communities, and never before found in Podlasie. These discovered ornaments are among the oldest objects of this type in the region,” archaeologist Dariusz Manasterski of the University of Warsaw told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Stone tools, including an adze, a fragment of a curved blade, and fragments of a dagger were found, along with arrowheads and other blades and knives made of flint. “The entire ritual deposit is an exceptional find in central Europe. It contains one of the richest collections of objects usually found in the elite graves in Western Europe from this period,” he added. Understanding how those artifacts traveled so far east requires further investigation. To read about 4,000-year-old Bronze Age rituals in Eastern Europe, see "Wolf Rites of Winter."  

Canoe & Climate Shed Light on Polynesian Sailing Technology

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Two new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shed light on how Polynesian seafarers colonized the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Lead author Dilys Amanda Johns of the University of Auckland described a 600-year-old canoe discovered in 2012 near the Anaweka River on New Zealand’s South Island. The nearly 20-foot long section of a vessel estimated to have been 45 feet long was constructed with wood from trees native to New Zealand, but in a manner similar to a canoe of the same age that was discovered in the Society Islands. There is also a turtle carved in relief on the hull just above the water line, which is a common motif among the Polynesians, but is rare in art from New Zealand. The second study, led by Ian Goodwin of Macquarie University, created a model of the paleoclimate in 20-year increments, in order to evaluate whether or not Polynesian vessels, which were not capable of sailing into the wind at the time of colonization, would have had to travel into the wind to head east. The model suggests that shifting climate conditions would have opened up times when the Polynesians could have traveled with the wind at their backs. “Our reconstructed sailing conditions during the period of East Polynesian colonization would have enabled all of the known colonizing routes, and others,” Goodwin told Science. The window for sailing to New Zealand would have closed before 1300, however. “There is a timing discrepancy,” commented Johns. She thinks the canoe, which has been radiocarbon dated to 1400, may have been built by New Zealanders with techniques handed down from the time of Polynesian contact. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."  

Monday, September 29

Vascular Prints Discovered in Egyptian Mummy’s Skull

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Imprints from the blood vessels surrounding the brain have been found inside the skull of a 2,000-year-old mummy from Egypt’s Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis. The inside of the man’s skull had been coated with a preservative during the mummification process that captured the extremely fragile structures with “exquisite anatomical details,” Albert Isidro of the Hospital Universitari Sagrat Cor told Live Science. The brain was usually removed by Egyptian embalmers. “The conditions in this case must have been quite extraordinary,” Isidro and his team explained. Their complete report has been published in the journal Cortex. For more on recent research into Egyptian mummies, see ARCHAEOLOGY's news brief "Well Preserved Mummies Found in the Valley of the Kings."  

Medieval Friary Excavated in Scotland

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—A thirteenth-century Dominican friary that was destroyed during the Reformation in 1559 is being excavated by a team from GUARD Archaeology. Animal bones, medieval ceramics, a section of wall, and architectural stones have been unearthed. Garden soils have also been recovered. It is unclear at this time if human remains at the site are from the medieval period or later. “For Stirling, this is the first time that a medieval site has been subject to modern excavation on this scale,” Murray Cook, the archaeologist for Stirling Council, told Culture 24. To read about the excavation of an unusual peasant community in Scotland, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Living on the Edge."  

DNA From Marine Forager Sheds Light on Human Origins

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—An international team of scientists has worked together to study the 2,330-year-old skeletal remains discovered by archaeologist Andrew Smith of the University of Cape Town at St. Helena Bay, along Africa’s southernmost coast. Biological anthropologist Alan Morris, also of the University of Cape Town, found a bony growth in the man’s ear canal known as “surfer’s ear,” which suggests that he dove for food in the cold water as a marine hunter-gatherer. Shells dating to the same period were found near the man’s grave. Paleogeneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology extracted samples from a tooth and a rib, and was able to sequence the man’s entire mitochondrial genome. Vanessa Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, an expert in African genomes, determined that the man’s maternal lineage was different from the pastoralists who migrated to South Africa from Angola 2,000 years ago. “In this study, I believe we may have found an individual from a lineage that broke off early in modern human evolution and remained geographically isolated. That would contribute significantly to refining the human reference genome,” Hayes told Science Daily. “If we want a good reference, we have to go back to our early human origins.” To read more about the role of early migrations in human history, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."  

Friday, September 26

Massive Roman Coin Hoard Unearthed in England

EAST DEVON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists and conservators from the British Museum have announced that an amateur metal detectorist has found one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Britain. The hoard is comprised of no less than 22,000 coins dating to between A.D. 260 and 350 that were in very good condition when they emerged from the ground, Devon County Council archaeologist Bill Horner told The Independent. Since the hoard was found ten months ago—its discovery was kept quiet to avoid looting at the site while archaeologists conducted a proper excavation—the coins have been cleaned, identified, and catalogued. Many bear portraits of the family of the emperor Constantine and of the emperor himself. The Seaton Down Hoard, as it is now called, is thought to be the fifth largest find of Roman coins in Britain and one of the largest in the whole of the Roman Empire. To read more about another remarkable hoard found in Britain, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Anglo-Saxon Hoard.”

Stone Tool Technology

STORRS, CONNECTICUT—By analyzing nearly 3,000 stone artifacts excavated at the site of Nor Geghi in Armenia, Paleolithic archaeologists have concluded that ancient stone toolmaking technology may have been invented independently in places other than Africa, where it was thought to have originated. Rather than spreading from a single point of origin as has been thought, toolmakers may have been creating similar tools as much as 325,000 to 335,000 years ago in several parts of the world, including Eurasia and Africa. "Technological innovation was something that our ancestors were very good at," study leader Daniel Adler told livescience. To read more about Stone Age tool technology, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Stone Age Artifacts Found in South Africa.”

Living the Life on the Roman Frontier

NOVAE, BULGARIA—The surprisingly luxurious lives of Roman legionnaires on the eastern edges of the empire are being uncovered by a team of archaeologists from the University of Warsaw. Two of the most notable Roman legions were stationed at the fort of Novae—the Eighth Augustan, in the mid-first century A.D., and the First Italic, who replaced the Augustan in A.D. 69. This year’s archaeological campaign has been especially successful, unearthing luxury items such as several dagger handles made of ivory, three finely crafted second-century A.D. bronze figurines, and several bronze lamps. The team also uncovered the fragments of a wooden barracks belonging to the first cohort of the Eighth Augustan Legion, and an impressive home that once was inhabited by the Roman centurion responsible for the First Italic Legion. "The building was very luxuriously equipped,” excavation director Piotr Dyczek told Science and Scholarship in Poland. “Although the area was rebuilt several times over the centuries and then plundered, we found pieces of furniture made of bronze, in the form of applications and legs in the shape of lion's paws, and well-preserved large metal lamp.” To read more about another extraordinary site in Bulgaria, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Ancient Musical Chamber Discovered in Turkey

ISSOS, TURKEY—Archaeologists working at the site of Issos in the province of Hatay, Turkey, a thriving city beginning in about 545 B.C. and lasting several millennia down to the Ottoman period, have discovered an ancient music chamber according to the Hurriyet Daily News. The room is shaped like a small odeon, and likely dates back to the Roman period when Issos was filled with good roads and plentiful shops. Excavators believe that the chamber may have been used at some point as a kind of healing center for treatment of the sick. In their eighth season of digging, the archaeological team from the Hatay Museum also found the remains of an ancient Roman theater, which they are continuing to uncover. Issos is notable for being very close to the location on the Plain of Issos where the Persian king Darius fought Alexander the Great. To read more about a remarkable fourth-century B.C. tomb unearthed in Turkey, go to ARCHAEOLOGY’S “The Tomb of Hecatomnus.”